Book Review: The Spirit Engineer by A. J. West

The Spirit Engineer book on iPad surrounded by red and black books, a black skull, a red rose, a ouija planchette, a red candle, and a crystal ball

The Spirit EngineerTitle: The Spirit Engineer
Author: A. J. West
Genre: Thriller, Historical Fiction, Horror
Date of Publication: October 7, 2021
Publisher: Duckworth Books


Synopsis

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism in the form of seances that attempt to contact the spirits of loved ones lost at sea.

William is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sat around the circle something happens that places doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

This early 20th century gothic set in Northern Ireland contains all the mystery and intrigue one might expect from a Sarah Waters novel. Deftly plotted with echoes of The Woman in Black, readers will be thrilled to discover West’s chilling prose.

Based on the true story of William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters that include Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunting tale that will keep readers guessing until the very end.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

While this is a historical fiction, it’s easy to read with a flowing, lyrical writing style that captures the essence of the time, but isn’t hard to follow. In the beginning, the narrative reflects a dry humor which is exacerbated by William’s curmudgeonly attitude. He seems like an old man with the way that he’s constantly searching for his pipe and how little he can relate to his children. If it were modern times, he would be the guy standing on his porch, shrieking at the neighbourhood children to “get off my lawn!” Then, it’s revealed that he’s thirty-four. I laughed out loud at that point, and while I realize that people aged a little faster back then, he is definitely an old soul.

This humour didn’t detract from the tension prevalent from the very first pages. There are quite a few surprising turns of events in the storyline, and I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen. One thing that disappointed me slightly was the fact that Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, while mentioned on the back of the book, don’t show up until very far into the book. I understand that their names were likely a selling point for the novel, and eeeverything is about marketing these days (groan) but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that they didn’t play a larger role in the plot. That in no way affects my rating or my review, because I understand that the author and his story has nothing to do with this. It’s just the publishers and their marketing of the book! Continue reading “Book Review: The Spirit Engineer by A. J. West”

Book Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback's a Witch Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Series: The Witches of Thistle Grove #1
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, LGBT+
Date of Publication: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Berkley


Synopsis

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper.

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in?

But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Payback’s a Witch is a romantic fantasy with delightful worldbuilding of the ethereal quality. The novel follows Emmy as she returns home and comes to terms with who she is and where she comes from. Emmy is an intriguing, multi-layered character, who at times is quite frustrating, but she remains relatable throughout. 

The writing style is the primary focal point of this novel. The book is chock-full of clever lines and insightful remarks about the world that the author has created. The prose is heavily laden with worldbuilding and imagery. The book uses flowery, at times old-fashioned syntax, but it’s nicely paired with modern expressions, such as “nasty woman” and talks of being “chaotically neutral”. Unfortunately, Emmy’s witty internal observations and beautifully implemented flashbacks do come at the expense of pacing, and the read is quite slow and heavy with description. This book is definitely for those who read for language and setting.

Continue reading “Book Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper”

Book Review: Unperfect by Susie Tate

Picture of the book Unperfect on top of an open book, with a stack of grey books on the top right, a burning blue candle on the top left, and two white roses

58868872._SY475_Title: Unperfect
Author: Susie Tate
Genre: Romance
Date of Publication: October 15, 2021
Publisher: Self-published


Synopsis

When Mia shows up for the interview at a well-known architecture firm, she only has 27p, a squashed loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to her name. She needs this job. Even if she is scared to death of the owner of the company.

Max has made a name for himself as “that grumpy northern architect off Grand Designs”, after he told Kevin McCloud that designing affordable, environmentally friendly homes “wasn’t rocket science” and that most of the other projects featured on the programme were for “reight poncy bastads who want to spend a grand on a shite tap.” It turned out that the whole gorgeous-but-rough-around-the-edges-Yorkshire-man vibe was just what the country was looking for – the episode had gone viral and Max was the new, extremely reluctant, pin-up of the building industry.

But to Mia, huge, grumpy men weren’t sexy, they were simply terrifying. She knows from experience that even men of average size can be dangerous. If she wasn’t so desperate, she’d run. She’s used to running. Running away is Mia’s special talent, together with invisibility – survival techniques she’s perfected over the years. So, she’ll put up with Max and his moods, ignore him calling her a teen emo freak (he’s not to know that her black hair used to be honey blonde or her heavy eyeliner isn’t by choice) and just bloody well jog on. Just try to survive. Try to hide.

It’s easy to hide when nobody really sees you. But what happens when Max finally opens his eyes?

Unperfect a full-length contemporary, enemies to lovers, office romance.

Please be aware – occasional swearing and trigger warning for domestic violence. 

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Unperfect is the classic story of a woman on the run who falls in love, which just so happens to be up there as my number one favourite romance genre trope. I’ve read as many books with this trope as I can find, and I was so excited to see this brand new novel on Netgalley featuring this trope prominently as the main plotline. Be still my heart!

What makes this book really special is the characters. I absolutely love when the hero and the heroine aren’t automatically attracted to each other. There’s no insta love for Max and Mia! On the contrary. Because Mia has dyed her hair black and has been living on the run, she’s lost a lot of weight and resembles a goth (which, in this case, is a bad thing). Max, true to his blunt and harsh personality, rudely points this out in front of her. Despite a rocky start, their romance is incredibly sweet and gradual–a true slow-burn with all the feels. Mia is fragile, yet resilient. Max is gruff on the outside with a soft and gooey interior. It’s clear that they’re perfect for each other, and I loved watching their story unfold.

Continue reading “Book Review: Unperfect by Susie Tate”

Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street book surrounded by black leaves, a black skull, and a little black raven

cover218770-mediumTitle: The Last House on Needless Street
Author: Catriona Ward
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Tor Nightfire


Synopsis

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This book is a literary masterpiece. The writing is quite phenomenal. First, we’re introduced to Tim, a strange man who lives in a strange house. It’s almost immediately apparent that he’s not quite right in the head. The way that he describes people and the world around him and what he’s doing seems a little… off. And then he refers to his “mommy”, and that seals the deal. There’s something quite odd about this man–but is he dangerous? Is he a killer? 

The other characters in this book are just as fascinating, but I fell in love with Olivia, the cat, almost instantaneously. Having the point of view of a cat is so unique, and I loved her attitude and the way that she, too, saw the world in a unique perspective that is reflected in her language and the way that she communicates to the reader.

The author is the master of the show-don’t-tell plot device. We’re shown how odd Ted is, rather than told it. We experience the same disorientation that he feels at certain parts in the story. 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward”

Book Review: The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates

The Haunting of Leigh Harker book photo

The Haunting ofTitle: The Haunting of Leigh Harker
Author: Darcy Coates 
Genre: Horror, thriller
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press


Synopsis

Sometimes the dead reach back…

Leigh Harker’s quiet suburban home was her sanctuary for more than a decade, until things abruptly changed. Curtains open by themselves. Radios turn off and on. And a dark figure looms in the shadows of her bedroom door at night, watching her, waiting for her to finally let down her guard enough to fall asleep.

Pushed to her limits but unwilling to abandon her home, Leigh struggles to find answers. But each step forces her towards something more terrifying than she ever imagined.

A poisonous shadow seeps from the locked door beneath the stairs. The handle rattles through the night and fingernails scratch at the wood. Her home harbours dangerous secrets, and now that Leigh is trapped within its walls, she fears she may never escape.

Do you think you’re safe?

You’re wrong.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This novel gripped me with horror from the very first sentence. Coates combines metaphors and grotesque imagery in a way that immediately sets the reader on edge. 

The haunting of Leigh Harker is creepy in part because of its uniqueness. The strange occurrences that are happening in Leigh’s house are unlike your typical haunting. I can’t go into specifics without spoilers, but the way that the “something” that appears in her doorway looks and acts is all so peculiar, and because of that, there’s a fresh level of terror associated with it.

All this said, the terror grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s one horrifying scene after another, and there came a point where I became a little numb to it all. I started to notice not-so-minor plot holes. But then, there was the twist. 

I can’t say much about the twist without spoiling everything. But it’s a twist that simultaneously slowed the horror and added a new level of horror. The twist explained away the plot holes that I’d been rigorously making note of. A novel that was once just straight up chills and thrills without much depth beyond that became much more intriguing, the twist adding a layer of mystery to the plot.

Unfortunately, the very final twist wasn’t as good as the twist that happened fairly early on in the novel. It came somewhat out of left field, and wasn’t as well supported by the rest of the storyline. 

All this said, this is a creepy and beautifully written novel, worth reading for the immersive writing style and that first massive, jaw-dropping reveal that forced me to stay up all night reading until I reached the last page. 

