Two Creepy Books: “Turn of the Key” and “The Silent Companion”- keep your lights on when reading these

Sorry to have been so lax in my reviewing lately.  I hope to start the fall with more reviews and more followers! Let’s start with two gothic nightmares: Turn of the Key– a modern gothic, and The Silent Companion, a traditional gothic horror tale.

large

 

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is what I think of as a modern gothic. It takes place in current day and uses technology to flesh out the spooky factors. A twist on the classic story, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, this modern day Nanny with her own agenda takes a job at Heatherbrae House located in the remote Scottish highlands. The house is an uneasy blend of traditional manor home and starkly modern house with all the technologies a millennial desires. The house is loaded with cameras and security systems along with a child minding systems named Happy. Some of the technology is pretty desirable, such as voice activated showers set to your own preferences, but on the other hand, the fact that your boss may be able to see you in that shower is less than optimal.

The nanny, a young and not so nice woman named Rowan Caine, tells the story as letters to a lawyer from jail where she is being held for murder. We learn she applied for and got a job as a nanny for an uber rich couple in Scotland. She meets the sweet children Maddie, Ellie and baby Petra. The parents are quirky and not in the book much since they are always away at their prestigious jobs. The kids hint about ghosts and secrets and show Rowan the background of the house and the stories surrounding it are not as pleasant as she first thought. I thought the author did a good job with the voices of the children although she does get bogged down in the beginning of the book about the daily routines. I think this part of the book could have been shortened quite a bit. I know the author probably loves being a mother but I don’t need to hear about every little bit of child caring. It was dull as, well, being a babysitter.

The house starts to show itself to Rowan bit by bit. Footsteps where there shouldn’t be. A poison garden. Items appear and disappear. Is the house haunted? By who? And why? What secrets do the children know? Why is Maddie acting oddly? Why did all the other nannies leave? What is going on in Heatherbrae House?

I read this book straight through the night. Except for the boring details of child rearing, I found it an interesting mix of modern and classic gothic horror. Some twists were not needed and actually one was a disappointment to me, since it has been done a million times before and not really needed in this story.  The ending was a little overdone, I think, and I knew who the murderer was before Rowan did. It just needs a little more pulling together and editing to be a top notch modern Gothic.

Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC of this novel. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

silent companions

Next, I read a traditional gothic story called The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. This book was something else. It was scary, moved along quickly, and bloody. This is not a book for the squeamish. It is loaded with gore and murder and horrible events. And I loved it.

Young widow Elsie inherits her husband’s family’s gothic estate called “The Bridge”. She moves in to find the house and the staff a complete disaster. Her husband’s mousy cousin also moves in with her. One day they find a wooden painted figure- a silent companion- that resembles Elsie herself.  Many surprises greet the two women: more companions, secrets rumbling from the staff, the history of the house, and a diary written from a relative of her husband back in the 1600’s that gives some clues as to the present events.

The book is written in three different voices: one from a doctor treating a recovering Elsie who was burned in a fire and recovering in a hospital. Did she set the fire? Did she murder someone? Why?

Next is the past voice of Elsie herself describing what happening to bring about the events hinted at by the present day voice. Lastly, is the long ago diary of Anne who tells the tale of what happened in that house to set the horror started.

An early eighteenth century dummy board from the Great Chamber at Trerice, Cornwall

This book stayed with me for quite a while in an unsettling way. Much like dolls can be creepy, I found these silent companions to be odd and weird and definitely would be frightening to find in a dark corner. I found several for sale on line for thousands of dollars. They are collectibles (not for me!). I bet the author saw these wooden pieces and found them as unsettling as I do and wrote a book around them. 1171015-2  I highly recommend this book for all lovers of gothic horror. I give it 4 out of 5 stars, one star taken away for a little over done with the gore. I found this book at the library.

Well folks, sorry again for being away for so long. I am back and reading like crazy.



			

“The Girl Without Skin”- A Nordic Noir!

51PDXLiUM9L._SY346_  I love Nordic Crime mysteries. The first one I read was Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg years ago. Then came the The Girl With.. series of books by Steig Larsson and a whole new world of crime fiction blossomed.

