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

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

the sisters grimm cover

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire. They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love.

My Thoughts

the sisters grimm cover

3 / 5

I was so confused by the start of this that I very nearly gave it up as a bad job.

The narration jumps not just between 5 different characters but also two different times, giving a short burst from each one before cycling back round to the start. It took at least a third of the book before I got a grasp on it, I felt like every time I started to get into the story it threw me back out again.

I don’t like the idea that abusive men can be changed by love and that felt like a very strong theme here. Leo comes across as almost a psychotic killer, murdering the Grimm Sisters every chance he gets in revenge for one of them killing his friend – even though it was self-defence. But he meets Goldie and even though at first, his aim is to get to find out her weaknesses to make it easier to kill her too, his love for her changes him to the point where he would die to protect her.

What kind of message does that send to young people that might be reading this book? Don’t give up on abusive partners because your love might be the thing that saves them? Personally I think that Goldie should have run very far and very fast to get away from Leo.

Unhealthy relationship issues aside, the writing style I found captivating and when I got the hang of the jumping around and got into the flow of it I found it a beautiful story to read. The character development – the glimpses into their lives and their personalities is in-depth and insightful. I did start to enjoy it but then I found the ending super rushed and I found it overwhelming for all that build-up to end so abruptly.

I just can’t get past my issues with the way it portrays relationships though and that, added to the difficult start and rushed ending, are a massive let down for what could otherwise have been a jewel of a book.

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

 

The Sisters Grimm
Menna van Praag
Young Adult Fantasy
February 6th 2020
Kindle
496

Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

Gullstruck Island Cover

The Blurb

On Gullstruck Island the volcanoes quarrel, beetles sing danger and fish can see the future. But look closer into the mists and you might glimpse…

The jewelled smiles of a persecuted tribe.
A tattooed band of warriors hell-bent on revenge.
A blue-skinned bounty hunter painted with the ashes of those he’s killed.
And two girls with a deadly secret, running for their lives.

My Thoughts

Gullstruck Island Cover

4 / 5 stars

A beautifully written and thoughtful adventure story.

Hathin is one of The Lace – a tribe isolated, distrusted and excluded from island life. Her sister Arilou is one of The Lost – certain people who can send their mind and their senses out from their bodies and roam around the island. They act as messengers, spies, weather predictors and are very highly regarded. But Arilou needs constant care because she seems unable to return her mind to her body.

Arilou is to be tested for her abilities by the government and her family hope that she will bring back respect and a better standing for The Lace as a whole. But on the day of the tests, The Lace are attacked and Hathin must take Arilou and run for their lives.

Hathin is brave and courageous but just a normal girl trying to do the best for her sister and her people. She’s not super intelligent, super strong or super caring and because of that, I found her easy to relate to and so even more inspiring.

The adventure is fun and scary at the same time, the story has a lot of darkness in it. It’s based on prejudice and genocide but manages to tackle these in a way where it feels like an important part of the story but not likes it is written just to be a moral lesson. The darkness is tempered by the fairy tale feel of the story and the tone is kept hopeful without being overwhelming.

As good a character as Hathin is, the real star of this book is Gullstruck Island itself. The different tribes and the landscapes feel real, the volcanoes are given personalities of their own with the myths that exist around them. This is a book that you can get lost in and the landscape and people of Gullstruck Island are a big part of that.

This book has everything – good story, good characters, a world that feels real and beautiful writing to hold it all together.

If I had to pick a fault with it there are maybe a few too many lucky escapes and convenient events that help Hathin along her way. She doesn’t always think her way out, sometimes it is just handed to her. But that’s kind of standard for an adventure story and didn’t spoil it too much, these kind of stories are always a little unrealistic.

I highly recommend this, if you want an adventure story, this is almost perfect.

Gullstruck Island
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
December 16th 2008
Paperback
499

Revenger (Revenger #1) by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger Cover

The Blurb

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them.

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection–and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future–a tale of space pirates, buried treasure, and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism and of vengeance.

My Thoughts

Revenger Cover

3 / 5 stars

Alistair Reynolds writes some fantastic sci-fi and the world he has created here is weird and as interesting as ever. How can I not like a book with space pirates and treasure hunting in?

Unfortunately, the main character wasn’t compelling enough to carry the story. I liked the idea of Fura Ness but actually I couldn’t stand her. Her ego is way out of control and we hear time and again how events have changed her, how she has lost all emotions and will do anything now for revenge. I want to root for her, a female character that is cold and ruthless, but honestly, it comes across as showing off. If her actions were left to speak for themselves I might have been able to connect with her more.

Apart from Fura, I liked the book. I was really enjoying it when Fura and her sister Adrana signed onto Mornetta’s Mourn to get away from their over-controlling father. They sign on with a crew of treasure hunters as bone readers and start to understand the whispers that come from an alien skull that allows the ship to pick up leads on treasure – strange planet style ships that are full of valuable alien tech. The crew is full of interesting characters and the story is interesting and I started to think that I would love this book.

But then their treasure hunting adventure goes badly wrong and that’s where Fura Ness starts to get annoying. I did enjoy the rest of the book but I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather be reading about their adventures as treasure hunters rather than Fura Ness’ revenge quest.

