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 Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #5) – 5 Stars

Deadlight Hall (Nell West/Michael Flint #5)Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #5 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Whispering”. 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 the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive.

In this novel, Rayne also continues along the war theme, this time it is Nazi Germany that is the focus. To be honest the book blurb captures the essence of this story better than I could word it: Leo Rosendale’s childhood was blighted by a macabre tragedy in the grim Deadlight Hall – twin girls vanished, their fate never discovered. What took place there, one long-ago midnight? Michael and his fiancée Nell are unprepared for the shocking truth.

The historical sections of this novel really stand out, very well researched and enjoyable. The novel takes us through various histories of Deadlight hall from the 1870s, the 1940s war evacuation, and then into modern times. The story from Leo’s childhood being the most dramatic of the three storylines. I absolutely love the description of the old house and the wartime era, rules and superstitions captured in this novel really made the storyline vivid.

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. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, I think the users could read out of order without too much of a worry. 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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Review of The Silence by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #3)– 4 Stars

The SilenceThe Silence by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nell West returns in another historical mystery. In this novel Nell is invited to Stilter House to catalogue its contents. Nell takes her daughter Beth along with her as it was Beth’s deceased fathers childhood summer home. Immediately Nell gets entangled in uncovering the past and the truth about the mysterious Isobel Acton.
This story is the third in the Nell West series and differs from the previous Nell West novels in that the historical plot is mostly revealed through the use of old documents, letters, diaries and the odd newspaper cutting. I think this format worked really well and was very intriguing as a reader to follow.
For me, Rayne’s writing really shines during the historical timeline. Edmund and his relationship with his father is brilliantly described and very believable. The characters Jack and Samuel were also really interesting and how each character’s story knitted together was brilliantly tantalising right the way through the story.
As with all Sarah Rayne’s books I have read, the settings and atmosphere are excellently written and the reader can’t help but be absorbed into the dark and mysterious environments.
The only minor downside in this novel was the modern storyline takes a very minimalist approach with Nell only really being there to discover the historic story. I do think Nell and Michael are both really great characters and would have liked a little more of them in this book (particularly Michael who was so interesting in the Sin Eater).
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. As a few others have mentioned it did take a little longer to get into that previous books by Sarah Rayne but I think that was mostly due to the historic storyline being revealed in a different manner. Once you get into it though, it is really intriguing and I must say I really enjoyed the outcome.
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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Review of The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne – 5 stars

The Sin EaterThe Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Nell West series by Sarah Rayne (Property of a Lady being the first) and whilst they still have the historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, they aren’t quite as dark and unnerving as her standalone novels (such as House of the Lost). I did make the mistake of not reading the stories in the correct order and whilst this doesn’t detract too much from the story as it’s quite strong on its own, I do wish I had read them in the correct order as I think the character development of Nell and Michael is such a good minor storyline and would have been better to have read it in the correct order.

In the modern storyline we go with antiques dealer Nell to a Large London house. We meet troubled Benedict Doyle who has inherited the house from his great-grandfather. Benedict finds the house the house disturbing and soon finds himself having troubled dreams featuring the previous occupant, but the events he is dreaming about seem so real. When these dream events are revealed to Michael Flint (Oxford Don who featured in the first novel), his interest is piqued and he starts to research the historical facts behind Benedict’s dreams.

The second storyline for me, made this novel and is why I’ve given it five stars. The story follows Declan and Colm whom move from their Irish home to London city and get caught up in a situation and a world that they never expected to find themselves in.

Other reviewers have complained that Rayne’s writing style has changed with the Nell West series and whilst I agree she has reduced a lot of the darker elements of her writing, I think if anything she has increased the mystery elements of these novels. The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, this one surrounds a chess piece yet it is so well written you cannot help but get swept up in the storyline.

I also think Rayne’s characters are evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Benedict; his mental condition and how he is suffering as he tries to split what is real from what is imaginary. 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.

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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Book Review of The Ritual by Adam Nevill – 4 Stars

The RitualThe Ritual by Adam Nevill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric book about four old university friends who begrudgingly take a trip together to go hiking and camping in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. The story is told from the viewpoint of Luke, who is looking forward to a trip with his old friend Hutch. Frustratingly Hutch invites two additional friends from the group Phil and Dom onto the trip. Immediately tensions have risen as Luke begins to analyse the friendships and the differences in each of their lives soon coming to the realisation they have little left in common. Eager to get the trip over and with the poor fitness level of Phil and Dom hindering progress, the group soon decide a shortcut is the best solution. Quickly the men are lost, isolated and terrified as the forest begins to unveil its strange secrets to the group.
This novel is very intriguing from the first page, and the old folklore of the forests is quite addictive. Nevill really ramps up the tension throughout and the forest atmosphere and “abandoned” building as a backdrop really help add to this. I did enjoy some of the challenges the group came across more than others but I did enjoy the overall story that was woven together. I think this book has such vivid story-telling it really could be a movie or even a TV series (although a heads up there is an odd gory scene but I do think it adds to the story unlike some other horrors).
Characterisation for me was the foundation of this novel. From the off the main character is a bit selfish, a bit irritating and quite ‘unfriendly’ despite being on holiday with friends. Yet you still feel sympathy for him, and his frustrations and of course his fear. You also sympathise for Hutch, playing peacekeeper of the group. You want the group to get out of the forest safe, yet you also want to find out what is after them.
A really great read that is certainly full of intrigue, horror and the unexpected. As other reviewers have said the first half of the book is so much stronger and scarier than the second, but I wouldn’t let this put you off as the second half of the story is still very good, it’s just that the first half is superb.
Very creepy book, along the lines of something James Herbert would write for those that enjoy his work.
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Secrets – #Writephoto

Rebecca stood alone in the room.

The dirt on the floor, the bare walls and the light streaming through the window faded into the background as images began to play to her.

A woman, like her.

Alone.

secrets-writephoto-image-by-sue-vincent

Secrets photo by Sue Vincent

 

Cowering in the corner of this very room.

Rags covering her frail body.

The window providing the only light in the room.

Yet her eyes shone.

Fear?

Or Madness?

As the images began to fade, Rebecca turned and left the room in search of her husband and the estate agent, she had decided to take the house.

She had to know its secrets.


Originally written in response to Sue Vincents #writephoto – Secrets. I’m a little rusty having missed a few challenges but I hope you enjoy anyway.
Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by noon (GMT) Wednesday and link back to Sue’s post with a pingback. KL❤