‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell #bookreview #bookblog

Black, macabre book cover? Check.
Intriguing, sinister title? Check.
Enough budget to buy? Check.
Damnit! Malevolent forces pulled me in again!

The Silent Companions promised so much; a front-page testimony from Susan Hill, whose Woman In Black remains one of the most terrifying books I’ve read to date, and the quote from the Times reads, “a sinister slice of Victorian gothic”. Perfect…

….and yet, during the first fifth of the book, I was toying with not finishing it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was. Possibly ghost story fatigue? I’ve just finished The Turn of The Screw by Henry James, and I’ve also read a few stories over the last year where an incarcerated woman needs to write her account of past events in order to either damn or exonerate herself. I found the character of Dr Shepherd irritating, and I wasn’t sure if the writing style suited me.

However, by page 60 or so, I had managed to thoroughly get over myself, and really began to enjoy the story. There are some great bits of writing, and the author did a sterling job of showing the creeping menace, and of casting doubts everywhere.

The premise of The Silent Companions is that a doctor in a mental hospital attempts to elicit information from a female patient who has been struck dumb by some horrific past event for which she is being held responsible. She is coerced into writing her account, which she does in the third person.

We are taken back to 1865, where newly widowed and pregnant Elsie Bainbridge is travelling by coach, with her dull-witted, spinster sister-in-law, Sarah, to her late husband’s family seat in the foreboding backwater village of Fayford. The house is called The Bridge, and well, it’s on a bridge. Her husband’s body is lying in the Great Hall, awaiting his funeral.

After the entombment has occurred, Elsie and Sarah take up residence at The Bridge, and this is where the horrors begin. The villagers are superstitious, hostile and seemingly impoverished. Elsie decides to try to make an inroad with the tenants of the estate using produce from a farm animal, until she learns that the source of their fear is The Bridge itself.

This is a frightening tale, and I don’t think that any lover of ghost stories will not find something to enjoy in The Silent Companions.

I wasn’t too convinced that Elsie’s position as a woman who felt she had married above her station, and the anxiety of managing the staff in the house and being the new lady of the village, came across very markedly. However, she was awfully distracted, which could then have been partly a result of this or have caused her to have forgotten about it almost entirely. Elsie’s family history is distressing and heart-breaking and is well told.

The story is told over two separate years; 1865, which is the present, and 1635 (told through the medium of diaries found in the garret, although far more than this emerges from this place).  I raced through it, in the end, and couldn’t put it down. Throughout, it reminded me of several other stories – this is not an exhaustive list, but they are: The Turn of the Screw, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Miniaturist, the garden scenes in The Shining (book, not film), and the Woman in Black. It’s good, it’s creepy and in some places, downright terrifying. It’s worth a read.

It made me look around my home and worry about how much wood we have, furniture and floors. While I was reading, I jumped out of my skin when I heard the ‘hiss’ of a chair moving in the kitchen, until I realised it was my five-year-old attempting to reach snacks. I also had a moment when I was scared to pull the shower curtain back, just in case I had my own Silent Companion. Mission accomplished, The Silent Companions; you scared me, thank you 😊

‘A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World’ by C. A. Fletcher #AboyAndHisDogBook #NetGalley #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview @orbitbooks #littlebrownbookgroup @CharlieFletch_r

“My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?”

I have already made my mental list of the friends to whom I will be lending my copy of this book once I’ve bought it. Yes, Marie Kondo, you heard me right. I’ve already read it, AND I will be buying the physical copy. It will bring me joy sitting on my shelf, available for my kids and friends, whilst all the time looking fabulous in its amazing cover and having one of the best titles I will ever own! This may even be one I’d read again, particularly after the twists revealed in the final fifth.

To me, this is a story about the power of stories; the way they can teach us about the world, ideas, history, practicality, and how they are told, by whom, and for what purpose.

It’s also about humans; how they can be duplicitous, exploitative, selfish, cruel, cowardly and vengeful, whilst also having the capacity to be compassionate, thoughtful, fanciful, brave, loyal and ardent. All our grey areas.

Yet we are also, to our downfall, too clever for our own good. A ‘soft apocalypse’ leaves teenager Griz and his family as a few of the only humans left.

A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World follows Griz on a quest to find a stolen dog, through a wasteland of the last mass human activity a century ago, but one which is on its way to being reclaimed by nature (plastics excepted).

