Sunday 29 November 2015

Tea and books on a bright frosty morning...

I’ve been up for quite some time already, and have been busy cooking and doing laundry, with the plan to take advantage of the bright day to hang some sheets on the clothesline outside - there’s nothing like the smell of freshly laundered sheets that have been dried outside.  While hanging out the sheets, I enjoyed walking on the frost-covered, crunchy lawn, and just appreciated the beauty of the white crust on each blade of grass.  The weather this weekend, both days, is perfect for me - slightly below zero, bright and sunny, not slippery... ideal walking weather.

I got some bittersweet news recently.  The Books editor for our local paper is retiring, and so they are changing the Books page. I have been writing book reviews for the paper for several years now, but unfortunately this opportunity is no longer available - rumour has it that the Books page will be dealt with by someone in a nearby city.  I’m happy for the editor, who will finally have time to read all the books on his list!  But I really enjoyed reviewing for the paper, and it gave me an opportunity to read books I would have otherwise not known about.  But there is an up-side to this, as I realized when I was deciding last Sunday which book to read next.  I found that I could read whatever I wanted!  I didn’t need to read a review book, I didn’t need to read a book for my committee (tomorrow is the last day we can add any new books for our consideration), I could choose to read anything!  It was very freeing... But, like anyone who is used to having limitations imposed upon them for an extended period of time, I approached my freedom with caution.  

I chose to read a book that I originally received to review, but I was able to read it without always thinking about how I would review it.  The book I chose to read was Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks.  Robert Hendricks is a psychiatrist in London in the 1980s, a man who has achieved moderate fame in his field for his pioneering approach to understanding mental illness in the 1960s and for the lone book he published, The Chosen Few, which explored the link between heredity and mental illness, which he never discussed and seems almost ashamed to acknowledge.  Shortly after returning from a business trip to New York, he receives a strange but intriguing letter from a man who claims to have information about his father, who died in the war when Robert was just a toddler.  Robert knows almost nothing about his father, as his mother refused to talk about him as he was growing up, but he sets the letter aside and gets on with unpacking and returning to his life.  Some days later, he is drawn to the letter again, and he researches the writer, Alexander Pereira, to find out more about him.  Pereira, along with offering information about Robert’s father, also requests that Robert agree to be his literary executor, as he believes he has some valuable research to offer into the area of the treatment of mental illness, if only the information could be organized and presented in the right way to editors or publishers.  This is where Robert comes in.  After confirming that Pereira is who he claims to be, Robert agrees to visit the remote island off the coast of France, and arrives with little or no expectations.  Rather than an exploration into Pereira’s life and works, however, what Robert finds is an opportunity to reconnect with his past and make sense of his experiences.  Never willing to think about his past, neither when he was a schoolboy living on the farm with his mother, when he was fighting in the trenches in WWII, nor when he was setting up the Biscuit Factory, the treatment centre he began with two colleagues,  Robert refuses to let his experiences define him.  He is unable to connect to the people or things around him, and sees everything in a disconnected fashion.  He is unable to form relationships, and admits, just a few pages into the book, that “all the connections I’ve made with people over more than sixty years of living can’t conceal the fact that I am utterly alone”.  With Pereira, however, Robert is coerced into talking about his past, and his experiences in WWII, his connections with the men in his battalion, and the mysterious, elusive young Italian woman, Luisa, with whom Robert fell in love and for whom he has been carrying a torch for nearly forty years.  What follows is an exploration into his life, how his experiences shaped him and influenced his choices, and what it means to be human. This novel was a compelling read for me for a number of reasons.  It was a love story and an exploration into the effects war has on the body and the mind of anyone who fights.  I also love a book where family secrets are revealed, and this book had that covered.  It also recounted the development of psychiatry and treatment of mental illness in Britain in the 20th century, as well as exposing the absurdity of so many of the major events of that century.  It explored memory, the reliability of it, the value of revisiting the past, and ways we use memories to reshape ourselves.  This book had so much to offer, and was brilliant… until the ending, which I found to be rather flat, predictable and anticlimactic.  But there were many, many sections that held so much promise, and I wonder if my expectations were raised too high because of these parts.  I had almost no expectations when I started the book, as I’d never read anything else by this British author, so I was amazed at the writing skill and the way Faulks could express the essential struggles of the human psyche in one individual who, having shut himself off from others for forty years, is suddenly overcome with a flood of memories and experiences.  I don't want to discourage anyone from reading this book, just because I didn't like the ending. It was well worth the reading time I invested in it, and so I would recommend it to readers who like books about re-examined lives and the search for identity. I want to share one of my favourite passages from the book, where Robert talks about Minitel, a small computer screen and keyboard attached to your telephone line that could allow individuals to access timetables and book tickets without having to wait on hold to speak to a harassed train clerk.  If it expanded internationally, everyone with a phone line would be linked - “you’d soon be able to type the name of an old school-friend into your Minitel, hit ‘Go’ and the person’s address and phone number would pop up - perhaps even with a photograph.  This sounded quite wrong to me.  Childhood and its friends can’t come bursting back into the shadowless present;  they must... live in a place on which the door had been closed, but where the caress of memory can periodically re-mould them into something meaningful:  their job, in other words, is to be fictional characters.”  Oh, what would Robert think of Facebook?!

