Book Review: Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates

If you’re looking for the perfect spooky read for the fall season, look no further than Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates. The story follows the heroine, Margot, who was abandoned by her parents at a young age and is now back at her childhood home for her parents funeral. Margot is left the house in their will, along with Gallows Hill Winery. As Margot is introduced to her new inheritance, she hears rumors that the land is cursed and was the cause of her parents death. This book takes you on a journey of grief, acceptance, and sacrifice from start to finish.

While I normally don’t read horror, this book kept me in it’s grip the entire time and made me not want to turn out the lights! I highly recommend this suspenseful thriller by Darcy Coates, especially for those who are fans of Phoebe Wynne and Tana French.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Book Review: Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May takes you back to the years after WWI in a novel that is reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby but with magic intertwined. Wild and Wicked Things is filled with the glittering parties of the roaring twenties and the danger of not only new love but also what happens when friends grow apart. The story follows Annie as she moves to Crow Island where magic is prohibited and she knows no one but a long lost friend. Annie is drawn further and further into the world of magic by her magnetic neighbor, Emmeline and she begins to push the boundaries of everything she knows about the world and herself. This gothic novel makes you fall in love with the characters and the world that Francesca May has created. 

May leaves a trail of wreckage behind in her wake and left me with a book hangover I couldn’t quite cure. This was simply a book I could not put down. This novel features everything I never knew I needed: diverse characters (LGBTQ+ included), magic, and murder. I loved this book, even if it did have some flaws, but what book doesn’t? I highly recommend for fans of The Once and Future Witches. 

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Book Review: THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL by Hester Fox

The Witch of Willow Hall is a wonderful debut by Hester Fox from 2018. The Witch of Willow Hall follows the Montrose family who has been discarded from Boston due to scandal and have moved to a newly built country house. The family attempt to find normalcy in their newfound setting, but Lydia, the middle sister of three, finds herself surrounded by bumps in the night, a swirling romance, and the death of loved one. Lydia is forced to follow her heart, embrace her power, and deal with the depressing nature of death. The Witch of Willow Hall is an atmospheric tale perfect for fans of Louisa Morgan and Nicola Cornick.

I picked up this novel for the gothic vibes and for the inclusion of witchcraft, but I stayed for the story, the relationship building, and the elements of a traditional gothic ghost story. I did not expect the romantic elements of the story but enjoyed them nonetheless. While this novel does not have as heavy a focus on witchcraft as I was expecting (it is titled The Witch of Willow Hall afterall), Lydia’s encounters with the supernatural more than make up for it. I recommend this book if you’re looking for a book that’s hard to put down.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Book Review: The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

Sarah Maine’s debut novel The House Between Tides (2014) is a beautiful examination of relationships, grief, and the impact of emotions on those around us. Set on an isolated island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, The House Between Tides is dual point of view novel, from the point of view of Hetty, a woman who inherits Muirlan House from her grandmother, and Beatrice, the wife of renowned painter, Theodore Blake, who lived on the island during the early 1900s. When Hetty arrives on the island to examine the house she finds out that the bones of a murder victim have been found under the floorboards and she spends the rest of the novel researching the history of the house and trying to come to terms with what she wants. While Hetty is researching the house, we are seeing the history of the house unfold from Beatrice’s perspective. 

While it took me a while to fully get into this novel, I ended up falling in love with it. Both points of view were interesting and drew me in. I found myself guessing throughout the story who the bones would be and I kept changing my mind. Sarah Maine has created a dark and brooding mystery and a wonderful story of ancestral history and how grief affects us. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

Book Review: The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The prequel to Ken Follett’s award winning Knightsbridge Trilogy The Evening and the Morning begins at the end of the 10th century in England, with excursions to the Norman coast. While written thirty years after the first novel in the trilogy, Pillars of the Earth, and set almost 150 years prior, The Evening and the Morning still provides the same engrossing storytelling and historical setting that will please original fans of the Knightsbridge Trilogy and newcomers alike. 

Ken Follett’s The Evening and the Morning is filled with a compelling story-line (especially for fans of evil plots, religious turmoil, and, of course, murder), complex characters that you’ll both love and hate, relationships that will draw on your heartstrings, and action and adventure. Even though it’s quite large, I couldn’t put it down so it was a relatively quick read. I won’t give everything away but I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves to read and wants to fully be immersed in another place and time. 

Rating 5.0/5.0

Book Review: The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell 

The Dark Lantern was written by Gerri Brightwell and published by Crown Publishing in 2009. The Dark Lantern was Brightwell’s first novel and she has now written several short stories and one other novel. I found this book at an antique store and it’s premise immediately drew me in. While usually novels featuring murder and mayhem are my cup of tea, sometimes a good old Victorian mystery is good for the soul. 

Set in Victorian London, The Dark Lantern follows the life of a young maid, Jane, who has taken up a new position in an upper class house. While the house is considered part of the aristocracy, there are strange happenings throughout; whether it be a maid who takes advantage of everyone’s secrets, a mysterious newly widowed stranger, a man who works in prisons trying to identify criminals through anthropometry and his wife who seems to have more secrets than the rest. Fans of Downtown Abbey, The American Heiress, and Stalking Jack the Ripper will enjoy this engaging read. 

