Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Image Description: The cover of The Lost Ones shows the figure of a woman atop a grand staircase silhouetted against a blue background. Bronze and white leaves surround the image.

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

Some books definitely need to be read in certain seasons and, with its promise of ghostly goings on and creepy country houses, Anita Frank’s The Lost Ones practically screamed ‘autumn’ to me. So despite having this on my Netgalley TBR for FAR too long, I waited until a time that could reasonably be classed as spooky season (yes, I know it’s only September but as far as I’m concerned that counts) to dive in.

Opening in 1917, and with the First World War drawing to a close, The Lost Ones follows Stella Marcham, a young woman left reeling by the death of her fiancé Gerald in the trenches. Consumed by grief, forced to leave her role as a nurse with the VAD, and now left listless and forlorn at her childhood home, Stella has tried to take her own life – an act that, whilst unsuccessful, has left her at risk of an enforced ‘rest’ in a sanitorium. Given the opportunity to stay with her beloved younger sister whilst she awaits the birth of her first child, Stella sets out for the imposing country manor of Greyswick – only to find a house beset with more unease and suspicion than the one she left behind.

Aided by Madeline, whose own fears about Greyswick Stella is determined to allay, and by her unusual ladies maid Annie, a young woman with very particular hidden gifts, Stella sets out to discover just what – or who – is disturbing the peace and tranquillity of Greywick. The women’s investigations will bring them into conflict with Greywick’s inhabitants, especially the imposing housekeeper Mrs Henge, but will also bring them an unusual ally in the form of wounded war veteran and psychic investigator Tristan Sheers. But as Stella and her companions attempt to lay the ghosts of Greywick to rest, dark forces are moving amongst the living – and they have Stella in their sights.

Packed with unsettling noises and things that go bump in the night, The Lost Ones is the perfect blend of light horror, spooky goings on and sinister family secrets, but also provides a moving and reflective exploration of grief and mental trauma. It packs a lot into its 450 pages and, whilst I don’t want to give any spoilers, touches on a number of issues including a suicide attempt and suicidal thoughts, depression, grief, child death, fire/fire injury, physical trauma, the loss of a limb, infidelity, rape/sexual assault, miscarriage and forced institutionalisation. Whilst all of these issues are handled very sensitively, they are integral to the plot and this makes the novel a reflective – and at times quite tragic – read in spite of the page-turning quality of its mystery plot.

Stella makes for an emotionally engaging and complex protagonist. Capable and strong-willed, her experiences at The Front have made her fiercely independent but her all consuming grief means that, at times, she makes for an unreliable narrator. Whilst I desperately wanted to believe Stella, there were times when I had to question whether her pursuit of a supernatural explanation was a result of her own desperation to be reunited with her beloved Gerald again. The novel does a fantastic job of keeping this balance between the ‘real’ and the supernatural and the inclusion of a sceptical researcher – Tristram Sheers – provided an engaging counterpoint to Stella, especially once the reasons behind his scepticism become clear.

I also really liked Annie, Stella’s maid, who is gifted with the ability to communicate with the dead – although it is not always a ‘gift’ she enjoys possessing. Initially dismissive of Annie, seeing the relationship between the two young women develop over the course of the novel was one of the highlights of the book for me. The sinister housekeeper Mrs Henge, meanwhile, can give Mrs Danvers a run for her money in the ‘creepy family retainer’ department – always popping up from the shadows when least expected and clearly hiding a multitude of secrets!

With atmosphere and intrigue packed into every page, The Lost Ones was the perfect read to kick off my autumnal reading season. With some genuinely frightening moments, its an eerie historical ghost story that is sure to appeal to fans of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, whilst the focus upon female friendships and the traumas suffered by women reminded me of Stacey Halls’ The Familiars. Gripping in its pace and plotting, The Lost Ones is also a sensitive portrayal of grief, loss, and the trauma of war and is an impressive debut that kept me enthralled from first page to last. I look forward to reading whatever Anita Frank writes next!

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank is published by HQ (HarperCollins) and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis

Image Description: The cover for Wicked Little Deeds shows a young woman in silhouette running away from the camera down a corridor.

