It’s summer and those book bags are filling as readers make time for reading, whether at the beach, on vacation, or taking a plane somewhere exotic. This is the start of Auntie M’s special Two-fer recommendations to keep you turning pages. First up is UK author S J Bolton, author of Sacrifice, previously reviewed. Her first three novels are all stand-alones so you can read these in any order without losing a character thread.

Bolton’s next two offerings follow her debut only in terms of mining folklore and mythic tales for her modern gothic thrillers. Awakening was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Novel of the Year. Totally riveting, Bolton’s story unfolds with an opening shudder:rescuing a baby from a snake; and a death after a snakebite. Clara Benning is the reclusive veterinary surgeon whose expertise is called upon, and who finds herself unwillingly involved when it’s determined the man’s venom concentration was artificially constructed, leaving his murderer to be very human.

Clara’s reclusive streak is down to a childhood accident which left has with a facial disfigurement. Her reticence to become involved is slowly eroded when snakes start to appear in volumes in the homes of the villagers she serves. Intrigued and concerned, Clara starts to investigate, with the help of an eccentric expert in reptiles, and a neighbor whose intentions are not what they seem on the surface. As she uncovers an ancient ritual and then an abandoned house, the tension climbs, and it soon becomes obvious that a decades-old secret lies at the heart of this mystery.

Not being a snake fan, I was surprised at how quickly I read this book–it’s that good.  The second offering is my personal favorite of her books so far, and the one I’m hoping to see some of her characters appear in a sequel.

Blood Harvest takes the reader to Dorset and a small village on the moors that ought to be a paradise for anyone who settles there. The Fletcher family has built a beautiful new home between the newer and oldest churches in Heptonclough and someone seems determined to scare them away. Childish pranks give way to serious threats with increasing danger to the three children in the home. The most affected is the oldest, Tom, a bright ten-year old who frustrates his parents when he begins to believe someone is watching them.

Therapist Evi Oliver is called in to examine and treat the boy. Also serving the villagers is a new vicar, Harry Laycock, and between the two of them, they try to salve the villagers fears. Then Evi uncovers the mysterious deaths of three toddlers from the town over the last ten years, and the emerging pattern becomes a nightmare that threatens to be repeated. Against a race of time, Evi and Harry hurry to unravel an evil killer in their midst and save the lives of the Fletcher children. Evi and Harry have wonderful dialogue and repartee and are the two characters I am hoping Bolton will resurrect in another novel.

Bolton’s protagonist’s all have some kind of flaw which affects them deeply: in Sacrifice, the protagonist is an OB-GYN who can’t get pregnant herself; she gives Clara a facial disfigurement; and here she has given Evi a severe sciatic injury which affects her ambulation and gives her pain. This injury becomes a powerful plot point at the novel’s climax. It will be interesting to see how her heroine fares in the fourth novel, Now You See Her~