Book review: Them by James Watts

Continuing my run of horror novel reviews, I am delighted to share my review of Them by James Watts.

“Ray Sanders returns home from Florida to bury his mother.
Soon, the supernatural evidence behind his mother’s demise begins to surface in the form of dreams and mysterious happenings.

During all of the madness, Sanders must face his destiny and vanquish the generations-old evil that has plagued his family since the 1800’s…

In 1854, Louis Sanders, with the help of Elias Atkins, dug a well to provide water to the family farm. What they did not anticipate was the water to be infested with Odomulites – ancient sins. These malevolent beings – were trapped in our world on their way to the spirit world – formed a pact of protection with both Sanders and Atkins; the families would serve as guardians of the Odomulite nests and in return, a blind eye would be cast when the Odomulites took host bodies to inhabit and feed upon.

It was this pact, which in 2016 would propel Sanders and Julie Fontaine – a young woman with a special connection to the Spirit World – into the heart of the last active nest to rid the town of its insidious Odomulite population.”

My thoughts:

It is impossible not to be hooked by this story; dread underscores every page, thanks to a gripping prologue. Watts has penned what I would describe a straight-ahead horror novel reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand. Fast paced, emotionally real and raw at times, at others almost wistful, Watts fills his pages with close observances and small details that bring his cast of characters alive and builds a warm, down-home wholesome feel that is juxtaposed with the menace lurking all around.

The prose is vernacular and pleasant to read with satisfying descriptions of a grotesque evil that haunts and taunts those dwelling in Maple Grove, Alabama. Watts’ characters are gritty, many have attitude and the setting of Maple Grove is vividly portrayed. I could smell the air and hear the characters speak.

Watts gives his readers what they want, solid, four to the floor horror that never misses the mark. Told from multiple points of view, the plot is peppered with little twists and turns, the pace kept fast as the story flits from character to character. Adding texture to the narrative, Them brims with 1970s popular cultural references, which I found charming.

As for the menace that pervades Maple Grove, I thought the way ‘they’ invade the characters’ dreams was clever.  Them contains an interesting mix of supernatural possession and creature horror, which I found Watts handled well, especially when he offers the reader a full explanation.

Gruesome and terrifying, Them is not a book to read in a basement.

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The Legacy of Old Gran Parks’ Book Tour wrap up

First, I would like to thank Faye Rogers for her efforts in organising this book tour and all those book bloggers who read my book and wrote some fabulous reviews. The tour has had its highs and lows. Here are my reflections:

When a new book comes out, it is the job of authors and publishers to go on the hunt for reviews. The more the better and the one place we want them all to end up is on Amazon, because Amazon counts reviews and based on the number (not the quality) it will activate its own internal promotion of your book. We need 20-25, or better still 50, to be taken seriously. Less than 10 looks sad. To make matters even harder, Amazon splits the reviews up, so a review posted on the UK site or the AU site does not appear on the US site. Dedicated book reviewers will take the trouble to post on all three Amazon sites, cos that’s what it takes these days, and every book blogger worth their salt knows this.

In the past, when I’ve had a new book coming out, I have written hundreds of individual emails to book bloggers soliciting reviews. I’ve trawled the internet on the hunt for reviewers, joined Facebook groups and kept my eye on Twitter. It’s exhausting and the average take up rate is about 5-10%. On the blogging side, book bloggers are swamped, the good ones especially.

To take the pressure off authors and publicists, some bloggers have set themselves up as book tour organisers and for a fee they will organise a tour. When I started to investigate these service providers I was hesitant, but I began to see it as the only way forward. I would still solicit reviews, but at least some of the strain would be off my shoulders.

I had no idea what to expect when I hired a book tour organiser to set up a 14-stop review-only tour. I wasn’t prepared for the disappointment. Despite the organiser’s best efforts, out of 14 bloggers, 2 chose to post an extract and 4 chose to do nothing at all. That has left me with 8 reviews and out of that 8, only 6 have so far shared their review on one of the Amazon sites.

However, all is not bad news. Those reviewers who did read my book wrote honest reviews and there are many delightful comments peppered throughout their paragraphs. I’m grateful to each and every one of these bloggers, and to the tour organiser, who cannot be held responsible for the actions of those book bloggers who agreed to be part of the tour and then failed to follow through. Here are some of the highlights:

“This was my first time visiting the mind of Isobel Blackthorn, and it certainly wasn’t boring! The dark humour, gritty scenes and unusual characters all combine to make an entertaining read….Like the recently successful Jane Harper (author of The Dry and Force of Nature), Blackthorn knows how to convey the sinister nature of the Australian setting, making blistering heat tangible, the seaside seem lethal, and the all-encompassing forests claustrophobic….Overall, this is a darkly humorous tale expressed through brilliant prose and intriguing characters!”

Get Litty – https://www.getlitty.co.uk/single-post/2018/04/18/BLOG-TOUR-The-Legacy-of-Old-Gran-Perks

“This is the first book I have read from Isobel Blackthorn and it won’t be my last. It is such a well written book that I was gripped from the first few pages.The strapline of the book is ‘A Dark Comedy to Tickle Your Spine…’ and it lives up to your expectation.”

Helen Loves – http://helenloves.co.uk/blog-tour-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks has a wonderfully dark, nasty feel to it…The legacy of Gran Parks is a legacy of fighting back against abuse, and taking responsibility for dealing out your own style of justice.”

Liam of Book-worm-hole – http://book-worm-hole.blogspot.com.au/2018/04/review-legacy-of-old-gran-parks.html

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is a very unique, very fascinating but ultimately savage and dark read that I very much enjoyed. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies, you are more than likely going to enjoy this book which starts out a little bit eerie and odd and then turns violent and dark. It was a book unlike any I have read before but I actually really loved it.”

Faye of Big Little Books – http://www.bigbooklittlebook.com/2018/04/legacy-old-gran-parks/

“showed me an insiders view of rural Australia which I easily pictured even though I’ve never been.”

Parchment and Quill – https://parchmentandquillchronicle.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/blog-tour-book-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran parks—is one of the rarest piece of story I ever read. It was unique and got an eerie exotic feel. A truly remarkable, and an unforgettable piece. Highly recommended to everyone.”

Bibliophile Angel – https://bibliophileangelblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/blog-tour-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“I really enjoyed the writing and plot ”

Read Between the Scenes – http://www.readbetweenthescenes.com/2018/04/blog-tour-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by.html

“a marvellous read and I’d recommend it to anyone who asks.”

Infinite Pages – https://infinitepagesbookreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-blog-tour/

If you want to review any of my books, I will give you a free electronic copy.

If you want to buy any of my books, visit my bookstore for links to external sites. https://isobelblackthorn.com/bookstore/

Book review: The Amnesia Girl by Gerri R. Gray

The horror genre is vast and catches comedy in its net. Gerri Gray’s The Amnesia Girl is a shining example of top-class comedy-horror.

“Filled with copious amounts of black humor, Gerri R. Gray’s first published novel is an offbeat adventure story that could be described as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Thelma and Louise.

Flashback to 1974. Farika is a lovely young woman who wakes up one day to find herself a patient in a bizarre New York City psychiatric asylum. She has no idea who she is, and possesses no memories of where she came from nor how she got there.

Fearing for her life after being attacked by a berserk girl with over one hundred personalities and a vicious nurse with sadistic intentions, the frightened amnesiac teams up with an audacious lesbian with a comically unbalanced mind, and together they attempt a daring escape.

But little do they know that a long strange journey into an even more insane world filled with a multitude of perilous predicaments and off-kilter individuals waiting for them on the outside. Farika’s weird reality crumbles when she finally discovers who, and what, she really is!”

My thoughts:

The Amnesia Girl is a witty, vivid, off the wall read that grips the reader from the first. The narration is so good, two paragraphs in and I had to set my kindle aside and pace the floor, waiting for my excitement to settle. An early reference to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar sets the tone, although Gray’s rendition is the earlier work’s alter ego, the antidote to all the suffering and injustice mental patients are forced to endure. A whacky and terrifying array of mental patients in the asylum is trumped by the even whackier and sinister psychiatric nurse and doctor.

Farika has no memory of who she is:

“But whatever memories her brain might have retained of her now-forgotten past were as grayish-white opaque as the smokestack clouds that rose high into the air with the promise of forming into something substantial, only to dissipate into nothingness.”

To my mind, such writing is gold, pure gold.

Thankfully, Farika and her friend, Mara, manage to escape, and they embark on a wild ride from New York to San Francisco, encountering many bizarre characters along the way, from prostitutes to religious fruit loops to radical extremists; everyone’s a nut job, no one can be trusted and the macabre is ever present. At times I was thinking Tarantino or the Coen brothers, others of Rocky Horror, and yes of course, Thelma and Louise. Above all, Gray has captured a slice of vintage USA with a hilarity that charms and a narration that glows. There are plenty of twists and turns as the plot drives forward, heading towards a satisfying ending when things come together and wrap themselves up in a tight knot.

I don’t want to have to defend horror, but I suspect if you want to find out where all the literary fiction authors are hanging out after being rejected time and again by publishers, it’s leaning against a graffitied wall of some dark alley, conjuring dread and revulsion. The Amnesia Girl is another demonstration of the places women writers of horror take the genre. An absolute delight!

Grab your copy here

Find Gerri R Gray here

An interview with author James Watts

I am delighted to welcome on my blog author James Watts, whose debut horror novel Them was released by HellBound Books spring 2018.

Tell me a little about yourself James. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?

I grew up in the small town of West Jefferson, Alabama. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on March 17, 1976.  A few years after high school I moved to Panama City, Fl for around 10 years. I moved back to Alabama 5 years ago and currently live in my old home town of West Jefferson.

 

At what age did you realise your fascination with horror?

It was pretty early on, around the age of 6 or7. My older sisters and brother were always watching horror films. Especially my sister Tammy. She introduced me to Nightmare on Elm Street. And my sister Eugenia and her boyfriend, now husband, took me to a drive-in to see Friday the 13th.

 

When did you start writing?

Around the age of 11. I was using the library more and more around the 4th grade and discovered the Hardy Boys. Loved those books. And not long after I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s “The Stand”, and knew after that I wanted to write. Between my love of comics and novels, I eventually tried my own hand at it. And it was terrible, but I kept going.

 

Who are your favourite authors to read? Who inspires you in your writing?

My son Bailey is my inspiration to keep pushing on. My favourite authors include Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, John Saul, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Matheson.

 

Tell me a little about your latest book?

 Them is a horror narrative set in the small Alabama town of Maple Grove and took a little over a year to finish, mainly because I was working in security at the time and was constantly working.

The fictional town of Maple Grove is actually located around five miles from my hometown of West Jefferson. By knowing the area so well, it was easier to tell my story. It doesn’t end with familiar surroundings either. There is a lot of me in this book, different smaller parts of me in every character. For instance, the protagonist Ray Sanders moved to Florida to escape the pain of betrayal. I did the same thing. Although, our reasons for returning are different. Now as for Ray’s childhood, it was pulled from my own to a certain extent.

The story itself focuses on Ray overcoming his insecurities and to be the man he must be in order to destroy the evil that has hovered over Maple Grove for over a hundred years, and to break the hold it has over his bloodline. Mind control, creepy animals, and vividly eerie dreams make this task almost insurmountable.

