National Share a Story Month – Food Chain by Nicky Peacock

Food Chain

By Nicky Peacock

He wanted a relaxing day, to just melt into the overgrown grass of the reservoir’s bank like he’d died and his essence was being sucked back into Mother Nature’s belly; alas it was not meant to be. No matter how still he sat, his little amphibian mind buzzed with the constant hum of the nearby human buildings that surrounded the small man-made lump of nature he called home.

At least it was the weekend, and there were no school trips today. It was on those days he, and his neighbours, were subjected to stints of incarceration in brightly coloured buckets, and worse, forced into cartoon character backpacks never to be seen again. Yesterday had been one of those days. Three teenagers had snatched him up and, while laughing maniacally, passed him around and licked his back. All the while he was painfully aware that yet another group of kids were leaving the school system without knowing the difference between a common frog and a hallucinogenic toad.

He stretched out his long legs and tried to relax, such moments of peace were rare for him, so he felt obligated to enjoy them. All too soon he found himself wondering what it would have been like if he’d have been spawned in one of those lovely natural rivers. Maybe he should take a trip over to one, fight the homing urge? No, it was a bad idea, frogs from such waters looked down on the likes of him coming from a quick crudely made ‘reservoir’ rather than one lovingly evolved by Mother Nature. The idea left him as fast as it had appeared, although if he was truthful to himself, it had merely retreated to fight with his reason another day.

It was starting to get dark and the night dwellers that lived in the reservoir were beginning to wake. It was then he saw the human; a lone man carrying a wriggling sack over his shoulder….

The frogs were used to things being dumped in their home. Currently, it was being utilised by a scientific research centre. The last thing they had abandoned there was the Three Eyed Toad. Too large to hunt for food, the frogs had looked after him. In return, he had told them about the humans and their experiments, the strange coloured liquids that burnt, and the howling animals with greedy stares. He hadn’t lasted long in the wild; he’d simply known too much. He may not have been born of nature, but she was forgiving and didn’t judge him in death, she took him back. His body fed a flock of birds who watched the reservoir’s inhabitants with hungry vigilance.

“What’s going on Toby?” Minty scrambled up on the rock beside him and watched as the man dropped the sack on to the ground.

“Not sure, hope it’s someone like the toad, he was nice.”

“Yeah.” Minty looked away, a slimy tear dribbling down his jowl.

The man kicked the sack then looked up and around like he’d spotted a predator; he then shook his head and pulled out his car keys and started striding back toward the road where his company van was parked. They didn’t need to look at the van to tell it was from the research centre. Three Eyed Toad had warned them never to go near it, although deep in their frog bellies they had always known as much.

“Let’s go and have a look, someone might need our help,” Toby said, and then he bounced off the rock. Minty followed close behind him.

The first thing they noticed was that the bag smelt strange. It wasn’t like the unnatural smell of Three Eyed Toad or even the brightly coloured buckets that randomly became their prisons; no this was naturally unnatural.

“Don’t get too close, Minty.” Toby edged forward getting another whiff of weirdness.

It was a bag about five times the size of them, and it wriggled. Something was inside trying to get out, and Toby had the oddest sensation that whatever was in there, shouldn’t be free.

“Minty, hop onto the edge of the sack.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Minty jumped onto the sack’s edge, and Toby sat on the other end. The wriggling inside got worse.

“Can’t you feel that?” Toby asked, shooting a serious look at his friend.

“Feel what? The thing in the sack, we should let it out, it might be injured after the human kicked it.”

“No. It all feels…wrong we need to…”

Suddenly the sack stopped wriggling and deflated.

“What happened?” Minty moved from his corner to investigate.

“No, Minty, stop!”

The sack was empty, whatever it was it had eaten its way out of the bottom of it. Below, the ground was alive with scuttling creatures that swarmed toward Minty with a common purpose, “Hello, what do we have here?” was all he got out before they were all over him.

“Minty!” Toby was rooted to the spot; he wanted to help his friend, he needed to, but it was like his legs had turned to frog spawn, and all he could do was watch on helplessly as Minty was devoured by the little creatures.

The creatures looked like ants, but not like any ant Toby had seen before; they had giant yellow horns that erupted from their heads, horns that must have weighed more than any ant could carry, as they dragged their heads down, making it impossible to see their eyes. They didn’t act like other ants either; frogs were their natural predators they should be swarming away from Minty, not eating him.

“What are you looking at Toby?”

Toby turned to see his friend Kewl hopping toward him.

“What the? Is that Minty?”

“Was.”

“Come on brother let’s move!” Kewl grabbed Toby and pulled him toward the rocks.

