I know, I can hear it all now. She has 4 kids, 4 chicken, 2 dwarf Russian Hamsters, a cat, a husband and a job. Does she have no home to go to? Why on earth would she review a book? We always knew she was a bit mad but…etc…etc…!
I will tell you why. The author said to me, would you like a free copy of my book in return for telling anyone who will listen what you genuinely thought of it. I thought about it for 30 seconds or so and concluded the following:
1. I like free stuff (what parent doesn’t, I mean kids don’t come cheap!).
2. I like books.
3. I find it hard to keep my uncensored opinion to myself whether someone wants to hear it or not (hence the bloggy thing)
4. I have kids. I don’t have time to browse WH Smiths thriller section while enjoying a latte and shortbread. Book shopping with kids is pretty tricky. Basically, if someone tells me what a book is about and whether it’s good or not, I find it pretty helpful. It’s about time I re-paid the favour.
Pre-kids, I would read one to two thriller novels a week. Any spare moment was spent devouring literature. The majority of weight in my holiday suitcases was usually, to the bemusement of many a customs officer, novels for me to spend hours reading wherever we went. Post kids, well, I probably don’t need to expand! Needless to say, where once I would have read pretty much anything on the basis that within a couple of days, I would be on to something new, I am now very selective. My reading is now limited to a short time on the train on my working days, and ten minutes in bed, or possibly on the sofa if I don’t make it as far as bed, before I fall asleep with my book on my face (unless it’s a very good one!). I now only read novels which I expect to really enjoy, as I can expect to be in the company of that novel for at least a month.
The Coal House, by WS Barton
Llandudno, North Wales, and the surrounding countryside, is a beautiful part of the world. It is one in which I am privileged to spend time with my family, as it is the area from which my husband’s family originate.
This part of North Wales is home to breathtaking scenery, and on a summers day, is a beautiful place to spend seaside time with the kids. There is a Victorian pier with traditional and not so traditional activities. Surrounded by high hills, there is a funicular railway as well as a cable car and dry toboggan run. On a winters day, when the pier is closed due to crashing waves and strong winds, it is truly exhilarating for adults and children alike.
As with any such place, when the weather turns, or the mist rolls in, there can come a sense of haunting isolation despite the presence of others. My family experienced the drastic change when we went up the Great Orme eating ice cream on the ride up, and shivering uncontrollably in thick fog on the way back down in September last year.
It is against this backdrop that the debut novel of WS Barton is set. When I was asked to consider reading and reviewing his debut novel, one of the attractions was that it was set against a familiar backdrop, and one which I knew would undoubtedly give a real sense of atmosphere to any thriller.
This novel opens with some brief detail about the past and present of the two main characters, Finn and Clara. Perhaps it is only my perception, as there is no particular reason for it, but there was a penetrating sense of something approaching loneliness and almost foreboding from the first page. This sense remains throughout the novel, and maybe this is the reason that it is such an intriguing read.
The descriptions of the landscapes, people and history are all extremely plausible. The illustrative language conjures up a near perfect imagine of the area and its wilderness and enchantment as I know it myself. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an airy fairy novel about landscapes. The fact is that the very success of the authors endeavours to capture the essence of this part of North Wales means that you find yourself transported into the story. I started to find it hard to escape, and it is as if I was right there in Ty Glo with Finn.
How you feel about this depends on how you feel about finding yourself really afraid! As a seasoned thriller reader, I feel a bit fed up when the plot unravels too quickly leaving the last third of the novel as the kind of ‘mopping up at the end’ bit. That is definitely not the case with The Coal House. In fact, having delivered his chilling tale with fast paced twists and totally unexpected turns, WS Barton almost slaps you in the face with the final chapter. I found myself a bit stunned when the novel abruptly ended. The tale moved so quickly, I didn’t really have the opportunity to concoct my own theories about what may or may not be the final outcome. What I will say is that I never saw THAT coming!
So, as a reader, Would I change anything? I felt that I wanted to know more about the supporting characters, particularly the purveyors of the Percy Arms. I also wanted more time at Ty Glo, particularly with the events which unfold there beyond what happens to Finn directly. It is perhaps a little strong to call these criticisms, and they would perhaps be better described as unanswered curiosities. No doubt, WS Barton chose to leave it as he did. My only other comment would be that I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to know more. I suppose I didn’t want it to end when it did!
I shall tell you no more. I recommend reading this novel but with the following caveat. I do not recommend reading it when you are in the house alone, and I do not recommend reading it before bed. I will not go up the Great Orme again, and look at the view, without experiencing a tingling feeling in the hairs on my neck!
If I had to sum up this book in one sentence, I suppose it would be this. ‘It scared the b’Jesus out of me, but I still came back for more.’ The choice is yours.
The Un-Yummy Mummy
For more information on The Coal House, please go to http://waynebartonbooks.com