The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

“She could reorder their world and keep him safe. They did not need to build a new fiction together, for she could make reality.”

It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of immersing myself in a Gothic story, so I was psyched to get my hands on The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. Published in October, Starling’s third novel is a blend of horror and psychological thriller infused with all of your favorite Gothic tropes, from the old and dilapidated haunted house, to the labyrinth in the home’s family crypt, to supernatural hauntings and magical rituals (not to mention a cursed husband!). Without further ado, let’s dive into this intoxicating read.

Taking place in a fictional setting akin to post-war Great Britain, but with anachronistic cultural aspects reminiscent of the 1800s, this story revolves around two primary characters: Jane, a strong and practical female protagonist, and Dr. Augustine Lawrence, a renowned surgeon with a small practice in the town of Larrenton. Realizing she must marry in order to continue her professional work as an accountant, Jane considers several eligible men in town before offering a business-like arrangement to Augustine. In this arrangement, they would marry solely on professional grounds, with no intimacies expected or desired, in order to advance in their respective occupations. After due hesitation and consideration, Augustine agrees to the proposal under one strict condition: Jane must never stay with him at Lindridge Hall, his family’s manor just outside of town.

Naturally, this condition is quickly broken just a week later upon their wedding day. After having dinner together at Lindridge Hall, Jane leaves at nightfall to stay at Augustine’s surgery in town, but is thwarted from returning when a heavy rainstorm overturns her carriage. Resigned to walking back to the manor, certain her newly-wedded husband would understand the extenuating circumstances of her return, she quickly finds herself experiencing a very different side of Augustine – one who is terrified, haunted, and seemingly at a remove from reality. Upon waking in the morning, however, Augustine acts as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred. As circumstance after circumstance prevents her from leaving the hall, Jane begins to learn of dark secrets Augustine is hiding from her and everything she thought to be true starts to unravel around her.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and appreciated the deep and complex character development of both Jane and Augustine. They are both extremely complicated characters, as is their relationship throughout the book, and I enjoyed not knowing who to trust as I read the story. I also enjoyed how every page dripped with Gothicism; it reminded me of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, so I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed that novel (here is a blog I wrote on that title last year). I also highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good dose of horror heavily steeped in psychology. I know I will definitely be following Starling’s future releases and reading her first two novels!

DISCLAIMER: While I did enjoy this book, I will admit several passages were a bit hard to read due to their gruesome nature; this primarily comes from descriptions of medical procedures and magical rituals.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Guest post by Anthony

I love horror and suspense stories but I tend to be a little bit of chicken when it comes to movies or TV shows. Because of that books are where I usually go for my creepy or suspenseful tales. A recent novel that I read that falls into that category is The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

The Luminous Dead is a young adult book that follows the story of a cave diver named Gyre who lives on an alien world and takes on a mysterious but lucrative new job in order to get enough money to leave the planet. The job that Gyre is assignment will have her explore a cave system by herself with a radio connection to her handler Em stationed on the surface as her only means of communication. Gyre lied about herself in order to get the job offer so when odd circumstances such as a lack of briefing on the mission until after she starts down the cave system and a lack of contact with other members of the organization pop up she doesn’t raise any concerns in order to avoid her lie being discovered. As Gyre climbs farther down from the surface of the planet these concerns pile up until it becomes clear that the job was far different and more dangerous than she was led to believe and that Em has been lying about herself and her past as much as Gyre has.

The Luminous Dead does a great job describing and escalating the tension of exploring a cave system. For the mission Gyre wears a caving suit that completely encases her body, recycles her oxygen, and has a shunt implanted directly into her stomach for food. After many days of caving this lack of ability to feel herself with her own hands or breath any fresh air extracts quite a mental toll on Gyre. In addition to this what Gyre sees and hears is also played for her by the suit, there are no windows or other openings to the outside. Early on in the mission it is revealed that both of these feeds can be remotely monitored and changed by Em which adds further stress on Grye as she has to decide if what she believes that she is seeing or hearing is real or not. 

