December Quarterly Book Reviews 2022.

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The Christmas holidays have arrived, and here in Australia, the lazy days of summer are back!

These past few months, I’ve been busy working on edits for my upcoming release, so some short reads have been a welcome distraction. This selection mainly consists of authors new to me, so I’m only too happy to help spread the word. 😊

Happy reading and best wishes for 2023!

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood

In 1897, after the death of her father, Vaughan Springthorpe is hired as a legal assistant to prepare papers for the sale of Morton Abbey. It is a remote mansion located on the Yorkshire moors, containing locked rooms, and hidden passageways. Shortly after her arrival, strange things begin to happen, including the sound of a child crying at night. Her work is disrupted, convincing Vaughan that someone wants to be rid of her. The local town also has its mysteries, for the children who live there are only boys.

This novel is ‘The Secret Garden’ for adults and is a Gothic romance involving a love triangle between Vaughan, the gardener, and the ill, brooding, Nicholas Spencer. The plot and characters are well developed, and I especially liked Vaughan’s determination to prove herself in a male dominated profession. If you enjoy Gothic romances with a good mystery, I highly recommend The Curse of Morton Abbey.

No Such Luck by Staci Troilo

Piper is fired from her job as a journalist and returns to her hometown for Christmas. Here, she meets up with her best friend, Jack, and her high school crush, Tommy. She eventually becomes torn between childhood fantasies and reality, questioning which one is her perfect match.

The characters are well developed, and the writing is flawless. The first novella in the Keystone Couples series, this is a short, sweet romance, and the perfect holiday read. This is the first time I have read a book from this author, and it won’t be my last.

Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis

The Colony is a place where one’s profession is determined by an exam. The lower the score, the less desirable the occupation. Ward’s job is to slaughter dogs for a restaurant, and despite his best efforts, he cannot leave.

Bettis has created a dystopian novella, a harsh place, where residents are devoid of empathy. Ward hates his job and has suicidal thoughts. The reader sympathises with him and the situation he is in, which is skilfully done.

I admit, being a dog lover, it took me a while to read this book. I applaud Bettis in tackling such a difficult subject matter. Some scenes are confronting, and one in particular gave me pause, but the author reveals the realities of the trade, leaving an imprint on the reader long after they’ve finished.

Well written, this novella is a powerful statement of man’s cruelty to animals, as well as ourselves.

Ghosted by Melanie Pickering

It’s Christmas Eve, and Holly is not in a festive mood. She has recently broken up with her boyfriend, her best friend is away for the holidays, and her mother is working on Christmas Day. In a last-minute attempt to buy her mother a present, she goes to the town’s Christmas Carnival, where she encounters the new boy in town, her secret crush.

This young adult novella is a fresh take on A Christmas Carol, where Holly must decide what she really wants in a relationship. A sweet romance, the characters are relatable (my favourites being Jody and Marley), and I would be interested to see more of some secondary characters. I enjoyed the setting, which brought to life the carnival atmosphere. This fun, quick read, is perfect for the holidays.

What books are you reading these Christmas holidays? Have you been reading books from new authors lately? Do you have a favourite summer read?

September Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

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My favourite time of the year is back. Spring has finally arrived! It’s a good opportunity to get outside and enjoy the sun before sneezin’ season well and truly kicks in. With all this rain we’ve been getting lately, it’s perfect conditions for weeds and hay fever.

These past few months I’ve been reading and listening to a mix of horror and Gothic fiction – two of my favourites. I’ve also found some new authors. 😊

Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

I really enjoyed this ghost story, set in a coastal town of Wales, with its combination of superstition and the art of ceramics. I enjoyed how the plot and Elinor’s grief combined to create each unique immortelle to decorate the graves of the dead.

This book starts off with two different viewpoints, but it is ultimately Elinor’s story, which is of a mother’s love for her child. There are hints of Elinor’s past, which I would have liked to have read more about, tragic deaths, ghosts, a mysterious character, and the occult.

This story is beautifully written, and some phrases you need to stop reading just to admire them. The ending is both surprising and touching. This is a deeply moving story, and one I highly recommend.

Many thanks to fellow author and blogger, Priscilla Bettis, for the recommendation! 😊

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I’ve read this book half a dozen times now, and it has become one of my favourites, placing it alongside The Turn of the Screw.

Eel Marsh House is an unusual, but eerie location, isolated and surrounded by marshland, creeping fog, and has its own graveyard. Strange noises frequent the marshes and the nursery, and while the woman in black appears on occasion, her presence is constant. As Arthur Kipps works alone at the house, it is refreshing to read of the dog, Spider, keeping him company. Spider is a lovely addition, and the reader also becomes concerned for her welfare.

I think listening to the audio version helps draw the reader in. It is told in the style of an old-fashioned ghost story, where Arthur tells his experiences as one would a friend in front of a warm fire on a cold winter’s night. It feels intimate with a slow build and the narrator does a great job of reading the book, which culminates in the shocking final scene, making it both chilling and heart-wrenching.

Well written, suspenseful, and atmospheric, it is highly recommended for readers of Gothic horror.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

For me, this book started slow, but it wasn’t until the main character, Beatriz, began walking the house alone in the dark, did it really draw me in. The author creates an eerie atmosphere with some beautiful phrases, so that the house itself becomes a character, and the ghost is more than a shadowy figure.

I listened to the audio version, which alternated between Beatriz and Andres. The narrators did a wonderful job. They helped make the characters come alive, so that in the end I could have been mistaken for believing they were Beatriz and Andres. The only downside to the audio version was not knowing the meaning of some of the Spanish words. After hearing some of them being repeated, though, I got to understand their meaning, while at other times I was so drawn in by the story, I let them go.

I can understand the comparisons to Rebecca, but I think the setting and some of the characters helps make this unique within the Gothic genre. This is a wonderful debut, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

The BEK Curse by Jonathan Pongratz

Early retirees, Richard and Maria Wilcox, have settled into life on a farm, but talk of strange children lurking the neighbourhood shatter their privacy. The author does a good job of building the suspense as these children visit Richard and Maria at night, their intentions escalating. The children are creepy, especially the young boy, who I found capable of anything.

The ending surprised me. I wanted more and left me with questions. I am unfamiliar with the legend of black-eyed children, and I’m curious to find out more. The ending felt rushed, but that may be because I needed to keep turning the pages. By this stage, I was suspecting everyone!

A quick read that sure packs a punch, it is the first time I have read a book from this author, and it won’t be the last.

What have you been reading these past few months? Have you found any new authors lately? Do you have any book/author recommendations to share?

 

June Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

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Another winter has arrived in Australia. On the first of June, we received our first snowfall, and the weather has been chilly ever since. Perfect conditions for staying indoors and doing some reading (as well as writing)!

For a few years now, I tend to read mostly from my Kindle or listen to audio books. It’s rare for me to read a paperback these days, and even then, it’s usually an old favourite. Speaking of which, I recently listened to the audio version of an old childhood favourite to lighten up my usual darker books of choice. 😉

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

This is a favourite classic that I sometimes like to return to, and I really enjoyed this audio version. Narrated by Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame, he does a great job. Each character voice is distinct, his performance of Victor Frankenstein is filled with anguish, and his portrayal of the monster is particularly moving. These are two characters that I both pity and despise; Victor who plays God yet avoids responsibility for his actions and suffers the consequences, and his creation who seeks revenge, but yearns for love.

Beautifully written, this is a sad and tragic tale. A remarkable piece of literature, penned from the author at such an early age, it is highly recommended.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine (Merricat) and her older sister Constance live with their Uncle Julian, survivors of a family tragedy and outcasts within their community. Eighteen-year-old Merricat has a childlike quality, but there is another side to her. The reader is drawn in by this unreliable narrator, so that they feel the tension and fear as Merricat visits the town. Her home is a safe haven, one where the reader gradually learns about the tragedy and the effects it had on the rest of the family; Constance who is agoraphobic, and her Uncle Julian, crippled and suffering dementia. When their cousin, Charles, arrives, their sanctuary is shattered, taking on a darker, menacing tone.

