Author Guest Post: Sandra Ireland’s Favourite Gothic Novels @22_ireland @polygonbooks

Just in time for Halloween I’m pleased to welcome Sandra Ireland to the blog today. Now Sandra isn’t scary, but she is sharing her five favourite scary novels with me today. I have only read two of them – Jekyll & Hide and The Book of Human Skin – how many have you read?

Sandra is an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire. Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry. Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.

Twitter: @22_ireland

Sandra’s debut novel, Beneath the Skin, was published by Polygon on 15th September in paperback and ebook. You can order a copy online here: Beneath the Skin

From the back of the book

Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis.

His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go. Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim? And can he save himself?

Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.

My Five Favourite Scary Gothic Reads by Sandra Ireland

I’ve always loved the ethereal, disorientating landscape of the Gothic novel, so I was delighted when The Scotsman dubbed my debut novel Beneath the Skin ‘Stockbridge Gothic’. It set me thinking about my own writing  influences, and what it is about the Gothic genre that draws me to it. It was quite tricky to select just five books, but here goes!

The Monk. Matthew Gregory Lewis. (1796).

This was written in ten weeks by Lewis (who became known as ‘Monk’ Lewis) when he was just twenty. The  book met with outrage and condemnation from critics, but was hugely popular with the reading public. This may not be your go-to novel for a spooky winter read, but it is original, ground-breaking and surprisingly modern in places. It marked a shift in the development of Gothic literature from the implicit terror of earlier authors such as Horace Walpole, toward full-on, explicit horror. The plot is convoluted and considered quite scandalous in its day, involving spectral bleeding nuns, violence, sorcery, murder and incest. Not for the faint-hearted!

The Book of Human Skin. Michelle Lofric. (Bloomsbury, 2011).

I read this book just before I embarked on my debut novel Beneath the Skin, and, apart from it being an excellent read, it proved to be quite inspirational for me. As you turn the pages, you’re never certain where, or how far, this novel will take you. That, for me, is a hallmark of the Gothic. It keeps you disorientated and slightly fearful. There should be a point where you want to close the book and tiptoe away, but you just can’t. And that is the cleverness of this novel- at the end, it questions you, the reader. You didn’t like it, but you kept reading, didn’t you? The best Gothic novels mirror our own insecurities and self-doubt.

The Woman in Black. Susan Hill. (Vintage, 1998)

This is the eponymous ghost story, and the fact that it has never been out-of-print since 1983 bears testament to its popularity. It has all the tropes of a true Gothic supernatural tale: an isolated, crumbling pile, an eerie location (treacherous marshland),persistent fog, fearful locals (‘his face flickered with…what? Alarm, was it? Suspicion?’) and unquiet nights. None of this is overplayed, however. This is a disturbing psychological thriller, as much as it is a ghost story.

Sugar Hall. Tiffany Murray. (Seren, 2014)

The pale ethereal moth on the front cover of this novel is a tantalising taster of what lies between its pages. Murray’s main characters, the Sugar are from the outset fragile creatures searching for their own personal light. It’s obvious from page one that they will not find it in Sugar Hall, the crumbling mansion which is the young Dieter’s inheritance. It boasts green silk wallpaper ‘patterned with gigantic open-winged butterflies and hairy moths’, which sometimes, the boy notes, appear to flutter. And upstairs is a blue room, scattered with abandoned toys, which is always kept locked.

When Dieter Sugar says that he’s seen a naked boy wearing a silver collar in the red gardens of the hall, the scene is set for a bizarre ‘friendship’ which threatens to spill the dark secrets of Sugar Hall. This can definitely be classed as ‘modern Gothic’!

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. (1886).

No list could be complete without the ultimate Scottish Gothic! As we approach the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson on November 13th  (and the 130th anniversary of his most popular novel Kidnapped), here’s a nod to this master of the dark and dastardly. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is really a novella, but a must-read for fans of the Gothic genre. It is a compelling exposé of the male psyche in all its layers, from the  intellectual to the base. A foggy Victorian London provides a deeply-symbolic stage-set of interiors, doorways and streetscapes which the author uses to represent the twists and turns of the disturbed mind. Read it this Halloween!

