The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

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Description

“The buzz…is real. I’ve read it and was blown away. It’s a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end.” —Stephen King

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.

“The new face of literary dark fiction.” —Sarah Pinborough, New York Times bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes

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.

My Thoughts

This book had me absolutely engrossed from the very first chapter. The author builds nerve-jangling suspense while unrolling an intricate and oh-so-horrifying plot revolving around a man who is living a real nightmare. The blend of horror, fantasy, and mystery creates an atmosphere that I haven’t felt since reading Stephen King’s The Shining or Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House..

Fans of tightly plotted, intricate psychological suspense will thoroughly enjoy this one.

Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Published By: Macmillan/Tor/Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling


Description

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

My Thoughts

Whoa, I did NOT expect this book to be what it is. I was expecting a 21st century version of the gothic horror/romance. What I found was this weird and terrifying blend of Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and even a little of Castle of Otranto thrown in for good measure. Still not quite sure how I feel about it.

The characters of Jane and Augustine are well-developed, a task that becomes increasingly difficult and hard to follow as they descend into madness or whatever state the author intended at the end. Jane especially goes from confident, determined, buttoned-up partner (not wife initially) as she negotiates her future, to her highly emotional state at the end. (Not really a spoiler because the ending is just HOLY HELL!)

The text is somewhat dense, but not weighed down by the flowery descriptive conventions of 18th and 19th century gothics which can truly dull the senses until – WHAM – the author hits you with a scene that makes your hair stand on end. Starling follows that path, but her writing is far more accessible.

Fans of gothic horror will enjoy this.

Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen


Description*

A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.

More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder. But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day.

But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

About the Author

Dr. LaTanya McQueen has an MFA from Emerson College, a PhD from the University of Missouri, and was the Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Coe College in Iowa. Check out her website at https://latanyamcqueen.com

This is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I absolutely could not put down. There’s everything here – a mysterious backstory that is slowly revealed, characters who experienced trauma in the past and are now thrown together again after years apart, an old nightmare re-emerging, and the uber-spooky setting of an old South plantation haunted by the spirits of enslaved people.

McQueen is skilled at building tension by introducing just enough information to keep you turning pages. Her storytelling is electric and spine-tingling, with excellent character development and vivid descriptions of people, things, and places. Her use of the shameful past of the torture, murder, and degradation of enslaved people is horrifying enough, but the concept she introduces here about the spirits of those same people is terrifying (hence the title).

Fans of atmospheric horror will swallow this one whole. Check the libraries & bookstores for it this summer.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Published By: Harper Perennial
Thanks to Netgalley* for the review copy

Daughters of Foxcote Manor by Eve Chase


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From Netgalley & the Publisher:

An isolated forest estate.
A family with a terrible secret.
The discovery that changes everything.

England, 1970. On the one-year anniversary of the Harrington family’s darkest night, their beautiful London home goes up in flames. Mrs. Harrington, the two children, and live-in nanny Rita relocate to Foxcote Manor, ostensibly to recuperate. But the creeping forest, where lost things have a way of coming back, is not as restful as it seems. When thirteen-year-old Hera discovers a baby girl abandoned just beyond their garden gate, this tiniest, most wondrous of secrets brings a much-needed sunlit peace, until a visitor detonates the family’s tenuous happiness. All too soon a body lies dead in the woods.

Forty years later, London-based Sylvie is an expert at looking the other way. It’s how she stayed married to her unfaithful husband for more than twenty years. But she’s turned over a new leaf, having left him for a fresh start. She buried her own origin story decades ago, never imagining her teenage daughter would have a shocking reason to dig the past up–and to ask Sylvie to finally face the secrets that lead her back to Foxcote Manor.

Readers of Lisa Jewell and Simone St. James will delight in this haunting, touching story of mothers, daughters, and belonging–and the devastating lies families tell themselves in order to survive.

Eve Chase has given us this summer’s Family Upstairs with this twisted, tangled tale of love, loss, infidelity, betrayal, and the power of family.

