REVIEW TIME

Review: The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

There’s nothing quite like receiving a £50 Amazon voucher. I mean, FREE BOOKS, right?

Gifted with the voucher and with money to burn, I headed to Amazon with no mission in mind, other than to find some great new reads that would captivate me and immediately, the first one I found was The Chalk Man, by C.J Tudor.

The cover itself is simple and striking, pitching a chalk-drawn hangman game against a stark black base, complete with fake chalk smudges, reminiscent of those games we used to play on pavements when we were kids, and I was instantly drawn to it.

At the time of buying, the Amazon posting was full of accolades from the national press, and since I bought it, it’s been updated with a fresh recommendation from the Horror Don himself, Stephen King, who said ‘If you like my stuff, you’ll like this.’ An exhilarating time for a debut author no doubt, and I read Tudor’s reaction to her hero King’s post on Twitter with a big smile on my face, in the same way I did when King also tweeted about Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.

Even without all this, I was already excited for this book from the blurb alone:

You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury . . . the fear that something or someone is watching you.

It began back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran – the Chalk Man.

He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun, until the chalk men led them to a body.

Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him, until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk, and a drawing of a figure.

Is history going to repeat itself?

Was it ever really over?

Will this game only end in the same way?

With Storm Emma in full effect in the UK and a ton of snow outside my house, what better way to spend a Saturday than fusing myself to the sofa with The Chalk Man, a hot chocolate and an endless supply of biscuits?

The result? I devoured everything, but nothing devoured was more enjoyable than the book itself, which is saying something because hot chocolate and biscuits would usually win hands down in any contest 😉

It’s 1986, and Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey and Nicky don’t have much to worry about other than where to hang out at the weekends, having to commit the ultimate faux-pas by wearing a bum-bag or what ride to go on at the fair. When the fair does come to town, however, bringing with it a horrific accident for Eddie to witness, plus a meeting with the mysterious new school teacher, Mr Halloran, events are set in motion that will change all of their lives forever.

The action moves back and forth from events in 1986 to 2016, where Eddie is now a teacher himself with a life that seems mostly grey around the edges, that is until his old school friend Mickey turns up at his door, with a plan to dredge up the past and write a book about the horrors of that eventful year of their childhood.

Back in 1986, what began as an innocent game of leaving secret messages for each other written in chalk, with their own codes and symbols, supposedly decipherable only by members of their own gang, soon takes a sinister turn when the same chalk drawings start mysteriously appearing at the scenes of crimes, culminating in the discovery of a dead body.

Years later, when the chalk men start appearing again, we discover that the gang, all now grown up and moved on from the traumas of their past, haven’t really moved on at all and Eddie is about to be thrown headfirst into a new nightmare of secrets, dead bodies and chalk drawings that terrify him.

Expertly weaving the past and present together, Tudor gives us (older readers) a nostalgic trip back to the 80’s, in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of King and with a kind of Stranger Things UK-style vibe, then flips us right back to 2016 where Eddie is being haunted by things real and not-so-real.

Seemingly unconnected happenings and events are revealed to have a connection after all, and stories within the story that might seem like background noise when reading and a device to draw us in and make it feel more real, soon become pertinent to the whole plot in a way that I never saw coming.

In The Chalk Man, every action has a consequence, and I loved the way how even the smallest, perhaps most innocent of decisions, had far-reaching consquences that sent waves rocking through the lives of these characters and the people around them.

Eddie, on paper (pardon the pun), perhaps doesn’t seem the most exciting of characters. Having remained in the town in which he grew up, he now works as a teacher in the local high school, has never married or had children, and has a rather tragic (by his own admission) crush on his much-younger lodger, Chloe. He looks after his mum’s cat when she goes on holiday (a cat which detests him) and he likes a drink with his mates Fat Gav (now wheelchair-bound) and Hoppo. Nothing too exciting about all of that, right?  But, I have to say, this is what I like about a good thriller: throwing a very normal, veering-on-the-grey-side kind of person into a situation which is anything but normal. In my opinion this just adds to the creep factor, because let’s face it, Eddie could be you or me, or your neighbour, or your teacher, or the bloke who sits in the corner at the pub every Sunday afternoon reading the paper and having a pint and we live every new horror with him, as if it was us.

