Review: The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam

21443281 Source: Goodreads First Reads
Format: Paperback ARC
Publish date: 28th August 2014 by Penguin
Price: N/A
Date Read: 24th July 2014

Note: I received this copy of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam for free through Goodreads First Reads. The opinions and thoughts I share in this review are my own.

I was delighted to receive this copy of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House through the post as it was one which greatly appealed to me. I was shocked to discover on it’s arrival that it is an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), so I am not allowed to post any quotes from it – much as I may wish. At a little over 500 pages, this paperback book is rather thick but surprisingly lightweight with reasonably sized but not overly large text. I especially enjoyed the floppiness of the pages – it was a joy not to have to wrestle to open a book! The cover is somewhat sedate and rather dignified but striking – I adore it.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House is a story set in two different time periods. The scene is set in the seaside town of Helmstone, a place with sharp cliffs, holidaymakers, day-trippers, a fairground and a hotel – among other things. Chapter one begins the story in 1965 with the main character of that period Rosie Churchill. She is a young woman in her late teens and run away from home and sixth form to rent a bed in the rundown yet still beautiful Castaway House in Helmstone. Castaway House though has its secrets. Rosie is soon set on discovering who the mysterious ‘R.C’ is; a drawing of a man with the initials ‘R.C.’ is found wedged behind some skirting boards, a mysterious message is discovered carved and inked into the frame of a window and whispers of trouble years ago come to Rosie’s ears.

In 1924, a young and somewhat naïve nineteen year old Robert Carver makes his way to Helmstone to stay with his wealthier, older and more exciting cousin Alec at his beautiful home, Castaway House. He arrives to find that Alec has married, walking straight into the lives of a damaged, un-loving couple with far-reaching secrets. Little does Robert know that his summer at Castaway House will change his life and the lives of all he comes in contact with.

At 500+ pages, The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House rather intimidated me upon first glance. Once I started reading however I was hooked. The story is written in the first person, from the viewpoint of either Robert or Rosie depending on which year the chapter was set in. I think the span of time covered in both 1924 and 1965 was only a few months; the summer of 1924 and sometime from September in 1965 although there were links between the two. The story was brought to life by the author’s words. The characters were wonderfully flawed and exquisitely human. No one was perfect and each had characteristics and traits and got into situations that you could easily understand, feel and relate to.

This book was very much set in the UK – Helmstone sounded  to me like the seaside town of Brighton on the south coast of England. There were also many mentions of the 1st and 2nd world wars. In 1924 and 1965, both would still be very near memory to the population. Many would have lost parents, bothers, cousins, uncles or sweethearts in the fighting. There would still be reminders, especially on the coast – shops previously used as lookout posts and maybe a pier destroyed so it couldn’t be used to land enemy planes.

The story of Castaway House and its inhabitants in both 1924 and 1965 were linked wonderfully, with little tendrils of knowledge and hits at answers – and even more questions – coming throughout the story. The way the author intertwined the characters throughout the book and between 1924 and 1965 was magnificently done and I am completely in awe. I was kept guessing throughout the majority of the book until the full story was told and the characters truly unveiled. I will admit to making a few guesses which ended up evenly split between right and wrong!

The mystery of Castaway House and its inhabitants was one which touched many lives. I was completely enchanted and thrilled with the story and characters and didn’t want to finish reading. Unfortunately I had to in order to find out what had really happened.

This book is one I will keep going back to and will loudly praise to all who will listen. Why? Because it’s bl**dy brilliant.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Events: #SexMeUpReadathon and #Sunathon 2014

This week is going to be fun and busy with two exciting events going on this week. Along with a normal week of work I shall be joining other twitterati and book bloggers to celebrate books and reading… By reading! I’m so eager to start that I’m up at 6am on a Sunday writing this blog!

 

#SexMeUpReadathon : Monday 21st – Friday 25th July 2014

First up, running Monday to Friday we have the #SexMeUpReadathon. You can follow on Twitter with that hashtag, along with #LetsGetItOn and #StaySexy. Even better is that I have written a guest post for it; my very first! My post, titled ‘The Taboo of Erotica’ will be going live at 5pm on Wednesday 23rd. Definitely a *squee* moment going to be going on there!

There is so much else to be looking forward to during the week including Q&A’s, other guest posts, short stories, authors (including J Kenner!) talking sex and a very exciting amount more. You can find a (nearly) finalised schedule for the week over at the #SexMeUpReadathon blog here. I shall be printing a copy to keep with me!