Overall I enjoyed the book; the first chapter pulled me in and I was interested to see where Jane’s story would go. I liked the different perspectives throughout the story and Brightwell provided a good level of intrigue into each of the characters secrets and background. However, I felt that after the first 3/4s of the novel, the story begin to feel rushed and a lot of the elements that were most interesting to me were never examined in depth. For example, I would have loved to have known the back story of Jane’s mother, instead of just snippets of her fear that she would be discovered. I did enjoy the story but I would not read it again.

Rating 2.5/5

Book Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The Maidens was released in June 2021 as Alex Michaelides second novel after his New York Times bestselling novel The Silent Patient. I initially picked this book up in airport and the description pulled me in. It seemed to have everything I was looking for: dark academia, murder, intrigue, the lot. 

The Maidens begins with an introduction to the main character, Mariana Andros, and her role as a group therapist. While I did like this as a concept, in practice it didn’t seem to play out as well as I had hoped. Throughout the book, the author refers back to her role as a group therapist but it never fully seemed necessary or relevant for such a large emphasis. The novel looks at the murder of several girls at Cambridge University and how Mariana tries to solve the murders. The girls are friends of Mariana’s niece and the most likely suspect is their classics professor, Edward Fosca.

The plot was interesting and it was quite easy to engage with the story. However, there were several plot holes, and there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on classics and the academia part of “dark academia.” The ending was not what I was expecting as it seemed like the author was leading the story in another direction until the last couple of chapters. 

Rating: 3/5

Book Review: Madam by Phoebe Wynne

Madam was released in February 2021 as Phoebe Wynne’s first novel. I picked up this book because it seemed like it had everything I loved: the Scottish highlands, a female protagonist, “dark academia,” and an intriguing mystery. And I was right, it truly did have everything I loved (*SPOILER* Except murder, but you know, you can’t have it all). I flew through the pages of this one. 

Set on the rocky coastline of the Scottish highlands, Phoebe Wynne’s boarding school for girls has a gothic and isolated aura to it. The way Wynne slowly provides insight into the disappearance of the previous Head of Classics at the school and the almost creepy personality of the schools girls had me guessing (wrong) the entire read. Rose, the books’ protagonist, and new Head of Classics was likable and I enjoyed seeing the boarding school through her eyes. Rose’s students provided an important aspect of the book, giving slow hints at the what was really going on at the school in unsettling ways and I’m surprised to say I didn’t guess the dark truth at any point during my read.

The only thing I disliked about the novel was how Rose wasn’t quite reacting how I would have imagined in the situations she was in; yes, she tried to rail against the patriarchy and educated her students about feminist ideology through Classics, but she didn’t do much to save herself.

The ending of Madam was a shock that I didn’t see coming but was the perfect ending in my opinion.

This gothic mystery is perfect for fans of The Historian and The Secret History. I highly recommend giving Madam a read.

Rating 4.5/5.0.

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet came out in 2020 and quickly became an award winning novel by Maggie O’Farrell; and it’s easy to understand why. Hamnet was named the Best Book of 2020 by the Guardian, the Financial Times, Literary Hub, and NPR. Without giving any spoilers, Hamnet follows the life of the children and wife of William Shakespeare during the 16th century and includes a story of how Hamlet came to be; out of plague, out of love and out of grief. 

O’Farrell provides a unique perspective on life in the early modern period, and an especially unique perspective on the Shakespeare. The story is told through the eyes of Shakespeares wife, Agnes (otherwise known as Anne Hathaway), and his son Hamnet. While, at first, the switching of viewpoints was a bit frustrating for me, after a few chapters both perspectives really drew me in.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the depth present in the novel; I was expecting historical fiction that centered around Shakespeare and his family and his plays. What I got was something even greater. While Hamnet is historical fiction, it is relevant even today. It examines the realities of life, of love and marriage, and of grief. You don’t need to be a lover of Shakespeare, or even historical fiction, to fall in love with Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet because it is truly extraordinary and one of the best books as of late. I highly recommend it.

Rating 5/5.

Book Review: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (2005)

Spoilers present!

Labyrinth came out in 2005 as the first novel in the Languedoc Trilogy. The novel is set in both the the present day and in the 13th century, specifically during the Albigensian Crusade in France. Labyrinth could be called a mix of thriller and fiction, weaved together with history. The story itself focuses on the findings of an archaeological dig outside of Carcassonne, France and on the search for the Holy Grail. The story provides an interesting twist on the quest for the Holy Grail and appeals to lovers of historical fiction and mystery lovers alike. 

The two heroines of the story, Alice and Alais, are tied together through time, however, I, personally, had trouble following how and why Alice became aware of the connection. While I enjoyed having both perspectives, I found that the transitions between the two heroines were slightly choppy, possibly because I set the book down for so long between reading. The love story between Alice and Will also seemed a bit contrived and sudden, as they only really saw each once throughout the book. 

The conflict between the Catholic Church and the Cathar “heretics” is narrated nicely, and Mosse’s skill at easily tying the story into the political and religious battle of the Middle Ages is evident throughout the book. The description of the Noblesse and how the Eygyptian hieroglyphics tied into the history and translation of the books needed to be a bit more in depth, but also a bit more comprehensible, also possibly because of my gaps between reading. 

I did enjoy the ending of the book, as I only guessed what would happen over the course of the last couple of chapters, not from the beginning as sometimes happens, even though the way the books and Holy Grail became entombed seemed an interesting way to end a novel about an archaeological dig in that same cave. Overall, I would recommend Labyrinth to fans of historical fiction and mysteries, especially those set in France. 

Rating 3.5/5.

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