The Haunting of Leigh Harker Book Photo

*Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the ebook to review*

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: The Necklace by Matt Witten

The Necklace book photo

The Necklace book cover

Title: The Necklace
Author: Matt Witten
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing


Synopsis

The clock ticks down in a heart-pounding crusade for justice

Susan Lentigo’s daughter was murdered twenty years ago—and now, at long last, this small-town waitress sets out on a road trip all the way from Upstate New York to North Dakota to witness the killer’s execution.

On her journey she discovers shocking new evidence that leads her to suspect the condemned man is innocent—and the real killer is still free. Even worse, her prime suspect has a young daughter who’s at terrible risk. With no money and no time to spare, Susan sets out to uncover the truth before an innocent man gets executed and another little girl is killed.

But the FBI refuses to reopen the case. They—and Susan’s own mother—believe she’s just having an emotional breakdown. Reaching deep, Susan finds an inner strength she never knew she had. With the help of two unlikely allies—a cynical, defiant teenage girl and the retired cop who made the original arrest—Susan battles the FBI to put the real killer behind bars. Will she win justice for the condemned man—and her daughter—at last?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

The Necklace is a fast-paced thriller that you won’t be able to put down. The story is told from the point of view of Susan, a woman whose seven-year-old daughter was brutally murdered twenty years ago. We get two timelines–one set twenty years ago, when the horrible crime occurred. The second timeline is present day, when the man put behind bars for killing her child is just days away from being executed. Susan has scrounged up just enough money to travel to the execution. This is the day that she’s waited for for twenty years. She should be ecstatic. She should be happy to finally be getting the closure she craves. But a simple piece of evidence sends her reeling. Is it possible that the man who’s being executed in mere days is not guilty?

This story is incredibly fast paced. I could easily tell that the author is ordinarily a writer for TV. The writing style is very direct–with little flowery language or description to bog down the prose. I’m a fast reader, but I can say that any other reader would also be compelled to finish this in one sitting. The novel reads a little like a James Patterson novel–you can’t help but think “One more chapter!” and before you know it, you’re at the climax of the book and there’s no way you’re stopping now. Continue reading “Book Review: The Necklace by Matt Witten”

Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

The Family Plot book in front of true crime shelf

The Family Plot book coverTitle:The Family Plot
Author: Megan Collins
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Atria Books


Synopsis

When a family obsessed with true crime gathers to bury their patriarch, horrifying secrets are exposed upon the discovery of another body in his grave in this chilling novel from the author of Behind the Red Door and The Winter Sister.

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse has a lot to learn when it comes to the real world. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has spent the last several years living on her own, but unable to move beyond her past—especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were sixteen.

With her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house she has avoided for years. But as the rest of the Lighthouse family arrives for the memorial, a gruesome discovery is made: buried in the reserved plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Each member of the family handles the revelation in unusual ways. Her brother Charlie pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister Tate forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic façade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

The Family Plot is an atmospheric psychological thriller perfect for fans of true crime and gothic mysteries. The Lighthouses live in a small town where the gossip mill never stops, and their strange habits never cease to fuel it. The entire family is obsessed with true crime. They have a shrine dedicated to the victims of infamous true crime cases. The children were homeschooled, but their education didn’t follow the state-sanctioned curriculum, and they spent most of their time learning about murder and death. 

The book opens when Dahlia (named after the Black Dahlia), returns home following her father’s sudden death. It’s her first time back in ten years. When she was a teenager, her twin brother went missing. He was presumed to be a runaway, and she’s never stopped looking for him. 

This book is rife with mystery and there are many twists in the plot. It’s clear the author is a murderino (not just because of the book’s dedication), as a lot of the book has a focus on the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of true crimes. Those of us who are familiar with the big cases will recognize a lot of the names that get thrown around, both in the dialogue and in the narrative. 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins”

Book Review: Strange Gods by Alison Kimble

Strange Gods book cover with blanket, book, candle, and black rose

strange godsTitle: Strange Gods 
Author: Alison Kimble
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: July 20, 2021
Publisher: Immortal Works


Synopsis

Spooky arrives at a wilderness boot camp for troubled teens with two suitcases and an ultimatum: either she keeps her head down over the summer or she won’t be allowed home at the end of it. All she wants to do is survive the pyros, bullies, and power-tripping counselors, get through senior year, and start her life somewhere new. She’ll do just about anything to protect that future.

