REVIEW: Beneath London’s Fog

Iona Caldwell – FyreSyde Publishing – 10.30.2019 – 113 pages – Occult Horror

Jonathan is the immortal master of Raven Hollow Manor – a decrepit mansion riddled with superstition, murder and restless ghosts. Beneath it lies a restless malice.

Its previous owner driven mad, violently kills his guests with a rusted ax, creating the perfect venue for Jonathan to seclude himself in a prison of his own device.

When the streets of London begin to run red with blood; the bodies exhibiting disturbing signs and baffling wounds, the identity of the killer remains elusive to police.

The bodies are just the beginning of Jonathan’s troubles. A mysterious letter accusing Jonathan of committing the murders appear, raising suspicion in the police. Hidden beneath the mangled bodies, Jonathan soon realizes he is being forced to face demons he thought died in a forlorn past he attempted to escape. 

One thing Jonathan knows for certain: He must deal with the demons of his past if he is to survive his future. Not only him but those he has come to love as well.

When I received the information on this book, I… wasn’t so sure. Between the title, the cover, and the description, I thought this was just going to be another variation of Jack the Ripper, and not the first version I’ve read with a supernatural lean to it. I decided to give it a go anyways – 113 pages wouldn’t kill me, would it?

Boy was I wrong.

This book had me hooked from the very first line…

I want it known before the tale begins – I am not a hero but a villain. I want no sympathy from whomever reads this recalling of my story; no mourning for the tragedy that befell my life. I am not an innocent man but a sinner forced to face the ravaging demons and ghosts of his own creation.

… so hooked I read it all in one sitting.

Story

The story, written in first person, is of Jonathan Holloway, a man with secrets and a past. He lives in Raven Hollow Manor with his “daughter” Holly, a young woman who he saved from the police station when she was a child.

Gruesome murders are happening throughout London, murders that leave him worried about the safety of his daughter and others in the city, murders that remind him of his past. After witnessing the police laugh off the suggestion that something supernatural is at work, he starts investigating on his own, concerned that, because of the rumors that have been spread about his home, it will be him that is blamed for them.

After his daughter leaves home, unhappy with him treating her like a child, then quickly shows back up needing his help, he is thrust into an adventure that leads him to stand face to face with someone he had not seen in ages, someone he thought had died long ago.

Characters

I’ve been rather disappointed, over the last couple of months, in some of the books that I have read because of the lack of interest I had for any of the characters. At times, they were well written, but there was something almost boring about them. They were forgettable. Several hours later, I could remember what happened to them, but I couldn’t remember… them.

From the very beginning of this story, though, I was drawn to Jonathan. Even as he conveys to the reader that he is a bad guy, and points out why without always giving details, you see that he may have been a bad guy in the past, but he is clearly not one now. The love that he has for other characters in the book, the compassion he has for strangers that he meets, and the lengths that he’s willing to go to protect the city that he calls home, a city that has not always been nice to him and his daughter, shows that he is definitely a changed man from what he once was. I especially liked that she showed him having emotions, even if those emotions were hidden from others in the story, and that he made him not the typical character one would expect from him.

The protagonist in the story is well done. I liked the way that Iona gave us information about her. Instead of learning everything we need to know about her rather quickly, we learn just enough to realize that she is, in fact, the “bad guy” in this story, and then gradually learn even more information, deeper information, that tells us a lot about both her and Jonathan.

I especially liked the character of Annabelle Price. It’s not often you have a character that is… mute, for lack of a better word… and have so much revealed about her just through her actions and movements.

Setting

Raven Hollow Manor is the perfect setting for this story, which is interesting when you realize that Iona doesn’t really describe much about the place. It wasn’t until the flashback of Holly coming to his home for the first time that I realized, even then, it was a dilapidated building, her questioning why anyone would want to live there.

The manor is surrounded by woods, which you realize, when he’s walking through it, are quite large, and mask the location of the building perfectly, helpful considering he likes to keep to himself.

No wonder the neighbors talk… but at the same time, it feels really comfortable in the story, like home, even for the readers. I think, really, that’s because of the way that the talks about the place, with such love, even though the house has a history all its own, a history that I hope one day will be shared by the author.

