Genre: Ghost/Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Ebury Press (Penguin)
Published: 27th June 2019
Reviewed: 21st August 2019
A house full of history is bound to have secrets…
Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…
Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.
While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…
Rowan Coleman has always been one of my favourite authors, occupying three out of the twenty coveted spaces on my ‘All Time Favourites’ shelf: The Baby Group, Dearest Rose, and The Summer of Impossible Things. All different genres, and all equally as brilliant as each other. So, as you can imagine, I had already set my hopes quite high for the author’s latest novel. As well as this, I knew The Girl at the Window had connotations with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This brings back fond memories when during the second year of my literature degree, I was snuggled up in my writing room, writing an essay on ‘the constant overlapping of the gothic and the domestic’ in Wuthering Heights whilst the snow and hail storm of February 2016 rapped against my window.
The Girl at the Window is a perfect blend of fact and fiction, historical and contemporary. Starting in the present, Tru is having one of those weird dreams where you think you’ve woken up but you haven’t. But when she does wake up her nightmare is only just beginning when she is told her army surgeon husband, Abe, has gone missing in action. But despite all the evidence stacking against him, Will (Tru and Abe’s young son) refuses to admit defeat and is determined to have faith in the return of his father. But Tru isn’t convinced and decides to go back to the home where she grew up, and the place where she fell in love with Abe: Ponden Hall and the Yorkshire moors, in the hope that she will find a clue as to what happened to him.
Tru’s mother still lives at Ponden Hall but we soon learn that their relationship is a difficult one and they have been estranged for several years. As the rift in their relationship gradually heals, we learn about what life was like for Tru as a child, and her father’s familial connection to Ponden and the Bronte’s. The story also touches on some deep issues such as post-natal depression. At first, Tru’s mother came across as a right old hag, but by the end I absolutely loved her. A tribute to the author’s wonderful creation of this multi-dimensional character.
But where this story is so very different from other ‘uplit’ genres is that it is also utterly creepy. You wouldn’t think the two genres would work together, but this hybrid really does work so well. There is a scene where a hand comes out of the wall and grabs Tru: like OMG I almost s**t myself! One of the reasons nineteenth-century gothic and crime novels were so popular was because they juxtaposed the ordinary world against danger. Sherlock Holmes for example, one minute he was trying to escape with his life, the next he was in his cosy living room with an open fire and his housekeeper bringing him a cup of tea. Ponden is like that; you have weird and supernatural things going on in one part of the house whilst Tru’s mother is baking cakes in another.
Like Wuthering Heights, The Girl at the Window also has a frame structure, where the past story is told through the present-day story. There were also some other plot and characterisation similarities to Wuthering Heights: I could see parts of Heathcliffe in a few of the characters. Like Heathcliffe, Agnes was brought to Ponden by the man who adopted her; and in the same way that Heathcliffe returned and bought Wuthering Heights, so did Robert. Whilst Blackbeard, like the adult Heathcliffe, was full of hatred and revenge, this character also reminded me of Hindley Earnshaw and the way he treated the young Heathcliffe. There is also, of course, the star-crossed love story element between Agnes and Robert, and not to mention Tru and Abe.
The Girl at the Window has been yet another unique and incredibly satisfying read from Rowan Coleman. I don’t want to give any spoilers but wow that ending, and how the message from Agnes links to Tru on a much deeper level is just brilliant. I can’t really say who I would recommend this book for as it in a league of its own. It’s a story for anybody who is looking for an uplifting story of family, love, loss, reconciliation, as well as somebody who likes a bit of gothic horror. Not to mention anybody who has a book addiction. Modern-day Bronte’ fans perhaps!
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley
for an Advance Review Copy of this book
in return for an honest and unbiased review.
About the Author
Rowan Coleman lives with her husband, and five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family which includes a very lively set of toddler twins whose main hobby is going in the opposite directions. When she gets the chance, Rowan enjoys sleeping, sitting and loves watching films; she is also attempting to learn how to bake.