I didn’t read it quickly, but that isn’t because it’s not absorbing; it’s so thought provoking that I think I may have spent an inordinate amount of time staring into space, with it on my mind. Some of the story progresses slowly, but it always feels realistic under the circumstances. It is 100% worth sticking with.

It reminded me a little bit, although the story is different, of a book I read at school in English class, pre-GCSE, called ‘Z for Zachariah’. The apocalyptic circumstances were different, but the dangers which humans can pose to each other, when there aren’t too many of them left, made me pluck this one out of my (very distant) memory.

It’s very well written; the sentences have a lovely, rhythmic balance. It’s a stream of thought-diary-style, and the grammar reflects this. The characters are vivid, and the situations feel uncomfortably real and palpably tense. I loved the duality between one boy and his dog, and another, both at the end of the world. There are so many quotable bits of writing; my e-reader is littered with highlighted notes. John Dark and all associated mispronunciations are especially good!

All of the characters (including the dogs) will stay with me for a long while, as will the situation in which they found themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks very much to Netgalley and Orbit for the ARC in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

Publication date in the UK is 25th April 2019. Get yourself a copy here: A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World

‘Dyed Souls’ by Gary Santorella @dyedsouls @matadorbooks #blogtour #dyedsouls @rararesources @gilbster1000 #bookreview #bookbloggers

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today, for Dyed Souls by Gary Santorella. Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for including me as a reviewer.

Dyed Souls is set in California during the 1980s, at a residential treatment centre for troubled young people. In the acknowledgment at the front of the book, the author says that he hopes that he has done justice to the hundreds of kids he’s worked with over the years. I think he has done this and more with Dyed Souls, which centres on an extremely intelligent, but vulnerable young teenager, called Charles Lyle.

We start Charles’ story in a worrying and volatile way, in a car with his ominously threatening young mother, on their way to somewhere, at this point, known only as the ‘Cottage’. The chapter titles throughout are metaphors for the content of that part of the story, and I really loved this device. The first chapter is entitled ‘Great White’ and relates to Charles’ relationship with his mum.

Charles finds himself dumped back at Hawthorne Residential Treatment Village, earlier than expected, as a result of some event, unknown to the reader, which occurred while he was on a weekend visit home.

I felt so angry with Charles’ mother, and the emotional abuse she seemed to layer upon her son; this thoughtful and intelligent, but broken boy. The treatment centre is full of children who have without doubt suffered at the hands of their significant adults, sexually, emotionally, or from being in violent or neglectful homes. The home is not run deliberately to exacerbate these children’s problems, but the disciplinary and counselling protocols, do not, in the main, serve to address the basic issue facing these children, which is to be able to trust in adults, when their own parents have failed them so badly. Only two or three of the staff are good enough to earn very basic trust. The childlike instinct to protect their parents is also a major barrier to their recovery, and this is particularly applicable to Charles.

The author uses Charles’ first-person perspective to tell this story, and so for me, there was going to be the question, under the circumstances, of whether this account would be reliable. The writing is accomplished and flowed very well. The characters are vividly drawn; the over-sexualised, but resilient Margo, Walter, with his unique verbalisations, Paula, Shorty, Javier, and Charles’ grandfather. It is a gritty and disturbing story, made softer by Charles’ usually gentle voice.

Charles spends most of his time reading, when he is not sneaking about, and his account is embellished with his interpretations of (amongst others)  Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man, while he searches it for explanations of his own circumstances. Darwin describes how sympathetic kindness amongst tribe members led to reciprocal good feeling and became habit forming, and natural selection would favour those communities with the highest level of sympathy, encouraging a greater number of offspring. Charles reasons this through in relation to his mother.

“Maybe some people don’t put much stock in the importance of kindness. Or maybe they have learned how to take advantage of people’s feelings of sympathy, so they can better their own chance of survival. But with my mom, I’m not sure what advantage she’d be gaining, other than making it easier for her to do what she wants, which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t help her much at all.”

Dyed Souls deals with the complexity of child and adolescent mental health services in western society, and encourages us to sympathise greatly with those who have to leave treatment centres like Hawthorne at 18 years old, when their support network on the outside is non-existent, and their coping mechanisms may be still too deeply affected by the events of their pasts. It begs the questions, what are we all going to do about this? Is our sympathy strong enough to build a better future for our children?