Reading from Eddie’s POV, we’re thrown into the chaos that starts to overtake his life, wondering who he should trust, whether he’s about to meet a sticky fate at the hands of the Chalk Man, or whether what he’s experiencing is the collapse of his own reality. We start to look at everyone with a strong element of suspicion, trying to predict what horror might be lurking around every corner, and the path in which Tudor leads us, isn’t the one we imagined we would be on.

It was pretty clear to me a few chapters in that I wasn’t going to put this book down until I was done. I devoured page after page, desperate to solve the mystery and constantly getting it wrong every time I thought I’d worked it out, but I LOVE that in a book. This is a cleverly-constructed thriller with the right amount of twists (without being overkill) that kept me glued to the sofa and to the book all day. The creep-factor is tangible throughout without ever being OTT, and there’s no doubt I will NEVER look at a children’s chalk drawing in quite the same way ever again!

Five stars for this engaging, dark page-turner! 

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

Writing sprints, running shoes and a having nice lie down.

We writers love to talk about word counts, don’t we?

Whether we’re bonding together during sprints with rally cries of ‘500’, ‘1000’ or ‘yeah, ten, just ten’, or going it alone with self-congratulatory statements worthy of a one-page ad in The Times about our 10k marathons, we LOVE talking about how much we’ve managed to churn out.

And why not? Writing is hard, man.

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Ten words or ten thousand words makes no difference when each one feels like you’re giving birth to a tiny baby idea, that’s probably going to throw up on you about five times before you’re done and chuck a spoonful of mashed banana at your face.

Writing an online serial is particularly hard, as Wattpad writers like me know only too well. You write something. Upload a chapter. People like it (if you’re lucky). People want you to upload more chapters. That’s kind of how it all works.

Now, if you’re smart, you’ll have pushed out that baby before you start uploading. And I don’t mean just the head, I’m talking about the whole thing, right down to the cute little feet (yeah, yeah, I know I’ m stretching this a bit far now). But if you’re not smart, or perhaps just a glutton for punishment, you’ll write a chapter, upload it, write a chapter, upload, feel a bit smug that you’re winning at this Wattpad shit, get hit in the smug face by life and then… nothing.

Hours stretch into days, days into weeks and meanwhile, back in the world of Wattpad, your readers have jumped ship and hailed a passing reliable writer with a lifeboat that’s going full speed and ain’t stopping until it’s done.

No prizes for guessing which kind of writer I am.

I always have good intentions to be the smart writer. I really do. In fact, at the beginning of every new WIP, I swear that I’m going to be that kind of writer and it all starts off great, but it’s not long until life smacks me a good one and I’m left waving at all my readers as they speed away to a life full of regular updates from those more reliable writers with the snazzy boats.

I’ve sort of come to a natural acceptance that this is the norm for me, and won’t ever change as I’m busy juggling a job, a daily London commute, a house, family etc and that’s perfectly okay. That’s just life for most of us, right?

But, I am starting to wonder whether I can make things easier on myself.

My daily writing routine is virtually non-existent. I don’t always get the chance to write every day so there’s no routine, no schedule, no event in my diary to sit down and devote my time entirely to just churning out those words. What I do tend to do, is wait until the weekend and then I’ll don my running shoes and slog through a marathon of writing, which usually culminates in a 2am bleary-eyed update. 5 hours of sleep follow and then I’m awake again, thinking WTF happened last night, as if I’ve been on a 24-hour piss-up and have woken up not quite knowing how I managed to get home.

This happens on average every couple of weeks. I’ll run a marathon session and churn out (here’s that word count rally cry!) 5-6k and then I’m left so exhausted from it all that I can’t bring myself to touch the MS for a week or two. I allow myself to procrastinate. In fact, I bloody rejoice in it, because it’s the easiest way to avoid writing again, or avoid thinking about writing, and that all comes down to the fact that marathons just drain me. I don’t just sprint. I run. And then I have a nice lie down.

