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The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne - Review

Sunday, July 28, 2019


I asked for recommendations on Twitter recently for more contemporary gothic stories, and someone said they felt this fitted into the genre. I requested it in the library and picked it up last week. I kept going because the story was a compulsive read, but the book as a whole sort of annoyed me. Basically I think that posh people need better problems.

Eleanor and Richard buy a house at the beginning of the book. They don't meet the house's vendors, the Ashworths, but when they move in to the four storey house, they discover that in one of the upstairs rooms the Ashworth daughter Emily has written her name all over the walls. The door to the room doesn't open easily and Eleanor gets a bad feeling about the room. She has her misgivings about the house entirely, but Richard is so excited by the project that she feels drawn along.

The family haven't been in the house very long when Eleanor starts suffering nausea and sickness. When she's away from the house she's fine, but inside she gets oppressive headaches and struggles to look after their little girls, Rosie and Isobel. Rosie starts behaving badly - biting Eleanor and tantrumming - but while everyone tells her that it's typical behaviour for a three year old, Eleanor is convinced that the house is to blame.

Meanwhile the family has to have a lodger living in the basement to help them pay the bills. Zoe is a receptionist at Richard's office, although she leaves the job to work in an art shop. She's just split up with someone and is quite bored and trying to find herself. She starts a relationship with an artist called Adam. She gets night terrors and sleep paralysis in which she sees a little girl.

Things start moving around the house, which is very creepy, but it's also a fact that Zoe sneaks into the upstairs room when she shouldn't, and Richard sneaks downstairs into her rooms to spy on her when he shouldn't. Like, half of their problems would've been sorted if they hadn't all been snooping on each other.

We also see how Eleanor and Richard got together, while at university in Cambridge, and how they ended up married with children, a situation which neither of them seems to actively like. Richard doesn't believe that the house is making Eleanor ill, and the two of them pull apart. We see how Zoe ended up with her ex Rob and how they ended up breaking up, which I felt was a parallel to Eleanor and Richard's story.

None of them was particularly likeable as characters. I think I liked Zoe best. I think the ending happened really quickly and didn't resolve everything I'd have liked it to. I'm giving this three out of five.

The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne - Review

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

I'd heard a lot of hype about this book and my partner read it last year and really wanted me to read it. I've been avoiding YA recently - no particular reason, I just haven't been in the mood for it - so I asked him what he thought I should read, and he said he really wanted me to get to this finally. He read it digitally but it turns out I'd got it in hardback, so that's what I read.

I put a photo of the book on my Instagram, like I do with all my books, and my friend Janet commented saying she had really hated it, so she was interested to know what I would say. She and I have similar taste in books, so I was intrigued that she'd really disliked it! I really wasn't sure what to think.

The basic premise of the book is that Sarah and Angus have twin daughters, Kirstie and Lydia, and Lydia dies in an accident at Sarah's family home before the start of the book. At the beginning of the book, it's fourteen months later and the family is kind of falling apart.

Lydia died falling off a balcony, and Kirstie is struggling to cope without her. She seems to be trying to compensate for Lydia's death by being like her. Angus lost his job and the couple can't make ends meet in London. But Angus' grandma has died and left an island in the Inner Hebrides, where Angus spent a lot of his childhood. He remembers how beautiful it was, and the cottage under the lighthouse, so the family makes plans to move there.

When they move though, strange things start to happen. Kirstie insists she is Lydia - that actually Kirstie died in the accident - and the family dog is acting strangely. Kirstie can't fit in at school, and things are falling apart between Sarah and Angus.

There's a bit in the blurb which says that Sarah and Kirstie are stranded on the island during a storm, and while this does happen, it isn't until the end of the book, so I thought it was a strange thing to include in the blurb. There is some ghostly goings on but none of it was really creepy; it all came off like Sarah was just imagining things. There's a bit where the child breaks a window and injures herself, but all I could think of was whether she would have actually managed to break such a window. I also thought neither parent should have really had a favourite, and that if they'd just talked to each other they would've saved themselves a lot of bother. I kept reading because it was compulsive in that way, but I didn't feel like the pay off was worth it, or signposted particularly well. I felt there were parts that were very overwritten and needed editing, and I didn't like any of the characters - not even the little girl.

An odd book. I won't go out of my way to read S K Tremayne's other book. I'm giving it three out of five.


The Garden of Lost Secrets by A M Howell - Review

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I had seen this book recommended on Twitter way back in January so I pre-ordered it and it duly arrived on to my Kindle app. I don't really like to use Amazon much, but I do find the Kindle app easy to use both from the Amazon store and through Netgalley, so I have to use it at times. I do try to buy physical books elsewhere, though. I recommend Wordery, I find prices are comparable to Amazon.

Anyway, that's my Amazon rant. It's hard to not use them and I'm as guilty as anyone.

This book is a middle grade book set in England in World War One. Clara lives with her mum and dad in Kent. Her brother Christopher is away fighting the war, and her dad has recently returned from the front and has lung problems due to the mustard gas. He is supposed to go away and convalesce, so Clara is sent to her aunt and uncle in Suffolk.

Clara has only met Mr and Mrs Gilbert before, but she has fond memories of them. Mr Gilbert is the head gardener for an Earl, and Mrs Gilbert is the housekeeper of his house. They live in a cottage in the grounds. But they're not the loving aunt and uncle Clara wants or needs. There's a mysterious locked room in their house and Clara can't seem to do the right thing. Clara's mum said she would write to Clara, but nothing arrives - is Mrs Gilbert keeping her letters in the locked room?

Clara is keeping a secret of her own - she has a letter from the Ministry of Defence which arrived on the day she left Kent. It must be to do with Christopher, but if he's dead Clara can't bear to find that out. She meant to give the letter to Mrs Gilbert when she arrived but now feels she can't.

She is awake one night when she sees a mysterious boy in the gardens, who then disappears. She slips out another night and meets Will, who is the brother of one of the gardeners, Robert, and who is being hidden in the gardens. Then the Earl's fruit - exotic fruits like mandarins and pineapples - starts going missing and Will comes under suspicion. But Clara trusts him and is determined to clear his name.

I didn't love the book. I felt like there was a lot going on and nothing really got resolved at the end. I just didn't warm to it, but I could understand why kids would, and I really did like the setting. I'm giving the book three out of five, but I will be interested to see what A M Howell writes next. Clara is a likeable heroine and I liked Will, but I didn't think the pay off of the book and explanations at the end were satisfactory enough for a middle grade book.

In the Dark by Cara Hunter - Review

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I reserved the second in this series at my local library, since I've already read the first and third ones. I am really enjoying this new detective series and am really looking forward to the next one.

In this book, a man is refurbishing a house and his builders go into the cellar. There's a problem with the party wall and in frustration he knocks part of it away, going through to next door. Then, in the cellar next door, he sees the faces of a young woman, and a small child.

They've been locked in the cellar for what looks like years. The woman can't speak and she also appears to reject the child. The elderly man who lives in the house, Dr Harper, is frail and suffering from Alzheimers. He has no recollection of the woman and child, but is he covering up his crimes? DI Adam Fawley and his team are back on the case.

Meanwhile, the house in question backs on to the house of a woman who also went missing a couple of years ago. Someone else came under suspicion then, but nothing ever happened and her body was never found. Adam is determined to find out what happened to her and how her toddler ended up abandoned several miles away.

There's all kinds of red herrings and loose threads in this book, as per usual, and I really liked it. There's less of the reporting and comments from the general public, which I have to say I liked more. I'm giving this five out of five as it was my favourite so far.


Fell by Jenn Ashworth - Review

Monday, July 15, 2019


I got this book at a writing conference that I went to two years ago, called Grrrl Con. Jenn Ashworth gave the key note speech and she was signing copies of her book afterwards. I've been meaning to read it for ages, but just hadn't got round to it. Then after I read The Silent Companions I was asking on Twitter for recommendations of more modern gothic novels and someone mentioned this so I knew it was time to pull it off the shelf.

It is a dual narrative novel told from the point of view of ghosts. Yes that baffled me too. The ghosts are the parents of Annette, Jack and Nelly. In the modern age, Annette returns to her childhood home, The Sycamores, because her stepmother Candy has died and the house has now been left to her. She's now in her sixties, and the house is crumbling. Not least because of the sycamore trees in the front garden. Annette wants to do up the house in order to sell it, but the whole undertaking is bigger than she thought and she's more frail than she expected to be, too. Opening up the house awakens the spirits of her parents, and they watch her in the house and round about.

In the second part of the narrative we go back in time to 1963, when Annette was eight years old. Her parents ran the house as a lodging house. The family lived in the attic rooms and had several lodgers on the first floor. At the beginning of the book they have just three lodgers, and Nelly is dying of ovarian cancer or something similar. The family goes to the local lido and Jack meets Tim Richardson, who, in the course of showing off to his friends, manages to heal Jack's shortsightedness by touching him.

Jack invites Tim to come to live at The Sycamores in the hopes that he will heal Nelly. Over the course of the summer and the beginning of the winter Tim gets more and more involved with the family and Nelly gets iller and iller.

The book is set in Grange over Sands in Cumbria which I thought was a great setting, I really liked the small town feel and the beach adds to how creepy it is. I really liked the book, I would have liked more of Annette's inner thoughts, but I get that in that part of the book she's being observed by the ghosts of her parents. It's a really good book, I'm glad I finally got round to it!

Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green - Review

Friday, July 12, 2019


Where did I get it? I saw on Twitter that Simon was going to be signing books in Gay's the Word, and you could contact them for a dedicated copy and pay via Paypal. I like supporting independent bookshops and I liked the idea of having a signed book of Simon's. So I emailed, got the dedication, paid my money, and received the book in the post along with an Alex in Wonderland bookmark AND a Gay's the Word bookmark! 

What's it about? Alex is sixteen and has just finished his GCSEs. He thinks that he'll hang out all summer with his friends Alice and Will, but they're a couple now and they awkwardly don't tell Alex that they're going on holiday together. Then Alex's dad's girlfriend Kendra - who Alex hates - decides he needs to get a job. After a couple of awkward incidents, Alex lands a job at Wonderland, the local amusement arcade, and has made two new friends who also work there, Ben and Efia. 

Alex has a big crush on Ben, but Ben has a girlfriend, Bella. Alex sort of lets Efia push him into dating Lemon Boy, someone who sells lemonade on the pier nearby. Plus, Wonderland is going down the drain so the three set about putting plans in place to try to save the place. 

This book was billed as "so romantic" and honestly, I didn't feel like it was. It didn't seem to get going until about two thirds of the way through. A lot of things happened, but not much ~happened~ if you see what I mean. I would have liked more of the romance earlier in the book. 

I also thought Alex was really like Noah from Noah Can't Even. They're both awkward and gawky and a bit not really in charge of their own destinies. I feel like there wasn't much to separate them, so even though I really liked Noah I didn't really want to read a book about a really similar character? I did like the seaside setting and all the faded glamour. I liked Ben and Efia and the cast of smaller characters. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah, Alex is gay. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I think Efia might be mixed race? I'm not sure, it isn't really mentioned. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? A little bit, it's not graphic 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? As above. I wanted to really like it but I just didn't love it. 

Would I recommend the book? If you like Simon's other books then yes absolutely, but otherwise then I think there are better books about gay teens. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was still in the pile by my bed. 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, I think it is eye catching and looks suitable for the theme of the book 

What other books is it like? It's like Noah Can't Even, in a not necessarily flattering way 

How many stars? Six out of ten 

Where is the book going now? I will keep it as it's signed

Belly Up by Eva Darrows - Review

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Where did I get it? I ordered it a few weeks ago as I'd had it recommended. 

What's it about? At the beginning of the book Sara - longer name Serendipity - has recently broken up with her boyfriend Aaron. It's the end of her junior year and she goes to a party with her best friend Devi. While she's there she gets quite drunk and has sex with a boy called Jack. Unprotected sex, so Devi says she should go to a clinic and get tested for STDs, but she doesn't get round to it. Mostly because her mum is struggling with money so she and Sara are going to move in with Sara's grandmother, Mormor. 

Three months later Sara finds out she's pregnant. Her mum is supportive, her grandma less so, but then she's always quite difficult like that. Sara has tried to find Jack, but didn't even know his surname. But that's okay, she grew up without her dad around. All he left her was her Spanish surname to go with her dark hair and Swedish mother. 

Sara starts a new school and makes plans to have her baby and finish high school remotely. She makes three friends - Leaf, a boy who is Romani, and his friends, Morgan and Erin, who are a couple. Sara and Leaf start getting close, and Sara is sure sparks are flying between them, but she absolutely has to tell him about the baby, doesn't she? 

The book encompasses the whole of Sara's pregnancy, which I really liked. She has a lot of complicated feelings about herself and about motherhood which isn't surprising when she's only seventeen. There's a lot of really amazing women and their relationships - between Sara and her mum, with her grandmother, and with Devi. It's also really funny - very irreverent and full of nerdy references. I loved Sara - I thought she was a great lead character and I really felt like we saw her grow over the space of the book. There's no slut shaming either, which I liked. I would definitely read something else by the author (Eva Darrows is a pen name for Hilary Monahan). 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep. Devi is asexual, which is mentioned a few times. Morgan is a trans girl, I really liked her as a character. Erin is queer. Sara herself is possibly bisexual - she has kissed at least one girl and says she's leaning that way. I would have liked to see her explain this to Leaf, actually. That would be my wish for a 'cut scene' from this book! 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes. Leaf is Romani and this is a big part of his identity. Sara's Spanish side is mentioned a lot too. Plus Devi is Jewish which is a big part of her identity too. There's a lot in this book about food, and about food as cultural heritage which I liked, I thought it was a good way of showing feelings and family. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? A little, obviously, but it's not graphic. There's also mention of masturbation which you almost never see in YA, so I thought that was good. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so. 

Is there any talk of death? No. 

Are there swear words? A few but they're not terrible ones, the terrible ones are mostly censored. 

What criticisms do I have? I thought in parts that Leaf was just too perfect. I understand why - because Sara is having such a tough time with everything else - but I would've liked a little bit more conflict between them. 

Would I recommend the book? Yeah absolutely. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was just hanging around by the side of the bed! 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, it gets across what the book is about! 

What other books is it like? I can't think of any offhand, sorry. 

How many stars? Eight out of ten. 

Where is the book going now? I think I'll keep it!

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell - Review

Sunday, July 7, 2019

My partner read this on his tablet last year and really enjoyed it. I've been encouraging him to read more gothic horror books so he's got quite a collection. Then he saw that I had the book in paperback - it was a present I think - so he said I should read it. So I put it to the top of the pile. I'm so glad I did because I loved it, it really kept me engrossed.

It's set in the 1860s and to begin with we meet Elsie in an asylum. She is unable to speak due to trauma. Her new doctor wants her to write down what happened because he has to give a report to the police about whether she is fit to stand trial. So Elsie does.

So we discover that about a year before, she was newly widowed. Her husband Rupert had been an investor in the match factory Elsie owns with her brother Jolyon. Rupert has returned to his family country seat, The Bridge, in order to make it habitable for Elsie and their coming child. However, while he's there, he dies, so Elsie goes immediately to bury him, with Rupert's cousin Sarah alongside.

Elsie and Sarah stay at the Bridge after Rupert's funeral and strange things start happening. Firstly there are splinters on Rupert's neck before he is buried. Then at night Elsie hears a hissing kind of noise, a sound of wood on wood, and gets up to look for the source. She thinks there's something in the garret, but it's locked, so she and Sarah attempt to get in. While there, they find some wooden painted statue things called silent companions.

Sarah likes them so they bring a couple down, but then the statues start to move and appear at will. They also find a diary, kept by the mistress of the house from the 1660s, Anne Bainbridge. Anne is suspected to be a witch and through her diary we find out what happened in the house to make the local villagers distrustful of the Bainbridges and the house.

I could barely put this book down - I thought it was really creepy and unnerving and really wanted to know what was going to happen next to the women. I loved that there were no men in the house full time; it was so easy for the men to dismiss what was happening as just hysteria. I'm giving this five out of five - if you like horror, do read it!


No Way Out by Cara Hunter - Review

Thursday, July 4, 2019

As I enjoyed the first in the DI Adam Fawley series recently, I made a note to read the next two pretty soon. I'm trying really hard to not buy books currently as recently I've had quite a few that I had preordered arrive. Plus of course I already own around 900 books. So I decided instead to not read any of those but to reserve another of Cara Hunter's books from the library. I actually reserved both. This one arrived first so even though it's the third in the series I decided to start it. Often crime novels will hark back to previous books but not give spoilers out so that each one can be read as a standalone, and that's exactly what happened here. I got a bit of the story of the second novel, but that just intrigued me and made me want to read it more!

This book is set just after Christmas, in early 2018. Adam Fawley is called to a house fire in the early hours of the morning. Felix House, on Southey Road in Oxford, is lived in by Michael Esmond and his wife Samantha, and their two children Matty and Zachary. Zachary is found dead in the nursery upstairs. Matty is taken to hospital and later dies of his injuries. Samantha is found in the remains of the house, but Michael is nowhere to be found.

Clearly police are eager to talk to him so they contact his brother, who is on a yacht in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and his employer, the university, who have had a complaint of sexual assault made against him. They don't seem to be getting anywhere very fast.

As before, this story is told from several different points of view. There's first person narrative from Adam himself. I find him a likeable detective who doesn't seem to suffer from the same narcissism that a lot do. There's third person narratives from some of his team - DC Somer, DC Everett, DC Quinn, and acting DS Gislingham. Then there's newspaper reports mixed in which often included members of the public's comments, which are often of the witch hunt variety. Then there's passages about what happened to the family in the months running up to the fire, which often reveal things that you as the reader don't realise are pertinent until later. I like the way these books are written - it feels quite modern and fresh.

I raced through this, finishing it on Friday lunchtime while sitting outside in the grass. I can't wait to read the next one, and I've lent the first one to my mum because I want her to like it too!


These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling - Review

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


Where did I get it? I bought it for myself. I had it on pre-order and had totally forgotten about it when it arrived! 

What's it about? Hannah lives in Salem, Massachusetts, site of the infamous witch trials, with her mum and dad. She is an Elemental witch, one of the original three witch clans. She can manipulate the elements into doing her magic. The other clans are Casters, who make potions and cast spells, and Blood witches, who use blood from their victim to manipulate them. She has plenty of her coven close by, including her ex girlfriend, Veronica.

It's never fully explained why they split up, except they were in New York City when they met a Blood witch who took over Hannah and scared the both of them. They're both finding it hard to get over the other, but Hannah can't forgive Veronica. 

At the beginning of the book they're at a party when there's a fire. There's an animal sacrifice near by it and Hannah becomes convinced there's a Blood witch in town. A few days later she sees some runes on a wall and her conviction deepens. Her family says there's nothing to worry about, so Hannah tries to put it behind her, but then at another party there's a house fire and Hannah uses her magic to save her friend Benton. This gets her in trouble with her coven but she's desperately trying to find out the truth.

Meanwhile, she has to keep her magic hidden from her best friend Gemma, but Gemma has introduced her to a new girl in town, Morgan, and Hannah discovers she is also queer. 

I struggled to get into this book in the first hundred pages. I thought there was a lot of stuff there that didn't need to be there and which didn't, in fact, get resolved later in the book. I think at least 25 pages could have been cut out. But after that, I got into it and really enjoyed the book. Things keep happening - there's a lot of catastrophes - and Hannah just kind of spins through the book, although there are really sweet episodes where she and Morgan are together, for instance. I hope it's the first in a series - it certainly has that kind of ending and would lend itself to a sequel. I thought the author wrote really well and I'll certainly look out for something else by her. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes. Hannah is gay and already out at the beginning of the book. Morgan is bisexual and although Hannah reacts badly to this when she finds out, I loved how she apologised and I am always here for more bisexual representation in books. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I don't think so?

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not exactly. There are some accidents and subsequent trauma, though. 

Is there any sex stuff? No. I would have liked it if there was! 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and some of it is graphic and may be upsetting. 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? As I said, I thought the book was slow to get going. I also would have liked to see exactly what happened to Hannah in New York and why she couldn't forgive Veronica, because I don't think it was clear enough. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely, it's great. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It had just arrived and I'm loving this resurgence of witch based books. 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, I think it's really cute and would make me pick the book up. 

What other books is it like? It's definitely like Undead Girl Gang which I read recently. I thought they were both really good. 

How many stars? Four out of five 

Where is the book going now? I actually lent it to my friend Sarah! I'll have to see what she thinks about it. 

 

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