Blog Tour: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

once upon a river

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield today.  I adored The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black, and I’ve been waiting (not so) patiently for a new novel from Setterfield for some time.  It was worth the wait, as Once Upon a River is an absolute treat.

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

The story of Once Upon a River is deceptively straightforward.  On the winter solstice, a man, badly injured, stumbles into an inn on the Thames carrying in his arms a small girl.  Rita Sunday – local nurse and midwife – is brought to The Swan, but it’s apparent to everyone that the little girl, whoever she is, is dead.  Until she takes a breath and returns to life.  The story spreads quickly, and three possible identities for the child are established.  Is she Amelia Vaughn, kidnapped from her room two years earlier?  Is she Alice Armstrong, whose mother committed suicide?  Or is she Ann, the sister of Lily White?  The little girl in question does not speak, and goes home with the Vaughns, although her identity is far from resolved.  It is a question that proves difficult to answer, and this is a story with its fair share of drama in determining the identity of the child, as well as what happened to those other children.

Once Upon a River is filled with a fantastic cast of characters, and there are so many that I did initially struggle to keep them apart.  It soon becomes apparent who the key players are, however, and I loved the depth to which each character was explored.  This novel is an ode to storytelling, and each character has their own story to share throughout the tale.  I particularly loved the down to earth Rita Sunday, with her strong belief in science and reason (she has studied medicine, after all), as well as Robert Armstrong, farm owner and grandfather to the missing (possibly found) Alice, who has experienced more than his fair share of prejudice, yet remains such a loving, caring individual despite the trials and racial abuse he’s faced.

As soon as I started reading Once Upon a River, I knew that I was in for a treat.  This is a novel to get lost in and one that, like the river at its heart, won’t be rushed, but will go at its own pace.  I loved the way that the story unfolded, gradually revealing more information as Rita and Daunt, the man who started the story as he stumbled into The Swan with the girl in his arms, continue to ponder the girl’s identity.  There is no big “ta-dah!” moment, but the novel comes to a satisfying conclusion, with the many questions raised throughout the novel answered by the final page.

Once Upon a River is a novel that defies easy categorisation.  It is a mystery, an historical fiction, it combines both the scientific developments of the age with the folklore and beliefs of the time, and is a little Dickensian in feel.  It is uniquely wonderful and, as fans of Setterfield’s will already expect, beautifully written.  This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite books of the year.

Once Upon a River is published by Doubleday, and is available in digital formats from 4 December and in hardback from 17 January 2019.  Many (many!) thanks to Anne Cater for the opportunity to join the Random Things Bog Tour, and to Alison Barrow and Doubleday for the early copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the blog tour:

FINAL Once Upon A River BT Poster

Advertisements

A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan

a house of ghosts

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one…

An unrelentingly gripping mystery packed with twists and turns, A House of Ghosts is the perfect chilling read this winter.

A House of Ghosts features some wonderful characters, and I was immediately taken with Kate Cartwright and the somewhat enigmatic “Mr Donovan”.  Kate works as a codebreaker for Naval Intelligence, and has been invited to attend Blackwater Abbey and the séance being hosted by the Highmounts.  This puts her in a uniquely useful position to assist the head of the Intelligence Service and the aforementioned Donovan who is attending in the guise of a manservant to investigate a possible leak of information to the enemy.  While strangers at the outset, there is some fantastic chemistry between the two, and I thought that they worked well together throughout the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed A House of Ghosts, but I enjoyed it as a whodunnit / espionage tale in which there happen to be some ghosts, rather than as a haunted house novel.  This is entirely down to my own expectations and preferences, but the haunted house element didn’t entirely work for me.  The characters were just far too accepting of the presence of spirits, and became rather blasé about them.  Whilst this element of the tale was interesting and occasionally amusing, it didn’t have the creepiness I was hoping for.

As a whodunnit, however, this novel works brilliantly.  The small island location, which is cut off by bad weather once the guests have arrived is somewhat reminiscent of And Then There Were None.  And A House of Ghosts does read like an Agatha Christie – there are plenty of red herrings and multiple suspects, each equally plausible, and with their own motives and secrets that they’d rather remained hidden.  The plot does venture beyond a classic whodunnit though, combined as it is with the impacts of the First World War.  I liked that this became fully integral to the story rather than just providing a backdrop, and I thought that the impact of the War on everyday lives was brilliantly portrayed.

