Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Happy Sunday readers, I hope you had a wonderful weekend!  For tonight’s blog post, I will be reviewing Birdbox by Josh Malerman.  I think I might be the only person who hasn’t watched the Netflix original adaptation of this, but I really wanted to read the book first (plus I have a rather demanding Toddler so very limited TV time that doesn’t involve cartoon princesses and singalongs).  I will hopefully get watching it this week, but if it is even half as good as this book then I know I am in for a treat.

birdboxFor those of you unfamiliar with Birdbox (have you been living under a rock or something?) the premise is this: A phenomenon is sweeping across the globe where people are going crazy, killing themselves and sometimes others too.  No one knows what is causing this, just that the victims always saw something before it happened. The book moves between the very pregnant Malorie and a rag tag group of survivors in the past, to the present where her and her two children battle their way upriver in the hopes of finding safety from these unknown creatures, the wild animals which have now inherited the earth from man and worse, the crazed people driven homicidally mad by what they have seen.  Sounds awesome right?

I absolutely loved this book, I really did.  The premise is fantastic, the characters are all well developed and believable and the tension and horror is very real.  I love that we as the reader never really find out what’s going on.  Are these creatures from another world or dimension?  Do they mean to cause us harm or are they inadvertently causing this carnage?  There are a few theories shared within the book, my favourite being that these creatures are so unfathomably different from ourselves that our tiny human brains simply cannot comprehend it and promptly go nuts at the slightest glimpse.  Whatever is happening, the creatures are never described which means that whatever they are is left entirely to our own imagination (in mine, they are like a creature shaped void of nothingness, walking black holes in our world, but that’s just me).  But the creatures are by no means the scariest part of this book, as it’s the reaction of the humans to the phenomena that offers the books creepiest moments.  Remember, our characters are literally blind folded, so the mere crack of a tree branch is enough to cause total panic.  Then there are the characters who are driven a different kind of mad by the creatures and the situation at large.  They don’t flip out and immediately kill themselves like most, but slowly go insane, hurting their fellow survivors.  I don’t want to have any spoilers but when things go bad, they really go South fast and it is here we see this maniacal, creepy lunacy played out in full bloody horror.

I really enjoyed the movement from past to present, it kept me hooked, maintained the tension throughout and made me desperate to find out what happened.  I had one of those ‘just one more chapter’ moments resulting in me staying up way past my bed time and suffering for it the following day (it was totally worth it though).

I love Malorie.  As a mother, I recognise that need to keep your children safe at all costs, that guttural feeling inside that says above all else, to protect.  At it’s core, this book is about survival.  It is about the good side and the bad side of humanity when faced with unimaginable horror.  It is about a mother determined to protect her children.  It is about man kind clinging to a world that is no longer theirs, refusing to lie down and give up despite insurmountable odds.  It’s pretty inspiring actually and has had me thinking at length about what I would do if, God forbid, such a thing ever happened for real.  I can’t imagine I would last too long, but I know I would do whatever I could to protect my own daughter, just like our protagonist.

It’s a slow burner, dotted with enough moments of peril and action to pull you along at a good pace to that big and bloody finale.  It’s a tense read and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.  I have to give this one full marks with five stars out of five!

Book Review: Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan.

Book Review: Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan.

Happy Sunday readers! For tonight’s blog post I will be reviewing Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan, who Kindly gifted me a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review after seeing my love for classic literature on my Instagram! The basic premise of this book is so original and charming, I’m genuinely obsessed with it.  Imagine an interior design book, where instead of interviewing designers or celebrities about their home style inspiration, it features interviews with some classic literary characters.  People such as Dracula, Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett open the doors of their homes and castles and give the reader insight into their interior design choices, where they get their inspiration from and what their favourite features of their homes are.  It includes tours of famous literary residents such as Pemberley, Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory and Jay Gatsby’s swinging pad, all the while littered with references and quotes from the books and insight into the characters featured.

I think it’s obvious from my introduction that I just adored this book.  It has such adecorating 1 wonderful sense of humour, one of my favourite moments being Miss Havisham from Bleak House, who when referring to the author who wrote her such a depressing storyline stated, “He really put the ‘Dick’ in ‘Dickens.'”  It is littered with little ‘inside’ jokes between the reader and the characters which had me literally laughing out loud.  Every ‘tour’ and ‘interview’ was a little trip down memory lane as I remembered the books I have read and loved in the past, some of which I haven’t picked up in far too long.  It renewed my love of classic literature and as a direct result, there are now multiple re-reads on my TBR pile.  Indeed, there are some classics referred to in the book which I have never taken the time to read but after reading this book, I definitely plan on doing so.

