#BookReview: Two Dark Tales: Jack Squat and The Niche by Charles Lambert @BelgraviaB

jack squat“A pair of disturbing novellas from the master of ‘the literary uncanny’.

In ‘Jack Squat’, unemployed Gordon and his partner Omar see a money-making opportunity helping expats buy homes in southern Italy. But their scheme catches up with them after the first home they sell, curiously built with four entrances but no connecting doors inside, is revealed to have a dark history.

In ‘The Niche’, mercilessly bullied schoolboy Billy Lender finds a hiding place in a nook in the school corridor and begins to hear whispers: the voice of a mysterious friend who will help him to plot a devastating revenge.”

When a call goes out on Twitter for book bloggers who like to indulge in the darker side of fiction, I leap arms waving, into action.  Well, I leap thanks to a lovely book blogger friend tagging me (thanks Kate!).  I adore horror fiction but don’t tend to indulge as often as I’d like.  So I jumped at the opportunity to read this novella of two short dark tales.

The first thing to say is that the paperback version of this book is gorgeous.  Both stories have their own cover and you need to flip the book over to see the cover of The Niche.  ‘Not much good for reading, though’ you may be saying to yourself.  Not the case I can assure you.  The stories are back to back.  The reader can read their first story of choice (in my case Jack Squat) and when finished flip the book over, open the cover of The Niche and off you go again.  My daughter thought I’d finally lost the plot when she saw me reading what she thought was a book upside down!

My preferred story of the two was The Niche.  My heart ached for terrified schoolboy, Billy Lender, as the bullies wore him down with their cruel, brutish behaviour.  My heart sank even further when Billy began to hear voices.  Never a good thing in horror fiction!

Jack Squat felt as though it’s meant to be the lead story in the collection.  I enjoyed it but found certain aspects of the piece bordering on comical.  It may be because I have children and certain bodily functions are hilarious rather than, well, anything else but I couldn’t help but giggle a little.  It is dark, it’s quite gory in places but it didn’t win me over as much as The Niche did.

Would I recommend this book?  I would.  It’s a very quick read which I finished off one Sunday afternoon while the kids were hurtling around the local soft play!  I think I had expected a little more ‘dark’ than I actually got but that tends to be the case with most books I read.  I enjoyed the author’s style and would read another of his books if the opportunity arose in the future.  Enjoyable but didn’t knock my socks off.

Three and a half stars out of five.

I chose to read and review an ARC of Two Dark Tales: Jack Squat and The Niche.  The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Two Dark Tales: Jack Squat and The Niche by Charles Lambert were published in the UK by the Aarkvark Bureau on 16th October 2017 and is available in paperback and eBook format | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads |

about the author3

charles lambert.jpgCharles Lambert was born in the United Kingdom but has lived in Italy for most of his adult life. His latest novel, The Children’s Home, described by Kirkus Reviews as ‘a one-of-a-kind literary horror story’, is set in neither country. Earlier books include three novels, a collection of prize-winning short stories and a memoir, With a Zero at its Heart, selected by the Guardian as one of its top ten books from 2014.

Author Links: | Website | Twitter |

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#BookReview: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (@Thomas_Novelist) trs Nancy Forest-Flier @hodderscape

Hex-by-Thomas-Olde-Heuvelt-CoverThe greats of fiction Stephen King and George R. R. Martin lead the fanfare for HEX, so be assured that Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s debut English novel is both terrifying and unputdownable in equal measure.

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.”

OK, I’ll admit it, I was starting to feel in need of a bookish change.  As regular visitors to the blog will know, I am an avid crime fiction reader with quite a few psychological thrillers thrown in there for good measure.  The books I have read recently have all been brilliant, but I needed something …different.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I tend turn my attention to horror novels.  I had completely forgotten I had this on the TBR!  When it was first published in April 2016 I was so excited about it but wasn’t lucky enough to get a copy then.  Thankfully the lovely Hodderscape people didn’t leave me waiting too long but by that point, I was deeply immersed in my Summer blog tour reading.  Only now am I starting to choose what to read again and this one lept out at my from my Kindle screen.

