Book Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Name:  The Silent Companions
Author:  
Laura Purcell
Number of Pages:
  384 (Hardback)
Published:
October 5th 2017 by Raven Books
Genre:  Gothic, Historical, Horror

Goodreads

Inspired by the work of Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill and set in a crumbling country mansion, The Silent Companions is an unsettling gothic ghost story to send a shiver down the spine…
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself..     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

The Silent Companions is gothic, ghostly, atmospheric and creepy.
What begins as a tragic tale – a newly-married, pregnant and newly-widowed woman, Elsie Bainbridge is through circumstances sent to The Bridge, the old country estate belonging to her late husband – soon takes a sinister turn as Elsie, disturbed from sleep by strange noises in the night, finds her way to the garret, a part of the house that has been sealed off for years.
In this forgotten dusty place Elsie, and Sarah, Elsie’s companion and cousin to her late husband, discover old diaries, and a painted wooden figure that looks strikingly like Elsie herself.
At this point I would have been so unnerved that I’d have closed that door once and for all, but of course then there would be no story.
The figure, known as a silent companion, is relocated into the main house, along with the diaries, which Sarah wants to read as they belong to her ancestor Anne Bainbridge, a previous occupant of The Bridge.

As if her circumstances weren’t bad enough, having lost her husband, Elsie is confronted by a neglected property of which the locals are fearful and suspicious. Rumour and speculation abound, and no one wants to work at The Bridge amidst tales of skeletons discovered in the grounds and mysterious deaths amongst previous workers.

The tale is told through three narratives.
We first meet Elsie as her recovers from burns in an asylum. She is disfigured and mute, suspected of murder and may stand trial for her supposed crimes. It is the kindly Dr Shepherd who encourages her to recount her story through writing, telling of events that led up to the fire.
There’s also Elsie’s coming to live at The Bridge in 1865 with Sarah Bainbridge, a relative of Elsie’s late husband who becomes a friend as the two of them realise there is something evil within the house and no one else believes them.
And then there are Anne’s diaries. Dating back a further 200 years to 1635, they reveal a dark tale of magic, murder and a visit from the king and queen.

This is the kind of tale made to be savoured over dark Autumn nights.
The atmosphere of The Bridge in both time periods is wonderfully claustrophobic and unsettling, and when the companions start to take on a more life-like aspect and become threatening, it makes for really tense reading.
I found myself wanting to draw out my reading of this book, but at the same time I really wanted to find out the truth about what was happening, and why, and how the supposed curse upon The Bridge and it’s inhabitants came about in the first place.

I enjoyed The Silent Companions so much that I was sad to reach the end, but what an ending it was. I’m still thinking about it now.

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Book Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Name:  Sleeping Beauties
Author:  
Stephen King and Owen King
Number of Pages:
  715 (Hardback)
Published:
September 26th 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre:  Horror, Fantasy

Goodreads

In this spectacular father-son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?
In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is wildly provocative and gloriously absorbing.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

In Sleeping Beauties things start to unravel very gradually.
The Aurora virus is spreading, causing any woman who goes to sleep to become wrapped in cocoon-like substance, and from that, they don’t wake up. And if someone is foolish enough to try and remove the cocoon? Let’s just say it’s possibly the last thing they will ever do.

Everyday life is progressing in Dooling – the regular mix of good people and bad people and those who fall into that grey area are all going about their business. News of Aurora is there, but never really registering until the crisis is well and truly established and the first blood has been spilled.
But there’s a new arrival in Dooling. The mysterious Evie Black appears under explosive circumstances and soon makes her presence felt, for Evie is different. She knows things about people, despite never having met them before. She apparently has power over animals, who will do her bidding, and the biggest talking point – she can sleep and wake without being affected by the cocoons, which makes her the centre of attention.