The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn #review trs. @rosie_hedger @orendabooks

At just under 200 pages, The Bird Tribunal may be a short read but my goodness it’s a fascinating one! TV presenter Aliss Hagtorn has fled her job, her relationship and her town having been caught up in a scandal. She applies for a job to help Sigurd Bagge and is surprised to find he’s not an elderly gent as she expected but not that much older than herself. While his wife is away, he needs help with his garden and Aliss also has house-keeping type duties. The book follows the two as Aliss starts to settle in to her new position and routine and tries to understand her mysterious employer.

The author begins her book by setting the scene beautifully. The remoteness of Sigurd’s house is captured perfectly, with the surroundings described vividly. I could easily picture the Norwegian landscape with the old-fashioned wooden house surrounded by tall pine trees. It sounded an idyllic retreat for someone like Aliss who was looking for this kind of isolation. But after the initial focus on location, this story then changes to become very character driven. Aliss is the main narrator and we get a real insight into her thoughts and confused feelings towards her new employer. Sigurd is a very strange character, very guarded in his dealings with Aliss. There is something very unsettling about him and his demands of her seem to change almost daily. He is so cagey about his wife, not saying where she is or how long she will be away. It was at this point I started to get the feeling that there was more than a passing resemblance to Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Unusually, the story is written with no speech punctuation. I must admit I did find this rather challenging at the beginning but I did quickly get used to it. To be honest, I was so intrigued by the whole set up and wondering what was going on with the mysterious Sigurd that I actually stopped noticing. I was far too involved with the story and the claustrophobic relationship between him and Aliss. There was a definite sense of foreboding. Something was going to happen but I didn’t know what and couldn’t wait to find out! The atmosphere reminded me a lot of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca with Aliss, like the second Mrs De Winter, aware that something strange was going on but not really sure what it was. The tension and suspense builds up beautifully throughout the book and the final few pages really had me on the edge of my seat wondering what the climax would be.

The Bird Tribunal is an excellent, beautifully poetic novel, so well translated by Rosie Hedger that you could easily forget it was originally written in Norwegian. Agnes Ravatn is clearly a talented thriller writer and I loved this book.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of this book. The Bird Tribunal was published as an ebook in July with the paperback published on 1st September. You can order a copy online here: The Bird Tribunal

From the back of the book

Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape… TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough… Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.

#Giveaway – Summoning the Dead by Tony Black @TonyBlackuk @bwpublishing

Summoning the Dead: A gripping and spine-tingling thriller you'll find impossible to put down by [Black, Tony]

Fancy winning a paperback copy of Tony Black’s latest DI Bob Valentine book? Oh good, it’s very easy. Just click on the giveaway link at the bottom of this page for details of how to enter. You can enter until midnight on Thursday 27th October (UK time) and the winner will be advised within 24 hours.

Summoning the Dead was published on 6 October 2016 by Black and White Publishing as an e-book and in paperback. If you’re not lucky enough to win a copy, you can order the e-book for just £1.89 (at the time of writing) by clicking here.

About the book

“We have a dead child, and a crime scene that has been remarkably well kept for us.”

A young child lies mummified in a barrel. His hands, cable-tied, appear to be locked in prayer. As forensic officers remove the boy they are in for an even bigger shock – he is not alone.

With his near-fatal stabbing almost a memory, DI Bob Valentine is settling back into life on the force but he knows nothing will ever be the same. Haunted by unearthly visions that appear like waking dreams, he soon understands he is being inducted into one of Scotland’s darkest secrets.

When the boy in the barrel is identified as a missing child from the 1980s, it re-opens a cold case that was previously thought unsolvable. When further remains are unearthed, the facts point to a paedophile ring and a political conspiracy that leads all the way to the most hallowed corridors of power.

