horror · REVIEW TIME · Reviews

Review: Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

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Twitter connections are GREAT, aren’t they?

Having seen Behind Her Eyes author, Sarah Pinborough tweet her recommendation for Jason Arnopp’s Ghoster led me to discover his work when I treated myself to a copy of his chilling thriller The Last Day of Jack Sparks (review to come).

Fast forward a few weeks and Monday at work was brightened by the arrival of an ARC of Ghoster, courtesy of Orbit Books. I mean, Mondays are shit (unless you’re one of those beetroot juice-drinking hipsters who sees the start of a new week as a blessing, yeah okay Sandra, good for you, I’m about to spend my Monday getting my arse kicked by retail buyers young enough to be my daughter, but yeah, you drink your juice and be SUPER positive about the worst day of the week) but, it’s a well-known fact that ANY day gets better when books are involved. Receive a book gift and you can totally live your best life… yes, EVEN ON A MONDAY.

Sarah Pinborough said on Ghoster: ‘The best cross-genre thriller I’ve read in a long, long time. Twisty, creepy and absolutely absorbing.’ Mention twisty and creepy and I’m definitely in. And if that wasn’t enough to hook me, here’s the blurb:

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself.

That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognise. Scratch marks on the walls that she can’t explain.

And the growing feeling that she’s being watched . . .

I was already familiar with Jason Arnopp’s love for connecting our obsession with social media and the paranormal, after reading Jack Sparks and was intrigued by his use of this theme again in Ghoster. If any of you out there have recently watched the Netflix documentary The Great Hack, as I have, then books like Ghoster will be right up your street. Strangely, the premise of the book seems an almost credible one. We’re already discovering the real-life dangers of our mad obsession with all things online, from the risks of stalking and online bullying, to the illegal practices of political parties and global giants like Facebook to abuse user data to rig elections that effect us on an international scale. So, what happens when you connect a paranormal element to our use of social media? The possibilities are endless. And scary, really properly scary.

It might seem a bit mad, but I’ve got to be honest, it REALLY didn’t take me long to start side-eyeing my phone suspiciously. That night, after reaching two-thirds of the way through the book, I found myself sweeping my iPhone torchlight into the shadowy corners of the bedroom. I was convinced something was there. Were the shadows darker than usual? Were they moving? And what the FUCK was that noise? Yep. It was totally THAT kind of book paranoia. It’s been a long time since I was utterly freaked out by a book to this extent.

Everything about what happens to the protagonist, Kate Collins seems eerily possible and I believe it’s because we can all identify to some extent with her own obsession with social media. We can’t go out for a meal these days without checking our phones throughout. We can’t eat anything without zapping an Insta-pic of it first. We can’t go to a gig without recording our favourite song and posting it to FB. We can’t seem to get through a day without trying to find something funny to tweet about. It’s everywhere and I’ll admit to being slightly jealous of those out there who are able to log out and switch off their phones. After reading Ghoster, I’ll challenge you not to at least think of taking a break or weaning yourself off your online obsessions. I know I did.

The story-telling of Ghoster is compelling in a creepily, convincing way. Drawing you in through a series of present-time action, flashbacks and text dialogue, the author subtly and deftly pulls you into a very twisted web of suspicion, disbelief and doubt until you feel as if you are living Kate’s nightmare with her.

Kate herself, *might not* be instantly likeable to all (although I was a bit in love with her and rooting for her throughout, while simultaneously shouting at her through the pages and telling her to run for the hills). She has a honesty about her I adored, but that some readers might find a little abrasive (she’s a self-confessed social media addict, she talks candidly about what she wants from her Tinder dates, she’s reckless and doesn’t exactly make the best decisions) but scratch below the surface of some solid self psycho analysis and I think many readers might admit they find Kate’s narration a little uncomfortable because she epitomises that side of ourselves we don’t always like very much. Simply put, these days, in our social-media-obsessed world, I think there’s a little bit of Kate in all of us. For me, this a huge reason why I think the story works so well and why it has you thinking of weighing down your phone in a bag of bricks gangster-style and dumping it into the nearest canal.

Arnopp successfully leads us through Kate’s nightmare, ramping up the tension and creep-factor with each page. The story is a fabulously addictive mix of contemporary prose and just the right amount of old-school horror that makes me wonder if this is the type of book that the likes of James Herbert and Richard Laymon would have written if they were still with us today.

Ghoster, for me, is a perfect example of contemporary horror writing, hitting hard and playing up to our fears, both real and subconscious. This is the type of book that doesn’t just get under your skin, it creeps under it and once there, it will stay with you for days after.

Five out of five for this exceptionally creepy thriller, Ghoster.

**Thanks goes to Nazia from Orbit Books and Jason Arnopp for the ARC**

 

 

paranormal romance · PNR · REVIEW TIME · Reviews

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J Pryor

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Leila McKay is both blessed and cursed. Her potent serryn powers are growing stronger, but they come with a heavy price. And to prove her love for vampire leader Caleb, she needs to bring his murdered brother Jake back to life. The only way is to cast a spell no one has dared to attempt before, that could tear apart the fabric of time itself…

But Caleb fears that treachery runs deep in Leila’s veins. Although the heat between them grows hotter by the second, Caleb’s past has left him with a hard heart and a mistrustful nature, and it was at her sister’s hands that Jake was killed… but with his brother’s life in the balance, giving in to his primal instincts is more tempting than ever.

Time is running out for Caleb. In a matter of hours, Jake will be past the point of saving: and around them, all-out war rages in Blackthorn. With genetically modified lycans and vicious convicts roaming the streets, Sirius Throme at the Global Council has secret plans that threaten to devastate the whole district… and Leila is the only one powerful enough to save them all. But can Caleb really trust her?

