September 22, 2011


Awakening by S. J. Bolton
2009 Minotaur Books
Finished on 8/1/11
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Clara Benning, a veterinary surgeon, is young and intelligent, but reclusive. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she prefers animals to people. When a man dies following a supposed snake-bite, Clara’s expertise is needed. She’s chilled to learn that the victim’s postmortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in one snake: The killer was human. Assisted by a neighbor and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara uncovers links to an ancient ritual, an abandoned house, and a fifty-year-old tragedy. But for someone the truth must remain buried in the past—even if they have to kill to keep it there.

Awakening is a disturbing tale of dark secrets that will have readers unable to stop for a breath until they reach the stunning climax of this extraordinary read from acclaimed author. S. J. Bolton.

I had never heard of S. J. Bolton until I read the following on my mom’s blog:

Blood Harvest – S. J. Bolton – This is the third of her books I’ve read, and by far the best. I had to stop reading every so often because it was so tense – but I had to go back almost immediately to see what was going to happen next!

I borrowed Mom’s copy of Awakening and started in after we returned from our visit to Oregon. I thought it was pretty good, but not outstanding. The mystery became a bit complicated and the finale was convoluted, but that seems to be my usual complaint about a lot of mysteries. It may be that I get too wrapped up in the main characters’ story and forget to pay attention to the details of the murder as they’re revealed. I liked Clara, but I lost track of some of the other characters and their relationship to one another.

With that said, this is quite an intense read and several times I commented to my husband that I was surprised that my mom actually read it. She has a great phobia of snakes, as do I. I can hardly bare to touch a magazine page if it features a snake. And the following passage had me holding my breath, as I too once had a snake (a very large snake!) in my house—when I was about 7 months pregnant!!

The snake and I were holding eye-contact, and I was beginning to wonder if there was something in the old stories about snakes having the power to mesmerize, ‘No,’ I said, ‘that isn’t a grass snake.’

‘What, then? It doesn’t look like an adder.’

‘Get the others out of here. Don’t let them touch anything else. If you can close windows and doors, that’d be good, but don’t go near any more snakes. The man who was bitten — make sure he gets to hospital straight away. He needs to be under constant observation. Then get me an empty carry-box. And a weapon of some king — hammer, axe — something like that. Be as quick as you can.’

‘But what…’

‘Just do it!’

He was gone. I heard him cross the corridor, feet pounding on the bare wooden floors, running downstairs, shouting to the other three men. I heard them questioning, even arguing, and then all of them left the house. The front door slammed shut and the house was silent.

The sudden flurry of noise had disturbed the snake. It moved, heading for the refuge of the open wardrobe. If it went inside I could trap it, wait until help and proper equipment arrived. Oh, please let it go inside.

The snake didn’t go inside the wardrobe, but instead started to glide up the door, the carvings on the old oak making it an easy task. Reaching the top, its body shimmered and disappeared over the rim.

OK, I had to stay calm. The snake on top of the wardrobe had to be caught or, failing that, killed. And I had to do that knowing there could be others in the room, or elsewhere in the house I felt sick, realizing the danger I’d put those men in. I should never have let them stay in the house.

Oxyuranus microlepidotus,
which is endemic to Australia,
has the most toxic venom
of any terrestrial snake species worldwide.

My friend, Wendy, enjoyed this thriller a bit more than I did:

I love when a novel keeps me guessing…and even though I had thoughts about the central mystery, I found that my assumptions were often “off” just enough to keep the plot interesting. Readers who are afraid of snakes will not want to read this novel at night when they are alone – the snakes become central characters in a book which feels gothic and creepy. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

You can find Wendy’s complete review for Awakening here.

I’m anxious to read Blood Harvest, as well as Bolton’s recent release, Now You See Me. From what I’ve read, Bolton’s mysteries get better and better with each new release. Nancy Pearl said:

Before she published Blood Harvest, S. J. Bolton wrote two mysteries. The first (Sacrifice) was terrific; the second (Awakening) was even better; and Blood Harvest is, not to put too fine a word on it, outstanding. . . . All the ingredients for a top-notch psychological mystery by a novelist who adroitly melds the natural and (possibly) supernatural into a spine-tingling gothic thriller. Fans of Barbara Vine, Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Dorothy Eden shouldn’t miss this one. —Nancy Pearl, NPR’s Morning Edition, on Blood Harvest

Fall is here and there's a chill in the air. If you enjoy gothic thrillers, this may be just the book for you. It's certainly a page-turner and will keep you up until the wee small hours of the morning...hopefully reading and not with nightmares of snakes!

So, how many of you have heard of S. J. Bolton?

About the Author:

S. J. Bolton is a two-time Mary Higgins Clark Award winner and an ITW Thriller Award, CWA Gold Dagger, and Barry Award nominee. Her fascination with British folklore, especially the dark and haunting side of those legends, fuels her writing. She grew up in Lancashire, England, and now lives near Oxford with her family.


  1. Sounds like a good book to me although being from the South, snakes are very common and we are taught to have fear (or healthy respect) for them. There were over 200 copperhead bites reported in Georgia this year! I laughed when you said this book was a bit convoluted (did I spell that right?). My son told me last night, I say that EVERY TIME we watch an Inspector Lewis on TV!
    No, I had never heard of this author. Thanks for telling me!

  2. I laughed when I read you thought the novel was a bit convoluted - yes, it definitely has many twists and turns to the plot! Sometimes I like that in a book (I did in this one), other times, I get lost in the mystery. I'm glad you liked Awakening enough to give Bolton another try. I actually discovered that I had her first book in my stacks (somehow I forgot I bought it), and just bought her new one...so I'll be reading more of her work! Thanks for the link love, Les!

  3. Anonymous7:43 AM

    I like that the plot is a bit different, but at the same time I am not sure if I want to read this one. I have always liked snakes though. I begged my mom for one when I was a kid!

  4. I'm not familiar with Bolton's work, but this one sounds good to me, snake and all.

  5. Anonymous7:03 AM

    I've heard of S.J. Bolton and I actually have all of her books. Have I read any of them? No. Silly, I know. However, I will. I may start with the latest and go backward. They are all standalones and so it doesn't matter what order. Snakes. I don't have a phobia but I don't love them at all. Wouldn't want one in the house.

    I thought I had your Mom's blog in my reader, but somehow it had gone away. Not sure how. Probably one of my rampant cutting back episodes. It's back, right where it should be. She and I have a lot in common in our reading tastes. Well, and we both love you dearly. LOL

  6. Kay G. - I grew up in California and was taught about rattlesnakes from an early age. I've seen a few up close (on a wood pile and on my front porch) when I lived in San Diego and I'd be very happy to never see one again. I don't even like to look at them through a glass wall at the zoo.

    Wendy - It was definitely one of the more convoluted mysteries I've read in a long while. I think I'll be reading more of her books, though. I like the author's writing style.

    Reviewsbylola - It was a rather unique plot. I'm looking forward to her other books.

    Kathy - I should have mentioned that there's more than one snake. There are A LOT!!

    Kay - Silly? Maybe, but I'm the same way. I have so many books that I keep meaning to read...

    Yeah, I didn't really enjoy having that snake in the house, especially when it decided to hide for a couple of hours and wound up coiled up in a corner next to the toilet!

    Glad you found your way back to my mom's blog. I've always thought the two of you had similar reading tastes...thank you for your sweet comment. Love ya, too! :)

  7. I have two of Bolton's books on my TBR Shelves and eager to get to them. I'm hoping I like this one more than you, though. :)

  8. Joy - Who knows. You might! I'm eager to try Bolton's other books. I'll be interested to hear what you think.


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