Ink in the Blood by Stephanie Hochet
Another creepy little book, this time from a selection of European novellas selected by small press publishers Dedalus Books. The anonymous narrator of ‘Ink in the Blood’ has long been fascinated by tattoos and begins to draw designs for expert tattoo artist Dimitri. Eventually he goes under the needle himself, choosing a Latin phrase in the form of a cross, ‘vulnerant omnes, ultima necat’: ‘They (the hours) all wound, the last one kills’. At first delighted with his new tattoo, the narrator soon begins to notice that his ‘vulnerant’ is disappearing, leaving only ‘ultima necat’ on his skin. As the words fade, he begins to find himself changing in attitude, disposition and outlook as his tattoo gradually becomes a threat to his life. I loved the premise of this one but, alas, the story did fail to live up to the promise in my opinion. Some of the ideas raised in the early chapters don’t get fleshed out as much as I felt they could have been and I thought the ending was rather vague, without any resolution – very frustrating given how much tension had been built into earlier chapters. That said, the narrator was deliciously creepy, with gradual shifts in character that tip him from slightly odd to full blown weird as the novella progresses. And I liked the unreliability of his narrative, the fact that the reader has to find other interpretations of what the narrator is experiencing and decide for themselves what the truth is. This is an ambitious little book and one that does many things well but unfortunately, for me at least, it overreaches itself in places and the resolution failed to match up to the promise of what came before.
Black Cairn Point by Claire McFall
Hot Key Books are rapidly becoming one of my favourite YA publishers – their list is varied, lively and definitely worth checking out if you enjoy YA fiction. Black Cairn Point is one of their books for older teens, a spooky slice of psychological horror set in Scotland. Heather agrees to go on a camping holiday with Dougie and his friends because she’s desperate to get closer to him. But when the two of them disturb a pagan burial site above the beach, she becomes convinced they have awoken a malevolent spirit intent on doing the group harm. Alternating between the events on the beach and one year later, when Heather is in a mental institution waiting for Dougie to wake from a coma, this is a haunting thriller with a killer twist at the end. To say too much more would be to ruin the story but I loved McFall’s sense of atmosphere and foreboding and I thought she captured the joys and pitfalls of teen group dynamics very well. Some of the characters are a little stereotypical – there’s the nerdy girl, the quiet guy, the jock, the loner and the popular girl all present and correct – but they blend together nicely and the plot generally avoids falling into well-worn horror movie territory. And the ending…well, let’s just say the ending is cleverly done and leave it at that. Definitely one to check out if you like your YA with a slice of the supernatural.
I did read one other book in November but I’ll be doing a separate post and author interview for that one so watch this space! For December, I am taking part in Jen Campbell and Holly Dunn‘s ‘His Dark Materials‘ read along to FINALLY finish Phillip Pullman’s epic trilogy before the year is out. I’m halfway through ‘Northern Lights’ at the moment and loving every minute. In contrast to the magic of Lyra’s Oxford, I’m also reading Yeonmi Park’s memoir ‘In Order to Live‘ about her escape from North Korea and her extraordinary struggle to survive. It’s a harrowing read but absolutely fascinating and told with such honesty – I’ll do a full review as soon as I’ve finished but I can already say it’s well worth checking out. I’m going to try and fit a few other books in over the Christmas hols as well – I saved some of my annual leave for the week before Christmas so I’m planning to set a day or two aside amidst the festive madness for some quality reading time. As always, do let me know what you are reading either by leaving a comment below or by tweeting me @amyinstaffs. And, until next time…
Happy Reading! x