Just to prove how excited I was about this book when it first came out, I downloaded the first 10 chapters from NetGalley and reviewed them on the blog back in February.  If you click here you can read that review.  See?  I was really keen!  (In my defence, it was only my second month as a book blogger, I was still refining my art!).  As so much time had passed between those first 10 chapters and now I decided to start reading at the very beginning.  I was amazed at how easily I remembered the characters and what was going to happen next, testament to a good book.

I flew through those first chapters and eagerly anticipated the arrival of chapter 11.  So I guess the question is, was it worth the wait?  It was.  This book somehow managed to garner a strange hold over me.  I wasn’t as blown away by the witches antics as I expected to be but that didn’t stop this book being in my thoughts constantly, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep (thankfully it didn’t make it into my dreams!).  It has a certain pull.  There are some very shocking moments but they are well paced making the build of tension and the imminent sense of foreboding quite exquisite.

I read this one slowly, savouring the pictures being painted by the author and enjoying every moment.  It’s so very emotional, something I didn’t expect at all.  Now that I’ve finished the book and taken a few moments to compose myself, it’s become blatantly clear this is book isn’t really about a witch.  It’s about a small community that has to stare death in the face every moment of every day.  How they struggle to keep the madness of their predicament at bay and how when the times comes, they turn their backs on everyone else, even their loved ones.

I heartily recommend this book.  I think it will stay with me for some time and may even be one of the few that I revisit again in the future.

Five out of five stars

I chose to read and review an ARC of HEX.

HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was published in the UK by HodderScape in April 2016 and is available in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook formats | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Goodreads | hodderscape |

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thomas-oldeDutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt is the author of five novels and many short stories of the fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in English, Dutch and Chinese, among other languages. He has been awarded the Harland Award (for best Dutch fantasy) on three occasions, and was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award.

Olde Heuvelt wrote his debut novel at the age of sixteen. He studied English Language and American Literature in his hometown of Nijmegen and at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Since then, he has become a bestselling author in The Netherlands and Belgium. He calls Roald Dahl and Stephen King the literary heroes of his childhood, who created in him a love for dark fiction.

HEX is Olde Heuvelt’s worldwide debut. Warner Bros. is currently developing a TV series based on the book.

Author Links: | Twitter | Website |

 

They Move Below by Karl Drinkwater *Blog Tour: Guest Post & Review*

51+-rQ8ufAL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_“Horror lives in the shadows.

It exists under the earth’s surface in ancient caves; below the vast sea’s undulating waves; under dense forest cover; within a storm’s thick, rolling clouds; downstairs in our homes, when we hear the knife drawer rattle in the night. Even our minds and bodies harbour the alien under the skin, the childhood nightmares in our subconscious.

In this collection of sixteen tales Karl Drinkwater sews flesh onto the bones of our worst fears whilst revisiting some of horror’s classic settings, such as the teen party, the boat in trouble, the thing in the cellar, the haunted museum, the ghost in the machine, and the urban legends that come true. No-one is safe. Darkness hides things, no matter how much we strain our eyes. And sometimes those things are looking back at us.”

I am delighted to welcome you to the penultimate stop on Karl Drinkwater’s July Horror Blog Tour.  ‘Horror…?’, I hear you cry.  Yes, horror.  I LOVE a good horror story and would go as far as saying it’s near the very top of my favourite genre list.  So when Karl was looking for bloggers to take part in his July Horror Blog Tour, I jumped at the chance.

I have read Karl’s fantastic collection of short stories and will share my thoughts with you towards the end of this post.  First up I have a guest post from Karl Drinkwater.  I count myself very lucky as I have had some incredibly honest, truly fascinating guest posts recently.  And that includes this fantastic guest post from Karl, who tells us why he writes and how depression has led him to where he is today.

Why do I write?

Writing is fantasy.

Fantasy is escapism from the darker parts of life.

So writing is like reading, but with a bit more say in what happens.

We all need some escapism. A breathing space from life’s problems, a chance to recuperate and catch your breath before the next frantic season of Reality.

My father died in July 1981. I was 8. My father was only 28. Over the next few years I retreated into books and solitude. I would head off on my bicycle and just spend an afternoon on my own in the fields and woods around my village. Sometimes I felt bad, and didn’t know why. I fantasised that a demon followed me round. I had to see the headmistress at junior school because when I couldn’t take it any more I started screaming: at dinner time, in a hall full of a hundred kids. The headmistress was Mrs Clifton, and she explained that what we imagine in our heads isn’t always how the world is, but it does affect how we see it. I learned to cope a bit better.

