A Guide for Murdered Children: A Review

What if child murder victims could exact revenge on their killers? The premise to Sarah Sparrow’s A Guide for Murdered Children sounded perfect for serial killer/horror junkies like me! The story itself did not disappoint. With plenty of well-written characters and the crime elements, I was impressed with this novel.

It took me a while to get into the story; the reader is thrown into the narrative from the first page, which can be quite confusing. The plot seems jumbled and unstructured for the first 150 pages. From here, the story feels as though it could have been told without the first section, as this information could have been given in 1-2 chapters without confusing the reader. However, after getting to this point, the reader is certainly rewarded with an exciting narrative.

Willow is an ex-detective who worked in cold cases. He retrieves his job after multiple stints in rehab, where he works with two deputies to crack these unsolved mysteries. They are attempting to solve the disappearance of two children from Willow’s past. This part of the storyline could have been its own book, as it definitely had all the elements of a great mystery.
Annie is the ‘porter’ for murdered children who have returned to exact revenge on their killers. They inhabit the bodies of recently deceased adults, and live the adult’s life until they find their killer and have their ‘moment of balance’. This section of the story is inhabited by lots of different characters, which I enjoyed as the reader sees the journey taken by a few of the children. Annie goes through ‘haywire’ as she prepares to pass her position to the next porter. This causes most of the events in the narrative and makes the children do things that they would not normally.

If you can keep track of the characters’ storylines and enjoy lots of things going on, this book will be perfect for you. I really liked the story from Willow and his deputies, and felt that this had a brilliant end to it. Some of the coincidences were a little bit cheesy, and it often felt as though there were too many people involved in the ‘other world’ who were connected to Willow. In terms of characters, he was enjoyable to read; he does not always choose the right path, but is redeemable and knows his true place and purpose by the ending. I also liked the way Roy Eakins’ character was portrayed, as he was the perfect villain. Sparrow’s choice of when to reveal information about characters lent itself expertly to the narrative, as the reader only realises who is to blame when the author chooses for them to.

Sparrow’s writing appealed to me, as she described murder excellently, and made me care about the characters a lot. She builds tension brilliantly and does not bother with an overhaul of description. I think the way she avoids writing too directly about characters’ appearances is genius, as it means that the reader can interpret them as either the child victim or the adult host. I do think that a lot of the first section of the narrative could be cleaner, which could create room for more depth to some of the children’s backstories.

Overall, I would recommend this book to horror lovers who can handle a supernatural touch. I would not stretch so far as to say this would be classed as a fantasy novel, yet would also not discourage fantasy fans from reading it.

I received an advance review copy of A Guide for Murdered Children on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Room 119: The Whitby Trader, an emotional rollercoaster.

Having finished reading Room 119 by T.F. Lince, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t sure what the genre of this book was; the cover suggests crime or mystery, while the start of the story sets the scene for a rather ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ vibe. However, about 25% of the way through, I realised that it was fantasy. Not being my go-to genre, I was intrigued to see how Lince would handle what had been set up as quite a dramatic, serious story to incorporate those fantastical elements.

The story – Room 119 starts with the main character, Dean at the peak of his career. He is a trader in Canary Wharf, making millions of pounds every day for his company, he has a beautiful wife and daughter at home just over an hour away and his life seems perfect. When things start to go wrong, Dean is quite taken aback and appears shocked and bemused as to how his perfect life could have gone so wrong. This echoes the prevalent issue of white privilege in today’s society. From then, he meets a couple who changes his destination, guiding him alongside some other brilliant characters to room 119 at Welnetham Hall and goes on a journey of self-discovery. He is tested in various ways to see if he is worthy of a second chance. Lince has written this very cleverly, as I did not see some of the twists coming.

What I liked most about this book was the character development. Dean is very much the repentant man; he’s sorry for how he has behaved and wants to do anything possible to make it right and get back to his family. I enjoyed the characters in the ‘other world’, as they had their own demons in the past and understood the importance of Dean’s journey and their role in it. Benjie was a particularly great character, as he was altruistic with helping Dean get back to his family while he was without his partner indefinitely. Sarah displayed excellent character development, and I loved how she chose her and Jodie’s futures and happiness over Dean when he was at his worst, but was willing to give him a second chance eventually. Jodie came across as a sweet, smart girl and I believe that Lince captured the childlike essence which returns to young people when their parents are having marital problems.

The only element I did not like was the seemingly never-ending stream of tests that Dean was put through. The first few were perfectly written with each one making complete sense, however the final test did seem like something tagged on to the end to fill out the story. I would have perhaps liked to have gotten a bit more background about Jack, Martin and Oliver instead of that, as they showed Sarah and Jodie’s lives while Dean was in the ‘other place’, but did not break out of the family bubble. The characters from his workplace appeared to be bookends, shaping and rounding off the novel but not influencing too much of the narrative in the main body.

I really enjoyed the journey that Room 119 takes the reader on, however. I was in constant turmoil over Dean’s fate, and as he gets increasingly likeable, it becomes harder to see him put through all these tests. Also, because Dean’s guides are so well-written and shape the novel in such a way that changes the reader’s perception of events, I fell in love with them and was saddened by certain events at the end. It is a very bittersweet ending. I was happy with the outcome of the book, and really enjoyed the guessing game of what really happened to Dean, and whether it was a dream or real. The best part about this novel was the way Lince intricately wove the fantasy and reality together so the reader only figures it out when the author wants them to.

Overall, I would recommend this book to most readers. It is well-written, has a decent pace, great backstory and good character development. It is a solid 4.5*. I received this book as an advance review copy from Trev Lince in exchange for an honest review.

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Sleeping Beauties: collaboration at its finest.

Owen King had the idea for a novel where all the women in the world fell asleep, but did not feel that he was the right person to write it. So, he pitched it to his father, Stephen King who suggested that they write it together. From this conversation came Sleeping Beauties. Not having read any of Owen’s work, I was unsure what to expect, but what I have read has been a work of art; both men know how to capture the essence of the true human mind.

Sleeping Beauties is an incredible mix of fantasy and horror. When paired, these can often be cheesy, or a bit of a mess, but the King men knew what they were doing. The majority of the horror in the novel came from the people in the town, their reactions and what they were willing to give up. It was similar to Needful Things in that way; a novel with a fantasy base, yet mostly set in the real world with people genuinely acting as they would in a crisis. The difference in Sleeping Beauties is the positivity blended within the narrative; I cannot say if this came from Owen’s influence, but there was an element of hope which gave layers to this incredible novel in ways I would never have imagined.

The story begins with men and women waking up to a growing international crisis. Naturally, for the townspeople of Dooling, they think that something as interesting as women falling asleep and being wrapped in cocoons that will preserve them would never happen in their town. As it turns out, the ‘Aurora’ virus quickly spreads all over the world, including Dooling. There, they deal with the aftermath, while they realise that they might have the solution in their local prison as there is a woman who is not afflicted with the virus. The women of Dooling awake in another version of their town, akin to the ‘upside down’ from Stranger Things, where they try to work through their troubles together. In the end, the men have to let the women decide their fate.

Cleverly written, with brilliant horrific elements, Sleeping Beauties is a truly brilliant piece of fiction. I enjoyed the women’s ‘Our Place’, and Clint Norcross’ negotiations. I did feel as though the inclusion of the animal characters was a little arbitrary, as only the fox really contributed to the narrative, but it produced a more fantastical atmosphere. I enjoyed reading the scene from the attack on the prison; certain characters got their comeuppance, while others got another chance. All of the deaths were described with such detail and thought, that I felt the King men’s devotion to this novel coming through throughout that entire chapter.

For a 713-page book, I found it to be a fast-paced read, as there was never anything not happening. As for the ending, I felt that the women had made the wrong choice, especially based on how all the world’s men were acting. Parts of the ending showed awesome character development, such as Lila making a decision without giving Clint an option. I enjoyed these tidbits which I felt rounded off the story, and proved how women can be in charge if they are only given a chance. Other parts of the ending were a little idealised, however. I felt that Frank got off way too easy when so many other decent characters had had to die, but that is another element of Stephen’s writing I have always admired; he can keep a neutral view on his characters for the good of the plot.

One of my favourite sub-plots, personally was the arc with Little Low and Maynard, who may have been thick and evil, but offered a bit of fresh air from the intensity of the other characters. I thought that smaller characters were often given some of the best personalities, like Mary and Molly, who managed to represent the truly innocent lives being affected by the virus. Fritz was also an interesting character, yet felt that his arc was a little short-lived. They could have included him in much more of the background, as his character felt like he would be etched into every door in Dooling.

Overall, I would recommend this book to people after a good old horror novel. There is an underlying feminist feeling, which a lot of female readers of horror will vastly enjoy. The fantasy elements are never properly explained, so it depends on what kind of fantasy you prefer to read; something where an explanation is given to you through a certain conversation in a pivotal chapter, or something where the fantastical elements just are, and the story focuses on how normal people deal with these penetrating their safe world.

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My week in reading

This weekend has not been very successful in getting much of anything done. Therefore, this week, I aim to blitz my way through the rest of the novel I am currently reading, start reading a new ARC from NetGalley, and read a Walker children’s book.

I am currently reading Stephen and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties. I enjoy taking my time with any King novel, as I like to take in the sheer beauty of language used and the raw character elements. I am over halfway through, so this week I aim to complete it.

I have been given permissions to read A Guide for Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow from Penguin on NetGalley, and am ready to give this one a good read, despite current average reviews.

Last week, I won a children’s book from Walker in a Twitter competition, so am ready to give that one a good read. I am sure it will provide some much-needed relief from the other two more serious books.

I will be continuing with my NaNoWriMo novel, of which I have gotten halfway through (25,000 words).

Anything for Her: A gripping psychological drama

A twist here, a turn there, and some compelling characters to add to the journey; Anything for Her is a gripping page-turner. I was not sure what to expect when I got sent this advance review copy (ARC) by Bonnier Zaffre on NetGalley, but I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the gentle tensions throughout, and the way the plot developed to reveal more about the characters.

The story revolves around Billy, who goes to visit his sister Mia and bumps into an old flame, Aimi in the supermarket. She is his ‘one that got away’, and he cannot let it go. From here, he helps her with a plan to run away, but does not anticipate how her lies and deception will unravel to reveal some uncomfortable truths about some of the characters. I like how the ending mirrors one of the initial scenes in the novel, and shows how far Billy has been pushed.

In terms of the plot, Anything for Her is very well-written. While I couldn’t necessarily ‘not put it down’, I never got bored with the story, as it kept at a medium pace throughout. I enjoyed the intertwining of the lives of the characters, yet felt that the Vedra family were not fully explored; I would be happy with a whole book dedicated to them. I believe that the plot matched the title perfectly, as every man in this story would have literally done anything for Aimi.

Furthermore, I felt that there were not enough female characters in the novel, but the two that were there offered a contrast in terms of characteristics. Aimi is full of life, holding on to every thread, and taking what she can get while treading on whoever’s toes she must to get what she wants. Mia, on the other hand, is more naïve and caring, wanting to keep her loved ones safe and happy. I feel that she was a weaker character, as she could have been a much better sister for Billy in the end. Some of the revelations toward the end of the novel made me question her candour, because they revealed what she knew and yet did not tell Billy, even after she knew how wrapped up he was in the situation.

Both characters offered a different perspective on females; Mia was the kind of woman every man would want, who would go along with situations even if they’re not right. Aimi, on the other hand, was every bit the girl next door; the one everyone was in love with, and she seemed to represent men’s fears of how women might act if they decide they are no longer putting up with their idiocy any longer. The reason I felt the need for inclusion of an additional female is that I felt there was no real middle ground between the two women. There are women who are sassy and adored, yet also loyal and sensible, and I felt that this was not represented through any character.

The men on the other hand made this novel what it was. I enjoyed the differences in their characteristics, even between the Vedra brothers and their father. Not one of the males was a typical ‘man’; each had their softer side and their crueller side, they could all be convinced, yet they could choose to be loyal depending on the situation. I enjoyed the difference in the confrontations between different male characters, while I felt that the confrontations between male/female characters were quite similar throughout.

Overall, I enjoyed Anything for Her. I did feel that it lacked tension at times, but the ending really turned it around for me and, with it’s link to the sections about Billy’s parents at the start of the novel, it made the novel a very well-written psychological drama. I would recommend this novel for those looking for lighter tension, with dark and emotionally manipulated characters carrying baggage with them every day.

I was provided with an advance review copy of Anything for Her by NetGalley and Bonnier Zaffre in exchange for an honest review. Anything for Her will be published on 22 March 2018.

Some of my favourite characters in literature

I have read my fair share of books. It would seem like a lot to some people, yet few to others. I love reading, and many books I have read have had me floored by their incredible plots, narrative voices and use of metaphor. One thing which I admire more than anything, however is brilliant character development.

I enjoy raw, gritty characters who think and feel as people really do. They are not 100% heroes, nor are they all bad. They are real characters who are petty, jealous and vengeful, but still good people at heart.

Some of my favourite characters include:

Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Ron is a multi-faceted character. Although he begins the series as a seemingly dim-witted, almost entitled child, he overcomes his base instincts to help his friends. He grows up and becomes a man throughout the novels, realising his own intelligence and admitting his feelings for Hermione. He is a witty character who often does not see what is right in front of him.

Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
In one of my favourite novels of all time, Victor is an insanely intelligent scientist/doctor, who manages to bring the dead back to life. That’s pretty damn impressive. Now, he may appear cowardly when faced with his creation, but his pursuance of the monster after it kills his wife is rather heroic. You see Victor continuously battle inwardly with himself before deciding that he must never let another mistake like this happen.

Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara from Under the Dome by Stephen King
Barbie is an excellent character. He is brave and takes care of a town he is stuck in, even though it’s not his own. He allows himself to fall for Julia, and does not question his place in the dome, but gets on with it despite some other characters plotting against him.

Hanny from The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
Danny, for me, was a really complex character. Mute from birth, he lives with an almost crazily religious family who involve him in rituals to try to restore his voice. His character’s ending in the novel makes me very happy, as I believe that he did not deserve the hardships from his childhood. He shows a level of intelligence that many children his age do not possess, and the way his brother clearly cares for him makes him still more likeable.

Anne Bainbridge from The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Personally, I preferred Anne’s character in Purcell’s novel to her main character Elsie, although it was a toss-up as to which character I would include in this list. I chose Anne because of the pure sense of self I gathered from her, and the way she took charge and tried to defend her mute daughter. She offers an alternative parental character to Hanny’s mother in The Loney, as she cares for her ‘perfect’ mute child.

Clary Fray from the City of Bones series by Cassandra Clare
Clary starts off in this series with a very teenage outlook on the world, which makes her an easy character to relate to for Clare’s target market. Yet, she is also strong and slowly becomes more fearless, taking on both physical and psychological demons. She has an intense history, yet deals with it in style, and does not let her relationships take too much focus.

These are just characters I am listing from the top of my head, and I am sure there are many more that I will wish I had included. Maybe I will start a weekly character review which could be interesting… watch this space!

The Silent Companions: A Gothic masterpiece

As I have just finished reading Raven Books’ title The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, I just had to review it. I could not put this book down in the best and most disturbing ways. The writing is beautiful, while the fear embedded in the narrative often makes the reader feel like they cannot turn away, however uncomfortable it may get.

The Silent Companions is a ghost story revolving around Elsie, who moves into her late husband’s property; Sarah, her late husband’s sister and their maids. They have to navigate Elsie’s desires to make their house and family likeable to the surrounding town inhabitants, while being terrified by suspicious sounds and the companions who are creepily moving around the house undetected. This is interwoven with Elsie’s future narrative, and the story of Sarah’s ancestors who brought the companions into the house.

A great element in Purcell’s tale is her way of embedding her knowledge of Gothic literature, and other ghost stories without making direct references to them. This novel echoes the eeriness in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, whilst embedding the fantastical elements akin to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Purcell’s novel could be placed within the ranks of these brilliant authors, due to her incredible use of pathetic fallacy and metaphor alone.

The novel begins in the thick of the story; Elsie has lost her husband and is travelling to live in his dreary, old countryside home as a widow for the next year. There are excellent elements where she is engulfed by the fog and cannot see, which marry well with a slightly comedic aspect whereby she is dishevelled with a torn dress.
From the beginning, Elsie is sassy and demanding. As the reader, I understood that she felt deserving of her late husband and the life they could have had together. She appears tenacious and headstrong, which can often make her unsympathetic and not as likeable. Her character improves as the novel progresses.

Sarah’s character really develops when they have been living in the house and they discover the companions and the diaries. While she appears quite simple in the beginning, her character is multi-layered and sophisticated in ways the other females cannot aspire to be. She takes all of her disappointment with grace; Elsie being handed the family fortune and house, being treated like a maid occasionally and often being disallowed from doing things in her own home. Her character really connects with Hetta’s from the diaries, and the parallels between them become further pronounced as the story progresses.

From the moment that Elsie’s son, Jolson leaves the house, the novel is very female-focused. The maids help the story’s plot progression, yet are also interesting characters, as they are attempting to figure out how to be maids for Elsie, who is more used to fully-trained city maids. They create dynamics between them due to their friendships and reactions to the companions.

Furthermore, the novel is creepy and chilling in unexpected ways. The movement of the companions and the responses of the maids creates tension which ultimately builds to the scarier sections of the story. The inclusion of Elsie’s future, as she discovers what has led to her fate, and the diary excerpts offer a variant in structure, which keeps the reader hungry for more of each section once a chapter has ended.

Purcell has created a work of Gothic genius, and I have a lot of respect for her incredible use of language and character development. The cover is beautiful, and it has been well structured and edited throughout.

Inside The Lives of The Roanoke Girls.

Wow, that’s a lot of dead girls.

If there is one line that summarises this book, then this would be it. The Roanoke Girls, much like the historic colony are shrouded in mystery. However, unlike the colony, Amy Engel’s Gothic narrative tells a dark and deeply twisted tale of the teenage girls of Roanoke. This book is certainly a page-turner, and is definitely not for the squeamish, or weak willed.

Engel’s narrative focuses on Lane Roanoke, who tells her story from both the past and present. The past focuses on the summer after her mother’s inevitable death, when Lane is invited to live with her grandparents and cousin, Allegra at the intriguing Roanoke. The present begins with Lane returning to Roanoke for the first time since fleeing 10 years previously, to discover what has happened to her missing cousin. This narrative technique creates a grand contrast between past and present, whilst highlighting similarities in the characters, and how events surrounding Roanoke are destined to repeat themselves.

The characters are developed naturally, with Lane and Allegra discovering and succumbing to their dark sides at various points, offering extra dimensions to their personalities which makes the reader continue. I personally felt that, while the reader is given their background, the Gran and Grandad’s personalities are never fully explored by Engel. It is never explained why the girls’ grandad proceeds with his actions, and is unwilling to stop, except his own narcissism and self-love. I felt that there needed to be more explanation as to how he wound up the way he did. I felt similarly about the girls’ Gran throughout until the end of the book, where she explained to Lane why she loves their Grandad so much.

Cooper and Tommy, Lane and Allegra’s respective love interests in the book are also well-developed. They are the opposite of one another, while Lane and Allegra are more alike than first appearances show. Cooper begins as a representative of Lane’s darkest desires, while Tommy begins as the moral compass for Allegra’s devious and cheeky character. By the end of the book, however, Cooper is Lane’s knight in shining armour, while Tommy actually proved to be Allegra’s downfall.

My main criticism of this book is the writing style. Although it is very easy to follow, Engel constantly inserts Lane’s graphic sexual encounters, often unnecessarily to fill points when the story needed a break from the hard-hitting content. She also writes as though she is writing for teenagers, or young adults, a market which is inappropriate for the content. However, it is the ideal read for those who prefer a simplistic style of story-telling, yet are also interested in dark, gothic stories.

My Absolute Darling – Dare you read it?

Gabriel Tallent has shown us his true talent with debut novel, My Absolute Darling. This novel is literally un-put-downable, and will have you on the edge of your seat for all the wrong reasons.

The story follows Turtle, a teenage girl who is cared for solely by her abusive father. Right off the bat, this novel is extremely disturbing, depicting violent acts of abuse; this book is not for the light-hearted. The book follows Turtle as she goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning what it means to be herself, what it means to be free, and what it means to be her father’s ‘darling’. The narrative is adventurous, as Turtle befriends two teenage boys, yet still focuses on Turtle’s recognition that her home life is not ‘normal’ by any standard. Throughout, Turtle learns the true meaning of love, and realises what her father truly is, and why.

Tallent’s writing in My Absolute Darling is very mature, and although his voice is more masculine, he acknowledges this in his depiction of the lead female character. It is never questioned why she appears unfeminine and misogynistic. This novel is told in a first person stream of consciousness, which I thoroughly enjoy reading personally, and believe that it lends itself to this narrative, as it makes for a less predictable read. The characterisation is very strong, and I particularly enjoyed the charismatic charm of Turtle’s father, and the whimsical nature of Brett and Jacob. I did not particularly relate to Turtle as such, however admired her bravery and stubbornness. I liked how she never admitted defeat, and managed to get herself and others away from situations when most would have given up.

Above all, I believe that if you can handle very disturbing and triggering events in a book, and enjoy a serious read with an adventurous side, then pick up My Absolute Darling. This book is not for everyone, so I would only recommend it to those with similar reading tastes to my own. (Stephen King, Hurley, M.G. Lewis)

 

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