It is a coming of age story, a discussion about whether it is possible for children with harmful relationships with their parents to reason through the instinct to protect and be able to approach adulthood with greater perspective. The end of the penultimate chapter seems almost inevitable, given the events leading up to it, and the final chapter wraps up in a bittersweet way.

I really enjoyed Dyed Souls. It had the examination of the experience of an individual which makes it fascinating in a literary and philosophical sense, but also is a great YA fiction too.

Be aware; Sexual abuse (implied), emotional abuse, occasional use of medication to control behaviour, incident of animal cruelty, use of multiple swear words.

Dyed Souls has won two awards:

Silver in the 2018 Global eBook Awards – Young Adult Fiction Category

Chill With a Book Readers Award.

Dyed Souls Global Ebook Awards                                              Dyed Souls Chill With A Book

Author Profile: Gary Santorella

Dyed Souls Author Pic

Gary Santorella, Owner, Interactive Consulting is a Lean implementation, organizational development, conflict resolution, and team-building specialist. He has a BA in Behavioural Psychology from Providence College, Providence, RI (1980), a Master’s Degree in Occupational Social Welfare from UC Berkeley (1990), and is a licensed cognitive-behavioural therapist in the State of California. His book: Lean Culture for the Construction Industry: Building Responsible & Committed Project Teams 2nd Edition was published by Productivity Press (a division of Taylor & Francis) in 2017. His first novel, Dyed Souls, was published by Matador Publishing in 2018.

Very importantly, this is a blog tour, and there are many other unique and wonderful perspectives on Dyed Souls for you to read, and I urge you to do so! The tour dates and the other bloggers involved are here:

Dyed Souls Full Tour Banner

Purchase Links –
Troubadour – https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/dyed-souls/
UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dyed-Souls-Gary-Santorella/dp/1788038096
US – https://www.amazon.com/Dyed-Souls-Gary-Santorella/dp/1788038096

 

 

 

‘The Songs of Us’ by Emma Cooper #thesongsofus @ItsEmmaCooper #bookbloggers #bookreview #amreading

“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.

If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.

But if they hadn’t seen the missing person’s report, they might never take the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”

I don’t often pick up a book like this one. Often, I will bypass a pretty cover in a shop, thinking, no, not for me. This book is a lesson in, hold on, take a better look; you could be missing out on something quite extraordinary. Now that I’ve read it, I look at the cover and feel differently. There is so much to love about this book that I barely know where to begin….

I’ll start, I think, with the singing. Most of us like to belt out a song in private, and I’d be willing to bet that 95% of us aren’t exactly X-Factor quality. We do it as a release; there must be something almost primal about it, and yet we would no doubt feel pretty ridiculous if a stranger heard us. How do we choose the songs we sing?

For Melody, there is no such privacy. She involuntarily sings wherever and whenever that special song comes into her head. Although this sounds frivolous and hilarious, and occasionally it is written so, there is a deeper context to this condition.

The book is written from four points of view, and this highlights the different ways that this disorder is experienced by the characters. Ah, the characters. Melody, Rose, Flynn and Tom are so well-crafted and relatable. These songs, after all, belong to everyone who ‘us’ comprises, and seeing the story from each of their perspectives is what gifts this clever and poignant story with its heart.

Parenting teenagers is hard, even when life is going well. Rose and Flynn are trying to simultaneously manage their teenage emotions and deal with their mum’s condition, her stress and her heartbreak, as well as handle their own devastation at the disappearance of their father. Melody also has a wonderful sense of humour and each song she spontaneously breaks out into, reflects her mood, no matter how high or low that is. The family dynamics are skilfully handled, painfully realistic and both funny and heart-breaking in equal measure. Difficult themes are sensitively and thoughtfully written.

The Songs of Us broke my heart several times, firstly at the end of Chapter One, and then intermittently throughout, but the ending is just wonderful. The story is both original and uplifting, however you will, in all likelihood, require chocolate and tissues to hand before you sit down to read it.

I gave this book to my mum after I had read it, and she has been raving on about it to her friends too; she loved it so much.

Emma Cooper has such a natural aptitude for writing, it hurts! The Songs of Us is an outstanding novel, and I am really excited to read whatever she writes next.

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (20 Sept. 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781472252531
ISBN-13: 978-1472252531

About the author:

Emma Cooper
Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since her childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.