Rowan would like to live every day as if she were starring in a musical, although her daughter no longer allows her to sing in public. Despite being dyslexic, Rowan loves writing, and The Memory Book is her eleventh novel, which was chosen as a Richard and Judy bookclub selection in 2014. Others include The Accidental Mother, Lessons in Laughing Out Loud and the award-winning Dearest Rose, a novel which lead Rowan to become an active supporter of domestic abuse charity Refuge, donating 100% of royalties from the ebook publication of her novella, Woman Walks Into a Bar, to the charity.
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Raven Books
Published: 8th August 2019
Reviewed: 7th August 2019
It starts as a game at a book group one night. Never Have I Ever… done something I shouldn’t.
But Amy Whey has done something she shouldn’t. And Roux, the glamorous newcomer to Amy’s suburban neighbourhood, knows exactly what that is.
Roux promises she will go away. She will take herself and her son, who is already growing dangerously close to Amy’s teenage stepdaughter, and she will go. If Amy plays by her rules.
But Amy isn’t prepared to lose everything she’s built. She’s going to fight back, and in this escalating game of cat and mouse, there can be only one winner.
Amy and Char are both mothers of young children who live in the same street, and despite their age gap (Amy is older) the pair are the best of friends. Char loves classical literature and runs a book club (from Amy’s house), which is planned down to the last minute . She also likes to sit in her own special chair, which all the other women in the book-club daren’t sit in. So when Roux, the mysterious newcomer to the area, arrives unannounced at their book-club one evening and takes over – including sitting in Char’s chair – Char is put out to say the least. Before Char and Amy know it, the evening has come to an end and Char’s chosen book has barely been mentioned. But it is after Char has gone home that things really hot up!
The author has already set the scene that Roux is out to cause trouble. When she instigates a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ one of the other women in the group admits to kissing another man and Roux stores away this piece of information to use in the future. The next day, Roux turns her attention to Amy, and reveals she knows exactly what Amy did in her past, blackmailing her to hand over her inheritance or risk losing everything she holds dear. However, Roux hasn’t banked on Amy’s feistiness and she may just have possibly picked on the wrong one this time.
What was unique about this narrative was that it was solely from Amy’s perspective and (apart from a flashback scene early on) it is set in the present. I thought this was quite interesting because although it is an event from Amy’s past that has given Roux the first spark of amunition against Amy, it is her ongoing actions since then, including the here and now, that raises the stakes. Most psychological thrillers juxtapose the perspective of the protagonist alongside that of the antagonist; asking the question as to who is telling the truth. But this was not the case here. Roux’s background is a complete mystery and is only brought to light through Amy’s detective work and personal psychoanalysis of her. Rather than internal monologue, the author reveals Roux’s inner thoughts by coming in so close that every tiny facial twitch tells a miniature story, revealing whether Roux is nervous or lying.
I really liked Amy, she’s done some stupid things in the past, but a big twist reveals just what a big heart she has and just exactly how much she could lose though Roux’s evil determination to destroy her: this is much more than what is revealed early on. Although initially at her wits end as to what she is going to do, Amy soon decides to fight back by digging into Roux’s own closet – quite literally. And what she finds out is far more shocking than anything Amy has done. Readers are in for a real treat with this twisty turn in this tale of cat and mouse.
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley
for an Advance Review Copy of this book
in return for an honest and unbiased review.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson’s newest book, Never Have I Ever, will launch in July of 2019. You can check out her previous eight novels and other work here. Joshilyn’s books have been translated into a dozen languages, have won SIBA’s Novel of the Year award, have three times been #1 Book Sense Pick, have twice won Georgia Author of the Year awards, have three times been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and have been a finalist for the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction.
A former actor, Jackson reads the audio versions of both her own novels and the books of other writers; her work in this field has been nominated for the Audie Award, was selected by AudioFile Magazine for their best of the year list, won three Earphones awards, made the 2012 Audible All-Star list for highest listener ranks/reviews, and garnered three Listen Up awards from Publisher’s Weekly.
She serves on the board of Reforming Arts, a nonprofit that runs education-in-prison and reentry programs. Reforming Arts fosters the development of critical and creative thinking skills, encouraging students to build livable lives both during and post-incarceration. Through this organization, Joshilyn has taught creative writing, composition, and literature inside Georgia’s maximum security facility for women.
Joshilyn learned to scuba-dive in order to write Never Have I Ever, and now she and her husband Scott are both avid divers. They live in Decatur, Georgia with their two kids, two entitled cats, and a modestly-sized dog.