Summoning the Dead is a fast-moving mystery that eerily mirrors current events, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Angela Marsons and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels.

Click here for your chance to win a copy of Summoning the Dead

Tony Black

Tony Black is the author of 13 books, most recently A Taste of Ashes, the second novel in his DI Bob Valentine series. He has been nominated for six CWA Daggers and was runner up in The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize for The Last Tiger.

He has written three crime series, a number of crime novellas and a collection of short stories. 

For more information, and the latest news visit his website at: or his blog:

Lisa Hall – Author in the Spotlight @lisahallauthor

Author pic (1)

I’m very pleased to welcome Lisa Hall to the blog today. Lisa’s First novel, Between You and Me, was very successful with almost 2000 Amazon reviews and lots of people talking about its amazing twist! Her second book, Tell Me No Lies, was published by Carina last week. More about that below – you can order a copy here.

Hi Lisa. first of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?  

There’s not much to tell! I live in Kent, in the lovely countryside, with hundreds of kids and animals…probably too many if I’m honest😉 I spend most of my time writing, reading and dreaming up ridiculous plots that’ll never see the light of day!

What inspired you to start writing?

I always wanted to write, but never seemed to able to make the time properly – not until I had an idea that I was passionate enough about to make myself give it the time it deserved. Once the idea for book one was there I knew it wouldn’t go away until I wrote the story.

Tell me about your journey to publication.          

It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be – I was reading a book on the way back from a family holiday, where I had completed my first draft. At the back of the book was an open submission call from my publisher, so once I had polished the manuscript I sent it out to them. Two weeks later I got a call from my now editor asking me to send the rest, and a week after that she called to offer me a two book deal.

In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?

My latest book asks the question, ‘Who can you trust?’…and how well do you know the people around you? That’s all I’m saying!

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I didn’t! I was completely stumped for this book, so my editor suggested Tell Me No Lies and I loved it. It sums up the book perfectly.

How do you plan to celebrate publication day?

I’m planning on having a little party – it wouldn’t be publication day without some bubbles!

Do you have a work in progress just now?

Yes – my agent is currently reading book three (untitled! And likely to stay that way until someone other than me comes up with one – I’m useless!) Once she’s given it the thumbs up it’ll go to my editor.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months?

Or favourite three if you really can’t choose! Ooh, I definitely need three! My book of the year so far is Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker – it really is outstanding. I also really loved The Constant Soldier by William Ryan. One to watch out for in 2017 that I’ve read recently is Final Girls by Riley Sager – a cracking read.

What are you reading just now?

Right now (in August!) I’m reading Broken Heart by Tim Weaver, then I’m planning on starting Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton.

Tell me about your reading habits:  book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?

I tend to switch between book and kindle, and I get most of my reading done in bed in the evenings – I can’t sleep without a quick chapter first!

How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?

I’m on Twitter as @lisahallauthor and I have a Facebook page.

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

If I don’t have to be a grown up, I’d probably like to be George from The Famous Five – all those lovely adventures and lovely picnics! If I have to be a grown up….I’d be someone kickass like Helen Grace.

A Suitable Lie by @MichaelJMalone1 #review @orendabooks

A Suitable Lie is, without a doubt, one of my top reads of this year.  It is a book that made me feel very emotional and so sympathetic towards the main character Andy. Andy is a single father, bringing up his son Pat following the tragic death of his wife in childbirth. For the past few years, giving Pat a stable and secure home environment has been his life and he hasn’t really thought about having a long-term relationship. Until he meets beautiful Anna when he’s been dragged out to the local pub by his brother. Anna seems to be everything he needs and most importantly, loves his son Pat. The first hint that all is not well comes on his wedding night when he ends up in hospital with a broken nose. Andy is so desperate for his marriage to work that he comes to the conclusion that it was a one-off incident and forgives Anna. Sadly, it’s only the start of what Anna is capable of and soon Andy realises that he is trapped in his relationship.

