Cover Crush: The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martin’s Press

Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 11 Jan 2022

About the cover: The blues and greens of this cover caught my eye. I use these hues often in my art. The position of the wrought iron fence, house, tree and the people walking towards the house, along with the colors, shows mystery and intrigue. Nicely executed.

About the book: I love a good mystery and a historical one at that. This story is a dual time line and takes place in North Carolina in the present and past. Or I should say, the year 2010. Yes please!

Description

A community’s past sins rise to the surface in New York Times bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s The Last House on the Street when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.

1965

Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.

2010

Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.

Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.

Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Expected publication: August 17th 2021 by Atria Books

About the book:

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.

My thoughts:

Most true crime novels, that I have read, pretty much delves in every facet of the human experience you can think of and at times, you don’t necessarily want to explore too much. Or do you? The criminal mind is shocking and heinous and does not limit itself to one shape, color or size.

What of the people who are obsessed with those stories? The ones who investigate, write those books or portray them in some form of medium? How do they live their lives? Like in The Family Plot, dioramas portraying crime scenes. Author Megan Collins gives her readers a chilling story of one family’s life centered around their own obsession of true crime. Not only that, but strange events and a horrible and unspeakable crim quickly becomes uncovered at their own door.

The Lighthouse family is certainly strange, twisted and creepy, wrapped up in their own secrets, lies, pain and eccentricity. Their odd behavior and unorthodox ways, has the local town leery of them to say the least!

Dahila Lighthouse seems to be the only one with a touch of reality as she ventures to uncover the crime that is discovered among them. Her siblings and mother are out of touch or basically wanting to stay in their bubble. It is safe there for them, or so they think. Though, who can really fault them? Especially the brothers…Imagine a lie, like a seed, being planted and taking root so deep, that one feels they can never unbury the truth. It is too ugly and disturbing. Imagine having to live with that lie in fear and pain growing up as a kid. No child should ever go through what the Lighthouse brothers did. Or what anyone of them had to for that matter.

I must say that I have never read a story quite like this one and I am absolutely delighted I chose to read this book. The story build-up was strong, great scenes, complex and frightening characters, and a solid plot. Though, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. That said, I highly recommend this book to people who love reading about crime, family secrets and mystery.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: The Thin Place by C.D. Major

Published April 15th 2021

The Thin Place is told in three points of views with their stories told in different time periods and they become interwoven with its supernatural elements.

Marion, a woman newly married, moved to her husband’s estate to only be neglected by him, used and dealt with repeated miscarriages.

Constance, a young sad, sickly girl who was basically kept locked away by her mother. Her need to please her mother became wrought in anguish and bitterness. There was an interesting, yet disturbing theme about the mother daughter relationship that helps drive the plot.

Ava, a female journalist, pregnant, lives in a small town, encounters Overtoun Estate and decides to investigates its tragic history. In doing so, she becomes obsessed with the place and its mystery, puts her life in jeopardy.

The Thin Place is described as a place where two worlds joined. To some, it can be a place of an abyss of sorts or heaven- if you will. Confusing, yes? It is widely known that many people feel these places when they come close to them. Especially, in England and Ireland. Though I can imagine these experiences happen everywhere and people just don’t understand them. Apparently, the more you experience these places, the more your sense of them are intensified. This theme is interwoven in the story and I’m still undecided if it worked or not. I have to admit, I felt as if I was told about this place rather than shown. I felt disconnected to Ava, Marion and Constance’s experience with the area, and their plight with Overtoun House.

Ava is the leading character and I have to admit I disliked her. Which is a problem for me because I’m usually cheering for the protagonist. I found her to be self-absorbed and often absent of feelings, neglectful and unkind to family and friends. Was it because she had become obsessed with the Overtoun House? So much so, that it consumed her to the point that she wasn’t even thinking about others and the baby’s well-being growing inside her? I’m not convinced despite the final conclusion of the story.

The only person I felt sympathy for was Constance and even then, I felt her story needed to be fleshed out a bit more and for The Thin Place to be more convincing. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the supernatural and creep vibe as I thought I would be entering into the story.

That said, the premise is a good one and I enjoyed parts of the author’s descriptions of things, the premise, setting and the history of Overtoun House. Overall, I’m happy I chose to read this story.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy of The Thin Place from the publisher through Netgalley, for an honest review.

July: Book Round-Up

I can’t get over how fast this year is flying and there are still many books to be read! How is your reading going this year? Are you reading more or less books?

This month I’ve read two printed books from my own bookshelf, two NetGalley ebooks and listened to three audio books. Not bad considering how busy have been with other projects. I no longer consider myself an official book reviewer but I am still working on getting through my galley reads. I went a little crazy when I first joined a few years ago. That happens to newbies on NetGalley.

