BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Birthday House – by Jill Treseder #RandomThingsTours #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my stop of the The Birthday House Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this novella that spoke to me and while I did end up having mixed thoughts, there is no doubt that the premise of this story is fascinating. Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Birthday House
Author: Jill Treseder
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 24th 2019
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Finished reading: September 14th 2019
Pages: 149

“Gossip is not interested in innocence. It will curdle innocence in the blink of a curious eye.”

*** A copy of this novella was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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When I received the blog tour invitation a while back, there was just something about the blurb that caught my attention straight away. The psychological aspect as well as the past mixing with the present in the form of memories sounded fascinating, and I was also curious about the murder, its effects on Susan and the why and how behind it all. While I did end up having mixed thoughts about The Birthday House, I have to stress that this doesn’t mean it’s a bad read, and the 3 star rating reflects my personal experience with this story. I’ll tell you all about what worked and what didn’t for me below.

First of all I have to say I still feel the premise of The Birthday House is engrossing and it’s without doubt one of the strongest aspects of this novella. While initially the murder is only hinted at, it is the psychological effects of Josephine’s death and the events leading up to that dreaded day in 1955 that have the main focus. Flashbacks to the past play a very important role throughout this novella, as we try to decipher what went on in the Kennedy house and why things happened that way. It was intriguing to discover that the author based this story on an event that happened to her in the past and now uses this story almost as a form of therapy… She stresses that the events in The Birthday House do not reflect what really happened in the case that affected her personally, but it’s only a possible explanation of what could have gone wrong in a similar situation. I applaude the author for being brave enough to face past demons and put it all out in the open…  I can imagine it can’t have been easy digging all those memories up again and her personal experience does give this novella an authentic touch.

That said, there were also certain aspects of The Birthday House I ended up struggling with… I personally wasn’t convinced with the novella having so many different POVs. It felt a bit chaotic and disorganized having to jump between so many characters as well as the past and present, especially for such a short story. I felt I didn’t get to know each character well enough this way, although I do get why the author opted for multiple POVs as I imagine she was trying to show the mental state of and psychological effects on the different characters involved. Still, the story lacked cohesion for me and I personally would have liked to see less POVs (for example by leaving Mrs. Harrison, the housekeeper, out of the mix to name one). I also wasn’t a fan of the tone and writing; it didn’t feel natural and some of the dialogue and thoughts sometimes even felt a bit forced… Susan’s 1955 POV felt a tad too childish as well, and I also felt part of the plot and reasons behind the murder were simply too cliche. This is my personal reaction to this story though and if you are able to connect to the writing and don’t mind a few cliches and a lot of POV switches, The Birthday House does have a captivating premise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.

But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.

Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.

This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.

All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book The Wise Woman Within resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.

I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.

Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.

I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.

I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.


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ARC REVIEW: Secrets Of The Mist – by Kate Ryder

Title: Secrets Of The Mist
Author: Kate Ryder
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: September 19th 2019
Publisher: Aria
Finished reading: September 5th 2019
Pages: 277

“These old buildings have been witness to a lot of life and if momentous things have taken place in them, well… Memories linger, and sometimes we who follow are privileged to learn of them.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Aria in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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!! Happy publication day !!

I know romance is not my typical genre, but I do love my historical fiction and there was just something about this timeslip romance story that caught my attention. Not only has Secrets Of The Mist a stunning cover, but the blurb instantly intrigued me. And I’m definitely glad I made the decision to read this story, because it was without doubt a beautifully written and poignant read.

Secrets Of The Mist is set in a little Dorset village, Walditch, and the author does a fantastic job describing the setting of both the village and its surroundings. The story really came alive for me that way and the Dorset setting is one of the reasons I enjoyed this story that much. Another reason is the historical and timeslip aspect of Secrets Of The Mist. The historical elements are cleverly woven into a contemporary romance story and this adds that air of mystery and a hint of the paranormal to the story. Like Maddie, we have no idea what exactly she is experiencing in the cottage or how it could relate to the present… Through Maddie’s experiences with the ‘happenings’, we slowly get to build a picture of the past and what happened in the 17th century. The historical element was one of my favorite aspects of this story.

