Book Review: Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An atmospheric, chilling read. Foreboding and dramatic, this horror story is perfectly balanced and blurs the lines between normal life and the supernatural. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A deeply atmospheric literary horror novel about the nature of repressed guilt, grief and fear.

Daniel once had a baby brother, but he died, a long time ago now. And he had a wife and a daughter, but that didn’t work out, so now he’s alone. The easy monotony of his job as a milkman in the remote northwest of England demands nothing from him other than dealing with unreasonable customer demands and the vagaries of his enigmatic boss.

But things are changing. Daniel’s started having nightmares, seeing things that can’t possibly be there – like the naked, emaciated giant with a black bag over its head which is so real he swears he could touch it . . . if he dared.

It’s not just at night bad things are happening, either, or just to him. Shaken and unnerved, he opens up to a local witch. She can’t t discern the origins of his haunting, but she can provide him with a protective ward – a witch-bottle – if, in return, he will deliver her products on his rounds.

But not everyone’s happy to find people meddling with witch-bottles. Things are about to get very unpleasant . . .

Witch Bottle is literary horror at its finest, perfect for fans of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Starve Acre.

Favourite Quote

I like to imagine that I live in one of the old farmhouses that dot the lonely moors, even though the thought of living in one of them makes me feel cold and afraid.

(From Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher, page 12)

Review

Witch Bottle is a strange, sometimes weird, imaginative horror story. I think, if I’m honest, I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy at all, I just expected to enjoy it more.

There were plenty of things about this book that I thought were done very well. The atmosphere steadily built up until it became chilling. The book was well-written, easy to read and flowed nicely. I could easily picture the setting and the people Daniel met over the course of his day. The bizarre goings-on were so well-written that it was easy for the line between normal life and the supernatural to become blurred. Characters talking of ghosts almost seemed ordinary. Almost. And this gave the story a haunting, menacing, sinister quality.

Isolation was definitely one of the words I kept coming back to when I thought about writing this review. The isolation and bleak desolation of the setting. Daniel’s isolation from loved ones and family, and having very few real friends, if any. The isolation and loneliness that comes with issues of mental health. There is a chilling bleakness to this story, both in the narrative as the tale unfolds but in the backstory too. There’s is very little cheer here.

The story just felt a little too elusive for me, and I was unsure about the ending. Where the book had done so well balancing the creepy supernatural with normal life, making these strange goings on appear part and parcel of local, rural life, the ending felt a little out of step with the preceding tone.

Rating

3.5 / 5
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Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells

January’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021…


Quick Review (read on for full review)

A thought-provoking read which poses questions still relevant today. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life.

While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’s prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species. These levels of interpretation add a richness to Prendick’s adventures on Dr. Moreau’s island of lost souls without distracting from what is still a rip-roaring good read.

Favourite Quote

‘I hope, or I could not live.’

(From The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells, page 142)

Review

As I read The Island of Dr Moreau, I couldn’t help but think H.G.Wells was ahead of his time, and I came away with the over-riding view that this story was a cautionary tale whose message is: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This is not a story of science at its most exciting and awe-inspiring, but rather at its most strange and horrifying. And, the most terrifying aspect of the book is not the strange creatures of the island, but rather the scientist behind them, a man who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to do what he does.  Yet, the fact that he has to do it on an island miles away from any other human being because he’s been shunned by his own community should have given him a clue as to why he shouldn’t be doing it.

The book poses some very interesting questions, ones which still are relevant today, regarding the ethics of science and the experimentation on other sentient beings. If I had known the story was going to deal with issues such as these, I’m not sure I would have chosen it, as prior to reading, all I knew about it was that it was a Victorian horror story.  And, I’m not sure I would read this one again. That being said, I’m glad I read it the once. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was interesting and it did keep me gripped.

Rating


February’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021 – Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon…

Book Review: The Book With No Name by Anonymous

The Book With No Name is the first book in the Bourbon Kid series by Anonymous.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, with a plot that twists and turns and keeps you guessing right to the very end.  Great stuff!  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Detective Miles Jensen is called to the lawless town of Santa Mondega to investigate a spate of murders. This would all be quite ordinary in those rough streets, except that Jensen is the Chief Detective of Supernatural Investigations. The breakneck plot centers around a mysterious blue stone — The Eye of the Moon—and the men and women who all want to get their hands on it: a mass murderer with a drinking problem, a hit man who thinks he’s Elvis, and a pair of monks among them. Add in the local crime baron, an amnesiac woman who’s just emerged from a five-year coma, a gypsy fortune teller, and a hapless hotel porter, and the plot thickens fast. Most importantly, how do all these people come to be linked to the strange book with no name? This is the anonymous, ancient book that no one seems to have survived reading. Everyone who has ever read it has been murdered. What can this mean?

