Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill

Beneath the surface

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|11 July 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Fiona Neill’s novel The Betrayals, so I had high expectations for Beneath the Surface, another family drama. It’s set in the Fens, where Patrick and Grace Vermuyden and their two daughters, teenager Lilly and ten year old Mia, are living in badly built, damp and draughty house. Grace says it’s because the marshland beneath is reclaiming the land. It’s not just the land and the house that cause the problems the family face. They’re a dysfunctional family, all of them keeping their secrets well hidden from each other – as the subtitle indicates: Everyone Lies.

Patrick’s in debt, Grace keeps the tragedy of her childhood to herself, wanting her daughters to have the happy childhood denied to her, Lilly seems to have everything going for her, a clever girl who looks set to do well and go to university, until she suffers a seizure and collapses at school. Whilst Lilly spends time in hospital as they try to discover what is the cause of her illness Grace discovers to her great dismay that Lilly has been living a secret life.

As for Mia, she is a problem child and always in trouble at school. Her only friend is Tas, who lives in a caravan on the Travellers’ site.  She’s an eccentric child with a vivid imagination, who keeps an eel she calls Elvis, in a bucket in her bedroom and she has a knack of saying the most inappropriate remarks at the wrong time. At times I really didn’t like her much – especially for keeping the eel in captivity and also because of the barefaced lies she sometimes tells. And it is Mia’s actions, for ever wildly thinking up reasons for what is going on around her that add to their problems.  Even as she tries to put things right everything just seems to get worse.

Beneath the Surface is an emotionally charged novel about the burden of keeping secrets and the effects that misunderstandings and lies can have. In parts I found the story weighed down with words, but I was gripped by it and anxious for all the characters as it seemed they were in an ever decreasing spiral of disastrous events. After quite a slow start it gradually builds to a dramatic climax that took me totally by surprise. 

Many thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark

House by the loch

Two Roads|19 June 2019|384 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Kirsty Wark’s debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, so I was keen to read her second book, The House by the Loch. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautifully written family saga covering three generations. It has a strong sense of place and goes deep within the characters’ inner lives, hopes and fears. And as mysteries and secrets, losses and tragedy are gradually revealed I became totally absorbed by the story. At times immensely sad it is also uplifting. It’s set in Galloway in Scotland, south of Ayr near the Galloway Hills, mainly around Loch Doon.

The House by the Loch begins when ten-year-old Walter MacMillan witnessed a Spitfire crashing into Loch Doon in October 1941, based on a real incident. It was something he never forgot and he built a cairn as a memorial to the pilot. The narrative switches between the 1950s and the present day, telling of Walter’s marriage to Jean, a vibrant young woman when he first met her, his relationship with his children, Patrick and Fiona, and his grandchildren, Carson, Iona and Pete. They all have their problems and difficulties within their relationships, but matters come to a head one weekend when there is another tragedy in the loch.

This is a book that you need to take your time reading, a book to savour and reflect upon at leisure. It has a slow meditative pace as the beautiful scenery of the Galloway landscape unfolds in front of your eyes. But it is the characters themselves that kept me turning the pages, centred on Walter and his granddaughters Carson and Iona. Walter is an immensely patient man, but he was unprepared for the effect living in isolation in the house by the Loch had on Jean, who came to see it as a prison, and on their marriage and children.

Even the minor characters came across to me as real people – Edith, for example, Jean’s mother, an elegant beautiful woman who couldn’t leave her house and garden, feeling she might collapse, and her father brash businessman Billy. Then there are Marie, who helped Jean when she couldn’t look after Carson and Iona, Fiona, who struggled with her marriage, Elinor, Patrick’s wife and her sister, Meg and also Walter’s cousins who only come into the story in the latter part of the book.

Kirsty Wark’s love of Scotland comes over very strongly in this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of family sagas I’d read years ago – books that swept me along as the secrets of earlier generations impact on their descendants. It’s about family relationships, happiness, love, loss and heartbreak.

About Kirsty Wark

She is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who has presented a wide range of BBC programmes over the past thirty years, from the ground-breaking Late Show to the nightly current affairs show Newsnight and the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show. Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award, as well as nominated for the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Her second novel, The House by the Loch, has been inspired by her childhood memories and family, particularly her father. Born in Dumfries and educated in Ayr, Scotland, Kirsty now lives in Glasgow.