But when an encounter with another camper goes awry and ends with Spooky hiding in the woods, something else finds her. Something ancient and powerful has sent out feelers, hoping to catch a human alone. For its purposes, one human is as good as any other. Even a delinquent teen will do.

If Spooky wants to survive to see any kind of future, she will have to figure out how to gain leverage over a god. And as if the one wasn’t bad enough, a pantheon of dark entities are lining up between her and the life she’s always wanted…

For fantasy fans, comes one girl’s journey through dark worlds of magic, gods, and monsters.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Allison Kimble has an effortlessly descriptive and humorous writing style. The plot of Strange Gods is delightfully peculiar. It’s original, unpredictable, and engaging. It reminded me a little of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with some of the outlandish things that happen, the odd things characters will say, and the offbeat twists and turns in the plot. Kimble takes the simple “Hero’s journey” plot template and makes it fresh.

Laurel, who prefers to go by “Spooky”, is your typical teenager, despite being sent to a camp for delinquents. She’s an ordinary girl. She’s a little self-centred, but not overly selfish. She’s self-conscious, as demonstrated by how she brings up her over-sized ears frequently in her inner dialogue. She’s desperate for friends and longs for her parents’ acceptance. Oh, and she’s also humanity’s only chance to save Earth from certain doom.

Continue reading “Book Review: Strange Gods by Alison Kimble”

Book Review: The Therapist by B.A. Paris

The Therapist book photo

The TherapistTitle: The Therapist
Author: B.A. Paris
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: July 13, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…

As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.

Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbors are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…

The multimillion-copy New York Times bestselling author B.A. Paris returns to her heartland of gripping psychological suspense in The Therapist–a powerful tale of a house that holds a shocking secret.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

B.A. Paris has done it again! The Therapist is a compelling mystery with countless thrilling twists and turns in the plot.

The novel is told primarily from Alice’s point of view. She and her boyfriend, Leo, have just moved into a gated estate, called The Circle, which is comprised of twelve houses situated around a picturesque square. The beginning of the book is very slow, and I’m not going to lie, I was bored at first. However, the story gradually gets more and more interesting, and by the first twist in the plot, I was hooked. 

The novel also has a past timeline, told from the point of view of a therapist. These scenes are, honestly, quite boring at first, but as the novel progresses, their purpose becomes much clearer, and by the end I was revelling in how clever they were. Despite their apparent boringness, they were brief and few and far between, which made them not distract from the rest of the narrative.

Every single one of Alice’s new neighbours is a suspect. They all have secrets, even the man she loves, who she’s moved in with. Every interaction that she has with other characters has a little hint at the fact that something isn’t quite right in The Circle. It’s clear right away that there’s more to Nina’s murder than meets the eye, but nobody is being forthcoming about what they know.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Therapist by B.A. Paris”

Book Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Survive the Night Book photo, surrounded by film noir on DVD and Alfred Hitchcock films

Book Cover Survive the Night

Title: Survive the Night 
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Horror, Mystery/thriller
Date of Publication: June 29 2021
Publisher: Penguin Group Dutton


Synopsis

It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing–survive the night.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Before the events of this book, Charlie’s best friend and roommate, Maddy, was brutally murdered by a serial killer named the “Campus Killer”. Charlie is wracked by guilt over the fight she’d had with her just before her disappearance. Having difficulty dealing with her grief, she realizes that she can’t stay at university any longer. She finds a ride back home with a fellow student, someone she hasn’t met before they cross paths at the rideshare bulletin board. Of course, because of this student’s schedule, they have to leave at night. It’s needless to say, (the book is called “Survive the Night”, but this is a book review, so I’m gonna say it), but this car ride is… intense.

Survive the Night is a classic film buff’s fantasy. The plot itself is quite simple, reminiscent of a Hitchcock film. The protagonist is named Charlie, after Teresa Wright’s character in the Hitchcock film “Shadow of a Doubt”. She’s studying film theory, and she is, quite literally, obsessed with movies. This becomes evident right from the very beginning, with the plethora of classic film references. The author mentions Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, and many film noirs and Hitchcock films.  There’s one point where Charlie comments that watching Singin’ in the Rain is the closest you can get to heaven, and I couldn’t agree more. But I digress. 

Continue reading “Book Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager”