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. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Cottage By The Sea

by Debbie Macomber

Annie Marlow wakes up to a whole new world finding her old one swept away (literally) overnight by an unexpected tragedy. Her grief leads her to return to Oceanside, where she and her family used to vacation when she was younger. The pacific northwest town gives her more than just healing; it’s filled with colorful characters needing her as much as she needs them. In the end, she faces a decision to remain locked in memories of the past or to go and find the strength to create a new future. 

This is my first introduction to anything by Debbie Macomber. After reading this book, I researched her and discovered more than just books but Hallmark movies based upon her books. I had no idea. I picked up this book to read after marathon-reading Wendy Webb’s ghost stories and needing something a little lighter and less frightening. This book didn’t disappoint. 

Death and resurrection are in this book. Not only does the book open with unexpected tragedy, it closes with a resurrection of sorts. As someone who lost her mom three years ago to tragedy, I easily related to all Annie was going through in the aftermath of her own situation. The grief was very real but the torment of what could have and should have been said and done but wasn’t was acute. Like Annie, I also faced people in my life who needed me to just “move on”. Not nearly as easy as it seems and Ms. Macomber highlights this theme beautifully. I felt every hurt, every regret, every ache. 

Having recently moved away from my mom’s hometown of many years, I also experienced the coming alive again that a new home and a new town brings. That was really special to read especially since many authors gloss over the aftermath of a loss a little too quickly. 

The theme of grief is very real in this book yet, I didn’t find it to be heavy. Each character had something to grieve and leave behind them and while Annie wasn’t necessarily their savior, she seemed to be a catalyst for all of them moving forward in their lives. 

I had a hard time with Annie’s friends from her hometown. The constant badgering and telling her to get back to her life was super annoying. No one needs unsupportive friends like that. 

I would recommend this book. It’s an easy read. I really loved Keaton. I loved the emergence of Mellie. It was beautifully and heartbreakingly written. I almost liked her more than I liked Annie. 

Read this book. You’ll find yourself wanting your own seaside cottage.

My Rating – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