Now 5-6k doesn’t seem something to sniff at. It’s a good volume of words. In the world of Wattpad, where shorter chapters are popular, 5-6k is practically WINNING.

Only it doesn’t really feel like winning to me when it’s like a never-ending cycle of running yourself into writing oblivion every couple of weeks. It doesn’t feel particularly productive or even a healthy way to write. It feels harder. Now of course, many of my (kinder) readers would tell me that’s just pressure I’m putting on myself and that they’ll wait as long as it takes and celebrate whether it’s 2k or 6k and I love them for it, I really do, but if I’m being real honest, the facts speak for themselves.

As each week goes by and updates become less frequent, reads can decrease quite significantly and have done with my latest work Hedoschism. I’ve even had some readers tell me, without malice or agenda I might add, that they didn’t finish my previous series because they struggled with my sporadic updates. I get that. I understand it. Because, you know, snazzy life boats and shit. Reliability. Continuity. We want that in our Wattpad writers. We want to know they aren’t going to leave us stranded without a ride back to shore.

I want to update more often, but most of all I want to write more often. What’s that phrase? Less is more. I don’t want to kill myself every time I write a chapter. I don’t particularly want to churn out 5-6k words in one sitting, because there’s nothing celebratory about that if I can’t even bring myself to open the MS for a week afterwards. And so, I’m going to try and make some small changes. Even if the updates don’t yet come more frequently, I would at least like to be more productive with the time that I do have and not end each writing session viewing my MS like it’s a dead animal that needs poking with a stick to see if it really is dead or whether it might suddenly open its eyes like the cliched ending of a B-grade horror film.

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I’m going to try and go for that whole less is more mantra. Sprints. Not marathons. I’m going to keep the running shoes, but I’m going to resist that nice lie down afterwards and just keep writing.

Say it with me. Less is more. Less is more. Convincing, right?

 

 

 

urban fantasy

Review Time: So I Might Be A Vampire by Rodney V. Smith

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A few years ago, I was browsing through the hot lists on Wattpad, desperately looking for something in the vampire section that stood out from the crowd and sadly drowning under the weight of so many ‘My Vampire Prince’ or ‘My Abductor is Harry Styles and is also a Vampire’ books (trust me, they exist!). I was about to give up completely when – ta da! *spotlight dazzle* I came across a book that caught my eye.

Vampire humour? Really?

I’d never read any funny vampire books before and what’s more, the protagonist, Bob, was apparently the worst vampire ever. Instantly, I wanted to read this one. I swear, in most vampire books I read, the vampires themselves are the most perfect, beautiful A-list vampires ever. They all have great hair, faces (and bodies) worthy of the fashion catwalks, and they’ll get any admiring sycophant into bed quicker than you can say ‘I love Edward Cullen’s pretty hairdo.’

That’s great if you love that kind of vampire and I’m not even going to pretend I haven’t read those kind of books before, but in all honesty, I was tired of A-list vamps and I was tired of the same old plot being regurgitated time and time again. I wanted something different and So I Might Be A Vampire by Rodney V Smith seemed like a refreshing break from the norm.

I was immediately hooked on the writer’s style, loved the in-your-face sass and humour and couldn’t get enough of Bob, the afore mentioned worst vampire ever.

Fast forward a few years and the author has re-vamped (I’m so sorry, I have no excuses for the bad pun-work here) his first book in the Chasing The Sun series and I’m so happy to see the new version out in the marketplace, in all its edited glory.

Thankfully, Bob is still a pretty shit vampire, but that’s what I love about him so much. Where is the vampire manual that says once you get transformed, you’re suddenly going to look like Edward, with the charisma of Lestat, and the kick-ass fighting skills of Blade?

Nowhere. Because the manual DOESN’T EXIST.

Forget previously learned tropes when it comes to vampire fiction. Forget what you think the vampire world is like and definitely forget what you think happens to you when you become one. In Bob’s world, everything is different. Everything is …well …normal. And by normal, I mean, yep, you’ve got to get a job (or at least try and hold down the shitty one you already have), nope you can’t fly nor transform into a bat, and yes, those A-list vamps you hate so much are probably going to try and beat the crap out of you at every available opportunity.

