Book Review: Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse

SweetpeaSweetpea by C.J. Skuse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Liked this a lot. It’s a cross between Bridget Jones Diary and Dexter. Hilariously funny at one moment and rather gruesome the next. I am slightly concerned with how often I agreed with main character Rhiannon’s thoughts but so far I haven’t actually killed anyone so I’m not quite at psychopath yet.

Definitely a story I’d recommend to anyone with a black sense of humor.

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Book Review: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: mild spoilers after the synopsis

This is one of those books that I saw a lot of hype around but for some reason didn’t really know what it was about. A quick read of the synopsis doesn’t give much away but I thought what the heck I’ll add it to the TBR and get to it eventually. Now I’m asking myself why on earth did I wait so long.

This book is incredible and in my opinion deserves all of the hype and the praise around it. The author creates such a real and vivid world and characters that you feel like you’re there with them. It’s a beautiful, gruesome, gripping and absolutely heartbreaking story and like nothing I expected it to be. If you haven’t read it you need to right now (mostly so I have someone to rave over it with).


Synopsis (from GoodReads)

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

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Book Review: Northwoods by Bill Schweigart

NorthwoodsNorthwoods by Bill Schweigart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Bill Schweigart a few months ago when I spotted the Beast of Barcroft on NetGalley and couldn’t resist. That was the book that restored my love of horror and that love continues in Northwoods, the second in the series. Bill Schweigart really knows how to write an exciting and surprising narrative and this book takes horror to a whole new level.

Synopsis (Goodreads)

Some borders should never be crossed. From the author of The Beast of Barcroft comes a waking nightmare of a horror novel that’s sure to thrill readers of Stephen King and Bentley Little.

Ex–Delta Force Davis Holland, now an agent for the Customs and Border Protection, has seen it all. But nothing in his experience has prepared him for what he and the local sheriff find one freezing night in the Minnesota woods.

Investigating reports of an illegal border crossing, the two men stumble across a blood-drenched scene of mass murder, barely escaping with their lives . . . and a single clue to the mayhem: a small wooden chest placed at the heart of the massacre. Something deadly has entered Holland’s territory, crossing the border from nightmare into reality.

When news of the atrocity reaches wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance, he sends a three-person team north to investigate. Not long ago, the members of that team—Ben McKelvie, Lindsay Clark, and Alex Standingcloud—were nearly killed by a vengeful shapeshifter. Now they are walking wounded, haunted by gruesome memories that make normal life impossible. But there is nothing normal about the horror that awaits in the Northwoods.

Thoughts

One of the things I love most about Bill Schweigart is that for me he is a bit of an unknown quantity. Having read only one of his books I don’t have a feel yet for how far he’ll go or what he will do. No character is safe and pretty much anything can and will happen.

Northwoods starts in a similar way to the previous book in the series The Beast of Barcroft with the introduction of a new character, Davis Holland, and something mysterious lurking in the woods.

However while the Best of Barcroft was more of a creature feature with a lot of mystery over what if anything is in the woods it’s clear from the start that this time it’s something from myth and legend.  No real creature could be responsible for the level of carnage, so it’s more of a case of working out what creature is responsible and how to stop it.

There are a lot of local legends in the area and tales of missing persons going back years. A lot of these legends and stories are set out in this story and that makes for some fascinating reading. I have no idea if any of these stories are based on real legends but I imagine that they are.

While new character Davis Holland brings a different dimension to the team with his military experience I have to admit I still really love returning characters Ben and Lindsay. Ben is the everyman character with no special skills or knowledge who is thrown into exceptional circumstances. He’s probably more lucky a lot of the time than skilled and seems to have a natural talent for saying the wrong thing which brings a lot of humour to the story.

