Feminist fairy tale reinvents the story of The Little Mermaid

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

‘So she crossed the ocean and came to the place where there was land. The mermaid spent many days watching the people on shore and the ones who came out to the sea on boats. Always, always she was careful to avoid the hooks and lines and cages and nets, because she had found her freedom and she loved it, and she would not be bound to someone else’s will again.’

Once there was a mermaid trapped in the net of a fisherman. She evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore and for many years they lived as husband and wife. Stories of this strange and unusual woman travelled, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in selling the strange and unusual. His name was P.T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid.

Last year I picked up Christina Henry’s Lost Boy, not expecting a great deal from it, but it fast became one of my favourite books of 2017. Henry’s latest book, The Mermaid, lacks the emotional punch of Lost Boy, but is still an interesting and enjoyable read.

The main problem with this book is its use of fairy tale language and tropes to establish the characters. This meant that all the characters in The Mermaid lack the complexity to make you care about what happens to them. Levi in particular never felt like more than a few loosely collected characteristics – his only real job was to be there for Amelia (the mermaid) to fall in love with. There was great potential with P.T. Barnum – a man ‘with a cash register in place of a heart’ – but he never became more than a stock villain.

The writing is riddled with clichés and isn’t atmospheric enough to conjure a feeling of the time it was set in. Attempts at creating original similes and metaphors tended to be jumbled and confusing, and the story in general was repetitive and dull; it lacked any driving force to keep me engaged.

Despite its lack of intriguing characters, Henry explores some interesting ideas. Amelia is a wild being who struggles to fit in with humans. Though she appears to be human, when others find out what she really is they tend to view her as an animal, a creature who should be kept behind bars.

Henry also uses Amelia’s otherness to explore the position of women in the 19th century, who were treated like property and expected to be subservient to their husbands. Amelia dares to question the rules that keep women confined – physically in corsets, and socially by forcing them to be obedient.

This book certainly has its flaws, but for those who enjoy feminist fairy tales it has a lot to offer.

Many thanks to Titan Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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New book releases July 2018

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our BMI. After experiencing years of anxiety, Matt Haig began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

Matt Haig is a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything he’s written so far, both fiction and non-fiction. His latest book is a follow-up to his fantastic book Reasons to Stay Alive, and promises to offer hope in a world gone mad.

Release date: 5th July

 

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

1857. Audrey Hart travels to the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the communities there. But the crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead, spirits who take the form of birds.

Mazzola returns with her second novel after the success of her debut, The Unseeing, in 2016. I’m always interested in books that explore folk and fairy tales, so this sounds right up my street.

Release date: 26th July

 

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, but her father is too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attracts the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die.

Novik is a hugely popular fantasy author and in this, her latest novel, she puts a dark spin on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Release date: 12th July

 

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations. Magic marked Miles Singer from the day he was born. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man. When Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark is exposed, he must put his freedom at risk to investigate a murder.

This is one of the most highly anticipated debut fantasy books of 2018, and is said to combine intrigue, magic, betrayal and romance.

Release date: 1st July

 

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

Inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, William Woolf is one of 30 letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, lost address labels, torn packages – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts and unheard confessions. When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, his work takes on new meaning.

This book promises to continue the trend of ‘up-lit’ (optimistic and uplifting books) that have gained such popularity recently.

Release date: 12th July

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Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell

Louis Thorn and Haruto ‘Harry’ Yamada – the Eagle and the Crane – are the star attractions of a daredevil aerial stunt team that traverses Depression-era California. The young men have a complicated relationship, thanks to the Thorn family’s belief that the Yamadas – Japanese immigrants – stole land from them. When one of the stunt planes crashes with two charred bodies inside, the ensuing investigation struggles when the details don’t add up.

A few years ago I read Rindell’s brilliant 1920s novel The Other Typist. Her newest book returns to the same setting but with a very different story. Hopefully this book will have the same pin-sharp characterisation.

