The Watcher in The Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Book Review

The Watcher in the ShadowsThe Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I bought Marina I also bought The Watcher In The Shadows by the same author. In some respects this book is similar to Marina, in that it is a young adult book dealing with the loss of childhood innocence and the move towards adulthood. In fact the theme of loss is present throughout this book in one form or another.

In summer 1937, following the death of her father, young Irene and her family move to the coastal village of Blue Bay, where her mother goes to work as housekeeper for retired toy maker Lazarus Jann.

Jann is a recluse who lives locked away in his mansion surrounded by bizarre mechanical toys. When Irene meets Ismael together they begin to uncover the mystery behind the abandoned lighthouse that overlooks Blue Bay and Lazarus Jann’s secret past.

The Watcher in The Shadows creates the feel of an idyllic, beautiful, long summer. But as this is a gothic horror things soon take a darker turn. You feel the shattering of the characters’ dreams. This book is both beautiful and sad. It takes the idea of the shadows of your past controlling your life and weaves it throughout the book, creating a kind of gothic tapestry of loss and survival. There is also a strong sense of foreboding that is ever present.

I got the sense from The Watcher in The Shadows of the characters learning that it’s those sometimes brief and fleeting moments of happiness that they carry with them that get them through all the darkness. There is a definite air of hope at the end.

Like Marina, The Watcher in The Shadows is aimed at young adults, but as an adult I found plenty to enjoy in this book. I can only hope that young adults are reading books like this. A nice introduction to the genre.


Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Book Review

MarinaMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Marina is a gothic story aimed at young adults. I didn’t know it was young adult when I bought it but that never worried me. I’m OK with a teenage protagonist if the story is good.

The story centres around young Oscar Drai who meets a mysterious girl called Marina. One day Marina takes Oscar to a graveyard where they witness a woman dressed in black lay a single red rose on a grave whose headstone bears no name, only the emblem of a black butterfly. They decide to follow her. From there onwards they are dragged into a dark vein of the cities forgotten past.

I enjoyed Marina. It’s a quick read and doesn’t hold back on the emotion just because it’s a young adult book. There are two stories at play in the book; there is the main gothic adventure and the story of Oscar and Marina’s growing relationship. You get the feeling of a character waking out of childhood into an adult world where he’s having to face up to the frailty of life, human weaknesses and fear and how those things can easily lead you into darkness. You know at the end of the book that he can never go back to being the boy he was at the beginning.

I know some people dislike the way Ruiz has a habit of writing big sections of back-story being relayed by one character to another but personally I feel he does this pretty well. I didn’t feel like there was too much putting the story on pause to fill in the back-story. I don’t recall it happening at moments of immediate action. It felt quite natural, and one character sitting down to tell another character their back-story isn’t exactly a new contrivance.

Without giving too much away, the end of this story is heart-breaking. I say this even though I could see it coming. I don’t know whether it was expected that younger readers wouldn’t pick up on it so soon (which I doubt), or whether we are supposed to see it coming and therefore have more sympathy for Oscar who clearly doesn’t. Either way, it was very emotional.

The reason I gave this 4 stars rather than 5 on Goodreads is because I felt there were some elements of the story that were not brilliantly explained, and not in a mysterious ambiguous sense; it just felt a bit unclear. Also I didn’t like the decision two characters made on the train platform at the end of the book. I can understand why they would make that decision but to me it would have felt more natural for them to decide the other way. But it’s the kind of situation everyone deals with differently. I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m saying!

All in all, a nice piece of accessible gothic horror that can introduce young adults to the genre and also engaging enough to appeal to adults. And if it is a consideration for you, it had a gorgeous cover.

One side note, there are parts of this book that remind me very much of one of the classic books of the gothic genre; I wont say which, but there is a character whose name greatly resembles that of its author. I wonder if this was an intentional nod. I do hope so.

Cirque du Mort by Anastasia Catris

Cirque du Mort

Cover Via Goodreads

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

An intriguing notion; this is a collection of short stories each relating the macabre and sometimes gruesome origins of the members of a haunted circus.
On the whole this is an enjoyable read. The stories are short making it a good book to dip into when you’ve got a spare five minutes and the unified setting of the haunted circus generally works well. The stories are imaginative and well told; sometimes you find yourself wondering how Catris got so much into so few words!

If I was to be really picky the one slightly discordant note for me was the bearded ladies story which I felt didn’t quite resonate with the theme of the rest of the book. Other readers may, of course, disagree with me on that point and I did, however, enjoy it as a story in its own right.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout. The only drawback in the book’s combined text and illustrations is that it isn’t a comfortable reading experience on the old Kindle touch; but even if, like me, you own a slightly older Kindle there’s always a kindle for pc app so it’s not a major problem; for the sake of the beautiful illustrations and graphics it’s worth it.

All in all I can definitely recommend this book. It’s a beautiful, well-crafted book and a welcome addition to the genre

The Selkie Pact by Judith Fullerton – Review

The Selkie Pact by Judith Fullerton

Cover Via Goodreads

Technically this is a children’s book but having a long held fascination with mythology I was intrigued to read it. This is a glorious adventure that weaves the mythology of the Antrim coast throughout the story.

The hero of the story is Finn whose quiet summer holiday by the sea with his kindly grandparents is turned on its head when he starts to be drawn into a strange adventure that raises questions about everything he thought he knew and challenges his ingenuity.A lovely book and I imagine it would be a nice way to introduce kids, who weren’t already familiar with them, to some of the Celtic myths and folklore.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill – Review

The small hand tells the Story of Adam Snow an antiquarian bookseller. One night on his way home from a visit to a client he gets lost on the way home through the country lanes. That’s when he stumbles across a crumbling, decaying old house with overgrown gardens. As he stands contemplating the sight he feels a small hand slip into his own, a child’s hand; but the child is invisible.

Firstly, what did I like about this book. As always with Hill’s books there’s plenty of descriptive writing going on and she does it well. The story provides an element of danger that grows from something so seemingly innocent and threatens to overpower the protagonist; but as it’s written in the first person we could probably guess he was going to come out of it relatively OK. There’s some interesting psychological elements going on and you are left wondering how much of Adams experience was down to ghosts and how much was the result of fear itself.

Which brings me to what didn’t work for me. I have a couple of bugbears with certain elements of the writing. It seemed as though every time Adam had a ghostly encounter he had to stop and tell us that he was sure it was real; he was sure then; he was sure later; he was sure last time. Did I mention he was sure? There also seems to be some slightly heavy foreshadowing. I don’t mind a narrator telling me that they would come to look back fondly on a certain night or afternoon, but once is enough and twice within the space of 9 pages wasn’t really necessary.

I’m not sure what to make of the conclusion. In one respect it was a fairly predictable but tidy explanation but not quite as satisfying as it could have been. I’m all for a little ambiguity in ghost stories but I was left thinking ‘right, I know what happened in the past but I don’t understand why it happened’. I wont say anymore because I’m trying to keep this review as spoiler free as possible. Of course just because it bothers me doesn’t mean it will bother someone else; I am a person who delights in detail.

Ultimately I did like this book; it had a good premise, nice descriptions, spooky houses and thunderstorms. I would just liked to have seen some elements of the story fleshed out a little.