Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Name:  The Starless Sea
Erin Morgenstern
Number of Pages:
498 (Hardback)
November 5th 2019 by Harvill Secker
Genre:  Fantasy


Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Starless Sea. Where to begin talking about this one? It’s a beautiful mixture of tales within books within a book – mystical, magical and meandering, snippets and glimpses of magic and wonder all held together within the main narrative of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who finds Sweet Sorrows, a mysterious, previously un-catalogued book in his university library.
Captured by the tale of the pirate and the girl, and the tale of the acolyte, Zachary reads on to be confronted by an incident from his own past concisely captured in a volume much older than he is…

So begins the quest for the truth of the Starless Sea, a fantastical place of stories and dreams and tales, guarded, nurtured and revered by those who know of its existence.
From the literary themed masquerade, to stories whispered in the dark of Time falling in love with Fate, there is magic within every page of this charming tale, and the writing is something to savour. I really took my time reading this, to enjoy every word, whilst at the same time being so intrigued that I just had to read on.

The main characters holding this tale together are a wonderful mix.
Zachary is a reader, a dreamer, and brave when confronted with such strangeness.
Then there’s the enigmatic Dorian, and Mirabel, the pink-haired painter who can create doors into this magical world of stories.
Characters within some of the stories are intriguing too – the pirate and the girl, and Simon and Eleanor, the man who fell in love with the moon. I could go on….

It captures perfectly the magic and escapism of a great read, the wonder of a fantastic tale. If you’re looking for a fast paced, driven narrative this may not be the book you’re after right now, but for something to lose yourself in, that paints so many vivid stories and ties them in with a magical mystery quest for a world of stories and books, give it a try. I loved The Starless Sea from beginning to end.

Book Review: Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Name:  Full Throttle
Joe Hill
Number of Pages:
480 (Hardback)
October 10th 2019 by Gollancz
Genre:  Short stories, Horror, Fantasy


A masterful collection of thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including In The Tall Grass, one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, the basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.
A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in Faun.
A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in Late Returns.
In By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality… and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths.
And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in Throttle, co-written with Stephen King.
Featuring two previously unpublished stories, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Short stories aren’t my usual reading choice, I tend to go for massive books that take me ages to read, but I enjoyed both The Fireman and Strange Weather, a novella collection, by Joe Hill so I thought I’d give this latest offering a try, and it was a real treat to dip in to a collection of stories varying in length and writing style. It meant I read some quicker than others, so it wasn’t always possible to finish a whole story in one sitting, but I had something to look forward to next time I picked up the book.

I loved the introduction, the insight into writing and childhood and growing up with two writers for parents, and the experiences and influences on Hill’s own writing.
Now, onto the stories. I don’t know that I’ll mention every single one as my review will end up longer than a story or two, and where’s the fun in knowing everything before you start reading? Here are a few mentions…

Throttle – I recently finished watching Sons of Anarchy, so inevitably the characters/group here reminded me a little of that series, and the story was co written with Stephen King, so my next thought was ‘hey, remember when Stephen King made a brief appearance in SOA?’ I digress.. The story follows a biker group in the midst of trouble who cross paths with a truck driver with a grudge. It’s tense and exciting.

Dark Carousel – You’re not going to look at a merry-go-round in the same way after reading this one. I loved the carnival atmosphere, all dazzle and lights and fantasy, tinged with a slightly sinister air once night descends. A group of teenagers celebrate being young and free before moving on to various commitments but an experience on the Wild Wheel changes things forever. NOS4A2 remains on my TBR pile, but just the mention that one of the figures on the ride was gifted by Manx who runs Christmasland gave me the idea that this wasn’t going to end well.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain – Young friends make a startling discovery by the side of a mist-shrouded lake and dream of what it will mean for their futures; it’s not every day you discover a Plesiosaur after all. I loved the imagination of the kids in this tale.

Faun – Definitely one of my favourite stories in the collection. I could have read a full length novel in this world with these characters. I don’t want to say too much about it and spoil it, but from the outset I was intrigued, and as the fantasy element came into play I loved it more, and then it went in a direction I didn’t anticipate and….