On a side note: Have you looked at the cover? I have a deep fondness for books that use the setting on the story there, especially adding in little details that you only notice after you read the story.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • I usually fully dislike first-person narratives, as they often feel clunky and awkward. This, however, is very well written. It’s almost as if you’re reading a journal entry or letter, rather than an awkward conversation. It just… flows so smoothly, this story… and allows you to see his true feelings behind everything that is happening and almost feel yourself what he is feeling as the story progresses.
  • Sometimes flashbacks can be very jarring to the reader, but the author did a great job with them in this story.
  • I like that the author took a type of character that is used often in horror and dark fantasy books, but made it something different, and even had the character make almost a joke about the whole thing.

Cons:

  • I wanted to know so much more about the characters. Having interviewed the author, and hearing her say that her say that her works are all stand-alone, I’m a little disheartened that we may not see these characters again.

Final Thoughts

This is one of the best first-person narratives I’ve read in a long while. The characters were great and, even now, several days later, I can remember everything about them, including their names (I have the hardest time with names). I cared what happened to everyone involved, including the villain, on some level. To me, that’s impressive.

REVIEW: Rose

Rami Ungar — Castrum Press — 19 June 2019 — 208 pages — Psychological Thriller

Rose Taggert awakens in a greenhouse with no clear memory of the past two years and, to her horror, finds her body transformed into an unrecognizable form.

Paris Kuyper has convinced Rose that they are lovers and as Paris could not bear for her to die, he has used an ancient and dark magic to save her from certain death.

But the dark magic Paris has used comes at a price. A price which a terrible demon is determined to extract from Rose.

As Rose struggles to understand what is happening to her, she must navigate Paris’s lies and secrets; secrets that Paris will do anything to protect.

Rose

Rose wakes after almost dying – apparently at the hands of her stalker – in what she finds to be the penthouse apartment of her boyfriend, Paris, a man and a relationship she doesn’t remember at all. He has done a spell from an ancient book, traded with the Japanese to get and passed down over generations, to save her life, unwilling to live without her, but the spell had some side-effects that Paris had not expected. Changes immediately begin to happen to her body… and that’s just the beginning of this story.

I fell in love with the cover and agreed to read this book based on that. I know I know, but for those of y’all who have been following my reviews for awhile, this should be something that doesn’t surprise you. I possibly skimmed through the book description, but… honestly… I don’t remember reading any of what I posted above [the cover image]. So who knows.

Despite my hinky reasoning behind agreeing to read a book…

This book was definitely not a disappointment. In fact, it was so good that I began it one night before bed (a habit I may one day blog about) and finished reading it around 3 in the morning, followed by writing pages – lots of them – in my journal about the book and how I felt about it. I just… had to let it all out and get my mind around everything that happened… and at 3 in the morning, there aren’t many people awake to hear you go on and on about a book you just finished.

It was one of those moments where you shut your Kindle and just sit there for a few minutes, unsure of what to do next.

The story was something quite different than what I normally find out there.

It was almost a mystery, with Rose having to figure out what is going on, not just to her physically, but around her as well, unsure of what to believe and who to trust. The addition of certain clues that make even the reader wonder if they are false or not really added to the story. Her changes made me think of a fantasy book, especially with magic being involved, and as usual with magic, things don’t always go the way that you have planned. The psychological thriller aspects of the whole thing were evident from almost the very beginning, when you see how characters interact with each other, and start finding out about their different pasts. There was even some horror added to the mix, when you consider one particular character you meet along the way, one who ends up being far more important to the story than you originally think.

Characters

Usually I can pick one or two characters from a story that I absolutely loved, but in this story I can’t say that I particularly liked any of them, but I must have, on some level, in order to have been unable to put the book down.

I was very curious about Rose and who she really was. As the description says, she can’t remember what’s happened over the last two years, but she knows herself and knows that some things that are being said just don’t make sense. Stories being told about her didn’t always add up to that knowledge, which left her confused at times, wondering if she could have really changed that much over the two years she seems to have lost. I found the way the author wrote her intriguing. In almost every story, the main character grows, but her growth was different, as it was more an actual finding herself, rather than a changing to become who she was truly meant to be. A well-done character.

Not all of the characters were who they originally seemed to be, and as more depth was added to them as the story progressed, you found out that some characters you didn’t like were ones that maybe weren’t as bad as they were made out to be, or once you heard their reasoning, you looked at them a little differently. That also happened with characters you took a liking to because, as the story progressed and you found out more about them, things came out that made you question your first impressions.

