Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Free ebooks

In gearing up for the launch of The Mayfly, I'm giving away Clash and The Boy Who Buried Dead Things for free.

The first chance is this weekend. Starting on Friday, 20th May until Saturday 21st both books are FREE on Amazon. Share and enjoy.

Here are the links:

Clash

The Boy Who Buried Dead Things


Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This book won the Costa award, which makes sense: I felt like I needed coffee to get me through it!

Having said that, there is a lot that I enjoyed about The Lie Tree. Without giving spoilers, the plot has a wonderful touch of misdirection. I love it when magician hides their secrets in plain sight. Some of the imagery is incredible with beautifully written figurative prose. So I enjoyed the writing too - just not the story. 

The plot drags itself into life as Faith, the daughter of a "natural scientist" does little more than observe the actions of adults - after all, she's just a girl in a world where only men have sufficient brain capacity to understand science so there's not a great deal for her to do other than sneak a look at this, listen and feel sorry for herself.

She takes a more active role in the second half and pulls off some really cool scenes. The boat, the cave... and I especially liked the bag of rats. But it just wasn’t enough. She had no presence, no voice, and I found myself constantly checking how much longer I had in each chapter. 

As for the ending... With such strong, gothic undertones I was hoping for something more, something dark and as haunting and original as the idea of the tree itself. I felt a bit let down. There's nothing bad here, just nothing that made me really love it.


Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Boy - erm...

When I first saw the trailer for The Boy, I thought it was a joke. It looked like a sketch by Mitchell and Webb or Harry Hill. The doll looks far too over the top, like it's trying much too hard to be creepy.

The film kicks off with Greta (Lauren Cohan) taking a job as a nanny in a big, scary house with a couple that are clearly too old to need a nanny. And so we meet Brahms, the doll that has replaced their dead child. And right there, I got why so many critics hated it. The tentatively dark atmosphere, the overly frightened parents hiding a terrible secret and a scary oil painting stuck on a wall of endless wood panelling and a possessed toy - all the ingredients of a classic, old-school horror to such a silly degree that the movie is smothered in cliché. Hence the reason it comes across as a parody, a joke.

But those things are only clichés because we watched so many movies using the same tools - because we liked them. We might look back on them now with a shake of the head, roll of the eyes and a shared smile, but there's a certain amount of endearing, slightly embarrassed nostalgia - a bit like remembering hideous fashions, or music you took so seriously.

Getting past all of that, the movie drew me in. In fact, it got to a point where I thought it had a new take, that it was playing on the psychological aspect of Greta, like the old couple, having to deal with the loss a child, and the boy really was just a doll; the ghosts were in her own head and this was really going somewhere...

...and then it all went tits up and resorted to type. It went from seventies' creepy to eighties' Wes Craven land. And I still enjoyed it (a bit), because I loved those movies too, but for a while there, I honestly thought it was going to take the old school style and show us something new.

Shame really. Could have been brilliant.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Review: Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

I had this recommended a few months back and let it slip. Then I noticed it in a book shop and picked it up to see what the big deal was. I read the back waiting, just waiting for the term I dread most... "detective."

Don't get me wrong, I like crime fiction now and then, but it often feels that any decent thriller must have a gritty detective running about from clue to clue.

I kept reading... No detective. No investigator or renegade cop.

I bought the book.

The Ice Twins is the story of a couple trying to deal with the grief of losing one of their twin daughters. A year after the accident, they move to a secluded island in Scotland - little more than a rock in the sea with a lighthouse. The place is a mess, always cold, battered by bad weather and overrun with rats. But what really makes life difficult is the sudden realisation, and then confusion of which twin actually died. And is the surviving twin simply damaged by trauma, or is she really talking to her dead sister?

For any YA readers looking at this, The Ice Twins does contain adult content, but I can certainly see this seductive, haunting thriller appealing to readers of older, stronger YA, It's dark, atmospheric, often claustrophobic and definitely creepy. A fantastic psychological thriller. Highly recommended.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Of the three post apocalyptic novels I've reviewed, this wins the prize for the most original reason why society has broken down. It's just... horrible and mad and genius.

We are thrown into a world five years after the world had ground to a halt. People live in houses with the windows boarded up, the doors locked and should they ever need to venture outside, they do so blindfolded. Something is out there, and if you see it.. it's already too late.

Malorie's story is told through a series of flashbacks. It began with news reports of violent deaths, attacks, cannibalism and suicide. No one knew why, and by the time people realised what might be causing it, it was too late. The internet died, the TV went off, radio stopped. Society collapsed.

And anyone going outside with their eyes open was a risk to themselves and anyone nearby.

I'm not saying any more than that - but I will say this book gave me nightmares. Two while I was reading, and one about two months later. Bearing in mind I've grown up on horror novels and movies, I'd say that was pretty damn impressive.

Birdbox is up there with the best examples of true psychological horror - Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House immediately comes to mind, as well as the "indescribable" horror of HP Lovecraft, in that the horror of the unseen is often far more disturbing than showing us a monster. Possibly because no matter how awful the monster is described, it's never as bad as what you thought it might be. But seeing someone else's reaction as they see something - that takes skill.

Bird Box is terrifying, compelling and utterly unforgettable. Superb.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Review: Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

Why rely on a zombie holocaust or killer virus to end civilisation when we're doing a pretty good job of screwing our future by ourselves?

That's the basic premise for the backdrop for Lost Girl. Global warming, the rising waters and mass migration to reducing land are the ingredients for chaos. And as populated areas reach critical levels, crime takes hold, controlled by warlords who know that the only way to protect your territory is to make your message clear.

And while this is all going on, a girl is snatched from the relative safety of her own garden.

The result is that the father goes on the hunt for his daughter, doing whatever he can to gather information to lead him to the next link in the chain.

A superb, gripping and at times violent and uncomfortable novel that tests the human resolve to see just how far a father will go to fight for the daughter he is sure is still alive. This is a shift from Adam Nevill's earlier work, but is clearly intensified with the stripes he's earned writing award winning horror. The back story and substantial research merges seamlessly with the central story, (as opposed to Wikipedia info dumps - ie Dan Brown). It also has what I see as his trademark - finely crafted, figurative detail that makes every page a pleasure to read. Great stuff.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

For the next three reviews, I'm going to look at three post apocalyptic novels. The first is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'll hold my hands up here - it was the cover that grabbed me. Simply beautiful. But the story pulled me in too, so I'm glad the cover did its magic

I mean this in a light-hearted way when I describe it as The Stand for the Twitter generation. When a novel starts with a virus bringing civilisation to its knees, it's hard not to make a comparison - and the similarity doesn't end there.

Station Eleven follows the trail of the Travelling Symphony, a small troupe travelling the land fifteen years after society's collapse, performing music and Shakespeare to scattered, surviving towns. Having left two of their group behind, they return to that same town to find the place overrun and under the violent control of the self proclaimed Prophet. Later, discovering a stowaway, they realise The Prophet is going to make sure to hunt them down and take back what is his.

This is where I come back to The Stand. The Prophet certainly comes across similar to Randall Flagg, and I could feel the tension building towards a major confrontation. A fantastic build up. Unfortunately, the showdown was a let down and over far too quickly.

That aside, I would still recommend Station Eleven for the fact that I love the idea that in a post apocalyptic world, there will still be people who see the value in entertainment. The troupe's caravan has a quote, taken from Star Trek, emblazoned on its side: "Because survival is insufficient."

I've tagged this post under YA reviews because, to me, it just feels like YA. It's an entertaining, quite mesmerising novel, and despite not being generally recognised as horror, Station Eleven made the shortlist for the 2015 August Derleth Award.