He also has the most incredible crush on Lindsay which considering he’s the wrong sex to be her type makes for an interesting dynamic between the two. Lindsay is definitely the more knowledgeable and practical of the two so has the upper hand as far as the relationship goes. They flirt a bit, argue a lot, he’s overprotective and she get’s frustrated with him but they do depend on each other. Their relationship changes and develops over the course of this book and it comes under threat a few times which was kind of worrying as they are definitely one of my favourite partnerships.

This story is a lot bigger and a lot more gruesome and violent than the Beast of Barcroft. The author has definitely stepped it up in terms of carnage and while I prefer slightly subtler horror story rather than a lot of blood and gore there are still some very creepy moments. What makes it even better is the unpredictability. No character is safe in this series and anyone could be lost at the most unexpected moment. There was one moment in particular which came out of nowhere and left me completely stunned. One of those “oh my god, he can’t do that can he?” type moments.

For the most part the pacing is spot on and while there are a couple of bits which are a little slow, the author does a fantastic job of building up the tension to a truly immense conclusion.

It’s not a perfect book but I would definitely rate Bill Schweigart as one of my favourite horror authors at the moment. I’m looking forward to more in the series to see where it goes next.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

Dead RingersDead Ringers by Christopher Golden

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was really excited to get a copy of this book. I love a good scary story and based on all of the great reviews I had high hopes.

Unfortunately it was not at all what I was expecting so I found it a bit disappointing. It’s actually one of those books where I feel like I’ve been reading something different from everyone else. I don’t know, maybe I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I started it and that influenced my reading but I found the whole thing a bit of a struggle.

Synopsis

When Tess bumps into ex husband Nick on the street she gets angry when it seems he’s pretending not to know her. She phones to give him hell but when she finally speaks to him she realises the guy she bumped into wasn’t him but his double. Chatting to friend Lili she finds out that people have reported her friend has a double. Tess and Lili decide there’s something sinister about these doubles and start investigating.

Meanwhile Frank, an old colleague of Tess, Lili and Nick, is confronted in his home by an intruder who has his face. Fake Frank holds him hostage in the basement and starts to take over his life.

As Tess and Lili step up their investigation they discover a connection to events in their past and have to face their fears and their doppelgangers if they hope to survive.

Thoughts

I’ve been going through a bit of a horror phase at the moment and was drawn to this story by both the blurb and the fantastic reviews. It’s described as a haunted house story with a twist which I have to say I don’t think it is. I was expecting the majority of the story to be set in a house with the danger coming from the mirrors. I had this idea of the reflections not imitating but seeking to escape and replace the originals.

In fact there is very little of the story set within a house. I would probably describe it more as a type of invasion of the body snatchers than haunted house tale. The idea of doppelgangers seeking to replace their doubles, while not original, is an interesting one. It has the potential to be creepy and menacing however I felt like that didn’t come across.

For me there were just too many things that didn’t work. I didn’t feel any real tension or emotion and I never really connected with any of the characters. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t too fussed who lived or died.

Every single character had some issue or past trauma that was almost constantly referred to and over analysed. I’m all for diverse characters but there were just too many issues among a small number of people for it to be realistic and it just wasn’t that relevant to the story. I’m of the view that you shouldn’t have to keep telling the reader about a character’s issues or personality traits. It should be obvious from their actions and their dialogue

I also thought they kind of over reacted to some of the early incidents. OK it’s a bit funny to bump into someone who looks exactly like someone you know but I wouldn’t think it would be as terrifying as it’s made out to be. It’s possible my stress levels at the moment are leading to a lack of empathy but I just didn’t find a lot of the supposed terrifying incidents that scary.

The dialogue between characters seemed a little clunky to me at times and I think the story suffered from a lack of description of both people and places. Some of the action sequences in particular were a little confusing and unclear and I would have liked a little more scene setting to help me imagine where they were and what was happening. I don’t know, maybe I just missed it or wasn’t paying attention.