I wasn’t sure, as the story went on, if Rose was going to turn out to be the hero that the story needed, but in the end, she was definitely that.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Interesting characters.
  • The ever-changing settings were not always described as much as I would have liked them to be, but all had a point and added to the story.
  • The underlying story of magic was intriguing and was obviously well-researched. The magic itself was almost like another character, as it had a lot of parts in the story, not just his use of magic to save her life.

Cons:

  • As I stated above, there wasn’t any particular character that, in the end, I can say was my favorite. Not an actual “con,” but something that usually bothers me when it comes to a story. In this case, though, it didn’t actually cause harm to the story, as the characters were interesting enough – and the story was intriguing enough – that I plowed through.
  • There were some editing issues that drove me bonkers, but I am hoping that they were just in the copy I received and didn’t make it to the final copy.

Final Thoughts

This is definitely a story that I would recommend to others, especially people who enjoy several genres, as this one could fit perfectly in more than one.

Just don’t blame me if you, too, are up until after 3 in the morning unable to put it down…

Rami Ungar knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of five, when he first became exposed to the world of Harry Potter and wanted to create imaginative worlds like Harry’s. As a tween, he fell in love with the works of Anne Rice and Stephen King and, as he was getting too old to sneak up on people and shout “Boo!’ (not that that ever stopped him), he decided to merge his two loves and become a horror writer.

Today, Rami lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. He’s self-published three novels and one collection of short stories, and his stories have appeared in other publications here and there. Rose, his first novel with Castrum Press, was released June 21st, 2019.

When he’s not writing your nightmares or coming up with those, he’s enjoying anything from the latest horror novel or movie to anime and manga to ballet, collecting anything that catches his fancy, and giving you the impression he may not be entirely human.

REVIEW: A Spot of Vengeance

C.J. Anthony – Troubador Publishing – 10 July 2019 – 268 pages – Thriller

Ex-Army intelligence Danny Swift has always yearned to be an artist. By coincidence, he meets art dealer Hafiz De Mercurio who promises to help him launch his career. Little does Danny know that Hafiz hides behind a deadly cloak of deception until British intelligence recruit Danny, and his perilous mission is to covertly observe the elusive Hafiz. They believe something big is coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival anything seen before, and the key lies in a cypher hidden in works of art. Unable to refuse, Danny is drawn into a world he’d turned his back on, a world of lies, deception and double-dealing.

As the clock ticks down and Danny begins to crack the code surrounding the enigmatic Hafiz, Danny will be tested in ways he never imagined… including preventing the massacre of innocent people and artworks on display in the eleven Gagosian galleries around the world.

When this book came across my desk, the description of it really caught my attention. I thoroughly enjoy thrillers, especially ones that involve British intelligence, and the fact that this included the art world and a possible terrorist attack had me intrigued.

The story itself is very interesting, and I found myself continuing to read, despite some issues that I had with different aspects of it, because I wanted to know the conclusion of the story and how everything came together. I love how the author made the center point of the entire thing the art world, and how the different paintings were used as part of the plot, though I think the descriptions of them could have been better.

The setting of London, specifically places like Hafiz’s apartment, Bernadette’s gallery, and The Tate Modern Gallery, were well written. You almost felt like you were there as you read the story because of the detail that he included. For example, when Danny (the main character) visited the Tate Modern, there were groups of school children there, and the author pointed out that, because of these, it was easier for him to hide in plain sight, going with the flow of these groups as if he was part of them.

The characters, for the most part, kept me coming back for more, though I can honestly say I really didn’t care what happened to any of them as the story went on. It was more general curiosity of how the story would unfold, rather than an emotional connection to any of them, despite the fact that a good portion of the beginning of the novel is getting to know both the main character, a few of the side characters, and the art world itself. To me, the art world was more a character than a setting, and the best one at that.

Once Thom got involved, there was quite a bit of adventure, as Danny went from trying to prove Thom wrong to trying to stop things from happening, and parts of it were really good. Unfortunately, there were some parts that needed a better explanation, and therefore got confusing, leaving me unsure how Danny was coming to the conclusions that he was coming to. Specifically the cracking of the code. I had to go back and reread a couple of places after realizing that I’d missed something.