I really enjoyed the The Luminous Dead. It did a great job building up the suspense while riding the fine line of keeping the reader unsure of whether something truly supernatural was happening or not. Both Gyre and Em are really well-developed characters with flaws and perspectives that are fully explored. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a good suspense story with a sci-fi twist.

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar

The lives of famous artists has always fascinated me. You get a tiny glimpse of their lives when you visit museums, but that’s hardly the full story. Sara Sligar’s debut book, Take Me Apartlets readers look into the background of a photographer as people try to figure out what really happened to her.

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar talks about the history of a famous photographer through the eyes of an ex-journalist hired by her son. Miranda Brand is a famous photographer who died mysteriously when she was at the peak of her career. Miranda left behind a grieving husband and a young son who had to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. The whole community of Callinas, California was shocked and wondered what really happened to Miranda. Her artwork became even more priceless and her agent was able to sell what he had left of hers for very high prices.

Decades later, Miranda’s son Theo heads back to the house where he grew up. His father has recently died and Theo has decided to clean up the house. He hires ex-journalist Kate Aitken to archive Miranda’s work and personal effects. She begins the arduous process of organizing her materials and finds herself at the center of the rumor mill surrounding the Brand family and their house. The community is still telling stories full of rumors and somewhat shocking details about Miranda’s life, while Kate is finding out bits and pieces of her true life. Miranda seemed to be crumbling under the pressures of family, marriage, and trying to balance her artistic ambition with being a new mother. While she works to catalog all of Miranda’s papers, Kate is continuously haunted by secrets from her own past. When a surprising discovery related to Miranda falls into her lap, Kate’s curiosity begins to tip out of her control, leading her down a spiral that concerns all those around her.

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones is a whirlwind ride of a suspense novel, full of unexpected twists, turns  all within one family, where each member is hiding their own damaging secrets.  This is another strong offering in the domestic suspense / psychological thriller genre that is currently quite popular.  The Half Sister is Sandie Jones’ third novel, following both The First Mistake  and The Other Woman, which was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick in late 2018.

Joining their mother for the routine Sunday dinner after the death of their father, Kate and Lauren begrudgingly go through the emotions  of a seemingly normal family whose cracks have become more and more apparent.  The sister’s relationship was never very solid and the death of their father, and their opposing memories of him creates a deeper divide with each family dinner.

On a typical Sunday, the group receives an expected visitor named Jess who promptly announces that she is the daughter of their father, which makes her Kate and Lauren’s half sister.  Each sister has their own reaction to Jess, which spans the spectrum from complete denial that their father would have had a secret daughter (Kate) to intrigue that the stranger may be telling the truth (Lauren).  Jess does have scientific proof in the form of a DNA test that, on the surface, proves her claims.

As the weeks wear on, Jess has an uncanny ability to cause more and more friction between the sisters and their mother, who also harbors doubts about their father and a possible secret life.  As Kate delves into spotty memories of the past, she realizes that there are a handful of unexplained behaviors from her father that make her doubt her memories of him as the “perfect” father.

Lauren, who believes Jess, is on a quest to discover the truth which leads her to a decades old mystery that has never been solved.  The trail leads right back to the family and a past that has been strictly off limits.  When the truth begins to rise to the surface, the twists and turns come in quick succession.  I really enjoyed The Half Sister, especially the second half of the book when the tension, theories, and accusations come to the shocking conclusion.

 

 

Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman

When Malin Ahlberg starts her freshman year at Hawthorne College in rural Maine, she is immediately befriended by a group of freshman who are brought together by chance during their first few days as new students.  Malin, along with Gemma, Ruby, Max, John and Khaled remain a tight-knit group throughout their four years at Hawthorne, but their years together are marked by drama, suspicion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder.  Tell Me Everything  by Cambria Brockman is a psychological thriller with a unsettling and, frankly, disturbing series of events with an ending that is literally jaw-dropping!

Malin tells her story in alternating chapters with gradual glimpses of problems at home with her family,  most notably with her brother who passed away years earlier.  She always stops short of revealing too much,  so the reader is left with more questions than answers as the anticipation grows.  What is she hiding from her past?  She replicates this secrecy with her current group of friends, not letting anyone know the real Malin.  To be honest, Malin is not a very endearing or likeable character.  As I was reading Tell Me Everything, I could tell pretty quickly that something was clearly not right with Malin, but Brockman has a great way of keeping the reader on their toes!