Toby looked back to see the remains of Minty’s skeleton sinking into the mud. They reached the rocks and leapt behind them.

“Where’d they come from?”

Toby shook his head, “Guess!”

“Those scumbag humans.” Kewl looked back to see the ants had stopped swarming and were just standing eerily still. There were about twenty of them, and they had all simply stopped and were now silently watching the night sky above them, their heads still labouring beneath the horns.

“We have to do something Kewl, those things eat us, and we need to kill them before they start a nest here.”

“Ok, ants for dinner then.”

“No! There’s something wrong with them, can’t you feel that?”

Kewl peered over the rocks, “Yeah, no I get it, brother, I feel it too, they’re not supposed to be here.”

Toby joined him, and they both watched the ants staring at the sky. Shadows flickered above them.

“Birds! Get down!” Kewl yelled.

Both frogs jumped back behind the rocks and watched as a group of black birds circled the ants who just stared up at the feathered death bringers with oblivious abandon. One swooped down and started pecking at the small ant army. Instantly they were all over it. The bird cawed, struggled, and then was subdued as the ants feasted on its innards and licked the blood from its feathers.

“Toby, we are in so much trouble right now!”

The frogs stared up at the other birds circling the ants. After watching their comrade roll and writhe and then succumb to the strange horned creatures, they squawked at one another and then flew off into the safe horizon.

“Whoa!” Kewl looked from the empty sky to Toby, “I’ve never seen birds fly away from a meal before.”

“Food that eats you is not exactly high on their menu choice.”

“These little guys are rattling the food chain, no wonder they don’t feel right, brother. What did the humans do to them?”

“Three Eyed Toad said that they liked infecting creatures with viruses and bacteria for their amusement.”

“That’s no virus!” Kewl motioned at the ants that were now milling around the bird carcas, having stripped it like a Christmas Turkey.

“We need to see.”

“See what?”

“What they are, they don’t act like ants, ants would be working by now, building a hill, a home, and they’re not doing anything like that,”

“Apart from eating everyone, oh, hang on, what do you mean, see? I’m not getting any closer to those horny little weirdoes than I have to,”

Toby turned and looked Kewl in one of his side eyes, “We need to get one, we won’t know what we’re dealing with till we…”

“What? Pull it apart? What are we now? The humans? Shall we make up a cage of lily pads and twigs?”

“Actually that’s not a bad idea.”

“You’ve gone insane!”

“The world’s gone insane Kewl; I’m just a frog trying to keep up.” Toby jumped behind the rocks and started pulling at twigs and yanking plants out by their roots.

Kewl watched with sticky eyes and a dry mouth. Minty was dead. Rather than admit that and move on, like move way on to the next body of water away from the horned ants and certain death, Toby was waging a one frog war. They had all grown up together, spawned at the same time in the reservoir, probably not brothers, but as they had been tadpoles shedding tails and crawling out of the goo at the same time together, they felt like family. They’d stayed here and not jumped into the horizon like the rest of them, they had braved the school trips, scientific dumps and legions of birds and for Minty to die covered in ants… Kewl felt his back leg vibrate with anger, “What do you need me to do?”

Toby looked over and nodded, “We need to build a trap.”

“Count me in, brother.”

The two frogs worked quickly, their webbed hands moulding the mud into a primitive cage, the plant life of the reservoir tied together as ropes. Now and then one of them would poke their head up from the rocks to see what the ants were doing; the answer always seemed – not much, apart from staring at the sky and of course looking weird.

Once their tasks were complete, the frogs watched the ants for a while, judging the stragglers.

“There, the one to the right, he’s furthest away from the group,” Toby motioned to the ant almost on its own.

“Good spot, brother, let’s do this.”

It’s hard to be stealthy when you’re a frog, the very act of jumping is both noisy and noticeable, especially when croaking on lift off was almost a reflex; so they both decided that a surprise grab would work best. Once in position, they nodded to one another, took deep breaths and jumped onto the ant. Toby whipped out his tongue, grabbed it, and they both jumped back behind the rocks. Once there, Toby threw the ant back up and into the mud prison. It stared at them, its foreign looking giant horns waving in the breeze coming from the two panting frogs. After gaining their breath and composure back, they checked if the other ants had noticed. They hadn’t; their interest was still captivated by the night sky.

“So what the hell are you?” Kewl asked slamming his amphibian hand onto the mud ceiling. “I’m bad cop,” he whispered to Toby.

“No you’re a frog,” Toby whispered back.

The ant had no reaction to the question but squinted at the mud prison around it.

