Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

Title: The Unseen
Author: Katherine Webb

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1911 / Spiritualism / Suffragettes / Country Life / Dual Story Lines / Journalist / Contemporary / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (5/22/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Oh yes!
One-sentence summary: One summer in 1911 undoes four people in a sleepy English village when politics, God, and the occult collide.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's pretty, but like the cover for The Legacy, I feel like it doesn't quite match the story. This cover makes me thing coming-of-age in the US, not backstabbing and murder in "sleepy Berkshire".

I'm reminded of...: Jennifer McMahon

First line: It's the most glorious spring morning here, on a day of some excitement.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is great, dramatic fun.

Why did I get this book?: I loved Webb's previous novel.

Review: Last year Webb's The Legacy was one of my favorite summer reads -- I inhaled it overnight, caught up in the drama and the skin-crawling life choices the characters made. It was delightful. So needless to say, I was eager for Webb's next offering and this one doesn't disappoint.

As with The Legacy, The Unseen features two story lines -- one in the past, one in the present, that eventually connect -- but unlike Webb's previous novel, I was less wild about this technique. The modern story line was interesting enough, but didn't quite feel right with the story, given how detailed and compelling the historical story was.

Beginning in 1911, we meet Hester and Albert Canning, who have a sexless marriage that confuses naive Hester. Their new maid, Cat, has a notorious past -- she was arrested for her involvement with the suffragettes -- and Hester's husband takes up theosophy when he believes he sees fairies nearby. An expert in the occult, Robin, comes to investigate, and his presence discomforts Hester to say the least. Over the summer, unsurprisingly, thing seen and unseen welter, fester, boil, and rise to the surface with dramatic results. Interspersed with this story the contemporary one. Leah, a journalist, is contacted by her ex-boyfriend who works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. An unknown soldier is discovered in Belgium with letters from an H. Canning. Her investigations lead her to meet the Canning's descendants, where, eventually, the story comes together.

I loved Cat -- I want a whole novel about her, frankly -- but I enjoyed Hester, too. For me, Webb's women -- no matter how amoral, or misguided, or pig-headed they might be -- are the hook of the story. I feel like I know them, I empathize with them, and even when I want to shake them, I want to hug them. As a historical novel, you feel immersed in the era without being loaded down with tons of detail or narrative, so those who aren't wild about historicals might enjoy this one. The feel of this for me is really thriller rather than straight up historical.

As with The Legacy, I couldn't put this book down -- there's a ton of tension in the story and I needed to get to the end. This is a perfect summer beach read -- you'll want a cocktail to mellow you out as you race along -- as it has enough meat to keep you focused but enough heart-racing moments that you'll be transported for a bit.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Unseen to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 6/22. Check out my interview with Katherine Webb for another chance to enter!

17 comments:

  1. I was really interested in The Legacy last year (maybe because of you?) and swore I had a copy floating around here somewhere, but it's nowhere to be found. Perhaps my sister pilfered it . . . will have to investigate, because I definitely want to start the series!

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    1. Actually -- they're not a series -- just two very tense, stressful, amazing stand-alone hist-fic-y-literary-thriller-y books. So perfect for the summer.

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  2. Tension can be good. I love it when the pacing is just right and there is enough tension to carry you through to the end.

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    1. Oh, yes -- Webb is brilliant with building tension!

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  3. ooo sounds like fun! :-) i love a good thriller.

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    1. It's such fun -- great for the summer -- escapist and heart-pounding-ly fast!

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  4. another series...I'm behind on..ugh

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    1. It's not a series! I need to fix my review because you're the second person to say that -- this is a standalone, like Webb's first novel -- totally unrelated other than being split narratives and tense. Really fabu -- I think you'd enjoy them!

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  5. Interesting that the protagonist's name is Hester--it immediately makes me think of the Scarlet Letter.

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    1. Oddly -- or shamefully -- I didn't make that connection but that gives me something to chew over. (I loathe Hawthorne so perhaps that's why I blocked out the connection...)

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  6. I'm only skimming because I've got this book on my soon TBR pile, but I'm glad to hear it's as good as it sounds. Now I'd better get to it *really* soon. :)

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    1. I hope you love it -- it was SO tense and so good!

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  7. I really, really, really, really, really want to read this one. I really enjoyed The Legacy, even if I didn't love the flashback scenes. I'm thinking I like this one as well. Thanks for the chance!

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    1. I loved the flashback scenes in The Legacy because I was fascinated by the character and her story -- similarly to this one, the historical portion was most captivating to me. Love to know your thoughts on this one should you get the chance to read it!

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  8. Just finished this one yesterday and completely agree! Such a wonderfully tense story that I just couldn't put down. I wasn't a huge fan of the contemporary story as it seemed very thin. Most of the time I just kept thinking 'Get back to Cat!'

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  9. I like your comment about Webb's women being the hook in her books - makes me want to give this one a try for sure!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra.

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  10. I love books that have me needing to get to the end!

    I see your point with the cover. It kind of looks like she's running away, so maybe if her head was turned as if she was looking over her shoulder it might be more fitting.

    Glad you liked the story! I think you've sold me on this particular author. :)

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