Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

An immortelle is a long-lasting flower arrangement placed on graves in cemeteries. They were originally made from natural dried flowers or could be made from artificial materials such as china and painted plaster of paris or beads strung on wire arrangements. Unless made of a highly durable material (e.g. china), they would often be enclosed in a glass container (known as globes) to protect them from the weather.

[Source :Wikipedia]

Elinor’s daughter, Rowena, is found poisoned and dead in an animal trough, Elinor is certain the local priest is to blame. Influenced by her late grandmother’s interest in supernatural magic, Elinor crafts an Immortelle for Rowena’s grave in an attempt to capture her daughters spirit.

I’m not telling you anything else about the story. I read very little about it before starting (other than to find out what an ‘Immortelle’ is) and I think this is the best way to read.

Witchcraft, the natural world, mother/daughter relationships, (a firm favourite of mine) gothic tones, alchemy, love, hope, grief, the supernatural, spirituality, revenge, good/evil, it’s all in here. For a 95 page novella, it’s full to the brim of everything I look for in gentle, quiet horror.

We weren’t quite in September when I started, but on reading the first three chapters, I knew I’d made the right choice to kick off my “Spooky Season” reads.

My favourite time of year by far, Autumn is THE time for enjoying books that chill, thrill and creep into my mind. Horror doesn’t have to be all blood and guts and carnage. Horror can be subtle, hidden in the shadows, full of atmosphere and tension, characters created with careful consideration so the story instantly comes to life, an easy invitation to become entranced. Catherine’s novella has all this, and so much more.

Her story telling is mesmerising. It feels as though it’s made of the most sublime ingredients. She has a way with words, a way with pace and timing. Immortelle ticked every box. It is an astonishingly beautiful story. I had many moments with it where I had to stop and think and appreciate.

If you enjoy calm, wistful horror with touches of darkness, I highly recommend Catherine’s writing.

‘I press on, guided by the rhythmic lap of the sea, her breath a sizzle as it caresses the shore and a gasp as she sucks a mouthful back. The slow rhythm steadies my breathing, and the distant beam from the lighthouse, which seems to flash in time with the waves, illuminates the scene in a sweeping arc’.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

‘One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…’

Nightbitch, that was her name. That is all she is. All she’s referred to. That was her something else.

Mothers, cast your minds back to when your babies’ body clocks were trying to get into a routine. Awake half the night, or all night. Those small hours when it felt like you and your tiny bundle were the only two people on the planet. The sleep deprivation holds strong. Your brain feels weird. Your body feels weird. Lack of sleep does stuff to you. Strange stuff. It’s a mad time looking after a new human.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good man at your side. He might be snoring his head off peacefully or away all week, working, bringing home the bacon. But when you’re loosing your mind because twenty minutes sleep a night for months on end doesn’t quite cut it, a woman’s grip on reality may become a little compromised.

‘At first she did nothing, waiting for her husband to wake, which he did not, because that was a thing he ever did. She waited longer than she usually did, waited and waited, the boy wailing while she lay as still as a corpse, patiently waiting for the day when her corpse self would miraculously be reanimated and taken into the Kingdom of the Chosen, where it would create an astonishing art installation composed of many aesthetically interesting beds’.

Nightbitch used to have a career, a life outside of four walls. A life beyond feeding and vomit and nappy changes and laundry. She was an artist, a creator. She and her husband had made the greatest creation of all, their baby son, and yet, it wasn’t enough. She had a gap in her life which couldn’t be filled with toddler play dates, meetings with other Moms, chatting baby this, baby that, all day long. No. It wasn’t her. Nightbitch was her. Small signs. Small urges. Slowly, terrifyingly, and at times, hilariously, she felt that she was simply turning into a dog.

‘Yes, vegetables were very civilised. Dogs wouldn’t buy vegetables. Listen to what you’re saying, she said to herself.’

As Nightbitch became more and more Nightbitch, so her parenting abilities changed, for the better? In some ways, I’d say yes. In others, absolutely hell no!! Her son adored their playtimes, the ‘let’s pretend’ at being doggies. Woof!