The book is divided into chapters covering specific types of domiciles, everything from ‘Ancestral Estates’ and ‘Crazy Castles’ to ‘Cottages, Cabins and Hovels.’ Whether you live in a big house or a flat, or even castles, ships or wardrobes- there is style inspiration for everyone.  Dotted amongst these main chapters are little funny interludes, like the witch from Hansel and Gretel discussing decorating with the Mama Bear from Goldilocks and the Three Bears.   Whatever your favourite books are, Susan has it covered.

decorating 2It is beautifully illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (I mean check out that drool worthy cover), with images from each resident adorably featured in each interview.  Highlights include paintings of Dracula’s coffin, the Gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, the wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and a full page illustration of Pemberley.  I love the classic style of the images, which for perfectly with the books theme.

Susan Harlan is a great writer and it’s clear how much time and research she put into each character and each interview.  She obviously re-read every single book featured as each interview perfectly captures that particular book and character, whilst giving it a humorous, modern and light hearted twist.

Randomly, I also want to note how beautiful the book actually looks as well as the fact that it is of a really high quality.  It is a hard back, which I love, but also the actual pages are of a really thick and high grade paper.  It’s the type of book you would have sitting on your coffee table for people to peruse.  It makes me sound so old saying something like that, but I genuinely appreciated the weight and appearance of it.  It felt grown up and expensive!

Overall this is a fun, light hearted book which would be perfect for any fan of classic literature and as a side note, it would make a really lovely gift! Definitely 4.5 stars out of 5!

Blood Bath Literary Magazine: A Review of Issue 1 & an Interview with the Editor.

Blood Bath Literary Magazine: A Review of Issue 1 & an Interview with the Editor.

There are some awesome literary magazines on the market out there.  They offer readers a chance to read pieces and styles they might not normally explore, from authors they are yet to discover and they are a great way for indie writers such as myself to get your writing out there.  I love a good literary magazine, so when I discovered that a new Horror based literary magazine was coming out of Edinburgh (one of my favourite places in the world) called Blood Bath, I was beyond excited.  And when I found out their first issue was based around the theme of Bodies and I saw that epic cover art by Jo Ruessmann, I knew I would have to buy a copy then and there.  Read to the end for my full review of the first issue (spoilers- I loved it!).  I was honoured to interview the Editor of the magazine about her love of Horror and why she decided the world needed a little more of it.