The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane of situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two, that she began to write Melody’s story. Working full-time with a large family meant that Emma had to steal snippets of ‘spare’ time from her already chaotic and disorganised life; the majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office. She never expected to fall so deeply in love with the King family and is overwhelmed that others feel the same.

 

‘The Silver Road’ by Stina Jackson #netgalley #TheSilverRoad #bookbloggers #book review #amreading #noirfiction

Atmospheric, slow burning and heart-rending . A superb debut novel, and a must-read for fans of noir fiction.

“Even the darkest journey must come to an end…

Three years ago, Lelle’s daughter went missing in a remote part of Northern Sweden. Lelle has spent the intervening summers driving the Silver Road under the midnight sun, frantically searching for his lost daughter, for himself and for redemption.
Meanwhile, seventeen-year-old Meja arrives in town hoping for a fresh start. She is the same age as Lelle’s daughter was – a girl on the brink of adulthood. But for Meja, there are dangers to be found in this isolated place.

As autumn’s darkness slowly creeps in, Lelle and Meja’s lives are intertwined in ways, both haunting and tragic, that they could never have imagined.”

The chapters are interchangeably split between Lelle, who relentlessly searches the area around the Silver Road for his teenage daughter who has been missing for three years, and Meja, who travels around from place to place and man to man with her worryingly unstable and self-absorbed mother. She meets a boy, although he is from an unorthodox background too.

The first half of the book has an almost feverish quality to it. Set in the months in Sweden when it doesn’t get dark, the erratic behaviour of the characters (and the mosquitoes, the damned mosquitoes *slaps neck) fits really well with the days which never seem to end. It’s also in contrast to the bleakness of the story. The second half is set in the darkness of winter, where Lelle has to scale down his search and the two stories start to combine.

This isn’t really a detective novel, but it is a crime one; it’s a desperate man looking for answers, trying to succeed where the police gave up. Lelle suspects everyone; the police were perhaps looking closer to home. As readers, we just don’t know. Is his own guilt driving him, or is he right to keep searching to find out what really happened? Then, another girl goes missing.

It doesn’t twist and turn too much, there is no real shock reveal; it’s a more profound story with a slower pace, wending its way to an almost inevitable conclusion.

It’s emotional, visceral and heart rending. It drew me in and kept me there. It’s a story about isolation and abandonment, where suffocating loneliness means that any attachment is better than none at all. The characters are really well developed, and the story is totally absorbing. I really loved it.

About the author…

Stina Jackson

Stina Jackson (b. 1983) hails from the northern town of Skellefteå in Sweden. Just over a decade ago she relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she penned her debut novel, the acclaimed The Silver Road. A runaway bestseller, the novel established Jackson as a rising new star within Nordic suspense.

Awards
The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award (Best Swedish Crime Novel) Sweden 2018
Shortlisted for the Crimetime Specsavers Award (Crime Debut of the Year) Sweden 2018

The Silver Road will be released in the UK on 7th March 2019, published by Corvus / Atlantic Books

To get your copy, click this link: The Silver Road

‘The Magpies’ by Mark Edwards #themagpies @mredwards #markedwards #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview #thriller

Imagine finding your perfect home with the love of your life and being certain that all your life is coming together just as it should. Jamie and Kirsty are delighted to find the home of their dreams at a knock down price; the neighbours appear friendly; the neighbourhood is quiet and orderly. What could possibly go wrong?

The first chapter gives us a bit of a clue, as the incumbent tenants are vacating what we assume is the same flat, displaying significant psychological and emotional trauma relating directly to their tenancy.

In ‘The Magpies’, Mark Edwards embellishes his own real-life experiences to craft a terrifying tale about the neighbours from hell. I think maybe I didn’t really believe this sort of thing happened, but then I was talking about the plot to a friend, and she said that a similar thing had happened to her and her husband in the early days of their relationship, when they too lived in a flat in London. I wonder if it was the same flat……

Little by little, strange things start to happen. It starts with small, minor inconveniences and builds to a state of slight paranoia, then a normal-life restricting major irritation, then worse and worse from there.

This is a creepy and intense psychological thriller. Although, there are early signs that we might be jumping to the wrong conclusion, the story is made all the more real and frightening because we are not led through major plot twists and turns. We just start to wonder why? What motivates people to behave this way?