At secondary school I seemed to have more trouble making friends than other kids. I fell back on being the class clown. My other defence mechanism was just not going to school. Sometimes I would miss a whole week. I couldn’t face going in. When I did, my diary entries mostly began with “School was shit today.” My emotions were all over the place. Just being a teenager, eh? We’ve all been there.

And so on in college, then university. My friends thought I was confident and popular and intelligent and busy – I was on the environmental committee, and set up an animal group, and went to demonstrations – and they just assumed that if I didn’t turn up to a lecture I was ill, and if there was no answer at my door I must be out. But something was happening to me and I didn’t understand it. I only felt calm if I went for walks at night and didn’t see anybody. I looked in the mirror during the day and hated myself. Until the day came when I couldn’t take it any more and went home to my worried family, and saw a doctor, and was told I was depressed. At last I had a word for it. (It’s always a pleasure for a writer to find the correct word for something; the right word in the right place is the essence of poetic prose.)

I took the year out and spent it reading. I didn’t leave the house much. I read every day and every night. I alternated between horror novels, and the bookcase of Wordsworth Classics I’d bought in the library for £1 each. I also taught myself the basics of Ancient Greek for when I returned to university.

That time was a breathing space from life’s problems, the chance to recuperate and catch a breath before the next frantic season of Reality.

Since then depression has been an on-off issue in my life. But I understood it. I studied psychology, I volunteered with a counselling service, I read books about our minds. By understanding it better I could adapt, and cope. By acknowledging something it loses some of its power over you. As ever, writing was fantasy, and fantasy was escapism. Not running away, but recharging. Other worlds followed more predictable and satisfying rules than our own. I thought I was in control of it. And for the next 20 years I was, mostly.

In 2015 it hit back, hard, following a combination of external events that had been on my mind for a long time. It took me a while to realise it was depression, that monster I thought I had caged up in the attic. I was in a very dark place, with worrying thoughts, and it reached a head on a day while I was in work, completely unable to function or hold my psyche together any more. Once I got home I couldn’t leave the house for 15 days. Long story short: I left my job as a well-respected professional librarian. I was the person who thought nothing of speaking in front of 200 students, teaching them information literacy and getting them to engage with the material; I was the person who made colleagues smile or laugh, who spoke at conferences, who travelled round Wales supporting college libraries, who was the joking MC for the annual quiz at one of them. I was the person who over-estimated how much control he had of his own mind. Hubris and waxen wings and all that follows.

We all need some escapism. A breathing space from life’s problems, a chance to recuperate and catch your breath before the next frantic season of Reality. For some that is writing. For some that is reading. Appreciate it, and do your best to understand yourself, and know that we’re none of us perfect. That’s something we have in common.

On the plus side: I found the time to write They Move Below. Although I loved teaching, being a librarian, and helping people, I like to think that devoting myself to writing will be equally rewarding. Though being an author is a career followed mainly by fools and dreamers. It is not a quick path to fame and fortune.

It’s hard.

Writing well is hard. Though the generally great reviews I receive makes up for that.

Getting noticed is hard. I haven’t found a way of helping with this yet. You need a lot of sales and reviews before sites like Amazon start offering your work as suggestions for purchasers. It’s the successful writers who appear in the “suggestions to buy” boxes. Presumably they’ve worked hard too.

Making money … I don’t even know yet, because each book costs far more to write and publish than it makes back in sales.

But at least I’m doing what I love, and what I was meant to do, and that’s the best most of us can say in this world.

My last word. Even though I fear I’ve gone on too long already, I wanted to end on something of gratitude, and a note of appreciation to people who work for a good purpose – any purpose – in this time of cuts and cynicism. Normally when someone left my institution they would send a very short and polite thank-you email to colleagues; usually with no personal details if there was anything “untoward” about their leaving. Instead I sent this:

From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 21 May 2015
Subject: Pob hwyl