I enjoyed the conclusion of the story, but not the conclusion of the book. To me, the story ended with the terrorist plot being averted (I’m not giving anything away saying that, as it wouldn’t be a good book at all if everyone died in the end and the terrorists won), and although I didn’t like that it was just over and nothing really happened after that, I would have rather it ended that way, without all the extra things that happened in the end. Neither part really added to the story, and I couldn’t help but wonder, when the book concluded, if I had read the entire story wrong.

Characters

Danny was a bit of a let down. He’s supposed to be this ex-military intelligence guy, now artist, who has great potential as a character, but there’s just too many times that his behavior and attitude aren’t consistent with the type of background he has, or maybe not consistent with the way I expected him to be portrayed. He just happens to fall into this whole thing. After being quickly accepted and connecting, oddly enough, with this great art dealer, he’s immediately thrust into this art world, and then, because of his closeness with Hafiz, British intelligence reaches out to him for his help. There was too much whining, for lack of a better word. Too much bellyaching about the “predicament” he’s in. And then all the lovey-dovey longing for this woman he just met. It just felt so… forced. Like, they had to be in a relationship to continue the story. It didn’t feel fluid or real.

Hafiz was a bit of a letdown as well, and I think that was more upsetting to me than the letdown of Danny. He is another character that has such great potential, especially after an event at the beginning of the story that sort of pushes this whole thing along. Unfortunately, that event is only slightly touched upon through the rest of the story even though it is so very important. I wanted more from him.

The two female characters – Marina and Bernadette – were both perfectly perfect as perfect can be and mentioned often is their perfectly perfectness – too often. So often, in fact, that it becomes disgusting, annoying, and truly unbelievable. That’s really all you get to know about either of them, which is odd considering how integral they are to the story. The little bit we do find out about them is quickly dropped in favor of talking about how they look in their tight outfit of the moment and sex with them. It’s as if they hardly exist outside of how the men in the novel saw them, the sexual attraction, when both of them have careers and pasts that, had the author shared more about them and fleshed them out better, would have explained their motivations behind certain actions and choices they both make.

Thom, the British intelligence man, seemed very interesting, but he wasn’t around enough to really get to know him, which was strange, and a whole other complaint I have about this story.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

The adventures that are undertaken throughout the story, and not just by Danny.

The Art World itself. I really enjoyed learning about the selling of art, the paintings, the artist who created these, and other aspects of the art world that I had previously not known. Because of the fact that he was using one character teaching things to another, it didn’t often feel like an information dump.

The description of the surroundings, as I stated above, were well done, as well as the details that he put into it. Sometimes the description helped you get to know the character a little better i.e. upon visiting Hafiz’s apartment, Danny could tell, before even coming to the door, the kind of mood the man was in based on how the shades were.

The paintings as part of the plot. That was very intriguing, though again, it could have been described a lot better.

Cons:

A confusing timeline.

Disappointing altercation between the two females in the story. The confrontation between the two could have been so much better. It would have even given us a great opportunity to learn more about the two of them and, again, their motivations behind the choices they made.

The lack of real meat in the characters. Or maybe I should say meat that mattered. We have a lot of information about some, not near enough about others, but none of them felt like real people to me. As I stated above, I was reading to find out the end of the story and how we got there, not reading to find out what happened to the characters, and when things did happen to the characters, it wasn’t meaningful. There wasn’t enough depth to them to make me sad or angry or happy or upset or whatever when things happened to them.

The end of the book. Thinking about it now, I guess we can say that the author left it open for a second story, at least in some ways, but he didn’t leave it open in a way that made me want to read book two, if there is going to be one, to find out what happens. The ending is all wrapped up in this not-so-neat little package, with some of those conclusions feeling like puzzle pieces that don’t fit being forced to fit, even if one has to cut one of them to make it fit with the other.

The editing of the book was, for me, a shambles, and I brought this (with some specific points) up to the author. I put this at the end of my Cons because, as an editor, I have a harder time ignoring things that others might be able to just look past. I think the author’s editor did him and this book a disservice, and hopefully my notes were able to help the author out in the future.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I’d say it was a good debut novel, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading his next piece when it is published. It had issues, but it also had things about it that made it worth reading until the end. The author has talent, and as he writes more, he will be able to hone in on ways that will make the story even better.