I’ve seen some criticism levelled at the realism of the characters of Jamie and Kirsty, but this ignores that fact that not all people are the same. I don’t think I am like Jamie and Kirsty. My relationship with my husband is totally different from theirs. We don’t have the types of conversation they have. This does not make this unrealistic. It just describes the sort of relationship that many people have. I can well imagine friends of ours being like them. But you know what? This could happen to anyone; we see it on TV as well. It doesn’t matter what type of person you are, or what your relationship with your partner is like, or if you are on your own or with your family. What would you do? How far would you go to protect yourselves? How much could you take?

Mark Edwards is thorough in his exploration of this experience. There is also a lot of sexual content, but it serves fair purpose to show the inhibition they suffer during their horrifying experience.

Really enjoyed this and was impressively creeped out.

To bag yourself a copy, click here: The Magpies

About the author:

Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers, and counts among his influences writers such as Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ruth Rendell, Ian McEwan, Val McDermid and Donna Tartt, and movies like Rosemary’s Baby, Single White Female, Fatal Attraction and anything in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

His first solo novel, The Magpies (2013), reached the No.1 spot on Amazon UK and has sold 550,000 copies to date. This was followed by What You Wish For (2014), Because She Loves Me (2014), Follow You Home (2015), The Devil’s Work (2016), The Lucky Ones (2017), The Retreat (2018) and In Her Shadow (2018). These can be read in any order. He also published A Murder of Magpies, a short sequel to The Magpies, in 2018.

He also co-writes with Louise Voss. Their novels are: Killing Cupid (2011); Catch Your Death (2011); All Fall Down (2012); Forward Slash and a series featuring Detective Inspector Patrick Lennon, starting with From the Cradle (2014) and The Blissfully Dead (2015).

He grew up on the south coast of England and starting writing in his twenties. He lived in Tokyo for a year before returning to the UK and starting a career in marketing. He now writes full-time and lives in the West Midlands, England, with his wife, their three children, two cats and a golden retriever.

‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman #bookbloggers #BirdBox #bookreview #amreading

There’s a lot of buzz about this book at the moment. I bought it a while ago, and it had been waiting patiently on my TBR pile. Then the Netflix film hit, and before I had the chance to read it, my husband had put it on TV. Slightly miffed that I hadn’t got to read it first, I gave in, because it just looked so good. I had also listened to the director, Susanne Bier, talking about it on Women’s hour on Radio 4 the previous week, and found what she said about it fascinating.

I loved the film, despite finding it stressful and frightening. Putting all else aside, I decided to read the book next.

The book is different, as you’d expect. Worse things happen. The film is faithful to the story, with obvious artistic license. When I had read it, I realised how well the casting had been done, for a start. Sandra Bullock has got the character of Malorie down to a tee. She is incredible in this role.

The book then, starts in the most recent period of the story, where Malorie is facing the awful decision to leave the house where she and her two very young children have been for over four years. They must do so blindfolded, and we are struck immediately by the bleakness of their situation and the peril in which she has to put them all to try to escape it. They must somehow negotiate a 20-mile trip down the river, relying only on their hearing in order to navigate it. They believe that someone can help them at the end of this journey, if they make it.

We move interchangeably from the time immediately prior to the collapse of society, where Malorie and her sister, Shannon, are living in a flat together, just starting to notice news reports of unexplained mass suicides in areas of Russia and Europe, to the time where Malorie lives with a group of survivors, and then the journey down the river alone with the children.

During the week where Malorie discovers she is pregnant, following a brief fling, the news that the suicides have come to the USA, and the rumour that it is something that people are seeing, creatures maybe, causing it, leads Shannon to put blankets over the windows and start to block out the outside world. There is no going back from this darkness throughout the vast majority of this novel. The sisters live like this for three months, eating everything they have in the house without leaving it, watching the breaking news which becomes increasingly despondent.

People flood to social media over everything now. I don’t think an apocalyptic event would stop that in the first days, but it doesn’t explicitly happen here. The author is a young guy; I don’t think he would ignore this without purpose, so I guess it was a choice to leave it out. It’s actually scarier without, somehow. As though the emerging situation was of such horror and fear, that people just couldn’t bear to talk about it between themselves. Malorie follows blogs, and reads theories online, but there is no mass hysteria in the way that social media would generate.

