The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson

I cannot believe this is a debut novel.  Alexis Henderson has built an atmospheric tale that is impossible not to lose yourself in.

With the perfect amount of eeriness, creepy vibes, and a chilling haunting feel to it I was completely mesmerised by the entire story.

Set in the town of Bethel that borders the Darkwood where it is rumoured the spirits of four evil witches lie in wait for their latest prey, where entering the woods marks certain death or madness, where the town folk follow only the words of their Prophet and any who would dare speak against him or the Church must surely lean towards witchcraft and therefore must burn on the pyre. 

Argh, how good does that sound!!  I’m in!!!

In a world where a girl’s sole purpose is to bleed and therefore be ready for the cutting ritual.  Where the prophet can take as many wives as he likes to serve his needs, and women have no purpose other than to obey, Immanuelle stands apart.

Raised by her grandparents after her mother was killed for consorting with witches and her father burned on the pyre as a traitor to the Church, she constantly feels the pull to the Darkwood.  When one day this pull becomes to strong Immanuelle’s future will be changed forever.  After a dark and chilling encounter with the witches, as terrifying plagues start to befall the township of Bethel, is Immanuelle to blame?  Can she stop them or should she watch them all suffer for all they have put her family through?

This is so descriptive and beautifully detailed.  I was absolutely captivated and although not a huge fan of horror, and trust me, it’s interwoven into this one, I honestly could not put it down.

I was soooo excited to read that the author is currently locked away writing the sequel.  I can’t wait.

5 fabulous witchy stars for this one.

The Girl From Widow Hills – Megan Miranda

Oh I so wanted to love this book, I tried and tried but in the end it just wasn’t for me.  The synopsis sounded so good, perfect for thriller season but something was missing.

Even a dead body in the front yard didn’t peak my interest.

It was really well written, and I think that’s what kept me going to at least finish the book.  I wanted to see where the storyline went but for me the main issue was that nothing really happened, it didn’t really go anywhere.  An accident that occurred 20 years ago, that yes, while traumatic for our leading character Arden or Olivia, didn’t really seem to have any connection or link to her life now.  It just didn’t make sense to me.

The focus of Olivia’s current life and the supposed spooky stuff that was happening to her seemed to get lost amongst the strangeness of her past, which she didn’t really remember anyway so again, made it all fall a little flat.

Random characters that came and went also had me scratching my head a little.

I knew when I reached the last few chapters and honestly didn’t care “whodunit” in the end that this wasn’t going to be one that stuck around in my memory.  And the ending, argh, the less said the better.

Again, well written, and great sounding synopsis, but it just didn’t make sense to me. 

The Night Swim – Megan Goldin

This was a highly anticipated read for me and it didn’t disappoint.  I love a courtroom drama so this definitely ticked the boxes.

Renowned for her true crime podcasts Rachel decides to do something a little different for her latest one.  Follow a trial live as its happening.  A local college student is accused of raping a high school student after a party one night in a small town where everyone seems to know everyone.  The boy is a local legend, an acclaimed swimmer headed for the Olympics, while the girl is a popular teen, who just happens to be the granddaughter of the police chief.  It has all the hallmarks of a great he said she said story.

Thrown into the mix is a side story that at first I found a little confusing.  Ex local girl Hannah mysteriously starts stalking Rachel while she is trying to cover the trial.  Desperate to draw her attention to the death of her sister over twenty years earlier when she drowned at the local beach.  Hannah is convinced her sister’s death was foul play and will stop at nothing to have her story heard.

The more Hannah’s story unfolded the more hooked I became, almost to the point where it overshadowed the trial storyline itself.

Although I don’t normally list trigger warnings, there are definitely a few parts of the book where I felt upset and appalled and anyone who has had to deal with any form of assault may find difficult to read.  The author has built into the storyline with a lot of detail, but it’s not out of place and sensationalised for shock value which I think is important to note. I think she’s actually done an incredible job.

An absolute page turner that had the perfect amount of suspense and build up throughout.  This was so close to being a 5 star read for me but I couldn’t quite get over the line with the ending.  I don’t want to spoil anything, and please don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the ending let the book down, there was just a certain outcome that I found frustrating regarding a certain character….hmmm…can I be any more vague. 

For those that have read it, do you know who/what I mean?  Would love to know your thoughts. 

The Night Swim definitely deserves all the rave reviews it’s been receiving.

