Review of Holy Island by L.J. Ross (DCI Ryan #1) – 5 Stars

Holy Island (DCI Ryan Mysteries, #1)Holy Island by L.J. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this book by chance when it showed up rather cheaply on a Kindle titles sale and the outline sounded quirky and I must say I am very pleased with the find.

This is actually the first of the DCI Ryan detective mysteries series by L.J Ross and it starts the series off with a bang – especially the ending, great job on keeping us readers hooked for the next one in the series. I do think the writing in general was very good, not overly police procedural, plenty of characters to set it up for a series but not too many that you can’t figure out who is who, enough of an intriguing back story about the characters that I suspect may come back to haunt them at a later date. A very strong start to the series.

The plot mainly includes two interlinked storylines/character viewpoints. DCI Ryan has taken a sabbatical from his police duties after a traumatic experience during a murder investigation and temporarily moves to Lindisfarne. After several weeks of calm enjoying the peaceful island, his sabbatical is disrupted when the body of a young woman is found murdered at the priory. The murder looks staged with cult underlying’s and soon more murders in the small island follow. The murderer is smart, leaving very few clues and cleaning the sites so that the investigating team struggles to narrow it down. In the meantime, questioning becomes more and more difficult as the Islanders try to protect their own from outside police interference.

In the second storyline, we follow former local girl Anna who travels back to the island as an informant on the occult. When one of her own family members turns out to be the next murder victim Anna is removed from the case but fearing for her safety and his new-found feelings for her DCI Ryan insists she move into his small cottage that is doubling as police base on the island.

The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, but the book itself is not as dark as you would expect for a murder mystery, certainly, there is actually very little gore allowing you to sit back and enjoy the storyline.

I think Ross has done a great job, leaving plenty of room for the characters evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Ryan; his mental trauma from his past and how he is suffering trying to suppress those feelings to deal with the new case. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

One of the real big highlights for me was the locations. I loved the rugged windswept island and it’s close knit community. The one pub that you need to visit to find out what is going on. Unless you want to risk speaking to the gossipy landlady of the local b&b. All great places and very easy to visualize.

For those that haven’t discovered the DCI Ryan collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to something like Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway Series – also very good if you haven’t read that). It is crime but not really dark gritty like rebus or anything, also not a Miss Marple cosy crime, something in the middle.

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Review of Blood Ritual by Sarah Rayne – 5 Stars

Blood RitualBlood Ritual by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains the usual mysterious historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly. I thought I had read most of Rayne’s work and then stumbled across this very early novel and at an exceptionally good price and I must say I feel I got a bargain!

It is quite a dark and unnerving as story, similar to her other standalone novels (such as House of the Lost), but certainly much darker than her Nell West series. It is also shrouded in mystery that crosses the line with legend and myth. I would say this story would appeal to horror fans as much as those that like the historical fiction genre.

The modern storyline follows Catherine a young girl from a convent that is urged by her Abbess/Mother Superior to return to where she grew up. However, Catherine has a secret (a few actually), her family are descendants of Elizabeth Bathory, known to locals as the blood countess, something that the rest of her family are much more proud of than Catherine is. The other main modern character is Michael, a journalist who lost his site at the ancient castle once owned by Elizabeth Bathory. Determined to know the truth about the castle and a horrific image he saw before losing his site, he makes his way back towards the place that haunts him. With Catherine and Michael crossing paths can they uncover the truth of the Bathory family history and live to tell the tale?

The historical storyline follows Elizabeth’s story. Re-living the events as she terrorizes the villages of the surrounding area. With a weak husband, an endless supply of young village girls at her service and a lowly blacksmith to do her bidding and surrounded by plenty of faithful servants, Elizabeth rules with an iron fist, so that even the local priest struggles to put a stop to her. The terrifying (and really interesting) thing about this book and this story is that Elizabeth Bathory truly existed and is rumoured to have done some of the terrible things mentioned in this book!

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, strands of threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book but it was so worth it when I did for the characters, mystery and dark storyline. I do like that Rayne experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, very clever, particularly the historical storylines. For those that haven’t discovered the Sarah Rayne’s writing, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. Although the dark dividing (standalone novel) is my favourite out Sarah Rayne’s books. The Nell West series she writes is also very good.