  1. Tell us a little about you, the person behind Blood Bath zine.
katy at bloodbathHi!! My name’s Katy, I’m editrix of Blood Bath! I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m also a genre
fiction writer, mostly sci-fi, horror and weird fiction. I’ve been running BB since April
2018.
2. What Inspired you to start the magazine?
I wanted to start BB because I was struggling to find a local horror publication that I wanted to send my work to. I like sharing my work through local publishers, and I was constantly finding that most horror publications were American or Canadian. I thought with Edinburgh being Gothic, haunted and one of the weirdest cities in the world, it was strange that we didn’t really have a cool, genre specific, weird, spooky publisher. I also know loads of horror writers who are writing great stuff, but no-one wants to take it. So, I decided to make my own space for them.
I came into some money when my Dad passed away in January 2017, and he always encouraged my love of horror, so it seemed appropriate to use the money to start BB. When I was a teenager and just getting into weird stuff he would give me serial killer books, horror novels and movies and even (accidentally! He didn’t realise what it was, and neither did I until I got to a certain point!) a soft core porn novel about Elizabeth Báthory, the Bloody Countess who (legend has it) bathed in the blood of her victims. So the first issue is dedicated to him, and we’re also hosting the next issue’s launch party on his birthday! We’ll be announcing the date very soon.
3. Why Horror?  What about the genre fascinates you?
I think everyone is into horror! Even if you say you can’t watch horror movies, everyone secretly wants to look. It reflects so much of what is inside us, the things we don’t like thinking about, but we’re frequently forced into looking at. Life is horrifying and awful, and horror has always shown that, unflinchingly, and made it beautiful or poignant or just illicit an emotion in you, which I think is cool. Horror and sci fi and fantasy occupy such a special place because we can look at ourselves stretched to the extreme, or in a different world. It lets us attack, deconstruct or challenge the world around us. Also I just think horror stories are about better things. Genre fiction as a whole is just more fun and exciting to read than regular fiction, for me at least.
4. What do you look for in the pieces you include?
I always look for something I haven’t seen before. So much of horror is the same, people cover bloodbathre-hash ideas all the time, which is not a problem! You can do something that’s been done before, but just twist something essential about it. You can do a werewolf story, but go and read and watch all the werewolf stories you can. See what’s out there. Find out what perspective or message or theme is being overlooked, and do your own version of it, or subvert the pieces that are already there. Originality weighs in much more than a perfectly polished and edited story I’ve read a million times before.
I think when someone knows the purpose of their piece, when they know what they want you to do as a reader, that just lets you enjoy the world or the cool ideas they have to show you! So knowing your piece and what you want it to do also helps. As I’ve already mentioned, being socially aware and subversive is important for me in choosing a piece. But being in this gatekeeper position is very subjective, and I will pick pieces that appeal to me specifically. That’s why it’s important to keep trying until you find a home for your writing.
5. Do you have any tips or advice for new writers out there, keen to be published?
First, the guidelines are not loose guidelines they are rules! Follow them! The publisher has written them for a reason.
Just be nice!
Keep trying! Just because you don’t get into one publication, doesn’t mean your work wouldn’t be perfect for another.
There’s no need to put on a show in your cover email, your work should speak for itself. Just list your top 3 or 4 publications if you have any, some people send a full list of every publication they’ve ever had. It just doesn’t really add anything to your submission, and it’s a little annoying to scroll through to get to the end of your email. Keep it concise.
Write a lot and edit more! Editing is less fun than writing for me, but it always improves my work when I do a lot of careful, considered editing.
I haven’t given much writing advice, but I think it’s better to just develop your work in your own way, only you can figure out what kind of writer you are and what kind of work you want to create.
Lastly, look after yourself. It’s easy to be overcome by rejections or writing that’s not working. It’s a tough and highly emotional job, make sure you make time for self care, whatever that looks like.
6. How does someone submit their writing to you?
They can submit via email, bloodbathlitzine@hotmail.com. But read the guidelines on our website first!
7. What does the future hold for the magazine?
I’m not quite sure! And that’s exciting! I’m working with some people I really admire to create the second issue, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out! DEMONS will be launching in early May, with an incredible launch party in Edinburgh. I wish I could share more details with you, but it’s going to be a great night! It will definitely be demonic and debaucherous.
We’re going to a few more small press fairs and zine fests, as well as publishing conferences and literary events. I want BB to just keep growing, as there’s so much writing and art I want to share with the world. I do want to expand to publishing books, short story collections, and some weirder stuff. I’m very excited to see what the future holds!
My Review of Issue 1: Bodies.
bloodbathzineThe human body can bring about a mix of emotions, everything from lust to fear.  They fascinate and disgust us and they are discussed and picked over constantly, whether by our own harsh assessments of how our own body measures up to modern beauty standards, to the constant media attention they receive.  I have read countless horror novels and seen dozens of movies where human bodies are subverted and twisted into something which haunts us, hence why they make the perfect theme for the debut of Blood Bath.  The Magazine contains 13 pieces of writing, all with this common thread and all with a dark and macabre edge to them.
We start with Miss West’s Requisitions by Ever Dundas, a depiction of a truly disgruntled employee and perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, a version of those horrible little dark thoughts we have in the back of our mind when someone irritates or upsets us at work.  It’s a great story, with a humorous side and a fab start to the magazine.  Petrified by Felicity Anderson-Nathan depicts someone’s hand, then arm, becoming petrified.  It’s short but impactful and leaves you feeling very sorry for its protagonist.  Feed Them by Mary Crosbie is one of my favourites featured in the magazine, depicting a woman who is willing to go to incredible lengths in order to stay thin.  It’s a chilling indictment of the pressures put on women to conform to modern beauty standards and to maintain a skinny, size zero body….is it weird that reading it made me hungry?  Probably says more about me than I would care to admit.  Next up, we have The Sea Witch by Angie Spoto, is a much darker version of that classic mermaid with a human lover trope.  It’s gory and gross, in a good way.  Family Pool by Scott Clark is my favourite of the contributions and tells the tale of a family and their very hungry, utterly terrifying swimming pool.  This one really stayed with me and even sent a little shudder up my spine.  Maleficae by Tiffany Morris is a vampiric poem, short but beautifully written.  Ghosted by Kristy Falconer describes one Hell of a bad break up.  I liked this story.  It was filled with melancholy and Falconer has a particularly beautiful way with words.  A Terrible Meat Eating God by Holly Lyn Walrath, a piece of flash fiction, is all about consumption and is again, beautifully written and very poetic.  The Unrecalled by Rita Hynes, depicts a teenage girl and her morbid fascination with the things happening to her body.  This one made me feel a little nauseous! If any story manages to have a physical affect on you, you know it’s a good one. The Eye that Offends you by Alys Earl is a dark and haunting twist on the traditional fairy tales we loved as a child.  I really loved this one, it was just perfect.  Cleaver by Jelle Cauwenberghs features a girl haunted by the ghosts of the past as well as a future threat she must be ready to face.  This is another of the stories with wonderful language and I loved the snippets of past memories dusted throughout.  Witch Ridden by Katie Bootland, is based on the tale of the blacksmith’s wife of Yarrowford and is short but beautiful. Finally, Enclosed in clothes by Laura Dehaan, the final contribution and the third of the poems is a wonderful end to the collection of tales.
Overall, I loved this magazine.  The stories and poems are all so unusual and well written and perfectly chosen for the issue’s theme.  I love the cover art so much and I look forward to issue 2: Demons, coming soon.  Definitely a 5 stars out of 5 from me!!
Katy is accepting submissions for the Demons issue until February 14th, head to their website to find out what she is looking for.  You can also buy prints of the fantastic cover art by Jo Ruessman on the Blood Bath website, but hurry because there is a limited amount and they’re selling fast.

