It’s been a while since I have read a horror book, but with Halloween galloping closer, I was excited to be invited to the blog tour for The Nightmare Tree by Paul O’Neill. With a tag line ‘ Somewhere between Iain Banks and Stephen King’, I had high expectations. Scroll down to see if it exceeded them.
The debut short story collection from a fresh new voice. Thirteen tales of horror and suspense. In the forgotten places of Scotland, terror awaits.
‘Intriguing and heartfelt’
Contains the chilling stories: The Great Slime Kings – Three’s a Crowd – The Summer Bullet – The Only Emperor – Down Below is Silence and Darkness – Guardians – In a Jar of Spiders – We the Dark Deniers – Blocks – Nightmare Soup – The Dumps – Once Upon a Flame – The Nightmare Tree (novella).
Dare you stand before the Nightmare Tree and make your wish?
‘Oh my God!’
I’m very glad this was a collection of short stories and not a full length novel – I do not think my nerves will have coped. Whoever quoted the tagline was not lying; while I haven’t read any Iain Banks novels this collection was very classic Stephen King-esque without the excess waffle. These compact stories make every word count and were on the edge of being too horrifying for me which is an excellent sign for horror writing especially when this wasn’t because of over the top violence or goriness.
The power of these stories is the ability to tap into the reader’s imagination and allow it to fill in the gaps of the unsaid. I found myself trapped in the scenarios and nightmares on the page. Paul O’Neill has the ability to transform the ordinary into something disturbing and horrifying. From his descriptions of the swamp in The Great Slime Kings, snow drifts in The Only Emperor, and the leaves slamming on the window panes in The Nightmare Tree, the effects of these stories will linger and unnerve me for a long time to come. Especially on damp nights when I have to venture outside to bring Nigel, our Jack Russell, in when he finds a toad.
Would I recommend?
If you love horror, give it ago but be warned, it made me sleep with the light one and despite immersing myself into festive books, my nerves haven’t recovered. They hit the spot in tension, fear and lingering chills.
Paul is a short story writer from Scotland.
He is a PR / Internal Communications professional who tries not to let the horror of corporate-speak seep into his stories. |
His stories have appeared in Scare Street’s Night Terrors series, Purple Wall Stories, and Fae Corps Press’ Nightmare Whispers anthology, with an upcoming story in Eerie River Publishing’s It Calls from the Doors anthology.
You can find him sharing his love of short stories on twitter @PaulOn1984.
Thank you Random Thing Tours for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.
What are your favourite horror books? Let me know in the comments below.
It’s the run up to Halloween so I am pleased to share a witchy book to add to your Halloween reading list, All Things Hidden by Caroline O’Donaghue.
Book Review: All Things Hidden by Caroline O’Donoghue
Title: All Things Hidden
Author: Caroline O’Donoghue
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: YA fantasy, witch lit
Release date: 21st July 2021
I’ll give up the tarot readings. I’ll apologize to Lily.
But Lily doesn’t come to school on Monday. Or Tuesday. It’s not until Wednesday that the police show up.
Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.
Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will their special talents be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?
I heard about this book via a friend who knows I have an interest in tarot. The blurb caught my attention. Overall, I enjoyed it. The beginning is slower paced and sets the scene, but by the middle I was as captivated as I hoped to be and couldn’t put it down. I needed to know where Lilly was and how Maeve would make things right, or if she could.
I loved how tarot and the card meanings were blended into the tale, but it was the author’s use of magic and witchcraft to delve into the world of homophobia, racism and privilege that made me love this story. It revealed parts of Irish culture I never knew about, as well as exploring the undercurrents and tension we see all over the world.
Maeve is a hard character to like, never mind love with her sense of privilege, outspoken and bratty nature. The cards force her to study her behaviour and see the hurtful consequences of her actions. It is a coming of age story and I would love to read more about what happens next. There is so much more to discover and I felt it was setting up to be a sequel with some threads left dangling.
Lilly is an unseen constant in the book, and you only hear Maeve’s voice and view of what happened. I would love to see Lilly’s viewpoint too because she sounds like she has so much to say.
Would you recommend?
If you love of folklore, tarot or witchcraft, this is a YA novel to try. The gentle pacing at the beginning explodes with excitement at the midpoint. It explores gender, bullying and extremism bundled into a magical tale. The eeriness of this novel reminded me of The Changover by Margaret Mahy, which was the book that introduced me to supernatural and fantasy genre as a teenager. Like that one, I will not forget this novel and I now have a new author to follow.
I’m thrilled to have been asked to help celebrate this year’s #SFFRomFest and chat about my favourite fantasy and sci-fi romances. As many of you know I love books involving magic, witchcraft or the paranormal and a romantic thread always makes them extra special.
What has been your favourite SFF Romance from 2021 so far?
I hate questions like this because this year has produced some amazing and unique novels in the fantasy genre making it difficult to choose just one so I may have to cheat. Sorry!
A true fantasy romance that stands out is Caedis Knight’s Witches of Barcelona, the second novel in the Blood Web Chronicles. It follows Saskia, a low level witch on her investigations into the murky world of the paranormals. It’s hot and sizzles in all the right places with a varied cast of characters and thrilling plot. The world building is fully developed, imaginative and with many twists and turns it kept me on the toes. My review can be found here.
Another novel I adore and cannot get out of my mind is Midnight in Everwood by M.A Kuzniar. It’s not out until the end of this month and I feel privileged to have read an advanced copy – thank you so much, Harper Voyager. Based on The Nutcracker ballet, Marietta is a heroine to admire and again, the depth and layers of the world the author has created drew me in and I did not want to leave despite the dangers faced there. It’s a tale of obsession, desire for independence and self-discovery bundled up with magic and illusions. Everyone who loves ballet or fantasies such as Caraval are in for a treat. The physical copies are also stunning and I can’t wait to own one.
Which subgenre of SFF Romance do you tend to read most and what do you love about it?
I love magical realism and witchlit – stories that are based in reality but overlayed by magic and imagination such as portals to other worlds or characters with secret abilities. I find them more accessible than high fantasy, easy to visualise and I love the added excitement of knowing I could visit places mentioned if I wish. For example, I fell in love with Oxford through the Discovery of Witches and a tour is on my wishlist. I long to explore The British Library thanks to the wonderful worldbuilding in Threadneedle by Cari Thomas.
I also have a love of time slip novels such as those by Barbara Erskine, who is the queen of this genre. They tap into my love of history and the supernatural. I find I learn more about the obscure times and personalities this way rather than a textbook.
What was the first SFF Romance you can remember reading?
It has to be The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. Forget Twilight the chemistry between the two main characters, Laura and Sorenson Carlisle is perfect and the scene of her changing to be a witch is sensual and alludes to so much.
The first adult SFF romance I remember is TheLady of Hay by Barbara Erskine which I borrowed from my mum after she raved about it, but another memorable novel from my teenage years is Past Forgetting by Alexandra Thorne. It’s a time slip novel involving a dress I longed to own and the aurora borealis. Duncan Carlisle is a hero to swoon after.
What SFF Romance do you always recommend?
Currently, it is Midnight in Everwood but there is also Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy which blends my love of witchcraft, libraries and different species together. Caedis Knight’s Blood Web Chronicles are great for those who like romances that sizzle, and Kelley Armstrong is also one of my favourite authors to recommend. I’m not very good at choosing one thing, am I? There are just too many wonderful books and authors out there to love.
What SFF Romance is next on your TBR pile?
The next on my list is the last instalment of The Indigo Chronicles, Children of Shadows by N. Simmonds.
I’ll be joining in with the festival more on my Instagram account but if you want to discover more bloggers favourites or add to your TBR pile use the hashtag #SFFRomFest in your favourite social media outlet.
What are your favourite fantasy or sci-fi romance novels?
I am so excited to share my review for The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke on the run up to Halloween. I adore books seeped in the history of witches and this book promised just that and with a dark, menacing but beautiful cover, I just had to read. Scroll down to see if it met my expectations.
Book Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke
Title: The Lighthouse Witches
Author: C.J Cooke
Genre: witchlit, supernatural, gothic
Release Date: 30th September 2021
The brand-new chilling gothic thriller from the bestselling author . . .
Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse. A lighthouse that has weathered more than storms. Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.
Coincidence? Or curse? Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left. Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .
But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?
The Lighthouse Witches is a deliciously dark tale based on an isolated island in Scotland which automatically adds to the gothic atmosphere. The descriptions of the lighthouse’s interior gave it an ideal setting for an unnerving, fear based reading experience. Told by several narrators including an ancient grimoire it follows Luna who has to return to the island to discover what happened in 1998 when her mother and sisters disappeared but she is not as welcome to the close-knit community as she expected adding to the mystery and tension. With links to the 17th century Scottish witch trails, it grabbed my attention and did not release me until the end, but even then I keep finding myself lured back into thinking about it.
Midway I questioned how dark it was going to go and whether I needed to grab a cushion to hide behind, but it made me use my imagination for the darker moments which may have made things worse. The tension grew towards an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.
Would I recommend?
Yes. With strong female characters, many twists and turns and unique location this is one of my favourite books of the year and a perfect Halloween read.
As a page turner and with strong witch connections, this is a firm favourite on The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf and loved by both Willow and Amber.
C.J. Cooke is an acclaimed, award-winning poet, novelist and academic with numerous other publications written under the name of Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Her work has been published in twentythree languages to date. Born in Belfast, C.J. has a PhD in Literature from Queen’s University, Belfast, and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. C.J. Cooke lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. She also founded the Stay-At-Home Festival.
Thank you Random Thing Tours for inviting me to this tour and providing an advanced copy for me to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.
As you are aware September is dystonia awareness month which makes having my next author to meet on my blog more exciting. Karl Kiddy is a writer and dystonia advocate who published Warriors of Dystonia which I’m proud to have my story so far in.
Meet The Author: Karl Kiddy
A huge welcome, Karl. Please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Karl and I am a Welshman living in Belfast, with my two amazing daughters, my wife and a cat named Willow. I have been an artist since I was a teenager and have dabbled in everything from Pyrography (burning pictures into pieces of wood), to photography, blogging, video editing and production, to writing, and dipping in and out of podcasting. I’m a heavy metal music fan, as well as having a passion for horror movies and pretty much anything in that genre when it comes to comics and books too. In my spare time, I as the whole reading and project thing, I am a gamer, and would play a lot of Xbox, I also love cooking and would do just about all of the cooking for myself and my ladies. I have self-published five books, with Warriors of Dystonia being my most recent book and project. Only one of my other books have been written under my name, with the rest of them, as well as many of my other projects, being done under a pseudonym due to the shamefully juvenile humour that I use throughout. About 14 years ago my journey with Dystonia began.
Q. The book released is a compilation of the stories of people with dystonia, what made you decide to raise awareness to this little known condition?
It’s difficult to really narrow this down as I believe that Warriors of Dystonia had been bubbling under the surface for a long time. Having dystonia myself and knowing that due to very little being known or understood about the disorder I had been plunged into a few scenarios where I struggled and I was left feeling humiliated. A combination of this and having to say that I had Parkinson’s for people to consider my limitations made me think, “enough is enough.” I want to be able to live in a world where we can say, “I have dystonia,” and for people outside of our community to have some sort of an idea of what it is that we are talking about. I knew that there was no way I would be alone with wanting this and so I thought about using one of my favourite mediums, writing!
So, my goal was to make a book where fellow people who have dystonia can see they are not alone and that they can handover to a person and say, “this is my world!”
Q How easy was it to get people together to share their experiences and bring it all together.
As a whole, it was hard work. I wanted the book to feel like you were having a conversation with the person or perhaps you were sitting in on a chat that they were having. No matter what anyone tells you, we are a nosy bunch us humans, and we are naturally very interested in the ins and outs of the lives of others. I’d originally been thinking of ways of directing the content that was share with me, but I am glad I gave everyone free reign now! Getting people to share their stories was the easy part. I won’t go into too much, as I will probably use the same methods again, but it snowballed to a point where I had to close the original submission date three months earlier than I planned. At that point, I had so many and at that point the book was four hundred pages! The hard part was the admin behind the scenes. I needed to set up a form which logged the names and details of everyone who contacted me either sharing their story or offering to share a story. The editing of the book was difficult. I had a file which was a mass of various length stories, terms, medications and treatments that I had never heard of and I then had to work out how I was going to compile it. This was before I even started to then format the thing!
Q. You are an active campaigner to raise awareness of dystonia, how do you fit it in with other aspects of your life?
Anyone who knows me will know that when I have my heart set on something I will do it. Whether it is work related or a new artistic venture I want to try, if I want to give it a go then nothing will stop me. Then, once I have set my mind on it, I will invest everything in it. For as long as I can remember, I have never really slept for long and so I work on Warriors of Dystonia in the early hours of the morning. It would also be these early hours that I would squeeze in some of my other passions too. By the time my girls get up for school I have probably already got a few hours of my actually job done, an hour on the Warriors of Dystonia or perhaps I have been out and taken photographs of the lovely sunrise. As I start my job so early, I often have a bit of time in the afternoons to work on my projects too. Then there’s the weekends, where I will still be getting up and out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning!
Q. Lots of stories must have been overwhelming to hear, do you have a support network around you?
Yes, absolutely. I have to be honest, when I knuckled down and began to really read the stories back-to-back I was struggling at times. Reading the book is different and there’s a bit of a barrier or distance between the reader and the storyteller. I was interacting directly with every single person in the book. Many of which we were in back-and-forth correspondence. Going through the story and knowing that person and talking with them was a very different experience. However, with that being said, it also made me so proud to be able to do this. There were a few people who I spoke with who have dystonia so bad that this book was their first opportunity to tell the world what it was that they were battling and dealing with every single day. The sheer determination was inspiring.
I’ve always been very open with my feelings, so have no problems of just saying, “I am having a crappy day.” You know, that feeling when you wake in the morning and you think to yourself, “I don’t know why, but it’s going to be one of those days.” I just warn everyone. That way, it isn’t a great shock to anyone if I am not my self.
I have a great support network in my wife and daughters. Just having a cuddle from them or listening to their stories about their little lives is priceless. I love going for walks, so I would often go for a long walk with my wife and talk at her about whatever it is that is going around in my head at that point.
Q. Have you found this project has impacted your life more than you expected?
Yes, definitely. I have made so many new friends and my faith in humanity has been restored thanks to the dystonia community being full to the brim with some of the most lovely and sincere people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. Absolute warriors and so inspirational! From the very start of working on the book, I was exposed to a whole world of forms of dystonia that I had not only not heard of, but wouldn’t have ever stumbled across if it hadn’t been for the work I was doing. It showed me that dystonia awareness is not only vitally important outside of the dystonia community, but within it too. Finally, I guess what I almost selfishly planned to be a one-and-done in regard to this project has lead to me wanting to champion and awareness as much as I can whenever I can. Warriors of Dystonia continues to grow, and I am proud to have started it.
Q. You are also a self-published author, can you say a bit about this or is it top secret?
Being a complete control freak means that the self-publish route suits me just perfectly. Whenever I have written a book, the formatting, layout, cover art and pretty much every other aesthetic as well as the writing must look exactly how I want. There’s a method and plan behind my madness! The downside is that you discover that writing a book is easy, it’s the getting it out there into the public eye that is difficult. Although it would be fantastic to see Warriors of Dystonia in books shops, the word Dystonia isn’t something that you just stumble across, so I would expect that most people who are looking for a book about dystonia will stumble across my book when scouring the internet.
Anyone going down the self published-route needs to be prepared to have a plan of how they will release their masterpiece onto the world, and this needs to begin before the date you plan of unleashing it. You need to drum up interest, use all of the tools the internet gives you, put yourself out there so that people get to know you and then talk to your audience. Warriors of Dystonia the book didn’t exist in January 2020, but by the time it was released, everyone who had been following the project knew exactly what it was that I was putting together, when it was coming out and knew a lot about me. Once the book is released, you must keep up that momentum. This is where I struggle, because I keep thinking that any time that I am investing in marketing could be time spent writing or working on a new project!
Q. What is your next project?
I have been writing under a pseudonym for many years and my plan is to continue something I started many years ago under that alias. When it comes to writing, my passion is in surreal, off-the-wall comedy and horror. As well as that, I have drafted a plan for a podcast that I will be hopefully starting this year, it will be another one-man-show, and will be a mix of reviews, random stories of the week and probably a lot of swearing.
These are regular questions I ask everyone, but you may want to skip some if you don’t want to discuss your other books.
Q. What is your favourite book?
The Pilo Family Circus and the Skulduggery Pleasant Series. Pilo Family Circus is one of the most unique horror stories I have ever read.
Q. Who is your favourite author?
Derek Landy, bit that’s because I absolutely love the Skulduggery books.
Q. Is your writing influenced by the books you have read?
I would say not really. My writing is a messy amalgamation of influence from films, comics, music, with a splash of books. One of my biggest influences is life and the characters I meet along the way.
Q. Where is your favourite place to read or write?
I enjoy reading in my living room with movie soundtracks or instrumental music playing in the background. If I have music on that has lyrics my brain tends to start drawing me to the music.
Q. When did you begin writing and how did being published come about?
I have been writing ever since I was a young teen, but I really got into it after I wrote a controversial short story about my secondary school, a killer bear and the carnage that ensued when that bear got to the school. It was over-the-top, completely inappropriate comedy mixed with horror; a printout of the story started to circulate around my school and I became a legend! I absolutely loved hearing about how funny people found the story. Years later, at university, I wrote a series of stories about my life and once again I found it fantastic to see people reading my work in the workshops and laughing. In 2006 I completed Nanowrimo and at the end of it I put the transcript into a book. Seeing an actual physical copy of the story in this way made me want to put more out! I then created my first writing alter ego and haven’t looked back.
Q. If you have a genre you write, how did you begin writing in this style?
I love writing comedy that is mixed with horror, occult and it always tends to be quite surreal and totally unpredictable. Some of my inspirations would be the unpredictable comedy of Reeves and Mortimer, the surrealness of Monty Python and the crude, horror-tinged shock tactics of League of Gentlemen. I also love to listen to paranormal and conspiracy podcasts too as they offer a writer such a diverse pallet of characters and stories!
Thank you so much for joining me for a natter and all you do for the dystonia community. More information on Karl’s book follows.
Warriors of Dystonia by Karl Kiddy
“Dystonia is the third most common movement disorder behind essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease, yet hardly anyone has heard of it. Little is known about the condition or what causes it, but what is certain is that it can affect anyone at any age, at any time, any part of the body and has no cure. Whether directly having dystonia or caring for someone who has it, Warriors of Dystonia shares the candid, emotional journeys and experiences of people from all over the world whose lives are affected by this chronic neurological condition.”
Thank you again Karl for joining me and good luck in your next project.
An update on my challenge for Dystonia Around the World, migraines and dystonia attacks have meant I’m slower than normal but I’m now on book 5 of my readathon to raise awareness and fundraise for dystonia UK. I will be updating my page here