Review – Playing Nice

Playing Nice – JP Delaney

Another twisting and turning tale from the masterful JP Delaney.  This one had me flying through the pages.  What was going on?  How were the babies switched?  Are the birth parents up to something?  Are the other parents up to something?  Stop!!! My brain is hurting!!!

I’m fast becoming a huge fan of this author and Playing Nice confirmed why.  Pete and Maddie are parents to 2 year old Theo who was born prematurely and spent a number of weeks in the NICU unit in one of London’s busy hospitals.  Maddie has since returned to work in advertising and Pete, a freelance journalist, is relishing playing the role of stay at home dad to his young son. 

Life is meandering along pretty nicely for them both bar the slightly too often behavioural issues that Theo displays when at day-care.  That is until one morning there is a knock on the door and a complete stranger drops what can only be described as every parent’s worst nightmare onto Pete.  Sorry, but I believe you have my child.  Yep, apparently there was a bit of a mix up at the hospital and we each have the wrong kid.  .  What the?

Enter Miles and Lucy, the parents of little David, who as it turns out is actually Pete and Maddie’s son.  Wow, confused yet?  Don’t be.  The storyline alternates brilliantly between Pete and Maddie and their take on the situation and all that unfolds…..and boy, is there a lot of unfolding. 

Both families try to work through not only how this could have happened, but what it means for the future of their children, while trying to find the most amicable solution possible. 

Agreeing that both boys should stay with the parents they have spent the first two years of their life with, while still being a part of the other family’s life, it really seems like all could work out.  Wrong!! Instead life for Pete and Maddie soon turns into a terrifying world of betrayal and fear.

I found myself screaming at this book so many times, almost like you do in a horror movie when you know something really bad is about to happen!!  The suspense was first rate.  A carefully constructed domestic/psychological suspense thriller is how I would sum this one up and a really really good one at that. 

And of course I always love to see my hometown of Adelaide referenced in a novel.

Another review where I’m not going to say too much about the plot, the less you know the better the ride. 

A huge thank you to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this awesome book.  This one is out now and you really need to grab yourself a copy.

*****

Review – Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Wow, what a read.  Not what I was expecting at all, another book that I went into blind with no preconceived ideas, I just knew I desperately wanted to read it and what a read it was.

Atmospheric, historical, lyrical, dark, intense.  They are just a few words that grab me when I try and work out how to describe Mexican Gothic.  Very much a slow burn yet perfectly paced.

Noemi, the beautiful and vibrant socialite of a wealthy Mexican family in the 1950’s is asked by her father to visit her cousin Catalina after they receive a troubling letter from her.  The letter is disturbing, filled with the ramblings of what could only be described as a mad woman. 

Catalina has been living in High Place since recently marrying her husband Virgil.  A hauntingly eerie mansion in the mountains of El Triunfo Mexico. Although irritated at having to make the trek, Noemi who is extremely fond of her cousin, agrees to visit and find out for herself what is ailing Catalina. 

As soon as she arrives at High Place Noemi instantly feels ill at ease in the house.  Used to a life full of glamour and fun she struggles to adjust to the dark and dreary mansion.  No warmth, no light and a house filled with a hauntingly eerie silence. 

Barely able to spend more than five minutes alone with Catalina away from the prying eyes and ears of Virgil’s family, Noemi soon starts to worry about what is hidden within the walls.  Catalina almost seems a prisoner of the house.  What should she make of her illness?  What are the family hiding?

I could rave on and on about this book and the hauntingly gothic tale that is woven but I can’t for fear of giving anything away.  It is vivid and descriptive and as this tale unfolds it becomes more and more frightening until you realise you have been holding your breath.  Scenes that make your stomach turn yet that feeling that you can’t look away. 

The one thing I will say, I will certainly never feel the same way about mushrooms ever again.

*****

Review – Long Bright River

Long Bright River – Liz Moore

I really enjoyed this one.  For a decent sized novel it held my attention the entire way through, I just couldn’t put it down.

I’m a huge fan of thrillers and mysteries but sometimes ones revolving around police and detective plots I struggle with a little, definitely not this one.

Mickey has been a police officer with the Philadelphia Police Department for 13 years, working the streets in one of the rougher areas of the city.  Having had a pretty tough childhood growing up there was just Mickey and her sister Kacey to look out for each other.  As they got older Mickey was the studious sister, striving to do her best, while Kacey slid further and further away and eventually into a life of drugs, petty crime and prostitution, working the very streets that Mickey would be patrolling.

Mickey hasn’t seen or spoken to her sister in years, just hoping every day that the next overdose she is called out to is not Kacey.  “The first time I found my sister dead, she was sixteen.”

Suddenly there is a spate of murdered sex workers in Mickey’s district that no one on the force really seems to care about.  Having not seen Kacey around the streets for some time, Mickey becomes fixated on finding her sister before she too becomes a victim and in the process hopefully find the killer.

Narrated from Mickey’s point of view and alternating between Then and Now the story of Mickey and Kacey’s lives was interwoven perfectly.  I felt every one of Mickey’s emotions as she tried desperately to find her sister and make sure she was safe.

The character development was spot on and with just the right amount of twists and turns the storyline flowed along as if I was on Mickey’s journey.  So many times I thought I had worked out who the killer was and every single time I was wrong.  I loved that.  I hate it when thrillers are predictable.

I was struck by the terrifying realness of the opioid addictions and how drugs can tear families apart, destroying them at the core.  The storyline of drug addiction was both fascinating and heart breaking and the author covered this area with such insight and detail I honestly felt I was right there witnessing the pain, it was just so terrifyingly real.

The only tiny thing that stuck out for me was that for some reason I couldn’t get a clear image in my head of what I thought Mickey looked like, and I honestly don’t know why that was.  Again, the characters were so intense and full of depth I really can’t rationalise why I couldn’t picture her.

This was a solid 4.5 stars for me and I will definitely be grabbing more books by Liz Moore to jump into.

*****

Review – Tiny White Lies

Tiny White Lies – Fiona Palmer

A light, heart-warming easy read.  This is a novel to curl up with over a weekend and just sit back and relax.  Told through the eyes of two friends, Nikki and Ashley with chapters alternating between their recent pasts and the present day, this is a story of family, relationships and friendships.

Both Ashley and Nikki have had their struggles to deal with.  Ashley has recently lost her husband and has just found out her teenage daughter is being bullied online and at school, while Nikki has been keeping a huge secret to herself and worrying about her own teenage children slipping further and further away from her into the world of technology with social media and online gaming.

To escape and recharge the two families decide on a spur of the moment trip to the Western Australian bushland.  A camping retreat at a beautiful coastal getaway with no access to the internet and no phone reception.  I found myself laughing a few times at the teenager’s reactions to this new found hell with no ability to keep up with their snapchat streaks.  I could so easily picture my own teens behaving the exact same way.

There is a cast of likeable characters, including Nikki’s hunky husband Chris and his equally hot cousin Luke, and we start to learn a little more about all of them through evenings around the campfire.  As the days slide by tiny white lies are slowly revealed as their past secrets meander into their current lives.

While it is a light read, it does cover some pretty dark topics, such as suicide, depression, bullying, and issues with body image.  I just wished it could have delved into these topics a little more which I think would have given the overall story more depth. I really loved it when the author highlighted the women’s pasts, I was completely engrossed in what they were both going through.  There really was a lot to enjoy about this book, I just found the holiday chapters a little light on and too easy to skip through, but still a fun weekend read.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read and review this book. 

Review – A Lifetime of Impossible Days

A Lifetime of Impossible Days – Tabitha Bird

I laughed, I cried, I felt every emotion reading this amazing story.  It is whimsical, it is fantastical (is that a word) but at the heart it is a story of trauma and grief and how dealing with the past can have drastic effects on our future.

Tabitha Bird has truly written a masterpiece.  It’s strange, it’s unusual, and it’s hard to put into words how to even describe it but is a truly stunning book.  You really need to let yourself go when reading this, think Alice in Wonderland disappearing down a rabbit hole.  Don’t expect things to make sense.

We meet Willa in 1965 at age 8, in 1990 at age 33 and in 2050 at age 93 when on one impossible day, 93 year old Willa mails two parcels with a note “One ocean; plant in the backyard” setting off a magical time slip that allows Willa to visit her future and past selves. 

Willa at all 3 stages of her life is so full of depth and emotion.  I adored Willa at 93, she was my absolute favourite.  Her sense of humour had me laughing out loud, her strength had me full of admiration for her and her confusion and her fear had me in tears.  I hope at that age I am running around in brightly coloured gumboots or moonboots and possibly ordering a cow for the backyard off a talk-back radio show.

