Book Review: Small Angels by Lauren Owen

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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.

Today, I am delighted to be sharing my review of Small Angels by Lauren Owen. Huge thanks to the author, Tinder Press and Claire Maxwell for inviting me to preview the book and providing me with a proof for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

There is nothing I love reading more than a good Gothic novel and, whilst the midst of a burning summer perhaps isn’t the ideal time to immerse yourself in the dark and gloomy, I absolutely adored Small Angels.

Right from the beginning of the book, the author draws you in to a small, insular and oppressive world, in a village that seems forgotten by the rest of humanity at the edge of the ominous Mockbeggar Woods. The scene setting here is without compare, you will be whisked away to every place you’ve ever seen, watched or read about that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s the Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf, Manderlay from Rebecca and the Seward Sanatorium all rolled into a feeling. This place isn’t normal, that’s clear from the beginning and, once you’ve been drawn in, it’s impossible to extricate yourself from its grip until the very end.

The premise of the book is entirely unique, but in the best traditions of ghost story telling. I’ve only just realised the connection but, as soon as I started reading this book, I was subconsciously compelled to rewatch Sleepy Hollow because the book gave me a similar vibe to Washington Irving, but with an individual and modern spin. Every character in this book was vividly alive and real, even whilst the tale is fantastical and fey – I was completely invested whilst being transported to a fairytale world. Fairytale in the sense of the original stories by the Brothers Grimm, far from a sanitised, Disney version. This book is not for the timid or terrified.

The best thing about the book is the setting is so alive. The author’s description of the woods, the way she gives life and a voice and intent to the trees and foliage is what brings the book to life and makes it so menacing. Her prose is deliciously purple, so plump and tasty you can almost suck it from the page. This book is one to be devoured, a rich feast of a tale that will leave you full and satiated and wondering when you will next savour something so luscious and satisfying.

I could not put this book down once I had started reading it, and I know it is one I will go back to for a second reading, which doesn’t happen to much these days. My only regret is that I didn’t read it during the darkening days of autumn, when the nights are drawing in and darkness starts to creep around the edge of our thoughts, when things can be hiding in the shadows on the cusp of our dreams. This is the perfect time to gain the most from the reading of Small Angels, when the nights can hide all manner of strangeness from view and you wonder what that whisper was over your shoulder. Buy a copy now, ready to haunt you a little in the evenings as the year begins to wane. You won’t regret it.

Small Angels is out in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats on 2 August and you can pre-order a copy here.

About the Author

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Lauren Owen is the author of The Quick and Small Angels. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize, and wrote a PhD thesis entitled ‘Dracula’s Inky Shadows’ on the Gothic tradition in fiction.

Lauren grew up in Yorkshire and currently lives in Oxford.

Connect with Lauren:

Website: https://www.laurenowenauthor.com

Twitter: @pioneers_o

Instagram: @pioneerso

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Blog Tour: Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe by Jodie Cain Smith

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In Huet Pointe, ambition is as dangerous as the brackish water that surrounds the sliver of land. But, the women of this antebellum hamlet yearn for more than society insists they be-devout, feminine, and content with living according to cultural norms. So, what’s a girl to do? She could employ poison, perhaps a bit of adultery, and drowning in alligator-infested waters is always a choice-whatever it takes to achieve her goal.

A novel-in-stories, Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe, tells the stories of ten women brought together by proximity, forever entangled by the actions they take.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe by Jodie Cain Smith. My thanks to Love Book Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

An interconnected set of short stories, weaving together the lives of ten women who inhabit a small town in forgotten swampland, Bayou Cresting is a must-read for fans of Southern Gothic literature. Set in the mid-1800s, this book brings together everything that is appealing and emotive about this enticing genre. Earthiness, darkness, voodoo, magic, murder and mayhem, with a feminist spin, this is a deeply fascinating piece of work.

Firstly, the writing transports the reader directly to the heart of the humid, hidden bayous of the Deep South at an important point in history and this book has one of the strongest senses of place in a novel I have read for a long time. You can feels the steamy, oppressive heat rising from the page, feel the isolation of this forgotten place and experience the simmering tensions that undercut life in this town. Even those characters who seem genteel on the surface can be hiding black hearts and those who are looked down upon by the community can surprise you with their consideration and kindness. This is a book that questions every stereotype you have ever come across in Southern Gothic literature.

The book focuses solely on the women of the town. The men play bit parts, only relevant insofar as they affect and impact the lives and behaviour of those women, which is a fascinating way to portray a society where the women are secondary and subservient to the men in every way – or so it would seem. the abiding takeaway for me from reading this novel is that women’s strength will make itself felt, come what may, and there is little that men can do about it in the end.

