Spooktober Review: The Six by Luca Veste

The Six

The Six by Luca Veste

Full of twists and turns The Six by Luca Veste is a gripping read that keeps you guessing till the very end. Also have to say a huge thank you for the 90s nostalgia, I loved it.


THE BLURB

Six friends trapped by one dark secret.

It was supposed to be our last weekend away as friends, before marriage and respectability beckoned. But what happened that Saturday changed everything.

In the middle of the night, someone died. The six of us promised each other we would not tell anyone about the body we buried. But now the pact has been broken. And the killing has started again …

Who knows what we did? And what price will we pay?


REVIEW

The Six, or “I Know What You Did Last Summer 90s Music Fest”, is just the kind of addictive serial killer thriller I love. I literally couldn’t put it down once I started it and read it from cover to cover in an afternoon.

The story follows six thirty something friends who go to a 90s music fest to try and relive their youth. They’re having a great time until the final night when tempers start to fray a little and someone ends up dead. The friends decide to cover it up by burying the body and making a pact to never speak about it again but as guilt starts to eat away at them and one of them dies suddenly a year later it seems the secret won’t stay buried.

It’s a cracking story and just the sort of twisty tale that keeps you guessing, and boy did I come up with some pretty out there theories. It doesn’t really help that the author throws in more than a few red herrings to send you down the wrong path or to point out how crazy that brilliant theory you’ve come up with is.

Pretty much the whole thing is told from the pov of Matt, one of the friends and this single pov works perfectly. Matt is not the most reliable of narrators and it’s safe to say he is not coping well with things, he barely sleeps or leaves the house and is living in a constant state of fear. It definitely makes him an intriguing and compelling character.

I also loved the portrayal of the other characters too. They are so well defined and distinctive and the way they develop and grow is perfect. It’s a real character study in how different personalities deal with guilt but it’s also a story about friendship. I think a lot of people will be able to recognise themselves and those friends they’ve had since childhood in this.

Given the characters are of a similar age to me I could certainly relate to them. I also have to say a big thank you for all of the music references, they really took me back to my school and uni days.

My only real niggles were the time line which for me felt a little off (although it’s very possible I just missed something) and that I found it a little repetitive at the start.

Other than that I enjoyed it. This was my first book from Luca Veste but it will not be the last. It’s very clear he knows how to tell a great story.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooktober Review: The Secret of Cold Hill by Peter James

The Secret of Cold Hill (House on Cold Hill, #2)
The Secret of Cold Hill
by Peter James is a classic haunted house story with a bit of a modern twist. It’s creepy and a little bit gruesome in places making it the perfect read for the season.

No spoilers: while this is the follow up to The House on Cold Hill it follows completely different characters so can be read as a standalone and there are no spoilers in either the blurb or my review 🙂


THE BLURB

The Secret of Cold Hill by Peter James is the spine-chilling follow-up to The House on Cold Hill. Now a smash-hit stage play.

Cold Hill House has been demolished to make way for a new housing estate. Luxury-living at its best with high specification gadgets all thrown in – part-exchange available for the right buyers.

The first two families move in, and as soon as they do, the unearthly residents of Cold Hill begin to make themselves known.

Nobody who moves into Cold Hill reaches their fortieth birthday, and the old couple that have just arrived . . . let’s just say their days are numbered.


MY REVIEW

I read the first book in this series, The House on Cold Hill, around four years ago and very much enjoyed it so was very excited when I heard there was a sequel. The House on Cold Hill, was a classic haunted house story with all that that entails and this is more of the same albeit set in the new housing estate built on the site of the original mansion. It focuses on young couple Jason and Emily Danes but brings in their new neighbours the Penze-Weedells (the only other residents in the estate)

Jason and Emily made for very likeable and relatable couple. They’re both in their late 30s, with Jason an artist whose star is rising and Emily running her own catering business. Their new home seems like the perfect place to build a better life but it’s not long before things take a turn for the creepy.

James uses all of the classic haunting tropes, there are strange noises, voices, mysterious figures and sights which can’t possibly be real. What I particularly loved though was how he welded old to new. Rather than the creaky old house, the author makes full use of the new and modern. This is a high tech home of the future with everything controlled by voice via a central command unit so as you can imagine there are a few glitches (which may not be glitches).

I also loved the use of the neighbours to bring in the usual neighbourhood rivalries and conflicts. The PWs are not the nicest of characters, wife Claudette believes herself better than everyone else and is determined to have the best while her poor long suffering husband Maurice tries to manage her expectations (think Keeping Up Appearances), but it brings a bit of much needed humour to the story and I think many people will have experienced similar neighbours. I also found myself having a little bit of sympathy for them both as they too begin to experience some strangeness.