Arrested for her involvement in a double murder, Evie finds herself (by design?) incarcerated at the women’s prison, and it soon becomes a battle to keep Evie from falling into the hands of those who would do her harm, for only if she is saved will the female half of the world’s population have the opportunity (if they choose) to wake up and return to everyday life in the regular world.

There’s a lot to like in this story.
The setting for a lot of the book is the women’s prison, which becomes interesting as you consider that all those women, some of unpredictable temperament even under usual circumstances, are trapped together in this hopeless situation where they’re all likely to fall asleep, possibly forever.
Then there’s the magic element, the fantastic Tree surrounded by the animals/emissaries which are the animals that feature on the limited edition covers of the book.
It’s also great to get a glimpse of the place the women go to once they’re asleep, and the life they start to build there.
And of course, there’s the everyday world that the women leave behind, where the men are left to respond to the growing crisis in a variety of ways.

And the characters. There are a LOT, some to like and some to loathe.
I really liked Lila, the sheriff, who does her best to stay awake for as long as possible. And her husband Clint, a psychiatrist who works at the prison and becomes central to the story. He doesn’t set out to be heroic, isn’t at all in fact when the book starts out, but I came to admire his determination to defend the prison and protect Evie as the story went on.
On the opposite side is the loathsome prison officer Don Peters, who thinks he has the right to mistreat the women he watches over, and Frank Geary, the Animal Control officer who just cannot seem to control his temper and puts himself at the centre of things when everything starts to unravel. He’s not the type of man who should be in charge, and you can just tell things are going to spiral out of control if he has his way. Because he’s heard about Evie Black, and he wants to find her, to force her to end this sickness so that his young daughter will wake up.
And talking of Evie Black, the beautiful woman with her apparent mystical powers and her dramatic arrival is intriguing. Where has she come from? And does she really have the ability to wake all the women up? And what happens if she decides she doesn’t want to? Or if the women decide that they don’t want to come back after all?

So many questions. If you want to find out how and if it is all resolved in the end, give Sleeping Beauties a read.

Book Review: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Name:  Salem’s Lot
Author:  
Stephen King
Number of Pages:
  768 (Kindle Edition)
Published:
11th December 2008 by Hodder
Genre:  Horror

Goodreads

“Turn off the television—in fact, why don’t you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favourite chair?—and we’ll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them.” Stephen King, from the Introduction.
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course there are tales of strange happenings—but not more than in any other town its size.
Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen: a child disappears, a dog is brutally killed—nothing unusual, except the list starts to grow.
Soon surprise will turn to bewilderment, bewilderment to confusion and finally to terror . . .     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

5diamonds

My Thoughts:

I arrived at Salem’s Lot via the Dark Tower series. For this reason I went into this book thinking that it was Father Callahan’s story, which turned out not to be the case. He plays a larger role in the later stages of the book, and it is long enough since I finished my quest for the Tower that I couldn’t recall all the detail given in those stories regarding what had happened to Callahan during his time in the Lot.

The central character of this novel is Ben Mears, a writer who returns to Salem’s Lot to write a new book and to exorcise the demons of an experience during his youth, when he dared venture into a real haunted house, the Marsten House, where owner Hubie Marsten had killed his wife and then himself years previously.
The house is amazing, it’s an ominous, sinister almost life-like character in itself, and every scene taking place there leaves you just that little on edge. They very idea of this eerie old house looming over the rest of the Lot is a little intimidating, and that’s before we find out exactly what has taken up residence inside.

It’s a while before people realise what is going on in the Lot, and even then, when people start disappearing and dying in unexplained circumstances, it is a very small group who band together and suspend disbelief. Ben is accompanied by Jimmy Cody, a doctor, and his main ally is teacher Matt Burke, who never doubts for a moment the nature of the evil facing the town. Mark Petrie is a young boy who witnesses first hand the results of an encounter with the ever-absent Barlow, and he willingly joins the fight to rid the town of the vampire.