A couple of the books, I’ve read before and wanted to re-visit them. Can you believe I’m still undecided on how I would rate them? I don’t like the five-star rating system we have in place. Not all parts of a story are equal and the system needs to be changed. The two books I re-read are The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Have you read those two books? I noticed a contradiction in Abbott’s book right off the bat. Even minor details are important not to miss. I’m surprised the editor missed it.

Tomorrow I’m blogging about three books I thinking about reading next! Be sure to check out my 2021 Books Read and follow Layered Pages by email to keep up with the latest. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: Brilliant Disguise by Mary Anne Edwards

(The Charlie McClung Mysteries #1)

Published November 2020 by Sellem Books

Mystery & Thrillers | True Crime | Women’s Fiction

Are you sure you could tell the difference between murder and suicide?

Having had more than enough of the big city, Detective Charlie McClung moves to a small town looking for a simpler life. Turns out his first case is the most complicated of his career.

A young woman is found shot and while everyone is telling him suicide, his gut, and the dead woman’s beautiful neighbor, are telling him something quite different.

How far can he dig before he uncovers secrets never meant to be unearthed? Throw in a shady police chief and an unexpected love interest and McClung quickly finds himself with more trouble than he ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

I love a good mystery and while it’s not often I read cozy ones, I enjoyed Brilliant Disguise. Discovering that the story takes place in Georgia made it all the better!

The story began with a death by a gun shot and Marion the next-door neighbor, doesn’t believe it was a subside. Marion knows her friend Dianne would never commit such a travesty as taking her own life. Soon after the heart-breaking indecent, McClung interviewed Marion and they hit it off pretty quickly. They soon joined forces to find out what happened to Dianne and they uncover a cover up that took them into the heart of the very police force he works for.

The story flowed well and there was enough intrigue and suspense to keep you me invested. I have to admit, there were only two characters in the story I cared about and surprisingly neither of them was Marion. Strange that seeing that she is the star of the show, along with McClung. That said, since McClung likes her, maybe she will grow on me. I did, however, want to walk in her garden and try one of her freshly baked cookies and sit with her and talk about books.

Brilliant Disguise is one of the better cozy mysteries I’ve read. I look forward to reading the next book in this series!

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Cover Crush: The North Water by Ian McGuire

About the cover: Let me start by saying that I believe whale hunting is horrific and it is extremely hard for me to read novels about the subject. Anyhow, I’m totally feeling the summer vibes with this cover. Yes, the wale is in deep ocean but it still makes be long for the beach! I thought it clever to add the image of the whaling ship on the tail. I love the colors and the dramatic imagery of the ocean.

There is a better image of the book on IG @eatingtheirwords

Thoughts about the story: This looks like a story worth reading and the period the story is set in, is my favorite! I’m guessing it’s focused more on an evil person on board that is confronted? Hmm… I refuse to read any reviews on this book. I want an unbiased opinion. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Book:

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man. Stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the ‘Volunteer’, a Yorkshire whaling ship that is due to set sail for the rich hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this violent, filthy, ill-fated voyage.

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find temporary respite on the ‘Volunteer’, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an arctic winter.

Cover Crush: You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon

About the cover: I love when a layout shows the persons face! The rain and colors of grey and to lighter colors on the bottom of the layout, really makes it stand out. That said, it is a simple cover but nonetheless, the cover made me want to find out more about the story.

About the book: I discovered this book from Margaret with Just One More Chapter. She had posted about it on social media and discussed a little about how it went with a theme for her latest Kindle read. You Will Remember Me is mystery thriller and with the cover and premise combined, it looks like a great book to curl up with on a stormy night! -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Forget the truth.

Remember the lies.

He wakes up on a deserted beach in Maryland with a gash on his head and wearing only swim trunks. He can’t remember who he is. Everything–his identity, his life, his loved ones–has been replaced by a dizzying fog of uncertainty. But returning to his Maine hometown in search of the truth uncovers more questions than answers.

Lily Reid thinks she knows her boyfriend, Jack. Until he goes missing one night, and her frantic search reveals that he’s been lying to her since they met, desperate to escape a dark past he’d purposely left behind.

Maya Scott has been trying to find her estranged stepbrother, Asher, since he disappeared without a trace. Having him back, missing memory and all, feels like a miracle. But with a mutual history full of devastating secrets, how far will Maya go to ensure she alone takes them to the grave?

Shared fates intertwine in a twisty, explosive novel of suspense, where unearthing the past might just mean being buried beneath it.

Book Spotlight: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

A secluded island mansion deep in the woods and a missing teen. Years after a death in the family, they make a gruesome discovery. I would say this family has been through it and then some!

Mystery/thriller stories are among my favorite genres to read! With the right elements, or pieces like a puzzle, you watch the mystery unfold and develop to the very end. Or would it be, develop and then unfold? Either way, along with other fellow readers and bloggers, I’m excited about this book coming out! Thank you, Atria Books for a copy.

Now it’s time to go grab that second cup of coffee. It is going to be a reading marathon the next two days! What are your bookish plans this weekend? Happy reading! -Stephanie Hopkins

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Atria Books

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 17 Aug 2021  

Description

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 remains haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has been unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house where the family soon makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of the Lighthouses react to the revelation in unsettling 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 facade, 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.

Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

HARLEQUIN – Graydon House Books (U.S. & Canada)

Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 02 Oct 2018 

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Catching up:

This is the year for catching up on projects and chisel at my back-list of books that I either, need to write the review or read from my own shelves at home. Of course, with a few ARC’s thrown in. I read The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox back in 2018 and I could have sworn, I wrote a review for it. Oops, it turns out-to my shame-I did not. No time like the present one might say.Thank goodness, I keep notes.

My thoughts:

These days, I normally I do my best to stay away from stories that involve witchcraft. That said, this story caught my attention for several reasons. The time period location, premise and book cover intrigued me. Interestingly enough, Lydia doesn’t realize she is a witch, even though things keep happening… Though, while reading this story, I began to realize that it’s not centered on witchcraft-thank goodness!

There are many intriguing aspects to the story, including, an atmospheric estate, mystery, romance, and good character development. Overall, great world-building and it had the creep vibe factor-which helped drive the story and kept one’s attention.

A fabulous Gothic story with all the right elements to entertain you!

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book from the publishers through NetGalley.

Book Review: The Sign of the Gallows (A Lucy Campion Mysteries, #5) by Susanna Calkins

About the book:

London, 1667. On her way to a new market to peddle her True Accounts and Strange News, printer’s apprentice Lucy Campion quickly regrets her decision to take the northwestern road. Dark and desolate, the path leads her to the crossroads – and to the old hanging tree. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she’s not sure ghosts don’t believe in her. But before she even reaches the crossroads, she’s knocked off her feet by two men in a hurry. What were they running from? To her dismay, she soon discovers for herself: there, dangling from the tree, is the body of a man. Did he commit self-murder, or is there something darker afoot? The more Lucy learns, the more determined she is to uncover the truth. But this time, even the help and protection of magistrate’s son Adam, and steadfast Constable Duncan, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

My thoughts:

Seventeenth Century, London was a calamity to say the least! With the century brought the Great fire of London, the plague and co-conspirators plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament including the King. My word, I’d say that in itself is brutal enough. However, there are other dark forces at work.

Author Susanna Calkins brings the century to life through her Campion series of murder, mayhem and intrigue. Lucy, finds herself in the center of another murder investigation and the search for the murderer reveals that there are darker forces at work.

Lucy is an apprentice-of sorts for a printer and bookseller, Master Aubrey. While all his staff are important to his business, I find Lucy to be the most spirited and undoubtedly clever at telling stories and selling book. I believe Aubrey know Lucy’s value and its why I think he gives her a pass quite to bit to aid in the investigation.  She is quite the social warrior and truly cares for people.

I’m really pleased with the support system Lucy’s has among her friends and formal employees, the Hardgraves. I admire the Hargraves respect and affection they have for Lucy despite their class distinction. What lively, caring and intelligent people.

Banner and painting by Stephanie Hopkins

Every single character in the story is fascinating and fun to read about, even the villains. Calkins does a marvelous job in showing the reasons people act on things due to their own situations in life. Regardless if we agree with them or not, its important to know the reasons. The human mind is an extortionary and often times, dark place. We can learn much from it.   

The investigation in the murder at the crossroads had lots of great twist and turns and it was an enjoyable read and one feels caught in trying to figure out who done it right along Lucy and the others.

The two men she ran into before making her way to the crossroads are something else. While their actions are suspicious at best, their grievance is understandable as the story unfolds.

I appreciate the story-line of Aubrey’s print shop and the reading material he sells. It has inspired me to look further into how books were printed during the 17th century.

I started this series at book four because I agreed to review it and find myself wanting to go back and read the first book and on…Despite that, I believe from the two books I’ve read, they are good stand-alone stories.

Calkins is a creative and imaginative story-teller and she weaves a story marvelously at a wonderful pace that keeps you engrossed. -Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Review: A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4) by Susanna Calkins