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!!

Interview with the Night Worms.

Interview with the Night Worms.

There are plenty of book subscription boxes available these days.  You can get them to suit any age and any taste, featuring every genre from Fantasy to Young Adult, Crime to Horror.  But every now and then, a box comes along that genuinely causes a buzz and in this case, even starts a whole movement!  The Night Worms started off as a group of Horror enthusiasts, determined to promote and review horror, a social media based book club for true horror enthusiasts, before two of its members decided to kick things up a notch and create their own Horror subscription box.  But the Night Worms don’t do things like every one else.  Instead of seeing the other Horror Book subscription boxes available on the market as merely competition, they decided to corroborate with them and create the #promotehorror movement on Instagram and Twitter.  After two very successful boxes, with a third on the way, I chat with the lovely ladies behind the box to get some insight into its creation as well as what is to come…

1) Tell us about the people behind Night worms.

nightwormThe people behind Night Worms are two female horror lovers, Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann and Ashley Saywers. I review horror for Scream Magazine and Cemetery
Dance Online. I’ve been married for 22 years to my best friend and we have three children. Our whole family recently moved from Northern California to the Pacific North West.

Ashley also lives in Washington with her husband and their son. She loves horror too! Both of us repped for a horror subscription box company and several other bookish companies-developing a really close friendship and working relationship before we ever decided to go into business together.

We love that we live so close to each other and we can travel back and forth to each other’s houses.

2) What inspired you to create the box?

Ashley and I became friends on Instagram through our dedicated #bookstagram accounts. During the course of a few years, our taste in books became more closely aligned. We realized we were reading all the same books. We decided to combine our efforts to read, review and promote horror through a book club with five other horror loving friends of ours. Night Worms was born.

After about eight months or so, Ashley and I decided to expand our Night Worms brand to a book club subscription package so that more people could read, review and promote horror with us. We are different in that we put the primary emphasis on the books and less of a thrust on the promotional merchandise. We find that lots of the bookish merchandise is either extra filler/clutter or sometimes infringing on the author’s intellectual property. Everything we include beyond books is just to promote horror book collecting, a book collector’s lifestyle or an enhancement of their reading experience through a one-time use consumable–that way there’s nothing leftover that needs to be stuck in a drawer somewhere gathering dust. We collect books-not things.

3) What is it about horror that you love so much?  

We love that horror is so diverse and that it’s a niche community of people who are very passionate about it.

4) If readers are new or unsure about the genre, but looking for a book to start off their horror journey with, which one would you recommend? What would your horror book for beginners recommendation be?

A lot of horror authors can write in very different sub-genres so if a reader was unsurenightworms 2 because they didn’t want to be scared, horror author Robert McCammon has a few books that teeter on the edge of horror but never cross over like, BOY’S LIFE or THE LISTENER. Stephen King also transcends the horror genre and wrote books like, 11/22/63 which is not traditional horror but more like a time travel, thriller. I would also recommend his newest release, THE OUTSIDER which is like a crime thriller. Paul Tremblay has a book called, THE DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK which has horror undertones but definitely a bit lighter than his book, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS which is pretty full-on

Grady Hendrix is also a great place to start with his clever, light and sometimes humorous stories in the horror genre. A book like MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM is a great place to start.

5) How do you pick the books and items you feature in your boxes?

Ashley and I hear about a lot of new releases through authors and publishers and sometimes we see a theme or a common thread between certain books so we build a theme around those releases

 

6) Tell us about the #promotehorror movement?  What inspired you to start it?

nightworms 3Basically, horror is a neglected genre in the grand scheme of things. It’s largely ignored for big literature awards due to the fact that people assume it has to be scary or gory to be good and many people aren’t interested in being scared. Many readers of horror actually do a disservice to horror sometimes by rating quality written books lower than they deserve just because they weren’t “scary”. We promote all aspect of the horror genre to help snuff out some of the stereotypes and misinformation out there about horror so that our favourite genre can continue to see an uptick in success.

7) What’s next for the Night Worms?

