The Ghost Woods by CJ Cooke

Posted On 1 November 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Sad, creepy,gothic horror story

TheGhost

Without doubt CJ Cooke is a master of atmosphere and a deft hand at creating unsettling stories packed with myth and emotion and the Ghost Woods is a fine example of that and my favourite book of hers to date.

Here we have a remote setting, Lichen Hall is nestled deep in the woods, the woods are steeped in myth and avoided by the locals and the Hall is now a retreat (although I use that word begrudgingly) for young single women who have fallen pregnant and, at a time when this was deeply frowned upon, have taken the decision (or more often than not been forced) to have their babies adopted.

The Ghost Woods has a split timeline.  The year is 1959 and we learn of Mabel, only 17 years old and pregnant although she insists she hasn’t had sex.  She is sent to Lichen Hall and we follow her progress as she starts to make friends eventually and relax a little.  Jump to 1965 and meet Pearl who has also come to the Hall to have her baby.  Pearl was a nurse but lost her job and the love of her life when she revealed her condition.  Not to put too fine a point on things but Lichen Hall is a rather sad place.  Young, vulnerable girls come to have their babies and offer them for adoption.  There are tears and sadness.  The setting is lonely and added to that there are rumours about the encroaching woods and a number of girls have witnessed something scary out there.

I enjoyed this.  It’s very atmospheric, the Hall is a cold and unwelcoming place run by a seemingly cold hearted woman (Mrs Whitlock) hellbent on making a profit from the desperation of others.  The setting has evil vibes and it’s clear that something dangerous is beginning to grow in strength.  Strangely, and I found this a fascinating aspect to the growing horror but there seems to be an invasion of fungus, in fact part of the house has had to be closed due to the overwhelming spread.  Lichen Hall really played into the gothic vibe.  Here is a once glorious, but now fallen into disrepair manor house.  There are elements that still shine but more than that there are creepy cellars, creaky floors and doors and many secrets.

The characters.   Mrs Whitlock is almost a split personality.  She can be warm and endearing but only in very brief spurts.  Her husband has become bed bound and her grandson is an unusual boy, detached, prone to outbursts and often difficult.  Of the two main characters, Mabel is very vulnerable, she falls into the trap of becoming, effectively, a slave to the Whitlocks and simply does as she’s told.  Pearl is much more assertive and determined to find answers but likewise she has more or less been abandoned by her family.   There’s an awful feeling of being trapped.

There’s a real sense of horror here and that’s not just reliant on the myths attached to the area.  You feel so terrible for these young women, caught in a time and place that was so unkind to their plight.  Added to this are a number of elements that could feel disparate but thanks to the strong writing instead come together in a very cohesive way.  Not to give too much away there is a strong and vengeful spirit, the spread of the fungus is linked and helps to demonstrate the invasiveness of what’s going on it also brings with it a couple of twists that are both unexpected and scarily and awfully plausible.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, there was nothing here that spoiled the read for me.  There’s a slight slowness to the set up initially but probably about a third into the book things begin to hot up and the horror becomes more apparent.  There is also a kind of busyness going on but, whilst this definitely had the potential to become a little too much, surprisingly I didn’t find that to be the case.

As it happens I found this very easy to read in terms of pacing and desire to press on.  I liked the double aspect to it – not just a supernatural horror of sorts but also a real life horror and a look at the struggles of young women and the awful circumstances they were placed in.  I liked the twisted nature of the story and the shocking revelation of what’s actually taking place.  Very dark and foreboding, creepy and a great read for this time of year.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars.

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The Lighthouse Witches by CJ Cooke

Posted On 9 November 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Gothic, atmospheric and cunningly compelling

TLW

I was so happy to be approved for a review copy of The Lighthouse Witches, I’d previously read and enjoyed The Nesting and loved the author’s style, she can certainly create a story with plenty of atmosphere and so when I saw this book, hailed as a ‘chilling gothic thriller’ that takes place on a remote Scottish Island – well, colour me happy.  Slight spoiler for the rest of the review.  I really enjoyed this – it’s one of those books that is set to stealth mode.  It teases you with an intriguing prologue, it then stalks you, hidden from view until finally it pounces and you’re held firm in its grip.