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Enjoy the sun!

Bye for now…

Sunday 22 November 2015

Books, audiobooks and tea on a snowy morning...

As I peer through the window, it looks like a winter wonderland outside, all fresh and white and fluffy.  OK, I’m not the one who has to shovel the sidewalk or our long driveway, so I understand that not everyone finds this as awesome, bright and beautiful as I do, but really, who doesn’t get excited by the first snow of the season?!  

Speaking of snow, I read a book earlier in the week by BC author Robert Wiersema called Black Feathers.  This novel is told from the point of view of Cassandra (Cassie) Weathers, a 16-year old girl living on the streets of Victoria.  She has recently run away from home and is trying to escape and start fresh, but winter is setting in and the conditions on the streets are tough.  What she is trying to escape from, we are not sure. Alone and frightened, she is befriended by Skylark, another homeless women who, though also young, has much more experience living on the streets.  She invites Cassie to join her at the soup truck, and while enjoying a hot bowl of soup and a bun, she is introduced to "the community" led by charismatic Brother Paul.  Cassie is wary, but she doesn’t know where else to go, and she desperately craves the friendship and guidance Skylark offers.  This arrangement seems like a temporary solution to Cassie’s problems, but she also suffers from night terrors, in which her reality and her dream world are interwoven until she is not sure what is real and what is her imagination.  When one of the women from the community is found dead the next morning, Cassie flees, having dreamt that she killed her, which makes her feel somehow responsible for her death, although she knows this cannot be true.  She is also taken in by Ali, a waitress at a Chinese restaurant with whom she forms an attachment.  Cassie has yet another protector, Constable Harrison, who warns her to be safe, and advises her to return home.  All the while, prostitutes are being murdered in the city at night, and the reader is introduced to the Darkness, the serial killer who is committing these murders.  The jottings and ruminations of the Darkness begin each part of the book, offering insight into his twisted mind.  As Cassie continues to flee and tries to determine what is real and what is all in her imagination, and as the constable tries to find the killer, while also keeping Cassie safe, readers are subjected to gruesome descriptions that seem unnecessarily detailed. The conclusion is finally reached, but it holds little surprise. OK, I occasionally read these types of books, the serial killer/stalker kinds, but this book was so confusing and inconsistent that I struggled to stick with it to the end.  The writing was not bad, particularly Cassie’s dream/wake-state sections, the descriptions were vivid (though sometime too vivid!), and the insight into the struggles faced by the homeless was powerful.  But there are better books like this out there.  In Birdie,Tracey Lindberg also used the dream/wake-state narrative for her main character, and she did so with more skill.  And as for serial killer/stalker books, I preferred Giles Blunt’s book, Hesitation Cut, although I thought it may be too creepy for some readers.  So I guess I’m saying that I would not recommend this book - it wasn’t terrible, but in hindsight, I would have been better off reading something else for those three days.

So I was pleasantly surprised to pick up a book I recently ordered for my school libraries and found it so absorbing that I had trouble putting it down.  The book is The Fall by James Preller, and it is a young adult novel extraordinaire.  This short but intense book explores the inner thoughts of the narrator, Sam Proctor, as he works through his guilt at his possible contribution to the bullying that caused one of his schoolmates, Morgan Mallen, to jump off the water tower one night.  Told in the form of journal entries, this novel perfectly reflects the thought processes of Sam as he reviews the development of his relationship with Morgan, the things he did right and the many things he did wrong, which added to Morgan’s already-heavy burden.  Preller uses cliches aplenty, mostly in a sarcastic way, but he also manages to explore the fundamental truths underlying some of these well-worn beliefs and sayings.  Using the journal as a vehicle to explore his feelings, Sam moves through various stages, first denial, then remorse, and finally forgiveness (“a gift you give yourself”) in a genuine voice that is sure to make readers of all ages identify with and sympathize with this protagonist, who is not really a bad guy, just someone who was not strong enough to stand up to peer pressure, but someone who is openminded enough to learn from his mistakes and try to make things better.  Despite a couple of weak moments, including the introduction of a bit of magic-realism at the end, I thought it was an excellent novel that explores the effects of bullying and cyberbullying in today's society. I would highly recommend this YA novel as a class readaloud for grades 7 and 8, as it is sure to be a great discussion-starter.

