Category Archives: Supernatural

The Edge of Dark

The Edge of Dark

by Pamela Hartshorne

by Pamela Hartshorne

Jane and Roz live very different lives.

Jane, tricked into a loveless marriage, struggles to live up to the expectations of her husband and mother-in-law. Her life is full of secrets and promises she is determined to keep, not least the one made to her dying sister.

Roz has no family of her own, or so she believes. Her past has hidden secrets that she is only just beginning to come to terms with. She has no memory of the tragedy that killed the rest of her family, but her new job at the newly restored Holmwood House in York triggers disturbing memories.

The one thing that they do have in common is the secrets that lie beneath the surface.  Their lives in inexplicably linked to Holmwood House and its tragic history, but separate by 400 years.

For Roz, taking the job in York is an opportunity to strike out on her own and developed the career she has been dreaming of. It is also an opportunity to reconnect with the city where she was born. She is not looking for answers to her past, but entering Holswood Housen triggers some very disturbing memories. The only thing is, they are not her own. 

Jane’s life in Elizabethan England is far removed from the freedoms and privileges enjoyed by Roz. But they are not the only players in this malicious game. Jane is not the only one reaching across the centuries.

The Edge of Dark is a tale full of hidden secrets, broken promises and faded dreams. Pamela Hartshorne’s knowledge and understanding of Elizabethan England, and particularly York, gives the narrative and characters real authenticity. But it is the intensity of the plot and the sense of menace that really make this book stand out. 

As the story switches between Jane and Roz’s stories, there is a real sense of foreboding. From the Prologue to the last page, the story never lets up. There is mystery, deceit, secrets and dark supernatural forces at play, all in very capable hands.

A very enjoyable read.

 

Once Upon a River

Once Upon A River

Once Upon A River, by Diane Setterfield

by Diane Setterfield

Life on the Thames could be hard, but the people who lived by and along it learned to respect its mercurial nature.

Set in the early 1869s, a time of enlightenment and scientific progress, the old ways of the river folk compete with the new.

For the regulars of the Swan Inn, retelling old stories of the river is a way of life. These stories are often embellished in the retelling but the sense of awe and mystery always remains the same. Little did they suspect that on the wet solstice night they themselves would become part of one of the river’s strangest tales.

As they tell their tales a stranger bursts in, carrying the drowned corpse of a young girl. Hours later the child is very much alive, turning a simple tragedy into something much more intriguing and mysterious. Over the course of the following year, the true identity of the girl (who does not speak) remains in question. Everyone who meets her wants to protect her. Well, almost everyone. She seems to reach into the hearts of those with compassion, but in a small few, she becomes a commodity – a means to a villainous end.

At the heart of this compelling story are two families, each laying claim to the child. s she the baby kidnapped from her bed two years earlier or is she the little girl thought drowned by her distraught mother that very day?

For everyone involved, the child’s presence opens up doors and half-forgotten past events unearth secrets that will ultimately lead to new revelations. 

Almost as mysterious as the girl herself and the links that bind the characters. It is as if some unseen hand has brought them all to this place and time. Through the child they find not only their own salvation but also a reason to live and new hope for the future. 

Dark, Mysterious and beautifully told, Once Upon A River is a brooding mystery that kept me enthralled from the first line to the last. It has as many twists and turns as the river itself, and a comforting continuity that links all the different elements together.

A great book by a natural storyteller. Her stories may be dark, but there is a lightness to the telling and a sense of hope that make them easy to read and to believe.
She is a writer whose books I can thoroughly recommend.

 

Conjugal Rites (Brenda and Effie #3)

Conjugal Rites

Conjugal Rites by Paul Magrs

by Paul Magrs

Once again, Brenda and Effie find themselves at the centre of a supernatural mystery. The two friends also find themselves the focus of far more attention than either of them would like. 

in Conjugal Rites, all kinds of things come together in an adventure that takes the two ladies away from their beloved Whitby to, well, Whitby-in-Hell! 

As you might expect, if you have read any of the previous books (I, for some reason, seem to have missed out on book 1, something I intend to rectify very shortly), not everything is as it seems in the weird and wonderful world imagined by Paul Magrs. Brenda and Effie themselves appear, on the face of it, to be two ordinary, elderly ladies, muddling along and learning a quite living by the sea. But beneath that bumbling exterior lie some very dark and sinister secrets. But secrets have a habit of bubbling up the surface, particularly if you are the kind of people who enjoy nothing better than sticking your nose into other people’s business. 

In Conjugal Rites, it is Brenda’s past that has come to slap her in the face, in the form of her fiance Frank. The pair were literally made for each other by their “father”, Victor Frankenstein. But right from the start, Brenda has been very clear about not wanting anything to do with the human jigsaw puzzle, Frank. What Brenda can’t figure out is why Mrs Clause, owner of the Christmas Hotel and local crime magnate, has got to do with it. 

But then again, does anyone really know what Mrs Clause is up to? And why has she arranged to fill her total with a gathering of ancient costumed superheroes? 

Does any of this have anything to do with Mr Danby’s latest incarnation as a genial late-night radio host? And why is he using his phone-in to spread rumours about poor old Brenda?

All will be revealed in good time, but not before the ladies and their friends find themselves, quite literally, in Hell. 

A wonderful tour-de-force of a story. Great characters and an intriguing story, held together with penetrating wit and style. I found myself chuckling throughout the book. Why Paul is not yet a hero in Whitby I don’t know. For me, he has put the town back on the map with his wonderfully descriptive view of the streets and buildings of this beautiful location. 

All I need to do now is go back and find the first book so I can see how the whole thing started. I am looking forward to that. 

The Cursed Wife

The Cursed Wifeby Pamela Hartshorne

The Cursed Wife is one of those books that is difficult to categorise. There is murder, suspense, revenge, mystery and even a hint of witchcraft, all centred around two “sisters” living in Elizabethan London.

Mary and Cat are thrust together when they were very young. Distant relations, they become as close as sisters. Loving and fighting in equal measure. But they are not and never can be equals. One is the orphaned daughter of a penniless country gentleman, the other titled and privileged. 

But their lives are entwined, even as their fates diverge on different paths. 

Cat has led a privileged life, but following the death of her father, she becomes little more than a pawn as her brother effectively sells her off to the highest bidder. It isn’t long before her husband’s depravity and games lead Cat to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever. A chance meeting in the summer rain brings the two women back together throws Mary’s life into turmoil as Cat’s presence threatens everything she has spent the past 16 years building.

The narrative alternates between the two women, each telling the story from their own point of view. With their fortunes reversed, their former friendship turns to rivalry and they are forced to hide their true pasts. 

There are plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolds. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the pace. I also found the interaction between the two protagonists fascinating. The way each of the interpreted the events of their past acts as a reminder that not everything is as black and white as it seems. Truth is sometimes malleable and often biased. 

Pamela Hartshorne uses all her experience as a historian to ensure consistency and authenticity. It is a great story and an enjoyable read. 

How To Be Dead (Books 1-3)

How To Be Deadby Dave Turner

It is true that I have a strange sense of humour and there are certain types of books that simply call out to me. From the strange imaginings of Terry Pratchett and Tom Sharpe to the gentle humour of Leslie Thomas or Pauline McLynn, they offer an escape from reality. Humour is subjective and just because a book makes me chuckle merrily to myself doesn’t mean it will do the same for someone else. I am a fan of romantic comedies in any form, be it book, film or theatre, but my favourite release has to be the more zany worlds envisaged by the likes of Dave Turner. A world where reality comes face-to-face with the best of human imagination. 

Dave Turner’s “How To Be Dead” is not the first to give the likes of Death human form and a personality, and I am sure it won’t be the last. And whilst it has an uncanny resemblance to at least one Terry Pratchett adventure, it is extremely funny in its own right. 

The first character we meet is Death himself. Unlike most of his other appearances in literature, Turner’s Death is very human in his frailties and his obsessions. His inability to pronounce Beelzebub, his craving for biscuits and his need for reassurance make him a vulnerable and likeable character. And throughout the three books here we will meet his colleagues, War, Famine and Conquest. And Beelzebub of course. 

The story really begins when young Dave Marwood, stuck in a dead-end job and drifting aimlessly through life, becomes a hero. Saving the life of the woman he loves (even if she isn’t aware of it at the time) changes everything. But then, coming face-to-face with Death will do that every time. Following his near-death experience, Dave discovers he has gifts he never knew he had. He is also now living in a world he never knew existed. And for the first time in his life, he has a purpose. He also has a new relationship with the girl of his dreams, so what could possibly go wrong?

The three individual books of this trilogy focus on different strands of the overall story, but at the heart of each of them is Dave’s relationship with Melanie. It was his unrequited love for her that led to his near-death encounter with his new boss. And it is his passions that drive him to beat the odds when faced with a hastily assembled and not very successful attempt at a budget Appocolyps.  

There are some very original elements to this very funny book. I particularly enjoyed the back story to the Four Horsemen of the Apppocolyps. Their relationship was believable, considering they had been working together for millennia. 

But what makes the book such a joy to read is the relentless humour. From moments of slapstick gold to the most subtle of turns of phrase, every page offers something to laugh about. I love the kind of subtle humour that was so well perfected by Tom Sharpe, and reflected here in what I found to be a real page-turner. 

As I said at the beginning of this review, humour is subjective. If you are one of those that simply don’t get the Discworld or have never laughed at Monty Python, then give this one a miss. If, however, you can believe there is a world where Death is a Billy Joel fan with an obsession for bourbons, then this is defiantly for you.

 

Daughters of the Lake

Daughters of the Lakeby Wendy Webb

Daughters of the Lake is, like all Wendy Webb’s books, set on the shores of Lake Superior. And once again she has produced a book that kept me enthralled from the first sentence to the last. It seems that this woman can do no wrong.

The story itself spans a hundred years, unravelling a bond between two very different women. 

When Kate Granger returns to her home town following the break up of her marriage, she is already experiencing strangely clear and very disturbing dreams. But when a body is discovered on the shore close to her parent’s house, the dreams become a reality. 

Kate soon finds herself a suspect in a murder case. To clear her head she visits her cousin at the old family home in Wharton. But rather than provide comfort, the house itself, as well as the mysterious woman in her dreams, seem to be using Kate to tell their own stories.

With some interesting twists and a lot of supernatural intervention, Kate begins to unravel the mystery, but not before some sinister interventions and a discovery that will surprise her whole family.

One again Wendy Webb has woven a chilling tale of death, deceipt, love and fear. I enjoy the little twists and turns of the plot and the wonderful characters she creates. Her love of the Great Lakes is clear as is her mastery of Gothic Horror. 

A really great read from an author who it seems can do no wrong. Bring on the next one…

Rotherweird

Rotherwierdby Andrew Caldercott

Rotherweird is a somewhat difficult book to describe. It has elements of gothic horror, fantasy and drama, underlaid with subtle humour.

The story centres around the links between our world and a parallel dimension where strange and mysterious forces are at play. The bridge between these two worlds lies within the confines of the secretive town of Rotherweird. The town and its citizens live by their own rules and very little contact with the world beyond their border.

Established during the reign if Elizabeth I, Rotherweird enjoys almost complete independence, but does exist with a number of restrictions, the most important being that nobody studies the town or its history. This presents a bit of a challenge for Jonah Oblong, the newly appointed History teacher at the Rotherweird School. Undaunted by this he soon begins to become acquainted with the townsfolk and their ways but he is not the only new face in town. The old manor has a new inhabitant, the mysterious Sir Veronal and his “wife” Lady Slickstone.

There are a plethora of interesting characters, all playing their part in the events that are about to unfold, bringing great danger to not only Rotherweird but the strange the inhabitants of the mysterious Lost Acre. Not everyone is as they seem and it soon becomes clear that there is a very good reason for keeping the town’s history a secret.

The plot has all the twists and turns you would expect from a good drama but I have difficulty with the more fantastic elements of the story. Strange creatures, reminiscent of something from ancient mythology, ancient books and characters who are much older than they seem make for an interesting mix.

As I said, it is a rather strange book and one that I had some trouble following at times. I enjoyed the story but some of the narrative lacked clarity. Having said that there are some strange and enticing characters whose stories I found intriguing. I enjoyed the book and was happy with the plot and the eventual outcome. However, I am not too sure about seeking out the next books in the series.