We have some BIG months coming up. Our February package sold out and it’s going to be a spectacular offering so we are very excited about the unpackagings to go out on social media. April is our Kealan Patrick Burke exclusive package which is generating a lot of buzz and then we have even more signed books and exciting themes coming up for the whole year!

8) How do readers become a part of the Night worm family?

Simply visit our website and click on the most recent, available listing. Add to cart as a one time purchase or click “full details” to subscribe. Join our horror movement on social media: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Thank you so much to Sadie and Ashley for taking the time to answer my questions and agreeing to be featured on my little old blog.  Whilst this box is currently unavailable outside of the US, the team are hoping to expand to an international audience down the line, so fingers crossed people, because I am DYING to get my hands on one!  Go on to their social media and check them out, particularly Instagram, so you can discover some new horror books and authors and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with all the latest reviews, collaborations and articles.

 

A Guide to Instagram: My How to Guide on Taking Pictures & Building a Profile.

A Guide to Instagram: My How to Guide on Taking Pictures & Building a Profile.

Happy New Year! It’s my very first post of 2019 and I am really excited for the year ahead…so many books to read, stories to write and people to meet!  I decided to start the year with my personal ‘How To’ guide to Instagram.  I have been asked so many times what filters and applications I use for my images, how I have built my profile etc, so I thought the simplest and easiest thing to do would be to create this blog post with all the bits and pieces you need to know to get started, or to improve the profile you already have.  Let me caveat this by saying I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I the biggest account out there with millions of followers.  What I have done however, is organically grow my account to over 10,000 followers in less that two years.  I have created a profile which I am proud of (check it out here).  Every Instagrammer has their own techniques and tricks of the trade, and these are simply mine, imparted to you in the hopes that you may find them useful.  I would also like to say, that even after 20 months, I am still learning myself so feel free to comment with your own tips for the benefit of myself and my readers.

Let’s start with how to build your profile then at the end I will give you the specifics on how I create my own images including the apps I use etc.

  1. Find your Niche.

Instagram has something for everyone.  Whether you are a fitness freak or a book worm, how to 2a traveller or a fashionista, there is an account out there for you.  I, as a writer and avid reader, naturally gravitated towards the Bookstagram community.  The trick is to base your profile around something you are passionate about.  There are some accounts out there which have a little of everything too, but I have found the ones which cater to specific hobbies or interests are the most successful.  Create images and captions about the things your loves and interests, and your passion will shine through.  Finally, I would suggest choosing a profile name which clearly demonstrates what the account contains, so people can easily identify it as one containing their hobby or interest.  For example, my name is @bookishmarie, clearly identifying mine as a book based profile.

2. Find your style.

I learned early on how important it is to have your own style on Instagram and to stickhow to 5 to it.  However, I also learned very quickly just how hard that can be.  My moods and tastes change so often and my photos can often reflect that.  If you go to my profile and swipe through from the beginning to now, you will see my style has changed dramatically over 20 months.  It took me a good while and hundreds of pictures to discover my own personal style and even now, that continues to evolve.  It’s ok if you aren’t sure what you want your style to be, you can experiment until you get it right.  Again, just like picking your theme, this will involve looking at your loves, your hates and your interests.  I love all things vintage, so my profile was always going to have a retro vibe to it.  Perhaps you love all things vibrant and bright or maybe you are all about tasteful monochrome.  Start with what makes you happy and work from there.  The most successful profiles have clear styles.  You can identify a picture as belonging to them from one quick glance- that’s the aim!

Once you settle on a style you like, stick to it!  The more successful profiles not only have a distinct style but their style is also consistent.  An easy way to do this is to have a colour scheme, for example my page is mostly muted autumnal tones.  You will find your style will naturally lead to a colour scheme anyway.

3. Make the Effort with your images.

I work very hard on each and every one of my images, placing every item carefully, how to 3moving and shifting until it’s just so.  If I’m not 100% happy with an image, I won’t post it.  It’s clear to anyone swiping through the millions of images on Instagram when a photo has been half assed.  Why in that case would they bother to read the caption, like it or follow you?  Instagramming can be quite time consuming so it’s not for everyone, but if you really want to build a profile then you’ll have to work at it.  But as with everything, practice makes perfect.  Most importantly, have fun with it and create the type of images you want to see.