Willa at 8 is the most heartbreaking.  No child should have to know such trauma in their young life.  Feeling responsible for her younger sister, trying to help her mother who has become unable to be there for her daughters both physically and emotionally, all the while living with the terror of a violent father. The abuse was handled with care and was mostly inferred which I also appreciated.  As a reader I could take it as far as I was comfortable with and it was just as impactful without making the whole book disturbing.

33 year old Willa is possibly the most important of all.  The adult who is now a mother herself, who has never dealt with the pain of her past but needs to in order to be able to have a future for herself and her own family.  “I’m not sad or happy…….I’m nothing.  I’ve forgotten how to feel.  I’ve stuffed everything that happened in the past so far inside me.  I’ve stuffed myself inside, too, and now I’m not even me.”

This was one of the very few books I’ve read that after I finished the last page and closed the cover, I put the book down and just sat there.  I really had to process it all.  I still can’t believe it’s a debut. 

To quote 8 year old Willa “amaze-a-loo” I really wish everyone could read this one.  Thank you so much to the author for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for this review.

*****

Review – The Patient

The Patient – Jasper DeWitt

This book is freaking insane!!!!  Written as a series of blog posts in a reddit-style medical forum this is a whole package of craziness and I absolutely loved it!!!

Set in a psychiatric hospital in New England, Parker is a new young psychiatrist who becomes intrigued by Patient Joe.  Admitted at the age of 6 years old, Joe is now a fully grown adult, still in the hospital and undiagnosed by his many previous doctors, “every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide”.  He is so dangerous it’s as if they want to keep him locked up forever and throw away the key, yet Parker feels he can be the one to help him.

The story is dark and disturbing but you can’t look away.  Although I am a huge fan of thrillers I don’t tend to read a lot of horror, and whilst there is certainly a horror element to this book it’s relatively light and I was sucked in right from the start.

It’s a short read, at only 209 pages but wow, does it pack a punch in those 209 pages.  Yes, the ending is wrapped up quite quickly which would normally bother me but it made sense and worked with the theme of blog posts and patient notes.

Uniquely written, accept the fact that this is totally different to anything you’ve probably read before, a different style where the story won’t be neatly wrapped up in with a bow that you can explain.  It is open to your own interpretation and your own imagination and that is what I loved about it.

Thank you so much to Harper Collins for the opportunity to read this awesome debut novel in exchange for my honest review.

*****

Review – The Silk House

The Silk House – Kayte Nunn

The Silk House is going to be one of my favourite reads for 2020. It was so beautifully written and descriptive I couldn’t help but fall in love with everything about it.

An historical fiction, narrated through multiple POV’s in vastly different eras, the story-line is interwoven superbly. In 1768 The Silk House is home to a wealthy silk merchant, his wife and their household in Oxleigh. Rowan Caswell is the new maid at the house and in times where people are suspicious of anyone slightly unusual and talk of witchcraft still swirls around, it is a troubling time to be meddling in anything untoward. With white-blond hair and a skill in herbs, potions and draughts, mystery soon starts shrouding Rowan and she must be extremely cautious that no one becomes aware of here abilities for fear of putting her life at risk.

Meanwhile, in London 1768, Mary-Louise Stephenson is the designer of stunning one of a kind patterns but has so far been unable to break into the male dominated trade. When the silk merchant makes an unexpected visit to her home offering her the chance for her patterns to become a reality she jumps at the opportunity. Thrown into the shady world of the merchant and creating silks that seem to hold dark secrets Mary is soon wondering if she has made a terrible mistake.

Now in 2019 Silk House is home to an exclusive Boarding School, Oxleigh College. History teacher Thea Rust has just moved from Australia to the UK to take up a position at the college, the same college her father once attended. This is the first time girls have been admitted into Oxleigh College, previously a school only for boys so Thea has the unenviable job of not only being new to the school but having to help with this unwelcome change in long-held tradition. When strange unexplained things start happening and rumours of Silk House being haunted start circling Thea is desperate to find out as much as she can about its history and what really took place there all those centuries ago.

The atmosphere is superbly rich and detailed with Gothic undertones throughout plus the ever present mystery of witchcraft. A truly beautiful story that I just couldn’t put down.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this amazing book.

*****