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

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 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

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones Cover

The Blurb

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out.

This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

Addictive reading but there’s nothing innovative or new in it.

The blurb promised dramatic secrets and explosive events and actually, it was just that someone fancied someone else and there were too many drugs going around. Nothing exciting really.

I liked the interview format, I felt that worked really well with the idea that the book is telling the back story of a 70’s rock n’ roll band. It makes it quick reading too.

It’s really well written though and it brought the atmosphere of 70’s music and glam lifestyle that I wanted from it. If there had been more interesting secrets then I think it would have lived up to the hype.

It’s a fun, holiday-worthy read but I wanted something more dramatic from it.

Daisy Jones and The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fiction
March 7th 2019
Hardback
368

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan

the red tree cover

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta–and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship–to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls, she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant–an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.

Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavoury history.

And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

The Red Tree was a recent choice for the book club I’m in. I enjoyed it but not as much as Drowning Girl by the same author that we also read in the book club recently. Drowning Girl also had a confused narrator who had recently lost a lover that starts to find odd events happening, so they were very similar novels really but that one seemed to work better. The plot in Drowning Girl hung together well and all the narratives came together to make an impactful ending whereas The Red Tree has all the right elements but doesn’t seem as coherent.

From the blurb, I thought the Red Tree would have been a lot spookier and creepier then it was. It needed more then her getting lost in a cellar and then a wood to make it work. I still found the story interesting with lots of odd events and a narrator who was confused herself and trying to make sense of it all. It certainly wasn’t boring! It was just that I was waiting for scary, creepy things to happen and they never really did. I wanted to be nervous about reading it in the house on my own and I just didn’t get that feeling from it.

If I’m being honest I don’t deal well with open endings, I like things explained to me, I can’t stand not knowing the ‘truth’ of what actually happened! But here I think that it works. I enjoyed reading this in general and I think enough hints and clues were dropped by the author that you can make up your own mind about what was going on. Caitlín R. Kiernan is a good storyteller in general and The Read Tree is enjoyable enough all the way through that the lack of a fully explained ending didn’t upset me too much.

Maybe I would have liked The Read Tree more if I hadn’t read Drowning Girl first but I still enjoyed it. I love the way Caitlín R. Kiernan writes though and I’ll be filling up my TBR pile with more of her books!

The Red Tree
Caitlín R. Kiernan
Horror
August 4th 2009
Paperback
385

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

the orphan choir cover

Now, this is what a creepy ghost story should be like. 

Louise is a woman going crazy in her own home. Her neighbour torments her with late-night music and her son has started boarding at his school so that he can be part of the school’s choir. She misses him desperately but everyone keeps trying to tell her it is for the best, that this is an amazing opportunity for him. Louise just feels like he has been stolen from her.

When she starts hearing a choir singing late at night at first she puts it down to her neighbour getting meaner and targeting her where it hurts but she starts to hear it during the day, in places where her neighbour’s music wouldn’t reach, where he couldn’t possibly be causing it.

Is Louise going crazy or is she really hearing a ghost choir singing to her? Is her neighbour targeting her to take revenge because she reported him to the council or is it all in her head?

Her actions are believable. I can understand how annoyed she was by the noise from her neighbour and her husband that acts like a jerk and I was 100% behind her and everything that she did even though I didn’t find her at all likeable.

It’s not the most ghostly of ghost books out there. I loved the ending but the rest of the book is very subtle and wavers between making you think that Louise is actually haunted and then making you think that it is all in her head. I liked the balance of this but if you’re expecting a full on ghost story you might find it disappointing. The end though I found genuinely scary and I thought it worked well after the slow build up.

This is the first time I’ve read a ghost story that’s trying to be scary and actually liked the ending.

If you’re looking for a full on ghost story this might not be for you, the rest of my book club was disappointed by it, but I enjoyed the slow build and the tension caused by trying to decide if it was a haunting or if Louise was imagining it.

The Orphan Choir
Sophie Hannah
Horror
May 9th 2013
Hardback
304

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts cover

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a tattooed church witch and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My Thoughts

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and gothic take on urban fantasy.

Unholy Ghosts stands out for me as being one of the better books in the urban fantasy genre. It’s much darker than most and main character Chess has issues – she’s not perfect at all, not even in the “thinks she’s not but actually is” sort of way.

Chess is a troubled individual who works for the church exorcising ghosts with magic. She’s also a drug addict who finds herself in debt to her local drug dealer, Bump. He calls her in for a favour and Chess finds herself in a whole lot of a mess, having to deal with black magic and human sacrifice while trying to hide her involvement from the church to protect her job.

I know I’m emotionally invested in the story because I get very angry at Chess for some of the bad decisions she makes. I just so badly want her to have a bit more self-respect and look after herself better.

But this is a story that is dark, the ghosts are scary and dangerous and the characters are not heroes.

Potential love interest Terrible is 6 foot plus, described as being not very attractive and a bit rough and is Bump’s main enforcer, doing all the risky dirty work. But his intelligence and kindness balance out his rough edges to make him super interesting and actually really attractive for me. I was rooting for Chess to notice just how lovely he is and how he seems to have a thing for her.

The world building is done in a way that feels unobtrusive but I can still easily imagine myself there. I love when the authors throw in references to the music the characters are listening to, it adds a lot to my mental picture of the world. This is a book that would lend itself to some awesome soundtracks!

So, I thought this was fun, dark, different and I’m left desperate to know what happens next with Chess and Terrible.

Unholy Ghosts
Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Paperback
339

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Charmed life cover

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

My Thoughts

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charmed Life is an odd but fun book about two orphan children who go to live in Chrestomanci Castle, home of the most powerful magician in the land and his family.

Cat has no magic of his own but his sister Gwendolen is a very powerful witch and she’s also very impressed with her own ability. When they arrive at the castle though, the adults ignore them and Gwendolen is banned from practising magic. Safe to say she is not pleased by this and she quickly sets out to cause as much mayhem as possible in revenge.

I did enjoy this book but it has what I think is a pretty big plot hole. Cat and his sister are dragged away from their home to live with this Chrestomanci person and no one in their new home will talk to them or explain anything that’s going on. No wonder Gwendolen gets frustrated, I would too!

I spent a good two-thirds of the book being outraged on behalf of Cat and Gwendolen and cheering Gwendolen’s naughtiness on. The adults keep their secrets for far too long for no real reason – they could have sat down and talked to Cat, then everything would have been resolved almost straight away.

Of course, when the truth comes out you realise the adults were actually dealing with everything very carefully. The villain is mean and nasty (and the author doesn’t sugar coat it) and there is real and scary danger to everyone.

The story has a very dark edge to it but then the best children’s books always do. The exciting ending made up for a lot of my issue with Chrestomanci just not talking to the children.

Charmed Life is aimed at children but with enough to it to keep adults interested too. Make yourself a big cup of tea and settle down somewhere cosy to enjoy this one!

Charmed Life
Chrestomanci
Diana Wynne Jones
Children's Fantasy
1977
Paperback
252

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

heartshaped box cover

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An ageing death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.

I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. he has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts–of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door, seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang, standing outside his window, staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting–with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.

My Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 100 pages or so were creepy and made me not want to turn the light out but then the tension faded away and after that, it was not scary at all.

I don’t think it’s really supposed to be a ghost story, it’s more about a not particularly nice man becoming a better person.

Judas Coyne is an ageing rock star on a self-destructive downward spiral. He purposefully pushes people away and has lost all interest and joy in his music. The ghost starts to destroy his quiet hideaway and Judas has to go on a journey physically and mentally to fight for his life.

The women in the book feel like they are present just to suffer through traumatic events so that Judas can feel all the emotions and grow as a person. By helping them he ends up saving himself, coming to terms with the childhood abuse he suffered and dealing with the death of his bandmates, and he learns how to form proper, caring relationships with the people left in his life.

I feel a bit cheated because it’s sold as a ghost story but it’s really not. In itself the story is interesting and it held my interest to the end but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about Judas, he seems a generally unpleasant person.

It’s not a bad book but it’s kinda predictable and the ghost isn’t anywhere near scary enough.

Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
Horror
February 13th 2007
Paperback
406