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

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

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City #2) by F.E. Higgins

March 7th 2008)

Pin Carpue is on his own in the world. His mother is dead and his father is missing after being labeled a suspect in a rash of murders. Pin finds a job working for the local undertaker as a body watcher, making sure people are really dead before they’re buried. The body he’s supposed to be watching tonight is currently surrounded by three people engaged in a most unusual ceremony. An old man, a bone magician, and his young female assistant are waking a woman so her grieving fiancé can have one last goodbye with her. Pin can’t believe it will work, but then the dead woman sits up and speaks.

Pin is determined to discover how the magic works. He cannot believe they are raising the dead. He cannot believe his father is a murderer. Then Pin himself nearly becomes the killer’s next victim.

As this mysterious tale unfolds with delicious creepiness, Pin will learn more about the bone magician, the girl Juno, and a hideous creature called the Gluttonous Beast that is kept in a local tavern where people pay for a glimpse.

My Thoughts

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City, #2)The Bone Magician by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A corpse on the cusp of putrefaction could hardly be considered the most entertaining company on a winter’s evening, but Pin Carpue didn’t do what he did for the conversation. He did it for the money”

I’m being slightly generous by giving this 3 stars but I did enjoy the author’s sense of humour and it’s a fun read.

The plot relies too much on coincidences to push the mystery forward. Sure, it’s a children’s book and maybe they won’t notice? But personally, I think children deserve a bit more respect and a plot that’s better thought out.

It’s the second in a series, I think maybe the first one explains some of the things in this book that go unexplained. This can read as a stand-alone but I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was supposed to be about – Pin’s father’s murder, the silver apple killer, or the bone magician. I think some parts of the plot could be explained by reading the first book and I wouldn’t have been wondering the whole time when it would be explained. Because I hadn’t there was too much going on and it felt like it kept jumping back and forth between two or three completely different stories. I don’t know why I didn’t read the first book first, I even have it on my shelves somewhere.

Anyway, this ended up not being about the bone magician at all, despite the title. He’s barely in it.

I didn’t like the journal entries, they felt out of character for Pin, too mature and too posh. Also, they were really hard to read because they are all in italics with a dark background! I got really irritated by them.

It’s clearly heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and his Ankh Morpork city. This is not a bad thing, and F.E. Higgins manages to bring the sense of silly in the right way humour that’s needed and even put her own spin on it. She brings her city to life, I especially loved the descriptions of the river!

But it delights in being ghoulish and light-hearted and fun and that makes up for a lot. There’s a lot of the macabre in the story – Pin works in an undertakers and his job is to watch the corpses to make sure they are really dead.

Lots of interesting characters keep it all moving and the plot is lively and fun even if it is crammed with too much. It kept me entertained for a while and it’s not hard to read.

Give this a go if you are looking for a ghoulish and fun children’s book, but don’t expect too much from it.

The Bone Magician
Tales From The Sinister City
F.E. Higgins
Children's Fantasy
March 7th 2008)
Paperback
304

Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan

strain of resistance cover

I was 12 years old when the world ended. For eight years I’ve survived in this craphole once known as earth. Fighting the alien parasite that mutated most of the population into blood-thirsty freaks, while the rest of us became the lunch special on their alien menu.

Now things are changing, and not for the better. The parasite is evolving. Becoming smarter, stronger and deadlier.

They’ve already stolen everything from me. My home. My family. Even the man I loved. It’s time for this bullshit to end once and for all.

My name is Bixby and I’m the resistance.

My Review of Strain of Resistance

Strain of Resistance (Strain of Resistance #1)Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A twist on the new adult genre and zombie fiction

Strain of Resistance is a new adult story set in a zombie infested post-apocalyptic world. The zombies in this story are a bit different from the normal, run-of-the-mill zombie. In Strain of Resistance, these zombies have worm / slug-like creatures that grow out of their mouths and have taken over their brains. These worms were implanted in their bodies by a strange fog that settled over the world one morning.

Bixby is one of the few survivors, people that seem to be immune to the fog. She has taken refuge with a group of people living in what was once a five-star hotel and she spends her days risking her life to go out into the zombie-infested world and hunting for supplies.

Now, I kinda hated Bixby. She’s mean, arrogant and generally just unpleasant to everyone around her. But, that also kinda made me love her too. It gets tiresome to read book after book where the heroine is self-sacrificing, cares about everyone and only risks her life to help others. It’s also fun to read a character that doesn’t care about upsetting anyone and just does what she wants.

The plot is fun and well paced. The action is constant and the story and the tension ramps up throughout the book. A little more character growth would have fleshed it out a bit, the relationships between the people in the story are explained very briefly. Just enough to set the scene really.

Interestingly, the main action and conflict at the end don’t come from what is the actual conclusion to the storyline; it happens in what is almost a side plot at the end. A brave choice, but changing things up like this worked well and stopped it being predictable.

Strain of Resistance is fun and exciting and I’ve already put the sequel on my TBR list!

Strain of Resistance
Strain of Resistance
Michelle Bryan
Sci-Fi
March 1st 2016
Kindle
208

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

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents Cover

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents.

The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren’s faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that “God is change” and that humanity’s ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter.

My Review of Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant and disturbing, this is a far too realistic look at what the future could be.

In the first book, Parable of the Sower, the American economy had broken down, the climate was heating up and oil was running out. People were competing for the basic necessaties of survival and the police were corrupt and unreliable. Anarchy ruled and everyone lived in danger of gangs taking everything they have.

Despite all this chaos Lauren Olamina managed to create a community, a band of people working together to protect themselves and build a safe and suistanable life.

Parable of the Talents with things getting better. Lauren’s community, Acorn, is starting to grow and expand. But Andrew Jarret, a fundamental Christian, is running for president. He blames the countries problems on the lack of true Christian religion and encourages his followers to persecute and murder those of other faiths.

Lauren’s community is built around a religion she has started called Earthseed and it soon comes under attack from Jarret’s followers.

I didn’t like the strong religious tone running through the book. Lauren is trying to start up a new religion to stop people fighting and tearing each other down and to convince them to start up communities and work together to create a world where everyone supports each other. The way she starts out trying to create communities does seem sensible, but she seems to become more and more of just a preacher throughout the book and by the end it starts to feel like she is setting up a cult.

To be fair the book does a good job of not presenting Lauren as perfect, it shows her faults as much as it shows the good things she is doing. She manipulates people, and is well aware of doing it. Nothing is more improtant to her than spreading the word of Earthseed.

What I did like is the way it shows that when people treat each other as equals, work together and educate each other then they can not only survive but they can build something better.

A lot of it was very hard to read, I had to keep putting it down and switch to a different book for a while. The men that attack Lauren’s community belive that women should be silent and don’t allow them to speak. They treat the women like they are worthless, work them to the bone and sexually assault them at night. They are hypocrites that think they need to reeducate anyone that is not a “good christian”.

In the context of the current climate it is even more scary. Jarrett is very similar to Trump, with his habit of blaming all the countries complex problems on anyone that doesn’t meet the mould of white christian male. Jarrett’s slogan is “make America great again”. Women are treated as chattels and expected to be pure and not tempt the men.

Parable of the Talents is a frightening look at what the future could be. It does not make for pleasant reading but it is compelling and I wish that more people would read it. It’s a warning but hopefully not a prediction.

Parable of the Talents
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
1998
Kindle
424