Favourite Quote

‘Cross my palm with a twenty-dollar bill and I shall reveal your destiny.’

What happened to silver? Dante thought…

Review

When I reached the last paragraph of this book, hope swelled within me.  The book ended with question, leaving the reader to wonder if this was indeed the end of the story. You know the type…This is the end…or is it?  I desperately hoped not.  When I learned there were in fact more instalments to read, I was so very, very happy.  As I’m sure you can tell. 🙂

As soon as I saw this book I was intrigued.  Curiosity piqued, I wondered at the title or lack there of, and then I wondered some more at the author deciding to publish under the name “Anonymous”.  It didn’t taken long for me to realise I needed to read this.

This is highly imaginative storytelling, with a plethora of characters to keep you entertained (see the summary above for a brief cast list). The pace is fast, as one plot twist occurs after another.  There is plenty of action, and plenty of gore also – something I’m not usually a fan of, but here it seemed to work.

The story is told from several points of view, allowing us glimpses of all that is going on in Santa Mondega.  You won’t like many of the characters – I’m not sure you’re supposed to – but you may find yourself laughing at some of the things that happen in the story.

There are elements from a number of different genres, including horror, the paranormal / supernatural, fantasy, westerns, crime and mystery but somehow the auther has managed to weave them all together into a cohesive whole. I guessed some of the plot twists but there were still plenty I did not see coming.

A thoroughly fun and entertaining read.  I am excited to read book two in the series, The Eye of the Moon.

Rating

Book Review: Others by James Herbert


Quick Review (read on for full review)

An original, dark and disturbing horror story on the theme of redemption.  Atmospheric, chilling and not for the faint of heart.  4 /5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Nicholas Dismas is a Private Investigator, but like no other that has gone before him. He carries a secret about himself to which not even he has the answer . . .

He is hired to find a missing baby. One that was taken away at birth . . . Or was it?

His investigation takes him to a mysteriously located place called Perfect Rest. It is supposed to be a nursing home for the elderly . . . But is it?

Here Dismas will discover the dark secret of the Others. And in an astonishing and spectacular finale he will resolve the enigma of his own existence . . .

Favourite Quote

Beggars, beaches, bitches and batty old ladies – the images spun round my mind like a carousel filled with harpies.

Review

I’m a big fan of James Herbert and have read many of his books over recent years.  There is something about his writing that captures the “creepiness” factor that not all horror writers can achieve, whilst at the same time wrapping it up in a story you actually what to get to the end of.

This is one of those books.

Others follows the life of Nicholas Dismas, a hunchbacked private investigator based in Brighton.  When he’s asked to find a client’s missing baby, little did he know where the case would lead.  The strange mystery slowly transforms into an even stranger supernatural tale.

The characters really make this story work.  Dis is a complex character as he struggles to deal with his own personal demons whilst at the same time, having people look to him to as a hero after a lifetime of having strangers think of him as a monster simply because of the way he looks.  Constance Bell, who works at Perfect Rest (the world’s creepiest nursing home), and Louise Broomfield a Brighton-based clairvoyant, are both interesting, engaging characters, that work well with Dis.

There’s a terribly sad undercurrent to this story; I won’t say any more for fear of giving too much away.  It is dark tale, with dark and disturbing passages, some of which make for uncomfortable reading, given the author’s powerful imagination and ever greater power of description.

I thought the opening was very clever.  Herbert lets the reader know from the off that this is a tale of redemption so we are clued in whilst the characters are not.  Instead of this tactic revealing too much, what it does do is heighten the tension when strange and supernatural things start to happen.

I didn’t find this to be a quick read.  The story unfolds slowly and the pace is fairly moderate until you reach the last 150 pages or so.  That is why I rated it four stars and not the full five.

The final sentence of Herbert’s End Note (which makes for interesting / surprising / sad reading in its entirety) reads, “I sincerely hope you have been disturbed.”  Quite!

