337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 cover

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes.

But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

My Thoughts

337 coverThis was a compulsive read, it took me less than a day to finish it and though I found it kind of depressing in parts I was completely invested in the story and I wanted to find out what had happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t get what the upside-down pages were about. I think I started at the wrong end because I read them after finishing the story and actually it looks like you’re supposed to start with them. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to the story though, I thought maybe there was going to be an alternate viewpoint or some sort of secret added in there but unless I’m missing something there isn’t.

* Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. *

For me, 337 was all about Sam’s relationship with his family. His mother disappeared without a trace when he was a young boy and 20 years later Sam seems to be estranged from all his family. Now his grandma is dying and he reluctantly sits with her for her last few days. At first, he doesn’t want to be there due to a serious fall out in their past but he reconnects with her and his heart opens back up to her.

I found this very moving and quite sad to read – Sam seems very lonely and lost at the start, he is separated from his wife, he has no family around him, and he has a job he sleepwalks his way through. But when he visits his grandma and starts to talk to her about his past and he gets back in touch with his brother he seems to realise that the way he sees events are not necessarily the way that everyone else saw them.

It’s like he has been frozen since his mother left but his visit to his grandma forces him to open back up to his family and start to deal with what happened.

This is very moving, compelling reading and despite being hard going at times (I had to put it down halfway through and have a bit of a break) it ends on an upbeat mood.

And for those that don’t like books that don’t give an answer to their big mystery, don’t worry, you do actually find out what happened. Sort of.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

337
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction
Hideaway Fall
November 30th 2020
Hardback
337

The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan

The Witches Kind Cover

From the author of A Secret History of Witches comes an absorbing tale of love, sacrifice, family ties, and magic, set in the Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of World War II.

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar — two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne’s long-lost husband — who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves — and the child they think of as their own — from suspicious neighbours, the government, and even their own family

My Thoughts

The Witches Kind Cover

This story was not what I was expecting!

It definitely surprised me, in a good way, but I was expecting a gentle story about witches in 1940’s America. This veers off from that very quickly and has more to do with Roswell and aliens than it does witchcraft.

But actually, neither of those things is the focus of the book and it is more a story of a woman growing up in the early half of the 20th century and learning how to be confident and believe in herself. Barrie-Anne comes from a long line of women with very strong intuitive powers and even does she tries to follow the standard path of marriage and children she finds that her life is not going to be a conventional one.

I loved the way that it was written and I found that I was very quickly engrossed in the story of Barrie-Anne’s life. I couldn’t put it down and it only took me a couple of days to read it.

It’s not what it sounds like it’s going to be but don’t let that put you off. This would be a perfect book to curl up with on a rainy winter’s afternoon.

The Witch's Kind
Louisa Morgan
Fantasy
March 19th 2019
Paperback
440

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.

Who Goes There? Cover

“Who Goes There?” The novella that formed the basis of “The Thing” is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient, frozen body of a crash-landed alien.

The creature revives with terrifying results, shape-shifting to assume the exact form of animal and man, alike. Paranoia ensues as a band of frightened men work to discern friend from foe, and destroy the menace before it challenges all of humanity!

My Thoughts

kurt russel in the thing - very cold and frosted over

I’m a big fan of the film The Thing, it’s one of the Hallowe’en favourites in my house and we watch it at least once a year. So I was excited to read this, a collection containing the short story it was based on. Set in Antarctica a group of scientists find an alien frozen in the ice. They bring it back to camp and defrost it, accidentally bringing it back to life!

It was written in the 1930s but, apart from a few references to the way they were living, this could easily be a modern-day story. The film was made in the 80s and they didn’t really have to do much to it then to bring it up to date. The sci-fi side of the story I enjoyed and is what made this an enjoyable read for me. Though I’m not sure how accurate the biology in the story is, probably not very, he seems to explain most of it with the idea that it’s alien and therefore works differently. And giving the alien blue hair like worms and telepathy I felt was an odd touch that undermined the rest of the story. Other than that I think this has aged well and it can stand up against modern sci-fi with few issues.

As a horror story I’m not convinced it works that well, the feeling of isolation and fear of the people around you that I was expecting just wasn’t there. This is one of the few times where I would have liked a little bit less science discussion in favour of more emotion.
The rest of the stories in the collection really weren’t my sort of thing. A few of them are written as one person telling someone else a tale of extraordinary events that have happened to them. I found them far fetched and not particularly interesting and I don’t think they’ve aged well.

Worth reading for the first story in the collection, especially if you’re a fan of the film but I wouldn’t bother with the rest of the stories.

Who Goes There?
John W. Campbell Jr.
Sci-Fi
1938
248

Black Unicorn (Unicorn #1) by Tanith Lee

black unicorn cover

Nobody knew where it had come from, or what it wanted. Not even Jaive, the sorceress, could fathom the mystery of the fabled beast. But Tanaquil, Jaive’s completely unmagical daughter, understood it at once. She knew why the unicorn was there: It had come for her. It needed her. Tanaquil was amazed because she was the girl with no talent for magic. She could only fiddle with broken bits of machinery and make them work again. What could she do for a unicorn?

My Thoughts

black unicorn cover

Tanaquil is a young girl, completely unmagical, who doesn’t get on with her mother. She brings to life a unicorn that takes her on an adventure away from the home she has outgrown.

It sounds like just another YA story but The Black Unicorn really doesn’t feel like a YA story. That, I feel, is due to it being written by Tanith Lee who brings a sense of intelligence and maturity to everything that she writes.

And there is nothing childish about this unicorn, magical and scary, this unicorn is fierce. You would not want to get on the wrong side of it!

It can be read as a coming of age story, Tanaquil matures a huge amount through the story and has to make some very mature and hard decisions by the end. Or it could just be a magical adventure story if you wanted it to be. As a main character, I thought she was fab – sensible and down to earth and just very normal.

This is one that I will be holding on to for future re-reads.

I recommend this to anyone that enjoys fantasy and adventure stories, it’s a YA story that really doesn’t feel like a YA story.

Black Unicorn
Unicorn
Tanith Lee
Young Adult Fantasy
1991
Kindle
188

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward

The Quickening Cover

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

My Thoughts

The Quickening Cover

3 / 5 stars

The Quickening seems very similar to a book I read last year and that, unfortunately, gave me a feeling like there was nothing really new to this story. It is a tale that has been told often before though, a haunted house, a ghostly child, it’s been done many times.

That’s not to say that a haunted manor house book can’t still be enjoyable, and I did find this to be a spooky and interesting read. I just felt like I have already read it many times over.

Louisa, the main character in this story, has a very dry and almost cold personality. She lost her husband in the first world war and then her two children to the flu epidemic not long after so I can understand why she is written this way. It suits her story but I found her very hard to connect with. She just didn’t have much of a personality and it makes her very hard to connect with or care about. She has issues with her second husband, the man she is about to have a baby with, as she describes him as being cold and distant but I feel like that can’t be entirely his fault as she is so closed off herself.

As for the actual story, there’s plenty of ghostly happenings and larger than life characters and a nice, satisfying ending – something that I find is rare in a ghost story.

It has a nice, creepy feel to it, I enjoyed it and I think it is just right for curling up with under a blanket in the darker winter months. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it stand out from the genre.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Quickening
Rhiannon Ward
Horror
February 6th 2020
Kindle
320

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

the lost ones cover

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side.

My Thoughts

the lost ones cover

4 / 5 stars

An atmospheric and spooky ghost story, let down by an ending that fizzled out.

Stella is grieving the loss of her almost fiancee during the first world war. She returns home after serving as a nurse in France and has to find a way to live with her loss. Her sister Madeline helps her through the worst of her grief so when Madeline asks for her help Stella doesn’t hesitate and goes to stay with her in Greyswick, an imposing and unwelcoming country manor. But Madeline claims she is being haunted, she is hearing noises of children crying in the night time and strange objects are been left in her bed. Is Madeline right or is someone in the household tormenting her?

I found this so easy to get into. It has a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere right from the start and Stella and is an interesting character to read. The backdrop of the first world war and the loss of Stella’s fiancee gives the book a big emotional impact and adds weight to Stella’s belief in the ghost and her desperation to uncover the truth.

I felt though that once Stella started investigation the ghostly happenings it started to feel a bit flat. I liked the Agatha Christie influence but the spookiness was lost and the big revelations at the end didn’t have much impact. It ended with a load of people standing in a room talking about things and I wanted more from it.

But that’s a minor point in what I found to be a very enjoyable read. This is a rich and rewarding read and I’m very surprised that it seems to be the author’s first book. I will be looking out for more.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review. 

The Lost Ones
Anita Frank
Horror
October 31st 2019
Kindle
464

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

once and future witches cover

n 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

My Thoughts

once and future witches cover

4 / 5 stars

I loved the way this was written. It’s quite a harsh story with a lot of difficult realities to face in it but it also manages to be magical and heartwarming at the same time.

There was a lot going on in the story but I don’t think that any of the characters got lost in it, they were all well written with personalities that came across strongly. James Juniper was definitely my favourite character but I also liked Beatrice Belladonna – the shy and bookish middle sister that works in a library and has to dig deep to find the courage to stand up with her sisters in their fight to bring magic back to the world.

I loved the magic system and the way there was men’s magic and women’s magic and spells passed from parent to child so each family has their own knowledge and skills. Each chapter starts with a spell which is a nice touch that helps to bring the magic to life and ups the fairy tale feel.

It was mostly well paced but it did take me a while to read. Mostly because I was enjoying the way it went in-depth into each character and their lives and I wanted to stretch it out but I also felt it dragged a bit in the middle and my interest started to wander. It picked back up towards the end though and it ended strong.

I recommend this to anyone that likes stories about women and magic and standing up for what you believe in.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Once and Future Witches
Alix E. Harrow
Fantasy
October 13th 2020
Kindle
528

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic Cover

An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets

After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

My Thoughts

Mexican Gothic Cover

5 / 5 stars

This goes in the ‘so good I can’t face writing a review’ category. It’s taken me months to be able to sit down and try to do this justice.

Pitch perfect in everything it does, creepy, atmospheric and genuinely scary with a super satisfying ending.

Main character Noemí is an outgoing, and outspoken socialite with a large circle of friends who could marry well if she wanted to. What Noemí really wants though, is to be able to go to university.

Noemí is also kind and caring and leaves her cosy life in the city to travel to the middle of nowhere to help out her cousin. Despite all this she’s not so perfect she’s irritating and I found her a likeable person and she carried the book really well.

The side characters are well rounded and interesting and as their backstories came out I became more and more invested in the present-day story.

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this book. The atmosphere at High Place is cold and creepy and makes the big old house into almost another character in the book. I found the story genuinely scary and at one point I was so worried for Noemí I had to put the book down and walk away for a break. I liked the ending too, it finished strong and lived up to the build-up, something I find I can rarely say about horror stories.

It’s a perfect book for reading as we’re going into the Autumn and Winter months and I highly recommend to anyone that likes creepy, atmospheric stories.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

Mexican Gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Horror
June 30th 2020
Kindle
304

The Behaviour Of Moths by Poppy Adams

Behaviour of Moths cover

From her lookout in the crumbling mansion that was her childhood home, Ginny watches and waits for her younger sister to arrive. Vivien has not set foot in the house since she left nearly fifty years ago; the reclusive Ginny has rarely ventured out, retreating into the precise routines that define her days, carrying on her father’s solitary work studying moths.

As the sisters revisit their shared past, they realize that their recollections differ in essential and unsettling ways. Before long, the deeply buried resentments that have shaped both their lives rise to the surface, and Vivien’s presence threatens to disrupt Ginny’s carefully ordered world.

My Thoughts

Behaviour of Moths cover

2 / 5 stars

I’m going to start with the things I liked about this book: the Gothic feel with the crumbling, isolated manor house, an older than normal narrator, a family history filled with secrets, the way it built up to what promised to be an exciting revelation at the end, the overall morbidity.

But there were two big issues that I had with it.

The ending was a huge letdown. I felt like it was building up to some big exciting revelations that changed the way I see everything Virginia had told me, but I was left with the fuzzy nothingness of ‘decide what you think happened’. I think this is a lazy way to end a book, it’s for authors that can’t decide what to do or how to make enough of an impact. I admit that sometimes (rarely) it works but how can you make any sort of decision when there just isn’t enough information given? It’s a guessing game that you never know if you’ve won.

My biggest issue is with what this book seems to say about people with autism. (view spoiler)The implications here seems to be that being autistic makes a person capable of murder and I don’t agree with that at all.

So much promise was let down by a poor ending and a questionable attitude towards autism.

The Behaviour Of Moths
Poppy Adams
Fiction
November 1st 2009
Paperback
308

The Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin

Silversmiths wife cover

The year is 1792 and it’s winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide.

At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith’s wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for?

Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets.

My Thoughts

Silversmiths wife cover

3 / 5 stars

The Silversmith’s Wife is a very slow-moving story of the shocking murder of a silversmith and the impact it has on the lives of the people around him.

This is a book full of people with secrets. It touches on different people and their thoughts but never shows us their whole, much is kept hidden, often the people in the story don’t understand themselves their own thoughts and actions. It makes it a murky story to read but I find it a much more accurate portrayal of the human character than those books where everyone seems to have a defined purpose and clear cut opinions on everyone and everything. It just makes for more difficult reading.

I call it a murky story because not only the characters do odd things and their motivations are often unclear, what they do is often unclear too. A lot of the big events seem to happen off-page and are alluded to or described very loosely for us to fill in the details ourselves.

Where it succeeds is in creating an oppressive, heavy atmosphere and a world that is brought to life with very detailed characters and lots of historical details. Everyone in the book seems trapped, miserable, held captive by the rules of society in lives that they don’t really want.

There are a lot of characters in the story, some drop in and out and I found it hard to remember who they were. Despite this wide cast of characters, it makes me feel like there are only 10 people in the whole of London and they all know each other and everyone is either a silversmith or the child or partner of one.

I don’t mind slow-moving stories but for me, this one is just too dreary and has too many miserable characters in it with murky motivations for me to really like it. Though saying that, I read it very quickly. Towards the end, it picks up the pace a bit and it leads us nicely to the revelation of who really did kill the silversmith.

The diary entries from Pierre Renard, the murdered man, at the start of each chapter were really what kept me reading. In each one, we find out more of the secrets of his life and find out more about how cruel and self-obsessed he really was. Without them, I feel I would have become bored very quickly because the story is so slow-moving and seems to follow people around a lot without much really happening. Mary, the Silversmith’s Wife is an especially dull person. Though it’s part of the story that she has become that way through Pierre’s treatment of her, it still makes her very difficult to read. The excerpts from Pierre’s diary show the other side – he was not a nice man and through these excerpts I found myself finding the sympathy towards his wife that the story needs.

Read this one if you like slow-moving and dark stories full of historical detail but if you’re looking for an exciting murder story, then this probably isn’t one for you.

 

The Silversmith's Wife
Sophia Tobin
Mystery
January 16th 2014
Paperback
448