Friday, 25 February 2011

Springtime on the way?

Looks like we've just about made it through the dark again for another year. Yesterday was almost Springlike. When the sun was out it was almost warm. Not warm enough for the rest of the Bamber Bridge lunchtimers to come out from the blare of the jukebox poppiness and listen to the birds singing sweeter songs in the outdoors. I guess I'll be munching alone in the beer gardens of Lancashire for a few more weeks yet.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Small Hand

Susan Hill's new ghost story is a subtle and insidious melancholy tale about a book collector who on discovering a lonely house feels a ghostly small hand slip into his own. From a strangely subdued beginning Hill weaves a clever story that hides deeper fears and anxieties behind the trappings of the ghost story. Fear of insanity, incipient madness waiting on the edges of our perceptions like a dark spider, can be far more terrifying than fear of the supernatural. What Hill does here is to blur the lines between the two, and even though this book won't have you nervously inspecting the darkest corners of the room, or even make you shiver with disquiet, it is a finely drawn story that subtly engenders introspection. The gaps in our knowledge of the working's of the mind and the question of the unexplained, the supernatural are all topics that can be examined but never fully brought completely into the light of human understanding. Hill impresses again by challenging the reader on many different levels rather than simply trotting out a string of strange happenings to raise a chill thrill.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Ghost of a Chance

Rhiannon Lassiter's Ghost of a Chance is aimed squarely at YA readers. Or others, of more mature years (that's me), who think the young shouldn't have all the fun where reading is concerned. It follows the attempts of lost spirit Evangeline Chase, haunting her crumbling stately home as she attempts to discover who killed her before the killer bumps off the rest of her family. Eva is an excellent character. All the best scenes belong to Eva. Her character works on many levels and holds the sympathy of the reader throughout. All the ghostly characters are fine, from the sad young ghost Sinje to the vengeful and lethal Witch and Stalker. The living characters are where the book fails though. They are for the most part half written and dull. Kyle is ok but his twin Kyra just doesn't work at all. There's a sort of half hearted anti-bullying theme which misfires completely, mostly due to the contradictory and unrealistic description and realisation of the girls character.
Despite all this I was quite enjoying this book until about three quarters through. Unfortunately, things start to flag at the end of the long and eventful ghost walk, which takes up most of the middle section of the story. The book loses its focus at this stage and starts to tread water. The narrative is further undermined by a sudden onset of random head jumping among the minor supporting characters.
The murder mystery won't baffle many readers and I expect even the most inept detectives among them will have had the killer tagged with a good proportion of the book still ahead. The shock ending is also not in the least unexpected, even if most of the telegraphing were removed it's unlikely anyone will reach the end without twigging well in advance.
It's a shame the atmospheric and well paced opening half of the book wasn't better served by its conclusion.
One other minor external quibble is the choice of title. A quick search on Goodreads reveals there are well over 60 books already called Ghost of a Chance and I dread to think how many are about ghosts who are called Chance. I'm all for a cheesy chapter title or two for a bit of fun but the book title drives the book's shelf identity and I would think something less well worn would serve it better.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Cheeky Chancers

Glad to see our squirrels have returned. We used to spend so much time trying to do the impossible. Water into wine? Quite tricky. Lead into gold? Might take some time. Stop squirrels eating from the bird-feeders without harming them? Sorry I don't do miracles. Then when they did go missing a couple of years ago we really couldn't wait to get the cheeky chancers back.
Debbie put some hazelnuts out on the front lawn. It didn't take long before they got claimed.