sylvia ashby

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

A book of brilliant beginning, strangely satisfying ending, and a “meh“ middle part.

41nTt6pxC4L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Margo Lewis is a classics teacher living in Cambridge and doubling as an agony aunt for the local newspaper. Her column is called Dear Amy, hence the name of the book.

After a student from Margo’s school goes missing—presumed a runaway because of a few hastily gathered personal possessions—Margo begins to receive some very disturbing letters. They are addressed to the Dear Amy columnist and are written by a girl that’s gone missing decades ago and is presumed dead.

Now, I loved that beginning. It’s got everything I’m a sucker for in a psychological thriller: a narrator you are reluctant to trust because you instinctively feel she’s not telling you everything. A young girl in peril. A beautiful town and a community that does not quite match the moral dignity it inhabits. Well-buried old secrets surfacing reluctantly.

But, and in this case the “but” is a big one: the book needed more work.
Firstly, there are a few discrepancies in the story. Plot holes but also pieces of information that we are given and that don’t match from one chapter to the next. Secondly, I found the chapters from the villain’s perspective immature and clichéd, to say the least. I don’t think they were needed from suspense and plot development point of view, so I wish they hadn’t been included. The physiological methods for retrieving lost memories described in the book were painfully poor and a bit desperate.

There were a few brilliant moments, sparks, in the reviling of the story, which I enjoyed. The novel is fast passed. Margo is likable and I was rooting for her to be “saved” from her past.

Some reviewers have mentioned that they were annoyed by the romance streak in the novel. I wasn’t. I wanted something good to happen to that woman after all the crap she’s been through. The very last sentence saved the book for me, really. I’m not going into details, but it was kind of a full stop that really gave me closure. It was strangely satisfying in a conclusive sort of way.

This book was given to me by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. In this case, I wished they’d revise the book before releasing it to fix up the few weaknesses and make it a five-star read, which it could well be.

The Treachery of Trains Tour – Summary

Tacf302d9ebe69e681ebce6c5e04ce41d (1)he Treachery of Trains Tour is over.

I’ve been gearing up for it for weeks and now it’s finished I feel quite spent. Many things happened in the ten days it lasted: I met new bloggers and got to hear what they make of the novel. My laptop had to go to the laptop clinic because it suffered a bout of nerves and overheated (the fan was clogged with dust). Last but not least, I sold quite a few books.

Thank you to all the people that found my book appealing in some way. I’d love to hear what you make of it once you’ve finished reading it.

Here is a list of links to blogs that took part in the tour. Your contribution was much appreciated.

DAY 4

I was asked very authorly questions by Amber at Judging More Than Just The Cover. If you want to know why I write check out the interview.

DAY 5

The Treachery of Trains got reviewed by Ali – the Dragon Stayer. Ali had this to say “The writing is cleverly done and is at the right pace to keep pulling you back into the story just as your mind thinks it has found it’s niche. A good book for folks who want something a little different from the usual rom-com mould.” Thank you, Ali!

Here my laptop decided to take a little break and the next few days were a blur, but it eventually came back from rehab right on time for Fede’s amazing review!

DAY 8

Fede gave The Treachery of Trains five ladybugs (the highest honor in ItaPixie’s Book Corner). “This book was funny and heart aching at the same time.I absolutely loved it! The writing was so entertaining it was hard to put down.I was so intrigued by the development of the story I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.” Thank you, Fede!

DAY 9

This day was all about Hayley who is rather too fond of books. As Hayley points out in her blog post she jumped on the tour right before it was going to take off and as a result, her blog name was missing from some of the blog posters. BUT her review of The Treachery of Trains is amazing! I want to copy and paste it here in its entirety, but I shan’t as this post will get too long. “I’d never heard of the treachery of an image before but I loved the way it was used and described in this novel. It all then began to make some sense of the title too – the way Sky got the wrong train, a train that wasn’t what it appeared to be, and ended up in a place that she hadn’t mean to go to, that also wasn’t what it seemed to be and yet it ultimately led her to end up where she was destined to be.” Thank you, Hayley!

DAY 10

On the last day, the book and I discovered Chocolate Pages and Amanda, who said: “I am currently very excited about this book, and it is next on my to be read list.” I can’t wait for Amanda’s review!

This was all, lovely people. Keep well, keep reading, and we’ll catch up soon.

S. x

P.S. The image I’ve used in this post is by Edward Fielding. You can buy the poster here.

“The White Cottage Mystery” by Margery Allingham

 

51ukNLTFQnL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_This was Margery Allingham’s first detective story, originally serialised in the Daily Express in 1927. Margery Allingham was one of the beloved writers of the Golden Age of Crime alongside Agatha Cristie, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft, Father Ronald Knox etc.

Like every classic Golden Age of Crime novel “The White Cottage Mystery” features an impossible murder, a love story, a noble detective, a suspicious inheritance and demons from the past. There are a lot of charming ladies struggling to do “the right thing”. There is a man who fought in the war and a villain with a cockney accent; a nanny, who is obsessed with her charge and simple but arduous “house staff” who reveal snippets of information about their masters at exactly the right time.

When Eric Crowther is shot to death Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry are involved in solving the crime. Moments before the crime is committed Jerry drives past the White Cottage giving one of its inhabitants – charming Nora – a lift. As Jerry and his father dig deeper into the lives of the people present in the house at the time of the murder, they realise that

anyone could have killed Mr Crowther.

He was a vile man who enjoyed nothing more than collecting peoples’ secrets and torturing them with what he knew.

