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We want to introduce to you some spine-chilling tales that inspire concern, fear, or terror... of course accompanied with a delicious feeling of excitement. Walk on the darker side of life, discover wicked characters, eerie locations, and plots that encourage goosebumps to skitter down your arms. If you feel the need to leave the light on, or find yourself a little jumpy after reading these books, just don’t blame us!
This exquisitely creepy YA shocker whirls with gritty horror, witty one-liners, Insta-worthy visual conjurations and the menacing mystery of three bewitching sisters who vanished in childhood. “Dark dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. We each had black eyes and hair as white as milk...We didn’t have friends, because we didn’t need them.” So explains the youngest sister, Iris. As children, the three sisters vanished one New Year’s Eve on the strike of midnight and reappeared with their hair and eyes a different colour, tiny baby teeth in place of their adult teeth, and no memory. “In possession of an alchemical self-confidence that belonged to much older humans,” Iris’ older sisters have “set off into the world, both bound for the glamorous, exotic futures they’d always known they were destined for”, leaving her alone in North London with her mother. Sinister bells toll when seventeen-year-old Grey, a supermodel and designer of decadent couture “who looked like sex and smelled like a field of wildflowers”, fails to turn up to middle sister Vivi’s punk gig in Camden, and then there’s the mystery of the man wearing a horned skull. There are books with unexpected twists, then there’s House of Hollow - imagine losing your way in a decaying fairy tale forest, where tangled tree roots trip you up, and you have no idea what terrors skulk within its ever-shifting mists. At times grisly and always eerie, this intoxicating cocktail of contemporary horror and mythic menace is a lushly-written feast.
Highly Recommended. More psychological thriller than strict horror I nevertheless wanted to include this because, primarily, it’s a wonderful book but also because it comes with genuine, if non-supernatural, thrills. This is a tight, claustrophobic and gripping tale centred around a group of teenaged female friends. Pinborough, a one-time teacher, has a deft and exact touch when it comes to depicting the voices, enthusiasms and fears of teenage friendship. And hatred. She’s also adept at using the pervasive nature of social media to power and inform her plotting and draw the tension tight around her story. Natasha is found in a freezing river on the edge of a small town. It quickly becomes clear that she died for 13 minutes. What is less clear is how or why she died. Natasha has no clear memory of how she got in the river but as her friends gather around her in hospital it’s obvious that someone does know. What follows is brilliantly judged, twisting journey into the lies, loves and hatreds that can exist in the pressure cooker of female teenage friendship groups. This is an empathetic novel that touches on bullying and power-plays, on the heightened emotions of youth. Pinborough maintains the tension impeccably to leave you always on the verge of knowing what’s happened but never being quite certain. This is perfect for anyone who enjoys the novels of Gillian Flynn or who loved the film Heathers.
This is a series that keeps on delivering, here we are at the fourth book, and it is just as addictive and original as the first, Six Stories. I really love the premise for this one, a chilling mix of the occult and an internet craze join the fabulous six stories format with online journalist Scott King. Six podcasts are delivered to us, to digest and form our own opinion after 24 year old vlogger Elizabeth Barton is found dead in The Vampire Tower on the Northumberland coast. Three young men were convicted in what they called a prank gone wrong, are they responsible? With the Beast from the East weather system and vampires haunting the pages, questions started whirling in my mind. As I read I felt as though a number of truths were being set free. As always Matt Wesolowski keeps a fabulously tight rein on the different voices, which so easily could run wild. Each character is unmistakable and I was able to hear them with sharp clarity. Beast is another winner of a read for me, if you haven’t yet joined in, what are you waiting for?!