As the years progress, it becomes apparent that Malin is choreographing many of the dramas, misinterpretations and misunderstandings between the group.  While stirring the pot, it becomes clear that she enjoys watching the drama unfold.  The crescendo of both plot lines (family drama as a child and currently at Hawthorne) comes together seamlessly with not only one but two murders that are equally disturbing.

I highly recommend Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman.  I cannot guarantee that you will be a fan of some of the characters, but this is a well-written and suspenseful debut.  I am impressed with Brockman’s first book and am excited to see what she comes up with next!

 

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Cross Her Heart is another hit for author Sarah Pinborough (after another great novel, Behind Her Eyes).  Written in alternate chapters by different characters, Cross Her Heart  is a fabulous addition to the psychological suspense genre.  Taking place in present day Britain, single mother Lisa is overly cautious and very protective of her teenage daughter, Ava.  Ava is annoyed at her mother’s clingy nature, which only increases when she is in the company of her friends, whose parents are much more trusting of their own children.

Lisa’s life consists of work and her home life with Ava.  Her nights out are few and far between and they are usually with a close co-worker, Marilyn, and her husband, Richard.  But, unbeknownst to anyone who knows her,  Lisa’s life is starting to unravel when glimmers from her past begin to emerge.  She  wakes up every day with panic that her past will come back to haunt her carefully constructed life.  But Lisa isn’t the only one with secrets.  Ava has also been keeping secrets from her mother and is involved with someone older who says they care for her, or do they?

While attending a town festival, Ava rescues a toddler from a near tragedy and the fanfare that develops around Lisa and her daughter has catastrophic results for the two of them.  Someone recognizes Lisa and the life she has built for herself and her daughter is in jeopardy.  Both Lisa and Ava are at danger and Lisa leans on her trusty friend Marilyn for support.  With asking Marilyn for help, also means that Lisa has to be completely honest with her which could put everyone at risk.

The twists and turns in Cross Her Heart are fast and jaw dropping.  If you love this genre, Sarah Pinborough is a great author to check out.

 

 

 

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I am a huge fan of mystery and psychological thrillers and Watching You by Lisa Jewell is a fabulous addition to the genre.  The twists and turns in this thriller will keep you guessing until literally the last paragraph.  The book begins with a murder in an affluent English town but the reader does not know the who, what, when, where or how.  With an opening such as this, the tension grows and every character’s motivations are suspect until the true killer is revealed.

Newlyweds Joey Mullen and her husband Alfie have just moved to the exclusive neighborhood of Melville Heights in Bristol, England.  Unable to afford rent on their own, they take up residence with Joey’s brother and sister-in-law.  As a newcomer in the neighborhood, Joey befriends Tom Fitzwilliam, the beloved local school headmaster who lives two doors away and her initial friendship turns quickly from infatuation to obsession.  But, unbeknownst to Joey,  someone is watching through their photographic lens.  It is Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, who documents the goings on in Melville Heights and sees the blossoming relationship his dad is starting with Joey.

But Joey isn’t the only person in this neighborhood who is obsessed with Tom Fitzwilliam.  Bess, a young student at the school, is observed slipping in and out of the headmaster’s office by Jenna, another teen in the neighborhood and the speculation grows.  Does Tom have secrets to hide?   To add to the intrigue Jenna’s mother is convinced a group of neighbors, headed by Fitzwilliam, is stalking her.  Young Freddie and Jenna join forces and with their prying eyes discover a decades old suicide which will bring motivations for murder to light.  Everyone has a reason, but who is willing to kill in order to keep a secret and enact revenge?

About half way throughout the book I thought I knew the ending, but I was completely shocked at the culprit and the twisted motivations behind the killing.  I highly recommend Watching You for suspense and thriller fans!

 

 

 

 

 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is quickly becoming one of my go-to, will-never-disappoint authors. I know I will enjoy whatever she writes because her books always pull me in and wrap me up in their suspenseful psychological messes. Bonus: the narrator for both of her books that I listened to was thoroughly engaging.