With countless lives at stake, will Leila and Caleb’s fierce attraction be strong enough to see them through the ultimate test? Or in unleashing the darkness within, will they destroy everything they hold dear? 

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It’s fair to say that I’ve been waiting for the last in the Blackthorn series with a bundle of mixed emotions. Any long-term readers of my blog will know that I’ve been a huge fan of this series from the start and have always looked forward to each and every book with nothing but a hefty dose of excitement and anticipation.

When I first discovered Lindsay’s debut novel, Blood Shadows, back in 2012, it felt right up my street. Fresh off a wave of American writers such as Anne Rice, J.R Ward, Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, it was refreshing to find a British writer of urban fantasy whose talent could rival that of my favourite authors, but who also brought different qualities to the table that could only come from a British voice. Blood Shadows was voraciously consumed and that was it: I was hooked.

I adored the world-building, and couldn’t get enough of the gritty, dangerous back alleys of Blackthorn and of the darkness that seemed to lurk around every corner. I adored the complexities of each third species and how they connected (although many of the connections were not revealed instantly, more drip-fed throughout). Lindsay has always worked on a tried and tested formula similar to that of many of her peers, focusing each book on a new character coupling – and sparking that ever inevitable discussion of which team you’re on and who’s your favourite (don’t even get me started on how many times I changed my mind!) – and as we have progressed through the series, I’ve adored (and been in awe of) how the individual character stories have come together, weaving into a far more complex web of plot than could have ever been predicted at the beginning of my Blackthorn journey.

Almost seven years down the line and each book has brought a sense of anticipation that no other book series has. Truth be told, I don’t get anywhere close as excited to hear of a book release as I do when I know another Blackthorn novel is on its way, so of course, now that book 8, Blood Broken is finally here, while I was just as excited as all the times before (if not, more so), I also dreaded it a little, because, quite frankly, I hadn’t realised just how much I didn’t want this series to end. 

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One of the most beautiful things about a series like Blackthorn is just how invested we as readers become in every character, every plot thread, every small detail. Books like these become a big part of our lives, whether just for the few hours it takes for us to read them (and re-read them), or whether we take those stories with us afterwards, allowing the characters to stay with us as we deliberate what might become of them in the next part of the story.

When stories are this powerful, it’s just so damn hard to say goodbye. 

Of course, there are some that will say that you never truly say goodbye to a book series when you love it that much, because there’s always the opportunity to go back and read again from the beginning and I will certainly be doing just that, because it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Blood Broken, and I already miss my Blackthorn babies. Sadly, there won’t be the WTF moments from the first time round, but it will be wonderful to go back and feel the familiarity of characters I have come to adore as some of my all-time faves.

Now, this is where it gets difficult reviewing a final instalment of an 8-book series that you love. How can you possibly sum up everything you want to say and feel like you’ve done it justice? In all honesty, I’m not sure that I will be able to.

I’ve touched a little on the complexity of the individual character threads above, but for me, the way all the books were woven together was one of the truly outstanding achievements of the finale. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be, when you’ve focused mainly on one couple for each book, to then bring all of the characters together and not make some of them fade into the background, but somehow, Lindsay manages to make each one shine. Undoubtedly, Blood Broken is ultimately Caleb and Leila’s story, but every single character we have come to love (or hate) plays such a huge part, that none were ever diminished in any way whatsoever. This left me in total awe and added hugely to the pace of the novel, to the point where it felt like one incredible rollercoaster ride that was unrelenting and exciting and nail-biting to the very end. It’s rare to find a book that doesn’t have some ‘slower, perhaps less engaging’ scenes – that always seems sort of inevitable to me – but Blood Broken never tired for a second and it definitely had many of those WTF moments I spoke of earlier, and definitely contained the biggest WTF moment of the entire series (no spoilers!) that left my jaw on the floor and my heart spilling out of my mouth.

I’ve talked in previous reviews about Lindsay’s ability to keep the story unpredictable, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you already know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to get excited about a story where only one outcome is inevitable. As readers, we need unpredictability. We need to be kept on the edge of our seats. We need to torture ourselves with a hundred different possibilities, because we’re all just weird little masochists at heart. Sometimes, we might get an inkling of what’s to come, but not once – and I genuinely mean that – not once did I ever see what Lindsay had in store for our Blackthorn babies. I think I stared at the page for a very long time, wondering WTF I had just read and wondering how the Hell I had never seen it coming. This is the kind of story-telling that makes my little reader heart a-flutter (and my little writer heart filled with jealous awe). I get such a kick out of being surprised by a story and Blood Broken definitely ticked ALL the boxes and then some.

It had everything we had come to expect from Blackthorn – adventure, action, romance, uber-hotness, dark twists and turns that kept me scrolling page after page.

By the end of this book, I was awe-struck, jubilantly punching the air, and sobbing (it’s the END, for goodness sake!!!) In fact, I sobbed that it was over for a good fifteen minutes, only then to realise there were epilogues (yes, people, EPILOGUES. PLURAL) and then I had to somehow gather myself together to read them, before sobbing again with joy and sadness and every other emotion you’re meant to feel when a series you adore has finally come to a close after seven years. For me, it really could not have been more perfect and I couldn’t have wished for a better ending.

With breath-taking, high-octane action, unpredictable story-telling and the plot twist to end ALL plot twists, Blood Broken is undoubtedly the crown jewel in Lindsay J Pryor’s urban fantasy masterpiece. This is a five out of five stellar fantasy book that deserves to be talked about for many years to come, and while I’m heart-broken to see it come to an end, I am so very glad that its been a part of my life for the past seven years.

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