Whilst this novel wasn’t quite what I had expected, I did enjoy it, and I hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kate and Donovan, who make an excellent crime-fighting duo.

A House of Ghosts was published by Zaffre in October, and is available to buy at all the usual places.

This Week in Books – 28-11-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan, I enjoyed this, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  My review will be up soon!

a house of ghosts

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one…

An unrelentingly gripping mystery packed with twists and turns, A House of Ghosts is the perfect chilling read this winter.


My current read is Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield.  I adored The Thirteenth Tale, and I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Setterfield’s latest novel.

once upon a river

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


My next read will probably be The Plotters by Un-su Kim, which I’m really looking forward to.

the plotters

Plotters are just pawns like us. A request comes in and they draw up the plans. There’s someone above them who tells them what to do. And above that person is another plotter telling them what to do. You think that if you go up there with a knife and stab the person at the very top, that’ll fix everything. But no-one’s there. It’s just an empty chair.

Reseng was raised by cantankerous Old Raccoon in the Library of Dogs. To anyone asking, it’s just an ordinary library. To anyone in the know, it’s a hub for Seoul’s organised crime, and a place where contract killings are plotted and planned. So it’s no surprise that Reseng has grown up to become one of the best hitmen in Seoul. He takes orders from the plotters, carries out his grim duties, and comforts himself afterwards with copious quantities of beer and his two cats, Desk and Lampshade.

But after he takes pity on a target and lets her die how she chooses, he finds his every move is being watched. Is he finally about to fall victim to his own game? And why does that new female librarian at the library act so strangely? Is he looking for his enemies in all the wrong places? Could he be at the centre of a plot bigger than anything he’s ever known?


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments! 😎

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliot Wright

the flight of cornelia blackwood

Cornelia Blackwood is about to do something very wrong, for reasons she believes to be right.

She has a loving marriage, but she has no friends.

Everyone knows Cornelia’s name, but no one will speak to her now.

Cornelia has unravelled once before. What could possibly happen to her next?

An urgent and important novel of love, loss, tragedy and daring to hope again.

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is a relatively slow-paced novel, but it’s one that drew me in completely as I wanted to understand more of the initially enigmatic Cornelia (Leah) Blackwood.  The reader is given very little information about her to begin with, although it’s clear that she has suffered in her past and has been left with injuries often requiring the use of a cane to get about as well as great pain and / or the need for strong painkillers if she pushes herself too far.  Similarly, it soon becomes apparent that she has experienced more than her fair share of grief in her life.  The details take some time to emerge, but I thought that the author handled this deftly, drip-feeding the information through and always making me want to know more without revealing Leah’s full history until much later in the novel.

I don’t want to go into the plot in any detail – I went in with only the above synopsis to tell me what it’s about, and I think that this is absolutely the right way to approach this novel.  It is told predominantly in the present day with the occasional flashbacks to her past, exploring how Leah met her husband, Adrian, their whirlwind romance, and everything that came after.  It’s through the “THEN” chapters that you really begin to understand her character and what is driving her behaviour in the “NOW” chapters, some of which does come across as being a little odd to begin with.  And if her behaviour is a little strange, it is still understandable even without knowing her full history, although it’s obvious to the reader that it’s not entirely healthy behaviour, and I wondered where it would end – hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst.  Even then, it takes some unexpected turns, and the ending did come as a shock.

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is an incredible novel that is dark and compelling, but also heart-breaking and poignant.  It deals with some extremely difficult themes, and yet it does so with the utmost sensitivity, and this is a story that will stay with me for some time.

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood will be published on 21 February 2019 by Simon & Schuster.  Many thanks to the publisher and The Words Podcast for the early review copy.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

my sister the serial killer

I’m not sure how I first came across My Sister, the Serial Killer on Netgalley, but I’m so glad I did – this is a wonderfully dark yet humorous novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A blackly comic novel about lies, love, Lagos, and how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water.

Femi makes three you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the fit doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

I absolutely loved the opening chapter to My Sister, the Serial Killer which is, in its entirety:

Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him.

I had hoped I would never hear those words again.

In this way, Braithwaite drops the reader straight in at the deep end, as we, along with Korede, are called to the scene of a stabbing that Korede is required to clean up.  It tells the reader so much more than those 20 little words might suggest, in that it’s clear that this is not the first time this has happened.  I thought that this was brilliantly clever, and I was immediately hooked, and I wanted to know more – not least why Korede had experienced such as unusual summons before.