Many thanks to the publishers, Two Roads, for my review copy via NetGalley.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Where the Wild Things Are to

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Where the wild things are

This month the chain begins with a book I haven’t read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurie Sendak. This is the summary from Amazon:

One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max’s room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins! But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all.

Apart from the opening book I have read all the books in my chain and they are all crime fiction (the links on titles are to my posts on the books).

My first link is the word in the title, wild:

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin – Rebus has retired but is asked to act in a ‘consultative capacity’ albeit not as a cop and with no warrant card or real powers and with no pay. It’s a complicated crime fiction novel and Rebus and retired gangster, Big Ger work together, although never fully confiding in each other.

My second link is also a word in the title – dog:

Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas, the second in her Three Evangelists series. It’s a strange murder mystery, full of bizarre events and characters  in which two of the three ‘Evangelists’, Marc and Mathias help uncover the mystery surrounding a tiny fragment of human bone found in a pile of dog excrement on a grid around a tree.

My third link is to another animal that features in a crime fiction mystery – a cat:

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun features Koko, a beautiful Siamese cat – who can’t actually read! Earl Lambreth, who runs an art gallery is found murdered and Joe Qwilleran, a newspaper reporter, with help from Koko, uncovers the identity of the killer.

There is also an art gallery in The Wych Elm by Tana French. Toby Hennessy, the narrator is a good looking and charming young man who works for an art gallery in the centre of Dublin. A human skull is found in the hollow trunk of a wych elm in his uncle’s garden.

And there is a human skull in Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes – the President of the college has been murdered, his head swathed in a black academic gown, a human skull beside his body and surrounding it, little pile.

Finally, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers is also set in a college, Shrewsbury College at Oxford University. Harriet Vane attends the Shrewsbury Gaudy (a college reunion involving a celebratory dinner), not sure she can face meeting her fellow students and the dons. It doesn’t go well – there are poison pen letters, nasty graffiti and vandalism causing mayhem and upset.

Next month (August 3, 2019) is a wild card – start with the book you’ve ended your July chain with (for those playing for the first time, start with the last book you finished reading).

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries

Quercus |1 November 2018|410 pages|Hardback|Library Book|3*

I knew very little about The Stranger Diaries before I opened the book beyond the fact that it is a standalone novel by Elly Griffiths, a murder mystery with a Victorian Gothic feel. It sounded different from her other books that I’ve read, so I was intrigued. 

It begins with the opening of the Victorian Gothic writer R M Holland’s short story, The Stranger, a ghost story set at midnight at Halloween. Clare Cassidy, an English teacher at Talgarth High, where Holland once lived, runs short courses for adults on his work. She is also writing his biography, hoping to discover the truth behind the stories that his wife fell to her death down the stairs, (there are rumours that her ghost haunts the building). Was his wife killed, or was her death suicide or an accident? And was the mysterious ‘Mariana’ his daughter? There is no record of either her birth or her death. 

But the main plotline is the modern mystery – that of the murder of Ella,her friend and fellow English teacher. A line, ‘Hell is empty!‘ from Holland’s story is found in a note beside her body. Ella, however, is only the first murder victim and gradually it becomes clear that the motivation for the killings centres around Clare. Is she a suspect or a potential victim? The story has three narrators, each one clearly distinguishable – Clare, her teenage daughter Georgia, and Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, giving different perspectives on events. Excerpts from The Stranger are interspersed between the chapters along with Clare’s diary, in which she records her suspicions and fears that could hold the clue to the killings, and those about the police investigation. 

Overall, I did enjoy The Stranger Diaries. I liked the literary references to Victorian literature and the details about R M Holland (a fictional character).  I thought the characters were interesting, especially Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur. But I didn’t find either the short story, The Stranger, or the atmospheric setting particularly spooky and I thought the murder mystery was rather unconvincing, especially the ending. Maybe my expectations were too high – or maybe it’s the wrong time of year to read it, and Halloween and November would be more appropriate!

Reading Challenges: Calendar of Crime (the main action takes place in November) and the Virtual Mount TBR challenge.

 

My Friday Post: I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney is one of the books I borrowed from the library. It was due back yesterday and as I’d only just started to read it I tried to reserve it – but couldn’t. Fortunately it is available at the moment for 99p on Amazon, so I’ve now bought the e-book.