And I finished an audiobook this week, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling).  Book 2 of the Cormoran Strike series following The Cuckoo’s Calling, this novel sees Strike and his assistant Robin take on a case to find mildly successful author Owen Quine, who has been missing for about a week.  This is not unusual, as he often takes himself off for a few days, either with his current mistress or just to get away and write.  But this time, he’s been away longer than usual, and his dowdy wife is anxious - when he is away, Leonora is the sole caregiver for their adult developmentally challenged daughter Orlando.  Quine has recently threatened to self-publish a scandalous novel, Bombyx Mori, that reveals the dirty secrets of people he’s known in the writing and publishing world, poorly disguised as characters in the book.  Tired of following cheating husbands so that his clients, wealthy wives, can get rid of them and sue for even more money, Strike accepts this job because of the novelty of a wife actually wanting to find her husband and be reunited, despite his philanderings and notoriety.  What he finds instead is a tangled web of lies and deception, much like the plots of the Jacobean revenge tragedies from which Rowling quotes at the beginning of each chapter.  When a gruesome murder is discovered, everyone comes under suspicion and Strike and Robin must act fast and think creatively to find the evidence that will free the innocent and bring the guilty party to justice. Interesting characters, both honourable and despicable, abound in this lengthy murder mystery, and it was a good, though over-long and unnecessarily complex, listening experience.  I’ll admit that I stopped trying to keep track of the details by the 10th part (there were 17 parts to the audiobook - yikes!), and I was happy to reach the end, if only to have the opportunity to listen to something else.  The narration was great, the development of the relationship between Cormoran and Robin was interesting, and the relationship between Leonora and Orlando was touching, but I didn’t enjoy this book as much as The Cuckoo’s Calling.  It just seemed like it was trying too hard - trying too hard to be complex and clever, and trying too hard to be too literary. The third book in this series, Career in Evil has recently been published, and I’m sure that once it is available as an audiobook, I will download it, but I’m happy to wait for that.

That’s all for today - I think it’s time to go out and play in the snow!

Bye for now…

Sunday 15 November 2015

Book talk on a clear, cool morning...

As the days grow colder, my appreciation for a hot cup of tea increases, and this morning is no exception.  I don’t have a little treat today, since I went to two church craft and bake sales and one similar event at our local community centre yesterday.  Of course delicious homemade baked goods were in abundance, and how can you not take advantage of such offerings, while also supporting worthy organizations?!  (that’s how I was justifying it to myself all day yesterday as I ate cookie after cookie… “it’s for a good cause…”)

I met with my Friends book group on Monday to discuss a book I had read before, just over 10 years ago.  I had forgotten about this book until a friend from the library recently mentioned that she just finished listening to this book and absolutely loved it, so I must have put it forth as a recommendation for our group sometime in the summer.  The book is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafón, his first adult novel after writing several books for young adults.  This book tells the story of Daniel Sempere, a young boy in post-war Barcelona who, upon realizing that he can no longer remember his deceased mother’s face, falls into despair.  One day his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge hidden library of old books, watched over by the elderly caretaker, Isaac.  Being a new initiate, Daniel is allowed to choose one book that he can take home with him, and he wanders the corridors perusing the stacks of books.  He is drawn, finally, to one book, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax, which he ultimately chooses to take.  The book he has chosen tells the story of a man who is searching for his father, and Daniel becomes completely engrossed in the novel.  In his search to find other books by this author, he becomes involved in a complex plot that spans decades and involves a variety of characters.  His first encounter is with a bookseller and friend of his father’s, Gustavo Barceló, who tries to convince Daniel to sell the book to him, offering huge sums of money for the item.  Of course, Daniel refuses to sell, but during this visit he is introduced to Gustavo’s daughter, Clara, who is beautiful and also blind.  Daniel is smitten with this older woman (he is 11 and she is 18), and he uses her blindness as an excuse to visit the Barceló home often, ostensibly to read to her.  One day, his heart is broken when he discovers Clara and her music teacher intimately involved in her room.  He storms out and refuses to see her again.  Several years pass and Daniel, now a young man, increases his efforts to find out more about this mysterious writer, Carax, who supposedly died in Barcelona in the 1930’s, although there is also a story that he died in Paris in the 1920’s.  It appears that a sinister man, claiming to be Lain Coubert, a character from Carax's book, is searching for and destroying all copies of the author's books. As Daniel gets more involved in the search for the truth, he enlists the help of Fermin Romero de Torres, a man Daniel found living on the street, in need of a good meal and a place to sleep.  He and his father take care of Fermin and give him a job in their bookstore, but it is his friendship with Daniel that is most significant in the story.  Fermin had been imprisoned during the war for espionage activities and has been blacklisted by the local police, headed by Francisco Javier Fumero, a former schoolmate of Carax’s, and an utterly nasty character.  At this time, Daniel also renews his friendship with childhood friend Tomás Aguilar, with whom he once had a close friendship.  He also rediscovers Tomás’ sister, Beatriz, with whom he slowly and secretly falls in love, secretly because she is engaged to an army officer.  The plot thickens as Daniel uncovers more connections within and among various people in the city, publishers, booksellers, the hatter, the police chief, and the members of the wealthy family who once lived in the mansion at the top of the hill.  As Daniel digs deeper and deeper, he uncovers family secrets and hidden connections, all the while falling in love and creating close relationships.  This book has humour, intrigue, mystery, romance, melodrama and politics.  It is about the loss of innocence and the discovery of one’s true identity;  it is also a novel about books, an ode to reading and writing, and it offers a look at post-war Spain through the eyes of a young man.  His descriptions were amazing, creating the atmosphere of the dark, shadowy streets of Barcelona as seen through Daniel’s eyes.  These were my thoughts, but not everyone agreed.  In fact, there were only two of us out of six who actually finished the book.  Two others were running out of time and were planning to finish after the meeting, and the last two gave up about a third of the way into the book.  They found it too long, too descriptive, and not really engaging.  There were too many characters, and the plot was too far-fetched and unbelievable.  I can see how people would feel this way, but those of us who stuck with it past the first 200 pages (it has about 500 pages) agreed that it gets more interesting and more engaging.  Knowing that he wrote young adult novels before this one explains many aspects of the novel, such as the ages of the main characters and the style he used.  It was not a totally successful choice, but I bet it would be more successful with my volunteer group, who I feel would better appreciate the style and the story.  Maybe I will recommend it to them next time we meet.  I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good gothic mystery and doesn’t mind descriptive narrative (which I usually don’t like, but this book totally swept me along!). Note: this book was followed by a prequel, The Angel's Game and finally, The Prisoner of Heaven.

I also read the latest novel by Canadian author Simone St James, The Other Side of Midnight.  Set in London in 1925, it tells the story of Ellie Winter, a young woman living alone in her mother’s house in St John’s Wood who becomes involved in the investigation into the murder of estranged friend Gloria Sutter.  Gloria’s brother, George, arrives at Ellie’s door the day after his sister is murdered with a note Gloria delivered to his hotel the night before, “Ask Ellie Winter to find me”.  Ellie and Gloria are mediums, able to contact the dead on the other side.  After the Great War, their services were very much in demand by families wishing to contact their dead soldier sons and husbands.  Ellie no longer contacts the dead, but only offers services to help people find lost things.  Reluctantly she agrees to help in the investigation, feeling guilty because it was she who ended the close friendship the women enjoyed until a few years earlier, and she who ignored the peace offering Gloria made after the death of Ellie’s mother.  Ellie is further convinced to help Sutter with the investigation because of the involvement of James Hawley, member of an organization tasked with debunking fraudulent psychics, a man for whom she has held strong feelings since their first meeting a few years earlier, also in the company of Gloria.  Gloria was drowned in a pond while performing a seance for new clients, the Dubbses, but the whole thing seems out of character for Gloria, as she never offers her services at the homes of her clients and she always books her appointments through her assistant, Davies, a woman who knew nothing of this last engagement.  As Ellie and James search for clues and try to uncover the truth about what really happened to Gloria, they find themselves in increasing danger, while also falling madly in love.  I recently listened to an audio version of The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and so I was quite excited to get this book.  St James is a master at creating atmosphere.  You really feel as thought you are there, and I was reminded of one of my favourite books, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, while reading this book.  Both heroines were timid, both had to make a living somehow, as they had no living parents and no marriage prospects.  They each entered into their situation rather reluctantly, not really knowing what to expect, and both turned out to be smarter and stronger than they believed they could be.  And they both became close to and protective of their canine companions. It was a fun, light read, a ghost story with, of course, a strong romantic subplot.  Another gothic mystery, I would recommend this book if you are in the mood for a quick read.