Then we have the characters… Things can be said about certain actions and behavior, but I actually liked both Maddie and Nick. Quite a few less important characters are likewise charming, but those two really stood out for me. Their development is without doubt interesting albeit a bit predictable. That said, I could have done without the love triangle and I did find Dan to be highly annoying and unlikeable… But the Dorset charm and mystery around the past made up for this feeling. The writing is solid and made it really easy to full immerse myself into this story. And despite the predictability of certain aspects of the plot, a love triangle and a few disagreable characters, I can’t deny this is a wonderful read fans of both contemporary romance and historical romance will appreciate.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #121 – Smoke In The Sun & The Cellar

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around to YA reads that I fully expected to enjoy thoroughly, but failed to blow me away in the end. The first is the duology conclusion Smoke In The Sun by Renee Ahdieh, which I was expecting to be another 5 star read after loving the first book last year, but it wasn’t ment to be. And while the premise of The Cellar by Natasha Preston is absolutely fascinating, I didn’t enjoy the actual story as much as I thought I would.


Title: Smoke In The Sun
(Flame In The Mist #2)
Author: Renee Ahdieh

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: May 1st 2018
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: August 20th 2019
Pages: 416

“Honor was a thing to hate. It drove people to act foolishly, as though they were heroes. As though they were invincible.”


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I’m still surprised I reacted this way to this duology conclusion, because I absolutely loved Flame In The Mist last year and it was one of my 2018 favorites. It might have been that my expectations were set too high, it might have been that I should have reread the first book before starting Smoke In The Sun because I had forgotten about a lot of details… But the fact is, I never felt that same love for the sequel. Even with the help of the glossary in the back, I kind of struggled to keep all the different characters, POVs and plotlines apart, and that made me enjoy the story a lot less. The writing is solid, and I liked the Japanese elements incorporated into the story, as it gives the story the right atmosphere. I would have liked to see the magic more developed though, as it would have given the story that little something extra. Instead, Smoke In The Sun focuses a lot on the relationships between the different characters. To make things worse, we have a love triangle to deal with… And I wasn’t sure if I liked the character development of certain characters. I still think Mariko is a very strong and resourceful main character, and I still liked Okami, but for me Smoke In The Sun lacked some of that special ‘magic’ that turned the first book into a favorite for me. It’s not a bad read, but sadly it wasn’t what I hoped it would be either.


Title: The Cellar
(The Cellar #1)
Author: Natasha Preston

Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: March 1st 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Finished reading: August 22nd 2019
Pages: 368

“This was a morning from a nightmare – one that I couldn’t wake up from.”


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I’ve had The Cellar on my TBR for quite some time now… When my TBR jar decided it was time to read it and I reread the blurb, I was instantly excited to finally pick it up. The premise of this story is absolutely fascinating and I’ve been looking forward to read it ever since. But somehow, I didn’t enjoy the actual story as much as I thought I would. The elements are there: a twisted serial killer, a kidnapping, a prolonged hostage situation… But somehow it was all overshadowed by just how whiny and annoying the main character Summer was. I get that she is in an impossible situation and to say that she is having a hard time is an understatement, but I really couldn’t stand her character and the chapter set before the kidnapping only reconfirmed those feelings. There was too much romance and teen angst involved for me to take the plot seriously, and the final twists were not at all credible either. Another thing about the plot: the whole ‘trapped inside a room by a twisted individual’ scenario has clearly been done before, and sadly executed better in other stories I’ve had the chance to read so far (including Room, The Butterfly Garden, The Bunker Diary). It’s by no means a bad read and the serial killer we are introduced to is without doubt seriously twisted, but somehow The Cellar didn’t manage to convince me completely despite the promising premise. I don’t think I will be reading the sequel any time soon…


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YVO’S SHORTIES #119 – The Dream Thieves & Darius The Great Is Not Okay

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a YA edition… The first a sequel that surprisingly enough ended up disappointing me: The Dream Thieves by  Maggie Stiefvater. Be warned for an upcoming unpopular opinion review! Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram turned out to be just as good as people kept promising though.


Title: The Dream Thieves
(The Raven Cycle #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: September 17th 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Finished reading: August 7th 2019
Pages: 453

“All of us have secrets in our lives. We’re keepers or keptfrom, players or played. Secrets and cockroaches – that’s what will be left at the end of it all.”


