The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies

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Once again, I appear to have chosen historical fiction that’s earned itself a place on my ‘best of 2022’ goodreads shelf.

Maggie Richell-Davies should never doubt her ability to spin a good yarn, The Servant had me hooked from the very first chapter.

Maggie contacted me on Twitter asking if I would be interested in reading her novel, and on reading the synopsis, I had a feeling it would be the kind of story I’d enjoy.

Disgraced aristocracy, a house full of mysteries; including a locked library, the main character being able to secretly read and write, and characters so vile and despicably realistic, I wanted to shout and swear at them! What’s not to love when a story gives you all the ‘feels’.

The Servant reminded me in many ways of Michel Fabers’ The Crimson Petal and the White, a firm favourite of mine. The foulness and stench of the setting, the superbly immersive writing, the crass language. So much research went into this creative masterpiece. I’ve learnt so much, having to look up words throughout, all adding to my enjoyment. To be both educated and entertained whilst experiencing an author’s imaginative story-telling is essential to the reading experience. It was the most memorable history lesson.

From the description of what people were wearing, to intricate detail of the furnishings, The Servant ticked every box. I couldn’t fault it.

‘The Chinese cabinet is the thing I admire the most in that room because of the figures in strange costumes inlaid in the black lacquered wood. There is a river with two people on a hump-backed bridge, lovers perhaps, picked out in mother-of-pearl. A willow weeps from the sloping shore, with a building that might be a temple in the distance and a long-legged bird circling above. The lady holds a curious-looking umbrella and the couple look to be whispering beneath it. I would love to know their story’.

How clear is that piece of furniture in your minds eye from that perfect description?

The reactions of characters had me smiling, laughing, and visualising with ease.

‘Perhaps she was a beauty in her youth, before her face turned to porridge’.

The way the opinions, thoughts and situations related to present day rang true throughout.

‘The rich get away with everything. Peg mutters, at my shoulder. Always have. Always will’.

‘…although she is unkempt and dirty, I welcome her friendship. It seems to me sometimes that it is often the poor who are the most generous with what they have’.

As I reluctantly came to the end of the story, (I took my time, taking two weeks to finish as I loved it too much to let it go so soon!) the ‘End Note’ was simply the icing on this glorious historical cake. When an author takes time to explain their story, and it’s roots, it gives the reader more understanding and a bit of closure. I needed it because I was sad to see Hannah, Peg and Thomas go.

The Historical Writers Association (HWA) selected The Servant for their HWA/Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award 2020. It was completely deserving of this accolade and I’m hoping somebody, somewhere will take this gem of a novel under their wing and create a tv adaptation or film – I’d watch with relish!

The Servant is an astonishing story of one woman’s steely determination. Do add it to your TBR piles, make a ‘Beat The Backlog’ exception for this one, because it is EXCEPTIONAL historical fiction. I will be recommending it to everyone.

Thank you, Maggie, for sending me a copy to review. It was a beautiful, dark pleasure.

http://www.maggiedaviesiswriting.com/

Daughters of Darkness II

Daughters of Darkness II

Daughters of Darkness II is an anthology of dark and creepy horror stories featuring authors Beverley Lee, Lynn Love, Catherine McCarthy and T C Parker.

Created by Stephanie Ellis and Alyson Faye of Black Angel Press, this second instalment (the first of which came out in February this year) of gentle chills and out and out terror impressed the pants off my horror-loving self, quite frankly!

Now, I find it quite difficult to review story collections because I easily harp on for ages about each and every story, character, style, plot etc, rambling away and ending up loosing myself, let alone you, the reader of my review.

So without further ado, I shall break it down into four sections about each author, keeping it straight to the point and succinct. I wouldn’t want to keep you from heading off to buy it now, would I? 😉

Beverley Lee

A Whiteness of Swans – 5 stars

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Tender is the Heart – 5 stars

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The Boy Who Wore My Name – 5 stars

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The Secret of Westport Fell – 10 stars

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“As Flora made her way to the door, her fingers and toes numb from the cold, she glanced behind to the small country churchyard slumbering under its ghostly blanket. For all of its quaintness its forlorn song shivered through the heavy veil of grey”.

Gorgeous eh?! Expect the unexpected with Beverley’s writing though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Lynn Love

A Light in the Darkness Pt 1 – Thou Little Tiny Child – 5 stars

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Pt 2 – O Sisters Too, How May We Do, For To Preserve This Day – 5 stars

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Pt 3 – All Young Children To Slay – 5 stars

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“Lucia muttered something in Italian. There was something voluptuous about the language, something dark and fleshy that made her pulse race a little. Patricia imagined the words filling her mouth like bonbons, sugary and wicked”.

