Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Violet by SJI Holliday

Violet JacketWhen two strangers end up sharing a cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express, an intense friendship develops, one that can only have one ending …

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Hold onto your hats folks because we are in for one wild ride with this week’s blog tour! Following on from the success of creepy supernatural suspense thriller The Lingering, SJI Holliday is back – and this time, she’s putting the psycho in psychological thriller with Violet, a tale of two women, one journey, and a dangerous obsession.

Violet was meant to be on the trip of a lifetime. But having been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, she’s stuck in Beijing at a loose end. Carrie was supposed to be taking in the world with her best friend. But following an unfortunate accident that has left her travelling solo, she’s got a spare ticket and an itch to meet new people. When the two women strike up a conversation in a hotel bar, a firm friendship is soon established. But, as they journey further into the Trans-Siberian wilderness, it quickly becomes apparent that both of these ladies are hiding something. And one of them might have a secret so dangerous that it could be the death of them…

I am in absolute awe of SJI Holliday’s ability both to set pace and to keep a reader guessing! From the very first sentence until the final staying-up-past-my-bedtime-to-finish-this turn of the page, I was utterly drawn into this tale of female obsession and deadly manipulation. I finished it over the course of a weekend, desperate to know what was to become of Violet and Carrie. And I wasn’t disappointed when I turned the final page!

Told primarily from the perspective of Violet, with emails from Carrie to friends and family back home giving an alternative viewpoint every few chapters, Violet is a taut, tense psychological thriller with Patricia Highsmith stylings. To say too much about the plot and the characters is to veer into spoiler territory however I was extremely impressed by Holliday’s ability to drop unsettling hints that all is not as it seems with Violet and Carrie, whilst maintaining the suspense throughout. Even with the benefit of a first-person perspective, it becomes impossible for the reader to tell who is the hunter and who is the prey in this twisted tale of toxic friendship.

As with The Lingering, Holliday also excels at writing unreliable – and even unlikable – narrators. Her portrayal of Violet in particular is masterful, gradually unsettling the reader as we’re allowed greater access into her thoughts and her past. The interspersed emails from Carrie successfully give her a strong voice in the narrative whilst providing a layer of hidden motivation. Violet’s inner voice might be unreliable but Carrie is hidden from the reader, revealed only in the public narrative she chooses to tell her friends and family back home. It’s a brilliant way of creating suspense, whilst giving the reader just enough of a connection to the two women to care about what happens to them.

I also loved the travel narrative element to the tale. In contrast to The Lingering, which played with the claustrophobia that comes from a self-contained location (a location that gets a brief but smart nod in Violet that is sure to make returning reader smile), Violet builds its suspense from the vast freedom and limitless potential of spontaneous travel. Evoking the sights and sounds of the various destinations that Carrie and Violet travel through, Holliday captures the giddy exuberance that comes from being young and free and with the whole world to explore. The style and tone (as well as some of the experiences) reminded me a little of the trouble-in-paradise narrative in Alex Garland’s The Beach and if you liked that novel, I would certainly recommend getting Violet on your To Be Read list.

In fact, I would recommend you get Violet on your To Be Read list sharpish anyway! This is a smart, taut psychological thriller that really will keep the pages turning. Perfect for curling up with by the fire on a cold night, Violet will grip you from the first and keep you guessing until the very final page.

Violet by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including Orenda’s own website, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher, Orenda Books, for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out the other stops for more reviews, guest posts, and content! 

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Lingering by S J I Holliday

The Lingering front FINALJack and Ali are looking for a fresh start and a new home at Rosalind House, a self-sufficient commune established in a former psychiatric hospital.

But the couple are clearly not all they seem, and their arrival sparks a chain of unexpected and unexplained incidents.

As the disturbing history of Rosalind House and the nearby village comes to light, events from the past return to haunt the residents, and someone is seeking retribution…

The best ghost stories, for me anyway, balance a thin tightrope between reality and the supernatural. Veer too far into the realm of ghouls and ghosts, and the book teeters into a horror. Not enough chill, however, and you’re left with a psycho-drama. Whilst The Lingering is definitely at the drama end of this spectrum, it walks this tightrope expertly; providing just enough by way of ghostly goings-on to keep the shivers running down the spine whilst maintaining the tension required for a compelling domestic thriller.

Told from multiple perspectives the novel primarily focuses on married couple Ali and Jack, whose entry into the self-sufficient community of Rosalind House sets off a chain of events that quickly spiral out of control. From the off, it is clear that all is not well with Ali and Jack. From Jack’s rapidly shifting moods to Ali’s watchful demeanour, this is a couple with secrets and it is the gradual revealing of these that drives the plot forwards. It’s a stately start, which could be off-putting to some readers; especially those used to page-turning domestic thrillers. Stick with it though because Ali and Jack’s journey is going to some very dark places indeed and, once the pace picks up, you’re on a non-stop ride of chills and revelations right up until the very last page.

The supernatural elements are handled really well, with the focus very much on the psychological elements of the supernatural. You’re never really sure exactly what is real and what is imagined in The Lingering, a trait that fits very well with the crime/thriller elements of the plot and leads to a hybrid novel that perfectly captures the essence of a good ghost story whilst remaining true to its crime thriller roots. Holliday has a masterful control of narrative tension, gradually building up a creeping sense of claustrophobia and unease before drawing it all together into a chilling conclusion that is sure to leave you double-checking the shadows of a night time!

I was also impressed with Holliday’s handling of character. Jack and Ali aren’t the most likeable of people – Ali, in particular, is a difficult customer with plenty of sharp edges and disturbing thoughts – but Holliday does a great job of keeping the reader by their side. By alternating between their perspectives and those of existing commune members, such as naive Angela and commune leader Smeaton, you get a real sense of each person and begin to genuinely worry for the safety of the commune and the family that has been created within it. And the interspersed diary entries (from Dr Henry Baldock’s 1955 journal) do a fantastic job of foreshadowing the dark events to come.

The Lingering is a brilliantly creepy tale that blends the gothic and the contemporary to deliver a sharp, spooky shot of unease. A fantastic blend of Susan Hill and Stephen King, this haunting book is a must for fans of the supernatural story as well as for those seeking a psychological thriller that’s prepared to offer something a little bit different. Original, dark, thrilling and atmospheric, read it with the lights on and – just a tip – maybe avoid reading this one in the bath!

The Lingering by SJI Holliday and published by Orenda Books is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book as part of an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour and organising it. The blog tour continues until 30 November 2018 so do check out the other stops along the way!

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Seasonal Reads

Spooky Reading Recommendations

The leaves are changing, the nights are drawing in, and it’s time to drag that favourite  jumper out of the closet. Is any more of an excuse needed to settle down with a mug of tea, curl up under your favourite blanket and pick up a book? And, for me personally, if that book has a touch of the sinister about it – something that’ll send a slight chill down my spine despite all that cosiness – then even better! So without further ado here are five of my favourite chilling reads, plus a few choices that I’m hoping to get to during 2018’s season of spookiness.

584843I can’t talk about spooky books without mentioning The Woman in Black. Susan Hill has written a number of ghost stories but this, without a doubt, remains my favourite. Possibly this is because I first read the book one dark All Hallows Eve, curled up in a caravan on the wet and wild Welsh coast whilst the rain lashed on the roof and the wind howled outside. Talk about pathetic fallacy! Having re-read the book many times in considerably finer weather since however, I can attest to it being an extremely fine ghost story with just the right level of menace. Arthur Kipps’ visit to desolate Eel Marsh House and his glimpses of the vengeful woman in black remain utterly terrifying on even the brightest of days.

8350864More readily known for her young adult series, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Michelle Paver has also written two chilling ghost stories after the Gothic mould. My favourite of the two, Dark Matter, is set during an ill-fated expedition to Arctic and brilliantly adds chilling events to an even colder location. Her second, Thin Air, takes place during a similarly doomed mountaineering expedition. Both books play with ideas of repression and psychology, cleverly weaving the characters’ fears into the narrative so that the reader begins to doubt the veracity of their narratives. Paver is also excellent at using the stark yet dangerous beauty of the natural environment to great effect when creating her sinister tales.

36434359Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, which I reviewed at the start of the year, is an unsettling gothic chiller that will leave you curled up under the covers and peering into the shadows. Part ghost story, part psychological mystery, the book uses interweaving narratives from the 1600s and 1800s to unravel the unhappy tale of the wooden companions that haunt crumbling country estate The Bridge, with possibly sinister intent.  Plus it has a really creepy child in it and nothing says dark and disturbing quite as much as childish innocence gone bad.

10692Moving away from ghost stories for a moment, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is a brilliant romp which combines the gothic horror of Dracula with the country-hoping adventure of a Dan Brown thriller. Late one night when exploring her father’s study, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters ominously addressed ‘To my dear and unfortunate successor’. When her father goes missing, our unnamed narrator is forced into an epic cross-continental quest that takes her into the heart of Romania, uncovering the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s disappearance, and constantly coming up against the name of one Vlad Ţepeş. As you can probably tell from the synopsis, The Historian is a bit of a romp but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable one written in a high gothic style and with plenty of literary and historical references for Dracula fans.

6550482For those who like their horror to come with a more literary flavour, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger combines Waters masterful prose with a dash of the supernatural. Set in the crumbling Hundred Hall, the novel follows the provincial, middle-class Dr Faraday as he gradually integrates himself into the life of the once wealthy Ayres family. Struggling to keep up with a changing society, the Ayreses are haunted by past glories. But are they also being haunted by something more sinister than their dying way of life? Combining a thoughtful meditation on class in post-war Britain with a creeping sense of dread and a fantastically creepy atmosphere, this is a slow, understated chill of a novel with a fantastic twist in its tale.

So what is on The Shelf’s spooky TBR for this season? Having still not got around to Laura Purcell’s latest chiller, The Corset, I’m eager to pick that up. Sarah Perry’s latest slice of gothic, Melmoth, is also on the pile – I loved The Essex Serpent so much that I’m almost afraid to read it! I’m taking part in the blog tour for SJI Holliday’s psychological ghost story The Lingering in November so am also very much looking forward to reading that, especially given all the high praise it has been getting from fellow bloggers. Finally Katherine Clements’ The Coffin Path picked up a lot of praise on its release last year but remains unread so I’m hoping to get to that now that the season is appropriate again.

As always, I would love to know if you’ve read any of my recommendations – or any of my TBR books. I do love a good ghost or supernatural story so if you’ve got any chilling recommendations for me then do also drop me a line in the comments, or come say hi over on Twitter (@amyinstaffs), and let me know about them!

Happy Reading!!