Toby pulled on their makeshift rope and wrapped it around the ant’s horns, “Just in case you get the nibbles friend.”

“We know that you came from the lab, tell us what you know.”

It said nothing. It just stared at them, the only difference than when it had stared at the sky was that now it had a hungry glint in its eye.

“That’s so odd,” Kewl said moving closer to it, “it’s not an ant, or I think it was maybe one at one time, just not anymore,”

Toby tightened his grip on the rope, “What do you mean?”

“It has this glazed look, and I can’t hear a heartbeat.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Kewl, of course; it has a heartbeat. If it didn’t, it would have been taken by Mother Nature already,”

Kewl moved even nearer, “Maybe it’s heartbeat is just faint?”

“Don’t get any closer!” Toby felt the ant tense then suddenly it reared back. The rope constricted on its horns and swiftly pulled them off.

“Whoa!” Kewl hopped back, and both frogs watched as the ant decomposed in front of them, its body turning several shades of death, then sinking into its mud prison, leaving the yellow horns still tied to the rope.

“That ant was dead; it was the horns that were alive, they were just using its body to…”

“To what? Have a nibble at the wildlife buffet? This is wrong, brother, we’ve gotta do something, if just one of those things gets outta here, it could upset the whole food chain. What if it’s not just ants that it can use? What if…”

Toby nodded, “Ok, we need a plan.”

Kewl took a deep breath, “I miss Three Eyed Toad, he would have known what to do.”

“That’s it! You’re a genius; we need to get to that lab and talk with his friends if he would know, they’d know. They might even know what these zombie ants are.”

“Hang on there brother, that place is dangerous.”

“The lab is now only marginally more dangerous than being here, and what if those yellow horns were to attach themselves to a human? What then eh? We need to know what we’re dealing with if we’re to stop them.”

“I don’t care what they are, brother, I just what to know how to kill them.” Kewl looked off into the middle distance and puffed out his chest.

“We know how to kill them Kewl; we pull off their horns, we just need help, we can’t get them all on our own, there’s too many, they’ll swarm us.”

Deflated Kewl sighed, “I know that I was just trying to be cool.”

Toby laughed, “You are Kewl, that’s how you got your name.”

***

They hopped like it was spawning season, the wind against their drying skins, and the fear of the ants weighing heavy on their minds. They stopped briefly to tell their few frog friends about the zombie ants and ask that they keep an eye on them, but not to go too near. Although most had gathered as much upon seeing the horns and feeling the insect’s aura that declared ‘keep away’. Funny the animals got it, most of them anyway, why hadn’t the humans? Surely they would have felt that primeval kick in the gut when they had seen those things, and if they had, why release them into the wild? Three Eyed Toad was set free because he had outgrown his usefulness; what could be learnt from an extra eye? The frogs quickly found that it made his eyesight worse rather than better, his balance was terrible so moving was a constant game of gravity roulette, where would he fall next? Humans were meant to be top of the food chain; they controlled the wild, made the reservoir, could freely walk anywhere without fear of being eaten by a hundred and one other species, yet still they didn’t seem happy to leave Mother Nature to get on with it. They still had to interfere.

***

The smell of humans and chemicals was everywhere, and the smooth floors were proving painfully slippery to the frogs, but they had made their way via a sewer grate, and up through a toilet, so there was no turning back.

Their little eyes bulged at the giant furniture and flashing lights, even at night the lab didn’t rest. They hadn’t seen any humans though; Three Eyed Toad had instilled a fear so deep within them about the white coated creatures that the mission would have been instantly aborted upon one’s appearance – every frog for himself.

The door that held the animals was unmistakable in its scent, so the frogs made their way beneath the cracks and soon found themselves staring at row after row of metal cages.

“Our mud cage was better, brother.”

“These things look pretty sturdy, how did Three Eyed Toad escape again?”

“He didn’t; he got released. He said that they put a pink slip in his cage and the next day he was free.”

“The pink slips are too dangerous; they could mean get rid of for all we know. There must be another way to open the cages; we’ll find it and talk to these guys, we need help, Kewl.”

“What about the food chain? If we let something above us out, it’ll just eat us.”

Toby hopped further into the room. Eyes, pink and raw stared back at him, “Don’t worry Kewl. They’re beyond the food chain now, the humans have done things to them.”

Kewl followed him, and soon a strange whispering began to echo about the cages, voices from a hundred different tiny tongues.

“Umm, hello.” Toby stood on his hind legs so he could meet their eyes, as best he could, “I’m Toby, this is Kewl.” He gestured at his friend who rolled his eyes.

“How did you get in here?” a small voice from behind the nearest cage.