This is a relatively short novel, but it doesn’t skimp on character development, and I loved Korede.  She seems like such a good person, yet one who is caught up in the ties of sisterly loyalty which have been tested to the limit.  She seems accepting of her lot in life, and while she is not jealous of Ayoola, it’s difficult for her not to feel some resentment when Tade, the handsome doctor she has her eye on, falls for Ayoola’s charms.  this leaves Korede with something of a dilemma – should she follow her heart and try to protect Tade from the inevitable, or should she stand by Ayoola and let her do her thing?

Ayoola is also an interesting character, although very different to Korede. She comes across as a modern-day black widow, and her beauty and glamour mean that she has no shortage of men offering to be her next victim boyfriend.  Ayoola pushes the idea of sisterly loyalty to the extremes, expecting Korede to help her cover up her crimes, and Korede, as the eldest, has had it drummed into her from an early age that she is responsible for her sister.  While reading, it wasn’t entirely clear to me why Ayoola acts as she does.  The novel is told from Korede’s point of view, and so we don’t get the insight in Ayoola’s thoughts directly, but as I learnt more of their background, I came to understand her motives which aren’t stated explicitly, but revealed indirectly as Korede shares more of their history.

Told in short, sharp chapters that keep the reader engaged, this is a brilliantly dark yet amusing novel that I really enjoyed.

My Sister, the Serial Killer will be published on 3 January by Atlantic Books.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 21-11-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was My Sister, The Serial Killer. This was a dark and unexpectedly funny read – my review will be up later this week!

my sister the serial killer

As smart and murderous as Killing Eve, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…


I’m currently reading The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood, which I’m really enjoying so far.

the flight of cornelia blackwood

What has happened to Cornelia Blackwood?

She has a loving marriage. But she has no friends.

Everyone knows her name. But no one will speak to her now.

Cornelia Blackwood has unravelled once before. Can she stop it from happening again?

From a supremely talented storyteller, The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is a powerful novel of motherhood, loss and loneliness and how we can make damaging choices when pushed to our emotional edge. A paperback bestseller with her debut novel, The Things We Never Said, and nominated for an RNA Award in 2014, Susan Elliot Wright has written a truly important novel that explores the dark depths of psychosis with honesty and sensitivity.


I’ve no idea what my next read will be at the moment! I do normally have a plan, but it’s been subject to change at short notice recently! 😂

It might be While You Sleep, but don’t quote me on that!

while you sleep

A house full of secrets…

The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

A woman alone at night…

For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.

A threat that lurks in the shadows…

The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments! 😎

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

melmoth

Melmoth is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about its publication, having enjoyed The Essex Serpent and After Me Comes the Flood.

Twenty years ago, Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change.

A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.

Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.

Melmoth introduces the reader to Helen Franklin, a woman in her early forties who works as a translator in Prague.  Helen intrigued me immediately, as it is clear from the beginning of the novel that she is punishing herself for something, although what past act or misdeeds she thinks she has to atone for isn’t revealed until later in the novel.  She barely eats, drinks nothing but water, and denies herself the most basic of pleasures, sleeping on a hard, bare mattress and not even allowing herself to listen to music.  She seems determined to live in discomfort, and I was curious as to why she would choose to live her life in that way.

Helen has few friends and acquaintances in Prague.  There is her landlady (who is a terrific character), and Karel and Thea, a couple she first met in Prague.  It is Karel who first draws her attention to the tale of Melmoth – a fairytale-esque being dressed in black with bleeding feet, it is said that Melmoth wanders the Earth bearing witness to the atrocities committed by man as a punishment for her own past transgressions.  Helen is dismissive of the tale at first, and yet she is soon swept up in the story as she reads various eye-witness accounts of Melmoth from various locations and points in time.

The novel moves between the present day and the various documents that Helen finds relating to Melmoth, gradually revealing more of this legendary figure, and Helen is quickly caught up in the story, much as Karel was before her.  It seems that Melmoth has an overwhelming allure to all those who discover her, and as her role is to bear witness, Perry uses this character to explore the very human need to share the burden of guilt we may, rightly or wrongly, carry with us and the power of redemption.

Set in a modern-day Prague, Perry captures the nature of the city perfectly.  The story has a heavy Gothic atmosphere, and I found it to be wonderfully creepy with its tale of a black-clad figure who is always watching…  Recommended for those who enjoy Gothic and / or literary fiction, Melmoth is published by Serpent’s Tail, and is available to buy from all the usual places.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