Giveaway: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Morning everyone! As promised I’ve got another giveaway for you. This one’s a mystery with dark family secrets to uncover, and the book is valued at R145.

The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (Pan Macmillan)

What if everything you believed was a lie?

Riley MacPherson is returning to her childhood home in North Carolina. A place that holds cherished memories. While clearing out the house she finds a box of old newspaper articles – and a shocking family secret begins to unravel.

Riley has spent her whole life believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager. But now she’s starting to uncover the truth: her life has been built on a foundation of lies, told by everyone she loved.

Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now?

As Riley tries to separate reality from fiction, her discoveries call into question everything she thought she knew about her family. (Goodreads)

To Enter:

1. Share this post on Twitter or Facebook.

2. Leave a comment on this blog post and link to the shared post or your profile so I know you’ve completed step one. If you use Facebook, you also have the option of just clicking “share” on the relevant post on my page; as long as I can see that you’ve shared.

 – South Africa only.
– Entries are open until midnight on Monday 12 June. I will announce the winner on Tuesday 13 June.
– Just to be clear, you’re only entered if you leave a comment on this post, AND I can see that you’ve shared on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks to the team at Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book, and good luck to the entrants!

SIlent Sister detail

Review of Niceville by Carsten Stroud

Title: Niceville
Author: Carsten Stroud
Published: 12 June 2012
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: horror, mystery, crime
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 5/10

One day in the American town of Niceville, ten-year-old Rainey Teague disappears on his way home from school. Literally disappears – a security camera shows him looking at something in a shop window, stepping back with his mouth opening in alarm, and then vanishing from sight as if someone were playing a cheap trick with the film. But as far as anyone can tell, there’s no hoax – the camera shows exactly what happened. Equally perplexing is that there’s no one to blame, and no explanation, except perhaps some intangible evil force within Niceville itself…

Then suddenly the novel seems to morph into a completely different story with multiple plot stands. A bank robbery leads to the brutal murder of several cops and a news team. One of the robbers is betrayed by his partners and narrowly escapes with a bullet in his back, but is rescued by a mysterious woman living on a plantation in the forest. An ex-FBI agent with some dirty secrets has to try to reclaim a very dangerous item that was stolen from his safe deposit box in the bank. He planning on selling it to the Chinese, and they won’t be very forgiving if he doesn’t deliver. An abusive husband and father wants to take revenge on the lawyer and judge who banned him from contact with his family. For now, he decides to practice and perfect his plan by ruining the lives of people with no connection to him.  A woman and a man both go missing from an old mansion in Niceville. Both are members of one of the town’s founding families.

Only the latter plot is directly related to the first part of the book where Rainey went missing. At times you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d somehow started reading a different novel. The only factors that seem to connect part two to the beginning are the location, the new disappearances, and a few common characters, notably Nick Kavanaugh, the investigating officer who led Rainey’s case, and his wife Kate, a family-practice lawyer.

At first this really bugged me. It’s like you’ve been tricked into reading a novel completely different from the one you expected and started reading. Attention is taken away from the unexplained supernatural aspects of Rainey’s disappearance and the focus is put on some very realist criminal activity. It’s a while before we get back to the most interesting stuff, and even then it’s only one aspect of a much more complex story.

Eventually though, everything seemed to be coming together as characters and storylines connect. I love novels and movies with multiple, interlinked plots, so I really enjoyed the middle bit of Niceville where the individual plot strands began to intertwine. It’s also where the book started to get really creepy (although that might also be because I read quite a lot of this in the middle of the night). Clearly, there is something wrong about Niceville. Most notably, the town “has logged one hundred and seventy-nine confirmed and completely random [stranger abductions] since records first started being kept back in 1928. This is a disappearance rate of, like, a little over two a year, […] which is completely whacked.” A few cases were solved, but “[o]f the remaining one hundred and sixty- two people— men, women, sometimes kids—not a single trace has ever been found.”

Rainey Teague was the most recent case, at least until Delia Cotton and Gray Haggard disappear from Delia’s mansion. There are a lot of eerie details surrounding the disappearance: a beautiful but creepy girl in a green summer dress; antique mirrors reflecting things that aren’t there; a weird mark on the floor in the shape of a person; the way past horrors seem to be intruding on the present. It’s all got something to do with dark secrets of Niceville’s founding families, and some kind of primordial evil that lies hidden in the cold black waters of Crater Sink, a large circular sinkhole in the cliff that hangs over the town.