Then, the worst happens. Malorie finds her sister dead, and it’s horrific. The blanket had fallen a little from an upstairs window. There is no doubt that there is something outside, and that it’s causing rational people to lose their minds. I can honestly say that I don’t think there is a more chilling premise for a story out there. This situation must come close to the absolute worst thing you can think of. Josh Malerman’s mind is a dark and brilliant place.

Malorie has seen an advert for a place she can go, where other survivors are. Somehow, she drives there with her eyes mostly closed, seeing sinister movement in her peripheral vision. She then begins a prolonged and tense cohabitation with strangers who have survived. The owner of the house, who placed the advert is already dead.
If you have ever cohabitated with other adults before, it’s difficult. Personality clashes, falling out, the peacemakers, the confronters, positive outlook people, negative Noras.

The dynamics are altered here because of the situation; everyone has lost every other person close to them, but the undertones of cohabitation begin to come through, as there is no escape from each other. There is incredible pressure on resources. Malorie and Olympia are the two pregnant women in the house, each with their own huge anxieties about what will happen during and after the birth of their children in this terrifying, claustrophobic, blind world. Tom is the housemate (at the risk of going all Big Brother) who Malorie knows she can rely on, but he is the innovator, the solutions guy, who goes outside to try to find things to help them survive. On one journey, he finds some birds, who are put outside in a box as an alert system. The birdbox outside, resembles the birdbox inside, all trapped.

It turns Sylvia Plath’s bell jar of suicidal thoughts on its head; Malerman’s birdbox is the only prevention from it, although both are suffocating and claustrophobic.

I like how the author gets across the division between what are considered ‘old world fears’, like fear of the dark, fear of basements and attics, and the ‘old world’ problems. The new world is ONLY fear, and nothing else, apart from perhaps, the remotest glint of hope. This is not hope of defeating what’s out there. Malorie’s only desire is to get her children somewhere where they won’t starve, they can take off their blindfolds, and to let them have a taste of a childhood.

Disaster strikes the house eventually, and devastatingly, Malorie is left alone. She is resourceful and determined though, a meticulous planner.

One of the central themes of this novel is motherhood, and to what lengths Malorie forces herself for the children to survive. It’s impossible to fathom what it must be like to think or do the things Malorie does. It’s against instinct. The children are completely compliant with her and are unfailingly obedient. They have learned how to hear and identify sequences of up to forty of the minutest individual sounds. They are only called Boy and Girl, a reflection of Malorie’s reluctance to be attached to them, when she has lost everyone else. She has spent four years training them to make this journey.

If you can follow the journey down the river with Malorie and the children without suffering palpitations, I admire you. It’s just the worst thing. The capability and resilience that children can have in desperate situations is captured so poignantly. Josh Malerman’s ability to describe hearing without seeing in the most hostile world imaginable is terrific.

It is just a happy coincidence that they lived so close to the river in the first place! There are some questions, but I’m not sure they really matter. It’s a cracking book. If you’ve enjoyed the film, the book, I’m sure won’t disappoint you, and likewise, the film won’t let fans of the book down.

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher

My heart feels heavy. I believe I knew what to expect from Thirteen Reasons Why, and I think that it fulfilled all those expectations, in terms of both how it was written and of the content.

I had a primary reason for reading it, and for many parents, I suspect it’s the same. Is this appropriate reading matter for my young teens? I wouldn’t have bought it for them, in the same way that I wouldn’t have let them watch the Netflix series, however, a couple of years ago (when my daughter was only 11), she came home with a bundle of books she had borrowed, on a long-term basis, from her friend of the same age. She then, on her lift to school, had been talking about the books she had recently acquired with her friend in the car. I then got a call from her friend’s mum, who had taken her to school, to warn me not to let her read this one as, in her view, it was extremely harmful subject matter.

I then went to get the book, and removed it to the downstairs bookcases, and popped it behind some other books (all my shelves are double stacked – it isn’t an exaggeration to have named my blog thus) and waited to see if she would ask me about it, and she never has, up to press.

It has taken me over a year to get around to picking it up, and the (other) reason I did, was because my Facebook reading group (The Fiction Café – book club) has set several reading challenges for the year; the first of which, was to read a book about mental health. Thirteen Reasons Why was my choice for this, while it doubled up as the opportunity to see whether I felt that it was appropriate for my now 13-year-old daughter, or my 12-year-old son.

They have, since they were about 11, brought home from school, books which I was surprised that the librarian would let them borrow, as I considered them a few years too old for them. Then I thought that maybe, I was just being prudish or old-fashioned – surely, nooooo!! Generally, they loved and raced through the books they borrowed, and I kept my opinions to myself. After all, I hadn’t actually read them.

However, this is one that I am going to continue to hold back and there are reasons for this, for me personally. The first is that I don’t believe that it would be beneficial for their mental health. I have other books they can read. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, and Notes on a Nervous Planet are far superior, I think. And I would let my children read them any time, because they are essentially hopeful and inspiring, whilst being completely honest about how emotions can hurt very badly.

Secondly, I had poor mental health as a teenager and into young adulthood. I won’t go into it, but I don’t think reading this would have worked well for me. I think it would have made me feel worse. I can’t be sure of course, as those days are (mostly) a long time ago and I could well just be thinking as ‘adult me’. If it had been there, I would have read it though, and so I’m glad it wasn’t.

Apologies, as I know this has read less like a book review than I would have liked. If the blurb interests you, read it, as you won’t be disappointed in the writing or the emotional way that the story progresses, and the ending is good. It flows well, and I had finished it in a day.

Particularly if you can see it less as a blame game inflicted on other people, and more as the internalised and flawed reasoning of a young person who has suffered the perfect storm of events and feelings that has led to her suicide, and this has been written as an externalised expression of it. Also, to view it as the reasons that we should be kinder to each other.

My view is, that there is only one character in this book who does dreadful things, and I’m not talking about Hannah Baker, so the other trigger warnings, beside suicide, are bullying, sexual harassment and rape.

Samaritans (UK), tel: 116123
SANEline (UK), tel: 0300 304 7000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA), tel: 1-800-273-8255
‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ Matt Haig
‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ Matt Haig

‘The Cruel Prince’ by Holly Black #TheCruelPrince #HollyBlack #bookreview #bookbloggers #amreading #lovereading

In ‘The Cruel Prince’, the first in The Folk of the Air series, Holly Black has created a Faerie land which is dangerous, vindictive, exploitative and violent. It’s a far cry from any of the Disney fairies. The only fairy dust you’ll find here will be being wiped away by an enslaved and ensorcelled human, who likely believes herself on her gap year in the Maldives.

It reads like a first-person historical fiction, rich on the fine detail of what it is to grow up in the Faerie court circle, with all the associated intrigues and deceptions. Faerie folk cannot lie; however, they can hide a great deal, and all seem to be playing the long game.
Our heroine and narrator, Jude Duarte has a twin sister, Taryn, and an older sister, Vivi.

Within the opening moments, their parents have been murdered and they are taken by their murderer to be brought up in his home in Faerie. The plot is thicker than that though.

Growing up in Faerie, Jude and Taryn are among the only free humans, and among their circle of peers at the high-born school, and in court, they are brutally victimised for their fragile mortality, in a world where everyone else in their sphere is considered strong, beautiful and immortal.

However, Jude has greater ambitions for herself. Using her acquired skill with weaponry, her intelligence and her ruthless, headstrong attitude, she navigates this threatening and dangerous world, and begins to forge a life for herself, from which she may never be able to return, and in which, she will never be safe if her wits fail her.

There are a few cruel princes here, but none crueller to Jude than Prince Cardan. He is dark and dangerous, but weak, arrogant and obsessive. This is an interesting dynamic for any potential romance, but when and how it will come, who knows? The author, probably.

I love how Jude and Taryn negotiate this environment in their own ways. It’s difficult to remember that they are twins somehow, because they are so very different. They are too young to remember their old normal lives and the incongruence between themselves and the Faerie folk is so well expressed in this novel.

“Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.”

Holly Black writes beautifully, the world is rich and vibrant, the characters are vivid and emotive. It is tense, clever and enchanting. I really loved it, and am in complete agreement with what Victoria Aveyard said: “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen”.

If you would like a copy, you can get one here:

‘The Retreat’ by Mark Edwards #TheRetreat @mredwards #lovebooks #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview

I’ve devoured this book, as I simply couldn’t put it down. Now I feel like I’ve cheated myself because I would have liked to have made it last so much longer. It was excellent.

The blurb:

A missing child. A desperate mother. And a house full of secrets.