I loved the sci-fi and I loved the weirdness but I just couldn’t connect with the main character. It’s still one of the better young adult sci-fi books I’ve read but if there are any sequels to this I hope they are about different people.

Revenger
Revenger
Alastair Reynolds
Young Adult Sci-Fi
September 15th 2016
Paperback
425

The Drowning City (The Necromancer Chronicles #1) by Amanda Downum

The Drowning City Cover

The Blurb

Symir – the Drowning City. home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers — even the dead are plotting.

As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

The Drowning City Cover

Isyllt Iskaldur is a necromancer sent to the occupied foreign city of Symir to aid the rebels fighting to regain control. Her interest isn’t altruistic though, her sole intention is to distract the Emporer from pursuing an invasion attempt against her own country.

Symir, the city she is sent to, is a city with waterways and masked balls, reminiscent of Venice. It’s supposedly full of pirates, smugglers and exiles and the locals have a rich culture and worship the river.

From the description, this book sounds like it should have a strong atmosphere with lush places but I didn’t get a feel for the city or the world at all. Even the bustling marketplaces felt flat, like a trip around the 5 stalls that are left in Wakefield city centre nowadays,

It didn’t help that I was confused by all the different names – the places, the races, the military and terrorist groups, the types of mage; I was well and truly lost by how it all fitted together. It’s one of those that drops you straight into the middle of a story without stopping to explain anything but I didn’t feel like it even drip-fed the info, it just didn’t bother with it at all.

I’ve no idea on how the magic system is supposed to work and with Isyllt being a necromancer that should have been interesting and well rounded. So she has a diamond where she can trap the souls of the dead that haven’t moved on but her other abilities are fuzzy and it felt like they were made up when needed to get her out of a fix.

A saving grace though, the characters were all done well, a lot more time was spent on them than the world they inhabited. I felt like I knew Isyllt I just had no idea what she was supposed to be doing and actually, in the end, she went all that way just to give a bit of money to the revolutionists. What was the point of sending her? She didn’t do much to help the revolution at all. I did like her though, she just muddled through getting into fights and making a mess around her but she felt genuine and relatable.

Lots of good ideas and the characters were done well but overall very dry and a bit confusing. I reckon the sequel could be better and I’d be willing to give it a go.

The Drowning City
The Necromancer Chronicles
Amanda Downum
Fantasy
September 1st 2009
Paperback
351

Ink (Skin Books #1) by Alice Broadway

Ink Cover

The Blurb

There are no secrets in Saintstone.

From the second you’re born, every achievement, every failing, every significant moment are all immortalized on your skin. There are honourable marks that let people know you’re trustworthy. And shameful tattoos that announce you as a traitor.

After her father dies, Leora finds solace in the fact that his skin tells a wonderful story. That is, until she glimpses a mark on the back of his neck; the symbol of the worst crime a person can commit in Saintstone. Leora knows it has to be a mistake, but before she can do anything about it, the horrifying secret gets out, jeopardizing her father’s legacy and Leora’s life.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 Stars

An interesting central idea but beyond that, there is nothing original about Ink.

A young woman with fantastic abilities or an unusually strong will realises how unequal and prejudiced her society is and takes on the fight to change it. There’s a stong Hunger Games / Divergent influence going on here. There is even a series of tests to decide what career you will have for the rest of your life.

Leora is not quite a strong enough character to carry a whole book series, she is dull and mostly uninteresting. But I can maybe forgive that for being intentional. The most interesting thing about her is actually that she is just another normal citizen – she’s a sheep, as sold on the propaganda as everyone else around her. For most of this book, she stays that way. Seeing the way she is forced to see things that don’t gel with the ‘truths’ of her society and the way she still tries to reconcile that with what the government she trusts completely tells her is the best thing about this book. There is some character growth for her along with a lot of potential for her to develop some personality for the next books.

If the normal side of her was played up more I would have been more into this but Leroa is too special. An amazing tattooist, a unique ability where she can read people’s tattoo’s and tell their whole life story, she’s too unusual and too amazing and it doesn’t fit with the normal girl feel to the start of it. Hunger Games and Divergent worked because the main characters were always odd bods, Ink had the chance to do something different with Leroa but the got ditched by the wayside by the end of this first book.

The focus around tattoos I enjoyed. Leora is training to be a tattooist, a career not many, if any, women in her society choose. Though I don’t know really why that was included because not much is made of it. Leora doesn’t face much discrimination, it takes the tattooist she is apprenticed to about a week to decide she is the most amazing thing in the world ever.

I also appreciate how morbid it is, when Leora’s father dies his skin is taken off and made into a book of his tattoos. In this way, he and all of Leora’s ancestors live on in the memories of their family. To add to this they have the continuous naming ceremonies where the names of all the dead are read out one by one in a bid to keep the memory of every person alive.

There is enough here to give this book it’s own personality but it’s too obviously the same story at the bottom of it all.

Young adult dystopia by numbers, it’s not a bad book but it doesn’t live up to the originality of the world it’s created. Beautiful cover though.

Ink
Skin Books
Alice Broadway
Young Adult Sci-Fi
February 2nd 2017
Paperback
366