How’s that for gorgeous descriptive writing?! I love accents, I could hear this moment with such clarity, and almost taste those bonbons. Fabulous Lynn, truly it is.

Catherine McCarthy

The Spider and the Stag – 10 stars

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“…glass jars filled with chunks of unpolished gemstones and sorted according to the spectrum of a rainbow. Spools of threads and whirls of wire, perspex boxes glinting with silver and gold clasps and catches. A non-caloric candy store”.

Catherine keeps on doing this. Hits me right here *punches own heart* with everything she writes. Her stories are kept on my “I can’t describe how brilliant this author is without waving my arms around frantically and probably spitting a little bit in excitement” shelf.

T C Parker

The Body Tree (Hummingbird 1) – 5 stars

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Undeserving (Hummingbird 2) – 5 stars

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“The face of one was obscured entirely by a black hood fixed around its neck with hangman’s rope; the head of another was entirely absent, its body not only decapitated but dismembered and its absent arms and legs piled in an untidy heap on the floor below”.

How utterly grotesque! TC’s story made the gruesome so fascinating!! She seems to know where to draw the line, not quite turning my stomach, but getting pretty close! That quote is one of the milder ones I’ll have you know!

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With vivid imagery, delicious darkness that went from gently chilling to the darn right macabre throughout, this is the first ever anthology that’s got a spot on my ‘best of the year’ Goodreads shelf.

Thank you ladies, from the bottom of my dark heart for your writing and your wonderfully twisted imaginations. You aided my escapism from this mad, bad, real world, I absolutely loved every minute of being freaked out in your fictional ones. And huge thanks to Stephanie for sending me a copy, it was a pleasure to read.

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Daughters of Darkness II eBook : Lee, Beverley, Love, Lynn, McCarthy, Catherine, Parker, T.C., Ellis, Stephanie, Faye, Alyson: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Having watched, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie starring Will Smith, I decided to read the 1954 novel.

As many on Twitter have said, it is very different to the film, however, I still rate them both highly for being so different. It’s a refreshing change that a movie used a classic story arc, changed it, not beyond recognition but just enough to make it blockbuster-worthy. After all, Mathesons novel is only a mere 160 pages long, had it been copied to the letter, I think the film would of been only an hour long, 70/80 minutes max.

Mathesons main character, Robert Neville is the last living man on earth, but he’s not alone. Oh no, no, no, no no! There’s zombie-like vampires lurking as soon as night falls, and to say this book has fear factor would be an understatement. Rarely do I feel my heart banging in my chest when reading, it’s got to be pretty terrifying for me to have to take a breather like I did with this one.

After reading chapters 4 and 5 I got out the bath feeling quite shook up! Now that’s a sign of a good book eh?!

Apart from the overuse of the word ‘palsied’ to describe Neville’s bodily reactions, Matheson is an absolute master of tension-writing. Providing the reader can see beyond the era of the story-telling (it’s 1954, telling a futuristic (1979) sci-fi story, it’s bound to be “dated”, get over it, complainers, I’ve read what you’ve moaned about 🙄) it’s classic sci-fi/horror at its very best.

There’s nothing I like more in a book when I see a quote from another book!

“The strength of the Vampire is that no one will believe in him”. – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The descriptions are so strong, there’s a subtle beauty in this story that filters through all the fear and bleak darkness.

“Morning. A sun-bright hush broken only by the chorus of birds in the trees. No breeze to stir the vivid blossoms around the houses, the bushes, the dark-leaved hedges. A cloud of silent heat was suspended over everything on Cimarron Street”.

How gorgeous is that visual?! Seriously, Matheson pops these gems in throughout the entire book.

And then of course, there’s how relatable this book is, nearly 70 years on…

“Towards the end of the plague, yellow journalism has spread a cancerous dread of vampires to all corners of the nation. He could remember himself the rash of pseudo-scientific articles that veiled an out-and-out fright campaign to sell papers”.

Sounds familiar…

“There was something grotesquely amusing in that; the frenetic attempt to sell papers while the world died.”

Indeed…

I am still feeling blown away by I Am Legend, it’s been hanging around in my thoughts all morning, it’s not a book I will easily shake off.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

This isn’t a normal review because this isn’t a normal story. I’m saying nothing about the plot or characters. Nothing.

Just read it.

Starve Acre is a book that begs so many questions and creates so many thoughts from start to finish.

Here’s a ‘running commentary’ as it were, of my reading experience..

-oooh hello there beautifully poetic, darkly disturbing writing

-hang on, wait, what’s happening?

-soooo, what happened before then?

