#BookReview: The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola | @Anna_Mazz @TinderPress @annecater

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About the Book

From the author of The Unseeing comes a sizzling period novel of folktales, disappearances and injustice set on the Isle of Skye, sure to appeal to readers of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites or Beth Underdown’s The Witch Finder’s Sister.

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach, and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother many years before.

 

My Thoughts

Audrey Hart is a young woman who has left London to travel to Skye to work collecting folk tales from the local area. Her late mother had also been interested in folklore and had traveled to areas nearby so she is also wanting to know more about her. She moves in with Mrs Buchanan, the lady who she’ll be collecting the tales for, and begins to settle in. Soon after her arrival she finds a body on the beach and from this point on real life begins to blur with the folklore for Audrey.

The Story Keeper is a fantastic novel. The writing is wonderful and so atmospheric. I felt the oppressive atmosphere in a small place where people are very insular and don’t want to share their lives and their stories with incomers.

Audrey is a great character. I was in awe of her travelling from London to Skye on her own in a time when this would have been a scary and courageous thing for a young woman to do alone. I felt for her at the lack of a mother in her life, I know what it’s like to lose your mum and could see how lost she was and how at the root of everything she was looking to find a sense of her mum somewhere. As Audrey began to get more and more drawn into the folklore and to see some of the happenings that the islanders spoke about I was really hoping that she was going to be okay. I was rooting for her to be able to make a home and a life, and to feel settled again.

There is so much mystery in this novel and I loved how it was possible to find yourself believing that there must be something in the folklore as the horrible things happening on the island were so similar to the stories, whilst at the same time the rational side of your brain is thinking that there must be another reason for the coincidences and odd happenings.

I got so absorbed in this novel and felt really jolted when real life brought me back to where I was. It’s not often that a novel captures me to that degree and it was wonderful to be so enthralled. The Story keeper is a brilliant, atmospheric and utterly gripping novel and I highly recommend it!

Many thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours and the publisher for my copy of The Story Keeper and the invitation to be on the blog tour. All thoughts are my own.

The Story Keeper is out now in hardback and ebook, and can be pre-ordered in paperback here.

 

About the Author

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Anna is a writer who, due to some fault of her parents, is drawn to peculiar and dark historical subjects. Her novels, which have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime, explore the psychological and social impact of crime and injustice. Anna’s influences include Sarah Waters, Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood.

 

You can follow the rest of this tour at the following blogs:

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#BookReview: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt @TinderPress @PublicityBooks @IKillNovel

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About the Book

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

 

My Thoughts

I was beyond thrilled when I won a copy of See What I Have Done in a giveaway on twitter around Christmas-time. I read the book in a couple of sittings soon after it arrived but have held off posting my review until now so as to be closer to the release date.

This book is incredible. I knew a little about Lizzie Borden before reading the novel but this book really brought the case to life. The novel is told from the perspective of multiple narrators, who each add another layer to the story. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion – it opens with the murders having occurred and then goes back and forth from the days preceding the murders to the day of, and then the time that follows. I love the layering, the way each chapter adds a little more knowledge, and sometimes more questions, about the motivations of the characters.

I think the character I most cared about was Bridget – the maid who had travelled from Ireland to make a better life for herself and ended up in this cold and slightly strange family. Lizzie is the most memorable of characters though – she is never likeable, her manipulative side shows through from the start and she doesn’t seem to care who she tramples over to get what she wants. I was intrigued by her though. Sometimes it felt that Lizzie was much younger than the grown woman she was, but then there were flashes of a really calculating streak that showed her for the woman she was. Knowing from the start that it is she who is suspected of killing her father and step-mother with an axe, I was paying close attention to how she behaved before and after the killings.

The murders are gruesome and utterly horrific. It seemed impossible that a young woman could have physically done this to the large man her father was and yet her character traits made it seem absolutely possible. It made me uncomfortable that I believed it of her because of her being such a cold character, but then taking a step back it seemed she was the most likely culprit.

There are other suspects in the novel, and it seems likely that at least one of them is a plausible suspect. It’s strange that a man who is something of a wrong-un, who is asked to go to the house on the night of the murders by the Uncle of Lizzie and her older sister Emma, felt less likely to have done it than Lizzie.

The detail in the writing is stunning and so evocative – I swear I could smell the mutton broth on the stove in the kitchen as I was reading, and I felt like I could taste the pears from the trees in the garden. The stomach upset the family were suffering from was described in such a way that I ended up feeling very queasy as I was reading. There is a really stifling atmosphere around this house, it made me feel really claustrophobic and like the air in the room was pushing down on me at times and yet I still couldn’t stop reading. I love when the writing in a novel is so brilliant that it keeps you hooked even when you can hardly bear to read the unsettling, uncomfortable descriptions on the page.

I finished reading this book months ago now and yet it remains so vivid in my mind. I still think of the characters and what happened, it’s one of those books that really gets under your skin. I’m certain that this will be in my top ten books of this year – a book that makes you think, and one you can’t forget simply has to be up there in the best of the year list. I highly recommend this book. It’s due to be published on 2 May and you can pre-order it now.

I won a copy of this novel in a Twitter giveaway and have chosen to review it. All thoughts are my own.

The gorgeous proof copy that I was lucky enough to win has an interactive cover just like the one in this video: See What I Have Done blippar I’ll be buying a finished copy of the book but this is a proof that I will also be keeping in my my collection.

 

About the Author

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After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional writing and editing), a Master of Arts (Creative Writing), and a Graduate Diploma of Information Management, Sarah currently works as a Reading & Literacy Coordinator (read: a fancy librarian) at a regional public library.

See What I Have Done is her first novel.

(Bio and author photo taken from here)