Toby hopped toward it and peered into the darkness.

Two round pink eyes greeted him then a clawed hand slowly extended from the cage, “I’m Number 335.”

Toby took the hand and carefully shook it; it belonged to a large white female rat, who, when she smiled, the frogs discovered, had no teeth,

“They took them out,” she explained, “we bit them when they grabbed at us, so they took our teeth.”

Lots of furry clawed hands then extended from the cages. Some took them quickly back in, some waved, one made an awkward ‘thumbs up’ sign.

“I’m Number324,”

“I’m Number527,”

“I am Number125,”

And the different numbers kept coming.

“Did you know the Three Eyed Toad?” Kewl asked Number335.

“No, sorry before my time I think,” she replied.

Toby stepped closer, “We need help, Number335, will you and your people help us?”

“Help with the ants?”

“Yes! What do you know of the ants?”

“They’re dead.”

“No, they’re not, they are in our reservoir, eating anyone who comes near them.”

“No, they are dead,” Number335 said, “We saw them, they were normal, they had a queen, they didn’t talk much, but they worked hard to build a home here at the Lab. Then a human came, he was meaner than the rest, he had cold eyes and a dish filled with a pale yellow powder which he threw at the ant hill. They all died. Then they got back up and started growing horns. They ate their queen. They were not ants anymore, just mindless eaters driven by the yellow powder.”

“What was the powder, sister?” Kewl asked.

“We are uncertain, but we heard the humans speak of finding it deep below the earth, somewhere called Prehistoric.”

Toby inched closer to Number335, “Can you help us, we’ll set you free, but we need to kill all the ants in our reservoir,”

“We will help you Toby and Kewl, but we do not know how to kill the ants.”

“That’s ok, we figured that bit out, we just need the manpower.”

“Manpower we cannot give, ratpower however…” she winked her pretty pink eye and smiled her toothless smile.

***

With the aid of the rats, Toby and Kewl found the switch to open the cages. They had to move quick, not every creature there was as friendly as their new thirty-two rat friends. Before they could be eaten, they all ran toward a grating that led to an extraction fan, which was fatefully broken; through that, they escaped and into the fresh night air.

“Lead us to your home, Toby,” Number 527 said and then gave the ‘thumbs’ up sign again.

“I think you should be called Thumbs from now on, brother.”

“I like that.” Thumbs grinned.

“I’d like a name too.”

“Name me.”

Kewl put his webbed hands in the air, “No worries we’ll give you all proper names.”

Toby nudged him, “Let’s do it after, ok?”

“After what?”

“The ant battle.”

“Oh, ok, brother.”

They moved with swift intent through the grass and cut across the human road; when it came to roads, the animals knew there was safety in numbers, a car was more likely to see a hoard of rats than two small lone frogs.

When they made it back to the reservoir, they found that the frogs that had stood guard in their absence had disappeared.

“Oh great, who’s watching the ants?” Kewl motioned over to the rocks and then hopped onto one, “Oh no, they’ve gone too!”

“The ants have died?” Number335 joined Kewl on the rock, “No, look they are there.” She pointed with her long nose to a mass of feathers and blood; the ants had spread out to take another victim.

“Ok, here’s the plan,” Toby motioned for them all to gather round, “Tomorrow is a school day, and if there’s a trip and the human tadpoles get hold of one of the ants, it could not just disrupt the food chain but could break it all together.”

“We’re protecting humans?” Thumbs cocked his head.

“Not humans, but Mother Nature, the natural order must be upheld, and it’s up to us to do it.”

“Tell us what we must do.” Number335 huddled closer, and the rest of the rats followed suit.

The problem was Toby didn’t know what to do; in truth, he didn’t think they’d get this far. Dying in the lab was as far as he’d thought up to, but with the army of pink eyes blinking at him and Kewl nodding heroically at a plan he had yet to hear, well he had to say something…

“Right, the plan.” He stood up on his hind legs, so he was the tallest of the group, “Ok the plan is…” and the next thing he knew he was air born clutched in the talons of a big black bird who looked down casually at him as it flew toward the sky. His friends, frozen in terror watching on.

It was now or never to form a plan, thought Toby, “Excuse me, bird.”

The bird stopped flying and hovered.

“Bird, please put me down.”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m sure you are, but we have a problem that needs addressing, and I’m the only frog who can do it; by eating me, you could be dooming the planet to a zombie ant invasion.”

The bird narrowed its eyes, “That’s what those things are?” He nodded his beak to the squirming Horned Ants below.

“Yes.”

“They’re not natural.”

“No, they were dumped by the humans.”

“Of course, humans,” the bird spat and snorted and then almost dropped Toby.