It would be difficult, I think, for anyone not to feel sympathy for Andy and the very difficult situation he finds himself in. Domestic abuse is much more recognised these days with much more support for the victims. But the vast majority of victims tend to be women with men much less likely to experience it but also being very embarrassed to admit to being a victim.  This is the position Andy finds himself in. He feels he doesn’t know Anna at all – “who was this woman I married? She was so small, I was so big.”  – and thinks it is impossible for him to tell anyone about the abuse. It was upsetting to read the same kind of justifications that women often feel in these situations – it was my fault, I deserved it, I drove them to it – but to know that it would be even more difficult for Andy to admit his problems to anyone. Like anyone in this situation, he feels humiliated, unsure he would be believed and worried about what would happen to his family.

I thought the author wrote movingly about how several of the men in his book felt they had a certain image to maintain. They should be the strong ones in a relationship, the protector, able to look after themselves and their families. “We were both fighting with our own images of masculinity, we were both trying to overcome our self-pity and shame.”

I feel this is a really important book which shows that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, man or woman, and that it is never acceptable. It shines a light on the thoughts and emotions of the victims and shows just how difficult it must be to try to get out of an abusive relationship, especially if there are children involved. Michael J Malone has written a really brilliant, dark psychological novel which I found completely compelling and convincing. Despite the dark places Andy found himself in, I hope that anyone in a similar situation reading this book would find the courage to try to speak to someone before things get any worse, as they did for Andy. A disturbing yet compassionate book.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of this book. A Suitable Lie was published as an ebook in 5th August and in paperback  on 15th September. You can order a copy online here: A Suitable Lie

From the back of the book

Some secrets should never be kept… Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match … and she loves his son like he is her own. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it. A dangerous mistake that could cost him everything. A brave, deeply moving, page-turning psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland’s finest crime writers, exploring the lengths people will go to hide their deepest secrets, even if it kills them…


The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech #review @louisewriter @orendabooks

The Mountain in My Shoe by [Beech, Louise]

As I was reading this book I was wondering if it would be acceptable to write for my review ‘Do you know what? Just buy it as it’s wonderful’. That would still be my advice but I suppose you’d like to know a bit more about why it is wonderful.

Young Conor has had a very difficult start in life. His mother has been unable to care for him and for a variety of reasons he has been in various foster and care homes. We meet him as a ten year old, being long-term fostered by Anne Williams (and I must tell you that made me smile a lot as I know the person who this character is named after and she is just as lovely as her namesake). The reader gets to know more about Conor’s young life through  his Life Book, a book kept for children in care with reports and letters from social workers, birth family and foster families, so they will know about their early years when they grow up. Conor is also has a befriender, Bernadette. Bernadette has no children of her own and is in a loveless marriage. Her husband, Richard, is a very strange person. He’s very controlling and manipulative and there is more than one hint of physical abuse as well. On the day Bernadette has finally decided to leave Richard, he doesn’t come home. She discovers that Conor’s Life Book is missing and gets a call from Anne to say that Conor has not returned from school. Coincidences or not?

This was a book which really touched me. I read it quite slowly over the course of a few days and when not reading, the characters stayed with me. My heart went out to poor Conor. He was a remarkable young man given all he had been through. It was wonderful that he finally had a loving and stable home with Anne where he could start to feel safe and begin develop his full potential. The relationship between Bernadette and Conor was very movingly portrayed. Many years ago I also volunteered with a befriending organisation and I could identify with the feelings of nervousness on the part of Bernadette meeting Conor for the first time. Louise Beech has written beautifully about her characters’ emotions and really touched on what makes a family. It’s not always blood ties which form the strongest most lasting bonds. There are so many moving scenes when you might find a lump in your throat as you are reading. The author has written such a captivating book which had me completely involved in the characters’ lives.  Although it has some very emotional scenes, it’s ultimately an uplifting read about love and its power to change people’s lives in so many ways.

