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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THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The Perfect Family by Shalini Boland

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‘Mummy, she’s gone…’

Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.

The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.

After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.

But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.

And she realises it’s only just beginning…

I always start reading Shalini’s books with a certain amount of apprehension, not because I think I won’t like it, because I know that within just a page or two, she’ll throw us into some horrible nightmare that’ll have me turning every page in anticipation.

The Perfect Family was no exception. I stayed up late to read as much as I could, then made myself late getting ready for work just so I could read another chapter and then I sat in the car outside the office just so I could finish it before I started work.

As always, I spent my whole time trying to work out which character was the villain of the story and was suspicious of practically everyone. Shalini has a knack of keeping the reader glued to every page, with situations that could be so real and I really do think it’s that which keeps you hooked – that sense of believable horror that these things could happen to you.

This was another fabulous page turner and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author. My only complaint is that I read it too quickly and didn’t want it to end!

A definite five out of five stars from me.

horror · REVIEW TIME

The Lingering by SJI Holliday

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This was another brilliant find from the fabulous Orenda Books who seem to have a skill of discovering astounding, talented writers. In fact, these days many of my Kindle buys tend to be from Orenda or Bookouture authors. 

The Lingering intrigued me from the start, the cover is eye-catchingly creepy and the blurb definitely had me hitting that One-Click button on Amazon (how dangerous is that damn button???).

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

At once an unnerving locked-room mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really enjoying seeing a bit of a revival on ghost stories recently. It seems writers had moved away from the good ol’ ghost tale over the years, and I don’t think I’d read many myself since the days of the David Ash series by James Herbert and I couldn’t help but always feel there was something quite sad about the fall of the Great Ghost Story.

Reading tales of things that go bump in the night was probably where many of us gained our first experience of horror stories as children, but at some point, we all became a little desensitised to horror and needed shock tactics to bring about the fear factor – think gory horror movies: Saw, Hostel, turning zombies from shuffling shop mannequins to scary AF monsters that could run at you like Usain Bolt on acid. However, with the Netflix production of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror The Haunting of Hill House, the concept of the ghost story and the horror it can hold has become desirable again. I feel as if I can’t go online or into a bookshop now without seeing more and more ghost stories on the screen and shelves. I’m sure there are those among you who will say the ghost story never went away, it was just overshadowed by vampires and werewolves and Walking Dead rip-offs, but for me, it’s been a pleasant and enjoyable discovery to see that the genre has risen from the dead (pardon the pun). 

Of course, The Lingering could have turned into one big walking spooky cliché. Yes, we can tick the box for ‘haunted house that was once a hospital where ever so slightly dodgy practices took place’ but that’s where the cliché can remain in its box, because Holliday took me back to what I loved most about ghost stories, while giving it a contemporary twist that kept me hooked. It was spooky, twisted, disturbing and definitely had the goosebumps rising on my skin a number of times as I wandered through the creepy confines of Rosalind House.

I must admit, at the start, I was a little thrown by the switching of POV’s between 1st person present tense and 3rd person present tense, but I am, alas a bit old school (I mean, I just said ‘alas’ which is sadly a dead giveaway, right?) and it took me longer than most to get my head around the contemporary trend of present tense fiction and the switching of POV’s. I read a lot on Wattpad where switching POV’s is a BIG thing and unfortunately, only a gifted few seem to get it right, so I’ve always been a bit sceptical, but, after a couple of chapters of this in The Lingering, I actually found myself really liking it – so much so, that I’m considering experimenting with it in my own writing.

Holliday’s use of POV method was a fantastic tool in aiding reader-character relation. It’s almost like reading subliminal messages within the text and once the story began to open up a bit more and I discovered, not everything was quite what it seemed at Rosalind House, that’s when I realised just how clever Holliday had been with her POV structure. The characters I thought I could trust, turned out to have their own agenda and the ones I was instantly suspicious of, were not necessarily the villains I expected them to be. The whole thing was very smartly constructed and helped ramp up the creep factor throughout.

A haunted house with a tale to tell, suspicious house guests and an addictive plot that kept me swiping the screen for the next page, this was a gripping read. Thoroughly enjoyable!

horror · 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!