The Lying Game tells the twisted, complicated story of four young girls who met at Salten, a boarding school near the cliffs of the English Channel. Fatima, Thea, Isabel, and Kate helped each other navigate the murky waters of this boarding school during their teenage years. Their friendship was so strong that no matter what happened, they each knew that the other three girls would have their back. These girls became inseparable and solidified their reputations as untouchable and the ‘bad girls’ with the invention of the lying game. The lying game may have started out harmless, but quickly grew out of control as the girls’ abilities to keep their lies and truths straight deteriorated. The number one rule of the lying game: don’t lie to the other players. That rule became more and more difficult to follow the longer the game went on, something that had the possibility to destroy all of their lives.

After leaving abruptly in the middle of the school year, all four friends find themselves thrust back into the regular world without a clue what to do. Fatima, Thea, Kate, and Isabel have woven a complicated, messy relationship that none of them can escape.  Each will still drop whatever they are doing to come to the rescue of the other, even though many years have passed.

One morning in June, the four friends’ lives begin to unravel. Human remains are discovered near Salten by a woman walking her dog next to a tidal estuary. The discovery of the body shocks this peaceful town out of its idyllic reverie. Fatima, Thea, and Isabel soon find themselves thrust back into Salten life when they receive a distressing text from Kate saying that she needs them. Arriving back into town, the four’s shared past bursts to the surface and their realities come crashing down.  A shared secret has the ability to destroy their current lives as well as drastically change their pasts.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

don't you cryDon’t You Cry is a psychological mysterious thriller. It falls along the same lines as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I found the twists that happened in this book to be less predictable, at least to me. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is a twisting tale of deception, obsession, strangers, friends, and missing people. Quinn Collins is a young woman living in downtown Chicago with her roommate, Esther Vaughan. Everything seems to be going perfectly fine in Quinn’s life until she wakes up one morning and discovered that Esther has disappeared from their apartment without a trace. reporting Esther as missing only results in Quinn being told that Esther will probably come back in 48-72 hours and she should just wait. Quinn decides to take matters into her own hands and goes through Esther’s room looking for any clues. What she finds there leads Quinn to question who Esther really is and where she has disappeared to.

Alex Gallo is an eighteen-year-old boy working at a coffee shop an hour outside Chicago. Alex lives in this small lake town with his alcoholic father across from an old abandoned house that everyone thinks is haunted. One day, a mysterious woman walks into the coffee shop and Alex finds himself drawn to her. Alex is quickly pulled into Pearl’s spell, feeding and clothing her even though he knows nothing about her. Alex gets closer and closer to Pearl and realizes that he actually knows almost nothing about the town that he lives in.

While Quinn searches for Esther and Alex tries to learn more about Pearl, there are other factors simmering in the background of the book that demand the readers attention. This book is told in alternating voices, a fact that I enjoyed since I listened to this book through OverDrive and was able to dive into the characters more. Mary Kubica does a fabulous job of weaving a missing person story with family drama, mysterious pasts, old ghost stories, and alternate life stories. The tension slowly lives under the surface of this book until the end when the narrative explodes. Highly recommended.


This book is also available in the following formats:

In The Woods by Tana French

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Irish author Tana French’s debut mystery, In The Woods.  French thrusts the reader into a dual storyline – one past and one present – both inextricably linked by one man, Inspector Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad.  Twenty years before, Rob and his two young school chums made headlines when all three disappeared and Rob was later found alone exiting the woods without any recollection of what had happened to his friends –  the case has remained unsolved. 

In the current case, Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox are assigned to a case involving the murder of a young ballet dancer, Katy Develin – a crime that was committed in the exact same spot as Detective Ryan’s incident twenty years prior (he changed his name from Adam Ryan due to the publicity of his case).  Katy’s family begins to exhibit odd and baffling behavior and it peaks the interest of the detectives.  Ryan and Maddox realize that someone close to the victim may be involved – but which family member knows more about Katy’s murder than they are admitting?  

I am a big fan of mysteries and the ending of In The Woods was a shocker- I highly recommend it.