The rumours don’t add up, but the bodies are starting to…

From its creepy town mascot to the story of its cursed waterfall, Burden Falls is a small town dripping with superstition. Ava Thorn knows this well – since the horrific accident she witnessed a year ago, she’s been plagued by nightmares.

But when her school nemesis is brutally murdered and Ava is the primary suspect, she starts to wonder if the legends surrounding the town are more fact than fiction.

Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there’s a killer on the loose, and they have a vendetta against the Thorns…

Regular readers of The Shelf may know that I’ve been enjoying the occasional YA thriller recently. I read and LOVED both The Cousins and The Inheritance Games last year and, since then, have added considerably to my TBR by seeking our more writers in the YA mystery/thriller genre.

What I hadn’t considered was that I could also add another of my favourite genres into that already delightful mix – the ghost story. So imagine my delight when Kat Ellis’s Wicked Little Deeds landed on my doormat described as (to quote Mina and the Undead author Amy McCaw) “Riverdale meets The Haunting of Hill House“. Sold already? Because I certainly was! But before you race off to the nearest book shop or your favoured web retailer of choice, let me tell you a little more about Wicked Little Deeds and why it’s so good (because yes, I loved it – it contains all the ingredients that make for Shelf of Unread catnip so what did you expect?!).

Ava Thorn’s family have lived in the small town of Burden Falls for generations. The Bloody Thorns of Thorn Manor are as well known as the legend of Dead-Eyed Sadie, the town’s most famous ghostly legend – as is the fact that a sighting of Sadie is supposed to portend tragedy for any Thorn unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. Following a horrific accident that killed her parents, Ava is reluctantly leaving Thorn Manor – and its ghosts – behind her.

But when pretty and popular Freya Miller – Ava’s school nemesis and the daughter of the man who ruined her life – is found brutally murdered, Ava begins to wonder if the creepy stories that surround her family might be true after all. Reluctantly teaming up with Freya’s brother Dominic, Ava begins investigating the truth behind Dead-Eyed Sadie. Who was she – and why does every tragedy in town seem to lead back to a Thorn? As secrets are uncovered and old truths are laid bare, Ava and Dominic must confront both the past, and the killer who is waiting for them in the present.

Combining the compulsive suspense of a thriller with the sinister chills of a ghost story, Wicked Little Deeds (published as Burden Falls in the US) is the perfect page-turner to pick up as the nights begin to draw in! I was rapidly drawn into the story and, with the cliff-hanger chapter endings and constant stream of mysteries and revelations, I read the book in just a couple of sittings.

Ava is, if not always a likeable character, a very sympathetic one. Grieving for her parents and the loss of her family home, she’s angry and resentful but also determined, driven, and brave. I liked her very much – even when she was being horrid to her friends or lashing out at easy targets like the Miller family – and I really liked how resilient and resourceful she was. Kat Ellis has done a fantastic job of capturing what its like to be a teenager – all high drama and shifting emotions that, sometimes, you barely understand yourself. And that applies equally well to the other characters too – from queen bee Freya and Ava’s preppy best friend Ford to Freya’s quieter, more reflective (and unbearably handsome) brother Dominic, all of the characters came across as real people with real, messed-up emotions and shifting, complex motivations.

The novel blends the mystery/thriller and horror/supernatural elements of the story together really well, although I’d say the focus does stay on the mystery throughout as Ava and Dominic work to stop the spate of murders and uncover the truth behind the old Thorn family legends. That said, things do go towards the horrific in places – there are some fairly gory moments when the bodies are discovered, and some of the descriptions tend towards the gruesome so readers of a sensitive disposition should be forewarned. Trigger warnings also for bereavement, a road traffic collision, mentions of alcohol abuse/alcoholism, mentions of depression, psychological abuse, and drug abuse. Taking the edge off all those dark themes, there are also some fantastic friendships, cutting humour, and a gentle, nicely interwoven romance.

Saying any more about the plot would be to risk spoilers but I will say that this was definitely an edge-of-your-seat, can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough read for me! Once the story got going, I was so eager to get back to my book and get to the next chapter – definitely one of those reads where I wanted to put life on hold for a bit! Perfect for anyone looking who loves dark and creepy mysteries or YA thrillers with a horror twist, Wicked Little Deeds might have been my first novel by Kat Ellis, but it certainly won’t be my last!

Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis (published as Burden Falls in the US) is published by Penguin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 August 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content by following #UltimateBlogTour and #TheWriteReads on Twitter and Instagram.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Beresford by Will Carver

Everything stays the same for the tenants of The Beresford, a grand old apartment building just outside the city…until the doorbell rings…

Just outside the city—any city, every city—is a grand, spacious, but affordable apartment building called The Beresford. There’s a routine at The Beresford. For Mrs. May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer, and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers.

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Having read Will Carver’s Nothing Important Happened Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip, I thought I was well prepared for a trip to the dark side of life when picking up The Beresford. Then I opened up his latest novel, The Beresford, and immediately met and unassuming young man considering how best to dispose of the corpse of his neighbour. Yes, Will Carver is back in all his unconventional and chilling glory. Welcome to The Beresford, leave your soul at the door…

As usual with one of Will Carver’s books, it seems prudent to talk triggers before we head any further into this review. If you’ve read my reviews of Nothing Important and Hinton Hollow, you’ll know Carver writes deliciously dark books – and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to describing the darker sides of human existence. The Beresford is no exception – it might, in fact, be his creepiest and darkest novel yet – so consider yourself duly warned if you’re of a squeamish disposition. Triggers here for death, murder, corpse disposal, drug use, alcohol abuse, some gore/graphic descriptions, and domestic violence – as well as plenty of strong language and a pervading sense of what one critic has called Carver’s ‘bedsit nihilism’.

Why then, does one read such a grim novel? Simply put, Will Carver’s books are always exciting and original and, like his previous work, The Beresford takes the reader on a fantastical, all-too-plausible, journey into the dark heart of the human experience.

The Beresford is an elegant – and surprisingly reasonable – apartment building in a perfectly ordinary city. Its tenants, with the exception of owner and building stalwart Mrs May, are restless and transient; either running to or away from something in their lives. Quiet and unassuming Abe just wants to be left alone with his books. New girl Blair is escaping the confines of small town life. And, until recently, artist Sythe was alternating between creating and burning his work. I say until recently because, as the book opens, the artist formerly known as Sythe is now a cooling corpse on the floor of Abe’s apartment. As one tenant ‘exits’ The Beresford, another arrives. Always exactly 60 seconds later. And as the novel goes on, we’re going to get through quite a few changes of tenancy…

Without saying any more and ruining the many twists and turns of the plot, The Beresford is Will Carver on top form. Grimly dark and with a pervading sense of existentialist dread throughout, this a propulsive and thought-provoking ride into the darker facets of everyday life. As with Carver’s previous books, there is also a deliciously macabre humour running throughout – some of the situations that characters find themselves in border on the ridiculous, whilst some of the questions they have to ponder (such as exactly how much drain cleaner one needs to dissolve a human body) are posed in a darkly comic way.

The characters themselves are also compelling – although you might not want to get too attached to any of them! From the shadowy presence of the mysterious Mrs May through to the dark undertones of Abe’s seemingly quiet and bookish countenance, each of them has their own motivations, desires, and fears – and Carver is brilliant at unpicking and dissecting these to propel the plot forwards, as well as at taking some sharply observed stabs at various facets of modern life – social media, organised religion, and millennials to name but a few.

Chapters are short, sharp, and shocking – making for an utterly compelling and page-turning read that will leave you desperate to know what happens next! Consider this your warning that you may not want to start this book late at night if you’ve got anything on the next day – it’s such a compulsive read, you’ll be staying up well into the wee small hours to finish it!

As I’ve said before, Will Carver’s books won’t be for everyone. They’re sinister and quirky and a bit gruesome – and he’s a writer who delights in taking readers for a walk on the dark side. But his novels are, consistently, some of the most original that I’ve read, and never fail to hook me in and leave me reeling. As a standalone, The Beresford makes the perfect jumping off point for entry into the Carver-verse – so if you’re not read any of his previous work, consider this your invitation into his addictive yet terrifying world! And for existing fans of Carver, The Beresford is, for my money, his best book yet!

The Beresford by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books and is available now in ebook and from 22 July 2020 in paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Orenda Books.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 July 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!