This is the first in a series of Nordic Noir books set in Greenland. The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo and translated by Charlotte Barslund is set in modern day Greenland featuring a tormented journalist named Matthew Cave. He is assigned a story that could be the story of a lifetime: the find of a mummified body in the ice that could possibly be a Viking.

Instead of a straight forward find, Matthew finds himself in the middle of a brutal crime investigation that could be linked to more brutal crimes from years ago. He is joined in his mission to seek the truth with a native woman named Tupaarnaq. She may be linked to both the murders from the past and the current day crimes.

The story excels at setting the Greenland scene: the sights, smells, the weather and the politics of the place. As a non-Greenlander, I found all of this interesting to learn. It is nothing as I imagined Greenland to be. The names of the people and places can be tricky to remember since they are all foreign to me, but all in all, I enjoyed reading this book.

The only quibble I have is I am tired of books titled: “The Girl..”. Stop this! It is repetitive and getting to be annoying. It has been done a million times now. Stop. The other issue I have is it seems to be close to the Steig Larsson books, with a tattooed female lead and a damaged journalist. The Larsson books weren’t written that long ago and I am probably not the only reader who wishes that others would stop riffing on that tune.

I will give this novel a 3 out of 5 stars for sense of place and for the quality of the translation. Thanks to NetGalley for a chance to read the ARC.



“Montauk” – a book review

Harrison-Cover-Art-940x1430     Since it is summer, I thought I would dive into some beach reads. Beach reads for me are the kind of books I don’t have to think much about yet keep me from falling asleep and getting a sunburn. Montauk by Nicola Harrison does a decent job as a light summer read.

As the title suggests, Montauk takes place at the summer resort town of Montauk, New York, in 1938, when it was the place to go if you were a rich and entitled member of the New York elite. We meet Beatrice Bordeaux or Bea, a country girl from Pennsylvania who married a rich and handsome man named Harry. Harry wants to invest in the new resort town, so sends Bea out there for the summer to mix and mingle with the other wealthy wives while he flits back and forth from Montauk to the city for business- monkey business and the real thing. Bea struggles to fit in with the female pecking order of high society but feels more at home with the working people who service the resort.

She finds out what her husband is doing in the city and falls for the lighthouse keeper who is (of course) kind and hunky. What should she do? Stay with her rich husband or cling to the down to earth folks?

The book tries to capture some of the character of the resort town and the beauty of the area. It could have used a little more flavor of the times, I thought and less of the typical melodrama. I found the book uneven in places, with all the action at the very end of the book, as though the writer didn’t know how to wrap up the different plot points. The plot itself is well worn, and has been done a hundred times before. Naive wife finds out about cheating husband, falls for kind but poor man with issues and complications happen. There was one part that did surprise me, but I will never write spoilers in my review, so you will have to read it for yourself!

If you are looking for an historical beach read give this one a chance. I rate it 3 out of 5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

“On The Hunt for the Haunted” – a paranormal investigation book review

on-the-hunt-for-the-haunted  On The Hunt for the Haunted- Searching for Proof of the Paranormal by Robin Strom was a fun book to read for this believer in ghosts. I lived in a haunted house, so I come from a position of belief, anyways. However, I usually laugh at the so-called ‘paranormal investigation’ TV shows. They are obviously staged and I used to watch them to catch them out! However, Robin Strom is not that type of investigator and I appreciated her seriousness and approach to ghost hunting in this book.

First, I must say I realize the book was an ARC from NetGalley and Llewellyn Publications and I appreciate that. However, I feel it is a disservice to the author that the book was presented with many formatting issues that made it difficult, and in some spots, impossible, to read. I hope the author gets a new company for future publications. In the parts of the book I could read, her skill at telling a tale with a sense of humor shines through.

It was refreshing to read that Robin does not believe that everything is haunted and she always does multiple investigations on site along with research. She also doesn’t use ‘psychics’ on her investigations, either. She presents what she and her team experience-or not- in a straight forward and clear manner. She also presents her theories on how places -or people- become haunted and what equipment she uses or doesn’t use, and why.

