Watching what I’m reading . . .

Good afternoon from an unexpectedly sunny afternoon in New Zealand, where we are still in lockdown. Areas outside of Auckland will drop to Level 3 on Wednesday, which someone has famously dubbed lockdown with takeaways. Auckland remains at Level 4 as all but 15 cases of Covid are there and new cases are still occurring at around 80 a day.

Currently I am reading The Restarting Point by Marci Bolden. What a wonderful read! With warm, unlikely friendships, and wonderful characters, I have both laughed and cried while reading this.

I am also reading Lost Angels (Nikki Hunt #3) by Stacy Green which is every bit as good as her previous books.

And I am listening to Whisper Cottage, written by Ann Wyn Clark, and narrated by Lauren Moakes. I really am on a roll this week as so far this, too, is excellent.

This coming week I am planning on reading All About Ella by Meredith Appleyard. Don’t you just love this cover!

At 70, and widowed, Ella is about to find out that blood is not always thicker than water. A wise and warm-hearted story about aging, family and community for readers of Tricia Stringer and Liz Byrski.

At 70, Ella’s world is upended, leaving her at odds with her three adult children, whose attention is fixed more firmly on her money than her ongoing welfare. After an argument with her son Anthony, she flees his Adelaide home for Cutlers Bay, a seaside town on the Yorke Peninsula. There she befriends Angie, a 40-year-old drifter, and becomes an irritant to local cop Zach. He’s keen to shift Ella off his turf, because Anthony phones daily, demanding his mother be sent home. And besides, Zach just doesn’t trust Angie.

Ella warms to Cutlers Bay, and it warms to her. In a defiant act of self-determination, she buys an entirely unsuitable house on the outskirts of town, and Angie agrees to help make it habitable. Zach is drawn to the house on the clifftop, and finds himself revising his earlier opinions of Ella, and Angie.

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves, #2 in her new series Two Rivers. I loved the first, The Long Call, and can’t wait to get stuck into this.

North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder–Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter’s broken vases.

Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He’s a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found–killed in a similar way. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home.

And Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks, an author I admire greatly.

1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

This week I received five new digital ARCs, and two audiobooks. It’s a lovely mix of new and favourite authors.

The books are: Birds of a Feather by Tricia Stringer

The Parents by Claire Seeber

Her Perfect Twin by Sarah Bonner

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood

And 1979 by Val McDermid

The two audiobooks I received are: A Dream to Die For by Susan Z. Ritz and narrated by Rachel Perry

And Over My Dead Body by Jeffrey Archer, narrated by George Blagden

Over the past week I have very briefly been in Boston, Massachusetts; spent more time in Hull, East Yorkshire; Salterley, somewhere in England; France, Belgium and Amsterdam; Stillwater, Minnesota; Chammont Point, East Virginia; and Avoncot, Wiltshire. Have our paths crossed this week? Where have you been on your bookish travels?

I still have 25 Netgalley requests pending.

Have a great week of reading, and stay safe my friends.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

EXCERPT: A long gallery stretches before her, running the length of the house. The gallery has no windows. The air is cool, controlled to a fraction of a degree. Display cases and framed photographs line the walls, each lit by a single low spotlight. This is his collection; the museum, he calls it. She has heard of it. It is well known, if your interests lie in that direction. The man obtains things that most people can’t. Things that no one should see. He collects artifacts of death. Photographs, vials of blood stolen from evidence, letters in spiky Victorian copperplate, pieces of the unclaimed dead, the pieces the killer did not have time to eat before he was caught.

ABOUT ‘THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET’: This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet they are all lies…

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. That’s where you’re wrong.

In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, lies something buried. But it’s not what you think…

MY THOUGHTS: The Last House on Needless Street is one of, if not THE strangest book I have ever read, and loved.

It is told from three points of view: Ted, overweight, a recluse with a disabled daughter, who has episodes where he loses time; Olivia, the cat he rescued as a kitten and who is never allowed outdoors; and Dee, whose little sister Lulu (Little Girl with Popsicle) disappeared at the lake eleven years ago, and who has a pathological fear of snakes. Or, maybe it’s not.

The Last House on Needless Street is weirdly compelling. Twelve hours after finishing it (another one sitting read!) I am still unsure what I read. I am buzzing. It is mind-bending. Unsettling. Almost alive. It twisted and slithered and changed shape as I read. A hall of mirrors with an uneven floor, one that suddenly drops away into a void, one that moves as you walk.

Alice in Wonderland for adults with darker tastes.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheLastHouseonNeedlessStreet #NetGalley

I: @catward66 @serpentstail @viperbooks

T: @Catrionaward @serpentstail @ViperBooks

#contemporaryfiction #crime #horror #mentalhealth #mystery #suspense

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.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Serpent’s Tail, Viper Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean

EXCERPT: I looked about me at our attic – the library, the horrible bits of Victorian taxidermy we’d picked up from junk shops, the dust-furred oil paintings of bleak landscapes, the interesting and peculiar objects that inevitably gathered on any horizontal surface in the vicinity of either of us. The only significant thing we hadn’t added to the place was a large home-made dolls house, which we had discovered in the attic the first time we ever went up there, and had deemed both creepy enough to keep, and too heavy to move.

‘We’ll have to tidy up a bit.’

‘Yes. Get some extra lights, hide the books, that sort of thing. Make it look respectable.’

Abigail must have read some element of doubt in my face. She leaned forward in her armchair and fixed me with her dark eyes.

‘All we have to do is make out that it’s all fine. We take her up here, she sees how absolutely unhaunted our attic and indeed our entire house is, and that’s that.’ Abi touched her fingertips to her lips. ‘All we have to do is be normal for a while.’

And so it was agreed between us that Janice Tupp would come over to our house after school next Thursday, in order not to see a ghost.

ABOUT ‘THE APPARITION PHASE’: Tim and Abi have always been different from their peers. Precociously bright, they spend their evenings in their parents’ attic discussing the macabre and unexplained, zealously rereading books on folklore, hauntings and the supernatural. In particular, they are obsessed with photographs of ghostly apparitions and the mix of terror and delight they provoke in their otherwise boring and safe childhoods.

But when Tim and Abi decide to fake a photo of a ghost to frighten an unpopular school friend, they set in motion a deadly and terrifying chain of events that neither of them could have predicted, and are forced to confront the possibility that what began as a callous prank might well have taken on a malevolent life of its own.

MY THOUGHTS: ‘My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose’ – Haldane

I couldn’t help but thinking of the Adams family children when I read the physical descriptions of Abi and Tim, intelligent twins with enquiring minds and a passion for the macabre.

Maclean has written an atmospheric and intriguing gothic thriller with all the required elements: a missing person, a select group of people confined together in a creepy old house, and unexplained phenomena. Mass hysteria? Cleverly orchestrated fraud? Or something darker and more sinister? This is what Maclean will have you wondering. His skilful machinations will have you changing your mind with every twist and turn.

Yarlings has a gruesome history and yet has never made it into the books of haunted houses, making it perfect for a scientific experiment to once and for all prove or disprove the existence of ghosts. ‘It seemed that, no matter how bright the day outside, the interior of Yarlings was always dark, always gloomy, always permeated with a troubled air, as if overthinking its presence.’ Ancient timbers crack like knuckles, the rooms are filled with an oppressing and brooding silence, almost an air of expectation, like it is waiting to be brought back to life, a place of ‘weird emotional textures.’ The ideal place in which to conduct a seance, or several.

The people who have been carefully selected for the experiment by Graham and Sally, are college students, all known to one another, and who seem to be a fairly ordinary lot. Tim enters the mix quite by accident, the seventh person, and catalyst for all that follows.

The Apparition Phase is unsettling rather than terrifying; unsettling, unnerving and deliciously creepy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheApparitionPhase #NetGalley

THE AUTHOR: Originally from the Wirral, Will Maclean has been fascinated by ghost stories since he was a child, and has been writing them almost as long as he can remember.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell

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Happy Publication Day for The Caretakers!🎂🍾🥂💐

EXCERPT: The screams have long since died away. The bloodstains, like the memories, have faded with time, obscured beneath a fine layer of dust. Mildew creeps along the peeling floral wallpaper. The window frames are soft with rot.

A skylight of colored glass softly illuminates the slow and steady decay. Once, laughter filled the spaces between the tired walls. Running feet and mother’s hugs and whispers under cover at night. Hearts beat, as hearts do, then broke, then beat again. Until they didn’t.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Filmmaker Tessa Shepherd helped free a man she believed was wrongly imprisoned for murder. When he kills again, Tessa’s life is upended.

She’s reeling with guilt, her reputation destroyed. Worse, Tessa’s mother has unexpectedly passed away, and her sister, Margot, turns on her after tensions from their past escalate. Hounded by a bullying press, Tessa needs an escape. That’s when she learns of a strange inheritance bequeathed by her mother: a derelict and isolated estate known as Fallbrook. It seems like the perfect refuge.

A crumbling monument to a gruesome history, the mansion has been abandoned by all but two elderly sisters retained as caretakers. They are also guardians of all its mysteries. As the house starts revealing its dark secrets, Tessa must face her fears and right the wrongs of her past to save herself and her relationship with Margot. But nothing and no one at Fallbrook are what they seem.

MY THOUGHTS: I loved this atmospheric read. It has all the ingredients . . . feuding sisters, family retainers, a crumbling old house, tragedy, secrets, lies and betrayals. Beautiful! And exquisitely written.

The characterisation is superb. Tessa is a successful documentary filmmaker, a righter of wrongs. That’s her public persona. Behind that facade, she suffers from an overwhelming guilt and anxiety, enough to have had her hospitalised and on medication. She and twin sister Margot haven’t spoken in almost twenty years. Margot’s husband, Ben, used to be Tessa’s boyfriend, and there was a time when the three of them were inseparable. So it is to Ben Tessa turns when Margot doesn’t respond to Tessa’s cry for help.

