Dancing With the Dead

By S.A. Dunphy

She had taken only one step towards the hotel when she heard the car door opening, and then something had her by the shoulders in a grip like steel. Penny tried to fight, but it was no good. The last thing she heard as consciousness drifted away was the whisper of a familiar song…

In a small town on Ireland’s west coast, a young woman named Penelope O’Dwyer leaves a restaurant. It should take five minutes to walk back to where she’s staying. In those five minutes she disappears without a trace.

It’s a few days before the tape arrives. The kidnapper’s face is masked, his voice distorted, but no one doubts for a second he will follow through on his threat: a ritual murder at the end of October – and after that, many more murders to come. Penelope has two weeks to live. And the police don’t have a single lead.

This was a first read for me by this author. I opened the book yesterday morning and didn’t stop reading until I was finished. This doesn’t happen for me very often. I just HAD to know how it ended! 

While I’m not a huge fan of crime/serial killer stories, this book sucked me in. It gave me a lot of Joy Ellis vibes (and I am a huge fan of hers). The camaraderie and friendship between Jessie, Seamus and Terri reminded me a lot of Jackman and Evans. They’re easy characters to care about. I loved how each one was introduced. We get a bit of each of their backstories without leaving the path of the story. Each backstory is introduced just at the right time and is essential to the story. 

This book also gave me a few CJ Tudor feels, with the folklore added to the storyline. I love Celtic folklore. It was weaved brilliantly into the story and mixed well with the modern day mystery. 

I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I won’t but reading this book was like putting together a huge puzzle. Mr. Dunphy put each corner together first giving us a glimpse of what the whole picture would like. Then, he skillfully connects each little completed piece to give us the whole picture, like a fuzzy image coming slowly into a clear view. And yet, even with all that, we’re still left wanting more with a bit of something left over for the next book. 

My recommendation is READ THIS!! Set aside a day and start in the morning because once you start, you will not want to put this book down. Personally, I cannot wait to virtually go to Ireland and visit Jessie, Seamus and Terri again. I’m so curious to see what the future holds for all of them! 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

The Silent Companion

By Laura Purcell

When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure —a silent companion —-that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

Honestly, I think I fell in love with the book after reading the synopsis. This story has all the ingredients of a Victorian gothic ghost/horror story of the very best kind. Star with a setting in a creepy asylum. Add in a story that goes back to 1860s, where a widowed woman travels to a Victorian estate filled with creepy dolls that seem to be the real owners and caretakers of the house and sprinkle with a diary from 1630s which tells the real origins of the story and you’re in for a few nights of sleeping with the lights on. 

The storytelling is immense in this book. There’s three different time periods; Elsie’s present, her past and Anne’s diary (which is told in the first person). Three timeline lines yet the storytelling is so flawless, I had no trouble following it. 

I loved the writing: so pure and so visual yet not overwhelming. Too often, whenever I read a period novel, the author gets so caught up in details of either the scene or clothing I tend to lose connection with the story. While I love a well-researched novel, I think a good author will know how much detail to add without overpowering the story with historical facts. Laura Purcell balances this out perfectly in this book. I was able to be transported and yet kept my focus on what was going on in the story. 

The story ends with a twist and I almost wasn’t sure what exactly happened until I read it over a few times. One question I was left with was why did the companions even come to the house? I know how they were acquired but I wasn’t sure if it was the intention of the dolls to be obtained by Anne? Or were they affected by the house? Did Hetta summon them? I love that I was left with these questions and then at the same time, I want to know the answer to these questions. 

My advice – If you love gothic horror, then you will LOVE this book. I would read it at night while the snow falls and the wind howls. Grab your favorite blanket and a cup of tea. This novel doesn’t disappoint! 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Victoria Grace the Jerkface

By S.E. Clancy

Ever since Tori Weston and MamaBear were abandoned by her dad, finances have been tighter than a new pair of skinny jeans. As if keeping her grades up for scholarships and working every spare moment weren’t enough, Tori gets suckered into visiting a retirement home and paired with ancient resident Marigold Williams. After learning she’s the only one to visit Marigold in decades, Tori becomes a regular at Willow Springs. Besides, someone has to help with her history homework.

Few books make it to my read-over-and-over-again shelf. This book now resides there. I will pick this up again and again just to feel all the warmth, all the love, all the kindness and all the laughter this story gives. 

First, as a single mom of two early twenty-something girls, I really loved the relationship between Mamabear and Tori. Mamabear is strong, protective, funny and an excellent role model working hard to give Tori as much as she can. I related with her a lot. She set the boundaries for Tori in those tough moments of decision and yet, within those boundaries, we get to see Tori grow and flourish. And their text message conversations were hilarious. It reminded me very much of conversations I’ve had with my girls, usually via text and usually when they were in the next room. 

Victoria Grace is the perfect “flail” girl. She’s awkward and funny and puts her foot in her mouth one too many times when confronted with a boy she likes. She’s learned the art of not needing scores of friends and is super faithful to the one friend she does have, Madison, even when Mads gets to be a bit too much for Tori.

She’s a great role model for young girls here. Hard working with the ability to sacrifice wants in order to get things she needs: a car, for example. She works hard for her grades and at her two jobs. Of course, Mamabear is a great example of doing that, having had to raise Tori alone after her dad took off. 

Tori signs up to volunteer to spend time with some elderly folks at a local nursing home – actually, Mamabear sorta lets her know that while she has a choice, she also doesn’t have a choice. And there, she meets Marigold. 

Marigold is a resident of the nursing home who’s led this wonderfully interesting and somewhat sad life. She’s worked in Hollywood for most of her life, was unlucky in love and, until Tori came along, thought to die alone with no family and no one to visit her. Tori’s unselfishness and tenacity is able to help with the latter but we’re left wondering about the former. What happened in her marriage and who was the starlet she was an assistant to? 

Tori enters the nursing home much like I would expect any teenager to; smelling weird smells and wishing she had an invisibility cloak as she walked the halls to get to Marigold’s room. Along the way, she meets Jasmine, another resident with dementia who tells Tori she’s beautiful and she reminds her of her own granddaughter. Every time Jasmine reached for Tori, my heart broke a little just thinking about how many real live Jasmines there are in the world, sitting alone in a nursing home not knowing who they are or why they’re there. 

I loved the way Marigold demanded the respect due her, instantly setting the tone for the relationship between her and Tori. Their relationship grows from that mutual respect and they take and give it to each other in droves. As their relationship evolved, it was interesting to watch Marigold interact with Tori, giving her pearls of wisdom and advice. She seems to steal a little bit of Tori’s youth, using it to energize her until the very end. Through Marigold, Tori gets a glimpse of life at the end and is able to size up what really matters in her life; her relationship with her mom and her boyfriend and showing kindness to those around her, even those she doesn’t know like the soldiers she writes to. 

Heartwarming story and wonderful characters aside, this book is a gentle call to action. Especially today, when folks seem meaner, more selfish and more polarized than ever, it’s a call to find that kindness inside of you. To step outside of your box and reach out to those you don’t know to help them. To take extra steps to quit under-estimating our young people and pay attention to our elderly, for they have so much wisdom yet still to give. To know family and friends are the most important things we can ever have. To learn to appreciate what we have in the here and now and know that once we do, better things usually show up in our lives. 

My advice – Read this book. Then read it again. Then read other books. Then go back to this one and ready it again. A box of tissues is optional but always a good idea.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