A couple of years ago I heard about this fantastic place in Bristol called Novel Nights where readers and writers came together and spoke about their love of books. It sounded right up my street and I really wanted to go. But even stronger than my love of books was my antagonist force of not being able to face a room full of people I didn’t know, especially on my own, so I put the idea to one side in the hope that one day I would be in a place where I would be able to overcome my flakiness and go along. I continued working on my writing, alongside my literature degree with the OU (Open University) – something I could do from the comfort and isolation of my writing room. Little did I know that, through the OU, my life was about to change and my dream of going to Novel Nights was about to become real.
I’d already completed the OU’s Creative Writing module (A215). This gives an excellent grounding in the basic elements of fiction writing such as characterisation, dialogue, setting, plot and structure etc, but in 2017 I signed up for the final year course: Advanced Creative Writing (A363). A363 not only builds on the elements of A215 it also includes scriptwriting – something that terrified me at first but I actually loved it. But what I loved most about the module was the people that I met along the way. As I mentioned earlier, A363 is an advanced course and is generally taken by those who are serious about developing a career as a writer. Whilst the OU online forums were pretty rubbish, our A363 Facebook group thrived and it wasn’t long before some of us had become good friends. After the module finished, we set up a cabin for the July NaNoMo, and later our own Facebook group: Blanc Page. The name is very apt as when we meet up we do tend to drink more Prosecco and cocktails than write. In fact, come to think of it, we don’t really do any writing at all – oops – hick! (This photo was taken at our last get-together).
One of the first literary events we went to was the 2018 Bristol Festival of Literature, and it was here that I first met Grace, the founder and co-host of Novel Nights. Grace was such a lovely person and promised me that everyone at Novel Nights was really friendly, and if I went along then I would be made to feel welcome. Going to the literary festival had been a big thing for me. I’d never caught a train on my own before but the Blanc Page girls held my hand through this traumatic event, meeting me at Temple Meads and generally calming me down at having done such an adventurous thing! (I live in Bristol so it was about a 12-minute journey). So when I spoke to Grace, all of a sudden going along to Novel Nights seemed like something I might be able to do afterall. My friends and I all agreed that we came away from the literary festival feeling just that little bit closer to becoming real writers and despite drinking bottled water and not Prosecco, we left the day completely fizzing. The next chapter in the adventures of the Blanc Page girls was to be Novel Nights. And I for one couldn’t wait!
The first Novel Nights we went to was in January 2019. Located in the heart of Clifton, just off Park Street, Berkeley Square is steeped in Bristolian history and culture, and arriving just before half-past seven on that January evening it was easy to visualise the setting when it was first built at the end of the 18th century: a foggy night with black carriages setting-down well-to-do ladies and gentlemen outside their imposing terraced houses. The pavements really are something else; the curbs must be a least a foot high – but I bet those horse-drawn carriages would have been quite a jump down for an 18th-century lady in a posh frock! It felt a little like I was walking into a scene from an 18th-century novel like Sherlock Holmes; in fact, number 24 was used in the filming of The House of Eliot. The Novel Nights venue is located at number 15, and it took us a while to work out that we needed to make our way down an external staircase to what looked like a secret members club. It was all very intriguing, and extremely exciting.
Inside, Grace was at the door, greeting people and ticking names off the guest-list. I was expecting to be asked what my name was but instead Grace greeted me with ‘Hello Callie, how lovely to see you here.’ Although this was no doubt just a small thing to Grace, I can’t tell you how this made me feel. I couldn’t believe she remembered my name. I’d arrived feeling super anxious but due to Grace’s natural ability to make her guests feel welcome, I’d only just walked through the door and I’d already been made to feel a part of things. I’m not easily impressed, but less than two minutes at my first Novel Nights, and I was in awe of the place.
