Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman – Blog Tour Book Review

Book cover

About the Book

HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A WHITE LIE?

“[A] spellbinding psychological thriller… a suspenseful tale of paranoia that will keep readers riveted until the last surprise is sprung.”

–Publishers Weekly, starred review

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday… but Sean does.

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbour, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favourite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, this is a thrilling must-read for fans of True Crime and Horror.

About the Author

Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show” and the author of rest area, nothing untoward, and The Tribe trilogy. He is the co-author, with Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, of the middle grade novel Wendell and Wild. In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse. He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005). You can find him at claymcleodchapman.com.

What I Thought

Growing up in the 80s myself I have very vague recollections of Satanic Panic: that there were fears of occultists, ritualised markings at crime scenes, and that people were convinced that the devil was real and doing work through his followers. I wonder if watching Eddie Murphy’s film The Golden Child had anything to do with those memories?

Whisper Down the Lane is a psychological thriller/horror that is very filmic in its writing. You can visualise this playing out and at times that makes it all the more creepy.

It is told from two perspectives. Richard in 2013 and 5 year old Sean in 1983. The voice in Sean’s chapters is at times a little old so I wonder if this is being told with a dash of hindsight too. We also have interview transcripts, newspaper clippings and letters to add further intrigue.

Whisper down the Lane is the childhood game where a phrase gets whispered down a group, passed from ear to ear, rarely coming out as it started. With echoes of the crucible witchcraft accusations and a very creepy therapist helping along Sean’s false memories the accused teacher in the 80s realises that rumours stick even when they are disproved.

With all the talk of fake news recently this also feels a little on the nose. That certain groups believe out and out lies. But here we have children spreading them, but it is made clear it is the adults who whip them up into a frenzy.

I think child abuse is a tricky topic to include in a book, and sexual abuse is alluded to amongst the satanic whisperings. In the more modern day narrative it felt a little more unsavoury to suggest that victims aren’t always being truthful, especially with the recent “me too” movements. But I can see how it is used to add fear and uncertainty in the reader.

What happened to Sean and his teacher in the 80s is then echoed in Richard’s story. The circular concept of what goes around comes around. In fact each chapter is headed either damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

Richard is presented as a very likeable jovial character at the start, someone who is settling into life with good things happening. He has married and hope to adopt his stepson. That makes what comes next put you on edge wonder what is happening, and reconsider if we should have liked him in the first place.

The denouement is satisfying and there were subtle clues given to it that a future reading may highlight more. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and even added right at the end, leaving a sense of incompleteness to the story. It left me unsettled although I don’t think we will get more.

Just in case reading the synopsis or my review didn’t make it clear this book has trigger warnings for: Satanism, Animal Cruelty and Child Abuse.

Launch Event with Elijah Wood – you can watch the reply for $5.

https://shop.wordbookstores.com/live

Thanks to Stephen and Jamie-Lee at Black Crow PR for the gifted ARC for the purposes of an honest review.

Do check out the rest of the blog tour to see what everyone else thought.

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The Fall of Koli (The Concluding Book in the Rampart Trilogy) by MR Carey – Blog Tour Book Review

Fall of Koli book cover image

About the Book

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy – set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.

The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .

Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.

Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

About the Author

MR Carey has been making up stories for most of his life. His novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a word-of-mouth bestseller and is now a major motion picture based on his own screenplay. Under the name Mike Carey he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs of X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear I’m the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels, two radio plays and a number of TV and movie screenplays to his credit.

What I Thought

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the blog tour for this whole series so just in case you are nee to the series I’ll share the links to my thoughts on books 1 & 2 here.

Book 1 – The Book of Koli

Book 2 – The Trials of Koli

Book 3 – The Fall of Koli

Once again the story picks up exactly where it left off in book two, albeit with a little preamble from Koli first.

“Why does the world think boys can’t be gentle and loving as well as strong and fierce?”

Let’s set the record straight, Koli is a cinnamon roll and he has the biggest heart, and I love him for it. Does that mean he sometimes acts foolishly – yes. But that adds to his endearment, and if he acted sensibly we wouldn’t have had half as good a story to follow.

We begin focusing on Koli, Monono (still my favourite character), Ursala and Cup arriving at the Sword of Albion. And it is not what any of us anticipated. On it we are introduced to three new and very chilling characters. I’m not going to say much about them because I want to keep this spoiler free but if your skin doesn’t goosebump from the first meeting with them then you are made of stronger stuff than me. It reminded me slightly of Allegiant when Tris and co escape Chicago and the creepy community in Lost.

We do then head back to Spinner and her ongoing challenges: of Ramparts, and wars and new life. I have to admit I had a slight itch to get back to Koli and his gang when reading her chapters. Nothing against the tale she is spinning but just that Koli’s exploits were keeping me on tenterhooks.

