Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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Title: Hex
Author:
 Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton
Date of Publication:  28 April 2016
Number of Pages: 384
Read between: 24 Aug – 06 September 2017

Rating:  stars

What a TRIP! This book is fantastic. If you’re looking for Halloween fiction that will legitimate scare the crap out of you, this is the book!

Hex is a bit of a slow burner for the first 50 or so pages but once the momentum grows, it’s an absolute rollercoaster. The level of creep increases and increases and you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable. It’s brilliant. Try reading it as the sun starts to go down and you’re about to walk home in the twilight.

Yes, it’s violent. Yes, it’s physical violence against women but the male characters experience far worse. Yes, it’s so far-fetched it doesn’t seem real BUT you have to suspend your disbelief.

Some people have critiqued Hex saying it’s misogynistic and yes, if you’re inclined to deconstruct a text from a feminist point of view, you’ll have an absolute field day. Now on some levels I don’t disagree but if the reader takes the text from a humanist point of view, you get a morality tale that exposes the very best and worst of us as people. I also feel that some readers take up a book and immediately start to look for the negatives and the flaws. I try not to do that. I only pick up books I think I’m going to like and if I don’t like them, I simply stop reading them and return them.

This is going off track but what I want you to understand is that this book is hard to read because it does expose us. It does challenge us to think about how we treat other people. It does challenge us to think about others ahead of ourselves. The greater good and the opportunities we shut down because of fear.

Just read it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed and if you are, isn’t that equally as great.

Summary: Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiralling into a dark nightmare.

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The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

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Title: The Other Mrs Walker
Author:
 Mary Paulson-Ellis
Publisher:  Picador
Date of Publication:  23 March 2017
Number of Pages: 448
Read between: 18-24 August 2017

Rating:  2-star

I don’t know what to make of The Other Mrs Walker.  Yes, it was interesting and quirky but it lacked substance and solidity. There was a lot to be read as believable but it just wasn’t believable. Now I know there are services in the UK that are dedicated to tracing the nearest blood relative of someone who has passed away and that local councils have a role in this but Margaret Penny, just walking into the job seems a bit unreasonable and farfetched. Even if she is the daughter of a friend who knows someone who needs someone to find the relatives of a dead woman.

I’m genuinely, completely baffled by this book. Yes, it was engaging enough for me to finish but nothing happens. It’s all a little ho hum. It’s both fascinating and boring at the same time. I feel a little cross having spent a couple of hours reading it to be left hanging in such an unsatisfactory way. It’s not even as though a second one could follow because this story line was too unique.

The Other Mrs Walker is just a book that I didn’t like particularly much but felt I had to finish because there was just the smallest chance something interesting might happen. I think part of the problem is how unlikely the setup is and how the odds are so greatly against it ever actually happening, you can’t really suspend your disbelief. I’m not the only person to have found that either.

It’s not a bad book but would I recommend you taking the time to find a copy and read it? No. There’s better choices.

Summary: Somehow, she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…

An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat, on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the carpet. A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back to the city of her birth, her future uncertain, her past in tatters. But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know is that in investigating the death of one friendless old lady, her own life will become enriched beyond measure.

The Waking that Kills by Stephen Gregory

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Title:
The Waking that Kills
Author: Stephen Gregory
Publisher:  Solaris
Date of Publication:  7 November 2013
Number of Pages: 223
Read between: 11 – 16 August 2017

Rating:  stars

Review: Stephen Gregory is fast becoming one of my favourite horror writers. He’s not as prolific or as wordy as King but when it comes to the suspense, the tension, the creep, Gregory is a genius. There is a slow burn to his writing that makes you itchy. You know something is going to happen, you know it’s going to happen soon but you keep turning the pages with no release from the grip of the words.

Christopher Beale, home to deal with the aftermath of his father’s stroke, takes up a teaching position with Juliet Lundy and her son Lawrence. The mother and son, in the heat of summer, are not what you expect and for me, it is Lawrence who I found myself wary of. I’m reluctant to go into much detail with this book because it would be so easy to give too much away. Even the title changes the way you read and approach and finish the book. Each detail is so cleverly thought out that to remove anything would ruin the feeling.

One co-reader writes that Christopher has no agency and this lack of being an agent doesn’t drive the story forward. For me, I felt the same thing but I think this works to the stories advantage. Why? Because if we had a protagonist who was trying to be a teacher in the traditional sense, or a border in a strange house, in the traditional sense, we would have a very different story with a very different outcome and this book would not achieve even half of what it does with Christopher being so passive. The whole time I was reading this book I could feel Christopher’s mind-numbing stupor coming through the pages. It was hot. No one, bar his father, knew where he was. He was drinking incredible amounts of gin and I have the impression that because he knew he couldn’t change anything, he decided not to bother.

The Waking that Kills has a very real and true feeling to it. While it is farfetched, there are moments where the story could have been pulled from the headlines.

If you’re a fan of horror and suspense, this is one for you.

Summary: A dark novel of Possession. The ghosts that haunt us are not always strangers. Lawrence Lundy’s military-pilot father is missing, and the boy is doing everything he can to keep his presence alive in the family home. Into this strange house comes Christopher Beale, a man just returned to the country who becomes drawn in to the apparent madness of the Lawrence and his mother.

A long, hot summer’s dream. A suffocating nightmare. Shattered by a violent awakening! When his elderly father suffers a stroke, Christopher Beale returns to England. He has no home, no other family. Adrift, he answers an advert for a live-in tutor for a teenage boy. The boy is Lawrence Lundy, who possesses the spirit of his father, a military pilot; missing, presumed dead. Unable to accept that his father is gone, Lawrence keeps his presence alive, in the big old house, in the overgrown garden. His mother, Juliet Lundy, a fey, scatty widow living on her nerves, keeps the boy at home, away from other children, away from the world. And in the suffocating heat of a long summer, she too is infected by the madness of her son. Christopher Beale becomes entangled in the strange household… enmeshed in the oddness of the boy and his fragile mother. Only by forcing the boy to release the spirit of his father can there be any escape from the haunting.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Title: Uprooted
Author:
 Naomi Novik
Publisher:  Macmillan
Date of Publication:  21 May 2015
Number of Pages: 438
Read between: 09-11 August 2017

Rating:  stars

I had no expectations for this book, it was simply on my listed of ARC’s that needed to be read. What I was very pleased with was the story, the writing, the world created, the characters, the plot arc, everything.

Are there other readers out there who will disagree with me? Going by some of the reviews of Goodreads, vehemently yes.

Do I think they’re wrong? No, because there are books where the roles are reversed (see Gone Girl, Girl on the Train for just two examples).

However, some reviews are so nasty I can’t help but wonder what else was going on in their lives that they are so hate filled.

Were there problems with the book? Sure. Every single book published has problems.

But what did I like? I liked the mythology that Novik introduced and weaved through the pages. I liked the threads that almost felt like they didn’t mean anything that were suddenly tied up into an interesting crescendo and I liked that while Agnieszka might have been bullied and belittled by Dragon to start with, their relationship is far more nuanced than what some have called, a 50 Shades of Grey relationship. The two books don’t even compare.

For me, it was the magic of the world that Novik created. It was the overall believable nature of the characters, within a mythical world that kept me reading. In a world where everything is getting progressively more and more intolerant, it was nice to disappear inside Novik’s world for a few days.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Anyone who wants to get away from this world, who likes fiction, who likes European mythology, who likes tales of battles, and redemption. This is a book for you.

 

Summary: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog by W. Bruce Cameron

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Title: The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog
Author:
 W Bruce Cameron
Publisher:  Forge Books
Date of Publication:  04 August 2015
Number of Pages: 416
Read between: 07-08 August 2017

Rating:  3-star

Summary: Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human–a mother’s love and a father’s betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss–our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction…but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new technology–domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend. The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron is an evocative glimpse of prehistory, an emotional coming-of-age saga, a thrilling tale of survival against all odds, and the exciting, imaginative story of the first dog.

Review: You know those books you postpone reading because part of you knows you’ll dislike it but part of you feels obliged because it was a Netgalley ARC? This is one of those. To clarify though – I didn’t like it but I didn’t not like it either. Indifferent is probably the best word. I don’t feel as though my life has been changed for having spent a day reading it but I was on holidays so I didn’t lose anything either. The only note I made was, “not what I expected – kind of repetitive but I can’t not finish”.

Looking back, The Dog Master is over simplified in terms of the historical aspect. There was a kind of stasis that didn’t sit well for me. In trying to portray hardships faced by the different kin / ethnic groups, it ended up feeling sanitised and clean. A lot of the problems had no resolution and there was no attempt at correlating the tensions between the different groups.

There was a lot of othering as well – we start with the Kindred and automatically, from this name, we’re supposed to understand that these are the good guys but with an internal bad guy. Then there’s the Wolfen who, as the name suggests, follow the wolf and throughout the text are, supposedly, no better than animals and these two groups all try to evade the Cohort, because they just kill and rape everything that moves. It was all a bit melodramatic.