The story itself ticks along quite nicely and definitely keeps you guessing in terms of both what’s going on and what’s real and what’s not. There are a few chilling moments, a few that are a bit bleurgh and I have to admit that it did creep me out a little at times too. It was probably not the best idea to read it in bed late at night but it was just so difficult to put down.

I do feel though that while it was a fun read for Halloween there wasn’t much that stood out about it. I did enjoy it as I was reading it but I doubt I’ll remember it for long. I also wasn’t wholly convinced by the ending, it was confusing and left me with more questions than I started with which, given the title raised expectations that the secret would be revealed, was frustrating.

It is however great for what it is. If you like a classic haunted house story I think you’ll enjoy.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an arc. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Review: The Possession by Michael Rutger

The Possession by Michael Rutger
I can’t remember the last time a book gave me chills the way this one did. I will admit to never really having read Stephen King so I can’t say if it’s as perfect for his fans as the cover claims but for me – who used to devour James Herbert and Dean Koontz books, was a huge fan of shows like X-Files, the Twilight Zone, Poltergeist the Legacy and pretty much any and every horror film – this was right up my street. It’s a lot of fun but so, so creepy and atmospheric. I loved it.


THE BLURB

THEY CAME LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

A group of explorers arrive in the remote town of Birchlake, Northern California, to investigate the appearance of mysterious stone walls.

WHAT THEY FOUND WERE QUESTIONS

A teenage girl has disappeared without a trace.

FOR NOT EVERYONE IS AS THEY SEEM

Soon it becomes clear that the two events may be connected in the most terrifying way. Because sometimes the walls we build end up closing us in . .


REVIEW

I didn’t realize when I started reading this that it was the second in a series but honestly it didn’t matter one bit. Yes there are a few references to the first book (which are mild spoilers if like me you plan to go back and read it later) but I didn’t really feel like I’d missed much. Hell, I was around 150 pages in before I even discovered it was the second in a series (and that was only when I was looking it up on Goodreads).

The blurb is a little lacking in detail but the series is about a team who investigate myths, urban legends and unexplained phenomena, filming it for a YouTube show. When the team’s leader and presenter, Nolan, discovers his ex wife Kristy is in a small town in Northern California investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl he convinces his team that now’s the perfect time to visit that town to look into the mystery surrounding miles of walls in the area. No one knows who built these walls but they’re incredibly old, are scattered throughout the area and often run for miles with no discernible purpose.

This is really an excuse to keep an eye on his ex (and maybe rekindle something) but as both Kristy and Nolan and his team start to experience some very strange things it seems both mysteries may be connected and there may be something very wrong in this town.

It’s a classic creepy horror story with everything that entails – think Blair Witch (dark woods, mist, deserted streets, strange noises in the middle of the night, objects turning up in places they weren’t left and a strange figure only certain people seems to see). Basically there were moments when it scared me witless and yes I did have to put it down to go check the doors were locked (more than once).

What makes it a great fun read though is how the author mixes these genuinely chilling moments with a lot of humor. One second I’d be wanting to hide under the covers and the next I’d be chuckling at a one liner. I loved the relationships between Nolan and his team (Ken, Molly and Pierre). Ken and Nolan in particular are clearly close friends with a long history and there is some great banter between them to break the tension when it all starts to get a bit much.

The story itself fascinated me too. Initially I was probably in a pretty similar place to Nolan’s team when he said walls, I mean how excited can you really get about some walls? But, the more that’s revealed about them the more intriguing it gets and it turns out these walls are a real thing (I googled). I was probably less interested in the missing teenager side of the story (sorry missing teenager) but when the things happening get increasingly strange and spooky it was definitely hard to put the book down.

I do think the first half of the book was the strongest as the mystery around what’s going on in the town, whether supernatural forces are at work or there’s a more rational and scientific explanation, keep you glued to the pages. For me the unknown is almost always scarier than known so once the reveal was made it lost a lot of the tension and on occasion wandered into the slightly bizarre and confusing. As for the ending, I think it worked but was maybe a little too easy or maybe I mean too resolved.

Regardless of this though I loved the author’s writing style and the tone of the whole book. The characters are likeable and the humor just worked for me. Was it a little slow in places? Maybe, but the other parts had enough tension and atmosphere to more than make up for it.