I do have to take some points away for the boring transcript style results she uses for some of the cases. I feel the author could have presented the final thoughts in a more interesting way. While I was reading the book, I could sense the author’s great sense of humor and I wish the book contained more of her witty thoughts.

The other point I hope the author addresses in upcoming books (maybe this was corrected in the published edition-I hope so) was how did the author get interested in ghost hunting? She should start the book off with this, I feel. She makes a brief mention of watching “Ghost Hunters” on TV as inspiration.  I used to like this show, too, until I saw a so-called apparition in one of the many jail investigations wearing sneakers !

Overall, this is a good book for aspiring ghost hunters or to read about ‘real’ live haunted houses. I did not find it scary at all, but then again, I lived it.

I rate this book 3/5 stars.

 

“The Book of Boy” – A Wonderful Library Find

y648  Sometimes I am lucky and find a wonderful book on the public library website to discover and read. The Book of Boy by Catherine Murdock is my find of the week.

First, here is a list of awards this children’s book has won so far: A Newbery Honor Book * Booklist Editors’ Choice * BookPage Best Books * Chicago Public Library Best Fiction * Horn Book Fanfare * Kirkus Reviews Best Books * Publishers Weekly Best Books * Wall Street Journal Best of the Year * An ALA Notable Book. Wow. In my opinion, it deserves all these awards. I would have LOVED to read this book as a kid. As an adult, I still loved it.

Boy (yes, that is his name) is a misfit, an outcast youngster with beautiful curly hair, a sweet face and a hump on his back which makes him a target for vicious people. Boy lives in Medieval times in a small village. He can talk to and understand animals and lives a solitary life until he meets a mysterious man named Secondus. Secondus sees how agile Boy is and how clever he is, and hires him on as a servant to find the relics of Saint Peter all across Europe.

Boy and Secondus and several animal friends they meet along the way run into all kinds of adventures and mischief as they search for the relics. What Secondus wants to do with the relics is one mystery Boy tries to solve, while along the way the reader (and Boy) find out more about his background and Secondus’s. Boy thinks that finding the relics will make him like other boys and does his best to help Secondus even risking his own life. Boy learns about life outside his tiny village and what is important to him.

Both Boy and Secondus are interesting characters and the setting is wonderful to read about. It is clever, not boring, and not childish in any way. I wouldn’t have felt, as a child, like the author was trying to teach me something. But there are several themes presented in the tale which adds a richness to the journey.

The book includes black and white illustrations that add a touch of whimsy to the book. Altogether, this book surprised me by how much I enjoyed it as a middle-aged adult! I hope you give it a chance if my description tempts you to read it.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. Ages 8-12+ is recommended on Amazon but I think younger children could read it too.

“The Stone Circle” – A Book Review

stone-circle  Sorry I have been so lax in doing book reviews. Since I started watching “The Great British Baking Show” on NetFlix, I have been busy baking instead of reading and writing reviews! I promise to be better. An extra six pounds of belly has prompted me to slow down on the carbs a bit!

First, thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read the ARC of one of my favorite murder mystery series; the Dr. Ruth Galloway Mystery books by Elly Griffiths. The Stone Circle is the eleventh book in the series featuring a crime-solving archeologist in England.

In this book, we are back to the old gang of characters at home. In fact, much of this book touches on people and events that happened in the first book, The Crossing Place. If you haven’t read The Crossing Place, I highly recommend you start the series with it. It is probably my favorite book of the series and is the one that kept me waiting for more of Dr. Galloway. You don’t have to read the books in order, but this series is quite like a soap opera of characters with some crime solving and archeology mixed in. The author does a great job reintroducing characters and past events without being boring or taking away from the story.

The Stone Circle takes place on Ruth’s home turf of the north coast of Norfolk, England. Once again, there is an archeological dig which discovers two children inside an ancient stone circle out on the salt-marshes. One is an ancient Bronze age burial. The other rather more recent. DCI Nelson needs to investigate along with his crew that I have grown to love. Another link to the past: the chief archeologist on site is Leif Anderssen, the son of Erik Anderssen, a mysterious man from the first book.