 

#Sunathon : Monday 21st – Sunday 27th July 2014

The second event runs from Monday to Sunday and is #Sunathon. Again, follow on Twitter with that hashtag. You can read Emma Louise’s fantastic introductory blog post about it here.

 

The object and idea of both readathons is to encourage people to pick up their books and read. They aren’t races to finishing lines or competitions to see who can read the most- a view I absolutely adore. As I joined up first to the #SexMeUpReadathon my book choices have mainly been for that, although all books will also count for #Sunathon. Maybe I am being a little hopeful in the amount I will be reading but no matter as I will enjoy reading all I can!

So, my list of Erotica for #SexMeUpReadathon:

#SexMeUpReadathon

Sources: The Story of O – My Bookshelf // Bound to Danger – BookBridgr // Crazy About the Baumgartners – NetGalley // Heated – Goodreads First Reads // Claimed By the Alpha Dolphins #1 – NetGalley // The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty – Library 

And my list of other books to include for #Sunathon:

#Sunathon

 Sources: The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House – Goodreads First Reads // Don’t Fall – Giveaway Prize by Mily @TheYANightstand // Good Omens – My Bookshelf // Do or Die – NetGalley

All in all a lot to look forward to, although some of the books with rather large numbers of pages (such as ‘The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House’ – which I will eagerly admit to having started already – with 504 pages and ‘Do or Die’ with 577 pages)  are starting to worry me. Fortunately these are offset by some with very few! I keep reminding myself though, it’s not how much I read that matters, only that I am reading! I’m also excited to be mixing physical copies of books and e-books. It will be interesting to see which I prefer.

So, will you join us this week in celebrating reading? It doesn’t matter at all what you read or which Readathon you join in with – if you join in at all. Just read. Visit your local library or pick something dusty off your shelf. Give it a glance, give it a read. Browse Amazon for free books to try on Kindle or computer/phone app or buy a dozen which catch your imagination.

Give it a go.  I certainly hope you do and invite you warmly to join, watch and take part.

 

Review: Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman

Own the book: Yes
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Format: Hardback
Published: 22nd May 2014 by Allison & Busby
Price: N/A
Date Read: 12th July 2014

Note: I received this copy of Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman for free through Goodreads First Reads. The opinions and thoughts I share in this review are my own.

shifting-colours

I was extremely fortunate to receive this book; it turned out to be one I didn’t know I needed to read. When I opened the package, the first thing that struck me was the gorgeous cover; the girl in the red dress under a tree full with purple blossom. The tree I think is some kind of jacaranda. The blurb on the back reads:

‘This is the sweet memory of Mme, my dear mother. The first sweet memory…sometimes her laughter bursts into my head or I hear her call me – my name full and round in her mouth. Frustratingly though, as with all the memories I have of Mme, her face always blurs under the pressure of my focus’

Let me begin by saying that if you’re looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. If you’re going to read it, be ready for emotion, intelligence and a story that will stay with you and make you think.

Shifting colours is, at its very basics a story about a mother and her child. The mother, Celia, is a black woman in South Africa during the apartheid and a maid in the house of a white couple; Rita and Michael. Her daughter is called Miriam, a young and outgoing child who is excited about the world and eager to explore. With the increasing unrest and danger, Rita and Michael decide to move back to England, offering to give Celia’s daughter Miriam a new and better life there with them. Celia, longing for better for her daughter agrees, being told that she will of course see her daughter again soon, that letters will be written, news shared and that Miriam will return. She doesn’t. Rita and Michael on returning to England with their newly legally adopted daughter Miriam cast aside the promises made and lie to Miriam about her mother. Heartbreaking.

Over the following years, the story dips into the then very different and often upsetting lives of Celia and Miriam. Celia in Africa; trying to make her way in life and supporting her remaining children as well as an ailing mother and Miriam in England; tormented by bullies, an unloving adopted mother and knowing that she doesn’t really fit in anywhere.

Fiona Sussman writes with unwavering and often brutal honesty. Many of the situations were heart-rending but I also found a brilliance in her writing. Her descriptions and language brought the story to life and I could smell the air of Africa and visualise the places Miriam and Celia travelled. Lives so very different to my own. I found the narrative of the differences between England and Africa to be startling and I hope to one day travel to the continent to see it for myself.

There is so much I could say about this book but the words do not come. How difficult it is to write of emotions and wild thoughts.

I will end by saying that I feel I am starting to know just a little more about a situation and time that was long before I was born. A time which for many is still so close though.

Please read. It will be difficult, but you won’t regret it.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½