The End of Temperance Dare

The End of Temperance Dareby Wendy Webb

Nestled on the shoreline of Lake Superior stands Cliffside Manor. Once a sanitorium for TB sufferers. it is now a retreat for artists. Arriving for her first day as its new Director, Eleanor Harper very quickly discovers that beneath the tranquillity lies a dark and terrifying secret.

And so begins a sinister tale of slow-burning revenge and possession.

Since it first opened its doors, Cliffside Manor has seen its fair share of tragedy. like all sanatoriums of the period, it had earned its label as a waiting room for death. But there was something much more sinister going on and Eleanor and her first group of artists were about to be exposed to the evil that lay beneath the surface.

They have all come to Cliffside to make the best use of its reputed quiet and solitude. But from the very beginning if was clear, at least t Eleanor, that there was more to the Manor than met he eye. Nothing, it seemed, was quite what – or who – they appeared. With plenty of twists and a sinister mystery to unravel, Eleanor and her guests work together to unravel the puzzle that has been left by the last f the Dare family, Penny. The big question is what links them all and why are they here now together?

Wendy Webb has proven herself to be a master of the modern gothic and The End Of Temperance Dare is every bit as compelling a read as her previous work.

From the intriguing prologue to its dramatic climax, The End of Temperance Dare is a shining example of the best of the genre. Webb no only comes up with great plots, she populates them with wonderful characters. The suspense is palpable and narrative unrelenting.

I admit to being a fan of Wendy Webb’s work since stumbling across “The Take of Halcyon Crane”. This, her fourth novel does not disappoint in any way. 

Witch is How The Drought Ended (The Witch PI #29)

Witch is How The Drought Endedby Adele Abbott

Right from the top, I have to admit that this was something of an odd choice for me. Not the book itself as such, just the fact that I chose to read book #29 in a series before reading any others! The reasoning behind the purchase is lost on me now, but none-the-less, I ploughed on regardless. And to be honest, despite there being a few references and ongoing subplots I struggled with, the book itself was a refreshing summer read.

Jill Maxwell is not only a private investigator earning a good living in rural England, but she is also a witch, something that the majority of her clients know nothing about. Her cases are an interesting mix covering both worlds. She is simultaneously searching for a missing canal boat owner and investigating the mysteriously vanishing water in the fairy reservoirs. It is all in day’s work for this particular sleuth.

I found the style of writing very easy to read and the gentle humour made it a particular pleasure. In a typical PI style, the story is told in the first person and is very dialogue-driven. Ms Maxwell does not go in for long-winded descriptions or soliloquise. The writing is concise and well-paced. I particularly liked the way the mundane and magic worlds were interwoven.

All I need to do now is go back 28 books and see where it all began…

The Orphan Choir

The Orphan Choirby Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is best known for her psychological thrillers but in this novel, commissioned by the Hammer imprint, she put all her experience to good use as she turns her attention to the world of the supernatural.

The Orpha  Choir is something of a slow burner. Louise Beeston is being tormented by her party-loving neighbour Juston Clay (or, as she likes to call him, Mr Farenheit). For months Louise, along with her husband Stewart, have had to put up with having Clay’s musical choices foisted on them on a regular basis. But it is Louise who suffers the most and is finally driven to breaking point. When she contacts the Environmental Health Department things seem to improve, but not for long.

Louise’s life takes some strange twists over the following months, but it is not just Clay’s musical choices that are behind her troubles. With her son recently accepted as a border at the prestigious Saviour College School, Louise is struggling to cope and lack of sleep is not helping. There are a few interesting twists and it is clear that all is not as it seems. 

Louise and Stewart live ordinary lives in Cambridge, struggling with the usual worries – work, family, neighbours and their own relationship. It is the very ordinariness of their lives that makes the way the plot unfolds so intriguing. 

This is not a classic horror or ghost story. It is an intriguing story of one woman’s battle against forces beyond her control. I enjoyed the plot and the characters and who knows, one day we may see the movie – it is a Hammer Horror book after all.