All my favorite characters are in this book: Cathbad is here, but this book has more about his daughter, Maddy. DCI Nelson finds out who the father of his baby is. He and Ruth explore their relationship a little more. Michelle is figuring out her role in her marriage. Frank is moping around Ruth, her daughter is growing up and Shona is back. If you like soap operas you will love this series!

As usual, the investigation is a minor element to the relationships and the spooky atmosphere in the novel, which I don’t mind. This is not a police procedural and the cold case mystery is buried amongst the drama. I did enjoy the archeological facts and explanations in this book which have been missing from some of the earlier ones.

Come to think of it, if you haven’t read The Crossing Place, or the other Ruth Galloway books, don’t start with this one or it will ruin the surprises of the previous books. The Stone Circle answers questions and plot lines from the other books in the series. At times, it seemed repetitive from the other books, but I haven’t read the early ones in quite a while so it didn’t bore me. I do wish the author would stop with the secondary plot line of a stolen baby, however. I knew what was going to happen and who took the baby from the first mention of it.

Altogether, I enjoyed reading this book. The author hasn’t quite managed to capture the magic of the first book but this one comes close. I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Review of “My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge” – a sweet Christian Historical Romance

mhbitbrldpb01012019

Sometimes a sweet and innocent romance is just what I need. This book caught my eye over at NetGalley because of the title. I happen to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This historical novel set during WW1 takes place in the same mountain range but in North Carolina. I was hoping for gentle romance and a glimpse of the special place  I call home.

First, thanks to NetGalley and Barbour Books for letting me read the ARC of this romance novel. I have never read any of Pepper Basham’s books before, but I will again.

My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge by Pepper Basham tells the story of two young people from two different walks of life: innocent mountain girl Laurel McAdams who loves her family and God and who wants to better herself and attend college some day and Jonathan Taylor, a teacher from England, who feels like he failed his family because he wasn’t able to fight in the war (WW1). Mr. Taylor arrives in the tiny mountain town of Maple Springs in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to teach the rural children the basics.

In addition to the culture shock of learning what it is like to live and survive in the harsh mountains, he has to adapt to teaching the children and adults of an insular community that is suspicious of outsiders and set in their backwards ways. He is fascinated by the warmth and love of the McAdams family who supports his efforts, especially Laurel. He also has his brother, preacher Anderson who also lives there, to help him adjust to life there and strengthens his love of God and for Laurel.

Laurel is struggling with family issues and tragedy does occur which only proves her faith is strong and resilient. She helps Jonathan survive and overcome his obstacles and the two find together they can reach their dreams.

I didn’t mind the religion in this book, but for readers who don’t like Christian quotes or ideas, be aware this is definitely Christian romance. This is a ‘clean’ romance; no sex, no swearing. There are ‘adult’ family issues such as drinking and unwed mothers, but they are referred to and not explicit. There is killing of animals (this is the mountains, of course) and the author does address rural living challenges.

The one thing I wish the author had done was use less mountain dialect. It did seem accurate to me but a little overdone and sometimes annoying to read.

Did the author capture the spirit of the mountains? I think she did. I didn’t find anything too outrageous. The author treats the mountain people with dignity, which I greatly appreciated. They are not all ‘Deliverance’ types of people. The mountain people I have met are wary, but once you get their trust, they are funny, warm, and intelligent in a different way from ‘book smarts’.

I rate this Christian historical romance 4 out of 5 stars, one star off for overdone dialect.

 

“The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place”- a Flavia de Luce Mystery Novel #9

the-graves-a-fine-and-private-place-a-flavia-de-luce-mystery-book-9  I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed for you one of my absolute favorite mystery series probably meant for young readers but still one I always put a hold on at my local library.

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley, is the ninth book in the beloved series featuring the renown teen sleuth, Flavia de Luce. I recommend readers unfamiliar with the series start with the first book, a multiple award winner, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, to get meet Miss Flavia. What a girl!