The story moves between present time and a fateful summer of 1971. At the center of the story is Big Rita – nanny to a troubled family in 1971 and mother to the present-day protagonist. Rita’s story is unfolded gradually – the heartbreak and horror of that 1971 summer juxtaposed against the family disruption in in the present-day and Rita’s own health.

The full complexity of the connection is not revealed until later chapters, and Chase does a remarkable job of weaving in little hints of what’s to come here and there throughout the narrative. She strings you along so that you simply can’t put this book down. Several chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger, and I found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened, then going back and reading through.

As she did in Black Rabbit Hall, Chase has constructed a complex story that is rife with unbridled emotion held in check until it isn’t. She writes relationships with a deft hand and develops her characters in ways that evoke a visceral response. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker


cover175758-mediumThe heartrending story of a mid-century American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse.

By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself.

Unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

Hidden Valley Road is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a very long time. The story of the Galvin family is heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time. The schizophrenia that afflicted 6 of the 12 Galvin children caused so much suffering and trauma to one family that it is remarkable any of them survived.

Kolker takes the clinical history of the Galvins and weaves it into a cohesive story that spans decades and concludes with a sliver of hope for the next generations of the family. It can be difficult to take a clinical history, especially one involving mental illness, and convert it into a readable, suspenseful story that conveys the humanity of the subjects in a non-exploitative way. Kolker does a fine job of storytelling here, on par with Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and, more recently, Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Absolutely one of the best of the year.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Published By: Doubleday Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

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cover173378-mediumIn this sophisticated, suspenseful debut reminiscent of Laura Lippman and Chloe Benjamin, two young women become unlikely friends during one fateful summer in Atlantic City as mysterious disappearances hit dangerously close to home.

Summer has come to Atlantic City but the boardwalk is empty of tourists, the casino lights have dimmed, and two Jane Does are laid out in the marshland behind the Sunset Motel, just west of town. Only one person even knows they’re there.

Meanwhile, Clara, a young boardwalk psychic, struggles to attract clients for the tarot readings that pay her rent. When she begins to experience very real and disturbing visions, she suspects they could be related to the recent cases of women gone missing in town. When Clara meets Lily, an ex-Soho art gallery girl who is working at a desolate casino spa and reeling from a personal tragedy, she thinks Lily may be able to help her. But Lily has her own demons to face. If they can put the pieces together in time, they may save another lost girl—so long as their efforts don’t attract perilous attention first. Can they break the ill-fated cycle, or will they join the other victims?

Evocative, eerie, and compelling, Please See Us is a fast-paced psychological thriller that explores the intersection of womanhood, power, and violence.

This book is one of the best debuts in the suspense genre that I’ve read in a very long time. Full of well-drawn characters and a clever, twisted plot that will keep you reading and shivering into the wee hours, this is a must-read for fans of psychological suspense.

Mullen carefully builds the relationship between boardwalk clairvoyant Clara/Ava and art gallery girl Lily in such a way that you find yourself rooting for both of them as they plunge into the dark side of Atlantic City and into the even darker recesses of a killer’s mind. At the same time, she also gives character to the girls who want to be seen – not just the victims in the marsh but all the lost girls who drift around the city, looking for…something.

Relationships are key here – the failed relationships that have shaped Lily and Ava, the tragic relationships between the girls in the marsh and their families, and the friendships that move the action forward. Mullen weaves those relationships into a taut, suspenseful story that will keep your eyes glued to the pages.

Fans of Laura Lippman and Kathy Reichs will enjoy this one.

Publication Date: March 1, 2020
Published By: Gallery/Pocket Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


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“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

Noah Turner sees monsters.

His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.

His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.

And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won’t admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.

Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .

Yes, this book is as creepy and shivery as the description above implies and this will appeal to fans of psychological as well as anthropomorphic horror.

