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 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 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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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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