4. Interact with your fellow Instagrammers.

It sounds obvious, but a lot of Instagrammers simply post images without interacting with their fellow users.  The best way to organically grow a following and to get people to visit your page, is to find other users with similar tastes, interests and styles and to interact with them.  For clarification, when I say interact with them, I mean in a genuine way.  Don’t just copy and paste ‘nice photo’ under countless images.  If you see an outfit on a fashion page you really like, then tell them.  If you see a beautiful creature with perfectly applied makeup, let them know how great they look.  Ask questions, discuss common interests and most importantly be kind- no one will follow you if you are a critical jerk leaving snide comments under their pictures.  It’s a great way to make new friends and to in turn, have people check out your profile who maybe wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I also find engaging under your own pictures is a great way to meet new people and grow your profile. Don’t just post an image and leave it at that, ask a question, start a discussion or present an idea. Give people a reason to comment and to continue coming back to your page

5. Hashtags.

Whilst only around 10% of visits to my images are from hashtags, they are still a great how to 4way to promote your post and to drive traffic to your page.  The best way to find the hashtags that will work for you, is to find accounts similar in theme and topic to yours and check out what hashtags they are using on their images.  Instagram will allow you to use up to 30 hashtags per image.  I advise taking note of the amount of images related to each hashtag and using a mixture of more popular hashtags and less used or newer hashtags.  For example, #bookworm has 13.1 million pictures using it as I type this blog post.  That is a lot of images and whilst that makes it popular for people to search by, it also means your image could easily become lost amongst the millions of others.  The hashtag #bookishgirl on the other hand only has 104,000 images at this stage, so it is more likely your image will be spotted and your page visited.  I also recommend participating in photo challenges, as they are not only a great source of inspiration for your images, but a great way for people, mainly the others participating in that challenge, to see your page.  There are also feature accounts on Instagrams.  These are literally accounts which feature the best of a particular theme or topic.  In order to get featured, you more often than not need to use a certain hashtag.  Some of these accounts have HUGE followings and it’s a great way to get noticed by users who otherwise wouldn’t have encountered your image.  Finally, searching relevant hashtags is also a great way to do research and to see what’s out there, what is working and what’s not.  Instagram gives you the option to follow certain hashtags and I recommend doing so in order to get regular inspiration.

6. Tag People.

how to 6I am not advocating tagging dozens of random people in every post you put up, but tagging relevant people can be a great way to get your account noticed.  Being a bookstagrammer, I most often tag authors, publishers and businesses which sell bookish merchandise.  This has lead to large businesses re-posting my image of their product, ensuring it’s seen by thousands of new potential followers.  Publishing houses, publicists and authors who I have tagged have approached me to review and feature their books.  It also helps spread the word and promote small businesses to a wider audience and provides them with lovely images for their own page or stories, so it’s win win for everyone.  Don’t get me wrong though, if you are going on Instagram just to get free stuff, you’re joining for the wrong reasons.  This is mostly about community spirit and mutual promotion and while free stuff is great, it shouldn’t be the driving force behind your account.  The beauty about Instagram is that it creates a way to connect with individuals and businesses you otherwise would never have discovered.

7. Be Patient.

how to 8This is the most important piece of advice I can give you.  Instagram can be a fickle place.  People will follow you just to unfollow you a day later.  I have had 10 new followers and been very pleased, just to check my phone a few hours later to find my follower count down by 15….one step forwards, two steps back.  It can be frustrating and confusing and on more than one occasion, I wanted to pack it in.  I didn’t explode overnight or go viral, gaining thousands of followers in a matter of weeks and whilst that is possible and I’m not saying it can’t happen to you (well done if it does), it’s more likely that you will gradually grow and build a following over time.  Like I said, it took me 20 months to gain 10,000 followers and I am so grateful for every last one!  You can of course buy followers but frankly I don’t understand why you would.  To me, that’s like ‘winning’ the marathon by taking a short cut…it’s a hollow victory.  Just persevere and keep doing what you do, and you will get there in the end.  Remember what Instagram is really about. It’s about community and friendship and discovery. The follower count doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. The most important thing to do is to have fun with it.  If you aren’t enjoying it, then why bother in the first place?

