The Gifts by Liz Hyder

Coming February 24th 2022 – Zaffre Books/Manilla Press

‘In an age defined by men, it will take something extraordinary to show four women who they truly are…

October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders’.

That’s all I’m going to mention about the story itself, because this book pretty much ripped the emotions straight out of my heart and landed them with an almighty boom in between the pages.

The Gifts was an astonishing book to start the year off with. Honestly, I am absolutely blown away by Liz Hyder’s magical, immersive and compelling novel.

It picked me up and swept me off with a whoosh, every time I picked it up. It’s one of those books (which are few and far between) where I have so many notes and post-it’s that I really don’t know where to start to review it!

I’m writing this early in the morning whilst my brain is fresh as I’m suffering a book hangover of gargantuan proportions and don’t want my review to be all “I LOVED IT! I LOVED IT! JUST BUY IT EVERYONE!”

Liz Hyder has made historical magical realism the most magically realistic reading experience. It is relatable, brutally true to present life and beautifully presented with a language that sings. The characters are right there, you can feel them walking around in your mind. The setting and imagery vivid, you can almost taste it, smell it.

I one hundred per cent ‘got’ the story that Liz set out to tell. It’s historical fiction, yes, with magical elements, but it’s also SO MUCH MORE.

I have a lot to say about this book but I also want to keep it all to myself. I read an advance copy that the publisher kindly sent me and if it’s affected me in it’s unfinished state, the finished copy (complete with illustrations!! Eeek!!) is guaranteed to be a marvel. I cannot wait to see it!

When I first started reading, I made notes on the individual characters because there’s quite a few of them, each one playing an essential part to the story. I’m glad I did this, as occasionally, in the first, maybe 100 pages, I did need to refresh my memory about who they were and what they were ‘up to’. And my goodness, they were ALL up to all sorts, I can tell you.

Their individuality soon settled in my mind and I was able to distinguish and switch between them with no problem. That, for me, is a sign of a well written book. I often struggle if there’s many characters, but not here. I was in deep, completely invested in everything going on in the pages.

There’s a chemistry between two of the characters that was done so perfectly. I’m not one for ‘love’ in stories, but I was absolutely buzzing for these two, and their banter was hilarious at times. I was crying with laughter during numerous scenes.

The chapters were short and snappy, which is something I love. I feel like I’m not quite ready to move onto another book yet because The Gifts is still under my skin, like the bursting wings of those ‘chosen’ women.

I’m left with this thought that gets me right here *pounds fist into heart area* – is it really STILL so scandalous that a woman can have the “audacity” to grow a pair of powerful wings and set herself free?

WOW. Just WOW.

Thank you so much Liz for your story. And to the publisher, Zaffre Books for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Now I’m going to go off and hug the book some more. Etta, Mary, Natalya and Annie, you’re going on my forever shelf eventually, but not just yet, I can’t quite let you go…

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”.

Diabolica Americana: A Dark States Horror Compendium by Keith Anthony Baird

If you’re looking for tricks and treats galore this Halloween, then look no further. The second horror compendium following last year’s Diabolica Britannica from Keith Anthony Baird doesn’t disappoint.

Diabolica Americana is a charity horror anthology featuring 22 authors, including a very humble foreword by Eric LaRocca, author of ‘Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke’.

I decided to read this collection of short stories in random order, based on titles that took my fancy when settling down for my October creepy reading time.

I’d heard of ten of the authors who I’d mostly seen sharing their love of the horror genre on Twitter. The other twelve new-to-me authors were promptly followed by yours truly as the talent levels throughout this anthology is staggeringly good.

To put together a bunch of writers whose diverse creativity and ability to suck you in to their worlds is no mean feat. Not a single tale felt out of place, this congregation delivered a mixture of scares, intrigue, oddities and outright horror in 22 tasty doses.

From River Witches to Serial Killers, Folk Magic, Vampires and Creepy Crawlies, there’s something for everyone’s terror taste.

It’s tricky to pick specific stories to recommend because each and every one has its own original voice. However, I will give a special mention to the following authors as their tales stood out for me, personally.

I made a beeline for Sadie Hartmann’s offering ‘Sunnies’. Sadie is Mother Horror on all her socials and is an important voice in the horror community. I’ve been following her since year dot for her excellent bookish recommendations and horror content and wasn’t disappointed. Sunnies was dark, disturbing and expertly written. The conclusion gave me a unexpected horror shock, just what the doctor ordered!

‘Hexmeister’ by Sara Tantlinger, was an eerie story of witches and dark folk magic that crept right into my bones. I’ll definitely be sniffing out more from Sara!

Another one that charmed my inner darkness was ‘The Iron Coffin’ by Laurel Hightower. Anyone for a stiff drink? You might want to grab a dram of Bourbon for this one!

I could praise every individual story in this glorious compendium, but my review would be so long, and I wouldn’t want to keep you from popping a pre-order on right away for your own copy of course.

I will add just one more to my mentions though, Richard Chizmar’s ‘Mischief’. Halloween isn’t Halloween without a serial killer is it? Well Chizmar had me hooked from the word go, talk about atmospheric, and what fantastically written characters! I best watch my back as an Aquarian…

So what are you waiting for? (Other than release day, obviously, which is October 28th!) Get your pre-orders in, lovers of thrills and spook. It’s available in both kindle and paperback format. I am very tempted to buy a physical copy for my horror shelf, I’ll just go and see if I’ve got space for it, spooky season is a killer for me because oh, the sweet, dark temptation…

Get your pre-order in right HERE folks!

Thank you to Keith Anthony Baird for sending me an advance e-copy, it was an absolute pleasure to read. And bloody well done to each and every author whose fine skills are showcased in this must-have collection.

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