Posted in Fiction Preview 2022

New Books 2022! Part Two.

There are just so many books coming out next year that I’m really looking forward to reading, with some really gorgeous cover designs too. I. Lucky enough to have early access to all of these bar two, so I’ll be reading and reviewing in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled and get some of these crackers on your TBR list.

House of Fortune by Jessie Burton.

I fell in love with Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist at first page and I am in awe of her imagination and skill. As other readers of the novel will know, many questions remained unanswered at the end of the story, and while I don’t mind books having loose ends, when I heard a sequel was coming I let out a little squeal. We are still in the golden city of Amsterdam, but now it is 1705. Thea Brandt is turning eighteen, and she is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms. At the city’s theatre, Walter, the love of her life, awaits her, but at home in the house on the Herengracht, all is not well – her father Otto and Aunt Nella argue endlessly, and the Brandt family are selling their furniture in order to eat. On Thea’s birthday, also the day that her mother Marin died, the secrets from the past begin to overwhelm the present.

Nella is desperate to save the family and maintain appearances, to find Thea a husband who will guarantee her future, and when they receive an invitation to Amsterdam’s most exclusive ball, she is overjoyed – perhaps this will set their fortunes straight. And indeed, the ball does set things spinning: new figures enter their life, promising new futures. But their fates are still unclear, and when Nella feels a strange prickling sensation on the back of her neck, she remembers the miniaturist who entered her life and toyed with her fortunes eighteen years ago. Perhaps, now, she has returned for her . . . I can’t tell you how excited I am to find out how Nella is getting on. Maybe the mystery of who the miniaturist is, and what they want, might be solved?

Published by Picador 7th July 2022

Sundial by Catriona Ward

When writers like Alex Michaelides and Emma Stonex are giving rave reviews of a book, it’s always worth a look. Last year’s novel, The Last House on Needless Street, was incredibly unusual and original. That alone would make me want to look at Ward’s second novel.

You can’t escape the desert. You can’t escape Sundial.

Rob fears for her daughters. For Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. For Annie, because she fears what Callie might do to her. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her of the family she left behind. She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is afraid of her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely. To tell her secrets about her past that both disturb and excite her. And Callie is beginning to wonder if only one of them will leave Sundial alive…

Published by Viper 10th March 2022.

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough.

In the dead of night, madness lies…

Emma can’t sleep. CHECK THE WINDOWS. It’s been like this since her big 4-0 started getting closer. LOCK THE DOORS. Her mother stopped sleeping just before her 40th birthday too. She went mad and did the unthinkable because of it. LOOK IN ON THE CHILDREN. Is that what’s happening to Emma?

WHY CAN’T SHE SLEEP?

This is an absolutely brilliant domestic noir that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.

Published by Harper Collins March 31st 2022.

Absynthe by Brendan P. BelleCourt.

The Great War has been over for years, and a brave new world forged. Technology has delivered the future promised at the turn of the century: automata provide, monorail trains flash between mega-cities, medicine is nothing short of magical.

Liam grew up poor, but now working for one of the richest families in Chicago, he reaps the benefits of his friendship with the family’s son and heir. That’s why he’s at Club Artemis. It’s a palace of art-deco delights and debauchery, filled to bursting with the rich and beautiful – and tonight they’re all drinking one thing. Absynthe. The green liquor rumoured to cause hallucinations, madness, even death.

While the gilded youth sip the viridescent liquid, their brave new world is crumbling beneath its perfect surface. Their absynthe is no mere folly. Some it kills, others it transforms. But in Liam something different has taken place. A veil has lifted and he can see the world without its illusion – and it isn’t the perfect world the government want the people to believe. As soon as I read the premise of this novel I was hooked and I’ve just been accepted on NetGalley I’m itching to get to it.

Published – Head of Zeus 9th Dec 2021

Outside by Ragnar Jónasson.

Four friends. One night. Not everyone will come out alive . . .

In the swirling snow of a deadly Icelandic storm, four friends seek shelter in a small abandoned hunting lodge. Miles from help, and knowing they will die outside in the cold, they break open the lock and make their way inside, hoping to wait out the storm until morning.

But nothing can prepare them for what they find behind the door . . .

Inside the cabin lurks a dangerous presence that chills them to their core. Outside, certain death from exposure awaits. So with no other option, they find themselves forced to spend a long, terrifying night in the cabin, watching as intently and silently as they are being watched themselves.But as the evening darkens, old secrets are beginning to find their way to the light. And as the tension escalates between the four friends, it soon becomes clear that the danger they discovered lurking in the cabin is far from the only mystery that will be uncovered tonight. Nor the only thing to be afraid of . . .

I love Nordic Noir and this author builds his literary worlds so carefully and his characters are multi-dimensional, complex and real. Once I’m a few chapters in it feels so real to me that I’m utterly immersed. This appeals to my psychologist brain. I’m dying to dissect these characters and their dynamic as they are trapped together.

Published by Michael Joseph 28th April 2022.

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare.

I’ve been waiting to see what Louise Hare would write next after loving her novel The Lovely City. This looks like a fantastic second novel and I adore that cover too. Opening in London in 1936, Lena Aldridge is wondering if life has passed her by. The dazzling theatre career she hoped for hasn’t worked out. Instead, she’s stuck singing in a sticky-floored basement club in Soho and her married lover has just left her. She has nothing to look forward to until a stranger offers her the chance of a lifetime: a starring role on Broadway and a first-class ticket on the Queen Mary bound for New York. After a murder at the club, the timing couldn’t be better and Lena jumps at the chance to escape England. Until death follows her onto the ship and she realises that her greatest performance has already begun. Because someone is making manoeuvres behind the scenes, and there’s only one thing on their mind…Murder.

Miss Aldridge Regrets is the exquisite new novel from Louise Hare, the author of This Lovely City. A brilliant murder mystery, it also explores class, race and pre-WWII politics, and will leave readers reeling from the beauty and power of it. It’s next on my TBR so I’ll be reviewing soon.

Published by HQ 28th April 2022.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley.

Welcome to No. 12 Rue des Amants. This book has been popping up all over #BookTwitter and I feel very privileged to have an early copy. I love a good thriller, it tends to be the genre I go to when I’m very busy with my MA or just have a lot on at home. For some reason, that I’m not prepared to look at too closely, I find thrillers relaxing. This one is set in a beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine. Where nothing goes unseen. And everyone has a story to unlock. Our characters are the watchful concierge, the scorned lover, the prying journalist and the naïve student. But there’s also an unwanted guest. Something terrible happened here last night. A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three. Only you – and the killer – hold the key . . . I’m sure I’m going to be bleary eyed one morning from reading this till 2am.

Published by Harper Collins 3rd March 2022.

Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E Cooney

Nothing complicates life like Death. I noticed this book about two months ago and begged the publisher for a proof! Sometimes I have no shame. As soon as I read the short blurb I knew I wanted to read it and I’m excited at the thought that this is only the first in a new series. Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves. When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home―and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat’s ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation’s future into doubt. Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months―but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible. I am always surprised by the amount of fantasy I read and while I don’t consider myself an expert on the genre, out of the books I love, a good third are fantasy novels. I’m hoping this one might join them.

Published by Solaris 14th April 2022.

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby.

This one is coming very soon, in early January in fact, since the publication date was pushed back from this year. I fell completely in love with her writing when I finally read The Illustrated Child a few months ago. The only reason it didn’t make my books of the year was because I was so late reading it; it was published in 2020. My anticipation for this one has been building and I hope to get to read it over the Christmas holidays. Also when the author of The Binding gives a book a great review, I know I’m going to love it.

’Like a surreal cabinet of curiosities – haunting, eerie, evocative’ Bridget Collins, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Binding

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history. Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape. Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?

Published by HQ 6th Jan 2022.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont.

I’m currently writing a review for this interesting novel and I can honestly say it’s a cracker. I loved the mix of factual events and fictional story, as well as the way the novel veered from historical, to romance and to murder mystery. You won’t want to put it down.

In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. Only I know the truth of her disappearance.
I’m no Hercule Poirot.
I’m her husband’s mistress.

Agatha Christie’s world is one of glamorous society parties, country house weekends, and growing literary fame. Nan O’Dea’s world is something very different. Her attempts to escape a tough London upbringing during the Great War led to a life in Ireland marred by a hidden tragedy. After fighting her way back to England, she’s set her sights on Agatha. Because Agatha Christie has something Nan wants. And it’s not just her husband. Despite their differences, the two women will become the most unlikely of allies. And during the mysterious eleven days that Agatha goes missing, they will unravel a dark secret that only Nan holds the key to . . .The Christie Affair is a stunning novel which reimagines the unexplained eleven-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926 that captivated the world.

Published by Mantle, 20th Jan 2022.

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu.

I have to say that the cover of this beautiful proof sung out to me when it dropped through my letterbox. This is one of those novels where I’ve already pre-ordered the finished copy even though I have this one. It’s quite simply stunning.

With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.

It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge. Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down? Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.

Published by Wildfire 17th March 2022.

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman.

This is my current read and it’s not surprising that I’m enjoying it, since Hoffman is one of my favourite authors. The Owens family started their literary lives in Practical Magic as we followed orphaned sisters Sally and Gillian as they are sent to live with their eccentric aunts Jet and Franny. There are rumours about the aunts. They live in a crooked house on the edge of town, with a well-stocked herb garden and a light above the door that alerts local women to when they are available for consultation. This might be for women’s health problems, but more often for reasons of love. This is ironic since the Owens women are born in a genetic line that’s cursed in the pursuit of love. Every woman in the family has tried a way round the curse, but if ever love is found, it can just as easily be lost. In this fourth and final book in the series we move forward, after two prequel novels, to Jet and Franny’s old age. When the deathwatch beetle starts clicking in the family home, one of the Owens women knows that their time is up. As the generations gather, Sally’s daughters have to face the truth of the family curse. So a quest begins to change this generation’s luck in love, but do the girls have the power within them or will they venture into darker magic?

Published by Scribner 6th January 2022.

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown.

I was a little bit giddy to open my book mail a couple of days ago and find an unexpected copy of this book. I’ve been talking about it since Halloween so it’s definitely time I read it.

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light . . . Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still. For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free. But once you open a door to the past, can you ever truly close it again? From the award-winning author of The Witchfinder’s Sister comes a captivating story of burning secrets and buried shame, and of the loyalty and love that rises from the ashes.

Published by Viking 13th January 2022.

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin.

This novel has quite recently appeared on the radar but looks like a really enjoyable read. I’ve just had NetGalley approval and it’s taking all my willpower to read my January blog tours first! The season is about to begin and there’s not a second to lose. Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. This is 1818 after all, and only men have the privilege of seeking their own riches. With only twelve weeks until the bailiffs call, launching herself into London society is the only avenue open to her, and Kitty must use every ounce of cunning and ingenuity she possesses to climb the ranks. The only one to see through her plans is the worldly Lord Radcliffe and he is determined to thwart her at any cost, especially when it comes to his own brother falling for her charms. Can Kitty secure a fortune and save her sisters from poverty? There is not a day to lose and no one – not even a lord – will stand in her way…

Published by Harper Collins 12th May 2022

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow.

Joan can’t change her family’s past.
But she can create her future.

Joan was only a child the last time she visited Memphis. She doesn’t remember the bustle of Beale Street on a summer’s night. She doesn’t know she’s as likely to hear a gunshot ring out as the sound of children playing. How the smell of honeysuckle is almost overwhelming as she climbs the porch steps to the house where her mother grew up. But when the front door opens, she does remember Derek. This house full of history is home to the women of the North family. They are no strangers to adversity; resilience runs in their blood. Fifty years ago, Hazel’s husband was lynched by his all-white police squad, yet she made a life for herself and her daughters in the majestic house he built for them. August lives there still, running a salon where the neighbourhood women gather. And now this house is the only place Joan has left. It is in sketching portraits of the women in her life, her aunt and her mother, the women who come to have their hair done, the women who come to chat and gossip, that Joan begins laughing again, begins living. Memphis is a celebration of the enduring strength of female bonds, of what we pass down, from mother to daughter. Epic in scope yet intimate in detail, it is a vivid portrait of three generations of a Southern black family, as well as an ode to the city they call home.

Published by John Murray 7th April 2022.

Look out for Part Three of my previ

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Watchers by A.M.Shine

Wow! I’ve just finished this novel and what an ending. I feel slightly shell-shocked and a bit disturbed by this incredible horror novel that’s very hard to describe, and difficult to tell you about without spoilers. I’m going to try, so bear with me. I’ve been a fan of classic ghost stories for most of my reading life. I blame the more Gothic aspects of the Brontë’s for this obsession; the tall, ghoul who rends Jane Eyre’s bridal veil in two and the pale, ghostly, child’s hand that reaches though the glass and grabs Lockwood’s shaking hand in Wuthering Heights. From that grew a love of the gothic and monstrous, honed at university and now stated by wonderful ghost stories like these. I don’t call it horror, though I suppose it is, because I don’t like blood and gore. I love the creeping sense of dread, the strange apparition that appears behind you in the mirror, the fleeting glimpse of something not human or the sound of a child laughing or singing in a house where there are none. It even extends to my own writing, because when I wrote a story about hag stones for my uni writing workshop, my tutor messaged me to say she’d found it deeply unsettling.

We see most of the events in this novel through Mina, a young woman living in urban Ireland, who lives alone and has lost her mother. Now without family – except one sister who appears to phone once a month or so, just to feel disappointed – she is largely a loner. Her loves are sketching, red wines and her friend Peter who is a buyer and seller of various things and often pays Mina cash to travel and deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasions she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway, but the day trip becomes something she lives to regret. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises that the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse with a phone that works. Her phone has died in the same second she pulled up in the car. Once in the forest Mina realises her mistake, it seems bigger than from outside and she’s concerned that the light might start to fade before she can get to the other side. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, when suddenly she sees a woman beckoning her and urging her to hurry. She’s standing by a concrete bunker and although that seems odd, Mina decides it’s better than staying out here to be found by whatever made that terrible noise. As they hurry inside and the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching?

I was absolutely entranced by this incredibly disturbing tale and loved the way the author created this unbelievable world inside the everyday. In the opening section Mina’s world is relatively normal, she goes about her day like any one of us. She has an irritatingly perfect sister, she gets lonely, she sometimes drinks too much wine. We can identify with these imperfections and relate to her. So when this ordinary woman, finds herself caught up in the extraordinary, we believe it because we already believe in her. These woods are like countless others, we’ve probably walked into similar situations ourselves and got lost. Yet, the author carefully leave tiny details, that are probably pricking up our ears and instinctively alerting us that something is wrong. The remoteness of the place, the way her phone suddenly stops working, the single strange cry she hears as if something is on lookout, alerting others to her presence. All of these are universal literary signifiers for ‘something’s not right here’. The author never describes the Watchers visually, again there are signs they leave behind and other sensory clues: the burrows in the ground, claw marks around the window, the revolting smell, their cries. Just as Mina is standing in the light, unable to see them lurking in the dark, so are we. Even when you think we’re going to ‘see’ them, we never fully do. The clues set our imagination on overdrive, we build the monsters in our heads which makes them so much scarier as they feed into our personal fears and phobias.

The characters and their dynamics are fascinating too. With the younger man and woman quite subservient to their ‘leader’ Madeleine, the lady who beckons Mina in out of the dark, there’s an almost parent and child dynamic already established. The room, entitled the ‘coop’, gives us the impression of hens let out to feed and water, but locked in at night for fear of predators. However, with that image of protection comes a question; hens are kept safe by farmers or owners who want them to produce eggs, so what are our four inhabitants meant to produce and who owns the coop? In helping Mina though, Madeleine hasn’t found another subservient child to lead. Mina is more independent and intelligent than that. She’s also a watcher herself, used to being alone and observing others, she sketches people secretly when in public places. The coop is no exception, she gets the urge to capture different expressions and moods in her fellow prisoners, particularly drawn to the planes and contours of Madeleine’s face. Mina doesn’t want to contest Madeleine’s authority, but she will contribute ideas and challenge those she thinks are wrong. I wondered if this would upset the existing dynamic, start a power struggle inside, and raise the tension even further. I was fascinated by how these others had ended up here and what would happen when they start to run out of food or something else that pushes them outdoors. Is there any way of escaping? This author has created a brilliantly layered horror, with an ending that was truly unexpected and even more terrifying. I have just explained the story to my next door neighbour and she’s already closed the curtains tonight! This was incredible and even better is the fact that it’s my first A.M. Shine novel so I have others to enjoy in the Christmas break. This novel is claustrophobic, unnerving and truly hard to put down.

Published by Head of Zeus – Aries. 14th October 2021

Meet The Author

A.M. Shine is an author of literary horror from the west of Ireland. He completed an MA in history before turning to writing, influenced by Gothic tales such as those by Edgar Allen Poe. His novels are grounded in their landscape, steeped in Irish folklore and language, and always influenced by history, horror and superstition.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas

As we turn into autumn, there’s less lounging in the garden with my book and a cold flask of squash and more snuggling by the log burner with a hot chocolate and a book. For some reason, that cosiness and the darker evenings draw me towards haunted or magical stories. So I was keen to read this time slip story full of ghostly goings on. In 1903 we visit All Hallows’ Asylum on Dartmoor and Nurse Emma Everdene has a new charge to look after, away from the usual inmates in an attic room. A mother and young daughter are found by a fisherman, the woman completely unconscious from a blow to the head. While she is transferred to one of the best private rooms and remains in a coma, her traumatised daughter is left in the care of Nurse Everdene. The little girl is clearly shocked and exhausted, so a room is made up with a single bed and a rocking chair near the fire so she can be monitored. She is completely mute, so the nurse doesn’t pressure her but makes sure she is warm, dry and fed. For comfort she gives her a small toy rabbit that once belonged to her son Herbert, who died when he was small.

In 1993 we meet two boys sent to All Hallows’, which is now a boarding school. Lewis is coping with grief after losing his mother and in an attempt to express himself has started dressing as a Goth. His Dad has quickly married again, and his stepmother clearly wants Lewis out of the way. She reports on how difficult he is and manipulates his father into thinking boarding school is his best option. Once there, Lewis is shorn of his Goth persona and is feeling very vulnerable, especially when he has to share room just under the attic with another boy, Isak. Isak, he finds out, is also an outcast and he gives Lewis some tips on surviving the school. They also share an interest in a nurse who was buried outside the consecrated ground of the churchyard ninety years before. What does this have to do with the abandoned room above them on the attic floor, containing only a rocking chair and a single bed? A rocking chair that the two boys can hear rocking in the middle of the night, thumping against the floorboard, as if someone is sitting in it.

It’s hard not to feel for Lewis, as he ends up with all his armour taken away from him. Without his Goth gear he’s just a boy with ears that stick out a bit too much. Luckily he finds another outsider to be with in Isak, although at first we don’t know why he is so ostracised. Emma Everdene is also fascinating and because I hate the practice of burying people outside of consecrated ground I really wanted to keep reading to find out why. The journey she takes in life is incredible, elevating herself to becoming a nurse, from very little in monetary and status terms. I also found her very resilient, having come through the deaths of both her husband and her son. I liked how her nursing manual showed working women supporting other women in their journey. When it is found in the library in 1993 the dedications show that it was passed from woman to woman, possibly because books were out of reach for women in poverty. The author also makes the point that many women were in the asylum for little more than thinking differently, or being in the way of their husband’s next conquest. Thalia is an example of a woman who has pushed the boundaries for someone of her class and gender. Staff talk about her cutting her hair short like a man and habitually wearing trousers, not to mention being a suffragette.

Emma sniffed. ‘And why shouldn’t she do those things if that’s what she wants to do? Because by doing so she causes embarrassment to her family? Because they’re hoping to marry her off to some chinless wonder with more money than manhood, some… some milksop who would be humiliated to stand beside a woman who shone more brightly than he?’

I found her father’s request that she be punished severely much more chilling than whatever was going on in the room upstairs. Emma talks about the asylum as a last resort for men who want to control and silence their women. The thought of all these people falling victim to early 20th Century asylum ‘treatments’ is terrible. It really hits home when Lewis finds iron fitments on the floor and wall in one of the classrooms in 1993. The manacles may be gone, but it still paints a picture of human misery. When Emma talks to the girl who brings their food, they talk about the treatments that are commonplace in the asylum such as the ice cold baths. Then there’s the less commonplace. When a new doctor arrives and is given the case of Mrs March, mother of Emma’s charge, he wants to try new European treatments. The staff gossip about the time he spends touching her, moving all of her limbs in turn and bending her spine in order to keep the flexibility while she’s in a coma. Emma can see that it would make sense to keep her supple, but when he moves his desk into her room so he can work there and spend more time in her company it starts to feel strangely voyeuristic. Her complete vulnerability becomes worrying.

The supernatural goings on are genuinely scary, Lewis finds the creaking rocking chair a bit unnerving but is able to be in the room and stop it moving. At first he thinks of obvious explanations like a draft setting it off, but after a few weeks he can’t brush it off any longer. The dark presence felt by both Lewis, and Emma ninety years earlier, seems to fill the room with its power. Lewis feels as if something huge is in the room and Emma feels it’s malevolence. The jumpier scares are unexpected and add to the mystery unfolding before the boys. The surrounding isolation creates a claustrophobic atmosphere and as Emma starts to feel more unnerved and more attached to the little girl we now know is called Harriet, I felt I was being rushed towards some terrible event. I thought the way both the asylum and the school were painted as places to dump inconvenient people was very apt. Even some of the techniques they used were the same, such as taking away the patient or pupil’s identity through removing their own clothing and shearing their hair off. There’s a strong feeling of trying to break individuals and make them conform. The author has created an interesting and unnerving tale, that has the tension of a thriller and creates a need to keep reading to find out all the building’s secrets. It has also reignited a childhood terror of looking into the bathroom mirror!

Published by Boldwood Books 12th October 2021.

Meet The Author

Louise Douglas lives in Somerset in South West England & writes contemporary Gothic mysteries mostly set in the countryside close to her home. She has won the RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller award 2021 for The House by the Sea.

When She’s not writing, she loves to spend time with family, friends, and animals – especially dogs, birds and whales. She’s passionate about nature, being outside, drawing wildlife, walking, beaches, fictional drama and books. If you’d like to connect with Louise you can find her on Facebook Louise Amy Douglas or @LouiseDouglas3 on Twitter.

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

This is an extraordinary debut by Carole Johnstone full of psychological suspense, supernatural and imaginary worlds, and sibling rivalries. Cat and El are identical twins to most people who see them, but actually they’re mirror twins. This means that not only are they the same sex and blood type, they have identical, but asymmetric physical features. For example, if one is left handed the other is right handed. Yet they’ve spent twelve years definitively apart. On separate continents. Cat has been living and working in L.A. In the meantime El has been married to their childhood friend Ross and is even living in the girl’s childhood home. No 36 Westeryk Road is a large Gothic house that becomes a central character in the story. When Cat gets the news that El has gone missing while out sailing, she travels back to Edinburgh; towards her past.

The facts are that El has gone missing and there have been no sightings of her or her boat. Ross, who is now a psychologist, meets Cat and takes her back to the house. She’s shocked to find that a lot of the original furniture is still at Westeryk Road, and she’s been put in a guest room instead of their childhood room. It takes a while for her to get her bearings because in their childhood world all the rooms had names: Clown Cafe, The Kakadu Jungle, The Donkshop. The clown cafe was a candy stripe American diner. The Kakadu Jungle was richly wallpapered with a rainforest. The only room without a name was Bedroom 3. There is an old-fashioned servants bell pull with a bell for each room, but Cat doesn’t want to investigate when the bell rings from No 3. The world of imagination doesn’t end there, because tucked away under the pantry was another world called Mirrorland populated by clowns, witches and pirates. My therapist’s mind was whirling round at this point – why would someone want to live exactly as they had when they were children? Are these real or imaginary spaces? Is the imagery of mirrors significant? Which sister is a reflection of the other?

Back in the real world we meet DI Kate Rafik and DS Logan who are heading up the search for El, and seem confused by Cat’s reaction to her disappearance. Cat doesn’t trust her sister, she thinks she’s alive and possibly playing a game with them. It seems that the sisters have a symbiotic but unhealthy relationship, where El could be spiteful and play tricks on her sister. There’s also the relationship with Ross – Cat loved him first, but El couldn’t stand to be left out, taking drastic measures to be noticed. Underneath this tale I had to keep reminding myself that this was Cat’s version of events. Was she an unreliable narrator? There’s also the issue of notes being left for El just before her disappearance, but the sender hasn’t been uncovered. It doesn’t take long before Cat starts to receive similar emails, but are they from El? If so are they real warnings or a game? Or could someone else know what’s really going on at Westeryk Road?

I did find the combination of real life and flights of fancy a little difficult at times, it was as if my head was being bombarded with different information: visual, aural, imaginary, factual. I was in sensory overload a lot of time and struggled to take in the detail that might unravel this strange mystery. I also didn’t like or connect with any of the characters, so couldn’t get behind any of them. I instantly felt suspicious of Ross, because I’m used to psychologists being untrustworthy characters in fiction. This being said, the skill it has taken to create these worlds – imaginary and real – is incredible. The way Johnstone creates such a strong sense of place is by layering so much detail and I became drawn in by real life details like their grandfather having the football results on so loud everyone in the house knew who’d won. Probably because I used to check off Grandad’s pools result with him every Saturday. These pieces of the twins early life ground them in reality, just when you think everything at No 36 is imaginary. Cat describes the house as a mausoleum, a preservation of something long buried. Yet the house is alive. The description of the kitchen where there are still wonky units, but a sapphire blue Smeg fridge tells us things have changed. Time has passed here, but is that just superficial?

This book is an epic reading experience from a masterful writer, and I defy anyone to have guessed what’s really going on. I had to stop myself reading it at night because it kept my brain whirring so much I’d struggle to sleep. It wasn’t that I was scared, I was just intrigued as to what would happen next. Well, that and I don’t trust clowns much either! This was a fascinating mix of mystery, magic realism and psychological theory. You have to read it to the very end for it all to make sense, and once you do you’ll want to go back and find the clues you missed. I’ll need something restful to read next because this one well and truly worked my grey cells and my imagination to the limit.

Meet The Author

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America. Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press. Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US).

More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com

Posted in Netgalley

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Publisher: Viper (Serpents Tail) 18th March 2020

I finished this novel in a sort of shell-shocked silence. I felt like I needed to go straight back to the beginning and start again. It is extraordinary and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s also very difficult to review without spoiling other reader’s experience of it, but I have to give it a go.

The house in question is the home of our first narrator Ted. As we read Ted’s view of the world we start to realise there is something unique and odd about the way he experiences the world. He made me feel uneasy. We get a sense that something is very wrong when the birds he loves to watch, are trapped and killed. Ted spends a lot of time thinking about an incident several years before when a little girl disappeared from the lake nearby and was never found. Others might have forgotten, but not Ted and not the girl’s sister who has a huge sense of guilt about her sister’s loss. Ted was a suspect at the time and it’s not hard to see why; he’s a slightly strange loner, living nearby in a ramshackle home with boarded up windows. The girl’s sister hasn’t forgotten that Ted was a suspect and decides to rent the house next door and watch him, in the hope of finally discovering where her sister is. CCTV proved Ted’s alibi at the time, but the sister’s convinced she has found the culprit.

Things take a very strange turn when we meet another narrator, Ted’s cat Olivia. In other hands this might have seemed twee or whimsical, but here it isn’t. It did give me a shock in the first instance, when a narrator I’d assumed to be human, stopped to lick the back of their legs! I loved the way the author played with language in these sections. Olivia doesn’t realised Ted is a name, she thinks it’s a word for his species, so all people are ‘teds’ and dogs are ‘brouhahas’. She describes her love for another of her species, a beautiful cat with emerald eyes that she sometimes spies preening herself, through the cat flap. She also has a belief system, including her very own god who she refers to as LORD. Yet there are aspects of this cat, that are distinctly not cat-like and I started to wonder if all wasn’t as it seemed. Could this cat be someone or something else entirely?

Other narrators are introduced and I was sometimes thoroughly confused, but never contemplated putting the book down. The beauty of the language and cleverness of the structure kept me going, determined to work out what exactly was going on. I was starting to be unsure which sections were real and what was illusion. The author is clearly hugely skilled at creating that sense of the uncanny – when everything seems normal and recognisable, but there is just that sense that something is off-kilter and sinister. This was so psychologically clever and I enjoyed Ted’s visits to the ‘bug man’ who appears to be some sort of psychotherapist, until he appears where we don’t expect him. I was so involved in this world of Ted’s that I was starting to forget the original crime, the loss of a little girl on the beachfront of the lake. The writing is so involving that I was inside Ted at times and the uneasy feeling is that you will never be able to get out. I guessed some of what is going on, but not the whole and I love the ambition and audacity. This is a unique, original and deeply creative piece of work that enthralled and stunned in equal measure. Ward is a writer of immense imagination and talent and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to read this before it hits the shelves and becomes a phenomenon.

Meet The Author

CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her next gothic thriller, The Last House on Needless Street, will be published March 2021 by Viper (Serpents Tail). 

Ward’s second novel, Little Eve (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell.

I must admit to being a bit of a fan girl when it comes to Laura Purcell. The mix of historical and gothic fiction is probably my favourite genre, so I had been impatiently awaiting the publication of her latest novel anyway. I jumped at the chance to join the blog tour, because she’s one of my favourites – in fact I had already pre-ordered a signed edition of this two months ago. So I came to it full of anticipation. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter and didn’t put it down. Our narrator is Miss Agnes Darken, living in Bath with her invalid mother and nephew Cedric. Agnes earns her money cutting silhouettes or ‘shades’ for people, but her art is put under threat not just by newer inventions, but by a mysterious killer stalking the people who have sat for her. Desperate for answers, Agnes visits a spirit medium – an albino child named Pearl who lives with her sister Miss Myrtle West, and an invalid father. Agnes and Pearl try to conjure the spirit of one of her murdered sitters, so they can find the killer. Unfortunately, they have underestimated the power of what they have unleashed.

The story is full of little twists and turns that unsettled me and kept me guessing. When Agnes finds the shade she cut of her first sitter with a squashed face, she ends up with the police on her doorstep. She was his last appointment before he was killed and the murder weapon was a mallet, in fact his face is quite ruined. Agnes is shocked, but could perhaps write this off as a coincidence. Maybe she simply caught the silhouette as she closed the book? I thought the awkward relationship with Simon, who is there when the police come, was really interesting. He is Agnes’s friend, but also a doctor and was married to her sister Constance. Yet it is Agnes and her mother who have Cedric, her sister’s son, living with them. I kept wondering how this had happened and it was these awkward relationships and the whiff of scandal that really caught my attention just as much as the supernatural element. Simon is deeply protective of Agnes and her health since she’d had pneumonia a few years previously. Yet there’s another concern underneath, her mental health and whether certain things are ‘too much’ for her delicate nerves.

The horror in Pearl’s household comes from poverty and working in dangerous environments as much as it does the supernatural. Pearl’s father has worked in a match factory and has succumbed to the horrific disease of ‘phossy jaw’ where the phosphorus used for the match heads, eats into the mouth and slowly poisons the victim. The descriptions of being able to see the workings of his jaw and of Simon trying to clean the area and burst abscesses on the gums is visceral and left me far more horrified than the seances held by Pearl and her half-sister Myrtle. Myrtle has named Pearl The White Sylph, which only adds to the air of mystery created by her snowy white hair and skin and the wispy glow of ectoplasm that can be seen emanating from her body when the lights are off. Pearl is exhausted and drained afterwards, and her fear of the spirits who take control of her is obvious. She fears them sitting in her body or speaking through her mouth. It seems her gift is involuntary and all the more genuine for that. When Agnes visits they have no idea what they may summon up together, whether in terms of the spirits or a plan that may prove even more deadly.

Agnes is haunted by her sister whether she visits Pearl or not, but the pair do have something in common; sisters who try to control their lives. Agnes’s sister Constance has wronged her sister terribly in life, but continues to be there in death. I love the tiniest details that are placed by the author to echo the relationship:

‘Agnes scrubs at her eyes with the handkerchief. She has gone through so many of them lately that she’s been forced to use Constance’s old ones; she has picked the initials out but the ghost of the letter C still marks the corner’.

I saw an echo of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in this, they way her initials are all over the house, marking everything the new wife has to touch. Here it is a way for Constance to be ever present for Agnes. Constance is like Agnes’s shadow, and just like Myrtle and Pearl there is a yin and yang to these sisterhoods. One sister the innocent and other the dominant, rule breaking force. It’s as if they’re two halves making a whole. I enjoyed the description of Constance’s wardrobe towards the end of the book and the bright colours of her gowns contrast strongly with Agnes’s jet black, almost Puritan style of dress. Agnes is giving off that sense of grief and this uniform of mourning can mask who someone is as effectively as a disguise.

I also loved the period detail in the book, not just the clothing, but the etiquette and position of women. Although Agnes struggles financially she does have some measure of freedom and runs her own household. She has Simon, her brother in law, as her protector and because he is a doctor and a widower there is no impropriety in this. However, she does need him for certain things such as talking to the police and dealing with other men, who simply don’t consider a woman as an equal. I also loved the descriptions of Agnes’s craft, the cutting machine that she barely uses in order to keep cutting by hand alive. There is an alchemy in the descriptions of her work, the magical way she’s able put a person’s character into what seems like a very flat, characterless medium. There is a great description of a session with a young man, who admits he would prefer the new- fangled photograph, but his mother prefers the old ways. Photography is a threat to Agnes’s business, and there’s an interesting thought process around the belief that too many photographs could diminish you as each photograph takes a bit of your soul.

‘Part of your soul would remain forever imprisoned in the glass lens. Sit for too many and you might be depleted. More alive in the photograph than in real life.’

I thought that could be my thought process when I’m worrying about my niece or stepdaughter’s ‘addiction’ to social media. I like to take breaks from social media, but I sometimes worry that they’re so obsessed with their online personas that they miss out on what’s actually happening in real life. Social media is an edited or even purposely cultivated idea of who we are, not our real selves. It’s good to hear that each generations worries about the same things.

This is an excellent gothic mystery, that grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go. I thought the characters were well developed and fascinating – even the ones who are no longer there! I liked that were transgressive females who had their own agency and independence. I enjoyed the author’s sense of place, the evil portents like the magpies and the build up of tension. I also liked the contrast between those living in poverty and those with a more middle class lifestyle. The supernatural elements are always spooky with Purcell, so the seances and visitations are unsettling, but so are the real life people. As the mystery deepens you won’t be able to stop reading, because you’ll have to know what’s going on. There’s a saying we use about timid people – afraid of your own shadow – and that’s what this book does, it makes us afraid of what others might see in us, and who we can become in the dark. An utterly brilliant addition to Laura Purcell’s work.

Why not check out some of the reviews of my fellow bloggers?

Meet The Author

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller. She now lives in Colchester with her husband and their pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV book club choice. It was also the winner of the Thumping Good Read award. Her next novels The Corset and Bone China have cemented her reputation as the queen of the spooky but sophisticated page turner.