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WARNING: it’s unpopular opinion time again!!

I should have known that the unpopular opinion curse wouldn’t stay away… Because even though I did enjoy the first book The Raven Boys back when I read it in December 2015, I can’t say I felt the same about The Dream Thieves. It’s true that I’ve heard people having mixed reactions to this sequel in general, and I fully understand why now. Unlike the first book, The Dream Thieves almost fully focuses on Ronan, and reactions to the sequel will most likely depend on your reaction to Ronan’s character in general. My reaction on Ronan’s character is actually surprisingly neutral; there are some things I like (including heritage and ‘powers’) and other aspects I found rather annoying (including his attitude), but overall I don’t mind him as a character. Having the focus mainly on Ronan in this story means that the magic of the first book is almost completely lost though… Because it’s the dynamics between the four raven boys and Blue that made that story into a success for me. Apart from the shifted focus, I also found The Dream Thieves to be rather overlong and quite boring in points… I actually caught myself skimreading certain parts, and that is never a good sign. I do have hopes for the final two books, as more than one fellow blogger has called this sequel the weakest link of the series, but I think I’m going to take a little break before I actually continue with The Raven Cycle. Maybe the unpopular opinion curse will get bored and will go away that way!


Title: Darius The Great Is Not Okay
Author: Adib Khorram

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: August 28th 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Finished reading: August 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart.”


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This one has been recommended to me multiple times and I love foreign settings featuring places I’ve never been before, so it’s easy to see why I was really excited to finally pick up Darius The Great Is Not Okay. I have to say it didn’t disappoint at all. While it’s true that it took me a couple of pages before I fully connected to the characters and writing, once I did I was hooked. The power of this story is both in its characters and the descriptions of the setting in Iran and the local culture. Especially the second was thorough, detailed and well developed, making Iran and daily life in Yazd come fully alive for me and it really enhanced my reading experience. Adib Khorram is able to make you feel as if you are right beside Darius in Yazd, discovering more about his family and his roots. Darius made for a very interesting flawed character, his depression and issues with not feeling that he belongs making you think about what it is like to stand in his place and how difficult it can be to overcome a clash of cultures within your own family or even within yourself. Darius doesn’t feel American enough, but doesn’t think he belongs in Iran either, with him not speaking farsi and not knowing a lot about their culture… I really liked how the author developed this theme in what I think is a realistic way; as a Dutch person living in a quite different culture and country (Argentina), I found it really easy to relate to Darius and his struggles. I loved learning more about Iran and seeing the characters grow and develop over time in general…The ending made me kind of sad though. If you enjoy YA fiction with a foreign setting and both interesting and flawed characters, you should definitely read Darius The Great Is Not Okay.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #117 – The Rose & The Dagger & An Unwanted Guest

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two titles I’ve been meaning to read for a while and I both ended up enjoying a lot. The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh is an excellent conclusion of the duology and I loved the premise of An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena.


Title: The Rose & The Dagger
(The Wrath & The Dawn #2)
Author: Renee Ahdieh

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: April 26th 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: July 30th 2019
Pages: 420

“True strength isn’t about sovereignty. It’s about knowing when you need help and having the courage to accept it.”


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Let’s face it: I’ve been meaning to read this sequel for years. I really enjoyed the first book of the The Wrath & The Dawn duology back in 2015 despite the slow start, but somehow I never picked up the second book when it came out in 2016… I’m glad I finally did though, because it’s without doubt a worthy sequel! While it’s true that it has been four years (whoops!) since I read the first book and it’s a bit hard to compare the two as it has been so long, I think I actually prefer The Rose & The Dagger over the first book. The annoying love triangle is still there, and it’s still one of the main focuses of the story, but I liked what the rest of the story had to offer. Between the writing, bantering between characters and the magical elements I had a great time reading The Rose & The Dagger and I had forgotten how interesting this high fantasy world was… Some aspects of the plot came a bit as a anticlimax, but overall I liked the developments of this story. War, love, magic and despair; you will find it all in The Rose & The Dagger. It’s without doubt a worthy ending to this duology and Shahrzad and Khalid’s story. Also, I adored the epilogue! If you enjoyed the first book, you will without doubt have a great time reading the sequel as well.