I know who you are

London, 2017

I’m that girl you think you know, but you can’t remember where from.

Lying is what I do for a living. It’s what I’m best at: becoming somebody else.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

I close my eyes and see Ben’s face, I don’t need a photo for that. It feels as if the us I thought we were is being demolished, lie by lie, leaving little more than the rubble of a marriage behind.

Blurb:

Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from. But I know exactly who you are. I know what you’ve done. And I am watching you.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I shall! I wanted to read this book because I thoroughly enjoyed Alice Feeney’s debut, Sometimes I Lie.

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

Anything you do say

Penguin |25 January 2018|358 pages|Paperback|3*

This is a very short post about Anything You Do Say, the second of Gillian McAllister’s books. Walking home alone late one night Joanna is sure the man following her is the man who wouldn’t leave her alone in the bar. She turns to face him and panicking she pushes him away. He falls down the steps leading to the towpath alongside a canal and doesn’t move. What should she do? Should she face the consequences – phone the police and ambulance and wait for them to arrive and  or just leave him there, lying in a puddle and walk away?

Both decisions have consequences and from that point on the book explores what would happen if she revealed or concealed her actions.

At first I found it a bit confusing keeping the two stories separate in my mind, but that soon passed as the chapters are clearly headed Reveal or Conceal.  It’s a dilemma and Joanna is an indecisive character who in both scenarios regrets choosing both reveal and conceal. I really wanted to like this book and although I think it’s well written and the characters, although in the main not very likeable, come across as believable, I found Joanna’s lies and deceit became tedious and the stories dragged on too much for my liking. I think the structure of the book made it seem artificial, more an exercise in morality than a tense thriller or a mystery. 

I prefer her other books that I’ve read –  Everything But the Truth, No Further Questions and The Evidence Against You.  They are all standalone books, so can be read in any order. 

This is on of my TBRs and also one of my 20 Books of Summer books.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2019 TBR

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic: Books On My Summer 2019 TBR. As I’m taking part in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge I’ve included some of the books I’ve identified for that challenge together with a few other books. Some of these books are ones that have been on my TBR list for ages and some are more recent additions from NetGalley.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

I’m really keen to read this one! I’m hoping it’ll be just as good as her last two books that I’ve read recently.  In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up. In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note. They’ve been dead for several days. Who has been looking after the baby? And where did they go?

Blood on the Tracks edited by Martin Edwards, one of the British Library Crime Classics – a collection of short stories of railway mysteries. Short stories are not always my favourites which is one reason I’ve had this selection for a while now, although I have read the first story, The Man with the Watches by Arthur Conan Doyle – not a Sherlock Holmes mystery. 

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill, the second Dalziel and Pascoe book. I’ve read some of the later books in the series and am now going back to the early ones that I haven’t yet read.  A body is discovered when a statue is moved at  a college.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – I bought thus book five years ago and started to read it at the time, only to put it to one side and then forgot about it. It follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley – the fifth Seven Sisters book. This is one of my more recent TBRs. It looks very interesting as it moves from the Scottish Highlands and Spain, to South America and New York as Tiggy follows the trail back to her own exotic but complex past.

Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan, subtitled The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. I first read C S Lewis’s biography Surprised by Joy many years ago, and since then have read several of his other books and cried watching the film Shadowlands. So I’m very keen to read this book.

Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way, a psychological thriller, in which a family is trapped in a nightmare. In the kitchen, a man lies dead on the blood-soaked floor. Soon the police will come, and they’ll want answers. I haven’t read any of Camilla Way’s other books, so I don’t know what to expect.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susanna Stapleton, a book that blurs the margin between possible truth and impossible invention. ‘Maud West’ was a real lady detective, working in the early 20th century. It is part biography, partly the story of Stapleton’s research and part social history.

The Rose Labyrinth by Tatania Hardie. I can’t remember where I got this book from, but   I entered it in my LibraryThing catalogue eight years ago! It doesn’t have sparkling reviews, so I’m hoping I’ll like this story of a quest to solve the riddles set by Elizabethan spy and astrologer John Dee.

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark, a family saga, set in the beautiful Scottish countryside, a tale of a family drama and secrets refusing to lie buried in the past. I thoroughly enjoyed her first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. I have high expectations that I’ll enjoy this one too.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these books, or are thinking of read them, especially if you have read The Rose Labyrinth.