At Fallbrook, monstrously large, once proud and haughty, we have more sisters, Kitty, falling prey to the grasping tentacles of dementia, and Deirdre, the practical no nonsense one, caretakers not only of Fallbrook, but of all the secrets contained within those crumbling walls. And strangely, they are there not to preserve Fallbrook, but to make sure that it is not taken care of, that it is left to rot away.

These two worlds collide following the death of Tessa and Margot’s mother, and their inheritance of a legacy that comes with its own tragic history, and a mystery that demands to be unravelled.

Add in a kidnapping, dementia, an evil stepmother, familial abuse and a manhunt . . . and it all sounds rather overwhelming, and it is, slightly. Which is why there are 4.5 stars rather than the full five. But it is only slightly overwhelming, rather than hugely. All these diverse threads do all tie in together beautifully in the end. There is nothing predictable in this book. It is an absorbing and rewarding read.

I do caution you you to take particular notice of the various family relationships, who is who and which family they belong to. It does become important later in the book. I didn’t, and found myself flicking furiously back to the earlier chapters.

On another track entirely, it is strange what we retain from other reads. I recently read a book in which one of the characters was a wallpaper restorer. At one point when Tessa is at Fallbrook she uses a marker pen to scribble notes all over the ancient wallpaper in one of the rooms. As I was reading I am mentally screaming at her, ‘Don’t do that! You are desecrating something old and beautiful!’ Of course, she took no notice of me whatsoever.

I will be reading more from this author. In her acknowledgments, the author likened writing a book to making a pot of soup and sharing it. ‘If you’re very lucky, a few who will finish the bowl (will) ask for seconds.’ I am one of those. ‘More please, Ms. Maxwell.’

🏚👭💫💔 .5

‘The dead are at peace….it’s the living who struggle.’

The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell is due for publication April 14, 2020.

THE AUTHOR: Eliza Maxwell lives in Texas with a patient man, two impatient children and a bird named Sarah. When she’s not working on her next novel, she stays busy trying to keep her children from some future therapist’s chair.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3035899560

The House of Brides by Jane Cockram

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EXCERPT: It’s easy to remember what it felt like to see Barnsley for the first time. Not in a photograph but in the flesh, the grand house appearing in front of me. The beauty of the limestone is hard to see in a photograph, and harder to explain. The stone is different to that of other houses in the area, softer somehow, and in the summer, Max said, it felt warm for weeks on end. Some days, when the sun was not strong enough to warm Daphne’s cold antipodean bones, she would lean up against the wall and hope that the warmth would penetrate through her summer dress and cardigan. That was before my time. It has only been cold, bitterly cold, since I have known it.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Miranda’s life and career has been a roller-coaster ride. Her successful rise to the top of the booming lifestyle industry as a social media influencer led to a humiliating fall after a controversial product she endorsed flopped. Desperate to get away from the hate-spewing trolls shaming her on the internet, she receives a mysterious letter from a young cousin in England that plunges her into a dark family mystery.

Miranda’s mother Tessa Summers, a famous author, died when Miranda was a child. The young woman’s only connection to the Summers family is through Tessa’s famous book The House of Brides—a chronicle of the generations of women who married into the infamous Summers family and made their home in the rambling Barnsley House, the family’s estate. From Gertrude Summers, a famed crime novelist, to Miranda’s grandmother Beatrice, who killed herself after setting fire to Barnsley while her children slept, each woman in The House of Brides is more notorious than the next. The house’s current “bride” is the beautiful, effervescent Daphne, her Uncle Max’s wife—a famed celebrity chef who saved Barnsley from ruin turning the estate into an exclusive culinary destination and hotel.

Curious about this legendary family she has never met, Miranda arrives at Barnsley posing as a prospective nanny answering an advertisement. She’s greeted by the compelling yet cold housekeeper Mrs. Mins, and meets the children and her Uncle Max—none of whom know her true identity. But Barnsley is not what Miranda expected. The luxury destination and award-winning restaurant is gone, and Daphne is nowhere to be found. Most disturbing, one of the children is in a wheelchair after a mysterious accident. What happened in this house? Where is Daphne? What darkness lies hidden in Barnsley?

MY THOUGHTS: Give me an old house full of family secrets and lies, and I purr like a cat with a dish of cream. Add a dysfunctional family and I am enraptured. Throw in a letter, a hidden notebook, a housekeeper reminiscent of Mrs Danvers, and a missing wife….nirvana!

The writing is hauntingly atmospheric, the characters perfectly drawn, and the plot gripping.

I read this overnight, and even while catching up on the housework today and listening to an audiobook, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in House of Brides.

One of my favourite passages is: ‘The truth is what you make it: add a little here and there, take away what you need. It’s a work in progress.’

💖👀💌😯.5

#TheHouseOfBrides #NetGalley

THE AUTHOR: Jane Cockram was born and educated in Australia, where she studied Journalism at RMIT, majoring in Literature. The House of Brides is her debut novel.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harlequin Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The House of Brides by Jane Cockram for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system, please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2994155063