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Oh my word, this book is devious, twisted, and an absolute knockout! The story, revolving around love, passion, suspicion, and deceit, kept me teetering on a razor sharp wire of uncertainty. Sarah Pinborough’s writing is sublime, it’s shrewd, artful, cunning, and as the story sucked me in, I felt the manipulation of the words warping and writhing as they entered my consciousness. I found myself sitting in stunned silence when I reached the very end, then wanted to jump and down and recommend ‘Behind Her Eyes’ to the world. Start reading just as soon as you can so you too, can experience the deep, dark, dangerous depths of this truly bone-chilling and wonderful novel. Make sure you enter with a clear mind, and try not to get too confident as the story will quite happily trip you up and stamp all over you. Sarah Pinborough, I salute you! ~ Liz Robinson The considerable buzz building around Pinborough's new novel (following the already mightily impressive The Death House and 13 Minutes) is led not only from her respective publishers' camp but also, more importantly, from advance readers, and is fully deserved. This could well become a massive commercial success along the lines of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and it held me in thrall from beginning to end. The tale of a dark, puzzling and twisted affair that goes horribly wrong for, seemingly, all parties, it's unpredictable, tricky, immediate, gut-gripping and difficult to summarise without giving out any of the shattering spoilers and seduces like no other, with viewpoints changing in front of your eyes as you turn the page, putting all you've read before into question in a most clever way, sowing constant seeds of doubt the moment you begin to identify with one of the characters and sympathise with them. Imaginatively wicked, ingenious, and 'that' ending will leave you open-mouthed. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
A darkly rich and foreboding fantasy which hovers on the frightening edge of a believable future. Set in an alternate England, so very similar to our own, volume one of ‘The Black Dawn’ focuses on two teenagers in two different time frames. Gordon is born at the beginning of an environmental apocalypse and Megan in the future, into a technology free world; both are destined to search for the Crowman. As with all new worlds, it takes a short while to connect to the time and story line. Joseph D’Lacey begins by setting alternate chapters to introduce the pair, however as they walk their dreams and their lives start to intertwine, their tales merge and flow together, into and around you. There are moments of real menace and dread as the Earth hits back against humans, the descriptive writing scorches your imagination. The sequel, ’The Book of the Crowman’ promises answers, although I must admit to being a little worried about what the future holds for Gordon and Megan. So, allow yourself to sink into the deeply unnerving depths of ‘Black Feathers’, to walk into dark places and through past places in this stimulating and captivating read. ~ Liz Robinson December 2015 Book of the Month.
January 2018 Book of the Month A masterclass in suspense awaits the reader in this almost understated, yet powerfully intense and dark novel. A family needing a fresh start move into a house where an unsolved double murder occurred twelve years previously, their actions set in motion an alarming chain of events. The first chapter was sharply powerful, yet almost dispassionately described by an observer, allowing me to bear witness, to remain on the edge. The characters are fascinating, each nudging feelings and thoughts in different directions as the various points of view created small time warps, as deception altered the vivid picture in my mind. J. Robert Lennon sets small seemingly inconsequential moments spinning together to create a throbbing tension which breaks with dramatic energy. Broken River is an intelligent, entirely captivating read with a hint of the uncanny skating over the pages - highly recommended.
Wonderfully clever and chilling, Changeling is a short novel that contains just as much as it needs to, and so is perfectly formed. This episode of Six Stories, a series of podcasts by online journalist Scott King, takes us to Christmas Eve 1988 and the disappearance of seven year old Alfie. If this is your first taste of this series, I think you could read it as a standalone, however I highly recommend starting at the beginning with Six Stories, followed by Hydra. The cold case podcasts are beautifully written by Matt Wesolowski, the voices so distinctively clear that I almost heard, rather than read the words. Wentshire Forest is deeply dark and exquisitely creepy, full of folklore, ancient belief and strange goings on. My heart battled with my head as I heard each podcast, I thought I had an inkling as to what was happening and will admit to a certain amount of smugness which was soon whipped out of me as the ending packed a real punch. Changeling continues a series which just keeps on getting better and better, it surprises, thrills and enthrals in equal measure.
Bold, provocative and thought-provoking, this is the fifth of the Six Stories series, however you can actually read Deity as a standalone. Scott King investigates the rumours and accusations against a pop star after his death. Each novel stands as an individual tale, though of course reading the first book, Six Stories, sets the scene beautifully and there are links to be found through the series. When I start a new Six Stories, it always takes a moment for me to settle in again, to sink into the differences that makes this series such a refreshing read. I almost feel that the transition from my reality to the beat of the story is a necessary one. It helps cement the voices I hear in my head and feel in my thoughts as I read. The individual characters appear with Scott King’s comments and asides, and allow you to ponder, to piece together your own understanding. The darkness within comes from the subject matter and the chilling folklore that weaves and wields its magic. I thoroughly enjoy this smart and thoughtful series, and Deity joins the ranks, standing as a linking but separate tale. So, a round of applause for Matt Wesolowski please.