Release date: 3rd July

 

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for. A tight knit family. A loyal set of friends. A fast-track to whichever college she chooses. But Charlie isn’t interested in what most people want. She’s a Calloway. She’s special. And she’s been taught to want more. So when she’s invited to join an exclusive secret society, her determination to get in is matched only be her conviction that she belongs there. But behind the mysterious façade is a history of lies which unravels everything Charlie thought she knew, including the story behind her mother’s disappearance 10 years ago.

This new novel has been described by Entertainment Weekly as ‘what you would get if you combined The Secret History with Cruel Intentions’, and sounds like it would be a perfect beach read.

Release date: 12th July

 

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook. First there was the car accident – two girls dead after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Two girls killed by the man next door. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they’d lost. That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But some people in the town know more than they’re saying.

Bestselling author Kara Thomas’s new book has been called ‘sharp, brilliantly plotted and totally engrossing’, and promises to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Release date: 31st July

 

Contagion by Erin Bowman

After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission. When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project – including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what happened, they discover that some things are best left buried.

This new novel from critically acclaimed author Erin Bowman has been called ‘pulse-pounding, hair-raising, utterly terrifying’, and is the first in a duology.

Release date: 24th July

 

Testament by Kim Sherwood

Eva was always closest to her grandfather out of all her family. So when he dies, she’s hit by the loss of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared. It’s then she finds a letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps. But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards.

Sherwood is the winner of the Bath Novel Award and her debut has been called ‘compelling, moving and ultimately uplifting’ by author Heather Morris.

Release date: 12th July

New book releases June 2018

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

Once there was a mermaid trapped in the net of a fisherman. She evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore and for many years they lived as husband and wife. Stories of this strange and unusual woman travelled, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in selling the strange and unusual. His name was P.T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid.

Last year I read Christina Henry’s Lost Boy and fell in love with her thrilling, atmospheric style of writing. Her newest release is a historical fairy tale based on the ‘real’ Fiji Mermaid of Barnum’s American Museum.

Release date: 19th June

The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

In the autumn of 1615, scandal rocks the Jacobean court when a celebrated couple are imprisoned on suspicion of murder. Some believe she is innocent; others think her insane. He claims no knowledge of the murder. The king suspects them both, though it is his secret at stake.

This new novel by historical fiction author E.C. Fremantle has been described as ‘a Jacobean Gone Girl’ – what more do you need to know?

Release date: 14th June

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny.

This portrait of life inside a women’s prison sounds both fascinating and funny, and is sure to appeal to fans of Orange is the New Black.

Release date: 7th June

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Two years after people’s shadows start disappearing – and with them, their memories – Ory and his wife Max have escaped by hiding deep in the woods. They have settled into their new reality, until Max loses her shadow. Knowing the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up.

This science fiction book from debut author Peng Shepherd has been called ‘exciting, imaginative, unique and beautiful’ by bestselling author Darin Strauss.

Release date: 28th June

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Louise is struggling to survive in New York. Juggling a series of poorly paid jobs, she dreams of being a writer. And then one day she meets Lavinia. Lavinia invites Louise into her charmed circle, takes her to the opera, shares her clothes, her drugs, her Uber account. Louise knows this can’t last forever, but how far is she prepared to go to have this life?

This kind of idea has been done a thousand times before by different authors with varying degrees of success, but Social Creature has been described as ‘a Ripley story for the Instagram age’ and I just can’t resist the sound of that.

Release date: 14th June

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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

When Harriet Westaway receives a letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. There’s just one problem – her real grandparents died more than 20 years ago. But she knows the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. Once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back.

This new psychological thriller from the author of The Lying Game and The Woman in Cabin 10 sounds deliciously dark and creepy.

Release date: 28th June

Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon and agent provocateur in the LA art scene. Her ground-breaking new exhibition is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women. As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala.

This intriguing novel asks important questions about art and representation, and how society objectifies and victimises women.

