The Resting Place

By Camilla Sten

The medical term is prosopagnosia. The average person calls it face blindness—the inability to recognize a familiar person’s face, even the faces of those closest to you.

When Eleanor walked in on the scene of her capriciously cruel grandmother, Vivianne’s, murder, she came face to face with the killer—a maddening expression that means nothing to someone like her. With each passing day, her anxiety mounts. The dark feelings of having brushed by a killer, yet not know who could do this—or if they’d be back—overtakes both her dreams and her waking moments, thwarting her perception of reality.

Then a lawyer calls. Vivianne has left her a house—a looming estate tucked away in the Swedish woods. The place her grandfather died, suddenly. A place that has housed a dark past for over fifty years.

Eleanor. Her steadfast boyfriend, Sebastian. Her reckless aunt, Veronika. The lawyer. All will go to this house of secrets, looking for answers. But as they get closer to bringing the truth to light, they’ll wish they had never come to disturb what rests there.

A heart-thumping, relentless thriller that will shake you to your core, The Resting Place is an unforgettable novel of horror and suspense. 

Note – Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This is the second Camilla Sten book I’ve read. I read The Lost Village last month and it was a decent read. I wanted to give her another try. 

In truth – I didn’t love it. It started out all mysterious and eerie. The timelines flipped back and forth from the past to present and back again. In the beginning, it was hard to know who was who – I got a little lost in the introduction of the character Anushka. 

The spooky atmosphere starts to build immediately as Eleanor and her boyfriend, Sebastian, reach Solhoga, the abandoned family mansion in the woods. Floorboards creak, a dumb waiter has a mind of its own, shadows appear in the woods and doors open by themselves. The main character has prosopagnosia (face blindness) which adds to the intensity of the story. You can clearly see the two storylines racings heading towards an intersection. Clearly, the author wants us to think the house is haunted and tries to write it as a character on its own. 

Unfortunately, it fell a little flat to me. The storm that cuts Eleanor and her party off from all civilization seems a little contrived. The characters were uninteresting and over-dramatic. There were a few loose ends that left me with question – like Vivianne’s background. It’s hinted at but never really explained. The relationship between her and Anushka is weird and unexplainable. The family dynamic was really disjointed. Sebastian was condescending and commonplace. I didn’t buy that he cared even a little for Eleanor. 

The macabre ending was predictable and uninteresting.

I will say that Sten’s writing style, her use of vocabulary is stunning. She’s descriptive and fluid. She’s detailed without losing you in the detail and is adept at creating a tangible atmosphere.  

Overall, I wanted to love this but I didn’t. However, I’m still a fan of Camilla Sten and eagerly await what she’s got in store for us next.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Room in the Attic

By Louise Douglas

A child who does not know her name…

In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl. An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor. The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, who the staff name Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.

Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…

In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage, Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever. There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.

Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…

All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.

Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls? And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…

Note – Thanks to Netgalley and Boldwood Books for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This book opens with a BANG! It’s got a scary opening hook that draws you in immediately and doesn’t really let go until the very end. 

As a lover of gothic ghost stories, this one is pretty good. Told in dual time, the author starts in the present, then flips back and forth between 1993 and 1903 unraveling the mystery of a young woman and child washed up on the shore and brought to All Hallows Asylum/Boarding School. 

It’s 1993 and Lewis Tyler is a young teenage boy still mourning the loss of his mother when his father, an emotionally challenged man, and his new wife decide to send Lewis to All Hallows Boarding School in the hopes of turning him from his goth ways. So, right off the bat, we’re emotionally involved. Lewis is rejected, unwanted and discarded. Once at school, he meets up with Isak, another rejected teenage boy, and together they begin to weather the hauntings of All Hallows. 

Then we go back in time to 1903 where the mystery begins with the arrival of a young woman and small child at All Hallows back when it was used as an asylum. We meet Nurse Emma Everdene who assumes care of the child and becomes very attached to her. In order to keep the child safe from other asylum inmates, Emma and the child, Harriet, are kept sequestered in an attic room directly above where Lewis and Isak’s room is. As Emma’s own story unfolds, we discover she also is an outcast, thrown away by her parents at a time when “unruly, free-thinking” women were put in asylums as punishment until they learned to be respectable. 

The story leads us to events that took place on Boxing Day 1903 which results in a skeleton Lewis finds on the grounds in 1993. Lewis and Isak take to solving the mystery as they make an attempt to change the past. 

Several themes are going on here. The first is abandonment with the main characters of Lewis, Isak and Emma all being abandoned by their parents in one form or another. Individuality is another theme. Back in 1903, patients were brought in and those with their faculties were quickly stripped of them, along with their hair, clothes and anything else that defined them. The same happened to Lewis in 1993. He arrives fully in goth gear where quick judgments are made against him. He is forced to discard his goth attire and given a uniform while his hair is cut short, stripping away his own identity. Grief is another theme. Both Lewis and Isak have lost their mums unexpectedly. Emma lost her child. All parties are struggling to recover. Last is the theme of isolation and the result it can have on a sane mind. Douglas explores this fully with the character of Emma as she and Harriet are isolated from the rest of the asylum and how that thwarts and plays with her definition of reality. I really love how the author writes these as history repeating itself. It’s almost like it’s an effect of being at All Hallows. 

The scare factor is decent. After the opening scare, it’s not a huge theme nor are there a lot of jump scares but there is a creepiness steeped deep in the story and its eeriness is enough to leave you sleeping with the lights on. The story does slow up but only in a few places and it doesn’t last long. I was concerned about that since there’s 100 chapters to this book. 

Overall, I’d recommend it as a good Halloween read. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Bright Side Running Club

By Josie Lloyd

When Keira first receives her breast cancer diagnosis, she never expects to end up joining a running group with three women she’s only just met. Totally blind-sided, all she can think about is how she doesn’t want to tell her family or step back from work. Nor does she want to be part of a group of fellow cancer patients. Cancer is not her club.

And yet it’s running – hot, sweaty, lycra-clad running in the company of brilliant, funny women all going through treatment – that unexpectedly gives Keira the hope she so urgently needs. Because Keira will not be defined by the C-word. And now, with the Cancer Ladies’ Running Club cheering her on, she is going to reclaim everything: her family, her identity, and her life.

One step at a time.

Moving, uplifting and full of hope, this is a beautifully crafted novel about love, family and the power of finding your tribe.

Note – Thank you to Netgalley and Alcove Press for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Trying to be strong in the face of a cancer diagnosis – could I do it? This is the question I asked myself over and over as I read this book. This story is heartwarming, maddening, thrilling, thought-provoking and resolute in its endeavor to describe the journey one woman goes on after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a powerful story centering on the strength of women and yet doesn’t get bogged down overpowering feminist themes.

Although not written as an autobiography, the author infuses her own cancer journey into Keira’s story, giving the reader an inside view into what happens when one is catapulted into Cancer World. For me, this was a highly emotional journey even though I’ve never lost anyone to cancer. All five stages of grief are skillfully woven throughout the story as Keira navigates this diagnosis. We see the effect not only on her and her mental state but also on those around her. We see her break and fall, fail and flail and get back up using the support and love of those around her. She even leans on those who use her illness to try to destroy her. 

While Lloyd keeps our attention and focus on Keira, she also gives us a glimpse into what’s going on in the lives of those around her. Her husband, Tom, is maddening at times and seems unsupportive yet cannot overcome the deep, intense love he has for his wife. Her children, Tilly, Jacob and Bea each define their new roles within their home unit with all the difficulty and rebellion and fierce love for their mum appropriate to their ages. We see how the members of the Bright Side Running Club all cope with cancer in their way – choosing or not choosing to talk with those closest to them about their illness. And finally, we see her business partner attempt to use the opportunity for their own selfish gain – which is frustrating in the very least but it lends to Keira’s mental and emotional state as she sees how cancer changes her. 

The end is a bittersweet triumph of sacrifice, love and tenacity as these women are determined to overcome. I absolutely cried, laughed and cheered. I was on the edge of my seat as the final showdown came between Keira and Lorna and Pierre. I rejoiced with these women and wished them well as I closed the book, having finished it one box of tissues later. 

One does not need to be intimately acquainted with cancer in order to get something out of this story. The emotional attachment will be instant and immediate. I highly recommend this book and now am off to see what other books of Josie Lloyd’s I can find. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rock Paper Scissors

By Alice Feeney

Think you know the person you married? Think again…

Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts – paper, cotton, pottery, tin – and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

The hook line for the synopsis is “think you know the person you married? Think again…”. That’s really the whole theme of this book. If you think you know what the story might be about, think again. If you think you know who the characters are, think again. All this ‘thinking again’ that happened while reading this book took me on one of the wildest rides I’ve had in a long time. 