We do get other point of view characters too later in the book but once again I’m keeping schtum about them because surprises are fun.

In his acknowledgments Carey reports completing the writing of this during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and as with any good sci-fi it becomes a social commentary on the present. It touches on topics such as race, being transgender, brexit, naziism, corrupt politicians, climate change and more.

You need to have read the first two books to understand this one, if you didn’t like the voice in the previous books then you won’t like this. I would say this is the most pacy of the the three books but Koli’s storytelling in particular is still meandering and as such feels slower than many of us are used to. It’s replicative of oral storytelling, but to me this works much more successfully that the similar style used in Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Like I said in my review of the first book think the kid narrator in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. I appreciated it’s uniqueness and the opportunity to soak up a story that feels like being told of the past (even though it’s about things in an imagined future).

It’s lovely to have had the books published so near to each other but now the tale is complete you can get all three and take yourself on a journey to a land with faceless men, and murderous trees, where technology reigns but humanity is everything.

Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for arranging the gifted e-copy for the purposes of this honest review. Do check out the rest of the stops on the tour.

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What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson – @The_WriteReads #UltimateBlogTour Book Review

ARC Book cover

About the Book

When everything you love is in danger, how long can you keep running to survive?

Life can be brutal

Winter in Idaho. The sky is dark. It is cold enough to crack bones.

Jack knew it

Jack Dahl has nothing left. Except his younger brother, Matty, who he’d die for. Their mother is gone, and their funds are quickly dwindling, Jack needs to make a choice: lose his brother to foster care, or find the drug money that sent his father to prison.

So did I

Ava lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years her father, a merciless man, has controlled her fate. He has taught her to love no one.

Did I feel the flutter of wings when Jack and I met? Did I sense the coming tornado?

But now Ava wants to break the rules – to let Jack in and open her heart. Then she discovers that Jack and her father are stalking the same money, and suddenly Ava is faced with a terrible choice: remain silent or speak out and help the brothers survive.

Looking back, I think I did . . .

Perfect for fans of Patrick Ness, Meg Rosoff and Daniel Woodrell, What Beauty There Is an unforgettable debut novel that is as compulsive as it is beautiful, and unflinchingly explores the power of determination, survival and love.

‘Beautifully written and superbly constructed, Anderson pulls you onto a chilling footpath of love and loss and keeps you there until you’ve read every last word’ Ruta Sepetys, bestselling author of Between Shades of Grey

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44779579-what-beauty-there-is?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=cy9S5ruE50&rank=1

About the Author

Author Photo

Cory Anderson is a winner of the League of Utah Writers Young Adult Novel Award and Grand Prize in the Storymakers Conference First Chapter Contest. She lives in Utah with her family. What Beauty There Is is her debut novel.

Twitter: @coryanderwrites

Website: https://coryanderson.us/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/coryanderwrites/

What I Thought

First up this book could do with one heck of a trigger warning. There wasn’t one in the ARC so I don’t know if there is one in the finished copy.

TW for suicide, addiction, violence, murder.

This book gets straight into the dark stuff and it keeps on piling although there are periods of quiet respite. It is a gritty depiction of the uglier sides of life and it feels authentic in its rawness. I can see this one winning prizes!

Each chapter starts off with Ava’s voice, speaking from the end of the story, adding weight to our foreboding, as an example the end of her part in chapter two says ‘We knew each other nine days.’

The rest of the chapters are close third person, mainly from Jack’s POV but also from the antagonist and a cop.

The three children, teenagers Jack and Ava, and Jack’s younger brother Matty are definitely victims of their circumstances – all born into families that mean they do not have a head start at life. Two quotes that struck me were:

“He lay in the dark and the blue, and he wished for a more beautiful world than there was.”

“You can’t just tell people they’re the master of their fate and let them believe it. They’ll think they’ve done something wrong their entire life.”

Those reflect how much this book makes your heart bleed for these characters. But they do find beauty in each other and it’s their relationships – the tender love between the brothers, the youngest looking to the eldest for protection; and the blossoming feelings between Ava and Jack. There is a hint of instant attraction between them but it is the kindness they show each other that has you rooting for this pair of starcrossed lovers. There are definite echoes of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in their tale, which swaps Verona for Idaho.

The wintery snowy landscape adds to the atmosphere of the story – with the constrast between its barrenness and beauty reflecting the characters’ experiences.

Anderson’s prose is beautiful. This book has a very lyrical feel which plays against the brutality in the story.

This book will shatter you. According to goodreads a book two is planned and some healing is definitely needed. I’m certainly not ready to let these characters go.

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Thanks you to @TheWriteReads and the publisher for the gifted ARC for the purposes of an honest review. I have to admit preferring the cover of the ARC as I think it better reflects the story inside. Below are the UK and US finished covers.

UK / US CBook Cover Images
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