“The ants have already eaten two birds that we know of; help us avenge your fallen friends?”

“I will not help; humans can clean up their own mess.”

Fear and dread tumbled through Toby’s tight, dry little body and he realised that he’d never again see the wonders of a dawn or the eat a fat fly, or mate and spawn in the Spring.

“Please Bird.” He stared up at it, “We are the only defence Mother Nature has.”

The bird began to carefully tumble through the sky till it was just above the rock where Kewl and the rats were still sitting, their mouths slack with the horror of Toby’s abduction.

“Suddenly I’m not so hungry little frog,” the bird said then carefully placed Toby on the rock and propelled itself back into the sky.

“Brother! Are you OK?”

“No Kewl, I’m so far from OK right now that OK had invented the time machine and zapped itself back to the age when our ancestors were twenty foot tall and roamed the earth.”

“What did you say to the bird?” Number335 put her nose on Toby and sniffed him.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ve had an evil week: back licking, science dumps, Minty killed before my very eyes, a trip through a sewer and a toilet when we could have gone straight through the air ducts, yes Kewl I noticed that! Then, to top it all off, I was a victim of a bird attack,”

“How was I supposed to know about the air ducts?”

“You knew about the sewers!”

“Frogs,” Thumbs said peeking over the rock, “the ants are finished with the bird, they’re now moving around, with… more purpose.”

“Ok, there’s no time for a plan, let’s just roll in there and start ripping horns out!”

“Yeah!” Kewl jumped onto the rock. “Come on brothers and sisters, no ant lives!”

The rats squealed and applauded so loudly that the ants heard them and started moving towards the rocks.

Then Toby got an idea, “They kill by their numbers, but there are more of us, everyone picks an ant and destroys that one before they can swarm.”

As the two armies clashed together, the battle cry of the frogs and rats was heard slicing through the still night air. Clawed paws met with yellow horns, each of the frogs pounced onto an ant and held it in place for a rat to rip into. A few of the rats were careless and eaten so quick it was like they’d sank into quicksand. The actual fighting took but a few minutes, but to the frogs and rats, it felt like hours.

By the end, the reservoir looked like a forgotten battlefield strewn with bodies like red and white confetti and defiant yellow horns that, by their continued presence mocked Mother Nature.

“What about the horns brother?”

Toby picked a pair up, “We bury them Kewl, as far down as we can so the humans can never find them again.”

“We will dig.” Number 335 rallied the other rats.

“Thank you, Num… Pink Lady.” Toby smiled at her, and Kewl started naming the other rats.

***

The story of what happened was told time and again for many moons. Sometimes it was a beaver that led the white army to victory against the Horned Ants; sometimes it was a stray dog looking to win back the love of its masters. Although the basic story remained the same, there are two truths consistently left out. One was that a lone bird circled the battlefield keeping away any skyward predators from picking off the brave soldiers. The other was that it was all down to two frogs, two little frogs that saved the world from the zombie ants.

After all, it would never have been believed, and we all have the responsibility of protecting the food chain.

 

For more about National Share a Story Month click here…

Book Review: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys Anthology

Synopsis

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Fans of TV’s The Walking Dead, True Blood, and American Horror Story will tear through tales by these talented authors:

Stefan Bachmann
Leigh Bardugo
Kendare Blake
A. G. Howard
Jay Kristoff
Marie Lu
Jonathan Maberry
Danielle Paige
Carrie Ryan
Megan Shepherd
Nova Ren Suma
McCormick Templeman
April Genevieve Tucholke
Cat Winters

My Review:

I do enjoy a good anthology. You find new authors you never knew existed, read stories from some of your favourite authors, and everything is in lovely tasty bite-sized stories that mean you get to read an entire tale in one sitting. Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a perfect example of this. There were some stories that didn’t float my boat, but hey we don’t all have the same taste, and that’s what makes the world go round (along with money!) but there were a few stories in there that really caught me by surprise and didn’t let me go. Carrie Ryan’s In the Forest Dark and Deep is very evocative and has an almost Twin Peaks vibe (although it made much more sense) I particularly liked it as it has an Alice in Wonderland theme and I’d studied Lewis Carroll’s book for my own twist on the tale Lost in Wonderland. I also loved Cat Winters’ Emmeline, which was gruesome and atmospheric.

From a writer’s perspective, this is a beautiful collection of stories that show the breadth of literary horror possibilities out there, and all the authors put their own spin on them, in their own style.

The front cover is a little cartoon like for me; I would have preferred something more sinister to represent the feel of the stories inside. However, I do appreciate that this is primarily for a YA market, so I can understand the choice.