The novel was, perhaps, fast passed for its time but it lost a bit of it’s shine at present. The emotions are a bit over the top; the dialogue a tad stifling.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book the same way I’d enjoy watching a black-and-white movie from the fifties. Or the same way I crave Shepherd’s pie every now and again. “The White Cottage Mystery” is comfort food for the mind.

J.K.Rowling claims her favourite Margery Allingham’s book is “The Tiger in The Smoke”, so I’m off to check out that next.

I’m grateful for this book to Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Missing, Presumed” by Susie Steiner 

26141649

“Missing, Presumed” is a surprising crime novel on quite a few levels. Good surprising, I must say as opposed to “what is this?” surprising.

For one, the narrative is predominantly driven by DI Manon Bradshaw story, not the actual crime. By her own admission, Manon is “Misanthrope, staring down the barrel of childlessness. Yawning ability to find fault. Can give off WoD (Whiff of Desperation)”. This is an excerpt from a description of herself she’d like to put up on a dating site. She doesn’t post this, no, instead she cuts and pastes another woman’s resume, which she thinks sounds more enticing. And which attracts only weirdos: a poet, who sleeps on his ex’s couch and likes petite women (Manon is not); a guy who doesn’t stop talking about himself, but Manon still sleeps with him.

The crime itself is a dubious one, at best.

A Cambridge student, Edith Hind, is missing from her home. He boyfriend returns to their shared cottage to an open door, a bunch of coats knocked to the floor in the hallway and some blood in the kitchen. That’s it.

Edith, however, is a beautiful, popular, white girl. “An intellectual” according to her father Ian Hind, so the Police take notice. It helps that Sir Ian Hind is the go-to surgeon for the Royal family and frequents the theatre with the Home Secretary. The Police is quick to escalate the manhunt for Edith to national and international scale with mounting costs and disgruntled Police superiors.

At the same time, the body of a young black man is washed up from the river near the Hints holiday home.

Taylor Dent’s been missing for weeks.

His little brother has tried to report him missing, but the Police have taken no heed. The brother is only 10 years old; Dent is impoverished and black. Their mum is a drug addict. Nobody is looking for Dent.

DI Manon Bradshaw stumbles through the investigation in much the same way she blunders through life. She doesn’t so much follows leads and questions witnesses, as we are used to in crime novels, but rather lets the crime evolve until all is revealed.

And all is revealed.

There is a lot of umbrage in this novel. I mean the word “umbrage”. For a rare word like that the characters in the book use it a lot.

Also, I don’t think separating the structure of the novel through many voices adds to the narrative. The voices sound very much alike. There was little difference who’s name was at the beginning of each chapter.

Still, these little facts don’t change that “Missing, Presumed” is a wonderful effort. Looking forward to meeting Manon Bradshaw again.

Beautiful Depression: “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

41LdnNav2xL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_“The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther.”Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is (almost) modern prose; (almost) an autobiography; and (completely) a perfect piece of art. I could write for days about the poetry of the prose of Sylvia Plath. Of her mesmerising metaphors and allegories; the quickness of her mind and her unaffected writing style.

But as beautiful as our words could be, ultimately, they would be about depression. That’s what The Bell Jar is all about.

Sylvia Plath’s fight with this multifaceted demon lasts throughout her short life. She dies at the age of 30, after countless suicide attempts, leaving behind two very young children, numerous poems, and one novel – The Bell Jar. Half a century later, I’m as fascinated by it as all those before me, who’ve read it and attempted to write about it.

Sylvia Plath’s first suicide attempt is at the age 19, by swallowing her mother’s sleeping tablets and hiding under the house to die. She survives, by the skin of a miracle. The Bell Jar is about that summer, which marks the start of Sylvia Plath’s relationship with elusive Death.

In the novel her name is Esther and the book was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, but it’s all about Sylvia Plath. Like Plath, Esther loses her father at an early age; like Plath, Esther spends a month in New York on a magazine scholarship; like Plath, Esther attempts to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills. Esther leaves behinds a letter to her mother, which is, word for word, the letter Sylvia Plath leaves to her mother when she attempts to commit suicide.

Same as Esther in the book, Sylvia Plath gets inadequate help and dismal reactions to her depression symptoms: electroconvulsive therapy and her mother’s words “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.”

In the 50ties, electroconvulsive therapy was all the rage when it came to treating physiological symptoms. It was prescribed and administered for epilepsy and kleptomania; depression and catatonic states. Esther/Plath receives electroconvulsive therapy during the months spent under psychiatric supervision. They appear to have helped. But the prose in The Bell Jar is like the skin of a maiden spread over broken bones. They threaten to puncture the surface and expose the pain and suffering bellow with every verb and noun.

In The Bell Jar, Esther talks about her doctors with humour and warmth, but her care and gentleness are not reciprocated. Painful and humiliating therapies – insulin shocks alongside the electroconvulsive – are administered.

The sketches of the women in the psychiatric hospital are like the pages of a ghost book. Esther/Plath keeps asking herself why are all these women in the hospital with her, when they appear so normal. Then the pains, the losses, the failure, the shame are revealed; as if through them Plath reveals her own feelings of inadequacy.

Esther’s best friend in the hospital is discovered hanging from the ceiling one morning. This successful suicide attempt is like an echo of the last suicide attempt Sylvia Plath would ever make. As if she knows success is only a matter of time. A delayed execution, that’s never far from her thoughts and would be, ultimately, part of her reality one day.