Book Review: The Night Weaver by Monique Snyman

Review by Stephanie Ellis

Rating: 4/ 5 stars

‘SHADOW GROVE IS A PERFECTLY PLEASANT TOWN …

Shadow Grove isn’t a typical town. Bad things happen here. Children disappear, one after the other, and nobody is doing anything about it. Parents don’t grieve, missing posters don’t line the streets, and the sheriff seems unconcerned.

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the outskirts of Shadow Grove, next to the creepy forest everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Usually, the forest is filled with an eerie calm, an unmistakable graveyard solemnity. But the trees have started whispering, forgotten creatures are stirring, and the nights feel darker than ever.

Something is stalking the residents of Shadow Grove, changing them into brain-dead caricatures of themselves. It’s up to Rachel to stop the devouring of her hometown before all is destroyed and everyone she loves is forever lost.’

When the nights begin to draw in early, a spooky read is a must and The Night Weaver does not disappoint. The main character, Rachel, is a terrific role model for young female readers, someone who is different but is strong enough to go her own way and pretty much not care what the ‘popular’ crowd say or do. No stranger to loss with the death of her best friend some years before and then the loss of her father, she has become fiercely independent, although sadly much of this is due to the emotional distance that has grown between Rachel and her mother as a result of the latter’s difficulty in dealing with her grief.

Whilst the rest of the town is strangely reluctant to explore the forest, Rachel is convinced that is where the children have gone. With the support of her neighbour’s grandson, the two cross the border into the woods and experience the ‘other world’ of the Fae. As Rachel fights to rescue the children, she becomes involved both with a Fae prince and with the very human Greg Pearson. The pacing is good and whilst it discusses Rachel’s relationship with her mother and her own memories of her father, it does not become mawkish and allows the magic of the story to keep the pages turning.

As someone who tends to avoid books featuring the Fae (usually because the author has made them too ‘sparkly’ or twee for me), I found this was a hugely entertaining YA romp with Snyman keeping the balance between darkness and romance perfectly. As a secondary school librarian, this is a book that may yet find its way onto my workplace shelves.

Book Review: The Line Between by Tosca Lee

The Line Between by Tosca Lee

Reviewed by Stephanie Ellis

4/5 stars

“In this frighteningly believable thriller from New York Times bestselling author and master storyteller Tosca Lee, an extinct disease re-emerges from the melting Alaskan permafrost and causes madness in its victims. For recent apocalyptic cult escapee Wynter Roth, it’s the end she’d always been told was coming.”

I jumped at the chance to read this book because of the word ‘apocalyptic’. I love doomsday type scenarios and as it was described as a thriller, it was something I felt I’d naturally go for. As I read on, however, I got the strongest sense that in truth this was really a YA romance set against an apocalyptic backdrop. Initially disappointed in that respect, I continued to read and make my judgment on it firstly as a story, and then as a YA book (as a librarian in a secondary school I read a lot of YA).

The cult of New Earth is a truly chilling place to be, where the leader, Magnus, appears to manipulate his followers with ease. Disposing of a first wife for Wynter’s sister, and then preparing to take Wynter herself as a second spouse, he appears cruel and even perverted. Wynter’s escape, or expulsion, is manipulated by her sister and initially, she is safe in the house of an old friend of her late mother’s. The growing dementia epidemic however soon undermines that feeling and she discovers Magnus had no small part to play in that. Lee paces the story well, interweaving present day with flashbacks but without confusing the reader. She brings out the angst and anxiety of a young woman undergoing extreme mental stress in a thoughtful manner without turning her into a lunatic. The twists and turns, of finding, and losing, friends and helpers on her journey to save the world, keep you turning the page. The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory as it is clearly set up for the follow-up, A Single Light. Having read the blurb for that, it appears to be more of the apocalyptic book I so wanted this to be. I look forward to reading this sequel.

Book Review: Coyote Rage by Owl Goingback

5/5 stars

My first introduction to Owl Goingback’s writings was his collection Tribal Screams, which I loved. This book also contained a taster to Coyote Rage and I was pretty certain I would read the novel when it came out. Here I am, some months later and the book lies finished at my side. Goingback weave’s his story between the modern world and Native American mythology, creating a unique blend of fantasy and horror.

Kindle EditionAs the last human member of the Great Council of Galun’lati lives out his remaining days in a nursing home, Coyote hatches a plot to eliminate him and also the daughter who would take his place. He tells the other creatures it is time for those of ‘fur and feather’ to take back control of their world. His target, Luther Watie, evades him and so the hunt begins for both Watie and his daughter. Not all creatures are on Coyote’s side, man has some friends, in this instance Raven and Mouse, but are they enough? This is a wonderful tale of shape-shifting and magic and the prose is pure poetry when the story slips into the otherworld of Galun’lati. Owl Goingback is a writer of quality and one I know I will return to.

Book Review: Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

4/5 stars!

Broken on the Inside (Black Shuck Books) is a collection of five very dark short stories by Phil Sloman. All start from a point of psychological turmoil, the mind building its own madness which then manifests into something physically and disturbingly real.

The lead story, “Broken on the Inside, is an example of the power of mind control and the unintended consequences of the manipulation of others, in this case murder. “Discomfort Food will probably put you off your burger and chips. “The Man Who Fed the Foxes and “There Was an Old Man (be warned, there are some gross moments!) are accounts of mental breakdown in the starkest detail whilst “Virtually Famous flips and distorts reality.

Yes, it is a small collection, but Broken on the Inside packs a big punch. Strong, powerful and wonderfully dark, this is high quality writing and I would happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

Book Review: It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life
Ed. Joe Myhnardt and Eugene Johnson, Crystal Lake Publishing

4/5 stars

What If? That’s how this collection of essays opens. What if some of the best authors in the business decide to pass on their expertise to those following in their path? Answer: You get this book, an invaluable selection of hints, tips and sometimes, demands on everything from character creation to plotting to submission. For me, as well as the writing tips, I enjoyed the sections dealing with creating and editing anthologies and also how NOT to speak to an editor.

Advice is given and yes, some conflicts as writers have different methods, eg plot v character, one or two drafts or multiple. It’s up to you to take what you want from this – or not, although there is one golden rule that ALL promote – show not tell.

With each essay, it was as if the author(s) were sat in the room with you, chatting about their craft as to an equal. All remember where they came from in writing terms, there is no superiority, no patronising or condescension. They are us and hopefully, those who read this will one day become them.

Book Review: Tribal Screams

Tribal Screams by Owl Goingback (Independent Legions Publishing)

5/5 stars

I have never read anything by this author before but after reading this collection, that will almost certainly change. His stories span the centuries, from the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in America, to the days of the American Civil War, to Vietnam and the present. There are stories of Native American Indian beliefs and Voodoo magic, unwary pacts with the Devil and the consequences of lives ill-spent.

I enjoyed all the stories and had more-or-less decided to award the book 4/5 stars and then I read Grass Dancer, Goingback’s Nebula Award nomination. This is a story of two brothers from the Kiowa. One goes to fight in Vietnam, the other, only 11-years-old waits for him at home. Confined to a wheelchair, he is tasked with looking after Roger’s dance regalia. I am not giving any spoilers here, but the emotion that poured out of these pages towards the end of the story was powerful. I choked up then, and am doing so now as I think about it. Very few stories have this effect on me and shows how skilful the author is. It was this story that turned the collection into one worthy of 5 stars.

Another favourite, but one chosen because of its humour, is Animal Sounds. Snapping Turtle is a medicine man fearing his power is waning as the animals disappear and his people starve. A trip to the Spirit Mountain to discover the cause of their misfortune sees him encounter cannibal skeletons. The part where he persuades each skeleton to donate a leg so he make a ladder and they then have to spend their time hopping about was wonderful.

Want a ghost story? Look no further than Last Man In Line, where a fraternity initiation ceremony leads to an encounter with the ghosts of the past in Andersonville, site of Camp Sumpter, prison to forty thousand Union soldiers.

In addition to the short stories, Goingback includes the first four chapters of his novel Coyote Rage, which is due to be published in 2019. Coyote gets up to mischief on the Great Council, intending to remove its last remaining human member, a frail old man, Luther Watie, in order to restore the supremacy of the animal kingdom. Tracking the Cherokee down to an old people’s home, Coyote is recognised by Luther …

And that’s where Goingback left it. I look forward to reading the completed version when it comes out next year.

Owl Goingback is a skilful and accomplished storyteller, a true master of his art. I will most certainly be looking out for more of his work in future.

Book Review: Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

4/5 stars

It was the cover that initially hooked me and I must admit to expecting a gothic type tale of murder and the supernatural set in more distant times, perhaps some sort of time-slip scenario having read the blurb. However, the initial chapters firmly set the story in the modern day so I was slightly confused at first. Once I got over this misconception and had passed the initial chapters which were very much scene-setting and introducing the characters, the story developed a natural flow which easily carried me along with it. The intermingling of the demonic top-hatted creature with modern life was drawn naturally and not forced. Crime and the supernatural mix easily and believably. The grisly murders committed in these pages are by a character possessed by a demonic entity, ‘the man in the top hat’. As the bodies pile up, DS Sue McKentee meets up with transgender psychic Alison Graves, whose initial information concerning one of the murders is initially dismissed with usual ‘nutcase’ tag. However, as the case evolves and McKentee herself encounters the top-hatted creature, she and Alison work together unofficially to capture the killer and bring him to justice. The story, however, is not just one of murder, it is also how two people reassess and rebuild their own lives. McKentee, divorced and refusing to let anyone close to her, gradually softens and becomes more open whilst Graves is almost at the end of the long journey in the transgender process to become the woman she wants to be. It is a story of acceptance of self and of others. I think these two would actually make a very good pairing for further supernatural jaunts together.