Intrigued? You should be, because this book is not only turning modern-day vampire myth on its pretty little head, but it’s also sticking its middle finger firmly up at what you think you know about our fang-toothed friends.

Bob, a low-pay grade junkie, fully admits that his life is a mess. His ex-girlfriend has a restraining order against him, she’s now dating a guy call Chad (yes, Chad) and he’s been transformed into a vampire by a friend who’s now disappeared and he’s got no one to teach him the ropes. Without a mentor, Bob is blagging the vampire life the best way he can – which, unfortunately for Bob – isn’t turning out so well for him. With the help of best friend Claude (a firm fan favourite), Bob has to try and figure out how he fits into a world that doesn’t want him as a member – he’s the loser vamp, bottom rung of the ladder addict, and the one nobody wants to be seen undead with (yeah, yeah, I know, I couldn’t help myself). But figuring out how to survive in his new life isn’t going to be easy, when you have vamp mob boss Harry on your back, psycho Beatrice turning up when you least expect it and drug-dealers gunning for your head.

Smith takes us on ride after ride of Bob’s seriously screwed-up fangster train, and Bob screws up pretty much everything, but for me, that’s what makes Bob more perfect than all those other celebrity vamps out there. There’s a genuine touch of realness about Bob – he could be you, he could be me – and who’s to say that we would fair any better than he does if we were in his shoes. What I love about this book is that there’s zero sugar-coating. Obviously, I totally get that some readers want the sugar, that’s why ‘My Vampire Abductor is in a Boy Band’ is so freaking popular, but I would urge anyone looking for something fresher than a ten-day old corpse, to check out So I Might Be A Vampire. And if you just happen to wake up one night and realise that YOU might be a vamp and need a manual on what it’s really like, this is the book you’re going to need!

With mishap, adventure and a trail of blood around every corner, So I Might Be A Vampire is fun, brutally real, and it’s a ride on the fangster train I didn’t ever want to end. Thank goodness there’s a sequel!

Five blood-drenched stars for this seriously funny, cool as f*ck, vamp-fest!

Buy it here today!

 

 

Wattpad

The Open Novella Contest – Interviews

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I was honoured recently to be asked to take part in an interview with the @CoffeeCommunity profile on Wattpad, all in aid of the fantastic Open Novella Contest – a multi-genre contest to write a 20k novella. The contest has been a huge hit so far, with hundreds of entries and is being featured by multiple profiles across the site, with a chance to win big prizes, including signed books, e-books and the chance to have your story critiqued/polished by experts. The @CoffeeCommunity profile have been reaching out to various Wattpad Stars, Ambassadors, Watty Award Winners and emerging talent, to ask them about their writing process, editing, inspiration and top tips and I was thrilled to be included in the list of some amazing, inspiring Wattpadders.

Hi, Lindsey, thank you for taking the time to get involved with the Open Novella Contest on Wattpad. It’s great to hear from authors like yourself and get to know a little bit about what motivates you to write longer works of fiction.

LC: You’re very welcome! Thank you so much for asking me to join in on the fun and good luck to everyone participating in the contest!

So, to begin, tell us a little bit about yourself as an author on Wattpad. For anyone who hasn’t met you before, how would you describe your fiction?

LC: I’ve been writing on Wattpad now for about five years. My short story The Fan was Featured about three years ago, which is when it pretty much blew up for me and I really started to get noticed, and not long after that I was asked to join the Wattpad Partnership Program (now known as Wattpad Stars) which enabled my work to be paired with brands such as Universal Pictures and the A&E TV network in the States. Somehow along the way I’ve managed to achieve almost 7 million reads across my combined works, including over 2 million alone for my #1 Featured novel, Playing Dead. I’m probably best known for my urban fantasy novels and have two series’s on Wattpad, the very amateur Dark Sanctuary, and the hopefully less amateur The Whitechapel Chronicles, plus I’ve recently started a new UF standalone Hedoschism. I would describe my fiction as dark fantasy with a disturbing edge. My first love was horror fiction, so if you’re looking for a sizzling urban fantasy read, don’t be too surprised if I throw a few unsettling and gut-churning moments your way! I love to take fantasy elements and entrench them into a real setting, whether that be vampires living in the underbelly of modern-day London or spider-eating Grandma’s picking victims at county fairs in the Deep South. 