Two years ago, Julia lost her family in a tragic accident. Her husband drowned trying to save their daughter, Lily, in the river near their rural home. But the little girl’s body was never found—and Julia believes Lily is somehow still alive.

Alone and broke, Julia opens her house as a writers’ retreat. One of the first guests is Lucas, a horror novelist, who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lily. But within days of his arrival, the peace of the retreat is shattered by a series of eerie events.

When Lucas’s investigation leads him and Julia into the woods, they discover a dark secret—a secret that someone will do anything to protect…

What really happened that day by the river? Why was Lily never found? And who, or what, is haunting the retreat?

I chose The Retreat as my prize, after I won a book voucher from the lovely Facebook book club of which I am a member (The Fiction Café Book Club – if you love reading, writing, or both, join up. It’s the friendliest corner of the Internet). When I posted my choice of book, I was inundated with enthusiasm from fellow members, telling me how great it was.

So, I abandoned The Old Curiosity Shop (Dickens, you’ve never failed me before, but blimey, I got bogged down and fed up with this one), quickly read my Netgalley book as the deadline approached, and without further ado, opened The Retreat.

The book cover is wonderfully sinister, and by the time I had read the first page, I knew I was in the capable hands of someone who really knows how to write.

Our narrator is the horror writer, Lucas Radcliffe. He has written one successful book, and, suffering from writer’s block and a looming deadline for his next one, he books in to a writers’ retreat, near where he was born, in Wales.

The cottage is an old, cold, odd place, and is remote enough to give Lucas some confidence that this will be the ideal spot to work on his writing, despite the worrying development when he learns that the house is a ‘dry’ one. The other writers who are sharing the retreat are down at the pub at the time Lucas is meeting Julia Marsh, the owner of the house. The scene is being set at this point for a chilling tale, as there are some Bluebeard’s rooms in the cottage, which are creepily out of bounds. By the time, the other writers return, I had almost convinced myself that this was going to be like The Haunting of Hill House, and they were going to be supernaturally bumped off, one after the other. (Not a spoiler. Didn’t happen.)

Quick side note: One adjective which is woefully underused, although I hadn’t realised until I read this book, is ‘buttery’, particularly when not used to describe a knife which has been used to spread butter. The author uses it to describe the walls in the cottage, and this gave me a quick jolt of memory. I used to live in a 200-year-old cottage, with my boyfriend at the time. It was in the village where I grew up, and when I was a child, it had been the Post Office, where a very old lady used to shakily dispense our family allowance. When I moved in, as an adult, the walls were indeed buttery. Not only that, but I used to wake up in the night and smell pipe smoke in the bedroom. Things went bump, day and night, and there were the proverbial cold spots. I’m not a believer in ghosts or the supernatural, and so I assigned these things to rational sources. However, this adjective alone, made me think of all these experiences, and I admit, gave me a bit of a chill down my spine.

Lucas discovers, sort of accidentally, about the loss of Julia’s family. Once he plucks up the courage to ask her about it, he finds himself on a path to find out what happened.

Poking around in the past, though, doesn’t seem to suit the cottage, and the eerie occurrences start, and unsettle the residents.

The story is deliciously terrifying, but our narrator is rational, providing a great balance, and propelling the plot forwards, as one ominous discovery leads to another, and another. Grief, sadness and slow healing, are also handled beautifully.

Yesterday afternoon, I was totally absorbed in the story and had to break myself away from it to make the dinner and get the kids in bed etc. My husband also went to bed early, so I settled back down with The Retreat at about 9pm. At 11:30 pm, the room I was sitting in went cold, suddenly. The plot was at a point where I was a bit scared. I put the book down and went to bed. I didn’t run though. I didn’t.

Because, obviously, the heating went off an hour earlier, and it’s January, so naturally it got a bit cold. Yep.

So, the same thought woke me this morning as I had when I first went to bed. What really happened to little Lily Marsh?

We know from the outset that she didn’t drown as the police investigation concluded.

I’ll end this review with one of my favourite quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle;

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

And to make a story as good as The Retreat, yet to make the above true, is an amazing skill and must be the result of meticulous planning.

It’s an absolute triumph, I loved it. I want to read it again, but I can’t! There is too much reading to do. I will however comfort myself with the fact that Mark Edwards has written many more. I can’t wait!