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Review of The Children’s Hour by Douglas Clegg – 3.5 Stars

The Children's HourThe Children’s Hour by Douglas Clegg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m really perplexed about writing this review. This author was recommended to me on the premise that he was very similar to Stephen Kings older horror books and I soon purchased this book with eager anticipation. I didn’t find that to be the case. I didn’t have that terror that somehow kept you addictively reading with Stephen Kings classics such as the shining. Nothing like that, at all.

That being said the book itself wasn’t too bad. The premise is really intriguing. A family returns to the town the father (Joe) grew up in and on his return he is confronted by a girl that disappeared during his childhood. The issue being the girl is exactly the same, she hasn’t aged at all and she remembers Joe.

Clegg’s writing is really quite good, it’s strange and quirky and at times a very vivid image of this small backwater town is portrayed. However, for a lot of this book, I found it quite boring. Not a lot seems to be actually happening. I do agree with other reviewers also that there are just too many points of view in this book, so you sort of struggle to really champion Joe as the main character as the perspective switches a lot along with quite a few flashbacks. It makes the reading quite hard-work and off-putting and all these flashbacks/perspective switches, do slow the pace down a bit.

So, a bit of a mixed bag for me really. This book is not for me a Stephen King equivalent. The story was much more complicated than it needed it to be. That said I didn’t totally dislike it, I really enjoyed the premise, the main character Joe was pretty good and I did like the ending. I think this author has talent and as he continues to write I think his writing style will really flourish, for that reason I will keep an eye out for future books, but I think this one could have done with just a little extra polish and honing. Still, overall an enjoyable read and it’s nice to find something new in this genre. 3.5 star rating.

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Review of What lies beneath by Sarah Rayne – 3.5 Stars

What Lies BeneathWhat Lies Beneath by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book contains the usual mysterious historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, it isn’t quite as dark and unnerving as some of her other standalone novels (such as House of the Lost), but certainly darker than her Nell West series.

In the modern storyline, we go with Ella Haywood who finds out the town from her childhood is to be re-opened for a short while prior to being cleared for new motorway bypass. This is the talk of the town and soon Ella gets very jittery and no-one including her granddaughter knows why. Ella’s behaviour becomes more and more obscure and no-one around her knows why.

The historical storyline was very interesting. The story switches back to 1912 where we meet the Cadence family of Cadence Manor in the village of Priors Bramley, mostly through a series of journals – author initially unknown. We also flashback to Ella’s childhood and an incident on the day the village closed.

Other reviewers have complained about Rayne’s writing style in this and I do agree with some of the comments (e.g. it is quite slow in places). There are four storylines in this book and it is quite complicated how it is held together. Normally Sarah Rayne’s writing style is much sharper, darker and more dramatic. However, I did enjoy the storyline non-the-less. Also, the main character in this book Ella is not very nice, normally Rayne has a really strong protagonist who you champion throughout the book whereas this character isn’t. I did enjoy Rayne’s experimentation with this technique but I think having a main character that you dislike isn’t always an easy sell to other readers.

Overall, I still really enjoyed this book, not as good as others she has written but still very clever, particularly the historical storylines. For those that haven’t discovered the Sarah Rayne’s writing, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. Although the dark dividing (standalone novel) is my favourite out of her books. The Nell West series she writes is also very good. This is more of a 3.5 from me but as that option isn’t available and a 3 felt very mean I gave it a 4.

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Review of The Kept Woman: (Will Trent Series Book 8) by Karin Slaughter – 5 Stars

The Kept Woman (Will Trent, #8)The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the Will Trent series. It took a while at first to warm to it I’ll admit, mostly due to the fact that I really liked the Grant County series with Jeffrey and hated that he was killed off. Will (the main character in the Will Trent series) was initially as a character too…well… good – too nice – too sweet – too vulnerable. It was certainly a change of pace from Jeffrey. That said I still loved Sara Linton, the character that crosses both series. I also very quickly liked Will’s partner in the series – Faith. Now that we are in the eighth book of the Will Trent series, Karin Slaughter has really found her stride. The characters are so lifelike and complicated yet you cannot help but like the good guys, hate the bad guys and well feel conflicted about those that straddle the worlds of good and bad.

In this novel, we catch up with Will and Sara trying to live their happily ever after and things seem right on track. That is until an ex-police officer is found dead at an abandoned nightclub owned by a famous sports hero who has just escaped a rape charge Will was trying to file against him. Things go from bad to worse when the team examines the scene and all signs point to Will’s ex-wife Angie being the culprit of the attack. Not only does it look like she was involved but the amount of blood lost at the scene means she could be in real danger. Sara’s scene-of-the-crime diagnosis is that they only have a few hours to find Angie before she bleeds out

This book looks big but it is fast reading. Real page-turning action reading. The writing style is fluid, intriguing, and completely engrossing. And the plot… well, it is absolutely jam-packed twists, murder, drama, deception, secrets, lies, heartache and mystery.

I quite liked the way this book was laid out too. The first half follows Will, Sara and the investigation team. Whilst the middle shines the spotlight on Angie. It gives a real insight into her past, her impulse reactions, her motivations and her desire to have Will to herself. She truly is such a conflicting character who you will love, hate, love, hate. Somehow this makes Will’s storyline even more intriguing.

Whilst this is the eighth book in the series I think it could be read as a standalone. In fact, most of the series can as I read it completely out of order initially, so if you see it at a bargain price don’t let the order put you off.

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Review of The Bell Tower By Sarah Rayne (Nell West #6) – 4 Stars

The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery (Nell West/Michael Flint, #6)The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #6 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “Deadlight Hall”. In this story, Nell returns as the primary character with Michael returning to the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive. Returning to Nell’s perspective as a primary character gave this story a new refreshing take and also allowed Nell as a character to really develop more. It was also interesting that Nell’s daughter Beth featured a bit more in this story and is a little more grown up in this book. Great use of character progression.

In this story, Nell has bought the shop next door and is working on and extension. When some old plaster is removed Nell finds a hidden message on the wall referring to someone called Thaisa. This leads Neil on a chain of discovery where she uncovers a link with a village in Dorset (where her daughter is holidaying this summer), a mysterious piece of music called Thaisia’s song and a derelict bell tower with a silenced bell. The story is told from a variety of historical sources and also from the view of an old woman living the life of a recluse. She is desperate to protect her family’s secrets at all costs.

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book. I think there was a little less mystery than others in this series and this was quite a dark storyline. I do like that Rayne still experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.
I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. The books are well written and well plotted and the historical details are always interesting.
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Review of The Whispering by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #4) – 5 Stars

The Whispering: A haunted house mysteryThe Whispering: A haunted house mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #4 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Silence”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed this shift of perspective and think it brought some freshness to the Nell West stories.

This story follows Michael visiting a reclusive old lady Luisa Gilmore at Fosse House in Norfolk. After viewing her collection of papers the ill-fated Palestrina choir, a storm hits and Michael is forced to take refuge and stay the night at Fosse House. Something Luisa is not overly keen on him doing. When he spots a young man lurking on the grounds of the house things begin to take an even stranger turn.

The secondary historical storyline for me is more intriguing than the ghostly presence of the modern storyline. There are various historical threads but it mostly follows a young man’s story of the first world war and his discovery of the beautiful Palestrina choir in a Belgium Convent. His desire to free them from the impending forces heading their way.

This young man’s story and all the connecting weaving threads that Rayne puts in are just phenomenal and actually quite beautiful.

The setting of Fosse House and the remote isolation provides all the dark brooding atmosphere required for any ghost story. Yet, Rayne’s description of the war imprisonment camp for me provided the more intriguing settings and all the goings on there made me really root for the characters involved.

This is just a great story. It’s not all dark and ghostly. It’s not all mysterious and menacing. It’s just a really great, enjoyable, intriguing storyline. With lots of odd-shaped puzzle pieces that fit together very well by the time you reach the end.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. 

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