Sunday, October 29, 2023

October Read: The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin


What I expected going into this novel and what it was were very different. I'm still processing. 

It takes place in a small town in Australia. A town where houses are expensive and everything is gorgeous and perfect. Except for Black Wood House. It sits empty since a shocking murder forty years before, when the owner of the home murdered his wife while she lay in bed, and chased his daughter out the door. The daughter survived, but her father returned to the home and killed himself. Susan and Bill were beloved in the neighborhood; the horrible murder/suicide left a stain on the community. They all want Black Wood House to be torn down. 

Enter Sarah Spade and her husband Joey. Sarah has a popular website, a bestselling book about "being your best self", and is eager to turn the Black Wood House into a show-stopping flipper that will sell for millions. 

Except Sarah's not what you'd expect, and wow I did not expect her character or the novel to take the turns it did. For one, Sarah is not likable. Her marriage is on edge, and oh, the secrets she has to keep in order to maintain her perfect image. Only problem is, once she moves into the house, her life starts to fall apart. She can't sleep, she's finding notes around the house, there's someone walking around in the attic, and her husband won't stay at the house. 

As Sarah slowly unravels, as a reader you're kept wondering: is she losing her mind? The possibilities are all over the place: is someone trying to drive her out of the home? Are the neighbors spying on her? Is the house haunted? Or is there something else?

The turns it took were all over the place. The ending leaves you rethinking everything. It's at turns unsettling, suspenseful, and a bit bewildering. It's a whole lot of stuff going on, and I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on at all. If you want to read a novel that will keep you scratching your head and thinking you've got it figured out (you won't), pick this one up!

Rating: 4/6 for a wild ride where no one can be trusted--even the house. At times suspenseful, at times downright spooky, this is a blend of thriller/horror/suspense that will keep you guessing. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

October Read: The Ghost Illusion by Kat Martin

 I switched from magic and witches to paranormal. It is October, after all. I love that it's getting darker earlier and I've broken out my fall candle.  Made pumpkin bread. Chili is on the horizon. I've also started watching my ghosty shows on Discovery. I'm all in!

I haven't read Kat Martin before, but in my years of bookselling and librarianship I've seen her name oodles of times and have ordered her books for the library. She's consistently popular and I'd say she's romantic suspense. This book definitely reminded me of Heather Graham and her Krewe of Hunters series. I'd love to see more with this group of ghost hunters. 

Eve St. Clair has recently moved to England to live in a family home she's inherited. She spent many summers there as a child and loves the home. Only problem is she's terrified. Every night there are running footsteps, cold spells, and voices arguing. She reaches out in desperation to Paranormal Investigations, an American group that travel the world helping people with paranormal issues. To her relief, Ran King, owner (and darn good looking, and rich) agrees to bring his team to Sunderland, England to help out Eve. 

Of course sparks fly between Ran and Eve. They both fight it, knowing this is just a short term meet and Ran will eventually return to Seattle once the ghost issue is resolved. But the pull is irresistible. 

Meanwhile, the ghostly phenomenon happening in Eve's home ramps up and is putting the team in harm's way. Eve seems to be the only one who can connect with the spirits, especially a young boy named Wally. The evil spirit that's keeping Wally and others trapped is bent on keeping the spirits there forever, and it will destroy anyone who tries to send them to the light. Can Ran and his team stay safe and solve the ghostly happenings? Is there a happy ending for Ran and Eve?

This was what I classify in my mind as a comfort read for me. I'm always up for a ghost story that involves a bit of history and the romance was a nice touch. Nothing surprising at all, and that was just fine with me. There was enough action moving forward that kept me reading and enjoying the plot and the characters. 

I'd read more of Kat Martin and probably will look into her other novels--she has a lot! But I really do hope she writes more involving the Paranormal Investigations team. 

Rating: 4/6 for an interesting ghost story, hot romance, and enough character building that keeps you invested but leaves the door open for *hopefully* more novels with this team. Fans of Heather Graham will enjoy this novel. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio book. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

October Read: Starling House by Alex E. Harrow


I'm enjoying reading books that are equal parts fairy tale/gothic/slightly spooky/fantasy. It could be this time of year, when the night creeps in earlier, and the air is cool enough at night you just want to huddle on the couch and be cozy.

Starling House fit the bill, and while I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I was willing to take the ride. There's a lot going on here.

Opal lives in Eden, Kentucky-a small town limping along and prone to bad luck. Opal and her teenage brother Jasper live in room twelve of the local hotel. It's the only home they've had for years. Opal struggles to make ends meet and her one desire is to get her brother out of Eden. She'll do anything--lie, steal--to keep him safe and his asthma under control. Their mother died tragically years before in a car accident, where Opal survived, but remains haunted by leaving her mother to die. 

Then there's Starling House, that oh so very strange mansion surrounded by woods and closed off by a big metal gate. Sometimes there's a light in the uppermost window, but no one is ever seen coming and going. Opal walks by the home frequently, and is a bit obsessed with it and the legend of the author who built it- E. Starling. 

One day Opal finds out who lives there, when Arthur makes an appearance at the gate, warning her to leave. He's a disheveled young man who looks like he's battling something ominous. Opal is intrigued. She wants in. Arthur reluctantly offers her a housekeeping position, and Opal can't resist.

Starling House is unlike anything she could have imagined-the house itself is alive. It shifts, it reacts; it is helpful and sometimes it's not. Opal and Arthur get to know each other, but very slowly. Arthur is fighting literal monsters in order to protect the town of Eden.  The house is sitting on a horrible, horrible secret that only Arthur, as the Warden of Starling House, can destroy. Unless it kills him first. 

Ooh, there are layers in this novel. Home is a huge theme--the hunger Opal has for a home of her own-a place to feel safe. Home also means someone to come home to, which Opal and Arthur both desperately need. The town's horrible history of bad luck and tragedy, directly linked to the Gravely family and their coal mining operations and greed. Poisoning the ground for profit. A young girl creating a world that will protect her and punish those who used her. The strength of friendship and a made family. 

I loved the mix of fairy tale and horror. Opal is one tough cookie who never gives up on her desire for a home and a place to keep Jasper safe. When evil arrives in the form of Elizabeth Baine she is torn between protecting Jasper or giving up the secret of Starling House and betraying Arthur. 

I don't want to say anymore because this is a book that needs to be experienced. I'd say there's plenty to discuss in a book club setting. 

Thank you to Tor for an advanced copy to read and review! 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing novel about dreams, monsters, home, and a haunted town. The monsters in your dreams can be real! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.