This is a beautifully written, eerie, psychological horror story. A story with characters that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It’s been a long time since I read this book, so re-visiting Anne Shirley and Green Gables is like visiting old friends. Anne is a lovable character, despite her faults, but it is these faults that help make her so enduring. Her tragic past does not hamper her enthusiasm and outlook on life, which is contagious. It’s also a pleasure to spend time with other characters, such as Marilla, Matthew, and Diana Barry. Gilbert Blythe hovers in the distance, but he is a constant presence, and it’s pleasing to see the blossoming of his relationship with Anne.

The descriptions of Prince Edward Island and nature throughout the various seasons, as well as Green Gables itself, creates a nostalgic image of a simpler time. It’s a place the reader is drawn to and would happily inhabit.

This is a heart-warming story, which will make you laugh and cry, but it is also one where you would happily return to to spend more time with these characters.

What have you been reading lately? Do you have any recommendations? How do you prefer to read these days?

March Quarterly Book Reviews, 2022.

Free image courtesy Peggychoucair on Pixabay.

This year, as I’ve decided to spend less time on social media, it has meant I have more time for reading. As much as I love books, I’m a slow reader. Try as I might, the number of books I read each year can be pretty low (this is one of the reasons why I enjoy audio books so much)!

To help spread the word on what I’ve been reading, I thought I’d share my reviews here on the blog, and hope you’ll be interested in reading them too. These past couple of months I’ve been reading shorter works, which are a mix of audio books and e-books. My taste is usually eclectic, but lately, it comes as no surprise, my books of choice are of the Gothic/horror persuasion. 😉

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Even though I had seen the various film versions, this was the first time I read the book. I really liked it and was surprised by its humour. I pictured the Disney version of Ichabod Crane more than any other.

I enjoyed the setting and descriptions, especially those leading up to the introduction of the headless horseman. I listened to the audio version, which I also highly recommend. This is such a fun, quick read, and a perfect story for Halloween.

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

I know Priscilla Bettis through blogging, so when I heard she was releasing her first book, I had to get myself a copy. The Hay Bale is a quick read, and it’s one that hooks you in from the very beginning. Her use of imagery places you beside the main character, Claire, so that when we reach the final scenes, we are in suspense and horrified in equal measure.

The ending I suspected, but the events leading up to that conclusion was altogether creepy and disturbing thanks to the peculiar quirks of the local townspeople. This story packed an emotional punch and stayed with me long after I had finished reading. Highly recommended for horror fans. I look forward to reading more from Priscilla.

Later by Stephen King

I’ve always enjoyed reading Stephen King’s shorter works, and this one certainly packs a punch. Combining crime and horror, it’s a coming-of-age story, where young Jamie Conklin can see dead people. He’s a sensitive, intelligent child with a good sense of humour (I had some laugh out loud moments). I felt drawn towards this character, so that when his naivety is gradually chipped away, it is truly heart breaking.

This is a story with memorable characters, some frightening scenes, and one that you can’t put down. I listened to the audio version, read by Seth Numrich. His reading helps draw the reader in, especially when Jamie is confronted by the character, Kenneth Therriault. Highly recommended.

Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard. Edited by Rayne Hall

This collection of short stories is a lovely mix from new and established writers, as well as from classic authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. Each story takes you on a journey to graveyards throughout the world, so readers can experience different cultures and various forms of burial.

There are 27 stories in this collection, which range from creepy to unusual, as well as humorous, so there’s something for everyone. At the end of each story are the author’s comments, which is a nice way to find out more about them.

As with any collection, some stories will stand out more than others and demand a re-read, and there are many in this book. For me, some of these include The Shortcut, Another Oldie but Goodie, Lucretia’s Hum, The Legend of Merv the Swerve, The New Catacomb, Respects, and Heart Music.

If you enjoy a spooky story, this collection does not disappoint.

What books have you been reading this year? Do you have any recommendations to share? Are you a slow reader?