 

So How do I take my images?

Equipment: All of my pictures are just taken on my Samsung Galaxy phone.  On a sidehow to 1 note, one of the things I love about smart phones is that you can have a high quality camera everywhere you go now, so it’s easier than ever to take up photography.  Whilst specialist equipment isn’t needed, I do use a photo box for my flat lay images.  For those of you unfamiliar with these, they are basically like a small portable photo studio in a box, with bright lights on the inside and a black out fabric covering complete with little magnetic openings of various shapes and sizes at various points around the box to allow you to take a picture from various angles whilst maintaining consistent lighting.  They aren’t overly expensive (I think mine was around £80) and are available on Amazon.  But you don’t need to buy one of these to get consistent lighting.  You can buy small photographic lights now fairly cheap or you can simply the area in your house which gets the most light and work out what time of days is best to take your images so as to get maximum lighting.

Apart from my phone and photo box, my other essential items of equipment are my many and varied props.  My antique typewriter is one particular prop which features very frequently in my images, but I have a vast collection of random knick knacks and thingamabobs which I have gathered over the years.  I find the right prop can really bring a photograph to life and give it real depth and interest.  You don’t have to spend a fortune either.  The vast majority of mine came from charity shops and literally cost pennies.  Alternatively, you can use things you already have lying about the house or even find them in nature, for example another of my most frequently used props is my collection of dried autumn leaves and pine cones I collected from my local park.

Boostagram 2Applications and Filters: I personally don’t use the filters on Instagram.  I prefer to use the application Snapseed to do the basic editing of my images, such as cropping and rotating.  I like it because it’s super easy to use and features lots of great ways to tweak the image, like the ‘healing’ option allowing you to effectively erase small parts of the image and cover it over with a sort of ‘mirror’ of the surrounding area which I use regularly to fine tune my images.  I then use good old VSCO to add filters.  The best way to find the style you want to use is to play around and see what you like best.  If you change your mind, that’s ok.  Every now and then, I change the filters etc I use as do many of the largest accounts out there, so you can evolve and learn over time…practice makes perfect.

As I said in the beginning, I’m no expert but this is my attempt to impart a little experience with all of my lovely readers and I really hope you find it useful, even in some small way.  If you have any tips or advice of your own, I would love to hear them!  Just leave me a comment.  If you have Instagram but we have never had the good fortune to cross paths, or if you start a new account, please give me a little follow (@bookishmarie) so we can stay in touch!  Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with all my latest posts and book reviews.  Happy Instagramming!!

 

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.

A Response to Vulture and all the other Bookstagram haters.

A Response to Vulture and all the other Bookstagram haters.

There seems to be a lot of negativity and hate in the world these days.  I can’t open my social media or news paper without seeing someone somewhere bitching about something.  Frankly, the world has become a confusing and frightening place and I find myself genuinely anxious pretty much all of the time…it’s exhausting.  I won’t get into the politics, the wars, the racism and bigotry because that’s not what my blog is about.  My blog, as well as my social media platforms, are happy spaces filled with books, short stories, artists collaborations and all the nerdy things I love and want to share with you all, and isn’t that a lovely thing?  Surely no one could find anything negative and bitchy to say about myself and a group of people sharing photographs and posts about our mutual love of books?  That would be insanity.  Apparently not.

This week a Vulture article by Hillary Kelly became another in a long line of so called journalism, where the entire contents of the articles are just people moaning about how strangers online organise their book shelves and photograph their books (You can read the article here).  They organise their books by COLOUR you say, and not alphabetically or by topic?  Oh dear God, where is their humanity! They sometimes DRAPE themselves over a display of books for a photograph?  When will the madness end?  Frankly, the fact that this actually warrants any amount of word count on any news or popular culture website is beyond me…surely there is some actual NEWS they could report?  There are plenty of awful things happening in the world right now that could probably use the attention of a journalist or an article on a major site, but no let’s just be condescending to Instagram users, that’s way more important.  Also, the fact that these ‘journalists’ are so incensed by these bookstagram communities and their photo arrangements bewilders me…do you not have something better to do with your time?  Don’t you have a life?  Obviously not.

