the darkling – r b chesterton

The Darkling

I received this as an Advance Review Copy but it was actually published on 2nd April.

Set in Coden, Alabama in 1974, the story is told by Mimi Bosarge.  Recently graduated at 21, Mimi is happy as she has landed a job as live-in tutor to the Henderson’s.  A picture perfect, happy blonde all-American family who have moved to Coden from California, restoring the great house of the town (Belle Fleur) to its former 1940s glory.

At the start of the summer, Mimi’s social worker grandmother Cora (who raised Mimi after her parents died in a fire) introduces 16 year old Annie to the Hendersons, asking whether they would be able to foster her.  Annie seems both beautiful and tragic – she has amnesia, with no knowledge of any of her own history or family – and noone appears to be missing her.

Being so happy, wealthy and generous, the Henderson’s welcome Annie with open arms and hearts.  All of them except oldest daughter Margo who seems both suspicious and jealous of Annie.  When Margo disappears, Mimi’s suspicions of Annie are also raised and she embarks on a mission to uncover the truth of Margo’s disappearance and uncovers more about Annie than she is comfortable with.

As evil seems to descend on Belle Fleur, Mimi realises that Annie’s arrival has disturbed something old and dark, and she appears to be the only one to suspect the truth.

I like being scared.  I thrive on the feeling. I love a good horror film, and I especially love a good creepy story.  However, I have found that my niche for being scared is a very small one.  Too many horror films these days are just gore, and not enough suspense – or are too unreal to be scared by as they could never possibly happen in real life.

I think these is why I enjoy J-horror and K-Horror so much.  They are usually based around things just on the edge of reality.  A lot of ‘out of the corner of your eye’ inexplicable stuff. I like that.

For something to give me the willies (ooer), it generally has to be based in reality, usually with a supernatural element, preferably around a family and occur almost entirely in their home – where they should feel the most safe. If there is a dark-haired child featured, even better!  this is especially difficult to get across in a book.

The Darkling manages to tick all of those boxes.

I can imagine this being made into a very sinister film – if it didn’t get the terrible Hollywood gloss treatment.  The breakdown of Mrs Henderson, the malevolent creatures, Mimi’s uncertainty of reality and fight to turn suspicions from herself, a young girl’s disappearance , the house’s disturbing history – all good, meaty horror stuff.

There were times when the story repeated itself a little – I wished that there could have been some differences on the occasions that Mimi encountered the ‘nester’, but I can forgive the occasional lapses in variety as I zoomed through the book, desperate to know the ending – even though I had an inkling of what I might find there!

R B Chesterton is apparently a pseudonym of Carolyn Haines who wrote the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries series of books. I’m afraid that meant nothing to me, but it may well do to others!

cold remains – sally spedding

Cold Remains

I received this as a review copy via the publishers.

Heron House in Carmarthenshire the eerie setting for this supernatural thriller bridging the late 40s and 2005.

Londoner Jason Robbins signs up for a creative-writing course to be held in the sprawling property that has seen better days.  Jason is enamoured by cook Helen who meets him from the station, but is wary of sinister elderly Davies cleaner & gardener duo who seem to have some kind of hold of their scheming employer Monty Flynn.

When Helen & Jason find a local old lady dead in her home, they both start experiencing things that they can’t explain.  Strange stains and smells in Heron House appear and disappear, books fly across the room and they both start seeing strange scenes and hearing the same voice 0 that of Magriad.

But who is Magriad? What does she have to do with Heron House?  Why does Monty Flynn suddenly need to rush off to London?  And what does this all have to do with the events of 1946?

This book felt like it took me an age to finish – but I was determined to, even though I dreaded reading it every time I picked it up.

I know that I have had a lot on my mind recently, but even taking that into account, I found this horrendously confusing.  Because of the two storylines, there were two sets of characters, and the cast for each seemed to be rather large.  I got quite lost as to who various people were, and where they fit in.

I can’t fault Spedding for creating an atmospheric setting, but I wasn’t quite as convinced with her huge cast of characters.  Jason & Helen felt believable enough, and seemed pretty well realised, but I couldn’t really understand the motivations for the rest of them – so it felt that no matter how they acted, it confused me!

It also felt unnecessarily graphic at some points.  I kind of get why, but perhaps because I didn’t buy into many of the characters, it really felt disturbingly harsh.  There was really only one sexual scene, but then I have have never read a story with so many references to a woman’s period – it felt almost sick.  Yes…there was eventually a reason to it, but I felt that every few pages I was having to read about it, and the end by no means made up for the uncomfortable reading.

And I am in no way a prude by a long shot!

I’d be interested in finding anyone else who has read this, to see whether it’s just my current state of mind that made this so unenjoyably confusing.  I can’t say I would pick up another one of her books.

**UPDATE** In contrast to my own review, there is another more complimentary one here: 

I like to be fair!

the restorer – amanda stevens

The Restorer

As it ‘that’ time of year, I was asking in various places if anyone could recommend a good spooky read.  It’s very hard to find a book that gives me a thrill – something atmospheric and other-worldly.  In fact the only recent book I can think of is The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore.

This one was recommended to me by someone in a group on Facebook.  I was slightly concerned as it is the first in a trilogy, and I was worried that there would be no conclusion.  But, I thought I’d give it a go, as it was a recommendation 🙂

Set in South Carolina in the modern day, Amelia Gray is a cemetery restorer.  This may seem a rather morbid choice of career, but this hasn’t been chosen by chance.  She is following in her father’s footsteps, and is drawn to this kind of work as, like her father, she can see ghosts.

Unlike others that have this gift in fiction (I’m actually thinking Ghost Whisperer etc), Amelia has been instructed to ignore them and pretend that she hasn’t spotted them.  If she acknowledges their presence, and they know that she can see them, they will haunt her, and drain her energy.  She can be safe on hallowed ground (like that of a cemetry).

However, when a the body of a new murder victim is found buried in the graveyard that she is working on, she is introduced to Detective John Devlin, and the rules that she has lived by to protect herself are thrown out of the window.  Devlin himself is haunted, although he seems to have no idea of this…and Amelia finds herself inexplicably drawn to him.

I loved this book.  It is beautifully written and atmospheric and modern, even though it retains something of the mystery of traditions thanks to some of the older characters within the book.  Amelia is a wonderful feisty and yet wary young woman, so although she has a bit of fight in her, she has also seen more than most, and so has a reason to be scared of the dark – and at  twilight, the time when ghosts step through the veil.

Even just the way that is described was creepy.  And the touch of the ghosts fingers in her hair sent shivers down my spine.

There’s no out and out gore, not a huge amount of peril, but that underlying danger, something not quite explained and seemingly rational yet supernatural reasonings behind some of those ‘odd’ feelings that we all have from time to time certainly made for a good spooky read.  Definitely will be tempted by the next in the trilogy.

nevermore – william hjortsberg


I received this as a review copy – there is obviously a ‘remarketing’ push on this as it appears to have originally been published in 1994, although I had never heard of it.  I thought that I had never even heard of Hjortsberg, but after just a coupel of seconds of research, I have learned that he wrote the screenplay for one of my favourite 80s films (Legend) and he wrote Falling Angel, which was eventually adapted to become Angel Heart starring Robert De Niro.

In this book, Hjortsberg is ‘padding out’ the reality that magician Harry Houdini formed an unlikely friendship with Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and that they eventually fell out over matters  supernatural.  Houdini obviously knowing that all of his tricks were just that and being a renowned sceptic, with Conan Doyle being a firm supporter of ‘the unknown’ – and in 1918 believing Houdini had really been able to dematerialise an elephant, even though he protested to the contrary.

It’s 1920s New York, and there have been a spate of murders that seem to be reconstructs of tales of Edgar Allen Poe.  Houdini and Conan Doyle hope to solve the case as the murders seem to be drawing closer to them – and the police aren’t having much luck.  Throw in the ghost of Poe himself appearing to Conan Doyle and this seems like a great period detective story with some supernatural elements and a cast of timeless celebrties.

However, it really doesn’t quite seem to hit the mark.  There are obviously real reported conversations or meetings between the two main characters that appear to have been shoe-horned into the story in order to make it feel more like it could really have happened.

Unlike The Secrets Of The Lazarus Club, which was a fun, easy read, this seemed to take ages to start going anywhere, and then came to a rather abrupt end.  I also felt that the main characters weren’t particulary respectfully used – there was a rather alarming scene with Houdini and a woman who believes herself the reincarnation of Isis, that really didn’t need to be spelled out quite so graphically.

It also rather grated on me how many time Conan Doyle was referred to as ‘the knight’.  Was this meant to make us feel he was more gallant than his Hungarian counterpart?  Does anyone refer to people called ‘Sir’ as ‘the knight’ – ever?

It was a wonderful idea, but I don’t think it was executed too well!


thirteen – sebastian beaumont

Thirteen - Sebastian Beaumont

Thirteen is a very very bizarre book, that I still can’t make up my mind whether I would recommend to anyone or not.  I”d probably read it again myself, but probably just so that I can be sure that I’ve really taken it all in.

It starts off with the story of a guy who loses everything and for very odd reasons, becomes a cabbie in Brighton.  He does permanent night shifts and ends up ‘zoning’ and seeing people/things that aren’t necessarily there and experiencing stuff that’s inexplicable – all connected to a house at 13, Wish Road which isn’t always there.

I am not going to pretend that I understood absolutely everything that happened but there were some good psychological messages in amongst all the weirdness.  It ended up going in a completely unpredictable direction, which personally I like as I don’t always like everything to be obvious from the outset.

If you are a fan of ‘odd’ books, then give it a go – you wont be disappointed.

how mysterious

My ticket to my own Twilight Zone

Something a little odd seemed to happen to me on Thursday.  I am currently reading this very ‘other’ book which is really good (I’ll review once I’ve finished) but deals with the weird, mysterious things that happen to a guy who is cabbing in Brighton.

Firstly, I have started playing an online war game (yes, I know – geek!) and om Wednesday I joined an alliance called Myrmidons – I am not ashamed to say that I have no idea what that is, I have never heard the word before, but due to the type of game, I’m assuming it’s something linked to the Greeks, a little like Sparta.

Anyway, I picked the book up on Thursday and the first thing that I noticed was that the publisher was Myrmidon Publishing…”How strange”, I thought.  I also noticed that the book is signed by the author (I assume it’s really his signature anyway!) and I hadn’t noticed that before. (Unless The Man has been pretend-signing all of my books and trying to sell them on eBay without me knowing).   To be quite honest, I don’t even know where I got the book from.  I’ve seen it in my bookcase for ages, and thought it was The Man’s but he said it isn’t his kind of thing, and anyway, it was published in 2008 and *I* have bought all of his books since then.

That’s not SO unusual though – I’ve been through my bookcases recently and pulled out 3 or 4 books that i don’t remember buying and definitely haven’t read yet.  But this one hasn’t even come from a charity shop (which the others usually have) – there’s no penciled price, sticker etc and the spine isn’t broken.  Odd.

So, I read it on the Tube on the way to work on Thursday, and then on my way home again, I got it out of my bag and went to read it again.  now, I love reading but don’t treat my books with much respect…I break the spines, I read them in the bath and most importantly, I don’t use a bookmark – I turn the corners over (shock, horror!).

So, I looked for the turned over corner, and there wasn’t one.  “How strange” I thought.  So I tried to find the page I was on.  Which I found…with a train ticket in it.  “How strange”  thought.  Then I looked at the ticket – Surbiton to Vauxhall.  A journey I have never made.  “How strange” I thought.  And then I looked at the date.  4 Jun 08  “How strange” I thought.

Now – how the hell did it get there.  if it had already been n the book, i would have seen it in the morning as it was on the right page.  It hadn’t been in my handbag as I’ve only had that bag for a year. Where did it dome from!!!

As you can tell, this little mystery has got to me a bit, LOL

Oh yes, and when I put it a few pages backward to carry on reading the book, I got to the exact page I’d put it in when I got off the train.  I think the ticket is some kind of personal magical bookmark.  Eek!

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