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.

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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.