Rating

Short Story Review: The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford

Summary

An old sailor moves into a house which is haunted by a screaming skull.  Whenever the skull is moved, or the old sailor tries to get rid of it, strange, sometimes terrifying happenings occur in the house.  The house used to be occupied by a couple he was friends with, a Dr Pratt and his wife.  Whilst staying with them once before their deaths, he shared with them a tale he had heard on one of his many travels…and now, he can’t help but wonder if the presence of the screaming skull has something to do with him…

Favourite Quote

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest.

Review

I really enjoyed this short story.  Although it wasn’t chilling or scary, it was very atmospheric and quite suspenseful in places.  Gruesome details add to the macabre nature of the story, whilst the narrator proclaiming loud and often that he is a sensible man who doesn’t believe in ghosts and ghostly things, brings balance to the telling.

The story is told in such a way that it’s as if the narrator is relating it to you as it is told from his point of view and in a conversational style.  However, he’s actually talking to another character, a friend from his maritime days, but of him we hear very little.

On the negative side, the story feels quite long for the amount of story and detail we are given.  If it had been a little more condensed, I think the creepiness of the story would have increased.

I recommend The Screaming Skull to those who enjoy macabre ghost stories and those who read early twentieth century literature.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The Kit Bag by Algernon Blackwood

Summary (from Goodreads)

“The Kit-Bag” is a short ghost story by the British author Algernon Blackwood. It was first published in the December 1908 issue of Pall Mall Magazine.

The action takes place in London shortly before Christmas. The story’s protagonist is a young man named Johnson who works for an eminent lawyer named Arthur Wilbraham. Arthur Wilbraham has been defending a man named John Turk, who was accused of murdering a woman and cutting her body up into small pieces. Johnson is obliged to be in court for every day of the trial, which he finds highly unpleasant. When the trial is over, Johnson is glad that he will not have to see John Turk’s face again and is looking forward to going away on a Christmas vacation to the Alps. He asks Arthur Wilbraham to lend him a kit-bag to take with him on vacation. After the requested kit-bag arrives, Johnson passes a fright filled night.

Favourite Quote

“I’m glad it’s over because I’ve seen the last of that man’s dreadful face.  It positively haunted me.  That white skin, with the black hair brushed low over the forehead, is a thing I shall never forget…”

Review

Amazing.  Simply amazing.  A fantastic read, perfect for the Christmas Eve tradition of reading ghost stories, which is when I read it by candlelight.

The Kit Bag is a classic ghost story, and one of my favourites.  It is atmospheric and chilling.  The author really knows how to build the tension throughout the story.  It’s a short, quick read, so to say any more about it will probably lead to spoilers.

For the writers out there who want to learn how to write a good ghost story that will stay with your readers long after they have finished it, take a look at The Kit Bag.

This is my favourite read of 2017’s Festive Reads Fortnight, and I don’t doubt that I shall return to it again and again.

Rating

5 Reviews for…Halloween

Looking for a good book to read this 31st October….Take a look below at a few of my recommendations from my book review archives…

Or, if you are feeling particularly generous, you may wish to take a look at The Cellars – A Halloween Short Story that I wrote and posted on my writing blog. 😀

Happy Halloween!

Book Review: Sepulchre by James Herbert

“There is a house called Neath that holds a dark and terrible secret…”

This is the first line of the blurb, and it had me hooked as soon as I read it.  This dark tale centres around a strange psychic named Felix Kline who is the success behind new acquisitions and rights in a mineral company.  When his life comes under threat, Liam Halloran, a bodyguard is called in to protect him.  However nothing is as it seems, and the longer Halloran is working the assignment, the stranger things become.

It’s not until they leave the city and go and stay at Kline’s country estate, Neath, that Halloran comes to realise just how weird things are; up until this point he just thinks that they do not want to do everything by the book.  But just what is going on at Neath?  What is the evil that lurks there? And who are the odd characters that Kline has hand-picked to surround himself with?

It’s not long before Halloran is trying to determine what’s real and what’s illusion.

The story is fast-paced, with just enough back story to explain how everyone ends up at Neath at that moment in time.  They each have their own terrible secrets that they don’t want to share…

This perhaps isn’t my favourite book written by the author.  However, that being said, I did struggle to put the book down.  I had no clue as to how the book was going to end, something that was maintained right up to the final few pages, and not many authors can achieve that successfully.  Definitely worth a read if you are a James Herbert fan, or a fan of horror fiction.