I’m sorry no-one has heard from me in a while. In this case it wasn’t that I got locked in the external store or squished in the rolling stacks; I was off work suffering from depression, something I hadn’t experienced so severely since I was an undergraduate and had to take a year out because of it. (Yes, we’re talking over 20 years ago!) During this time off work I agreed to take voluntary severance, so – assuming the paperwork has been properly signed in blood etc – I am no longer a librarian. It seems weird to write that. I just wanted to say thanks to all of you for being such great colleagues. You’re a wonderful bunch working hard in some trying times of change, but at the end of the day it’s worth it because of one thing – no, not the high salaries, the free pencils, the pats on the head or the holidays to Barbados – but because of the LEARNERS. We do affect them, we do help them, and even though we don’t always get to see the end results, libraries and education do change lives. You might not know but I was a failure at school, and hardly got any GCSEs (too busy with my girlfriend of the time; I went to Butlins with her instead of doing my maths GCSE). I rebelled and hated being told what to do. Then I went to FE college (South Trafford College, Manchester) and it all turned around; I ended up loving the independence and the studying, and got GCSEs and four A levels, and went on to university (1st class hons in English/Classics, plus – bizarrely, considering my MATHS ability – a prize for astronomy). But it was FE college that turned my life around. I even went to night school to study philosophy and in the long wait between the morning class and then the evening class I would stay in the library, reading, note-taking, thinking in the blessed silence about all the knowledge held in books, all that we know, all that we forget. Happy times. They turned my life around and that’s how I know colleges and universities and libraries are vital, cogs on which many wheels rely. It was a pleasure to work with you all. Keep honing the learners’ minds.

In case anyone is interested in my plans, I’ll be continuing to work as a writer, but with more time to do it, and maybe improving on my average output of one book every five years. You can contact me via my blog or Facebook or Twitter and it would be lovely to hear from you. If the writing thing fails then I’ll switch to my alternative careers as rock star, astronaut, and amateur pole dancer. Every moment is an opportunity to redefine your goals and yourself; if we only have one shot at this game of life then we have to make it worthwhile. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Best wishes and great peace,

Karl

Karl Drinkwater
(Ex-) Academic Services Librarian

Thank you so much Karl for this honest and interesting post regarding a subject many people would shy away from talking about.

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I love a short story collection.  I’m one of those readers that likes to feel as though they are making progress through a book and a short story collection is perfect for that.  All of the stories in this collection are a great length, normally taking somewhere between 15 minutes to 45 minutes to read from start to finish (I am quite a slow reader by the way!).

The stories all are individual in themselves, some with added shock factor whilst others sent chills down my spine.  I particularly enjoyed Creeping Jesus, Just Telling Stories, Claws Truth Forebear, Breaking the Ice (and Second Transcript), The Scissor Man, Overload and Regression.  Some old school horror, some a little different.

I find great horror stories tend to sometimes be more about the things you don’t know than the things you do.  Karl Drinkwater has expertly ended several of the stories with great handfuls of doubt, leaving you guessing and drawing your own conclusions.  I thoroughly enjoyed this approach, especially as it makes you think and consider what you have just read before moving onto the next story.

Would I recommend this book?  I would, to both established fans of the genre and to first time horror readers too.  You don’t know if you enjoy horror novels until you give them a go, do you?  Karl has created a collection of very readable stories which give a comprehensive view of the genre.  Don’t miss out!

Four out of five stars

Many thanks to Karl Drinkwater for providing me with a copy of They Move Below in exchange for an honest review.

They Move Below by Karl Drinkwater was published in the UK by Organic Apocalypse on 24th May 2016 and is available in paperback and eBooks formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads |

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Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for over fifteen years, ever since he went there to do a Master’s degree: it was easier to stay than to catch a train back. His longest career was in librarianship (25 years); his shortest was industrial welding (1 week).

He started writing stories when he was 9, and hasn’t stopped. His writing sometimes spends time in the sunlit patches of literary fiction, where it likes to picnic beneath an old oak tree, accompanied by a bottle of wine, some cake, and soul-searching peace. At other times his words slope off into the dark and tense shadows of horror fiction, and if you follow them you might hear chains rattling behind locked doors and the paranoid screams of the lost echoing in the distance. There is no obligation to enjoy both of those avenues. His aim is to tell a good story, regardless of genre, but it always comes down to life, death, and connection.

When he isn’t writing or editing he loves exercise, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, and zombies; not necessarily in that order.

karldrinkwater.blogspot.com

@karldrinkwater

facebook.com/karlzdrinkwater

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