Late Returns – Another favourite, about a man who gets a job driving a Bookmobile taking out library books, only his patrons are from other eras and are in need of one last great read. A love of books and reading really shows in this story.

Twittering From the Circus of the Dead – Written in the form of tweets, I wondered at first where the story was going. A family on vacation find themselves attending a circus which a difference. Or do they? What if anything really happened, or was it all just clever marketing?

Still with me so far? So, what conclusion can I draw?
Full Throttle offers a great variety of reading fare; there probably is something for almost everyone. A vast array of settings, themes, characters, twists, endings that come out of nowhere and leave you thinking, this book offers them all, something to scare or delight a reader. That’s not to say I enjoyed every story. I spent the first half thinking I’d found the best story, only to be wowed by the next one, and I wondered when I’d finally hit the point where I didn’t quite love the story as much. That did happen, inevitably, but then it was back to another tale where I ended up thinking I wish there was so much more of this.
Full Throttle is variety, excitement, horror, thriller, mystery and so much more all contained in one volume and I really enjoyed it.

Book Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

Name:  Bone China
Laura Purcell
Number of Pages:
433 (Hardback)
September 19th 2019 by Raven Books
Genre:  Historical, Gothic


Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.
Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Bone China is another great read from Laura Purcell. I enjoyed both her previous novels so much that I had high hopes for the latest and it really delivered. Her novels offer a taste of Gothic mystery with intriguing characters, beautiful but slightly creepy settings and a hint of something slightly spooky.

The story is set in Cornwall, an isolated old house on the cliffs and in easy reach of the wildness of the sea. At times bleak and imposing, at times beautiful and tranquil.
There are two timelines, both featuring Morvoren House and it’s inhabitants. In the first we meet Hester Why, a woman running away from her past under an assumed name, a well chosen name for I found myself wondering almost straight away, why have you run? What did you do that was so terrible you had to leave your life behind and take a new name? Hester’s reliance on gin and laudanum makes her something of an unreliable narrator.
And this is how Laura Purcell draws you in, for the circumstances surrounding Hester’s flight are gradually revealed, teased in between her current new living situation and the second narrative which follows Miss Pinecroft in her younger days, coming to live at Morvoren with her father as he tries to establish a colony for a group of prisoners from Bodmin jail who have consumption. He wants to find a cure, having lost most of his own family to the disease.
These people are grief-stricken and driven by guilt and the need to make amends.

These distraught characters are touched by grief and loss, then thrown into a place rich in folklore which is revealed through the arrival of Creeda, a young woman who insists she was taken by fairies, or the little people as she calls them, and that somehow she was returned, whereas most people are not so lucky, they’re swapped for a changeling and rarely returned.

The setting, so dramatic and wild, and the inclusion of these sick men dwelling within a cave which can be pretty spooky in itself, especially during the night, and the overwhelming sadness that drives Dr Pinecroft and to some extent his daughter Louise is all really well bought to life.
The isolation of their house on the cliffs also feeds into the mystery and magic of the Cornish coast and the folklore which becomes central to this tale.

I can’t say too much more without venturing into spoiler territory. Bone China is well worth your reading time, and with her new novel Laura Purcell still remains an auto-read author for me.


Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Name:  The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson
Number of Pages:
246 (Kindle)
October 1st 2013 by Penguin Classics (first published October 16th 1959)
Genre:  Horror


The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Eleanor’s first thought upon seeing the house to which she has been invited to spend the summer as part of a party exploring psychic phenomena is to leave at once, and yet she doesn’t, and so we discover Hill House.
Hill House with its unsettling angles and oddly proportioned rooms, set out in a deliberately distorted way so that rooms are not where they would logically be. The house has a vivid and disquieting and unsettling history of unhappiness and tragedy and the assurance in the very first paragraph that ‘whatever walked there, walked alone’.

The story has an engulfing atmosphere that seeps from each page the further you read, rather as it seeps into the characters, drawn together by the enthusiastic Dr Montague.
It’s a real slow burn, starting out innocently enough as we meet each of the house party before Hill House starts to take a hold.