Writing for sustained periods is a hurdle that every writer, beginner or experienced, faces from time to time. What powers you through those longer bursts of creativity and keeps you focused?

LC: Goodness, great question and I wish I had some secret formula to reveal to all those budding writers out there, but the truth is I am the WORST procrastinator, particularly when writing novels, which can be mammoth projects to undertake. Writing a novel or indeed, a series, can be a hugely daunting thing, especially when you’re desperate for it to take off like a firework, rather than fizzle away like a damp squib, and the tendency to lose focus is something that still haunts me with every project. It’s easier to give up than it is to keep writing. One thing I have discovered recently and would advise to anyone who, like me, has the uncontrollable urge to give up and procrastinate instead, is this: TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. Hide it in your underwear drawer. Let the battery run down to zero. Throw it into an oubliette. Okay, maybe don’t do that, but, if you’re a big social media fan or get distracted by the internet, ditch the damn phone. Phones are a serious risk to creativity, social media is the path to Hell and Hell is a place where people post pictures of their dogs wearing Halloween costumes, where ordinary citizens become raving lunatics and where Trump hangs out when he’s not at the golf course. Seriously. Turn off the phone and just write. I did this recently and was shocked at how much I wrote in just a few hours. For me, it’s definitely going to be the way forward to boosting my creativity and productivity.

What top tips would you advise for getting a novella or a longer piece of fiction off the starting line? What kind of story developments motivate you to see it through to the end?

LC: Now, this is an interesting question because five years ago, I would have just said wing it, sit down and start writing and see where it takes you. I did that with my first series, Dark Sanctuary, but to be fair, I think the disastrous consequences of that is evident in the story itself. These days, things are a little different. Every writer is unique, so I’m kind of loath to tell anyone to do this or do that, but I don’t write anything now without at least some semblance of a plan. For me, getting a novella or novel off the starting line, is all about being able to see the finish line in the distance and know exactly where I’m heading. I start by plotting my first and last chapters and then it’s about how to arc the story through from start to finish. Sounds easy when I say it like that, and of course, it’s not easy at all and things will always change as I’m writing, but I find that having a plan is invaluable, as is fleshing out your characters before you start. You can’t write a novel if you don’t know who your characters are. What do they look like? How do they move/walk/gesture? How do they speak (a good tip here is to ensure they all sound different so that if you removed dialogue tags, would your reader know who was talking – try it, it works, honest!)? What’s their back story (you don’t have to tell your readers this straight away, but it’s important that YOU know)? Get your characters and plot bedded down and you’re ready to don your running shoes and get off that starting line like the Mo Farah of the literary world. 

How much do you edit on the fly? Or do you prefer to edit after you’ve finished the initial draft?

LC: Oh, I edit ALL THE DAMN TIME. I can’t actually move on to writing the next chapter without re-reading and editing the previous one. I haven’t quite decided whether it’s actually a failing of mine that I do this, or whether it’s a good thing to strive for perfection, but it doesn’t seem to be a habit I’ll ever be able to break. I must admit, however, that sometimes I think it cripples me a little in that I struggle to just sit down and keep writing, because I’m too focused on editing a previous chapter. Trust me when I say that every Wattpad chapter I upload has been through a gruelling journey of at least five-ten edits before I post, which is probably why it takes me so bloody long to write a book!

Personally, what kind of novella — be it any style, theme, or genre — would you like to see emerge from the Open Novella Contest?

LC: I’m going to forgo the whole question of theme or genre, because to be fair, I am obviously a big fan of anything paranormal/fantasy/horror, but to me, that’s not the most important thing here and these days, I’m discovering I’ll read just about anything as long as the writing is good. What I would like to see are brave writers. Writers who, no matter what genre they chose, are brave enough to buck trends and not strive for the popularity route, writers who dare to be individuals. Wattpad is a place where trend and popularity is key and I see many wannabe writers falling into the trap of chasing popularity by churning out clone fiction of what they think is popular, I also see well-established writers switching genres or writing particular themes, because they want to chase the reads and capture a certain audience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be popular and gain reads, but if you’re going to do it, do it by being yourself. Be daring with your novel, be willing to push boundaries, challenge your readers. I want to see brave fiction by brave writers!