That’s all for today.  Happy Reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 8 November 2015

Tea and book talk on a bright clear November morning...

I’m sipping my chai tea and nibbling on a slice of freshly baked Date Bread as I think about our recent book club discussion, and plan out my reading time for today, as I have another book club meeting tomorrow night and I’ve still got over 100 pages to go - yikes!

My volunteer book group met yesterday to discuss a book I’d never read before, The Creator’s Map by Emilio Calderon.  I selected this book because it was one of the titles that my public library offered as a book club set, so clearly some Reader’s Advisory librarian felt that it was a good title for a book club, and sometimes I look to other sources for book choices for my own book club.  This novel, whose main character is based on a real person, tells the story of José María, a young man who, while studying architecture at the Spanish Academy in Rome 1937, where a group of Spanish scholars and other exiles is taking refuge, gets mixed up in a plot to undermine the Nazis as they attempt to invade Italy, a plot headed by Montse, the young beautiful daughter of one of the richest men at the Academy, with whom José falls in love.  While everyone else is pro-fascist and supports Franco and Hitler, José is not interested in politics at all, until he meets Montse.  She is is elusive, secretive, and standoffish, but José’s heart is lost to her, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to win her over.  He suspects that there is a romantic relationship between Montse and Prince Junio, an ardent fascist supporter, Gestapo official and personal emissary to Heinrich Himmler, but how can that be, with Montse so strongly against Hitler?  It seems that José’s only way to win her heart is to expose Junio for who he really is… but what is his true identity?  José becomes involved in the mission Montse has been tasked with, to gather information about the Nazis and pass it on to a British Intelligence agency, including their moves regarding the search for the Creator’s May, a map that has been rumoured to be created by God, showing where the greatest powers are concentrated on earth, and supposedly housed in the Vatican library.  When they manage to steal the map and open it, it turns out to be poisoned, and of course, it is a fake, but this leads to speculation on both sides, the fascists and the resistance - who poisoned the map?  who planted the map?  why was the priest killed?  and most importantly, how is Junio involved and whose side is he on?  It was a bit like The Da Vinci Code and also reminded me of The Name of the Rose, but not nearly as well done.  In fact, we all agreed that it was a confusing book to read, that it was difficult to follow the plot, and that José was a weak character (one member called him a “milquetoast”).  But we also agreed that it was really interesting to learn about the experiences of the people of Spain in the years leading up to and during WWII, which is not something we read about often.  I was thinking the same thing as I was reading the book, that I have read many books about war experiences from the British perspective, the German perspective, the Canadian and American perspectives, even from the Australian and Japanese perspectives, but never from the Spanish or Italian ones, so it was definitely a history lesson for me.  And it was interesting to read about the relationship between the Vatican and the Third Reich, which was what historian Calderon wanted to explore in the novel.  While we didn’t really enjoy the book, everyone was glad they read it, and it led to an interesting and lively discussion.  So I would not necessarily recommend it for the plot, characters or use of language, but it was an interesting look at the history of the Spanish exiles in Rome at that period in history, and while the plot was confusing and it was not extremely well-written, I found it to be a quick read, both because it was a short novel and because it was fast-paced.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…

Sunday 1 November 2015

Books and tea on an extra long day...

As I sip my chai tea and nibble on a cinnamon bun from the market, I’m wishing that we could somehow manage to get an extra hour every Sunday, or even the last Sunday of every month.  That would be awesome!  Alas, it is only once a year, and then there’s the extremely difficult “payback” in the spring, so enjoy it while you can!!