As you’re reading this review, you’re probably thinking, yes, humans but what about the first dog. Well this is where the tenuous link between the title and the content comes into play. A female wolf is attacked by a lion and subsequently births her pups in a cave. She’s found by Mal who looks after them and ultimately, keeps the female pup with him until she’s tame and loyal. It’s how most animals are tamed or broken. There’s nothing new here. As for it being “the first time”, well, it’s all just a bit easy.

Would I recommend this book to other readers? Yes. Do I think it’s worth the time of reading it when there’s so much else out there? Eh. Maybe. Would I call The Dog Master an epic or a masterpiece as some of my reading brethren have? No.

Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver

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Title: Master of Shadows
Author:
 Neil Oliver
Publisher:  Orion Books
Date of Publication:  10 September 2015
Number of Pages: 442

Rating: stars

Summary: In fifteenth-century Constantinople, Prince Constantine saves the life of a broken-hearted girl. But the price of his valour is high.

John Grant is a young man on the edge of the world. His unique abilities carry him from his home in Scotland to the heart of the Byzantine Empire in search of a girl and the chance to fulfil a death-bed promise.

Lena has remained hidden from the men who have been searching for her for many years. When she’s hunted down, at last she knows what she must do.

With an army amassing beyond the city’s ancient walls, the fates of these three will intertwine. As the Siege of Constantinople reaches its climax, each must make a choice between head and heart, duty and destiny.

Review: I wanted to hate this book because of a run in I had with Oliver on Twitter. It can’t have been a big spat though because I don’t remember what it was about now but at the time, I wanted nothing more to do with anything that had his name on it. All things pass though and now, I’ve read his first foray into fiction and I must say, more please. Master of Shadows is a fantastic romp that takes the reader all over fifteenth century Europe and the summary provided does not tell you in anyway, just how good this book is going to be.

Every word in every sentence is clearly thought out and included for a reason. The writing is also decisive and clinical, a throwback to Oliver’s factual writing and presenting. For some, I imagine, this style of writing is cold and impersonal but for me, it was this surgical precision that advanced the story, never left you feeling lost and always kept you engaged with the plot. I was watching a movie in my imagination with this book and there were a couple of times I was glad my tube stop was the final destination as I didn’t notice the stations passing.

If you’re into historical fiction, this is for you. If you want your historical fiction to include a little bodice ripping then this is not the book for you. Either way, I doubt you’ll be disappointed and if you are, well, that’s what makes life interesting.

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Between Sisters written by Cathy Kelly

Between Sisters

Title: Between Sisters
Author: Cathy Kelly
Publisher:  Orion Publishing Ltd.
Date of Publication:  08 October 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: 3-star

Summary: Cassie has spent her married life doing everything right – making sure her children have the perfect life, being a devoted wife to her husband and a dutiful daughter-in-law to his mother, even when her patience has been tested. Although it has left her so exhausted that ‘wine o’clock’ comes a little earlier each afternoon. But she wouldn’t change a thing, she’s certain, until temptation comes her way…

Her sister Coco runs a vintage dress shop and sure, she’s shied away from commitment over the years. It’s just that Coco believes men complicate things more than necessary, and she’s got enough to contend with looking after her business and her staff, who seem to rely on her more and more for relationship advice. But who is she to give advice, when her own life is so simple?

Watching over them is grandmother Pearl, tucked away in her little house in Delaney Square with her chickens, busy with her poker club and a secret lover. But something is keeping her awake at night. Was she right to do what she did all those years ago? Surely, if she were right, she wouldn’t be thinking about it so often now…?

And then there’s Elsa, the polished face of daytime TV, who’s battled demons of her own in the past and come out on top. Now Elsa faces one final battle – but this one will require more bravery than anything that’s come before.
Review: This is the review where I contradict myself about not being a fan of chick-lit and only ever wanting to read it on Kindle when I have it to review because, Between Sisters, I really quite enjoyed.

I felt so many similarities between myself and Cassie and even with Coco at different times. There were also a lot of similarities between my sister and I. Admittedly, there were a few moments where the happenings were a little contrived (the perfect boyfriend and the break up over nothing) and even, to a degree, the easy coming together of individuals.

Between Sisters is a nice read for anyone wanting to escape life for a little while. It’s easy to read, and ultimately, it’s a non-offensive bit of fluff.