Thursday, 24 December 2015

Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson / The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason / Escape From Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth

Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I saw Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson mentioned in the Read Scotland 2015 Goodreads group and found a free online version at East Of The Web. The story is short, at just sixteen pages, and I enjoyed its seasonal setting as this is a traditional supernatural tale for Christmas. This is my twelfth book for Read Scotland 2015 and I am pleased to have averaged one a month.

Markheim is set on Christmas Day although, other than the lack of custom to the antique dealer's shop, we only really know this because we are told so. A regular customer has been let in to the closed shop. He usually takes items to sell, and we are given to understand that these are stolen goods, yet for Christmas Day he wishes to buy a gift for a lady friend. The dealer doesn't completely believe him, but is trusting enough to turn his back ...

Stevenson's story is very much of its time with most of the sixteen pages taken up by overwrought dialogue that is far too deep for natural conversation in the situation described. However, accepting that this is the case stops the melodrama from detracting from the tale. Markheim has led a poverty-stricken life, believing his thieving and worse to be the result of his circumstances. Now that perhaps he has sunk as low, morally, as it is possible to go, should he heed the words of a devil and profit from his crime or should he stand tall for once and Do The Right Thing?

I liked this tense story and would have preferred it actually to have been a little longer. The claustrophobic shop setting is wonderfully described and I found it easy to imagine the situation. It would be a good story to read out loud or to act out on Christmas Eve.

As I am pretty sure that Markheim will be my last book for the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge, I will roundup all my titles here. Links go to my blogged reviews.

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
Celtic Blood by James John Loftus
Secrets Of The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
Secrets Of Islay by Robert Kroeger
Full Cupboard Of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Luminous Life Of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
The People's Act Of Love by James Meek
The Piper's Story by Wendy Isaac Bergin
The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
The Glasshouse by Allan Campbell McLean
Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Piano TunerThe Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason is set in 1880s England and Burma (Myanmar). Our protagonist, a shy London piano tuner named Edgar Drake unexpectedly receives a War Office request to travel many hundreds of miles in order to tune a rare piano. He will be paid generously with a year's income for what is planned to be a three month commission. Despite his initial reservations, he decides to make the journey - his first outside of England.

I enjoyed Mason's writing when he describes the fabulous journey. Drake boards steamships and trains, travels through India as well as Burma, and Mason evokes the atmospheres, sights and sounds, colours and scents in wonderful detail. The mission itself does seem ludicrous, but having already read Giles Foden's factual account of the British Army's ship transportation through the Congo not so many years later, sending a piano tuner through Asia is simple by comparison!

The Piano Tuner does rely heavily upon exposition however and I was disappointed at how much this slowed the pace. Drake is taught Anglo-Burmese war history through lengthy War Office briefing documents which we also get to read. The information is dry and, while kind of relevant, isn't needed in such depth. The same could be said of the piano information dumps - a little is interesting, a long diversion is too distracting. Characters are often deliberately vague which made it difficult for me to maintain interest in their plight and I thought the ending was unnecessarily rushed. I came away from this book feeling it owed much of its overall story arc to Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness - which I am now tempted to revisit - but without that classic's power.

Escape from Witchwood HollowEscape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Escape From Witchwood Hollow from its author, Jordan Elizabeth, after being contacted via Goodreads by Jessica, a member of her street team. The book is a Young Adult supernatural tale, so not one of my usual genres, but I could see it already had other good reviews so I took a chance.

Escape From Witchwood Hollow is set in three time periods. We begin in Autumn 2001 meeting Honoria on her first day at a new school. After the deaths of her parents Honoria has moved with her Aunt, Uncle and brother from New York City to a small rural community. She tries to cope with such massive life changes, but finds making new friends difficult, especially when she finds herself practically dared to enter the local haunted wood, Witchwood Hollow, in the middle of the night.

Jumping back in time, we meet up with Lady Clifford, a noble English immigrant to America in 1670 and a fugitive after she is accused of murder; and Albertine who is also English, although of much lower social class, and another immigrant some 180 years later when she follows her father across the Atlantic to make herself a new home.

I enjoyed reading the three stories and loved the way in which they begin to intertwine. The storyline is much deeper and more intricately plotted than I expected from a YA novel and I found myself gripped by the twists and turns. Elizabeth describes her settings well and the story is brilliantly paced. Its air of menace grows steadily, yet the writing never becomes overly melodramatic. Perhaps some of the dialogue isn't completely true to its period, however, our three heroines are distinct characters making difficult but believable decisions, and the supernatural angle made this a perfect ghostly read for Christmas Eve.

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