-crikey, what’s GOING to happen?

-OMG, WHY is it happening?

-wait, WHAT?! Erm, what on earth did he do?

-WHY did he do it?

-Jeez, why is she like this?

-And why the hell is he like that?

-No way!

-*Brain explodes* The End.

And all that in under 250 pages!! Unbelievable!

I started off putting post it notes marking notable paragraphs every ten, maybe 15 pages. But really Starve Acre is one big post it note of dark beauty. Every paragraph of every page is post-it note worthy, so I gave up.

Anyway, do yourself a favour, read Starve Acre. I’ve just ordered Hurleys’ other two books, The Loney and Devils Day, because it’s the law.

“What you go searching for and what you find aren’t always the same”.

Door and Other Twisted Tales by Catherine McCarthy

You know that feeling when you get off the Waltzer at the fair? Your head feels kind of floaty, there’s an excited giddiness, that buzz of adrenaline rushes from toes to fingertips and then back again. You’d like another go but best not, because you’re 47 not 10. Or is that just me?

Anyway, going through the many Doors of Catherine McCarthy’s magical, mystical, and at times, oddly dark and creative mind, gave me quite that kind of ride! It wasn’t a roller coaster, Catherine’s writing is far too gentle and quietly satisfying for that, the Waltzer is my best comparison. You don’t need to scream if you want to go faster because you need that steady pace to be prepared for the “hang on a minute, I did not see THAT coming” moments. And then, there’s the “wait, what?!, no Catherine, nooo!! you can’t possibly end it there!!” moments!

Oh the perils of short stories that suck you right in!!! *sigh*

Door is a collection of dark portal style stories, although set in different times, they have a great deal in common with each other.

From a freaked out shift worker with paranoia about what’s behind a metal door, to unwelcome ‘white ghosts’ in Botany Bay, Australia 1790. From creepy crypts in the Canaries, to a wartime bunker in Sheffield, Catherine has created a treasure trove of mind-bending micro-journeys that whet the appetite with a side order of subtle horror and discomfort. You WILL want to read more from this author. Take it from me.

As with any short story collections, I had my favourites, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single one. I will say a few words about the ones that really stood out to me though.

‘Door’ – the first story, had me reading with such intensity. John, the MC, had successfully landed a job. Doing what, I’m not entirely sure, some kind of secretive knob and dial twiddling for a living, in a strange industrial building. Make of that what you will. As a character, he was weird. The story, even weirder! The ending? You must of heard me when I shouted ‘WHAT?? Don’t do that Catherine!!!’ from my bathtub from where I was reading!

‘Mine’, – the story of young Anna who works as a trapper down the mines. The sheer darkness of the setting and the mystery surrounding the ‘special kind of coal’ certainly pulled me in. It was so full of atmosphere, I could almost smell it.

‘Plague’ – a small village in Southern France, 1347 to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia 18 years prior and then back again to Penne, Southern France. Certainly worlds apart. You’d think.

“When you see a door open, which you did not expect, do not be afraid of passing through – just be careful as to whom else chooses to step beyond its threshold at your side”.

‘Ash’ – Raoul, a Scientist receives a letter from a Priest inviting him to help investigate the underground crypts and caverns in Volcanic Lanzarote. All is not well and some unearthed discoveries give this story quite a macabre and dark tone.

‘Charity’ – a Christmas story, of sorts, set in Hove, UK. “Satan Claws is coming to town!”

Is someone struggling with their spelling there? One things for sure, Karma’s a bitch, whatever the season. *Snorts satisfyingly*

If there’s one thing that all these stories have in common, other that the doorways to get into them, it’s the absolute cracking first few paragraphs of each and every one. Catherine has the knack of getting my attention so quickly. She sets the scene, introduces her character(s) and I’m swiftly swooped away.

Overall, an interesting, mixed collection of mindful, yet, at times, disturbing stories that were entertaining, a bit bizarre, and had Catherine’s unique stamp all over them.

I recommend Catherine’s writing whenever I get the opportunity as although predominantly a horror writer, her stories are made up of various layers which would appeal to readers who are seeking short stories beyond that one genre.

Thank you, Catherine for my gifted copy of Door, I am very grateful for the opportunity to read and review your collection.

Catherine McCarthy grew up in the industrial valleys of South Wales where she went on to teach for almost three decades. She now lives in West Wales with her husband, who is also her illustrator and motivator. Catherine believes that story telling is probably the oldest and wisest art form known to man, though to make it a bit compelling, it needs to be crafted with a bit of magic.

Twitter – @serialsemantic

Instagram – catherine_mccarthy_author

Amazon.co.uk : catherine mccarthy

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