books, reviews

Book Review: A Dowry of Blood – S.T. Gibson

S.T. Gibson’s sensational novel is the darkly seductive tale of Dracula’s first bride, Constanta. 

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

“Love is violence, my darling; it is a thunderstorm that tears apart your world. More often than not, love ends in tragedy, but we go on loving in the hope that this time it will be different.”

My thoughts: narrated by the first of Dracula’s infamous brides, Constanta, this is a tale of blood, love, obsession and hate.

Living centuries, familiarity of course, famously, breeds contempt. And being one of the only creatures of their kind, living in darkness, in fear, with no friends or companions except one another, breeds a seething and powerful mix of strong, conflicting emotions.

With her fellow bride Magdalena, and Alexi, the male member of their triad, they plot their master’s downfall and their escape.

Written as a letter, a mea culpa, to Dracula, this is a clever, disturbing and sex drenched novel, little references to the famous novel, a mention of the Harkers, slip into the text as the macabre family criss cross Europe, always one step ahead of the mob, with their torches and pitchforks. Can these children of darkness survive into a new century without their sire and lover? Perfect for fans of Bram Stoker’s original novel and the many, many retellings, spin offs etc.

Thank you to Orbit and Nazia for my ARC. A Dowry of Blood is available to buy now.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Bleeding – Johana Gustawsson, translated by David Warriner

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation. Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love.

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46, Keeper and Blood Song, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte,Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in 28 countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. The Bleeding – number one bestseller in France and the first in a new series – will be published in 2022. Johana lives on the west coast of Sweden with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

My thoughts: I don’t really know how to explain this genre bending book. It is very, very good. It weaves several disparate plots together in a clever and highly enjoyable way. It made my head itchy, in a good way, as detectives uncover a sinister secret life in the house of a retired school teacher and her professor husband. They’re plunged into arcane knowledge and a deep held belief in satanism, witchcraft and magic. A belief and practices that go back centuries, that unite the ancient and modern and that have been kept secret and hidden.

The three women – Lucienne, Lina and Maxine are each learning about these things, in very different times and contexts, attracted or repulsed by the things they see. Their stories are different, but much connects them.

I think this is definitely a book you need to read to understand, and then read again and again in case you missed something. It’s gripping and compelling and a little shocking. And, as I said, very, very good.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Small Angels – Lauren Owen

When Chloe turns the key to Small Angels, the church nestled at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods where she is to be married, she is braced for cobwebs and dust.What she doesn’t expect are the villagers’ concerned faces, her fiancé’s remoteness, or the nagging voice in her head that whispers to her of fears she didn’t even know she had.

Something in the woods is beginning to stir, to creep closer to the sleeping houses. Something that should have been banished long ago.

Whatever it is, it’s getting stronger, and pretending it’s not there won’t keep the wedding, or the village – or Chloe – safe.

My thoughts: woods have always been full of stories, magic and monsters. They have a pull on us and our imaginations. Mockbegger is the same here. The church of Saint Michael and All Angels – Small Angels, stands on its edges, not used by the villagers but only by the Gonnes. When Chloe hires it for her wedding she stirs up one of the things living deep in the woods.

A story of brothers and a death and a vengeful spirit, a story of sisters and secrets and a terrible night, a story of love and fear and finally setting the past free.

Beautiful, Gothic fiction, weaving a fairytale like spell over the people of the village, over Chloe and over the reader.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Shape of Darkness – Laura Purcell*

As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another…

Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?
Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back...

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV Book Club pick and was the winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, while her subsequent books The Corset and Bone China established Laura as the queen of the sophisticated, and spooky, page-turner.

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My thoughts:

I’m a big fan of Laura Purcell’s work so I leapt at the chance to read her newest Gothic horror. And I was not disappointed.

Taking in mesmerism and séances, the creation of silhouette art and the idea of being haunted by your losses, she weaves a sinister and macabre tale of Agnes Darken, a woman trying to make sense of a string of brutal murders that seem to be connected to her and a young girl, Pearl, who might just be able to channel the dead.

It also explores the place of women, as both Agnes and Pearl’s sister, Myrtle, are trying to make a living in a man’s world, where few professions are open to them, as opposed to Agnes’ friend Simon, a busy doctor, who doesn’t fret over every penny and often tries to help her out.

There’s also a little greedy pug called Morpheus, which hints nicely at some of the elements of Agnes’ situation.

It is truly excellent, part crime thriller mystery, part horror with its ghosts and grim killings. The ending was very satisfying.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Nesting – C.J. Cooke*

The grieving widower. The motherless daughters. A beautiful house in the woods. And a nanny come to save the day….

So what if Lexi isn’t telling the truth about who she is? Escaping to the remote snows of Norway was her lifeline. And all she wanted was to be a part of their lives.