So many creepy moments, this is the perfect read for those dark nights of Autumn, darkness drawing in earlier as we edge towards winter, and the changing seasons are described in the book really well, as are the regular snapshots of this little community living their little lives totally oblivious to the all-consuming evil lurking just out of sight.

Straker is the perfect human representative for the vampire Barlow. He’s charismatic and charming but there’s clearly something dangerous about him too, it’s just something that only certain members of the community are aware of until it’s too late. Barlow himself is enigmatic, avoiding scrutiny, but when he does appear and there’s the showdown with Callahan it’s a brilliant scene.

I loved the growing sense of the impossible as the whole town becomes under the thrall of Barlow and his evil, and the odds being so stacked against our dwindling band of heroes, who suffer new horrors with each new realisation about the vampires and the extent of their reach. There is always a very real possibility that the heroes just might not win the day, which makes it a real page turner, because you just have to know.

The epilogue is a suitably dismal vision, because even when you think it’s over, it offers the possibility that this isn’t actually the case. I loved the section set in the 1850s, so creepy, so atmospheric, done through letters back and forth, and showing that the horror surrounding the Lot spans the generations and will probably never leave. I could have read a whole full length novel set in this time period and loved it.

 

Book Review: Needful Things by Stephen King

Name: Needful Things
Author:
Stephen King
Number of Pages:
933 (Paperback)
Published:
May 12th 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Supernatural

Goodreads

Needful Things, the sign says. The oddest name. A name that causes some gossip and speculation among the good folks of Castle Rock, Maine, while they wait for opening day. There was something for everyone at a price they could just about afford. The cash price that is.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Welcome to Castle Rock, Maine, a town where life is about to get very interesting.
A new shop is opening, shrouded in mystery. Everyone speculates what the shop will sell. And when it opens? Turns out this shop may just have your heart’s desire. A very particular baseball card, carnival glass lampshades, Elvis memorabilia, whatever you want, big or small, wander past the window of Needful Things on a particular day and you may just find that exact item displayed there.
And it can be yours, for a price. Sometimes the monetary price is unbelievably low. People leave the shop, purchase in hand, in a dazed state, having negotiated with the owner, Leland Gaunt, the man who no one can bare physical contact with and eyes that apparently change colour. Charmed by deep blue eyes? Then you can guarantee that on the day you visit that’s exactly what you will see staring back at you.
There’s another price of course, to supplement these low cash prices. A harmless prank, a joke, played on another resident, someone known or just a passing acquaintance. The buyer never knows why they have to do these things, or what harm it could possibly do, they just know they must do what Mr Gaunt tells them.

And this is how everything starts to spin out on control.
Mr Gaunt seems to know of old rivalries and conflicts. He knows exactly who to pit against whom, using some poor third party who has no idea what they’re about to start. The pranks become increasingly cruel and the mere suggestion that these old rivalries are stirring again is enough to send women out into the street with knives.
A town of (mostly) respectable and peaceful people becomes the scene for chaos, murder, scheming and an explosive finale, all through this one man (if he even is a man) who knows just how to play on human greed and desire.

It falls to sheriff Alan Pangborn to try and set things right and get to the bottom of the chaos stirred up by the mysterious Mr Gaunt, whom he never manages to meet in person for the most part of the novel, although Gaunt has Pangborn literally in sight at one point, a wonderfully creepy little moment.
Can he sort out the tangled mess that Gaunt has so carefully created before it’s too late, or is this the end of Castle Rock?

At over 900 pages Needful Things is certainly a long novel, but it didn’t feel overly long. There are so many characters and relationships to establish before the whole peaceful community comes crashing down that the build up is worth it just to witness the spectacular chaos that one shop stocking your heart’s desire can bring about. And once Gaunt’s plan really starts to escalate the story becomes a real page turner and the last 200 or pages flew by.

Book Review: Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Name: Gwendy’s Button Box
Author:
Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Number of Pages:
175 (Hardback)
Published:
May 16th 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications
Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Mystery

Goodreads

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.
There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.
At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.
One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”
On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…
Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I devoured this entertaining, well-paced novella in a single afternoon.
It was my first visit to Castle Rock, Maine, the setting for a number of King novels, but it certainly won’t be my last (coincidentally I picked up Needful Things after I finished this, so I was straight back to Castle Rock).

Young Gwendy Peterson completes her usual run up the Suicide Stairs (she does not want the nickname Goodyear, like the blimp, as bestowed on her by some charming schoolmate), only to find a mysterious man in black (!) sitting at the top.

Richard Farris offers her the button box of the title, a mysterious box of untold powers. He charges her with the safekeeping of the box, and shows her which buttons will provide a delicious chocolate treat, or a valuable silver coin. The other buttons?  There are who knows what sort of tricks in store should she choose to press those, and consequences that may reach all across the world, so Gwendy steers clear of them.

Upon eating that first magical chocolate everything starts to go well for Gwendy. She can do no wrong, and failure just doesn’t happen. The owner of that box would certainly never be called Goodyear. All sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

And it may be, for there’s always a temptation to experiment with the box, just to try it out, and see what happens if Gwendy did indeed press another button. What would the consequences be, and will the mysterious Richard Farris return and take the box back? And in the end, will Gwendy actually be glad to be rid of it?

An entertaining read and a good way to spend an afternoon. Now I’m off to Castle Rock again with Needful Things!

Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Name: The Bedlam Stacks
Author:
Natasha Pulley
Number of Pages:
336 (Hardback)
Published:
August 1st 2017 by Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Magical Realism

Goodreads

In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.
When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.
Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Bedlam Stacks gets off to an intriguing start – a country estate in Cornwall with exotic (explosive) trees, statues that may move, especially to get out of the rain, and an older brother who is convinced that Merrick, the man at the centre of our tale is slowly starting to go insane. His answer to this? Merrick has two options, the asylum, or occupying his mind by becoming a parson.
Merrick hasn’t led the kind of life that would see him adjust well to the latter, having been a smuggler for the East India Company in bygone years, during which time he sustained a leg injury.
When the opportunity for escape comes via the India Office, who want Merrick to travel to Peru to collect cinchona cuttings, which are required to make quinine, used to treat malaria, Merrick takes the chance, despite being physically unprepared for such a demanding and dangerous expedition. For other parties have gone before him into this land, and there are tales of gangs and murders and missing explorers.
Merrick has ties to this region though, his father and grandfather both visited, so there’s a certain familiarity about it even though he’s yet to venture there himself.

After an engaging beginning I found the story a little slower paced as the expedition, including Merrick and his friend Clem and his pregnant wife Minna, set out. I stuck with it though and once they arrived in Peru I was engrossed once more.
As the group meet up with Martel, who insists they are accompanied by the enigmatic Raphael, I couldn’t put the book down.

Raphael is a fascinating character, and the slow burn way the friendship between him and Merrick develops is great. There’s such an air of mystery surrounding him, about where he came from, and whether his connection to the Tremayne family actually goes further back than this new friendship with Merrick, for Merrick is charged with delivering a letter to ‘the priest’ of Bedlam, a letter written several years before by his grandfather, who also visited Bedlam. Raphael being so much younger, Merrick assumes this letter was for his predecessor, the previous priest. But is that true?

Bedlam itself sounds magical, with its great glass stacks which magnify the sun to such an extent it’s possible to burn in their heat at certain times of day, and the mythology and history woven in with a strange truth surrounding the stone figures, or markayuq, who are treated with reverence and respect. The pollen that glows gold, leaving gold trails in its wake sounds magical. It’s all like a fairytale blended with history in a great mixture.
Of course, there is death and danger, with the dark forest marked out by a salt border and warnings not to cross at risk of death. People have gone over that line before and never made it back, for something or someone doesn’t want them there.

This is a read to savour; historical, supernatural, fairytale and magic weave together seamlessly around the central friendship of Raphael and Merrick. While after that great opening it initially took me some time to fall into this novel, once I had it was a great adventure of a read. The scenes created are magical and wondrous, and there’s even an appearance from a certain character from Watchmaker, which just added to the appeal of The Bedlam Stacks.

 

Book Review: The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

Name: The Ninth Rain
Author:
Jen Williams
Number of Pages:
544 (Paperback)
Published:
February 23rd 2017 by Headline
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

Whrere to begin? Someone asked me what I was reading recently and I launched into a ramble about Sarn, worm people, parasite spirits, Eborans, and a fascinating explorer called Vintage. Cue bemused expressions and a polite smile. That was when I realised just how vast and well-created the world of The Ninth Rain is. I’d been totally immersed in the story for so long that I just assumed anyone else would know what I was talking about. Such is the talent of Jen Williams in creating such a vivid world, with such memorable characters. There’s a long history of Sarn, fraught with danger and destruction as the alien Jure’lia return wreaking havoc every so often, laying waste to all before them with their monsters.
In the past the Eborans have battled and defeated these invaders, but the Eborans have fallen on dire times. Their tree-god has apparently died, and it was from him they drew their strength and longevity, and he also provided the mythical war-beasts which accompanied the Eboran warriors into battle.
As an alternate source of power the Eborans used human blood to replenish their strength, which spiralled out of control and led to the humans turning on those who had once fought for them. It didn’t work out so well for the Eborans in the long term either, with them suddenly becoming all too mortal and succumbing to a lingering death via the Crimson Flux. And so their majestic city fell to ruin and desolation, and the last few Eborans await their fate.
But now there are ominous dreams, and whispers that the Jure’lia may return again, and suddenly the need for the great powers of a bygone age are more essential than ever.
That’s a basic idea of the story, but there’s so much more to discover.

For as great as I found this book, in the first chapters it didn’t grab me straight away, it was more of a slow burn, but once I was hooked, well, I was in it to the end with the group of central characters that I came to love. You know you’re on to a good character when you’re willing them to make it out alive, and for me that applied to all three of our leads.

There’s Lady Vicenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, an eccentric explorer with a fascination for all things Jure’lia that inspires her to venture into all manner of perilous situation with her crossbow at her side and her companions/accomplices following in her wake.
I loved Vintage. She was courageous, inquisitive, kind and determined. Her warmth and wit were great, as were all the extracts that appeared throughout the book, detailing so much of her own life – letters to her nephew, letters to a lost Eboran companion, Nanthema, and accounts of episodes of previous invasions and history. All these gave life to Sarn and it’s great history without becoming overwhelming.

Tormalin is an Eboran who left his old life behind when he saw the hopelessness of the situation, venturing out into the world beyond Ebora, where he found Vintage and became her hired protector. Through him we see the vampire-like race. Once unbeatable, almost immortal, their circumstances have vastly shifted, but he’s still a formidable match for most things the Wild of Sarn can throw at the group, including the menacing parasite spirits which attack them throughout.

Noon is a Fell-Witch who has been imprisoned in the Winnowry for the last ten years but is driven to escape after her nightmares leave her convinced that the Jure’lia really are coming back. Noon has the gift of Winnowfire, and draws energy from living things in create the powerful green flame so capable of causing utter destruction.

The trio, driven by Vintage’s determination to find answers to so many questions about the Jure’lia – where do they come from? who are they? how to stop them? – venture to places where remains of the Jure’lia ships can be found and explored, gathering knowledge. The revelations they discover along the way, and the relentless pursuit of those from the Winnowry who are determined to see Noon made an example of for her escape, plus all the monsters and creatures out in the Wild make this a fantastic journey.

The Ninth Rain features great world building, well written characters and such an exciting finale that I can’t wait for the next instalment of the series.