I confess. I am an end-reader. If I get halfway or more through a story and am a) getting bored with it, or b) *have* to know what happens to a certain character, etc. I will flip to the end and read the last chapter. What happens to Sydney about 1/3 of the way through is what made me flip to the end; what I found there sent me back for more.

The mark of an exceptional book is if, after reading the end, if I go back and finish the book.

Cosmology of Monsters is an *exceptional* book.

Initially, I read the story through the lens of mental illness, considering the action happening to the family as part of a struggle with serious illness and not flesh & blood “monsters.” As I progressed and the story “got real” I was so taken with the complex relationships built between Noah and his family, friends, and the monster that the mental illness aspect drifted to the background. This book is pure imagination. It takes the horror of Lovecraft and the psychological terror of King and blends them into this gorgeous, creepy, frightening slurry of human (and non-human) emotion. All the elements of a good story are here – primarily the hero with a quest – and Shaun Hamill steps confidently into the circle of horror masters. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell


891511BE-975B-4C97-B939-2852335A46F5From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

Get ready for it, libraries & book stores. This is going to be big.

Lisa Jewell has delivered a taut, nail-biting story of love, obsession, betrayal, and murder in a way that keeps you reading long after bedtime. Told from three perspectives – siblings Henry & Lucy and “the baby” Libby, this story winds back and forth between the 1980s/90s and the present, eventually revealing the truth about a suicide pact that killed Henry & Lucy’s parents and an unidentified man.

Relatively short chapters keep you riveted as you move between Henry’s caustic but helpless commentary on the subjugation of his family to megalomaniac David Thomsen, Lucy’s present-day struggles as a single mother and victim of an abusive relationship, and Libby’s experiences as she explores the house left to her in trust where, she learns, her “parents” died.

Jewell’s psycho-gothic story joins similar edge-of-your-seat books from Ruth Ware, AJ Finn and Gillian Flynn. Recommended.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

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cover161593-mediumFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Ruth Ware is one of those authors who delivers clever, imaginative stories again and again. Turn of the Key joins her earlier work and more than lives up to the hype and anticipation surrounding its publication. With nods to classics like Turn of the Screw and Rebecca, Ware tells an imaginative tale of an emotionally damaged young woman dropped into the middle of one of the strangest family situations I’ve read in a very long time. Ware takes the remote-old-house trope and drags it into the 21st century by adding smart-house technology, thereby creating a truly all-seeing, electronic “Mrs. Danvers,” which is enough to make anyone shiver in their boots.

As she does, Ware drops bombs of information gradually throughout the story, which serve to keep the reader saying “just one more page,” and which had me reading well into the night. The final bombshell was one that I had thought about but dismissed as too awful, but there it was…making me put the book down, close my eyes, and sigh deeply.

One of the things I appreciate about Ware’s writing is her subtle but well-crafted attention to characters and their relationships. In Death of Mrs. Westaway, the relationship between siblings was key; here it’s the relationship between fathers and daughters that sparks and drives the action, creating layer upon layer of plot.

I look forward to more from Ms. Ware’s imagination! Recommended.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Published By: Gallery Pocket Scout
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


cover165563-mediumFrom the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

From the Publisher: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a remarkable and important writer, perhaps one of the most important to emerge in the last few years. His first foray into fiction writing is a heartbreaking, uplifting, lyrical masterpiece. Family is the one thing that can keep people going, even through the hardest of times. Family today can mean many things, and people find family where they can. Coates gives us an intimate view of what family meant to slaves living on plantations in the South in the 19th century, where a child or a parent could be sold and sent away at any time. Try to imagine living under a condition like that. I cannot fathom it, and that makes me more aware of the science and research around post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Here, Hiram loses all memory of his mother when she is sold away, and he spends his life trying to recover from that loss. Along the way, he comes to understand that his people, the Taskers, have a unique relationship to the earth, the sky, the water, and to each other. Coates tells a story imbued with the magic of creation and re-building as we follow Hiram from South to North and back again, driven and guided by his own gifts and spirit.

This is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Advance praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy