Cover Image: Hope Island

Hope Island

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Nina Scafe, a workaholic TV producer from the North of England, takes her teenage daughter Laurie to visit her grandparents on Hope Island, off the coast of Maine in the USA. She’s hoping to find the right moment to break it Laurie that her father has left them for his secret second family. Tensions run high: Nina is estranged from her teenage daughter and she hardly knows her in-laws, who make passive aggressive jibes at her and are behaving really strangely. The islanders are a colourfully odd bunch of characters and deeply suspicious of outsiders. The children are eerily silent and seem to be trying to lure Laurie away. Add in ‘The Sanctuary,’ a mysterious artist’s colony in a decaying old lighthouse, conflict over an archaeological pit of ancient bones, and the discovery of a dead body on the beach, and you have a pretty explosive combination.

Tim Major’s second novel Hope Island, a follow-up to his recent Snakeskins, starts with a bang – literally, as the family’s car veers off the road – and slowly cranks up the tension as family drama blends with classic horror tropes: terrifyingly weird children, fear of outsiders, and a fragile woman who could just be having a mental breakdown. Finally Nina has an action-packed, mind-bending, dreamlike battle with a startlingly leftfield Thing of Evil. To surprise readers by coming up with such an original Thing of Evil in 2020, when it feels like everything has been done before, is a totally mind-blowing accomplishment. If Major now wants to spend the rest of his life knocking back the champagne and toasting his unique contribution to the field of sci-fi and horror, I think he’s pretty much entitled to.*

I loved Major’s evocation of Hope Island. He sidesteps the over-writing of Gothic horror but still builds a menacing atmosphere, piling up the mysteries and threats. He also focusses on the sounds of the island. There’s a contrast between the freakishly silent children and the boomingly loud adults with their blaring televisions, and a clash between the sounds of the natural and man-made worlds. The artists – or ‘siblings’ – as they creepily call themselves – at The Sanctuary are busily creating disorienting sound art using recordings of silence, echoes and re-recordings. Major’s conjuring up of this auditory world gives a fresh new perspective. He takes the kinds of unpleasant sounds we’ve all experienced – ears popping after a plane ride, high-pitched feedback, deafening music – and amplifies them into a creeping body horror. This blends seamlessly with the themes of the novel – communication and miscommunication, finding your voice, learning to listen to your intuition. ‘It’s all about listening. Listening is the way to connect yourself to the world. Otherwise everybody’s broadcasting endlessly, and everything else is just background noise,’ Nina says at one point. At the moment these themes are surely ones that most of us can relate to.

Hope Island is a multi-layered, extremely engaging and entertaining, thought-provoking novel with a gripping plot and interesting themes. It makes great use of classic horror tropes and takes them somewhere new and original. I loved it. 

*If you read Hope Island and realise that this Thing of Evil has actually been done before, I just don’t know enough about horror, please let me know – I’m curious.
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I found Hope Island to be more of a psychological thriller. It was quite eerie, almost a different kind of horror story.

The story centres around Nina and the strange children on the island. Nina ends up questioning her sanity especially when her daughter Laurie begins to hang out with these children.

There are some scary scenes in this book and by the end everything little thing started to come together, and it was one of those moments where you think ‘whoa’.

Some pretty good writing by this author and I really enjoyed it.
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So, I’m a massive fan of John Wyndham. I’ve read almost all of his books and think he’s amazing. So I had to read this when it was compared to The Midwich Cuckoo’s, one of my favourite books of all time. The comparison is fair. This is very Wyndham-esque. There are also echoes of Daphne DuMaurier. I mean that as a compliment. I loved this book. I knew I was in for a good time when I read the opening section and I was right. Hope Island is the perfect blend of horror, folk horror with a dash of science fiction thrown in. There’s something so menacing about the island, the residents and the bloody creepy children. Nina knows something is off, something much worse than the locals being naturally suspicious of a new face from outside. This is breath-taking. I need to read more by this author.
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Firstly, thank you to Titan books and Negalley for a review copy of Hope Island, I went into this off the back of Snakeskins, Tim Major's previous released through Titan which I loved. Whilst Hope Island does have some similar themes, it is a very different kind of tale.

For me, the blurb belies the story a little and whilst indeed all the happenings mentioned are, well happening, this is very much an Introspective piece for our protagonist Nina for the most part. As a reader we are with her throughout and a lot of the story is her inner monologue as she struggles to come to terms with the breakdown of her relationship, her desire to reconnect with her daughter all whilst being on an island reminiscent of The Wicker Man. I have to say that Nina is a character that I deeply connected with, having myself had to return to work full time whilst my partner took the primary childcare role, I felt that I understood her and was able to empathise with her feelings of inadequacy and being out of her depth, she is written in a sensitive way and clearly either a lot of time was spent on research or the author is remarkably astute in this area. On an Island sceptical of outsiders I enjoyed her relationship with Marie the most, it felt very honest and gave a much needed outlet away from Nina's mind and a greater understanding of her situation when she actually voiced it to another. I felt that the reactions and temperament of Marie's baby, Niall, were very well played in the sense of the bigger picture.

The book is not all about a woman in crisis though, it is clear from the opening page that Hope Island, for all it's idyllic beauty, is an island with a secret. It has a very sinister and almost stifling feel, its inhabitants are closed and eerily silent, fertile ground for a journalist who just can't leave the job behind. The artists commune feels out of place on the island and it's like it's tolerated rather than embraced as it is the cause of bringing yet further strangers to the island. They are an affable bunch though and I liked the eclectic mix of characters. The silence of the children gets you in the gut, their presence is oppressive whenever they appear and I was constantly holding my breath at those times. The culmination comes quickly, the reveals were sudden and devastating and the story felt like it took an about turn and indeed the writing style felt very different as the tale took more of an existential feel. Honestly I felt that the end was rushed and it all felt a little muddled in my mind. When the attention was on Laurie the story had huge pace and felt like a thriller, however when the attention flipped back to Nina I started to feel less and less immersed in the story. It is a clever ending though and the islands secrets are incredibly imaginative.

Hope Island is a wonderful slow burn story that will catch you out when you least expect it and a great follow up to Snakeskins.
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Kids love them or fear them. It may seem a little odd to be scared of infants, but if anyone else screamed at you with a psychopathic rage you would probably take a step back. On their own they can be manageable, but in a group, they are sometimes scary. Even a few eight years olds gathered can be intimidating and you might just walk on the other side of the street. This may not be an option if you are on a remote island where the locals don’t seem to think that anything is wrong and act like you are the odd one.

Brit, Nina Scaife, is having a life crisis. Her partner has left her, and she is now going to visit his parents on the remote Hope Island off the coast of Maine, USA, with their daughter. She has yet to tell her daughter that the relationship is over, and years of absentee parenting means that their relationship is not great. If having to deal with this and her ‘in-laws’ was not enough, the residents of Hope Island don’t seem right. The adults appear socially broken, but this may just be a culture clash. The children are a different matter. Cold and indifferent is one thing, but when Nina suspects them of violence there is no one in the island to talk to.

Pedophobia is a rich vein for any horror/thriller novel as once you are no longer a child their actions seem alien to you. In Hope Island Tim Major has stepped into the shoes of the likes of The Midwich Cuckoos and The Wicker Man but added his own strange brew. You have the strange children, but also the remote location. All this plays on Nina’s mind. By taking a UK citizen and placing them in a US location the sense of discombobulation is heightened further. Is it the fact that Hope Island is so different from England that is the issue for Nina?

The mental state of Nina is central for the book as we are with her throughout. Story balances the spooky elements with hints of gaslighting. Is what Nina seeing real or just figments of her imagination as she worries about her life falling apart around her? Being trapped on a strange remote island does not help. Until the final third, the book is more character study than horror. The slow burn allows us to really understand Nina, but that does not mean we always like her. She is to blame in part for where she finds herself emotionally.

The other character that is prominent in the book is the island itself. There is a strange community that mixes legacy families but also an art community. It is a remote location and the sense of quiet and spirituality plays a major role in the outcome of the book. What can you hear within the silence? A lot of the horror elements are played out in a dream like space that the island evokes. It is hard to feel the impact on occasion as the shocks are ethereal, but they do produce a sense of an unworldly island.

Fans of schlock type of horror will get their thrills towards the end as the story unfolds. Before this point it is a far more cerebral horror book played out almost exclusively in the emotions of Nina. Fans of the two types of horror may struggle to entertain the other, but I would say that this is a book for horror readers that like a slow burn. The fact that the action hots up as the book nears a conclusion won’t be enough for those used to a book like The Rats.
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Hope Island follows Nina who arrives on the island with her teenage daughter after her partner leaves her. From the very beginning you can tell something is different about Hope Island, that it’s not like other places. The people on the island are strange and you can tell something creepy is going on. 

I struggled with the pacing to be honest, although; the story was interesting enough to keep me reading. If you like slower paced books with heightened moments of drama, you’ll love this.
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It's quite creepy and entertaining. The author builds slowly the tensions and you cannot help being hooked because you want to understand if what you read is an hallucination or something that the character is living.
I think that the atmosphere is sometime dreamlike and I like how the tension build up slowly and the plot becomes more horrific
The characters are well thought, I liked Nina, and the world building is amazing.
I liked the style of writing and the storytelling.
It was a book I liked, recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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This is a supernatural horror novel, but it has a vibe that you also find in a certain stand of 60s British SF like John Wyndham or Quatermass And The Pit. Fans of those influences and the wider area of folk horror will find a lot to enjoy here, whereas the gorehounds are likely to be disappointed. Despite the Maine setting it’s not a full on Stephen King horrorfest, but more a character study of someone already going through trauma being thrust into an unsettling and unexplained situation that starts to turn very nasty. The novel cleaves rigourously to her viewpoint - you will spend the entire book firmly locked inside her head and have to make your own mind up about what’s “real” or not. From that point of view it’s a success. Major conjures up the fear and paranoia of being stuck on a hostile island with no escape (the handling of the local geography is particularly good, and even without a map you’ll have a good idea of how each location relates to another), and the eventual supernatural denouement is very effective.
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Nina Scaife, TV producer and workaholic extraordinaire, is making her first journey to Hope Island, Maine. It’s where her partner grew up, and where he takes their daughter on their annual visit to her grandparents, but this year it’s been left to Nina. She is hoping that the trip will help her mend her relationship with their teenaged daughter, as well as allowing her to have a much-needed discussion with all three family members. Needless to say, not all is as it seems, and things go awry relatively quickly.

Spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

Hope Island is a rather pedestrian tale of an outsider visiting an island community and finding the residents to be peculiar and hostile, with an added dash of kitchen sink drama and a smidgen of the supernatural. Unfortunately, Nina is a cold and unsympathetic protagonist, with a chip on her shoulder a mile wide and an attitude that leaves little question as to how she’s found herself in her current situation. It didn’t take too long before I decided that I couldn’t care less what happened to her, and the novel became something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

When I chose this novel to read and review, I did so mainly on it being described as akin to John Wyndham’s, The Midwich Cuckoos. Wyndham is one of my favourite authors, so I probably should have known better, but I just want to confirm that this is nothing like any of his stories. Admittedly, both Midwich and this novel contain groups of disturbing children, but that’s where the similarity ends, and there’s no comparison on the creepy scale between the two sets of kids. 

The pace of Hope Island is virtually glacial, the characters are two-dimensional, and the conclusion involves such a paradigm shift that it becomes utterly ludicrous. For a book that’s supposed to be a “gripping supernatural mystery”, there’s none of the first, and precious little of the last two.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Nina Scaife and her fourteen-year old daughter Laurie have just arrived on the eponymous Hope Island, off the coast of Maine, the childhood home of Nina’s long-time partner (and Laurie’s father) Rob.  Nina, a British TV news producer is a workaholic, and this is the first time that she has made time to accompany her daughter on a visit to Rob’s elderly parents in America.  How ironic then that during this stay she will have to break the news that Rob is not really “away on a holiday” or on a work trip and that the reason for his absence is that he has recently abandoned a long-fraying relationship.   

The novel opens with a literal jolt – Nina, just after her arrival in Hope Island, is driving towards her in-laws’ house when she slams on the brakes to avoid running over a mysterious girl ominously standing in the middle of the road.  Laurie, Grandpa Abram and Grandma Tammie are in the car but do not notice the girl.   Is Nina’s mind playing tricks?  Soon, Nina discovers that all the children on the island seem to be acting strangely and starts fearing that Laurie will be the next to be infected with the strange malaise which seems to hold them in thrall.   The “Siblings”, a sort of quasi-mystical commune who have settled on the island, and to whom Tammie and Abram belong, seem to have something to do with the creepy goings-on.    

Tim Major is a writer of speculative fiction who cites John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells amongst his influences.   Indeed, Hope Island is based a Wyndhamesque premise combining elements of sci-fi and supernatural fiction.   The novel also has a strong folk-horror vibe to it.  The contrast between Nina – the sceptical journalist and outsider – and the islanders is a typical trope of that genre, as are the frenzied rituals featured in some of the book’s chapters.

What is more surprising is how much of the novel does not deal with the uncanny at all, but is actually a psychological study of a woman – Nina – who is questioning her life choices after the traumatic event of the breakdown of her relationship.  Indeed, as Nina’s sanity becomes increasingly fragile, one starts to suspect that at least some of the supernatural events in the novel might be the creations of her feverish mind.   

Perhaps because of this conceptual approach, lovers of page-turning, action-packed horror novels might be disappointed.  Hope Island requires some patience – it’s a slow-burning read with includes symbolic dreamlike sequences which are not always easy to follow.   However, you should definitely check out this novel if your idea of horror is the psychological type, where the eeriness creeps upon you slowly but surely.
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I really enjoyed Tim Major's debut work Snakeskins, which came out last year. The mixture of  interesting science fiction, political conspiracy, and coming of age drama was wonderful to read, and made me very excited for Hope Island.

Hope Island was a much smaller story than I was expecting, in the sense that it was really the story of one family, and one woman in particular. Where Snakeskins had crafted a whole different world, this time Major focuses on a more personal level, as we see what happens when someone's world ends. 

Nina Scaife has left her home and her all consuming job in the UK to travel to the US, visiting the parents of her partner Rob for the first time. Whilst she's never been to the remote Hope Island herself, her daughter Laurie has visited before, and Nina's hoping that her love of the island and her grandparents will make the news she has to break easier on them both. She plans to tell her teenage daughter, and Rob's parents, that Rob has walked out on them, leaving them for another woman that he's been seeing for years secretly.

We spend a good while with Nina as she struggles to find the right time to break this news. We see how much Rob leaving her has shaken a woman who seems to normally be a very strong and confident person. She's doubting herself, she' hurting. Add to that the fact that she's never really got on with her in-laws, and the fact that the island is remote and filled with strange people, it's a wonder Nina holds herself together so well.

Her whole life has been turned upside down, and she's having to face the possibility that she might not have been the best mother she could have, having put her career before her family for so many years. She's close to breaking.

I really enjoyed the switch from such a large scale story in Major's last book to this incredibly personal story, and so much of the first half of the book is given over to seeing Nina's reactions to these recent changes. She begins to lose herself a little, and it's a little like watching someone slip closer and closer to madness as you begin to realise she might be having something of an emotional breakdown.

Dotted throughout these early parts of the novel, however, are hints that something strange, and even sinister, might be happening on Hope Island. The children are weird. I don't just mean that they're into odd things or anything like that, you want to think Midwich Cuckoos type weird. 

Whilst I did enjoy the personal drama that was happening in Hope Island that wasn't the thing I turned up for, I wanted the creepy horror that the blurb described. And whilst the book did get very creepy towards the end I couldn't help but feel that maybe we should have had some more stuff happen before to tease it out a little. Other than the kids acting very quite and a little off there wasn't much to remind me that this was supposed to be something of a horror, to the point where when things did become overtly horror I was almost taken by surprise as I was just reading a very real story about a woman whose relationship had just ended.

By the time things really started to happen we'd spent so long with Nina and her slipping emotions that there were a few things that happened where I was expecting it to be some kind of dream or hallucination. For some of these moments it was the case, but there was one particularly long and important sequence where I kept expecting Nina to wake up, so was thrown when she didn't. These kinds of feelings were exacerbated towards the end where the narrative kept flicking between the rel world and some kind of dreamscape.

I imagine this sense of confusion and paranoia were intentional on Major's part, to really put us in Nina's shoes, where you could never quite be sure if what was happening was real or not. It added to the sense of unease that permeated the book, but it also meant that I had to find myself concentrating hard on the narrative to keep track of things in my head; which did sadly take away a little of the enjoyment for me.

Overall, however, the book was very good, and Major was able to craft a slowly unfolding, creepy story that never gave you a moment to relax or feel at ease. The 'thing' that is behind the events (I won't really describe it in any way as to avoid spoiler) was something that I'd genuinely not seen before. It felt new and unique, something that almost couldn't work in any other format other than a written story. I was hugely impressed with the strange direction the book took towards the end, and how suddenly some of the weird little moments from earlier in the book all clicked into place and made perfect sense.

Hope Island subverted my expectations not only from the description, but also from what I was expecting based on Tim Major's other work. He's proven that he can craft a layered and intriguing personal story that will test the mind and push readers into bold new directions. A slow building and strange horror that's sure to stick out from the crowd.
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My thanks to Titan Books for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Hope Island’ by Tim Major in exchange for an honest review. It is due to be published in the USA on 5 May and the U.K. on 8 June.

Nina Scaife is a workaholic TV news producer working in the U.K.. She has taken her fourteen-year old daughter, Laurie, to visit her partner’s parents on the beautiful, yet remote Hope Island off the coast of Maine. This is Nina’s first visit to Rob’s childhood home. 

Actually Rob has just walked out on them though Nina hasn’t broken the news to Laurie yet. The purpose of the visit is for Laurie to be with family before Nina tells her and his parents about his desertion. 

Nina finds that Rob’s parents are wary of her and the islanders are acting oddly, including the strangely silent children. They all seem to be behaving like extras in a folk horror film. Oh wait....

Nina’s journalist instincts begin to tingle as she is drawn to a local artists' commune and the recently unearthed archaeological site on their land. Then a dead body turns up on the beach...it’s the first but not the last. 

Again, Nina may be a hot shot TV news producer but clearly has no knowledge of horror film/novel tropes! Or realised that Maine is the setting for most of Stephen King’s novels and therefore a magnet for uncanny events. (This aspect of Maine has been a running joke for me and friends for years).

This was quite a slow burn as Major initially sets up the mundane drama of Nina’s relationship issues with Rob and her strained relationship with his parents. Yet the odd incidents start mounting up. Even Laurie starts hanging out with the weird children who she knows from previous visits to Hope Island. 

Things become increasingly more surreal and Nina starts questioning her sanity. I did wonder about her myself and if the weirdness factor might overshadow the plot and run wild. There are some extremely strange, nightmarish scenes. 

Yet by its final pages I felt that Major had brought his various threads together successfully to create a genuinely creepy work of SF/horror.

3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
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I needed to let this one sink in for a few days before I knew how I felt about it. The strength of the novel lies in the character of Nina and if I wanted to use a pithy little persuasive pitch for the book (and I do) I would say Hope Island is Midsommer for Working Mothers. The sense of dread and tension builds incredibly well, I really liked the pace and subtlety that helped to create such an unnerving experience and I would seek out other books by the author after reading this.
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Nina has - reluctantly - brought her daughter to her inlaws' home for a stay. Her mother in law has never approved of her, but things are even stranger than usual on the little island. Why are all the adults so loud and children so quiet and solemn? Why does it feel like her daughter is slipping through her fingers?
(Possible spoilers in my review, depending on whether you understand my reference.)

This book is advertised as 'for fans of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos'. A much better comparison would be Stephen King's Tommyknockers. The children play a relatively small part in Hope Island; the focus is all on Nina as she slowly uncovers the mystery of what exactly is happening.

I didn't much like the style of writing, I thought it was very slow and drawn out, but that's a very personal thing and I'm sure other readers will love it. It's certainly interesting, dreamlike in spots, emotional here and there. The final set piece, switching between the real world and a dream world, needed to be read very carefully to follow what was happening.

It's interesting, and I would read other books by the author, but I won't be racing out to buy them on publication day.
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