There are a lot of 5 star reviews so it obviously hit the right spot for others  but sorry it wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review : The Beast of Barcroft by Bill Schweigart

The Beast of BarcroftThe Beast of Barcroft by Bill Schweigart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gripping, sometimes scary and enjoyable read about a creature that lurks in the dark. It’s definitely got me looking over my shoulder and staying away from the woods at night. Loved it.

When I was in my late teens I used to love books by Dean Koontz and James Herbert and while I don’t remember them too well this reminds me a lot of some of my favourite James Herbert stories.

It’s set in a quiet and friendly neighbourhood in Barcroft, Arlington where the residents are up in arms about one particular neighbour Madeleine Roux. Madeleine is the local crazy lady, rescuer of raccoons, feeder of pigeons and the reason why the neighbourhood has become infested with rats and other creatures. The county can’t do anything so the residents are understandably frustrated.

For next door neighbour Ben McKelvie it’s more or less the last straw. He moved in with his fiancé about a year ago following the death of his father and what was supposed to be a move up in the world turned into a bit of a nightmare. Struggling to cope with his grief and the crazy lady next door his fiancé Rachel leaves him with only his greyhound Bucky for company and some happy pills to keep him from losing it completely.

When a creature attacks and kills his dog one night however it seems that something much scarier has been drawn to the neighbourhood by the vermin. Other pets disappear and then things start to escalate with the death of one of the neighbours in mysterious circumstances. With none of the police believing him about the creature that killed his dog, Ben and zoologist Lindsay Clark begin tracking it but is it really an animal or something far more sinister?

It was only when I was reading this that I realised how much I missed this kind of book. I love a story that is genuinely creepy and somehow feels like it could be true. The story is partially based on events that happened in that area 40 years ago when 23 pets went missing from the area. They did solve that mystery (and it was less horrifying than in this story) but there always seem to be sightings of big cats or other large animals lurking close to civilisation which is something I find quite scary (especially as there is supposedly one near me).

The story itself is really well written and the author does a great job of getting the pacing just right so that the tension builds throughout. Sometimes with stories such as this it can get a bit slow in the middle or become repetitive but that isn’t the case here. It twists and turns and keeps you guessing till almost the very end.

The characters were well defined and likeable. Ben in particular was very easy to relate to especially in his reaction to the events that occur. He starts out pretty depressed and miserable but somehow seems to find some kind of purpose and determination or possibly realises he hasn’t much left to lose as the story progresses. Zoologist Lindsay Clark and Police Officer Cushing add a bit of romantic interest but more importantly represent strong, intelligent and independent women rather than damsels in distress. They are less than impressed with Ben which results in some very amusing dialogue and was another of my favourite parts of this book.

I get the feeling that this is the first in a series and I think it’s definitely one to watch out for.

Overall a fast paced, well written story which if you’re anything like me will give you the odd chill. There is the odd gory death so maybe avoid if you’re squeamish but otherwise I’d definitely recommend.

I received an advance copy from NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Hydra so big thanks.

Book Review: Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper by J.L. Bryan

Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper (Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper #1)Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper by J.L. Bryan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Having overdosed on YA dystopian and chick lit over the last few weeks I felt the need for something completely different. I thought as it was Halloween I would go for a nice creepy tale and what could be more creepy than a ghost catcher investigating a haunted house. Apparently a lot of things. This is possibly one of the least scary ghost stories I’ve come across.

It does start quite well, Ellie Jordan (ghost trapper at Eckhart Investigators) and new recruit Stacey are called to investigate a potential haunting in an old mansion in Savannah. New owners Dale, Anna and their daughter Lexa have experienced some strange occurrences in the middle of the night. A locked door which opens on it’s own, creaking on the stairs and a female presence who seems fixated on Lexa.

Anna and Lexa are understandably a bit worried but Dale is in denial and thinks it’s all a lot of nonsense. However as things escalate the house becomes increasingly dangerous for the family and the ghost hunters.

I thought this book was well written. The start is quite creepy as we hear of the scary lady who glares at the little girl, a very disturbing shower incident and the mysterious opening door.