After making our way to the bar (well, a girl must get her priorities right) we bagged the squishy turquoise sofa along the back wall and sat back, not quite believing we were amongst the company of so many prolific writers. Jane Shemelt was sat in front of us. Like OMG one of my favourite writers ever! The guest talker was Christopher Wakling. As well as being a best-selling novelist, Christopher teaches Creative Writing at a number of prestigious places: Curtis Brown, Faber, and Arvon; we’d already heard Christopher speak at the opening night of the literature festival over at the Naval Volunteer (or the Volly as we Bristolians call it) so knew how funny he was, but I don’t think any of us were really prepared for just how inspirational his advice was too. I’m so glad I took along my writing journal – I soaked up every word he had to say, making pages and pages of notes on the whole drafting process from creating dialogue with conflict and subtext, to plunging characters into tricky situations, to editing and hooking an agent. Of course, this was done in typical Christopher Wakling style where the talk was delivered from the opposing perspective of ‘how not to write’. It was absolutely hilarious and his captivated audience was literally rolling around on the floor for most of it.
There have been lots of Novel Nights in between with talks from bloggers, to advice from top publishers and literary agents. But for me, without a shadow-of-doubt, the highlight of going to Novel Nights was meeting the best-selling psychological thriller writer Jane Corry. I’ve been a fan of Jane’s ever since her first psychological thriller My husband’s Wife, and I’ve been lucky to have been able to receive ARCs (advance review copies) of her last two books The Dead Ex, and I Looked Away. Listening to Jane speak of her writing journey was truly inspirational. As a newbie novelist, I could sit for hours listening to how successful authors spend their working day, and how parts of their own life experiences naturally ends up in their books. Right at the beginning of the creative writing course I did with the OU I was taught about tweaking and twisting what you know to make realistic stories, and listening to Jane really brought home this piece of advice. Just like me, Jane is a grandmother who adores her grandchildren, and with Ellie, the protagonist of her latest novel I Looked Away being a grandmother, it was clear to see how Jane had used the unconditional love she felt for her own grandchildren in Ellie’s character. Jane had loads of other writing tips too. She spoke about how she carries out research, to how her novels have changed since she switched from pantsing to plotting, as well as planning what the big plot twist at the end might be. I’m currently writing my own debut psychological thriller so this has made me go away and really think about what those main plot points will be. To top the evening off, not only did Jane Corry sign my bloggers copy of I Looked Away, she actually asked to have her photo taken with me. Swoons…
The same evening also saw readings from some other brilliant writers: Caroline Mitchell, A A Abott, Liz Hill. All three of them were completely mesmerising as they read out extracts from their novels. In fact, I was so captivated by Caroline’s story I completely forgot to take the photo I’d promised of her stood in front of the microphone! I met Caroline at Bristol University’s Writing Fiction class earlier in the year, and am proud to say she is now also one of the Blanc Page girls.
The atmosphere at Novel Nights is utterly intoxicating from the moment you step inside until the moment you leave, and then it can take quite some time to come down from the high of being in such a wonderful place. I can’t describe how brilliant it is to be in the same room as best-selling authors alongside writers who are at different stages in their writing journey. Like the literary festival, I always come away feeling just that bit closer to being a real writer.
But don’t just take my word for it. Novel Nights has grown from strength to strength this past year with regular events now in Bath, and more planned for Exeter. Novel Nights has also recently received Arts Council funding. The Novel Nights team Grace, Colette, and Charlotte, hope to use this to support the fantastic writing masterclasses they have recently set up as well as to expand into digital projects. The team are looking to establish monthly author-interview podcasts aimed at encouraging and inspiring writers – so no matter where you live Novel Nights can reach out to writers everywhere. I haven’t been lucky enough to go to one of the masterclasses yet but I’ve heard lots of good things about them. You can find out more here: https://www.novelnights.co.uk/masterclasses/
None of this would be possible for me it wasn’t for my Blanc Page girls, who have held my hand and introduced me to the fabulous writing and literary events we are so very lucky to have here on our doorstep in Bristol. So I would like to give a massive shout out to Suzy Fox (the next best-selling romantic novelist – def one to watch out for!); Jennie Foy (script-writer extraordinaire); and Claire O’Connor (amazing author of Floursacks to Petticoats, recently published in the Generations anthology by Write Club OU).
If you would like to come along to Novel Nights you can find out more details at https://www.novelnights.co.uk/. You will be made to feel really welcome and will no doubt become as addicted as I am. I just absolutely love Novel Nights and can’t recommend it highly enough for both readers and writers alike… just anybody who loves books really.
You can see my reviews for Jane Corry here: