Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee #BookReview #JulyReleases

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brokenbranches

Title: Broken Branches
Author: M. Jonathan Lee
Series: n/a
Format: Paperback ARC, 294 pages
Publication Details: July 27th 2017 by Hideaway Fall
Genre(s): Thriller/Mystery; Horror
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free advance copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

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‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

Review

The cover of this book is so perfect it’s hard to put into words. It’s dark, beautiful and mysterious, which is exactly how I’d describe the story within.

Broken Branches is about the Perkins family, in particular Ian and his wife Rachel, who move into the cottage where Ian grew up. The cottage with the huge, ominous looking tree outside; the cottage where bad things happen.

I found the book a little slow to start with but before I knew it couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those stories that never quite gives you the answers you want. You know the type; the type of story that drives you mad in the best possible way.

There had been talk of ‘the curse’ since Ian’s childhood when his uncle died, but he never truly believed it until he inherited the cottage himself. This threw up many questions in itself – why would he move into a house with such a bad history? Other curiosities in the story (and believe me when I say it’s full of them), surrounded Rachel who is extremely distant and aloof from the start – was she depressed? Mentally ill? We’re not quite sure.

Ian delves deeper into his family history, and that of the cottage, in order to learn more about the curse, thinking that proving the existence of it will solve everything including whatever it is that’s wrong with Rachel and his marriage. But of course it only drives them further apart as Ian get more and more obsessed. He loses his job and sinks into a frenzied, isolated existence where the tree is always lurking in the background, and someone keeps moving his research around.

I think Broken Branches’ success comes from the masterfully layered atmosphere that just gets creepier and creepier as the story goes on. M. Jonathan Lee has done a wonderful job in creating suspense and intrigue, and there are some great horror elements in it too. I’m not sure I’d even want to read this on a stormy night…

unicorn rating 4

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The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick #BookReview

foreshadowingTitle: The Foreshadowing
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Series: N/A
Format: Hardback, 305 pages
Publication Details: July 2005 by Orion
Genre(s): YA; Supernatural; Historical
Disclosure? Nope, I bought it. 

Goodreads 

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It is 1915 and the First World War has only just begun.

17 year old Sasha is a well-to-do, sheltered-English girl. Just as her brother Thomas longs to be a doctor, she wants to nurse, yet girls of her class don’t do that kind of work. But as the war begins and the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the hospital confirms what Sasha has suspected–she can see when someone is going to die. Her premonitions show her the brutal horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and the faces of the soldiers who will die. And one of them is her brother Thomas.

Pretending to be a real nurse, Sasha goes behind the front lines searching for Thomas, risking her own life as she races to find him, and somehow prevent his death.

Review

I read The Foreshadowing quite a while ago now (I’m really behind on non-ARC reviews), but it’s still quite vivid in my mind, such is the command of Marcus Sedgwick. 

I had this book sitting on my physical TBR shelf for ages, just waiting for the right time, and after a string of blahhhh reads I finally picked it up. And did Sedgwick let me down? No of course not, he rarely does!

The Foreshadowing is a harrowing tale of plucky Sasha who is gifted (or cursed) with premonitions of people’s deaths. Her parents and brothers don’t believe her, or more to the point – don’t want to believe her because her gift terrifies them, and in turn they make her life unnecessarily difficult and isolated, as well as perpetually plagued by these horrific visions. 

All Sasha wants to do is help people. She wants to be a nurse, but her father believes young ladies of her stature should marry, not work. But when the war begins, things start to change. Sasha convinces her father to let her volunteer at the hospital. It is here her premonitions really start to haunt her and it’s only a matter of time before she sees her brother’s death and realises that she’s the only one who can save him. 

This book was everything I’ve come to expect from Marcus Sedgwick. It is beautifully written, full of mystery and a sprinkle of magic, with characters so well developed you want to take a bullet for them. 

The Foreshadowing is a book you’ll get emotionally invested in with a protagonist who relentlessly tries to right the wrongs of war and oppression. 

unicorn rating 4

The Foreshadowing is available now in paperback, hardback and digital

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp #BookReview #Horror

jacksparks

Title: The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Author: Jason Arnopp
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 336 pages
Publication Details: July 28th 2016 by Orbit (first published March 3rd)
Genre(s): Horror; Supernatural
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

Goodreads 

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Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days.

In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances.

To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone.

It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy.

Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours.
.

Review

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a book of many things. It’s part horror, part mystery, part thriller, and it’s hilarious in a deliciously, dark manner. 

Jack Sparks is a famous (or perhaps more infamous than anything) journalist. His ego is as huge as his reputation and he’s the perfect anti-hero.

Jack has a lot of crazed followers but even more haters. When he announces on Twitter that his new book will be ‘Jack Sparks on the Supernatural’, the reaction goes viral. His fellow atheists and believers in science are outraged…because what does a devout atheist have to say about something so ridiculous? And the believers out there are outraged because who is he to investigate something he can’t even let himself believe. 

Of course, being an egotistical glory-hunter and fame-seeker, this only spurs Jack on. His first big mistake is attending an exorcism in the middle of which he breaks into laughter. Then a mysterious video appears on his own YouTube channel which he has no idea how it got there. The video is hella eerie and appears to show a genuine, very pissed off ghost. This time Jack can’t ignore it, but investigating it will be his ultimate downfall.

I absolutely loved this book. Jack reminded me a lot of Mystery Man from Colin Bateman’s novels of the same name. He is a lovable rogue. He is completely hopeless but you can’t help but root for him. It made me laugh how he rationalised everything he saw. No matter how bad the ghost/poltergeist/possession -whatever you want to call it- got, he always had an answer. But deep down, Jack Sparks knows differently. 

I’m loathed to give more of the plot away as I don’t want to ruin it, but believe me when I say that Jack Sparks… is about a lot more than an atheist exposing supernatural phenomenon.

For the most part, I found this book riveting. It made me LOL in one breath and recoil from creepiness in the next. I also adored the relationship between Jack and his room-mate Bex, and finally realising how unreliable Jack is as a narrator. 

Most of all, I think the way this story was written is genius. The majority of it is made up of Jack’s manuscript which he was typing as he went, up to moments before he died. It even includes notes to his editor which are also hilarious. He’s such a dick! 😉

The rest, which is where we can compare ‘truths’ is made up of Jack’s brother’s commentary, email exchanges and Jack’s confession at the end. This style had the potential to go so wrong, and I’ve hated the use of emails and texts in books before, but here I thought it extremely clever.

I originally rated this as 4/5, but in writing this review I can’t think of one negative thing to say about it. So have ALL THE UNICORNS, JACK SPARKS. 

unicorn rating

Guest Post: My Love of Murder and Mayhem by Cleo Bannister #HorrorOctober

I discovered Cleo’s blog, Cleopatra Loves Books relatively early on in my blogging life, and have been an avid reader ever since. I really enjoy crime fiction, especially a good, gritty, psychological thriller, but I still find myself only reading them sporadically.

Cleo however, has a seemingly insatiable appetite for all that involves death and murder, something we have joked about before in comments and such. As Horror October approached I thought it would be a great opportunity to find out more about Cleo, her blog, and where her love of crime fiction came from.

Huge thanks to Cleo for agreeing and sending over this great guest post. If you don’t follow her, head over there ASAP (she also covers more than just crime fic btw).

HorrorOct2015

My Love of Murder and Mayhem

by Cleo Bannister, Cleopatra Loves Books

I came to murder fairly late in life, although on reflection the seeds were sown earlier, but up until relatively recently you were more likely to find chick-lit or historical women’s fiction decking the shelves of my bookcase. These days they are dominated by black spines adorned with words such as death, murder or the darkly mysterious single word title!

My earliest introduction to murder stories came in the form of true-crime, more specifically the very trashy looking True Crime magazines with which I scared myself half to death before passing them onto my younger brother (something my more responsible adult self would say is probably not to be recommended).

Buying these magazines was a feat in itself, we lived in a rural town where everyone knew my mother, who certainly wouldn’t have approved, and they were kept on the top shelf. I’m not exactly tall now, and in those days top-shelves weren’t meant to be reached by under-sized teenagers so it was only on trips to the nearby city, Gloucester, that I was occasionally brave enough to get someone taller to pass me a copy.

Our local library didn’t stock YA fiction, it hadn’t been invented back in the 80s, and so once I’d finished the children’s section it was straight round the corner to adult fiction where I continued to read the classics fairly indiscriminately interspersed with the occasional bonk-buster as was required reading for every girl my age! Now either my library didn’t stock much in the way of crime fiction or I simply never really came across it, remember these were pre-internet days, you read what was available and unless you had a title and an author it really was pot-luck when pulling books out of the shelves.

Murder on the Orient ExpressI do remember one holiday home we stayed in, I want to say it was Wales but maybe that is my adult self, superimposing the stereotypical rainy weather on an entirely innocent region, which contained a huge stack of readers digest magazines and a good stock of Agatha Christie books which I devoured with relish and then I returned home and they became the one highlight in a very wet, windy and quite frankly miserable holiday.

In no time at all I left home, joined a library in every place that I called home still without any real structure to my reading, except for an overwhelming need to have a constant supply of books and it was only when I moved to Jersey that I became reacquainted with Agatha Christie with Poirot being played by the marvellous David Suchet which was required Sunday evening viewing for an entire winter, as well as settling down more than happily to watch Inspector Wexford do his stuff in a gentler contrast to Poirot’s more flamboyant manner. I sought out Ruth Rendell’s books featuring the detective and fortunately not only was Jersey library better stocked, it was better structured, books were shelved traditionally but some shelves were designated genres, paperbacks or recently published books, although I found my best bet of getting the choicest picks was to peruse the trolley which had the recently returned books on it. There I picked up a book by Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion, and having worked out this was Ruth Rendell whose Inspector Wexford books had filled my need for police procedurals, who used the pen name Barbara Vine when she wrote about crime from a psychological view-point.

Happy Like Murderers - Fred and Rose WestIn 1994 Fred West, an odd-job man in Gloucester had his garden dug up and the bones of his daughter who had been missing for eight years were located, I was in hospital giving birth to my son when the news came through that more bodies had been found, twelve in total. When Fred’s wife Rose was arrested, and later found guilty, I wanted to understand how such a large number of murders could take place under the noses of the residents in Cromwell Street, a road that I had walked along the end of many times while living in Gloucester.

I also wanted to understand why? Particularly in the case of Rose; what sort of woman kills for pleasure? In short this case reawakened my interest in true crime, although I now accept that the answers to the why part of my question will probably never be clear since Rose has refused to say anything at all in the intervening years.

Jersey library had a fairly good stock of the books that spring up after a particularly sensational crime so for a while my days were filled with caring for my young children while my nights were spent looking into some of the most depraved minds to grace the earth. It will relieve all those close to me that I wasn’t particularly interested in the methods used, I was interested in the make-up of these men and women.

The Scolds BridleAt about the same time I came across Minette Waters who wrote in a new style, one which combined my interest in the psychological but felt far more modern than Barbara Vine, whose novels were often, but not always, set in a bygone era. Minette Waters used transcripts and newspaper articles as part of her stories, which were without exception incredibly powerful. In The Scold’s Bridle, Mathilda Gillespie is found dead in her bath, flowers in her hair and wearing just us to a medieval torture implement, the scold’s bridle – absolute genius, no crazed serial killer needed just a deeply disturbing (and it still disturbs me now twenty years later) image.

In many ways my crime fiction reading continued with those books picked up for TV serialisation so I came across the marvellous Dalziel and Pascoe, Inspector Frost and of course the wonderful Morse and true to form proceeded to read the entire series of each – people the books are so much better than the TV series! There is far more to these books than cosy Sunday night viewing, the depth in the Dalziel and Pascoe books whilst brilliantly portrayed on screen, is lost when reduced to a two hour show.

As the years rolled by although I picked up any new books by these now much loved authors, plus a few more favourites found along the way, most notably Gillian White who wrote brilliant psychological thrillers with P.D. James, Peter James and Gill McGown for the more classic police procedurals, my reading was more concentrated on the books of the moment, I loved Bridget Jones, Dorothy Koomson, Lisa Jewell and Jodi Picoult. At the same time I love history and have a particular weakness for dual time-line stories so Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and Lucinda Riley also have book that still grace my shelves today.

In 2010, with far more time on my hands, I decided to start reviewing the books I was reading on Amazon, and was lucky enough to be invited onto their Amazon Vine program which offered me free books in return for a review. I was in heaven and here was an opportunity to read books not only before publication but to check out those that I probably wouldn’t pick up in a bookstore.