Hauntingly beautiful and full of slicing suspense, this contemporary thriller twisted itself into my thoughts and still hasn’t let go. 17 year old runaway and former foster child Nell Ballard finds herself in London on the doorstop of a new opportunity, but a dark secret is keeping her company. Sarah Hilary is well known for her outstanding DI Marnie Rome crime series (one of my favourites) and this is her first standalone novel. The writing is unmistakably her, yet travels in a different direction. She was inspired by Rebecca and The Handmaid’s Tale and her publisher perfectly describes Fragile as a: “psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist”. She tackles subjects such as child exploitation and homelessness, opening a door and allowing apprehension and awareness in. She has the ability to look between, into the forgotten spaces, either in the outside world or within our own minds, and she successfully reveals what most of us are unable at first to see. There was an almost gentle poetic quality to the words before they ganged together to create uncertainty, concern, and tension. At times, as the quiet moments soothed my thoughts, I was lulled into a feeling of calm. The ending, oh that ending, it hit home hard, and I had to read it again, just to allow it to sink in. Fragile is an achingly dark, wonderfully atmospheric novel, and I will more than happily climb a few rooftops to shout about it.
A haunting, sinister tale, where tension coils, ready to bite, to sting and provoke thoughts. Ranald McGhie finds himself in an entirely unexpected position, having inherited Newton Hall, a family mansion he had no idea existed, however a torturous journey lies ahead. Michael J. Malone has created such a readable story, yet one that made me think, made me question my thought processes again and again. He plays with your mind, simply, clearly and so effectively. Newton Hall sits centre stage, and within the walls malevolence waits, ready to seize Ranald’s imagination, his judgment, his instinct. Loops of history swirl ever closer, entangling Ranald’s thoughts, creating a disturbance that reverberates through the pages. As icy goose bumps of awareness settled, as ‘House of Spines’ drew to a close, I found a delicious shiver of uncertainty once again trailing a path down my neck, ensuring a provocative ending to an eerie and stimulating read. ~ Liz Robinson
Chock-a-block with chills, this supernatural thriller also beautifully evokes teenage feelings of uncertainty and how they travel with us into adulthood. Theatre usher Chloe witnesses the iconic musical Dust returning to the stage after 20 years, the very stage said to be haunted by the leading actress who was murdered in her dressing room. It feels as though this book, which crosses genres so successfully, could only have been written by Louise Beech. Her ability to delve into the deepest of emotions and describe them so they land with acute precision in your own thoughts, is handfasted with her knowledge of the theatre. The past collides with the present and boy does the tension increase with each time switch. I felt as though I was a teenager again, and with all the buckets full of feelings that Chloe has to manage, I could have gathered her into the hugest hug. While this is spooky as heck, it is also hugely considerate of emotional heartache and distress. Compelling, original, and unmistakably Louise Beech, I Am Dust glides onto my Liz Robinson picks of the month.
Gosh, what a striking and chillingly provocative tale this is. Geo’s best friend disappeared when they were 16, 14 years later a body is found, a serial killer is suspected, Geo knows the truth, has always known the truth, but then the murders start again. This has such a clever premise, the choices Geo made at 16 continue to play havoc, I questioned her, and my own thoughts and feelings about her as I read. I was wholly consumed by the writing, Jennifer Hillier has created a world that feels entirely real, I was taken inside the words, to think and feel and ponder. This isn’t about good and evil, or even whether monsters are born or created, it felt to me as though it was about decisions, choices, hearts and minds, in very, very human bodies. The climax sent a shockwave through me, when I reached the end I was left feeling unsettled, in the best possible way. Jar of Hearts is an observant, penetrating read, one that grabs and shakes you, and leaves you thinking about the characters for a goodly while afterwards. Highly recommended.
An often uncomfortable, overwhelming, yet impressively compelling read. ‘John Crow’s Devil’ originally published in 2005, is the debut novel of Marlon James, Man Booker prize winner for ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’. Apparently James’ debut was rejected 78 times before being published, and personally I had my doubts as I began to read, and yet, and yet… the further I read, the more I felt myself being consumed by this penetrating and provocative novel. Two men, two preachers, battle each other, two women choose sides, while the rest of the village follow the stronger man. An anonymous village voice occasionally comes to the fore, narrating, telling, explaining, speaking with a Jamaican dialect, sometimes using unknown words that somehow make themselves understood. The story weaves between the village voice, clearly, firmly setting the story in stone, yet unexpected words will make you stop and think in a sentence previously flowing like water. With images that burst into your minds eye, be prepared to be moved, perturbed and to feel your heart break, yet wonder at the power of this profound novel. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.