She was finally finding herself. At last. Even her husband reaped some benefits, on occasion.

As you can probably sense by the first part of my review, this is a story about motherhood and coping and not coping. The best way to describe it to someone would be –

‘It’s an alternative Mother and Baby Book’. Or…

‘It’s an alternative Marriage Counselling Book.’ Or…

‘It’s an alternative Spiritual Health and Well-being Book’.

I’m laughing now, because, really, it is none of those things at all. It’s a dark and deeply disturbing story where the reader can take from it whatever they see fit. There’s a speculative feel to it all the way through, and I love that in a book. There is no right or wrong way to how this book should make the reader feel.

Rachel Yoder’s writing style has such wickedness to it. Her characters are drawn on the pages so clearly, yet we know only just below the surface of most of them. Apart from Nightbitch. Around half way, we know her well. A little too well perhaps.

What I found unusual in Nightbitch was the way her two year old toddlers personality developed into such a big-part character as the story unfolded. We start to see the kind of child he is becoming. How family traits can go far back and then journey their way to the current time. For such a young character, his innocence and sheer glee was a pleasure to read. It was even heartwarming in places. Not too often though, let’s not get carried away from the darkness this book has in spades.

Nightbitch is a wild, wild ride and I think it would either entertain or horrify. I don’t think there’s middle ground here. It entertained me from beginning to end. I loved everything about it. After all, we are all animals at the end of the day, aren’t we?

Be more Nightbitch ladies, and control yourselves in the raw meat aisle at Tesco.

Thank you to Kate at Harvill Secker for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

After a few hours of blowing my cheeks out and pulling weird faces because this feels impossible to review, I’ll try my best at putting my thoughts into words that are remotely coherent.

Chrissie, an eight year old girl murdered a two year old boy by strangling him. That is no spoiler, we know this from the very first sentence.

‘I killed a little boy today. Held my hands around his throat, felt his blood pump hard against my thumbs’.

What follows is a dual narrative from Chrissie then and Chrissie now.

As an adult, she is Julia. She has a new identity and a daughter of her own, Molly. She is haunted by her terrible past, not only by her heinous crime, but by the truly horrific neglect from her Mam and useless excuse of a Da. She is scared for her own child, incase she has passed her ‘bad seed’ onto her own.

As a child, the unintentional humour from Chrissie is balanced with the horrors of her home life. The writing is styled to shock and then say ‘there there, it’s not that bad’ in a heartbeat.

‘There were lots of reasons I didn’t like Donna, apart from her being fat and a goody-goody, but the main one was that in the Christmas holidays she bit me on the arm just because I said she had a face like a potato (which was also true)’.

I felt the author wasn’t necessarily asking for sympathy for any of the characters. I think she wanted her readers to experience the buzzes and urges, the excuses and thought processes. I got right inside this story. Gut deep.

The First Day of Spring as a title gives nothing away to what’s between the covers. We see Springtime as new beginnings, fresh growth and hope for the future. We don’t associate it with despair and neglect and murder.

Although this sounds like a disturbing and saddening read, it was exceptionally entertaining throughout. The dialogue and descriptions were sublime, creating crystal clear imagery of characters and setting.

The First Day of Spring is an unforgettable debut, but it won’t be for everyone. It’s a difficult subject, I know a few were struggling with it on Pigeonhole, but me and my dark heart lapped it up. I consumed it and it consumed me.

Thank you to everyone at Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read such a compelling book.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

OK, so this mysterious book has been doing the rounds and luckily I didn’t come across any spoilers prior to starting it. Thank goodness!! 

Right, how to write the vaguest of vague reviews yet keep it interesting. Now that’s what I call a challenge!!

How have readers reviewed this without letting the cat out of the bag I’ll never know. It’s a tough one to write. But I’ll do my best. 

What/who’s it about then? 

Well, Ted, predominately. A recluse of a man who lives in a boarded-up house on the street in the books title. It’s situated on the edge of a wooded area somewhere in NW Washington state, US. 