After reading a few paranormal books, I’d actually decided on some family drama for my next read. I probably should have looked for something lighter, to be honest. I thought this might be a little lighter, a little more thought-provoking, perhaps some gritty characters that look deep inside themselves to find their soul….yeah…that wasn’t this book. 

In the beginning, it was a little slow. There was a nice hook to draw you in but when the letters start, it felt a little whiny. Both Adam and Amelia are really self-serving at this point in their marriage. Neither knows why they are still in it but they have this opportunity to make one last ditch effort after Amelia wins a free weekend at a getaway in Scotland. 

As someone who’s been married for ten years and then divorced, there was a lot in the letters the wife wrote that resonated with me, right down to losing their baby. The emptiness and sadness that engulfed her was very real. The fading away of love and how comfortable two people can get in something that’s so completely broken, always grasping at straws and yet still able to somewhat sleep at night. The language between the two felt very tangible and very evident of a relationship destined to fail. 

Then the fun started! The creepiness, the whispers, the eerie “housekeeper” who lived in the cottage down the lane…I couldn’t put it down and yet I didn’t want to read anymore. The twists and turns catapulting the reader to such an ending – every time I thought the story was over and I knew who everyone was and what they had done, there was one more chapter blowing my mind. 

The resolution left me breathless and almost wanting more. It begs the question of how can these characters possibly trust anyone ever again and moreover, how can we as readers ever trust them again. I closed the book wondering who was the bad guy and who was the good guy. And then I reached for my own inhaler! 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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The Keepers of Metsan Valo

By Wendy Webb

The spirits of Nordic folklore come calling in this entrancing tale of family secrets and ancient mysteries by the #1 Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Haunting of Brynn Wilder.

In Metsan Valo, her family home on Lake Superior, Anni Halla’s beloved grandmother has died. Among her fond memories, what Anni remembers most vividly is her grandmother’s eerie yet enchanting storytelling. By firelight she spun tall tales of spirits in the nearby forest and waters who could heal—or harm—on a whim. But of course those were only stories…

The reading of the will now occasions a family reunion. Anni and her twin brother, their almost otherworldly mother, and relatives Anni hasn’t seen in forever—some with good reason—are all brought back together under one roof that strains to hold all their tension. But it’s not just Annie’s family who is unsettled. Whispers wind through the woods. Laughter bursts from bubbling streams. Raps from unseen hands rupture on the walls. Fireflies swarm and nightmares stir. With each odd occurrence, Anni fears that her return has invited less a welcoming and more a warning.

When another tragedy strikes near home, Anni must dive headfirst into the mysterious happenings to discover the truth about her home, her family, and the wooded island’s ancient lore. Plunging into the past may be the only way to save her family from whatever bedevils Metsan Valo.

I’m no stranger to Wendy Webb’s books. I’ve read them all. So when I was given a change to read the eARC of this book by NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing (in exchange for an honest review), I jumped at the chance. I read the whole book in under 24 hours. 

This book took me by surprise. I’m used to high levels of creepiness, dark corners, shadows taking on a life of their own and weird dolls with insane smiles on their faces. Wendy Webb knows how to write an intensely dark novel with enough scare to keep you up at night. 

So you can imagine my surprise to find not a whole lot of that in this book. The story was good – really good. There are some eerie moments and some minor shivers down the spine but nothing to what I’m used to coming from this author. I’m not going to lie when I say I was a bit disappointed. There is a bit of a supernatural element to it along with a fair amount of folklore but the scare factor wasn’t there at all. 

That being said, the folklore and antiquity of this family was nicely written. As with most Wendy Webb books, the house is its own character and you’re left with a few questions here and there. You also really get to know the Halle family and experience their nuances and get to dig deep into their relationships.

This story is about family. It’s about family history, particularly the Halla family history. It’s about ancient stories laced in the supernatural whose magic has survived the generations. It’s about a young girl stepping into the role she was born to play superseding those that came before her and taking the reins of an ancient magic that surrounds her home. It’s about the folklore weaved in and out of her past and moving her into her future. 

And it’s about forgiveness, love and the ability to overlook the flaws we see in those close to us. 

One thing I really loved was the way characters and places from Wendy Webb’s previous stories were laced throughout this book. It felt like a little “thank you” to all of us who’ve read all of her previous books. I almost felt like I was coming home to visit some of my favorite haunts of Wharton. That was a really nice surprise and I loved every bit of it. 

If you’re looking for a traditional ghost story, this book isn’t it. If you’re looking for dark and sinister, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a light read with some mild shivers and a quick read, this book is for you. 

Awakened

By Ciara Duggan

After losing her parents in an accident only she survived, Hannah is desperate for answers. Haunted by the events of that tragic night, she struggles to move on, yearning for some deeper truth about her loss.

But when it comes time to turn a new page and move cross country for college, she vows to leave the past behind. After all, Bellcliff University is a thousand miles away from the ghosts nipping at her heels.

Yet when Hannah accidentally awakens a handsome witch from a hidden cave near campus, she realizes he isn’t the only thing stirring out of slumber. Hannah has roused all magic…including the devil herself.

As if spells, curses, and college jitters weren’t enough, this witch claims to know Hannah from four centuries prior—and their connection is more than casual.

Thrust into a world of sorcery and monsters, Hannah must fight to keep the magic she’d unleashed from claiming a price far too steep for her to pay. 

Thanks to Netgalley for this eARC in exchange for this honest review. 

I’m not quite sure what I expected when I began to read this book. I think I was looking for a really great magical story. What I got was witches and vampires. Had I read this book back in the days of Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood (Sookie!), I might be writing a different review. But it’s 2021 and I think fantasy stories have evolved beyond just witches and vampires which is why this book was a miss for me. 

On the plus side, I think this was a great effort by the author. The writing style and the pace of the book was nicely done. It wasn’t too long and the story didn’t really linger in one place for longer than necessary. 

On the minus side, I’m not a fan of reincarnation stories, or stories with vampires. I did enjoy the witches and the attempt to create a type of lore with the behind-the-real-world-world-building but overall, it felt a little deflated. The love interest didn’t interest me. It all felt…well…a little too young. 

That being said, I do hope to see more by this author. I may not have loved the story but I always will praise a good attempt. 

⭐ ⭐ 

House of Salt and Sorrow

By: Erin Craig

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next. 

I am so drawn to tragic stories set on or by the sea. As a child, I fell in love with the original story of The Little Mermaid. Her fate, so painful, really ignited in my heart of love stories like this. When I first came upon this book, I didn’t know it was retelling. I often say I’m not a fan of them but…well…maybe I am! 

This book has a little bit of everything I love in it; set by the sea, princesses and fairy tales, a touch of Greek mythology, ghosts, mysteries and a magic curse. I picked it up and was hard pressed to put it down (stupid real life! stupid job!) but I did. All in all, it only took three days to read so it’s a fast read. There’s no slow moments in this story. 

Now, the original story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses was a bit of a snore fest, to be honest. It was a delightful surprise to see the author embellish and twist this into something gothic and ghostly while keeping the thread of the original story intact. 

There are some notable themes here. Probably the most obvious one is grief. The book opens to the funeral of Eulalie, the latest sister to die. The main character, Annaleigh, struggles to process the losses of all her sisters throughout the book. Her grief deepens as she comes to believe foul play took her sisters and not fate. We feel Annaleigh’s loss and heartbreak quite keenly, especially when two more sisters are lost later on in the book.

It was quite a challenge to keep all the characters organized in my brain. The author helps by breaking up the sisters a bit, having the “triplets” of Rosalie, Lenore and Ligeia and then the “graces” of Verity, Mercy and Honor. Between the girls and so many other supporting characters, I would suggest reading this with a notebook to help keep everyone straight. However, each character stands on their own, having their own voice, so to speak. I enjoyed and felt attached to them all. 

There is a love interest for Annaleigh and by the climax of the story, we question whether or not he is real as Annaleigh realizes she’s been tricked and played with by the evil Kosamaras, the harbinger of Madness. Cassius plays the part of the love interest nicely without distracting from the main story or taking over and becoming the hero. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it was a little predictable in places and while the love interest didn’t take away from the story in any way, it really didn’t add a whole lot to it. The world building was incredible and the setting was beautifully written. The characters were believable and relatable without them being too much out of their own time or element. The gothic, ghostly elements were all there for me to make this a great read on a chilly, rainy night. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and a great introduction to this author. I look forward to reading more by Erin Craig. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