So, following the prologue we are swiftly introduced to mother of three Olivia (known as Liv) and her daughters, Sapphire (Saffy), 15,  Luna 9, and Clover aged 7.  The year is 1998 and Liv has brought her daughters to Lon Haven, to a Lighthouse known as the Longing.  Essentially, Liv is running from something (all will eventually be revealed) and has taken a commission to paint a mural for the lighthouse’s new owner.  The family arrive late on a blustery evening and are introduced to their cosy keeper’s bothy but any romantic notions about the lighthouse are immediately dispelled when they are introduced to the grim interior.  A stark granite cone that covers something sinister from the Island’s past.

The Story is told from a number of POVs.  Primarily, Luna in 2021.  Pregnant, involved in a slightly rocky relationship and still trying to come to terms with the sketchy memories she has of the time spent on the Scottish Isle.  What she does know is that two of her sisters went missing and she was abandoned by her mother so it’s a huge shock when she receives a call to say that her sister Clover has been found – and she doesn’t appear to have aged a day.  We jump back to Liv in 1998 as she begins to get a feel for the Island.  It’s a close knit place rife with superstitions and a turbulent history that culminated in a witch hunt of a number of women who were eventually tried and executed.  Other stories abound – talk of wildlings and missing children run rife and it soon becomes apparent that Lon Haven has experienced more than its fair share of sad events that have undoubtedly led the islanders to harbour some strange beliefs.  The final pov is Sapphire, also from 1998.  Saffy’s pov includes excerpts from an old Grimoire that she found in the bothy and is slowly making her way through.  I won’t elaborate but these excerpts helpt to tie the time jumps together and give a feeling for what took place on the island back in the 1600s that eventually led to the brutal torturing and wrongful executions of a number of women.

The writing is really good.  Again Cooke manages to infuse the pages with a brooding and intriguing story, the atmosphere is like pea soup.  There’s an ever increasing sense of foreboding which is only exacerbated by Luna’s pov.  We know that the storyline from 1998 is slowly building up to something terrible and the suspense is huge.  There’s a great sense of family here, and one that is slightly fraying at the edges.  Liv, struggling to raise her daughters following the death of her partner, Saffy, rebelling against the move away from everything she knows and loves, the sisters being at odds with each other and the ever looming presence of threat that is slowly revealed.  There is a slight move into teenage angst at times where Saffy is concerned and I must admit that sometimes I was astounded by how oblivious Liv seemed to be but then I cut her some slack.  She was struggling so hard to hold everything together and barely coping herself.

This story really does move into the realms of fantasy, more so.than the Nesting  I’m not talking about dungeons and dragons but something much more subtle.  The villages believe almost religiously in the story of wildlings (in my mind I’m thinking of these as changelings – fae that mimic human children, stealing the children away and taking their place in the home).  There’s also the Grimoire and the fascinating story it relates that eventually provides answers to the mystery of Lon Haven.  I won’t spoil the final reveal, this took me in a direction that was completely unforeseen and one that I really enjoyed.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t have very much to be honest.  I did find a few elements, particularly in relation to Clover when she was eventually found and released to her much older sister – a little doubtful – but given the route the story takes I think I was much more willing to give it some leeway.  I think I probably also had questions about the nature of what was taking place here but, to be fair, I think the author’s style of ‘less is more’ was probably more fitting than any attempts to really define what was actually happening.

Overall this was a gripping tale.  I admit that I enjoy stories with alternating timelines.  I also love anything related to the fae which wildlings sound suspiciously akin to and the whole idea of this cursed island where the islanders have bought into their suspicions and fears so strongly, that they go to terrible lengths in order to keep any darkness at bay – coupled with the great gothic setting – well, as I already said, I was very happy to pick this one up and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 stars

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

TheNesting2It was like something out of a fairytale…

The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.
And a nanny come to save the day.

So what if Lexi isn’t telling the truth about who she is? Escaping to the remote snows of Norway was her lifeline. And all she wanted was to be a part of their lives.

But soon, isolated in that cold, creaking house in the middle of ancient, whispering woods, Lexi’s fairytale starts to turn into a nightmare.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi’s fears are deepening. Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

Expected publication : October 2020