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?
-*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”.
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.
New Animal piqued my interest as it had a mix of all the dark things I look for in a book. By the time I’d read the first few chapters, I knew that Ella Baxter has quite a way with words.
Set in Australia and Tasmania, a setting that I very much enjoy, I was instantly transported into the life of Amelia and felt I could relate to her in ways that surprised me.
She’s an intelligent woman who instead of dwelling on all the sadness and confusion her life throws at her, she decides to deal with her grief by leaving her job/home/family and crashes straight into the BDSM scene.
Death in the family? Deal with it by going to a fetish club. Why not?! Who says there’s a right or wrong way to do these things.
However, New Animal isn’t a story about the kinky sex life of a woman who’s going off the rails. It’s about coping and not coping. Sometimes it takes a trauma in life to set people off on a journey in order to get their head together.
I flew through this at quite a speed, the writing style had a grip on me more than the story itself. The descriptions were so vivid.
There are definitely scenes in this book that would be triggering for some. It’s crass, violent, and at times, brutal. One scene made me cringe and that is a rarity for me! I love to push the boundaries though, give me all the reading-feels, even the uncomfortable ones!
Overall, New Animal was a dark and very well written story. It won’t be for everyone, but Ella Baxter and her New Animal has given me something to think about.
Recommended for people who can appreciate that human nature can be an off-kilter thing and for those who don’t mind feeling just a tiny bit disgusted by stuff humans do to each other.
Out 17 February 2022
Ella Baxter is a writer and artist living in Melbourne, Australia.
If there’s one horror trope I always make a beeline for, it’s got to be the “Haunted House” one. What initially caught my eye with Beverley’s book was just how frightening the cover art is! I mean, look at it! Dead eyes staring out at the reader, with a sinister knowing….*shivers*.
Good covers really are important, I do judge a book by them, more so within the horror genre for some reason, I just can’t help myself! The House of Little Bones doesn’t have a good cover, it has a GREAT cover. Kudos to the artist/designers for sure!
“David Lansdown, esteemed British horror writer and supernatural sceptic, is used to basking in the glow of the press…
Until a hastily snapped photo hits the headlines and makes his affair with his publisher’s son public. When David finds himself at Bone Hollow, a house with a glass wall overlooking a wild and desolate moor, his only concern is writing his next best seller to bury his misdeeds in the past.
But something stirs beneath the earth…”
Haunted house stories are out there in their tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions! I don’t know! Anyway, there is a load of them! So what makes The House of Little Bones stand out?
Well, from the outset I could tell that Beverley created David, her main character, with careful thought and consideration. He has authenticity, his mannerisms, thought processes, his back story. As other characters were introduced and the story unfolded, I realised that every character in the story felt of high importance in their own right.
I’ve noticed over the years that I enjoy reading about characters who are authors, and how they’re attempting to write their book within the story I’m reading.
The House of Little Bones, became a tempting story very early on, the feelings of mystery and unexplained goings-on were pretty full-on in terms of spook-factor. There’s more to everyone in this story than initially meets the eye, this, in itself hooked me in very quickly.
After 20/30 pages, I felt a bit on edge and had to put the light on. (Only because it was getting dark, not at all because my mind was playing tricks on me, you understand!)
The House of Little Bones is the most perfect story for this time of year. It’s well written, not overly complicated and very creepy. I particularly enjoyed the way Beverley connected the historical aspects of the story in small bursts throughout and then used a chapter at the end to tie everything together.
The relationships between the characters were convincing, the setting on the moor oozed bleak desolation and chilling atmosphere. The build up and the finale had me holding my breath, I was appreciative of the historical round-up to help settle my heart!
The House of Little Bones is designed to pull on the heartstrings, engross and enchant. It’s a beautifully measured Halloween recipe that delivered everything I love about horror fiction.
I look forward to reading more from Beverley Lee, I’ll be recommending her writing based on reading just this one book.
Thank you Beverley for sending me an e-arc, it was a pleasure to read.
Beverley Lee is a writer of dark fiction (dark fantasy/horror/supernatural suspense). Her first book The Making of Gabriel Davenport picked up three 5 star seals when recently reviewed by Readers’ Favorite. It also won the June Go Indie Now! Excellence in Literature Award for her poetic style, outstanding plot, and complex characters.
One of my favourite historical fiction books ever is The Witchfinders Sister, Beth Underdown’s STUNNING debut. When she announced on Twitter that proofs were being printed for her new novel, I was dizzy with excitement, I kid you not.
I’ve been lurking on Beths socials for a number of years, liking, commenting and generally making my presence known. So thank you Beth for putting up with my harping on about how keyed up I was (see what I did there 😉) to read your second novel, The Key in the Lock.
To my utter astonishment, (and maybe to shut me up!!) Beth kindly sent me a beautiful dedicated proof, so I instantly cast aside my TBR plan for the month, and dived straight in.
‘I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace’.
By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.
For Ivy is sure there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the great house, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.
I’d imagine it’s very nerve-racking for authors when sending their second book out into the ‘bloggers wild’, as it were. Particularly when a debut has had such excellent reviews and feedback. A hard act to follow, perhaps? Take it from me Beth, you’ve nothing to be worried about, The Key in the Lock is brilliant.
What struck me the most about this story was how much effort had gone into the research. It is meticulously written down to the very last minute detail. So much thought is put into Beths novels, this is something I noticed when reading The Witchfinders Sister, this one has that very same precision.
From the creative descriptions to the most authentic characters, from the intricacies of plot detail, to the slow burning reveals, The Key in the Lock is top quality historical fiction.
I absolutely adored the secretive, atmospheric story-line. I often find if plots are gentle in motion, if the writing style isn’t quite ‘up to it’, I become a little bored when revelations take their time to unfold. But not here, I found it so immersive, the gothic feels, dark tension, cleverly haunting reveals, and characters so vivid in my mind, it made for some breathtaking reading.
I can count on one hand authors whose books are an auto-buy for me. Beth has been one of those authors since reading her debut in 2017. She sits comfortably alongside Sarah Waters where I don’t even have to read the synopsis, I already know I’m going to love it, it’s a given.
Thank you so much Beth for sending me a signed copy, it’s a treasure on my forever historical fiction shelf.
Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.
The Key in the Lock is released in January 2022 from Viking books