There’s Eleanor, travelling whilst her daydreams occupy so much of her journey to the house, and Theo with her apparent telepathic talent, who dons a bright yellow top to go exploring the grounds, remaining cheerfully brave in the face of such an unnerving locale. Luke is there as the heir to Hill House, with it’s dark and troubling history of sorrow and misfortune.
This group of strangers intend to observe and record any instances of strange phenomena to add to Dr. Montague’s proposed book on the topic.

For at least the first half, there’s a sense of being lulled into a false security, as the characters pass their first night uneventfully, and come to believe that things will be not as bad as first speculated. Needless to say, this is not the case, and the situation becomes more unsettling as time goes on. There’s a slight break in the tense atmosphere at the arrival of Montague’s wife and her sidekick Arthur, as the pair begin to take over the investigations, but by that point it’s already too late for at least one member of the ill-fated party.

The Haunting of Hill House is a beautifully written tale which leaves so much open to speculation. Is Eleanor ill? Is the house really haunted? And what of the rest of the characters after the events of Hill House? This is definitely a book to savour over the dark nights of autumn and winter.

Book Review: A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Name:  A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1)
Joe Abercrombie
Number of Pages:
471 (Hardback)
September 17th 2019 by Gollancz
Genre:  Fantasy


The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.
On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.
Savine dan Glokta – socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union – plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.
The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

A Little Hatred is the first book in The Age of Madness, and what a great beginning. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for these characters, but for now, let’s talk A Little Hatred…

There’s this vividly realised, sprawling epic of a world and a myriad of colourful characters – villainous, scheming, battling, conquering. From the ballroom to the factories, the battlefield to the woodlands, almost every aspect of humanity is richly drawn within these pages.
The battle is brutal, the detail plentiful, but then there are those who go about their scheming in a more subtle yet equally brutal manner. Savine Dan Glokta made her money through business and knowing how to thrive in the changing world. Savine herself muses that if she must be the villain then so be it, but as her story unfolds it’s not that black and white, and I loved the way her narrative developed.

The writing is great. There’s a marvellous scene, just as the trouble around the mills begins, that switches viewpoints through several minor characters, giving their thoughts and feelings at this moment of revolution and change. They’re characters you may not see again, but in that moment it creates the perfect atmosphere, the contrasts of those in power, and those who wielded the power previously finding themselves suddenly brought low by unexpected circumstances and the way this changes them.

I haven’t read any of the First Law books but I was drawn in by the cover of this new book, and finding it was the beginning of a new series, well, I couldn’t resist. For the most part I didn’t mind it being my introduction to this world, but there were times when no doubt there were references to events and characters of bygone times that didn’t resonate with me as they would for a long-time reader. Past characters/events were mentioned, especially with the young warriors as they recalled former heroes/villains and epic victories to which this new generation aspires and I found myself wondering whether these things had happened on-page or were just passing references.
Still, I can always go back and start at the beginning, can’t I, and overall that didn’t take anything away from my absolute enjoyment of every scenario, character and development in A Little Hatred. I’m already looking forward to the next book in this series!


Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Name:  The Institute
Stephen King
Number of Pages:
485 (Hardback)
September 10th 2019 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre:  Thriller, Horror


Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.
Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular 12-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…
Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local Sheriff. He’s basically just walking the beat. But he’s about to take on the biggest case of his career.
Back in the Institute’s downtrodden playground and corridors where posters advertise ‘just another day in paradise’, Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.
But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments – even the infamous Mrs Sigsby – suspect.
Thrilling, suspenseful, heartbreaking, The Institute is a stunning novel of childhood betrayed and hope regained.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Stephen King’s latest novel proved to be a real page-turner.  The novel centres around a group of children, strangers until they’re drawn together in the Institute after being kidnapped from their everyday lives. There are no lengths the Institute staff will not go to in pursuit of their aims, and you’d think the odds were stacked against these kids from the outset, isolated in this strange place out in the woods, subjected to all manner of horrors, and yet… they’re not average kids. They’ve been selected because they have varying levels of power, either in telepathy or telekinesis.

It starts out with another character, former policeman Tim Jamieson, newly arrived in the small town of DuPray. This intro is engrossing and we come to know Tim and the residents of this small town fairly well before the story moves on. I mention this because once you leave Tim behind, getting settled into a new routine, the story won’t go back to him for a long time. I’d read this in a review beforehand, so never went into the rest of the tale wondering what was happening back in DuPray, but becoming fully immersed in the awful situation that Luke and his new friends are involved in.