You might be wondering what this has to do with bank robbers, cop-killers and the other criminals in the novel, all of whom are clearly devoid of supernatural powers. The sad answer is, not much. Niceville feels like two loosely connected novels that should not have been forced into one. The bank robbery, the ex-FBI agent and the vindictive husband stories remain almost completely separate from the supernatural storyline featuring unexplained disappearances, family secrets, ancient evil and ghosts. The two halves aren’t even in the same genre – one is realist crime fiction, the other is horror. There are overlaps of course, but the strongest link between the two is formed when a character from the crime story becomes an important part of the horror plot. It’s also implied that these crimes are actually influenced by the ancient evil in Crater Sink. And that’s that.

Even worse is that, although the horror story is marketed as the main one, it’s woefully neglected. Too many questions are left unanswered. Too many otherworldly occurrences are hinted at and never described in full. The resolution seems far too easy and peaceful, while also having the effect of cutting the story short. It’s so unsatisfying. In the meantime, the bloody crime-novel plot mostly gets sorted out. It’s not that I disliked that part of the book, but it’s not the one I cared about most and, frankly, I think it could have been left out.

For my rating, I took into account the fact that I really enjoyed reading a large portion of the book, I found it wonderfully creepy at times, and Stroud managed to get me fully invested in most of his story. I just think he’d have done a better job writing two books instead of one.

Buy Niceville at The Book Depository

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

Title: Those Across the River
Author: Christopher Buehlman
Published: September 2011 by Ace Books, a division of Penguin USA
Source: Review copy received from publisher via NetGalley
My Rating: 7/10

It’s the summer of 1935 and Frank Nichols and his fiancée Eudora move into a house in Whitbrow, a parochial, rural town in the American south. Frank inherited the house from his aunt, who warned him to sell it because “there is bad blood here, and it is against you”. Frank would have heeded her warning, but after ruining his career as a history professor and spending months unemployed, living with Eudora in his brother’s house, the inheritance looks like a good opportunity rather than the disaster you know it’s going to be.

Living off his inheritance money and Eudora’s salary as a school teacher, Frank decides to spend his time writing a book about his great-grandfather, Lucien Savoyard, an army General who tortured and killed his slaves for sport until they “revolted and murdered him, as well as his wife and overseers. And the dogs they used to chase them with. And the horses. They chopped them all up and put them in a common pit and burned them.” The remains of Savoyard’s plantation lie across the river that runs alongside Whitbrow, but none of the townspeople are willing to take help Frank find it. There are stories about evil things across the river, and no one wants to find out if they’re true.

Dark family secrets, the stain of evil, an unknown threat beyond a border that no one will cross (except the protagonist), a terrible danger in a small, isolated town – there’s nothing particularly new here, or about “those across the river” when you find out what they are, but none of that stopped this from being a very scary book. It takes a while to get going, but once strange and disturbing things start happening and the gruesome deaths began, it creeped the hell out of me. There is something very primal about the horror that Buehlman evokes – a threat of ugly, filthy violence driven by base desires and indiscriminate hatred. It’s terrifying in its blunt savagery.

The town of Whitbrow, where most of the novel is set, provides a nice set-up for the horrors to come. It’s the kind of quiet small town that I find inherently unsettling because of its religious fervour, lack of education and unabashed racism. For the most part the residents are friendly, but when a black man or vagrant walks into town, the tension is palpable. Even Frank, our supposedly sophisticated history professor, struggles to stop himself using the word “nigger” at times. Other men spit the word out very readily.

The backwardness of the town bothers Frank at first. When he goes to the general store and can’t find any wine, he’s told that “We in Morgan County here. All we drink is the blood of the Redeemer.” Another resident, Martin Cranmer, avoids his neighbours because he can’t stand how dull and provincial they are:

No offense, but most of the God-fearing folk around here have trouble reading a can of soup. I mean, they’ll whip your biscuits in a game of checkers at the general store, and most of them can quote Genesis and Exodus alright, but chess is right out. The most political they ever got was when half of them wrote letters to Sears and Roebuck when they switched the catalog to glossy paper.” “Why did they care?”
Because they had to go back to wiping their asses with corn.”

Buehlman does a skilful job of portraying the town and its people, particularly that unique Southern humour and manner of speaking. It’s a good thing that he does it so well, since the first half or so is devoted to setting up the characters and the location without moving the plot forward very much. You might find this slow-going at times but it’s worth it to feel the rush when the pace picks up and the horror hits you at full force. When I switched off the lights and went to bed after a few hours spent reading this I made a terrible cliché of myself by jumping at my own shadow.

Sadly, the ending is a bit of a let down because it doesn’t quite live up to the preceding parts, but by then I had to admit that the novel had already done its job by scaring the hell out of me. On the whole, it’s a good, quick horror read, well-written and solidly constructed. It can get pretty gory at times, but not gratuitously so, and it doesn’t rely on gore alone to be scary. Recommended.

Buy Those Across the River
Book Depository