Many of the characters in this book are not liable, but this does not make them any less interesting, possibly more so. Some of the characters, in fact, are downright appalling, but they are still fully realised, well-rounded and recognisable individuals, not caricatures. What makes this book such compelling reading is that the characters are realistic and believable, which makes their behaviour much more impactful. There are some terrible goings on in these stories, the tension will pull you in and hold you from story to story. Every facet of life in the town is covered, from the ladies in their antebellum mansions to the slaves in their quarters and the women in the local brothel, and the ones who are happiest are not necessarily the ones you would expect, if indeed anyone who is truly happy in this lost town.

A really unusual construction for a novel, where they are only loosely connected by location and character crossover, this nonetheless feels like a complete story, drawn together to the inevitable denouement, which left me with a deep sense of unease and disturbance at the lives of these women. Any book which evokes a strong reaction in the reader is an achievement in writing and, whilst not being what I expected, this book certainly left its mark on me. I hope it finds a wide readership, it is a fantastic piece of work.

Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jodie Cain Smith is the author of two Southern Gothic novels, The Woods at Barlow Bend (1st edition Deer Hawk Publications, Nov 2014; 2nd edition Kat Biggie Press, July 2021) and Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe (Crowsnest Books, 2021). More than any other character, Jodie enjoys creating ambitious women who often fly across the line to dangerous women. She is the founder of the Mobile Literary Festival, proving her philosophy of “If it doesn’t exist, create it yourself.” When she is not creating southern fiction, Jodie can be found in the worlds of superheroes, Lego, and Mario Kart with her little boy and husband. Her Mario Kart driving needs work, the boy is awesome, and the husband puts up with all the crazy. Jodie Cain Smith’s short stories, feature articles, and columns have appeared in Pieces Anthology, the Pulpwood Queen’s Works in Progress, The Petigru Review, Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul, The Savannah Morning News, and the Fort Hood Sentinel.

Connect with Jodie:

Website: https://jodiecainsmith.com

Facebook: Jodie Cain Smith

Twitter: @JodieCainSmith

Instagram: @jodiecainsmithauthor

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Book Review: Hold My Place by Cassondra Windwalker

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Obsession never dies.

When librarian Sigrun falls head-over-heels for the sophisticated and very married Edgar Leyward, she never expects to find herself in his bed—or his heart. Nevertheless, when his enigmatic wife Octavia dies from a sudden illness, Sigrun finds herself caught up in a whirlwind romance worthy of the most lurid novels on her bookshelves.

Sigrun soon discovers Octavia wasn’t Edgar’s first lost love, or even his second. Three women Edgar has loved met early deaths. As she delves into her beloved’s past through a trove of discovered letters, the edges of Sigrun identity begin to disappear, fading into the women of the past. Sigrun tells herself it’s impossible for any dark magic to be at play—that the dead can’t possibly inhabit the bodies of the living—but something shadowy stalks the halls of the Leyward house and the lines between the love of the present and the obsessions of the past become increasingly blurred—and bloody.

I was offered a digital copy of Hold My Place by Cassondra Windwalker by Lindy Ryan at Black Spot Books for the purpose of review, for which I am extremely grateful as always. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author and, I have to say, I was captivated by her writing. The characterisation, the plotting and the language all combined in an elegant symphony to deliver a book that lingered in my mind long after I had finished it. It was not at all what I was expecting from the blurb but I am so glad that the invitation from the publisher led me to this book which I likely would not have discovered otherwise.

The protagonist of the book is librarian, Sigrun. A lover of dark and gothic literature, uncompromising in attitude, she surprisingly finds herself drawn to smooth, handsome, society chef, Edgar. Surprising because they seem diametrically opposite in character, and Edgar is happily married to the beautiful, sophisticated Octavia. Despite this, they start a friendship and Sigrun finds herself becoming obsessed with him. Then his wife dies unexpectedly and Sigrun is drawn completely into his life.

The book is set during the recent pandemic lockdown, which adds to the feelings of claustrophobia and isolation that surrounds Sigrun and Edgar and their dangerous, exclusionary love. Set almost exclusively within the confines of Edgar’s brooding house, and the deserted city streets, Edgar and Sigrun’s total devotion to one another feels all the more unhealthy and lonely than it would in more normal times. Sigrun’s paranoia and confusion is heightened by her distance from other people in her life, and you can easily see how her thoughts have become so distorted in this environment.

The author’s use of language is just beautiful, it is almost like reading poetry, which enhanced my enjoyment of the book immensely. The book had the air of a gothic fairytale, one of the original ones written by the Brothers Grimm, not the Disney version with the guaranteed happy ending. The book has an aura of menace and doom hanging over it. There is more than a whiff of Daphne du Maurier in its twisted portrayal of unhealthy love and hint of the supernatural. The book was not, however, in any way predictable and I did not see the ending coming at all.

I love discovering new authors, as well as books that surprise and delight me, and this book ticked every box. Something out of the norm, that really generated an extreme of feeling within me as I read. A book that I will remember for a good while.

Hold My Place is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Cassondra Windwalker is a poet, essayist, and novelist presently writing full-time from the southern Alaskan coast. She enjoys hearing from readers via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, smoke signals, and interstellar songs.

Connect with Cassondra:

Facebook: Cassondra Windwalker Writes

Twitter: @WindwalkerWrite

Instagram: @cassondrawindwalker

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Book Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

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You can’t escape the desert. You can’t escape Sundial.

Rob fears for her daughters. For Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. For Annie, because of what Callie might do to her. Rob sees a darkness in Callie that reminds her of the family she left behind. She decides to take Callie back to Sundial, her childhood home deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is afraid of her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely. To tell her secrets about her past that both disturb and excite her. And Callie is beginning to wonder if only one of them will leave Sundial alive…

Catriona Ward’s last book, The Last House on Needless Street, was one of the highlights of my reading year last year, so I was delighted to be invited to preview her new book, Sundial. I am very grateful to the publisher, Viper Books, for providing me with an advance proof of the book for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Anyone who read The Last House on Needless Street will be wondering what is to come next from this author. That book was so brilliantly unexpected and out of leftfield that it seems impossible she could come up with anything to match it. It was out on its own, so distinctive that she could not possibly replicate the things that made it so standout, a book that was talked about by everyone last year. And she hasn’t replicated the genius of The Last House on Needless Street. What she has done is write something totally different but equally, if not more, compelling in its own distinctive way.

This is the story of two people, Rob and her daughter, Callie. Rob is struggling in a tempestuous relationship with her husband, Irving, and is concerned about the impact this is having on her two daughters. In particular, the elder of the two, Callie, has begun to exhibit behaviours that Rob finds deeply concerning, particularly as they pertain to the safety of her other child. She decides to take Callie back to her family home in the Mojave desert to try and deal with Callie’s behaviour. In a series of flashbacks to Rob’s own childhood, we discover it was far from normal and begin to wonder if DNA may be at play here.

This book was addictive from beginning to end. An extremely dark, oppressive, creeping psychological horror story with a pair of completely unreliable narrators and underlying themes that will burrow into your brain and take root to the point that you will not be able to extricate yourself from this story until you have finished. The very pinnacle of unputdownable reading, this story held me in thrall from beginning to end.

The story is twisted in every definition of the word. What goes on in both the present day and the historical back story is disturbing to say the least, and will raise some interesting scientific and moral questions in the reader. The plot itself is so serpentine and cleverly constructed that I defy anyone to work out where it is is going until the very end, and there are myriads of shocks along the way. The setting of the book is oppressive in the extreme, and brought brilliantly to life on the page and is absolutely essential to the plot. I has such clear imagery in my mind throughout the novel that it was almost like being in a movie of the book. A terrifying movie it was much of the time too; if it was playing out on the screen I would be hiding behind a cushion. This author has a brutal, ingenious mind, I have no idea which dark part of her psyche dreamt up this plot, but it must be scary and thrilling to live with.

This book is not an easy read. It is not the type of book you pick up to lift you on a dark day or doze off under in bright sunshine on a poolside lounger. It is a book that will challenge you, excite you and grasp onto you with a ferocious hold until you reach the end. You won’t be able to leave it behind, even when you aren’t holding it in your hand, and it will be one you remember long after you have read it. Much as I loved The Last House on Needless Street, I think I may love Sundial more. What this says about me as a person, I don’t know, but this is not a book that fades in with all the others on the bookshop shelf. Another book that will be a big talking point amongst book lovers this year.

Sundial is out on 10 March and you can pre-order in hardback, ebook and audio formats here.

About the Author

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CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia.

‘The Last House on Needless Street’ (Viper Books, Tor Nightfire) was a Times Book of the Month, Observer Book of the Month, March Editor’s Pick on Open Book, a Between the Covers BBC2 book club selection, a Times bestseller, and is being developed for film by Andy Serkis’s production company, The Imaginarium.

‘Little Eve’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.

Connect with Catriona:

Facebook: Catriona Ward

Twitter: @Catrionaward

Instagram: @catward66

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