Last week I read a book to be reviewed for the local paper, the latest novel by John Banville, The Blue Guitar.   I was really excited to get this title, as I recently listened to an audio version of the Booker Prize winning The Sea by Banville, which I really enjoyed (see my post from August 19, 2015 for a full description of that one).  So I will admit that my expectations were already high, even before I opened the book.  And it started off really well.  Oliver Otway Orme is a painter, a thief and an adulterer.  While he enjoyed a brief period of moderate fame, he has recently lost the ability to paint.  But he continues to commit petty thefts and engage in affairs.  He steals items that he neither needs nor particularly wants, but which he hopes will be missed by their rightful owners.  He also engages in passing affairs with whomever will have him, though why any woman would desire him is beyond his understanding, since he is “fat, with a big head and tiny feet”.  These affairs are as meaningless to him as his thefts, until he meets Polly.  A more significant affair ensues, until, like one of the items he has stolen, the novelty wears off and he falls out of love with her.  All of these events take place without anyone being aware… or do they?  At the time the novel takes place, he is trying to extricate himself from his connection with Polly, a tangled and messy situation that is sad and pathetic and comic in its absurdity.  As Olly contends with the external storms that occur around him (“oh, pathetic fallacy”), and the one that rages within, he condemns his past and all he has experienced and is experiencing, while also searching for the very essences of these experiences in order to sing their praises.  It is this search for the essence of things, for the “true subject”, for “authenticity”, that brings Olly to the state he is in as he sequesters himself away from everyone he knows.  And it is only when the truth of himself is revealed, as seen through the eyes of others, that he is he able to begin the journey of self-realization and self-acceptance.  This book is divided into three parts:  In Parts I and II, the narrative is delivered in a contemptuous tone, portraying Olly’s scornful attitude towards others.  But the tone in Part III changes from lording and cynical to woeful and self-pitying, which, while not necessarily making for a likable narrator, perhaps makes for a more realistic one.  The “blue guitar” of the title comes from a poem written by Wallace Stevens, “The man with the blue guitar”, a poem influenced by Pablo Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist.  So it is no wonder that Olly sees himself as an actor in his own life, and views life always as an imitation of art.  Banville’s use of language, his imagery and descriptions, are amazing - I was regularly stopping to read passages out to my husband.  But this book seems to lack the narrative flow that I found in The Sea, feeling instead as though the story was somehow cobbled together with no real plan, and Part III was, in my opinion, not nearly as convincing as the first two parts.  Perhaps this was done intentionally, to demonstrate Olly’s deterioration, and if so, it was fairly effective.  Unfortunately, while I’d love to give the benefit of the doubt to this talented and seasoned author, my feeling as I reached the final page and closed the book was one of disappointment.  Perhaps due to my exceedingly high expectations, or my previous reading experience, I felt that this book just didn’t measure up.

And I finished listening to a rather scary book last week (just in time for Halloween!) by Simone St James, The Haunting of Maddy Clare.  This novel tells the story of Sarah Piper, a twenty-something single girl trying to make ends meet in London in the early 1920s, working for a temporary agency and living in a shabby bedsit.  She receives a call from the agency asking if she is interested in a week’s work, beginning immediately.  She is to meet the client at a pub that afternoon.  Since she has not been working recently, is falling behind in her rent, and is dreading another night alone in her room with no prospects, she agrees.  She meets young, handsome Alistair Gellis, a writer and ghost hunter, and becomes his assistant on his latest excursion to the English village of Waringstoke, where the pair are tasked with getting rid of the ghost of Maddy Clare, a young servant girl who hanged herself in the barn but who continues to haunt the barn and cause mischief.  Gellis needs Sarah’s help because, according to her employer, Mrs. Clare, Maddy hated men, and advised that it would take a woman to successfully contact Maddy and convince her to leave.  As she goes into the barn to face Maddy alone, armed with the latest audio visual equipment (a recorder and camera), she encounters some truly terrifying events, including being raised up and then abruptly thrown down again by Maddy. Maddy also speaks to Sarah and gives her haunting visions, asking her to find out what happened to her before she mysteriously arrived at the Clare household seven years before, clearly battered and beaten, terrified and mute.  Shaken, but resolved to helping Maddy, Sarah sticks with Alistair despite the danger she feels she may be in.  Meanwhile, Alistair’s regular assistant and wartime friend, Matthew, shows up, and the sparks begin to fly.  Maddy is obsessed with Alistair, threatening to “take him” unless Sarah finds out who attacked her all those years ago, the only clues the visions Maddy shares with her.  Sarah and Matthew must solve this mystery before Maddy possesses Alistair entirely, yet they must also contend with their strong attraction towards one another.  St James is a star at creating atmosphere, and this creepy story kept my listening eagerly to the very last line.  I’ve read another book by this author, An Inquiry into Love and Death, and I think I enjoyed this one more - it was certainly creepier and more exciting!  And the love story… whew!  Very passionate, very emotional and very descriptive!  I would highly recommend this gothic novel to anyone who feels in the mood for a traditional English village ghost story.

That’s all for today.  What will you do with your extra hour?

Bye for now…