Release date: 5th June

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

On the surface, Lydia Fitzsimons has the perfect life – wife of a respected judge, mother to a beloved son, mistress of a beautiful house in Dublin. That beautiful house, however, holds a secret. A secret Lydia’s son, Laurence, is about to discover.

From the bestselling author of Unravelling Oliver, this novel about a Dublin family whose dark secrets and twisted relationships are suddenly revealed sounds like the perfect read to get caught up in this summer.

Release date: 12th June

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

1945. London is still reeling from the Blitz. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow more convinced as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends. But are they really what and who they claim to be?

From the author of The English Patient comes this thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire, set against the backdrop of World War II.

Release date: 7th June

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

The President is missing. The world is in shock. But the reason he’s missing is much worse than anyone can imagine.

This unusual new book is said to contain details only a President could know, and the kind of suspense only James Patterson can deliver. Expect to see it being read on beaches all over the world.

Release date: 4th June

Brilliantly bonkers murder mystery

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

‘Thirty seconds. That’s how long I hesitated when I first spotted her and that’s how far away I was when she was murdered. Thirty seconds of indecision, thirty seconds to abandon somebody completely.’

It is meant to be a celebration but ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book since its release earlier this year. It’s on the ‘must-read books of 2018’ lists in Stylist, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. It’s been described as ‘Agatha Christie meets Black Mirror’ – and I loved each and every second of reading it.

It boggles belief that this is Stuart Turton’s debut novel. He writes with great confidence, creating such an intricate plot I can only imagine the amount of planning that must have gone into it. Any of the myriad small details could prove to be the key to unlocking the case, so it’s vital that you pay attention.

The story takes place in a familiar setting – a crumbling country house in the 1920s, which has more than a few shades of a Victorian haunted house as well. But the story itself is anything but familiar. Turton takes the murder mystery and the locked room thriller and turns it on its head, creating something entirely new and original.

The cast of characters is large but each one is vividly crafted so you’ll have no trouble telling them apart. Although our main character is technically several different people, there is enough consistency to make you empathise with him and care about what happens to him. Interestingly, each of his hosts threatens to overwhelm the original Aiden; they get stronger with each new body he inhabits, until he can barely distinguish himself from the person he is currently wearing.

Although the main mystery is the question of who murders Evelyn Hardcastle, there are many other mysteries that will need unravelling before the book is done, and each one is just as clever, complex and interesting as the last. The pace never lets up, so each time you pick this book up you’ll feel the need to take a deep breath before plunging back in – and once you do so, you won’t want to put it down again.

There might be times when you have to go back and read over a certain passage just to make sure you know exactly what’s going on, but in a book this brilliantly complex, that’s a small price to pay – especially as you’re bound to have loads of fun reading it.

This is a fantastic book with a brilliantly clever plot. It’s completely and utterly bonkers, but in the best possible way. I urge you to pick up a copy.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

New book releases May 2018

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

Synaesthesia paints the sounds of Jasper’s world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be.

This debut novel examines themes of isolation, bravery and morality, and has already been touted as one of the best books of summer 2018.

Release date: 3rd May

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

Carcassonne, 1562. Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop, containing the words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE. Before Minou can decipher the message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever.

Mosse returns to the Languedoc setting of her bestselling trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel) with this first book in a new series. Promising adventure, conspiracies and betrayal, it sounds like the perfect beach read.

Release date: 3rd May

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

Leo Stanhope is an avid chess player, assistant to a London coroner, in love with Maria, and hiding a very big secret. For Leo was born Charlotte, the daughter of a reverend. He fled his family home at 15 and has been living as a man ever since. But when Maria is found dead, Leo is accused of her murder.

This is the first in a new historical series set in Victorian London and has been described as ‘wonderfully atmospheric’.

Release date: 3rd May

Snap by Belinda Bauer

On a stifling summer’s day, 11-year-old Jack is left in charge of his two sisters in a broken down car while his mother goes to get help. But she doesn’t come back. Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, and of finding the truth about what happened to his mother.