But soon, isolated in that cold, creaking house in the middle of ancient, whispering woods, Lexi’s fairytale starts to turn into a nightmare. With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi’s fears are deepening.

Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care. But protect them from what?

C.J. Cooke is an acclaimed, award-winning poet, novelist and academic with numerous other publications under the name of Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

Born in Belfast, she has a PhD in Literature from Queen’s University, Belfast, and is currently Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health.

She also founded the Stay-At-Home Festival.


My thoughts:

I love weird Gothic novels with creepy houses, sinister trees and monsters so this book really appealed to me. It’s also a really good example of how to do Gothic horror in the 21st Century. While all the characters have mobile phones and WiFi etc, the terrifying apparition and the way the forest seems to fold in on people defy the rational technology we all hold so dear. You can look things up but an ipad won’t stop a ghost or in this case a nokk (a Norwegian water spirit and not a friendly one).

Reeling from his wife’s sudden death and the literal collapse of his previous dream house, Tom has thrown himself into building an architectural masterpiece hanging from a cliff in the Norwegian forest. His two young daughters are being taken care of by Sophie, who isn’t who she says she is at all. There’s an unhappy housekeeper (shades of Mrs Danvers), a creepy basement, an elk that seems to be entering the house, a frustrated business partner and his exercise obsessed wife. Throw all these things together and it’s a wonder anyone makes it out alive.

I thoroughly enjoyed this creepy book, although I will be avoiding houses built on fjords for good, they don’t seem entirely safe or friendly.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson*

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina

My thoughts:

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year so far and it more than lived up to my hopes.

It is a very 2020 book, with terrible curses, blood, blight, darkness, slaughter. It just feels like it was written exactly for the insane times we’re living in.

Dark, sinister and unsettling, that’s just the creepy religious community Immanuelle lives in. Surrounded by the Darkwood, home to four malevolent witches, Bethel follows the teachings of the Prophet, a man with multiple wives, who claims to be leading them in the ways of the Lord, overlooking the poverty and misery on their doorstep.

Immanuelle’s mother died the day her daughter was born, and as darkness approaches in the form of four terrible plagues, it is only this one brave young woman who can stop it.

Immanuelle is an incredible resilient, bold, clever woman. Treated poorly by her community because of her parentage and skin colour, raised by her grandparents and suspicious of the way things are run, she’s a very strong and powerful figure.

The tension and terror rachets up, pure Gothic horror, with sinister houses and disturbing monsters in the form of Lilith, Delilah, Jael and Mercy, the Darkwood witches.

The use of names in this book was so good too, Immanuelle, Lilith, Hope, Leah. The Biblical references abound. I could easily write whole essays on the references and the names alone.

For a first novel Alexis Henderson has written a masterpiece. I devoured this so fast. I actually already want to re-read it. Adding it to my top 10 books for this year.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books, reviews

Book Review: The Quickening – Rhiannon Ward

I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher, originally for a blog tour but it didn’t arrive in time. Please see my unbiased review below.

Feminist gothic fiction set between the late 19th century and the early 20th century – an era of burgeoning spiritualism and the suffragette movement – that couldn’t be more relevant today.

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on

the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

An exquisitely crafted and compelling mystery that invites the reader in to the crumbling Clewer Hall to help unlock its secrets alongside the unforgettable Louisa Drew.

My thoughts:

This was a dark, twisted Gothic mystery, complete with crumbling house (quite literally), secrets, stoic servants and a woman at the centre who might just be in terrible danger.

Contracted to photograph Clewer House and its contents by the auction house handling the sale, with the family due to move to India, Louisa Drew is eight months pregnant and desperate for an escape from her dull second husband, who she doesn’t love.

Draw into the web of secrets, tragedy and spiritualism surrounding the Clewer family, she becomes slightly obsessed with the child she thinks she sees in the garden. A few strange things happen to her before an infamous seance is recreated with the original guests.

The inclusion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife is interesting. Probably one of the most famous spiritualists, Doyle was a man of science who nevertheless believed mediums could communicate with the other side, despite having met his share of charlatans.

Louisa is a modern woman, used to providing for herself, after losing her first husband, Bertie, in WWI. This contrasts with the very Victorian fascination with mediums, lending an element of travelling back in time to the proceedings.

The atmospheric, damp, mouldy, crumbling house provides the perfect backdrop to the unfolding tragedy. As Louisa is drawn into solving a murder and investigating the Clewer family’s tragedy, she starts to unravel herself.

In grand Gothic tradition the house and the secrets it holds start to affect everyone who enters it and I really enjoyed the fact that there was something sinister about the plaster falling off the walls as the family and their guests take tea in another room.

This is an excellent read, full of suspense and things that jar against the early 20th century setting, a time of huge social change, while Clewer House clings onto its past.