The characters are so well realised, from Luke with his vast intelligence to Kalisha, one of the first people Luke meets at the Institute, to Nicky, the boy with enough attitude to always answer back, and Avery, who acts younger than his years and yet has great potential power.
The group draws strength from each other, and even when some of them are taken to the mysterious Back Half, they’re still thinking of each other and what best to do.
Luke and his group are smart and incredibly brave in a terrifying situation, and their friendship and determination not to be beaten by this system gave hope throughout that despite all the horrible things they would win through in the end. I’m saying nothing about whether this actually proves to be the case though!

And of course, there are the villains of the piece too, from the director of the Institute Mrs. Sigsby, to the doctors who go along with the requirements of the place, and those who oversee the kids on a day to day basis and ensure there is order – they’re mostly awful, yet even in such a place there‘s at least one decent person.

Faced with the prospect of being moved to Back Half and whatever new trials that entails, Luke sets his mind to the impossible – escaping the Institute and exposing the place and those working there to the wider world. Will he manage it, or is it just too great a task? What is the Institute and why are they doing the things they do? There’s only one way to find out…


Book Review: The Sword Saint (Empire of Salt #3) by C. F. Iggulden

Name:  The Sword Saint (Empire of Salt #3)
C. F. Iggulden
Number of Pages:
384 (Hardback)
August 8th 2019 by Michael Joseph
Genre:  Fantasy


Cities have been broken. Empires have fallen. And darkness is coming.
Success has drawn a cold gaze. A false king seeks dominion. His soldiers will bring desolation and despair to Darien. With treachery on all sides, the ancient capital looks set to fall.
Yet within the walls of that great city, a small team gathers. Tellius knows each one: a hunter, a gambler, a dead man, a wielder of threads – and the sword saint of Shiang. When Darien herself is threatened, Tellius will ask them to stand.
A city is worth more than the lives of those within. Darien’s streets and courts and homes and taverns are a bonfire on the hill, a beacon of life and light in the world.
That is why they will die to save her.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Sword Saint takes us back for the final time to the Empire of Salt and the city of Darien, a place that has experienced much turmoil over the preceding books yet still stands, protected by the young King Arthur and the Twelve Families with their magical stones and powerful artefacts.
Into the city comes a young prince, the son of the King of Féal. Tellius suspects from the outset there is something not quite right about the newcomer, and questions whether he is who he claims to be, and who this so-called king is.
When one of the Darien family heads is murdered, it swings the council decision to form an alliance with this prince, yet there is much plotting and scheming and of course, Tellius was right in his suspicions and when the prince himself comes under attack it isn’t long before there is talk of war and Darien is threatened once again.

I picked up The Sword Saint straight after finishing Shiang so there was a certain similarity in plot that I wonder if I’d have noticed having had the actual gap between the two novels being published. I was hoping to find out more about the Twelve Families and their magical stones and artefacts. I liked the supporting characters of Regis and de Guise last time around, and the way they played off each other whilst battling together, and Lady Sallet was a good character too so I’d have loved more of them to round off this trilogy. These are minor things really and didn’t take anything away from enjoying this final chapter in the Empire of Salt.

It was nice to visit this world again and for familiar characters from previous novels to feature once more. Old faces return for the final showdown, called back to defend Darien with various magical abilities, or ‘knacks’ as they are known. Elias Post, who can see a short way into the future, Nancy, the woman who draws in power, Vic Deeds the gunfighter and the Shiang swordsmen Hondo and Bosin form a team to try and act as first defence for Darien, taking on this new enemy out on the road before they have chance to reach the city.
Watching these very different people drawn together, learning how to work to defend the city they call their own was good and provided some individuals characters to follow during the battle.

The fight scenes are exciting and fast-paced, with the inclusion of all kinds of magic lighting up the darkness, quite literally at one point. There’s a darker magic at play on the side of this new king of Féal, which makes for a formidable enemy.

The Sword Saint combines magic, battles and schemes and throws characters we’ve come to know over the trilogy right into the middle of it all to bring the tales of the Empire of Salt to an eventful conclusion.