As C.L. Taylor says, ‘no one writes crime novels like Belinda Bauer’, and her latest offering promises to be a gripping, terrifying thriller.

Release date: 17th May

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molley

They call themselves the May Mothers – a group of new mums whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together for some much-needed adult time. When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighbourhood bar, they are looking for a fun break from their daily routine. But something goes wrong, and one of the babies is taken from his crib.

This is another of the most anticipated books of the summer and there is already a film in the works starring Kerry Washington.

Release date: 1st May

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Imagine a world very close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter. This is the story of Grace, Lia and Sky, kept apart from the world for their own good and taught the terrible things every woman must learn about love. And it is the story of the men who come to find them.

This literary debut has been compared to Hot Milk and The Girls, and has been called ‘eerie, electric, beautiful’ by author Daisy Johnson.

Release date: 24th May

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The king’s three daughters know the only chance of resurrection for the struggling nation of Innis Lear is to crown a new sovereign. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align. Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war.

Even in 2018 it’s still rare to find a fantasy novel that centres on female characters, so I have high hopes for this epic, blood-soaked debut.

Release date: 17th May

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

War orphan Fang Runin grew up with poppy. Her adopted family smuggles it, making a living on the misfortune of those addicted to its smoke. But when Rin’s parents force her into an arranged marriage, Rin refuses to accept her fate and fights her way to a prestigious military academy.

This powerful epic fantasy novel has its roots in the 20th century history of China, and Booknest has raised expectations by calling it ‘one of the best grimdark/military fantasy debuts of all time’.

Release date: 3rd May

The Outsider by Stephen King

When an 11-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses point to the town’s popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence confirms the crime was committed by this well-loved family man. But Maitland has an air-tight alibi. A man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?

Stephen King’s latest offering has been called ‘a compelling and chilling suspense novel’ – just what King does best.

Release date: 22nd May

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

This sequel to Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister sees Nona Grey struggling with the choice of which path to take: the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor.

Although the first in this fantasy series, Red Sister, had its flaws, I’m still looking forward to the sequel to see where Nona’s path takes her next.

Release date: 17th May

New book releases for April 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

This is the highly anticipated novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of the brilliant novel The Song of Achilles, and is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.

Release date: 19th April

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s rewarded for his success with power, money and respect. But, plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel.

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, which sees Shakespeare’s works told by bestselling novelists of today. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I’m looking forward to reading this new interpretation.

Release date: 5th April

Just Before I Died by S.K. Tremayne

Kath lives with her husband Adam and daughter Lyla in a desolate stone longhouse deep in Dartmoor National Park. One day Kath wakes up from a coma, with a vague memory of a near-fatal car accident. She hugs her daughter and husband close. Then Kath learns that the car crash wasn’t an accident.

This is the new release from the author of Sunday Times bestseller The Ice Twins, a fantastic psychological thriller, and promises the same tense exploration of family dynamics.

Release date: 5th April

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Greer is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at 63, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades. Astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of her directionless sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life.

This new release has been called ‘the perfect feminist blockbuster for our times’ by Kirkus Reviews and examines themes of friendship, ambition and power.

Release date: 3rd April

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain by Ian Mortimer

The period from 1660 to 1700 is one of most exciting times in history. It is the age of Samuel Pepys and the Great Fire of London; bawdy comedy and the libertine court of Charles II; Christopher Wren in architecture, Henry Purcell in music and Isaac Newton in science. The civil wars are over and a magnificent new era has begun. But what would it really be like to live in Restoration Britain?

I’ve already read Ian Mortimer’s time traveller’s guides to Elizabethan England and Medieval England, and marvelled at the way he brings the past to life, so I’m very much looking forward to the next in this series.

Release date: 6th April

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Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation. For Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of even her most fitful imaginings. Bea gradually adapts to life on the island, but the arrival of an unexpected guest threatens their already tentative peace.

Named a Stylist must-read book of 2018, this story of religious mania set on a remote island promises to be both ‘darkly humorous and atmospheric’ (Book Riot).

Release date: 5th April

I Still Dream by James Smythe

17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a surrogate best friend, but as she grows older, Organon grows with her. As the world becomes a very different place, and technology changes the way we live, love and die, Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world.

This novel has been called ‘the best fictional treatment of the possibilities and horrors of artificial intelligence that I’ve read’ by the Guardian, and sounds like it would be perfect for fans of Black Mirror.

Release date: 21st April

Trespassing by Brandi Reeds

Veronica’s grasp on the world is slipping. Her latest round of fertility treatments not only failed but left her on edge and unbalanced. And her three-year-old daughter has a new imaginary friend, who seems much more devilish than playful. So when Veronica’s husband fails to return home from a business trip, what’s left of her stability begins to crumble.

This sinister psychological suspense novel follows a young mother’s quest to find her missing husband, and the dangerous path she will walk to uncover the truth.

Release date: 1st April

Never Greener by Ruth Jones

When Kate was 22, she had a passionate affair with a married man, Callum, which ended in heartbreak. 17 years later, life has moved on. Kate has a successful career, a husband and a baby daughter. Callum is also happily married. But then Kate meets Callum again. And they are faced with a choice: to walk away, or risk finding out what might have been.

The debut novel from Gavin & Stacey actress and writer Ruth Jones examines second chances, messy relationships and why we make the mistakes we do.

Release date: 5th April

The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones, and Other Victorian Scandals by Michelle Morgan

A grisly book dedicated to the crimes, perversions and outrages of Victorian England, covering high profile offences – such as the murder of actor William Terriss, whose stabbing at the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre in 1897 filled the front pages for weeks – as well as lesser-known transgressions that scandalised the Victorian era.

It seems we can’t get enough of Victorian crime, and this latest offering in the genre promises to examine the gruesome crimes that both shocked and delighted the Victorians.

Release date: 12th April

Atmospheric mystery with elements of a thriller

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

Recovering from a breakdown, Jay and her husband Simon move to the desolate edges of the north of England. They fall in love with Two Houses, a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely. But on uprooting their city life and moving to the sheltered grey village of Hestle, Jay and Simon discover it’s not only Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past. It becomes increasingly clear that the villagers don’t want them there at all.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I picked up this book; was it a ghost story? A domestic drama? After finishing it, I’m still not sure which genre it fits in best. But it’s an enjoyable novel nonetheless and one I would recommend to those who like atmospheric mysteries.

I loved the premise of this book, with a house in the middle of desolate countryside, whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that the previous owner had to have them demolished. It’s particularly gothic in its depiction of an isolated house near a quiet village where the residents mumble to themselves and utter mysterious warnings about the house up on the hill.

The atmosphere is also great, and Cooper’s writing is at its best when she is describing the desolate countryside and grey, rain-lashed village. As the pace increases and the novel hurtles towards its end, a storm bullies its way across the sky and threatens to flood the villagers out of their homes, and you’ll find yourselves gripping the book as you race towards the thrilling finale.

Where Cooper falls down is with her protagonists. I didn’t really connect with any of them, particularly Jay. I found her selfish and irritating and her husband, Simon, wasn’t much better in the likeability stakes. I’m not against unlikeable protagonists but I felt like I was supposed to root for Jay, but wasn’t given enough reasons to do so.

However, Cooper makes up for this with her secondary characters, a cast that is memorable and three-dimensional and whose conflicts added interesting layers to the story. I particularly enjoyed Dev, a young man who works at the local library and who is ostracised from the other villagers because of the colour of his skin.

The mystery at the heart of the novel is what keeps you reading and thankfully it has a solution that is both interesting and satisfying. Cooper ramps up the pace and tension so the ending rushes towards you with the pace of a thriller – before everything is resolved the way it should be: over a nice cup of tea.

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper is released on March 22.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.