Overall I’d give Slasher Girls & Monster Boys 5 out of 5 stars. A wonderfully creepy collection of little YA gems.

Find Slasher Girls & Monster Boys on Goodreads

Book Review: The Magpies by Mark Edwards

Synopsis:

When Jamie and Kirsty move into their first home together they are full of optimism. The future, in which they plan to get married and start a family, is bright. The other residents of their building seem friendly too: the horror writer and the middle-aged herbalist who live upstairs, and the Newtons, a married couple who welcome them to the building with open arms.

At first, the two couples get on well. But then strange things start to happen. Dead rats are left on their doorstep. They hear disturbing noises, and much worse, in the night. After Jamie’s best friend is injured in a horrific accident, Jamie and Kirsty find themselves targeted by a campaign of terror.

As Jamie and Kirsty are driven to the edge of despair, Jamie vows to fight back – but he has no idea what he is really up against…

THE MAGPIES is a terrifying psychological thriller in which the monsters are not vampires or demons but the people we live next door to. It is a nightmare that could happen to anyone.

My Review:

I’ve been reading a lot of thrillers recently and have a particular liking for Mark Edwards as an author. He writes very realistic thrillers, things that could really happen and horrors that could befall just about anyone. The Magpies is no different. Nuisance neighbours, we’ve all had them, this story could happen to any one one of us, so perhaps this should be more of a life survival guide, rather than a work of fiction!

I sometimes find it hard to review thrillers in general, as I don’t want reveal twists and expose too much of the plot and ruin another reader’s experience, so I’ll just say: READ THIS BOOK.

From a writer’s point of view, the way the story evolves is a perfect example of suspense fiction; it starts with small incidents that could be easily dismissed and quickly ascends to the types of situations that seriously call for action. The story builds beautifully, and before you know it, you’re invested in the protagonists and can’t put the book down. Any writer looking for a great example of ho to build tension into a story should read this book.

The front cover does let the book down a little, I’m not sure it particularly represents the story as it’s set more in a city than in the country, and I do know how important book covers are in the commercial world of books. It is also similar to other books by the same author so could be easily mistaken for the wrong book.

Overall I’d give The Magpies 4 out of 5 stars – a must read for thriller writers and readers alike.

The Magpies on Goodreads

Book Review: Follow You Home by Mark Edwards

Synopsis:

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a final adventure before settling down.

After a perfect start, Daniel and Laura’s travels end abruptly when they are thrown off a night train in the middle of nowhere. To find their way back to civilisation, they must hike along the tracks through a forest…a haunting journey that ends in unimaginable terror.

Back in London, Daniel and Laura vow never to talk about what they saw that night. But as they try to fit back into their old lives, it becomes clear that their nightmare is just beginning…

Follow You Home is a chilling tale of secrets, lies and deadly consequences from the author of #1 bestsellers The Magpies and Because She Loves Me.

My Review:

This book was another one that grabbed me from the outset. The author cleverly ties the past with the present throughout the story to keep you guessing and, of course, to keep you on the edge of your seat. It is one of those stories that, although could seem far-fetched, is so rooted in reality with real and believable characters, that I could honestly believe that something like this could happen. Again, I don’t want to go into too many details here; I don’t want to reveal the plot or ruin the ending. You’ll just have to read it to see what I mean.

From a writer’s perspective, there is clearly an enticing incident that happens in the past, it’s the catalyst that sets the story of the book in motion. It refers to a lot, and you don’t get to know what it is until near the end of the book. This, in my opinion, was a risk. By keeping a the reader guessing you can end up disappointing them, as those with a dark mind (like myself) could be imagining something much worse than what actually happened. As it turned out, the incident was pretty awful, so fortunately met with my twisted expectations.

The front cover is atmospheric, but I’m unsure as to what scene in the book it’s representing, I think a cover that has something more obviously related to the book would serve it better.

Overall I’d give It Follows You Home 4 out of 5 stars. Well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

Follow You Home on GoodReads

Killing Cupid by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

10958968Synopsis

When Alex Parkinson joins a creative writing class, he soon realises that he and his tutor, Siobhan McGowan, are meant to be together. Alex will do anything to be with her. Like buying her designer clothes and lingerie…with her own credit card. Like breaking into her house and reading her diary. Like threatening her ex-boyfriend – and watching his love rival plummet from a rooftop.

But when Alex finally admits defeat and seeks solace elsewhere, Siobhan decides to take revenge. How dare he lose interest in her? He picked the wrong woman to stalk then just back off! As their lives begin to unravel and the past closes in, Alex and Siobhan embark on a collision course that threatens to destroy both themselves and everyone around them…

Optioned by BBC TV for a two-part drama, KILLING CUPID is a dark, twisted psychological thriller that examines what happens when two people who are unlucky in love meet their soulmate – but still manage to get everything wrong. Filled with suspense and dark laughter, and with a unique twist at its conclusion, KILLING CUPID is written in alternating chapters, showing the male and female viewpoints, by renowned author LOUISE VOSS and newcomer MARK EDWARDS.

“I’ve just finished reading this and really enjoyed it: it’s a stalker novel with a twist and an unexpected lightness of touch. You may think the plot will take a predictable course but it doesn’t. The creation of voice and the wit of the observations create immediacy and verve.” LORNA FERGUSSON, Author of The Chase.

My Review:

This book was another recommendation. I run a writers’ group in my home town and when my friend read this book she said, ‘You have to read this!’ Now, I don’t think I have any stalkers in my group (if I do, they’re playing their cards pretty close to their chest) but the concept was still incredibly similar to me as a person; I’m an author, I run a writer’s group, I’m single – although I hasten to add, I’m far too lazy to act out on any violent tendencies! LOL.

I must admit at the time, I didn’t read the Goodreads profile, only the back of the book, so I was quite shocked to see pretty much nearly the whole plot there, I really enjoyed the twists and turns of Killing Cupid, and if I’d have read about it on Goodreads first, I perhaps wouldn’t have liked it so much.

From a writer’s perspective, the expertise that both authors use to tell the characters’ stories is without fault. It’s a real ‘he said, she said’. I’m unsure as to whether I could write a story with another author, but it is something that I’d love to try in the future. I enjoyed both writer”s styles so much that I have started reading their own books too.

The front cover is great. Very evocative yet simple.

I noticed in the description that this has been optioned for TV, which it thoroughly deserves. I just the hope the authors have control over what happens to their story, so it stays as faithful to the book as possible.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. Whether you are a writer or not, you should read this book.

 

Book Review: The Woman Next Door by Cass Green

30383918Synopsis

A No.1 e-book bestseller, perfect for fans of Her by Harriet Lane and In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.
Two suburban women. Two dark secrets. The almost perfect murder.

Everybody needs good neighbours…

Melissa and Hester have lived next door to each other for years. When Melissa’s daughter was younger, Hester was almost like a grandmother to her. But recently they haven’t been so close.

Hester has plans to change all that. It’s obvious to her that despite Melissa’s outwardly glamorous and successful life, she needs Hester’s help. But taking help from Hester might not be such a good idea for a woman with as many secrets as Melissa…

My Review

This book is written exceptionally well. It had a vivid amount of lovely turns of phrase and the two characters who tell the story were brilliant. Hester, in particular, is a great character, and I’m pretty sure we all know at least Hester in our lives.

My only criticism is that the plot was a little cliched in parts (I can’t say much else, or I’ll ruin the story). I’d have liked to have seen something even more sinister – although I’m a pretty dark person, so maybe this plot was actually just enough for a normal person! There are twists in the book, but I did guess them quite early on, so I didn’t get that ‘Good grief’ gasping moment.

The front cover is a little misleading; again I can’t say much more for fear of ruining the story. The strapline text is quite vague, and the woman on the front looks like she’s under water when it would have been much more apt to have a ‘curtain twitcher’ on the cover.

Overall it’s a well-written book that keeps you reading; I was just disappointed that the story wasn’t as twisted as it could have been. 3 out of 5 stars.

Check it out on GoodReads here…

Book Review: The Venus Trap by Louise Voss

23199734Synopsis:

Jo Atkins’ sixteenth year was disastrous: she lost her dad, was assaulted by a stranger, and then had her heart broken. For the last twenty-five years, she’s believed that nothing could ever be as bad again.

She was wrong.

Now, still smarting from her recent divorce, pretty, self-effacing Jo finally gathers the courage to enter the dating scene. She meets Claudio, whom she vaguely remembers from her youth, but after a few dates decides he’s creepy and politely tells him ‘thanks but no thanks’.

But Claudio has no intention of letting her go.

Instead of never seeing him again, Jo wakes up sick and terrified, handcuffed to her own bed. She is given a week to prove her love for Claudio—or he will kill her.

Claudio, it turns out, is a man with nothing left to lose.

The Venus Trap tackles the emotional impact of divorce, the perils of modern dating and the age-old powers of lust and obsession.

Review:

I was recommended Louise Voss’ work by my best friend, Julie and also my friend and fellow author, Jane Issac, so with two such glowing reviews, I had to read Louise’s work. I was so glad I did. She’s a fantastic writer with a quirky sense of humour, which is something I always appreciate in books, regardless of their genre.