Lastly, because we’re always curious… What was your first ever experience with the power of the written language?

LC: Okay, this is probably going to sound weird, particularly as I don’t even remember the name of the poet or the poem itself, but I remember reading a poem in the school library when I was a kid that has NEVER left me to this day. The poem was about a boy who hated the moths that came into his bedroom at night, and I vividly recall the part where the moth forced its way into his mouth, which yeah, is a pretty damn freaky poem to be hanging around in a school library, and absolutely contributed to my life-long fear of moths and my life-long love of horror. I’ve never forgotten that poem. I’ve never forgotten how petrified I was, but how utterly fascinated I was by it at the same time. To me, that’s the ultimate power of the written language – poetry or fiction that pulls you in, captivates you and stays with you for your whole life.

It’s been great hearing from you, Lindsey, and thank you for sharing your valuable knowledge in storytelling.

Best wishes in your future endeavours from the Open Novella Team.

Find the interview here plus interviews with other wonderful Wattpadders.

Music Monday

Music Monday: Magnificent (She Says) by Elbow

I haven’t done a Music Monday post in FOREVER, but this song has me hooked and I figured it was a good opportunity to start posting about my favourite ear-worms again.

I’m addicted to anything Elbow/Guy Garvey, but there’s just something so beautiful about Magnificent (She Says), a track from the Little Fictions album, that it seems permanently in residence on my daily commute to work.

The Monday morning grind is bloody hard enough as it is, so what better way than to start the day with something completely freaking gorgeous?

Enjoy!

 

horror

Review: The Garrison Project by David J. Thirteen

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I had the pleasure of reading the first draft of this story when it was first posted on Wattpad, having already discovered David’s work a couple of years before.

David J. Thirteen isn’t your typical Wattpad writer, with his Dean Koontz vibes and nail-biting edge-of-your-seat storylines, he brings a maturity and brilliance that I believe, he really doesn’t get enough credit for. I’m constantly captivated and surprised by his work, because he has a real gift for twists and an unpredictability which is often very rare these days when it comes to paranormal/horror story-telling.

The Garrison Project is definitely no exception to the rule, particularly considering haunted house/demon possession has been done many times before, but David makes you feel like you’re reading it for the first time, bringing something fresh and beautifully sinister to the story. I’m so glad to see this story published because it really does deserve a wider audience and hopefully one that appreciates just how good a writer he is.

A disturbing, haunting read that I know will keep me awake in the dark for many nights to come!

Five stars!

New Adult

REVIEW: DIRTY LYRICS BY LANA SKY

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I have to I admit that this isn’t my usual kind of read, I’m more of a paranormal/horror kind of girl, but having read Drain Me also by Lana Sky and loving her writing style, I was very intrigued to check out Dirty Lyrics too.

In short, I was hooked VERY quickly and not just because of the hot scenes (and trust me, they’re positively SCORCHING) but because it’s about time we had a heroine who isn’t your archetypal female MC.

Abby Newman is unashamedly sexy, feisty and can give anyone a run for their money in the confidence stakes. She knows exactly what she wants and how she’s going to get it – that is until country star Jason Daniels walks into her life and turns everything upside down. Usually taking the upper hand in all her relationships, music publicist Abby is knocked for six by the complex, brooding Jason who seems determined to persuade her to represent him.

I loved Abby and Jason and I also loved how this didn’t turn into one of those predictable romances, it was complicated and gritty and completely addictive and yeah it has those naughty scenes, but don’t be mistaken in thinking this is like every other ‘erotica’ out there. There’s a damn good concrete plot, intriguing three-dimensional characters and the writing is impeccable as I’ve come to expect from Lana Sky.

A thoroughly addictive five-star read – I can’t wait for the sequel!