Flavia is not your average British teenager. This book is set in the 1950’s England. Flavia continues to be a prodigy with chemistry and a vast knowledge of poisons. Yes, this girl is a death addict. That said, she loves to use her intelligence to solve murder mysteries along with her family’s man of all trades named Dogger.

In this book, Flavia is on vacation with her sisters and Dogger out in the country after a family tragedy. Of course, she finds a body and many suspicious villagers. She and Dogger spend their vacation delving into the secrets of this little village and its wacky inhabitants. Dogger meets an old flame and Flavia learns more about her sisters and grows up a wee bit.

This book does drag in spots and some characters don’t have a complete arc like the little boy she befriends. The discussions about chemistry and science had me yawning at times but the dialog is witty and spot on and the book makes me look forward to the tenth in the series to learn what will happen to my Flavia.

I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for fans of the series. Otherwise, start with the first book in the series.

 

“Dreyer’s English”-a Must Have for Writers

41Pm3CAptVL._SL300  I may have mentioned it before, but I am also a writer of poems and prose with several published pieces floating around in print and on the internet. I am always looking for writing guides and Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer is a great addition to any writer’s collection of guidebooks. No. On second thought, this is a must-have book for anyone who needs to write for school, for work, or as a writer/craftsperson.

First, thanks to Random House and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review the ARC of this book. It is now available on Amazon and other booksellers.

Mr. Dreyer is a vice president, executive managing editor and the copy chief for Random House. He uses his many years of experience correcting and editing writer’s submissions for one of the biggest publishers in the world. If anyone should know how to construct the proper sentence, it is Mr. Dreyer.

He starts the book with a challenge: go for a week without writing the words “very, rather ,really, quite, and in fact.” I tried it and failed by the second day but am getting rather better at it, really, in fact.

The chapters are well-thought-out and logical. He starts with English rules and when or how to break them. I enjoyed this chapter. I have read various rules and regulations for proper English and Mr. Dreyer helped to clarify the different rules I have come across.

He writes about punctuation (I once took an online class about the comma. Only the comma. It was a six week class and I passed), how to use numbers correctly in writing, foreign words, grammar, misspelled words, his peeves and crotchets (things that really bug him), confusing English rules, proper nouns, what you can get rid of in your writing-he calls trimmables (my writing teacher calls fluff or dust bunnies) and miscellany.

You don’t have to read this book in order. I would leave it on my desk near the computer to check on my pieces before I sent them out for review. There is only so much the spell-checker can do for you. Pick the chapters you need, use it as a reference book, read it again and again in any order.

Writing this review makes me nervous. I have read the book but I need to study it more. What if I am making the mistakes Mr. Dreyer tells us not too? What if this review is full of silly errors he could red-line as the Copy Chief for Random House? I’ll need to go back and read it again!

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

“Roar”- Bite Size Pieces of a Woman’s World

roar-41-2       Over the weekend I finished Roar by Cecelia Ahern. This gem of a book offers bite-sized pieces of everyday events and feelings women of all ages can relate too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

There are thirty micro-fiction pieces in this book, each titled “The Woman Who…”. Some of my favorite stories include: “The Woman Who Was Swallowed Up by the Floor and Who Met Lots of Other Women Down There Too”- a story about a woman giving a presentation with embarrassing results and how she got over her feeling of embarrassment, ” The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband”- what would happen if your husband came back with a money back guarantee and you could trade him in, like a car?, and “The Woman Who Ate Photographs” about a woman who ate her memories to relive them. I loved many more of these stories. I could relate to almost all of them, and I know any woman who reads these will chuckle and nod her head.

These stories are not linked formally, but instead are a snapshot of a single issue women face in each. They can be read all at once, or separately at different times. I like to read this book at work when I can snatch a moment or two of quiet, or in the car, or before I go to bed for a good laugh. They are funny, but they will make you think about how women are faced with little problems all the time and how we can overcome them.

They are not “I hate men” stories but instead are woman-centered with the good and the bad. They are like magical realism feminist micro-fiction with a humorous tone.

I want to thank NetGalley and Hachette Book Group for the chance to read the ARC of this delightful collection of micro-fiction.

I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.