He lives with his young daughter, Lauren and his religious pet cat Olivia. Yes, you read that right, a RELIGIOUS CAT.

There’s history of children going missing in the area, but none of them have ever been found and the crimes have never been solved. 

This is the first time I’ve read a book, finished it, and then had the pleasure of watching it being discussed on television. I was determined to watch Between the Covers on BBC2 last night with the smuggest face ever. Yes, even the guests talking to Sara Cox also struggled to say much about it in case they leaked spoilers!

Throughout reading I had to stop and hold onto my head for fear of my brain exploding! I lost count of how many times I said ‘wait, what, hang on a minute, that can’t be right’. I was re-reading sentences, dialogue, descriptions multiple times because I could not believe what I was reading. 

The Last House on Needless Street is a book I will never ever forget. I went to bed last night thinking about it. Working out how to write a review that would do it the justice it deserves.

I awoke this morning absolutely none the wiser so just thought I’d get a very basic synopsis down and then go from there. 

To be honest, you just need to read it. If Stephen King loved it, then it’s got to be something pretty special don’t you think? 

I will say that Kings’ fans will definitely see a few nods to the man himself throughout the book. Clever, Catriona, very clever indeed!

I can’t say any more about it really, apart from if you buy one book this year, make it this one. It will blow your mind. 

‘People who have lived together for many generations share a special kind of madness’.

Apparently the film rights have been snapped up already and it’s translation rights have been sold in 18 territories. 

Catriona Ward is an exceptional writer and story teller. I’ve read stacks of horror and to discover something of such high quality within this genre is a bit of a rarity these days. It’s dark, clever, incredibly well researched and it could quite possibly be my Book of the Year. 

One last thought, if I were to read it again, knowing what I know now, it would be a completely different story. I don’t re-read that often, but this one is just begging for it!!

ALPHA : VULTURE by Marc Jaytin

Part one of a three part crime thriller.

I’ve read many books with unhinged, murderous characters in my time. Crime thrillers, police procedurals, horrors, true crime and suchlike have always pulled me in. I’m an absolute sucker for the macabre side of human nature.

I beta read ALPHA : VULTURE by Marc Jaytin last year when it was in its early stages. Marc was kind enough to send me a digital copy initially and then a finished physical copy shortly after.

It’s the story of a man on the edge, who tried to end his own pain, but failed. He came back for revenge on society with a toxic mindset that matched his opinions. He plans an organised but cryptic (to the reader) killing spree, travelling mostly by train to different parts of the UK with one thing on his mind. The urge to kill.

The writing is angry, the main character a frustrated, bitter man. He’s right in your face and his sole purpose is to chew you up and spit you out. And probably laugh at you afterwards, if he doesn’t decide to kill you, that is.

For such a good book, it’s got an incredibly bad attitude. It’s begging to be the subject of debate, the heated, argumentative sort.

This debut is difficult to pigeonhole into one genre. It’s a story with very dark overtones, a hint of comedy, a lot of outspoken and questionable statements. The rolling theme of mental illness is weaved throughout the story, Marc isn’t frightened for his character to piss the reader off, for me, it just added to the appeal. I have little doubt it will get some people’s backs up.

ALPHA : VULTURE is perfect for readers such as myself, I love a good verbal roasting in stories. I’m thoroughly entertained by a bit of blood and gore providing it fits the story. The shock factor here is multi- layered. It’s not just in the visuals as you read, but in the dialogue.

This book is a bit weird, I won’t lie. It’s graphic, sweary, gruesome and questionable. There’s bizarre lists, it goes off on strange tangents, but this is the workings of an unsettled mind, so it actually works. It’s destined to start someone tweeting or ranting or demanding it be ‘cancelled’ about something or other. But that’s the world we’re living in, and Marc isn’t frightened to allow his character to speak his mind, irrespective of possible repercussions. Perhaps he’s simply a chip off of the authors block.

I’ve not read anything like this before and I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment. Let the madness continue!

You can find out more about the author here:

Marc Jaytin | Author | ALPHA

Thank you Marc for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.