Book Review: Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke.

Book Review: Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke.

I was recently introduced to Kealan Patrick Burke by a fellow bookstagrammer and horror enthusiast, the fabulous Sadie Hartmann (aka Mother Horror) and I am so glad I did.  Dead of Winter, a collection of Burke’s short stories and his latest release, felt like a good place to start, plus the cover is epic.

dead winter2The collection starts of with Snowmen, a tale told from the perspective of a young boy haunted by shadowy figures in his backyard.  This story is perfectly creepy, staying with you long after you finish the final word and it is not only the perfect start to this collection but it’s also my personal favourite.  From there, it takes a festive twist and of course, I use that term in an ironic way.  Story number two is Doomsday Father Christmas, a truly depressing take on our consumer driven Christmas and the with that you are dragged further into the cold, dead winter by Burke.  Next up, we have Black Static, a short, sharp punch to the gut from the perspective of a man resentful of having to care for his father through deteriorating mental and physical health.  This is followed by Visitation rights, a story about a divorced father during a resentment filled visitation with his two daughters.  This is one of those stories you end up reading again immediately after finishing because you can’t quite believe what happened.  Home depicts a panicked father, worried when his wife and daughter do not return during a particularly harsh winter’s day.  This one is genuinely emotional and honestly a little heart breaking.  The Quiet depicts a now paraplegic man contemplating his life and the tragic events which led him to that point.  This story really demonstrates Burke’s writing ability and is quite frankly, short story perfection.  It’s another tear jerker, touching on some truly emotive topics.  Last up, They Know and wow, what a finale.  This is horror at its best and you will continue thinking about it long after you close the book.  It’s one of those stories which takes you one way before dragging you screaming the other way.  It reminds me of the movie Phantoms (if you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately) and is just as creepy!

Overall, this is a truly chilling Collection of stories which makes me want to read more of Burke’s writing.  I’m giving this one 4 stars out of 5!!

Book & TV Show Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Book & TV Show Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Hello readers and Merry Christmas!  This week, I will be reviewing The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, but before we get into reviewing the book, I thought I would do a quick review of the television show too, since watching that is what led me to read the book which inspired it.  Although the TV show does not have the same story line or characters as Jackson’s novel, it’s influence is evident after reading.

the-haunting-of-hill-house-wideSo What’s the Netflix original show about?  The story follows the Crane family, Hugh and Olivia and their five children Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Eleanora.  Moving between past and present, we see the family as young children moving into Hill House while their parents renovate and flip the property, only to be haunted by increasingly violent and terrifying paranormal activity, then later as adults trying to cope with the tragedies that befell them at the property as well as the ghosts, both real and imagined, which haunt them still.

I absolutely adored this series and quite honestly I could gush and gush about all the reasons it was so incredible.  First of all, the writing and directing by Mike Flanagan is utter perfection.  This series could have been filled with cheap, jumpy scares and horror cliches, but instead the show has a slow burning tension, building to some genuinely scary scenes which stay with you long after you switch off.  Flanagan’s decision to include a multitude of ghosts which have no part in the storyline or reason for being there, only adds to that sense of unease as the viewer constantly feels they are being watched.  I love his slick and subtle directing style.  Of note, is the constant, unedited and seamless shot of episode six at the funeral home which left me in complete awe (I cannot begin to imagine how much work and how many takes that took to pull off, but it was completely worth it).  The show is undoubtedly modern and yet it maintains that sense of old fashioned, gothic horror.  The switching between past and present maintains the suspense, giving the viewer just enough of a taste each episode to have them coming back for more.  The cinematography, set designs and costumes all need their own round of applause and the acting is exceptional, with every single character being perfectly cast and played.

I have read a lot of complaints regarding the ending, with people calling it predictable and hammy, but truthfully I loved how it ended.  With so many horror movies and shows these days ending that same ‘The end…or is it?’ kind of way, I was glad that there was a definite conclusion and I’m ok with it being a happy ending of sorts, because by the time the series ended I genuinely liked the Crane family and I was emotionally invested in their story.  I was glad to see it worked out, for most of them anyway.  But even with the finality of this nicely rounded conclusion, there are just enough questions left unanswered to allow for further series unrelated to the Cranes.  What is the deal with Hill House?  Was it built like that or did it become that way through tragedy of circumstance?  Who are those other ghosts and what are their stories?  And what of Mr Hill himself?  Why did he build such a home?  I for one am excited to find out and cannot wait for season two.

hauntingAfter watching the series, I was excited to read the story which inspired it.  I have often found that a really amazing book can inspire an incredibly bad adaptation, but I have rarely experienced it the other way around, with a show or movie being better than the book.  On this occasion, I loved the book as much as I loved the Netflix reimagining and as I said, whilst they are so different in so many ways, they have all of the important bits in common.  So what’s the plot for the book?

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. Twice filmed as The Haunting, and the inspiration for a new 10-part Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror.

Jackson is an incredible writer and way ahead of her time.  From the first chapter, she creates an unnerving atmosphere leaving the reader ill at ease throughout.  Whilst the tension builds slowly to its final and terrible conclusion, there is just enough action and paranormal activity throughout to keep you in suspense and make you almost impatiently want to continue reading.  The characters are so well written, particularly the narrator Eleanor and the books exploration of mental health is so beautifully done, that it leads the reader to question whether any of it was even real.  The house is so perfectly evoked and created by her wonderfully vivid descriptions, that it becomes a character in of itself, a living and breathing entity toying with its inhabitants.  Finally, the perfectly creepy and beyond strange Dudley’s constantly warn the visitors and indeed the reader of the dangers that lurk, whilst never specifying what those dangers actually are.  All you know is that something is very wrong with Hill House and at times, you wish the characters would heed those warnings.  What I liked best about this book is that the scares aren’t obvious or cliched, but rather a slow and intense feeling of something being wrong.  Her writing evokes an atmosphere that stays with you long after you have put the book down.

And that brings me to why I think this reimagining was such a success.  There are things in common between the TV series and the books.  Hill House is at the centre of both, of course, and the series keeps the Dudley’s as the housekeepers, uses the same names for the main characters and even lifts direct quotes from the book, but in terms of plot and characters, the two could not be more different.  Unlike the book, where the visitors to Hill House go there knowing and indeed hoping to encounter paranormal activity, in the series the Crane family have no idea what awaits them there.  But what Flanagan was able to do so perfectly, was to capture the ambiance and eery atmosphere of Jackson’s world.  Despite its many differences, the series captures the same suspense and tension as the book as well as the same general feeling of unease.  That’s why I was even more impressed with the TV show AFTER reading the book, because Flanagan has managed to recreate the feeling and vibes of Jackson’s incredible book, whilst updating it for a modern audience.

Both the book and the TV series get Five stars from me! Read and watch immediately.

Book Review: The Toast by Matt Marinovich.

Book Review: The Toast by Matt Marinovich.

This week, I was delighted to partner with Adaptive books for the promotion of The Toast by Matt Marinovich.  They very Kindly sent me a copy of the book, along with some very cool photo props, in exchange for an honest review.  So what’s the book about?

toast 2The Toast is a novel about sibling rivalry that knows no bounds. For as long as they can remember, the Krider brothers have only found true meaning in their war with each other. Bred to viciously compete from an early age by their deranged father, they have upped the ante to dangerous extremes. But the Krider brothers have always obeyed the three sacred rules of the game: No mortal injury. Wait your turn. No end to the game.

On a sweltering day in early July, Rob and Rebecca Krider drive toward the wedding of his younger brother, Craig. A hundred guests have already arrived for the ceremony at the Old Field House. It’s a perfect day for a wedding, but before the morning is over, an unexpected tragedy will strike one of the Krider brothers and a frightening toast will be delivered by one of the guests.

As a shattered widow retreats to her home in Westchester, the surviving brother is increasingly confident he will finally get to live a normal life without the game. At first, it seems like he might be right, but as the months pass, he suddenly realizes that strange coincidences in his everyday life might have a more sinister cause. Could it be that the game he thought was over is threatening to destroy his life again? But who’s pulling the strings now that his only archrival is dead? It’s clear that one last turn is being taken, and all the old rules are being broken, except for one: there is no end to the game.

Anyone who has a brother or sister will know that sibling rivalry, most often palyful, can sometimes get a little out of my hand.  I have a little sister and we had our fair share of screaming matches and even physical fights, but the Krider brothers take that rivalry to a truly screwed up and outright disturbing level.  That’s what this novel does so beautifully- it takes the known, the everyday, the average and twists it until it’s deformed beyond recognition and for that alone, it’s a fantastic read.  From bumping into someone in a doctor’s waiting room to a flat tyre, everything is a move in a bigger game and nothing is what it seems.

Flipping between the perspective of the younger Krider brother Craig and his sister in law, the now widowed Rebecca, we learn about the ever escalating game and the toll it’s had on those participating.  As a result of this back and forth perspective, the reader is constantly left wanting more and the tension remains high throughout.  I have read plenty of thrillers and more often than not, they can lose a little of their pace along the way.  That is not the case with this book, which has just enough action to keep the pace steady, just enough questions raised to make the reader want to turn to the next page to find their answer.

The characters are all wholly unlikeable, but for once that’s not a problem.  Rob delights in the psychotic game he is playing and seems like he is evolving into his sadistic father quite nicely.  Craig comes across as slightly pathetic at times, wishing to escape the game but at the same time actively participating in it and producing just as many awful moves as his twisted older brother.  Rebecca, who unlike the brothers, willingly enters into the game rather than being bred into it by a parent, flits between being as cold and nasty as her husband Rob and being one of those pathetic women who desperately clings to the hope they can change a man.  However, the author depicts their internal struggles brilliantly, explaining why they are the way they are and how they came to be at this incredibly low point in their lives, so that I as a reader, whilst being disgusted by these characters and the things they do, found myself genuinely hoping there could be some kind of happy ending salvaged from the wreckage of their lives.  The game is the true star of the novel, showing what terrible things human beings are truly capable of doing, even to the people they love most in the world, and the participants of such a game could never be honest and kind.

My only criticism is that, one of the narrators actively lies to the reader.  I always hated it in ‘who done its’ and crime fiction, when the detective would solve the crime right at the end and reveal the murderer based on information and clues the reader was never provided.  It feels like cheating when the reader cannot guess what is happening in a book based purely on lies or withheld information.  Saying that, on this occasion, the idea of the author somehow ‘cheating’ the reader fits perfectly with the nature and subject matter of the book.  Perhaps we too, are a part of the game.

This is an incredibly dark and original book and at under 200 pages, it’s a quick and enthralling read.  I give it five stars out of five and whole heartedly recommend it.  So what do you think, do you want to join in with the game too?

 

Book Review: She’s Not Here by Mandi Lynn.

Book Review: She’s Not Here by Mandi Lynn.
Hello readers! I hope you had a better weekend than mine…at this stage I’m wondering if the common cold can justify a hospital visit, because despite a solid diet of day nurse, Lemsip and self pity, I still feel like I’m dying! Regardless of how rough I feel, I have managed to fight my way through the piles of snotty tissues to mae this week’s blog post, a review of ‘She’s not Here’ by Mandi Lynn. Mandi kindly sent me a copy of her book in exchange for a fair and honest review and as a fellow indie author myself, I am always happy to support authors and publishers! So what’s the book about?
Willow watched her father diminish in front of her as Alzheimer’s pulled him further away each day. When a fire creates the perfect disaster, Willow’s desperation to find a cure to the disease causes her to change Samantha Ellison’s life forever.

Treated as an experiment, Willow injects Samantha with a serum that mimics Alzheimer’s and deteriorates her brain. With Sam’s mental capacity declining at an alarming rate, it won’t be long until people start looking for answers. With Willow’s husband as the doctor, it’s only a matter of time before he uncovers the truth. The only question is whether he discovers Willow’s secrets in time to save the innocent life at stake.

shes not here reviewAs with all books, there are some good points and bad points. First of all, as someone with relatives and friends who have suffered from dementia, I am always happy to see books putting the topic in the public eye. Alzheimers is a horrible disease, which robs people of everything that made them who they were. Mandi has done a good job of describing the nature and the effects of the disease on the individual as well as the devastating effects on the people around the sufferer, those who have to watch their loved ones fade away. The relationship between Willow and her Father is a poignant one and her desperation to keep him tethered to solid ground even as he floats further and further away is an emotional read. Her loss and heartache is well written. It’s a difficult topic to tackle and I think the author deals with it sensitively.
The down side to choosing Alzheimer’s is that it is not necessarily an exciting disease to have at the centre of what is intended to be a thriller. It isn’t some unknown epidemic tearing its way through a city, wiping people out or something which requires a lot of medical action like crash carts and emergency procedures…It is the loss of memories. Whilst that creates a lot of opportunities for emotional scenes and development, it does not provide much ‘action’ so to speak. As a result, the pace of the book does not remain consistent and wanes for large portions. Moments like the fire at Sam’s home and the discovery of what Willow has done are far outweighed by hospital visits and blood tests and so the books storyline can seem stagnated and repetitive.
Another issue I found was the fact that none of the characters were particularly likeable. Sam’s Grandfather spends the whole book throwing a hissy fit, his wife is less than useless and frankly might as well not be there, Avery, Sam’s sister, thinks only of herself and instead of wanting to be there for her sister through her illness, she just gets irritated and upset by the impact the illness has on her.  Even Sam, an innocent victim in the novel, is not developed enough initially for the reader to feel a huge amount of concern or fear at her deteriorating health once Willow injects her with the serum and that leads to the most problematic characters for me: Willow and her husband Randy.  I accept that Willow is desperate.  She is clearly traumatised by the deterioration and eventual loss of her father and terrified of going the same way and I get that Randy loves her deeply, but these people swore oaths to heal and protect people not to destroy their lives.  It didn’t matter about any potential cure or the whole needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, what they did was inexcusable and flies in the face of everything their roles stand for.  I have trouble reconciling that Willow, having suffered so badly because of Alzheimers, would be so willing to inflict that pain on someone else or that two people who dedicated their lives to helping people would so readily throw them under the bus.  When they both receive a justifiably unhappy ending, I felt no sympathy, in fact they deserved far far worse.  I feel it would have been more realistic and far less selfish had Willow been fighting to save her Father from the disease rather than herself.  Maybe then I would have sympathised with her and her empathised with her decisions.
Saying all this, there are moments where the reader can see the true potential of this novel.  The decline of Willow’s mental health is a great thread in this story and I wish the author had drawn on this further.  I would have liked Willow to have really lost it, the true weight of the disgusting act she committed pulling her further and further into madness, (think “The Tell Tale Heart”).   I also love the whole who started the fire story line and again wish this had been explored more, the full effects of guilt and blame covered a little more.  It’s clear that Mandi is a good writer however and there are some beautifully written moments threaded throughout the book.
Overall, this is an original story and a good read exploring moral ambiguity, familial relationships and grief in a new and interesting way.  Worth a read if you fancy something a bit different.  I will award it 3 out of 5 stars.