I’ll finish by reiterating my opening comment – just buy this book, it’s wonderful.

Huge thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of this book. It was published as an e-book in July 2016 with the paperback published at the end of September. You can order a copy online here: The Mountain in My Shoe

From the back of the book

A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.

Joanne from My Chestnut Reading Tree @jocatrobertson – Blogger in the Spotlight

Joanne Robertson

I’m delighted to have another Joanne on the blog today. She blogs at My Chestnut Reading Tree which has been on the go since February this year. Thanks for agreeing to be part of my Blogger in the Spotlight feature Jo. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi I’m Jo and I am married with 3 daughters and 4 grandchildren. I live in Cheshire although I was born in Norfolk and then lived in Scotland for 18 years before settling here. I am a qualified podiatrist but I haven’t practised since I had my girls. I have worked as an estate agent and in customer complaints for a holiday company ( got some fabulously funny stories that I may tell someday!) But I gave up work to look after my grandchildren while their mummy’s go to work. I have read books ever since I’ve been able to and reviewed for a few years but only recently had the confidence to set up my blog My Chestnut Reading Tree and I posted my first review on there in February this year.

What books/authors did you enjoy as a child?

I loved Enid Blyton which is probably what everyone says! My favourite book as a child was one called Carbonell about a witches cat that I have tried to track down a copy of for many years in second hand book shops. I have now managed to buy a brand new copy that was reissued last year along with an old second hand one which had the cover I remember reading. Good old eBay!

What made you want to start blogging?

I was happy just reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads and thought blogging would take up too much time. I am not a very confident person and worry about putting my feelings about books out there in a more public forum! But after a meet up in Leeds, a chance discussion with the lovely Sandra Foy made me think “what the hell, I will give it a go” so I did and I’ve never looked back! Yes it’s busy and takes up large parts of my day but I just love it so much that I miss it even when I’m on my holidays! I can’t switch off!

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

The people! Other bloggers, authors, publishers, readers…..everyone is just so supportive and friendly that I really feel as though I have found my happy place in life! And to know that people will part with their hard earned money to buy books on my recommendation! Although that still panics me a bit if I’m truly honest!

Tell me about your blog – sell yourself!

Okay….my Blog is called My Chestnut Reading Tree and I mainly review psychological thrillers, crime novels and women’s fiction. But truthfully, I will read most things except sci-fi! And as I work in a school part time I’m loving children’s books too. I try to review most days and I share loads over on Twitter and Facebook. My blog is very simple, it’s really just a place to rave about books so I don’t bore my family and friends!! It’s very friendly over there so come and say hello!!

What’s your favourite book you’ve reviewed in the past year? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose.

This is like trying to choose my favourite child!!! It can change from day to day depending on my mood! It is probably The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish but I’ve just read and loved Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes and Valentina by Susie Lynes and they are freshest in my mind so I choose them too!

What are you reading just now? 

I’m a third of the way through What Goes Around by Julie Corbin. She’s a favourite of mine and I like to take my time with her books! (August Bank Holiday weekend 2016)

Tell me about your reading habits:  book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?

Whenever I get a chance during the day, if I can grab an hour after work and before school pick up time then I will! But mainly I’m one of those “yawn! I’m off to bed I’m so tired” types who goes to bed at 9pm then reads till 2am!! I can read a whole book a night if I’m really into it! And it’s kindle in bed so as not to disturb the snoring Scostman and proper books during the day (yes I can read two different books at the same time!!)

How can people follow your blog or connect with you on social media?

I have a Facebook page called (strangely enough) My Chestnut Reading Tree Book Blog which posts my reviews daily. But mainly I’m on my WordPress site or I am ALWAYS on Twitter where I can be followed by searching for @jocatrobertson (long story and nothing to do with cats…)

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

I always wanted to be Cathy in Wuthering Heights when I was younger but now that I’m not a melodramatic teenager anymore it would probably have to be Miss Marple!! I do love to solve a good crime!