Title: An Unwanted Guest
Author: Shari Lapena

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 26th 2018
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Finished reading: August 2nd 2019
Pages: 304

“I’ve told the truth, but I’ve found that people believe what they want to believe. I can’t help that.”


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After enjoying The Couple Next Door last year, I’ve been looking forward to try more of Shari Lapena‘s books. I came across An Unwanted Guest when I was putting together my N.E.W.T.s Readathon TBR, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally read it. I definitely enjoyed what I found! The plot of this story kind of has that Agatha Christie and And Then There Were None feel, with a limited amount of characters being ‘trapped’ in a remote location and one by one characters starting to turn up dead. I always have a weak spot of this kind of premise and I definitely loved how Shari Lapena developed the plot in this story! The beginning of An Unwanted Guest might be a tad confusing with the introduction of so many characters in such a short time, but as soon as you are able to keep them apart it is really easy to start enjoying yourself. The setting in the remote hotel in the middle of winter is an interesting one, and definitely works perfectly for the plot. And as soon as the first body is discovered, you will feel the suspense building up page after page. Was it an accident? Or is there a murderer amongst the small group? The character and plot development is really well done and helps build up the suspicion between the different characters. Plot twists and secrets are used to keep you on the wrong track, and the situation quickly spins out of control. And that ending! If you are looking for an entertaining psychological thriller with a violent twist and, like me, love the whole ‘locked room’ premise, An Unwanted Guest is without doubt a great choice.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #114 – Tiger Lily & Pretty Girls

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres, but both books that failed to convince me completely… I love retellings and I’ve been meaning to read the Peter Pan retelling Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson for quite some time now, but I felt the romance was forced and the so-called spark was missing in general. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter turned out to be a very dark and disturbing read, but I had problems with the credibility of it all.


Title: Tiger Lily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: July 3rd 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: July 15th 2019
Pages: 309

“Sometimes I think that maybe we are just stories. Like we may as well just be words on a page, because we’re only what we’ve done and what we are going to do.”

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I always love a good retelling and I’ve been meaning to read this Peter Pan retelling for years now. I picked up my copy of Tiger Lily on a whim, looking for something for a little something different to read… And while it served that purpose just fine, I ended up havign mixed thoughts about the story itself. First of all, Tiger Lily is without doubt a fast read and I liked how the story was told from Tink’s POV. We get to know the different characters through her eyes and she plays a small role in the story itself as well. Tiger Lily was also an interesting character as a whole, but unfortunately I felt that the so-called “spark” was missing in the story and certain characters really started to get on my nerves. I wasn’t a fan of the romance either; it felt forced and the love triangle (should I say rectangle?) was quite frustrating as well. The romance just didn’t seem natural at all and wasn’t able to convince me… I would have preferred more focus on Neverland and have other aspects of the characters more developed. I can’t say I was happy with how both the abuse and Tik Tok not being like the rest of the men of the tribe were being handled either. I liked the references to the original Peter Pan story, but as a whole this story failed to convince me completely.


Title: Pretty Girls
Author: Karin Slaughter
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: July 2nd 2015
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: July 17th 2019
Pages: 548

“Every time she thought she’d hit bottom, he found a way to open a trapdoor and let her sink farther down.”

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I’m so behind when it comes to Karin Slaughter‘s books… I decided to pick up one of her books on a whim, and while I was planning to finally meet Will Trent, I ended up picking up one of her stand-alones instead. Pretty Girls has been on my TBR for quite some time, and it is also a title that has been recommended to me in the past. I’ve been looking forward to read it, and I definitely didn’t realize just how twisted things were going to get during this story. Oh yes, Pretty Girls is without doubt a breathtakingly disturbing read that will chill you to be bone… Just when you think it can’t get more disturbing and twisted, Karin Slaughter let’s you know another nugget of the full truth and disturbing is taken to a whole another level. And again. And again. The quote above describes my own feelings perfectly! Trust me when I tell you that this story isn’t for those with a weak stomach or those who are sensitive to violent scenes… Not only do we have to deal with a remarkably vile serial killer, but there are also a lot of graphic scenes involved that include torture, rape and murder. And things will get darker than a pitchblack night as both Claire and us readers start seeing the full scope of what is going on. Family drama, grief and addiction elements are mixed with a whole lot of violence, a particularly twisted serial killer, a dark and vile secret network and what can be called a conspiracy feel twist.

My main issue with Pretty Girls is simply the credibility of it all. As things were revealed and escalated more and more and more, I caught myself muttering ‘really?’ multiple times. I can’t go into details without spoiling the plot, but here’s an example: I simply don’t think the killer could have gotten away with things that long and the plot development was just way over the top for me. I also didn’t think Claire’s reaction (or Lydia’s) was all that believable as a whole. The writing itself was of course excellent and twistedness of the story without doubt made my blood curl. I just think that less would have been more in this case; less over the top plot twists and increasingly graphic and disturbing scenes, leaving room to breathe and focus on the serial killer and his actions in all his twisted glory. I’m not saying that Pretty Girls was a bad read (on the contrary), but it wasn’t my favorite Slaughter either. If you haven’t tried Pretty Girls yet, definitely make sure to brace yourself for a violent, dark and disturbing ride.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #112 – Ivory And Bone & House Of Furies

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two YA fantasy read, one that sadly ended up disappointing me and one that definitely hit the mark. The writing style, POV and dull plot turned Ivory And Bone by Julie Eshbaugh into a struggle for me… House Of Furies by Madeleine Roux on the other hand was creepy, intriguing and very easy to read.


Title: Ivory And Bone
(Ivory And Bone #1)
Author: Julie Eshbaugh

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
First published: June 7th 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: July 5th 2019
Pages: 384

“It’s strange how living things seem to shrink when the life is drained from them.”


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I’ve had Ivory And Bone on my radar for a long time now… Despite the mixed reviews I decided to give this story a chance anyway, mostly because I don’t come across pre-historic settings that often and the premise sounded fascinating. I still think the pre-historic timeframe is the most interesting aspect of this story, and I don’t think I would have made it to the last page without it. Oh yes, sadly I belong to the group that didn’t react well to Ivory And Bone. I’ll try to explain briefly why. A lot of my reaction to the story has to do with the fact that part of it is told from a second person POV. I had forgotten how much I despised this technique and I only refrained from DNFing because thankfully it was only used when Kol was talking about or interacting with Mya. Still, I feel I would have enjoyed the story significantly better if it would have used a third or even first person POV instead. Apart from the POV, I found the plot of Ivory And Bone to be rather dull and uneventful during mosty of the story. Which was a huge surprise, considering the pre-historic setting and the situation between the clans. The focus of the story was mostly on daily life within the clans and the whole romance/having to find a mate ordeal. To make things even worse, we even have to deal with a love triangle as well… But at least the romance is mainly slowburn. We do have a bit more action in the second half of the story, but overall I found the plot too slow and too uneventful to keep my attention. I wish I would have loved Ivory And Bone, but sadly we weren’t ment to be…


Title: House Of Furies
(House Of Furies #1)
Author: Madeleine Roux

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: May 30th 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: July 7th 2019
Pages: 416

“They do not know why they come, but they do, and once they step through the doors, their fate is sealed.”


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My first meeting with the work of Madeleine Roux was with the Asylum series, and I loved my time with those books. I’ve been wanting to pick up House Of Furies ever since… And I thought a dark and cold winter day would be a perfect alternative for the Halloween month to finally pick this paranormal horror/fantasy read up. This new series is without doubt another excellent creation! In fact, I think I might like it even more than the Asylum books… Both the historical setting in general and the descriptions are detailed and give the story the right eery and haunted atmosphere. I think part of the success of this story is the 1810 setting in the Coldthistle House and the sheer creepiness of it all. The writing itself was engaging and made me fly through this story in no time at all. The mystery around the Coldthistle House and its inhabitants is well handled and the not knowing exactly what is going on only adds suspense to the story. We have regular criminals as well as the supernatural incorporated into the plot, and I personally loved the little folklore stories as found in Mr. Morningside’s book. There is no doubt that House Of Furies would make a perfect Halloween read and I’m already looking forward to read the sequel! Because there is one thing for sure: the first book leaves the ending wide open and you will be left craving answers.


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