Boostagram 2For those of you unfamiliar with Bookstagram, it is basically Instagram for book worms like me.  It is a community of book lovers and avid readers, sharing images of their favourite books and recommending reads to one another.  Sounds lovely right?  And it is.  I have been a member of the community for a year and a half now and I have thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.  I have made some great friends, met some incredibly talented artists and illustrators, heard about some fabulous reads and developed by own artistic style with my own photos and account.  The community itself is a very supportive one, so when I hear pretentious jerks whining about how Bookstagram accounts like mine spell the death of all that’s good in the world, I get irritated, no more than that, I get angry.  So I thought I would write my own little article, addressing some of these very important issues (can you tell how sarcastic I’m being right now?) being raised by these various Bookstagram hating puff pieces.

1. Yes, we do in fact read books.

The fundamental aspect of Bookstagram, it being the bookish side of Instagram, an app entirely dedicated to the posting of photographs, is the photographing of books.  The very fact that I need to state that seems insane to me.  For some reason, these haters are extremely preoccupied with whether the book pictured has been read or not, as if somehow photographing an as yet unread book is some kind of mortal sin.  The fact is, the book pictured may not have been read.  It could have just arrived or been purchased, perhaps it’s on the Bookstagrammers to be read list, or perhaps it’s a favourite of theirs which has been read a dozen times.  My question is, does it matter?  What difference does it make?  Creating and maintaining a Bookstagram account takes a considerable amount of time and effort and I can assure you, people don’t do it if they do not in fact love to read.  Yes, the books are props in our pictures but books are also our passion and we love sharing that passion with the world.  Bookstagrammers do what they do because it makes them happy and they hope to pass on a little piece of that joy to others.  We all read.  Some read very quickly, digesting books at a rate of knots, others such as myself are slow readers, chipping away at our massive to be read pile one chapter at a time, but we all in fact love reading.  Why else would we spend so much time and effort on our pictures and pages?  We are passionate about what we do.  I have no idea why that irritates you so much- perhaps you need to find a hobby of your own?

2. Photos are meant to encapsulate a moment or a feeling.

One of the other issues people have with Bookstagram, is the manner of the picturesBookstagram 3 themselves.  The Vulture article mentions specific types of photos, some of which I myself have partaken in.  It mentions those images of beautiful women sprawled over a pile of books or an image of sock clad legs next to a pile of books and a cup of coffee.  Instagram is a photo sharing app and its entire purpose is to give a platform to people from all walks of life with all sorts of hobbies and interests- I can’t see anything wrong with that.  Part of the reason some images may be a little abstract, is because we, like everyone else, want to stand out.  There are millions of images out there and we want to get noticed.  Sometimes, that’s in order to build a platform, as with myself, or to sell items or promote a business or perhaps it’s simply because having people like our images makes us proud and happy.  Which takes me to my next point- we also want to take beautiful images.  Photography is a wonderful art form and whilst Instagram may not be lauded by the art snob elites, it’s certainly an opportunity for some of the most talented photographers to get their art out there.  Whether they photograph portraits, animals, home decor or books, they have worked hard to create an image they are proud of and want to share.  Yes, often the image has nothing to do with the books stacked neatly within shot, and yes, perhaps the Bookstagrammer won’t even mention the title of those books or their contents, but a photograph does not literally have to sell or explain something, sometimes it is merely an idea.  Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic” and sometimes that is what the image is trying to portray.  Not a specific storyline or book’s contents, but the magic and wonder that books in general possess.  The photos are supposed to evoke a feeling or encapsulate a moment and sometimes, they are just meant to be beautiful or unique.  Either way, if you like the picture then comment, follow the account, give it a like.  If you don’t, swipe on and keep your unwanted opinions to yourself.

3. Yes, we love a pretty cover but we don’t judge or exclude books based on it.

As previously mentioned, we work hard to take beautiful photos filled with beautiful objects, so of course, we love a beautiful, photo worthy book cover.  Asking us to photograph an ugly cover is like asking a beauty blogger to post makeup they don’t like or a fashion blogger to post an image of themselves in a skirt they hate.  The image is important, the aesthetic is important and I won’t apologise for that.  Saying that, I don’t just buy pretty looking books, the contents are the important part.  I also won’t reject a book because it’s cover doesn’t fit in with my page’s aesthetic.  I buy books or accept ARCs from writers and publishers based on the story, pure and simple.  So if I am reading and photographing a book with a cover that doesn’t fit my page’s style, I will show the inside title page instead.  The book still gets exposure, the writer and publisher still get their advertising and promotion and my page and image look pretty- it’s a win win.  Again, I find myself asking what about that is such a cause for frustration from these Bookstagram haters…literally, what difference does it make to you how I choose to photograph a book?  The answer is Zero.

4. Bookstagram is the death of the publishing industry.

IMG_20180511_102959_772I have heard this one a few times now.  People are whining that Bookstagram features the same selection of books, circulated en masse by large publishing houses that can afford such large scale publicity.  In a way, I can see their point.  I often see the same book in many of the accounts and yes they have all been sent by the publishing firms in order to publicise the book, but I have two points to raise.  First, this is smart advertising.  As modern technology evolves, advertising and PR companies have to evolve too.  In the good old days, a large advert in a newspaper was the way to get a product out there, but the majority of people now get their news from news outlets online applications.  There is the good old TV advert slotted neatly in the middle of a popular soap, but masses of people no longer watch TV live anymore instead choosing to stream from subscription based outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime or from catch up channel applications.  Businesses have to evolve if they want to promote their product and Social media, bloggers and (dare I use the term) social influencers are a great way to do this.  Millions of people visit blogs each year (not mine unfortunately, but I am very grateful for my small audience- thanks guys) and there are currently 800 million users on Instagram.  That is a huge audience, if you can get its attention.  Publishing houses sending their latest release to popular Bookstagrammers, book bloggers and Booktubers makes perfect sense.  It gives them a mass audience, for the price of a book!  It’s just smart business and it’s a win win for us book worms because we get to read all the best books first and for free.

Second, Instagram gives a platform for small indie writers such as myself, as well as the big publishing houses.  I sent my book to Bookstagrammers and bloggers in order to get exposure too and whilst it didn’t magically make me a best selling author, it did mean that people saw and purchased my book who would have never previously heard of it.  Social media gives everyone an opportunity to have their voices heard, to have their art seen and their stories read and I think that’s wonderful.

For a long time, Kindle and e-books were outselling physical copies and people feared the end of books forever.  Now, books are back.  Sales are soaring and that is in no small part due to bloggers and Bookstagrammers.  We aren’t destroying the industry- we are helping to save it.

5. Keep your negativity to yourself.

Look, I understand that Instagram involves people sharing images publicly and in a way, asking people to judge and form an opinion of that image, I get that, but you guys aren’t just criticising the images.  You are criticising the community as a whole.  You are criticising the entire concept of Bookstagram.  You are criticising people’s hobby and past time, their passion.  This isn’t really about the merit of a particular image, but an attack on the community as a whole.  And that’s what it is, a community.

If you don’t like Bookstagram pictures then move on, there are plenty of pictures on there and I’m sure you are bound to find something you like.  If you don’t like my account or other Bookstagram accounts, then don’t follow us.  If your problem is with Instagram as a whole, remove it from your phone, stop visiting.  Us being us, doing what we do doesn’t impact you in any way.  It has nothing to do with you and the fact that me sharing an image of a book irks you to the point you feel the need to spend the time and effort required to research the topic, source images and write a whole article on it says way more about you than it does about me and my sock clad, coffee featuring images ever will.

We don’t want your negativity and judgement, so go pick on someone else.