“In the small town of Maple Grove, Alabama, an ancient evil resurfaces to claim its right to life and the human race be damned. When Ray Sanders returned to Maple Grove to attend his mother’s funeral, he never planned to have to overcome all of his insecurities in order to save the town from an evil as old as time itself. For over a hundred years, the town of Maple Grove has suffered from the deranged minds and unquenchable hunger of parasitic creatures not of our Earth. Once before in a sacrifice of blood, the forces from beyond were locked away presumably forever. Now they have returned, hungering for their chance to evolve. It will be up to Ray Sanders, his cousin Roy, and a woman either them recall to stop this evolution and prevent the reign of these ageless creatures before their evil can spread.”

What are you working on now?

A new horror novel. It involves a vagabond of sorts running from supernatural encounter in his past. After fifteen years of traveling, and five years of that running from an old evil, Benjamin Belvedere finally finds what he thinks could become his home in the Alabama town of Jericho Hills. But you cannot run forever from some things and the evil has followed him. An demon a couple of centuries old in the form of a little red haired girl with pigtails and a sundress and the spirit of a Lycan elder filled with Hell fire.

Thanks for the interview James, and all the very best with your book, Them, which sounds very very creepy! My review to follow soon.

 

Grab your copy on Amazon or all good retailers.

You can find James on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/Southernhorrorwriter/

Twitter @james2go34

Book review: The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Horror fiction takes many forms. Good horror is an art form, one that requires considerable mastery and imagination. Psychological horror shades into dark fiction – bleak, gothic at times, often literary – and as ever, books can be hard to categorise. Catherine Burn’s The Visitors is one of those books.

 

I’m only sharing some of the blurb as I think the rest is a spoiler.

“Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.”

The Visitors is a grim read, more disturbing as the story unfolds, the narrative devoid of humour but not wit. The is novel driven by its backstory, and amounts to a acutely observed character study of the protagonist, Marion Zetland, as she observes her brother, John, and his deviant habits. Burns makes a study of dark passion, but not the brooding malevolence of a serial killer, more the banal evil referred to by Hannah Arendt, one laced with pathetic and inane self-justifications. For Miriam, a sad-sack of a woman in her fifties, is as drab, anxious and miserable as they come.

What ensues is a slow unfolding, a game of seek with no hiding, the reader allowed to peak first here, then there, as the narrator reveals Marion’s foibles, and those of her brother, their mother and father. The collective past of the Zetland family is not pleasant. And neither is Marion. She is impossible to like. She is irritating, repellant and frustrating. She has no willpower, no ambition, instead she is a hopeless figure stripped of her will, immobilised by indecision, her morality compromised by the voices in her head. Existing on a diet of biscuits and tinned food, she loses herself in imagination and fantasy, her escape from a lacklustre existence inside the only home she’s ever known.

Then there is the small matter of the visitors in the cellar.

What begin as justifications for Miriam’s inertia eventually turn into justifications for why she acts the way she does when she finally exercises her will. And it is only then that explanations of certain little mysteries emerge. Burns exercises perfect narrative control, in command of her plot and her characters at every turn, her premise a powerful one and demanding to execute. I can only imagine what it must have taken to write this book.

Not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy dark fiction, this novel is superb.

 

Stunning *****5 star review***** of The Cabin Sessions!

For once I am sharing a review of one of my own titles just in on Amazon. It isn’t every day an author receives such high praise.

The Cabin Sessions – for those who like their horror dark and psychological.

“Well!
Talk about being blown away.
If you are in search of a stonking read with delicious descriptions – chilling horror (very psychological in places) and perfect prose then this is the book for you.
The horror was delivered with sophistication and stealth – so much so that when I wanted to pull back or run for cover I couldn’t.
The story telling is masterly and I would class this book – author, as a modern day classic.
Unique- individual- and unapologetic.
To me was as good as a holiday- I love that feeling you get when a read has reached every wanton corner of your psyche and cleaned up!
Thank you to the author for a truly defining read!” – Amazon reviewer Kathleen McCarthy

Thank you Kathleen, for making my day!

You can read more Amazon reviews here