Ellie is a very likeable character. She takes her job seriously, is very professional and knows when to bite her tongue. She also has a sharp wit, a good sense of humour and is pretty ballsy. Stacey is also likeable but in a different way. She’s enthusiastic, bouncy and generally quite excited to be hunting ghosts (at least until she meets one). The relationship between them is probably one of the highlights of the book.

Where it went wrong for me though was that as soon as they began investigating it lost the scare factor. The focus moved to the science of finding and catching ghosts, all of which was explained in detail. After that I just didn’t find it creepy anymore.

It didn’t help that things with the ghost accelerated too quickly. There was no tension building. Ellie turned up and within a few pages saw and followed the ghost before having a chat with it. I would have preferred more build up, creepy noises, not being able to see anything or things suddenly jumping out. Thermal and night vision goggles are obviously great for spotting ghosts but kind of waste the story.

I also felt that the story became a bit too predictable and you knew exactly where it was going.

Possibly the next books in the series will be better but I’m just not sure it’s my kind of ghost story. I’m off to find something scarier.

Overall an ok read but lacking the scare factor.

Book Review: The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

The House on Cold HillThe House on Cold Hill by Peter James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an up to date version of the classic haunted house story. I used to be a big fan of Peter James many years ago but for some reason I stopped reading him despite hearing some great things about his recent work. It’s also been a while since I read any proper horror stories but I have to admit I love a good creepy ghost story so couldn’t resist this book.

Like all good haunted house tales it starts with a nice young family moving in to their new home. Ollie Harcourt is a website designer and Cara, his wife, is a solicitor. They have a daughter, Jade, who is twelve years old and two cats, Bombay and Sapphire (named after the gin).

They’ve made a bit of money from the sale of their previous home and Ollie’s business and mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy Cold Hill House. It’s an impressive big property which is in need of a lot of work however, despite Cara’s doubts, Ollie is confident that this could be their dream home. It’s not long though until they realise they aren’t alone in the house. As increasingly unexplainable things start to happen they begin digging into the history of the house and discover it’s dark past. Having ploughed all of their money into it they can’t afford to leave but is it safe to stay?

I thought this was a great example of a haunted house story. It has all of the classic creepy things I love such as faces at the windows of empty rooms, shadows moving in the next room and the cats behaving oddly. The author also manages to make it very current by building in more modern elements such as threatening text messages, some strange goings on with email and pictures appearing and disappearing from mobile phones. What I also liked was that the author didn’t resort to blood and gore to make it scary. There is a little but generally it’s a lot more subtle and for me creepier as a result. Events start quite slowly and escalate to a very gripping ending which I thought worked really well. I did think it lost a little pace in the middle but it definitely made up for it at the conclusion.

Main characters Ollie and Cara are likeable enough. They are sensible, rational and just want to be happy in their new home and do the best they can for daughter Jade. They have quite a stable and realistic relationship (there are the odd petty niggles but nothing too serious). Ollie is the adventurous entrepreneur and Cara is more of a pessimistic worrier but they balance each other out. For some reason though I couldn’t quite connect with them. I’m not entirely sure why. It may just be that they spent so much time worrying and being terrified or their determination to stay in the house and refusal to accept that anything is wrong. I found it so frustrating but I suppose if they’d thought “nah it’s a bit spooky here” and moved out there would have been no book.

The other characters only really appear briefly but they were definitely interesting and well described, from the builders working in the house to Cara’s psychic ex rocker client. One part I found fascinating was some of the alternative theories and explanations put forward by Ollie’s regular tennis opponent Bruce Kaplan, a computing science professor. It was good to have some kind of rational explanation as to what was happening even if it may not be true. It at least had the potential to make the existence of ghosts a bit more plausible for those who don’t believe.

Overall I thought this was an excellent and well written story with a good few chills. Definitely one for fans of ghost stories.

Note: This review is based on an ARC from NetGalley. It will be released on 8th October.