The story has a lot of flashbacks in, which I would typically find frustrating, but the concept worked very well here. From a writer’s perspective, The Venus Trap could be used as a class textbook to teach using flashbacks and how to plot for dramatic impact. The pace is steady, and although I did guess the ending, it wasn’t until about halfway through the book – which isn’t unusual for me, my mind is pretty dark and twisty, so I usually figure out the twist in the tale quite early on.

This book features online dating, which I must admit I attempt once in a while myself, and this book captures the sheer annoying oddness of that world. I’ve certainly had some simply soul-eroding encounters in the past!

Claudio wasn’t your usual villain, but his quiet craziness kind of made him even scarier. After all, someone coming at you with a butcher knife kind of have all their cards on the table. Someone you can’t get a read on, that’s the one you need to watch out for!

The front cover is good. It represents the story and has a flash of eye-catching colour.

Overall, I’d give The Venus Trap 4 out of 5 stars. Worth picking up – especially if your New Year’s resolution is to try online dating.

Find it on GoodReads here…

 

Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Synopsis:

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

“The Final Girls need you. . . . The Final Girls are tough, everything survivors should be. But the new threat is clever, ominous, even closer than you suspect. You are about to gasp. You might drop the book. You may have to look over your shoulder. But you must keep reading. This is the best book of 2017.” —Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Find Her

 

Review:

Great book. Can’t recommend it enough!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers, it sneaked in as the best book I read in 2016.

A twisty story that keeps you guessing and I just loved the subject matter of the ‘Final Girl’. I have long been a fan of the splatterpunk genre and the slasher films, and this concept fascinates me. Are there real life Final Girls out there? Yes, just Google it.

As an author myself, I appreciated the pace of the story and the subplots that all tied together; a real plotting feat by the author that I’d advise any writer to read and learn from, no matter what your genre.

The front cover is very eye-catching, love the pink flashes. Although I have discovered since that, there are two front covers out there, which I really can’t understand. I write, but I also work in marketing, so I truly think that branding is everything. One of my books has two different covers I feel that it can confuse people. Even when it comes to different countries, I still think you should pick one cover and stick to it – just my opinion.

I think this is going to be a big hit, if it isn’t, then there really is no literary justice in the world.

5 out 5 stars – you have to read this book when it comes out in June 2017!

In the meantime, check it out on Goodreads…

Book Spotlight: Copper Veins by Jennifer Allis Provost

 

CopperCopper Veins by Jennifer Allis Provost

Synopsis:

Sara’s pretty sure her life is perfect.

Not only are she and Micah finally married, her father, who’d been missing since the Magic Wars, has been found. Actually, he just strode up to the manor’s front door, but whatever. Sara knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But Baudoin Corbeau isn’t content to return to family life. He’s decided that he will be the force of change in the Mundane world, and lead the Elemental resistance to victory with his children at his side. What’s worse, Baudoin doesn’t approve of Sara’s marriage, and makes every attempt to separate her from Micah.

After a visit to the Mundane realm leaves Sara, Max and Sadie imprisoned by the Peacekeepers, Sara’s doubts creep to the surface. Is her father right? Does she belong in the Mundane realm, not the Otherworld? Is Micah really the right man–make that elf–for her?

Was marrying him a mistake?

Add to Goodreads…

 

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Book Spotlight: Vampire Creed by Rain Grey

VampireCreedVampire Creed by Rain Grey

Synopsis:

Barnaby Blaine Rice was a Vampire born in the depression with a very special power to see who people truly were. After a long, empty existence of witnessing the darkest points of humanity, Blaine happens to encounter a beautiful married woman named Mary Slate. Unable to handle his love for the beautiful human, Blaine accidentally kills another Vampire over her and is put under a serious debt with the Vampire Council.

Blaine reluctantly forces himself to forget the woman and allows her to live her life without his intervention. It wasn’t until 50-years-later that the distant memories of the captivating Mary are brought back to the surface. Blaine has the pleasure to encounter the young Wendy Slate, granddaughter of Mary Slate after a criminal vampire keeps her hostage. Blaine got there in time to stop the criminal, but not to stop the beginning of Wendy’s transition into Vampirism.

As he was forced to sire her into this new world, he discovers that Wendy is the most amazing person he’d ever met. Wendy has to make a life-altering decision as Blaine has to deal with his blooming feelings for a woman who was identical to his first love. This modern love story introduces the most influential turning point of these lover’s lives.

Add to Goodreads…

 

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