Overall a great read and one I’d recommend if you love a creepy horror story and don’t mind a wander into the weird. I’m off now to read the first book in the series as I think Rutger could become a favourite author.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won a copy of this book in a Readers First Giveaway. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Devil Aspect cleverly combines horror, murder mystery and historical fiction to create a read that is both fascinating and disturbing.


THE BLURB

A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum 

In 1935, Viktor Kosrek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers – known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon – and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.

Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.

Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.


MY REVIEW

Set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 the Devil’s Aspect cleverly combines a gruesome murder mystery with psychological theory while delving in detail into a history and a place I knew very little about. It asks the question of what is it that drives someone to do evil things. Does everyone have the potential for both good or evil or is there some kind of external force that can drive someone to commit the most horrific of crimes?

It truly is a fascinating read as in addition to exploring the various psychological theories I feel like I also discovered so much about Eastern Europe in the period just before the second world war. I have to confess my knowledge of this time (and place) is almost non existent but through this story it seemed like the author truly brought it to life. Capturing the melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and religions as well as the ever present threat of the Nazi’s and the knowledge of what’s to come. It makes for a truly ominous setting.

Add to that an asylum set in a castle that would give Dracula’s a run for its money in terms of its history and the superstitions surrounding it and a killer who seems to imitating Jack the Ripper and you have a dark, disturbing and often grotesque read with a gothic feel to it.

The story itself is told primarily from the point of view of two men. The first, Viktor is a psychiatrist who takes up a position at an asylum made infamous for homing the six most feared serial killers in Czechoslovakia. He hopes through treating them to find evidence on his theory of the devil aspect, a common link that can explain why they committed such heinous crimes. The second pov is that of Smolak, Kapitan of detectives in Prague who is leading the hunt for a brutal murderer leaving bodies all over Prague.

The narrative flips back and forth between the two men as we discover more about them and their work before the threads slowly start to come together and Smolak finds that Viktor may be able to help him catch this new serial killer before the body count grows higher.

I have to admit I found myself more drawn to Smolak’s story than Viktor’s. Viktor’s does have a bit of a Silence of the Lambs feel to it as he interviews each of the serial killers residing in the asylum, learning the details of the crimes they committed and trying to identify the reason behind it. However, while I did find the stories of the killers compelling I’m not wholly convinced the level of detail or psychoanalysis was necessary. I also found Viktor a little on the frustrating side as his determination to prove his theory leads to some reckless and dangerous actions.

Smolak was for me the more likeable of the two, he has this world weariness to him but never judges things at face value or jumps to the easy answer. I found his investigation into the murders of several women by a killer known only as Leather Apron to be fascinating. He’s very methodical in his approach and despite an ambitious deputy who seems determined to push him out he doesn’t go for the quick or the easy. It was also wonderful to explore the Prague of that time with him as he travels around the city, visiting crime scenes and following up leads.

The mystery itself is very well done with the author leaving little hints and clues along the way as to who the culprit may be while also throwing in the odd red herring to throw you completely off track. I did guess pretty early on who the killer was, I’ve read a lot of similar type mysteries, but the story was no less gripping for it and there were still a few little surprises in store along the way.

If I had one main criticism of this book however it’s that I found it a little on the slow side. With the level of detail needed around the history of the time, the place, the people and psychology it’s unlikely it could ever have been a fast paced, edge of the seat read but there is the odd occasion where I felt there was more detail than needed (although I suspect this is personal preference). As a consequence it fell a little short of the terrifying read promised, although it is often chilling and disturbing.

Overall I’m very glad to have read this truly fascinating and often disturbing story. I would recommend to anyone who likes historical crime fiction.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: In Bloom (Sweetpea #2) by CJ Skuse

In Bloom (Sweetpea, #2)
In Bloom
by C.J. Skuse

Dark, twisted and laugh out loud funny. If you enjoyed Sweetpea I think you’ll love this. If you’re easily offended or don’t particularly like swearing or violence in your books I’d maybe steer clear.

Spoiler alert: as this is a sequel there may be some spoilers for the first book from here on in.


THE BLURB

The darkly comic crime sequel to Sweetpea, following girl-next-door serial killer Rhiannon as she’s now caught between the urge to kill and her unborn baby stopping her.

If only they knew the real truth. It should be my face on those front pages. My headlines. I did those things, not him. I just want to stand on that doorstep and scream it: IT WAS ME. ME. ME. ME. ME!

Rhiannon Lewis has successfully fooled the world and framed her cheating fiancé Craig for the depraved and bloody killing spree she committed. She should be ecstatic that she’s free.

Except for one small problem. She’s pregnant with her ex-lover’s child. The ex-lover she only recently chopped up and buried in her in-laws’ garden. And as much as Rhiannon wants to continue making her way through her kill lists, a small voice inside is trying to make her stop.

But can a killer’s urges ever really be curbed?


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a big fan of C.J. Skuse for a few years now and I probably enjoyed Sweetpea way more than I should when I read it last year. Needless to say I was very excited about getting my hands on a copy of follow up In Bloom and it did not disappoint. It’s every bit as dark, twisted and funny as the first book.

I’ve always kind of described these books as a combination of Bridget Jones Diary and Dexter. The story is told in the form of journal entries as MC Rhiannon describes her day to day life, her relationships with family and friends, and those people she’s met who she either wants to kill or has killed in a brutal and bloody fashion for some real or perceived misdemeanor (or just because they annoyed her).

This time however it’s a little more Bridget Jones Baby than Diary as Rhiannon is up the duff as the story begins. Rather than the focus being on her relationship with her fiance (who was having an affair with one of her co workers) and the guy she was cheating on him with, this time it’s all about the horrors delights of pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy unfortunately doesn’t seem to agree with Rhiannon, mostly because the side effects (lethargy, morning sickness, hearing the voice of your unborn child in your head) interfere with her acting on her murderous urges.

To make matters worse, as she murdered the baby’s father and framed her fiance for murdering a few other people she killed, she’s having to keep a fairly low profile and ends up staying with her almost in laws, something that could drive the most calm and collected person off the deep end.

I really loved how Skuse moved the story forward with this book. I have to admit I was worried it was going to be more of the same and by the end of the first book the joke was beginning to wear a little thin but that was not the case at all. There are still a lot of the elements I loved, the kill lists at the start of every chapter (I’m tempted to start doing them myself) and Rhiannon’s often spot on observations of what we’re all probably thinking (it’s not just me is it?) and incredibly dark humor but it felt like her character really grew and developed.

I loved how brutally honest she was about being pregnant and the associated discomforts, the pressure put on you by everyone to eat the right things and do the right things and to fit in with all of the other mummies. How your body is no longer really your own and how the attitude of others changes towards you. It was wonderful to see Rhiannon within a different social circle and living with Craig’s parents. Some of the interactions between them were laugh out loud funny but so familiar.

I have to confess though that this time around I struggled a little with the serial killer, side of the story. When I read the first book the brutal and bloody murders didn’t bother me too much (not sure what that says about me) but this time it felt a bit nastier and a little more uncomfortable to read. I guess the author had to step it up a bit to keep the shock value but this seemed a lot more gruesome and bloody. I consider myself pretty shock proof but there were definitely a few reading through the fingers moments even for me and there was one death in particular that I found especially hard to read.

Other than that I very much enjoyed this book. I thought it maybe drifted a little in the middle but otherwise the pacing was spot on and that ending was perfect.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey

The Boy on the Bridge (The Girl With All the Gifts #2)
The Boy on the Bridge
by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wow, Carey has done it again. The Boy on the Bridge is incredibly clever with some wonderfully complex characters and an ending that will leave your jaw on the floor.

Warning: There may be some spoilers for The Girl with All the Gifts, so go read it before reading this review (or watch the movie). It’s really good.


THE BLURB

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.


MY REVIEW

The Girl with all the Gifts turned out to be an unexpectedly brilliant read and while I had high hopes for sequel/prequel The Boy on the Bridge I will confess I also had some doubts. Did we really need another book, could it ever be as good? The answers to both of those questions is a very definite YES!!!

This has all of the elements that made The Girl with all the Gifts so wonderful (and is fairly similar in terms of plot) but, if like me the first book left you with a lot of questions, this is the story with the answers… well some of them.

It’s very much a character driven story as it follows a team of scientists and their military escort as they set out on an expedition in an armored lab on wheels (with a very familiar name) to try and find something that will help them fight the infection that has destroyed the world. This is a long trip with not a lot of personal space for the crew so as you may expect tensions rise. Add to that the split between the civilian scientists and the military, different beliefs and a mixture of personalities and there is almost more conflict amongst themselves than with the hungries.

The story is told from the point of view of the various members of the team giving different perspectives on the same events but also giving a real insight into the reasons for their actions. In the beginning I did struggle to remember who was who (my feeble brain struggles with lots of names even with the handily provided list) but I soon came to recognize each of the individual voices.

Some characters and personalities do feel a little familiar but the youngest member of the team Stephen Greaves is truly unique and absolutely fascinating to read. His brain doesn’t work the way everyone else’s does making him a bit of an outcast from the others and the one who’s either going to save everyone or get them all killed. He could be a genius or he could just be a very troubled and traumatized child and he’s ostracized by almost all of the crew who view him as the latter.

Unsurprisingly given the mission of the team and the number of scientists there is a lot more science in this story. It’s incredibly detailed and well thought out, explaining how the infection began and it’s effects on the host but I have to confess it became a little too heavy for me at times and lost me. It is interesting to learn more about the hungries and their behavior, and I’m sure those more knowledgeable about biology and chemistry will find it fascinating, but it was a little too much for me and I may have skimmed a little.

Even with this focus on the science and the characters, there is enough action to keep the story moving forward and the reader on their toes. There are moments of extreme violence (some which made me squirm), they’re generally sudden, unexpected and over quickly but have a lot of impact. There are all of the best zombie story tropes and it raises those intriguing ethical dilemmas around sacrificing for the greater good and following orders which will leave you pondering whether the characters actions are right or wrong and just what you would do in that situation.

I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a fast paced story, it’s a little slow in places but there is a gradual build in tension throughout and the ending when it comes is absolutely jaw dropping. Those characters who I wasn’t too fussed about had somehow snuck their way in and I was truly invested in what happened to them and without spoilers, it was horrifying, heartbreaking and absolutely wonderful. And, I kinda want more….

Overall, this is an incredibly well written and intelligent story with a focus very much on the characters. It’s a little heavier on the science than I would like but the ending more than makes up for any quibbles I may have had along the way. If you read and enjoyed The Girl with all the Gifts I’d really recommend you read this.

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this.

Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

Strange Weather by Joe Hill

A brilliant collection of four short novels. This is the first book by Joe Hill I’ve read from start to finish but it’s definitely persuaded me to try some of his longer books. I did enjoy some stories more than others but all were incredibly well done. The shorter format, while frustrating at times (I didn’t want a couple of the stories to end), was used to it’s fullest effect by Hill who somehow managed to pack in a lot of action, well rounded characters and some truly memorable moments.

It’s a bit difficult to rate it as one book so instead I’m going to do some little mini reviews for each of the four stories.


Snapshot – 3.5 stars

This story while not my favorite of the collection turned out to be a strangely emotional read (yes I cried). It’s set in the 1980’s and follows a lonely overweight teenage boy who has a run in with “The Phoenician” a tattooed thug with a polaroid camera that erases memories snap by snap. I think if you know someone who’s been affected by dementia you’ll know how terrible losing your memories can be for both them and their loved ones. This really got to me in a few places as the portrayal of a certain character who’s losing what makes them them was just so real and so sad. As well as being sad this does have it’s creepy and edge of the seat moments. I did however find it a little bit slow in places and I wasn’t keen on the way the story was told from the pov of the boy some 30 years in the future. This is just a personal preference thing though.


Loaded – 4 stars

Despite being written some time ago this story about a mall security guard who courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero seems particularly relevant at the moment. All is not however as it’s being presented as one journalist finds out. This jumps around a little in terms of points of view and time which I struggled with a little particularly at the start but it’s very powerful at times and asks some big questions about racial profiling and gun control. The ending in particular is literally breathtaking.


Aloft – 5 stars

This story of a young man undertaking his first parachute jump only to land on something other than the ground was by far my favorite story in the collection. There was something about it that just instantly drew me in and there was something incredibly likable about main character Aubrey. It was just such an gripping story as Aubrey tries to figure out just what he’s landed on and how he’s going to get out of the predicament he finds himself in.

I loved how we got an instant sense of who Aubrey was and also how the author worked in little flashbacks to tell us how he got to that point and the realizations that he reaches about his life. Plot wise it’s completely unbelievable but Hill makes it seem completely real. My only gripe with this one is that it ended. I want to know so badly what happens next.


Rain – 4.5 stars

This apocalyptic story is the most horrific of the collection but is just sooo good. I find it unbelievable that the author managed to cram so much into so few pages. We have the apocalypse itself in the form of a rain of nails which instantly wipes out large swathes of the population, a bit of semi convincing science behind it, a harrowing journey, a bit of a dig at the current government (and the human race in general) but best of all some great characterization. There are a lot of characters in this one but each and every one of them left some kind of impression, mostly good but more than a few bad. All however felt real despite yet again the unreality of the situation they find themselves in. I did feel the ending was a little bit sudden (hence my knocking off half a point) but otherwise a really enjoyable read.


Overall therefore this is a great collection and if like me you haven’t really read any books by the author a great introduction.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.