The books I chose became increasingly dominated by murder and mayhem so that in 2015 out of the 111 books read and reviewed so far 67 are shelved under crime fiction or psychological thriller with a high percentage of non-fiction category also being books about murderous intent. My love of history, and particularly women’s history hasn’t dimmed, but now I enjoy books about Victorian Murderesses, women committed to lunatic asylums and suffragettes instead of love stories.

In 2013 Cleopatra Loves Books was launched primarily so that I had control of the books I’d reviewed and since then, the list of books I’ve found and been recommended that fit into this preferred genre has grown totally out of control. I thank you fellow bloggers for some absolute cracking reviews that has widened my reading to include such a variety of murderers from the domestic to the sadistic serial killer, I simply can’t get enough!

As you can probably tell, I have read loads of books about murder and mayhem so far so I’ll just leave you with a few suggestions from my bookshelves but if you want more detailed advice you can always contact me on my blog – I don’t even bite!

Police Procedural Series
Police Procedural

Roy Grace Series – Peter James
Lewis Trilogy – Peter May
Dalziel and Pascoe – Reginald Hill

Psychological Thriller
Psychological
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? – Paula Daly
Disclaimer – Renee Knight
Copycat – Gillian White

Historical Crime Fiction
Historical Crime

The Anatomy of Death – Felicity Young
Out of the Silence – Wendy James
Caversham Lock – Peter Conway

Non-Fiction
Non Fiction
A Very British Murder – Lucy Worsley
The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath – Jane Robbins
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale

Thanks again to Cleo! I hope this post has inspired you to pick up a murder mystery or two this Autumn, it certainly has for me! 🙂

The Curse of Crow Hollow by Billy Coffey

crowhollow
Title: The Curse of Crow Hollow
Author: Billy Coffey
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 414 pages
Publication Details: August 4th 2015 by Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Horror
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads // Purchase

Everyone in Crow Hollow knows of Alvaretta Graves, the old widow who lives in the mountain. Many call her a witch; others whisper she’s insane. Everyone agrees the vengeance Alvaretta swore at her husband’s death hovers over them all. That vengeance awakens when teenagers stumble upon Alvaretta’s cabin, incurring her curse.

Now a sickness moves through the Hollow. Rumors swirl that Stu Graves has risen for revenge. And the people of Crow Hollow are left to confront not only the darkness that lives on the mountain, but the darkness that lives within themselves.

Review

I finished this book last week and I’m still not quite sure what I think about it. What I am sure about though, is that Billy Coffey is a talented writer.

Crow Hollow is a small southern town with a secretive, tumultuous past. When a group of teenagers celebrate a birthday in the mountain’s mines, they disturb the equilibrium between the town and the resident weirdo, old Alvaretta Graves.

The younger generation in Crow Hollow grew up swapping fanciful stories about Alvaretta ‘the witch’, but most of them think it’s just small-town superstition… little do they know that their parents know a lot more about the mysterious Alvaretta than they could ever imagine.

I can’t even go into what I liked and disliked about this book without first saying just how much Coffey’s style reminded me of Stephen King. It was uncanny, and actually really distracting because that’s all I could think about the whole way through!

The Curse of Crow Hollow is narrated by a local who is introducing an out-of-towner to Crow Hollow and the events that recently occurred – it was very Needful Things, but worked well.

I loved how a very simple plot of ‘teens partying goes wrong’ becomes something much more complex. There’s superstition, politics, secrets and confessions, and Coffey brings it all together with some great scary moments and well executed spooky atmosphere throughout.

I also really liked the mystery surrounding the parents and what they ‘did’ to Alvaretta in the past. It was interesting to see their reactions when you find out that their children are basically being punished (in some pretty horrible ways) for something they did – it reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street a little bit.

The other King-esque trait was the abundance of characters, but unfortunately this is what let it down for me. I didn’t feel the vast amount of characters were developed enough, and I never really cared about any of them individually, which considering what happens to them, is pretty bad, and my interest really waned because of that.

Despite not loving the characterisation (or the whole Christianity thang going on), I really enjoyed Coffey’s style. It made for a really intriguing, atmospheric read, and I’d certainly like to see more from him.

unicorn rating 3

The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements [Out Tomorrow]

silveredheart
Title: The Silvered Heart
Author: Katherine Clements
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 448 pages
Publication Details: May 7th 2015 by Headline
Genre(s): YA; Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads // Purchase

The legendary figure of Kate Ferrars, the infamous highwaywoman, is brought gloriously to life in this gripping tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.

‘The distant thrum of galloping hooves conjures nothing but doubt and fear these days.’

1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world Katherine Ferrars knows is crumbling under Cromwell’s army, and as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to do her duty and marry for the sake of family.

But as her marriage turns into a prison, and her fortune is decimated by the war, Kate becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets the enigmatic Ralph Chaplin, she seizes the chance he offers. Their plan is daring and brutal, but it’s an escape from poverty and the shackles of convention. They both know if they’re caught, there’s only one way it can end…

Review

The Silvered Heart was my first Katherine Clements read, and it certainly won’t be my last.

Lady Katherine is an intriguing character. She is an orphaned heiress who has been used to the finer things in life. But when it comes time to do her duty and marry for the sake of her family, everything she knows is taken from her.

She must leave her beloved mansion for Ware Park, where her husband Thomas, who appears cold and incapable of kindness, basically leaves her to rot. With the state of affairs as they are, Thomas is constantly away, and money is non-existent, turning Ware Park into a run-down, neglected palace, where workers go unpaid and starvation is just around the corner.

I felt for Katherine a lot, and found myself completely engrossed in her story. Her marriage was entirely love-less, and she goes from riches to rags and does it all alone, with the exception of friend and maid, Rachel.

I was very wary of Katherine as a heroine, though. She never seemed to know what she wanted, and a lot of the decisions she made drove me mad! I found her quite shallow and petulant at times, and it annoyed me that she thought she was cleverer than she actually was, but it made for a thrilling read.

I loved that she became this great, almost mythological figure of a cold-hearted highway woman, and all the excitement and danger that came along with it.

The Silvered Heart is an epic tale of betrayal, double-crosses, plots and politics, and one that really gives us a vivid picture of that period in history. It’s also the story of one woman who will do anything to get what she thinks she deserves. A great read!

unicorn rating 4

The Silvered Heart is available in paperback from Waterstones tomorrow!

What She Left by T.R Richmond (Out next week!)

whatsheleft
Title: What She Left
Author: T.R Richmond
Series: N/A
Edition: Advanced Review Copy, 380 pages
Publication Details: April 23rd 2015 by Michael Joseph
Genre(s): Crime; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads // Purchase

Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…

Review

I was really looking forward to a gritty crime thriller after a string of YA reads, and I thought What She Left would be just the thing, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up my expectations.

Alice Salmon was a good-time girl who liked to party a little too hard. When she’s found dead in the river, no one is quite sure what to believe; suicide, a tragic accident, or something more sinister altogether. What She Left pieces together Alice’s life and repercussions of her death on those that knew her.

The premise of this book is great, and I can see what the author was attempting, but it really didn’t work for me, and I put it all down to the format. We only discover what has happened to Alice through her digital and recorded footprint; her facebook posts, her tweets, email conversations, blog and diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles.

The idea is that Professor Cooke, of whom we’re not quite sure of his true intentions or of his relationship with Alice, is collating all of this information as some kind of experimental research – can we really know someone solely from what she left behind?

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I was really determined to get to the end and find out what did happen to Alice, but let me tell you, it was such a chore. Using such a huge range of formats made What She Left feel very disjointed to me, and so much of it I just wanted to skip.

Also, I felt like all the letters were completely unbelievable. They made no sense, as the actual content of them seemed like nothing anyone would write to someone else. They tended to rehash whole conversations, and jump from one event to the next telling only half the story of each. It was so frustrating.

I thought the format got in the way of me getting to know the characters too, which considering that the idea was for Alice’s digital footprint to tell us who she was, was quite ironic. Her diary entries told me very little of her actual personality and essence, which made it hard for me to care what had happened to her. But saying that, I did keep on reading, so I guess the author was successful in that respect.

I didn’t hate this book, I just wish the format had worked better. Maybe it’s just not for me, as I’ve seen some good reviews of it already. If you like the idea of a story told through various mediums, then you should give it a go.

unicorn rating 2

The hardback is available to pre-order from Waterstones now.