#BookReview: The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme @CoronetBooks #TheThirtyOneDoors #damppebbles

“If these walls could talk . . .

Scarpside House is famed for its beauty, its isolation, and its legendary parties.

Tonight, it hosts the Penny Club soiree. An annual gathering of lucky men and women from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their survival against the odds.

But this year their luck is running thin.

Accidents do happen, after all . .

And some are long overdue . . .”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme. The Thirty-One Doors was published by Coronet Books in hardcover, audio and digital formats on 20th October 2022. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Thirty-One Doors but that has in no way influenced my review.

When Detective Sergeant Frank Glover receives a strange call for help from Scarpside House just as he’s clocking off for the night, he feels it’s his duty to check it out. Bidding a goodnight to his colleague, he grabs his bike and starts a slow trek to the secluded manor house on the edge of a cliff. As the snowstorm worsens, Frank begins to doubt how sensible his decision was. Even more so when he realises the house cannot be reached without the use of a funicular, delaying his journey even more. On arrival Frank is greeted by Dottie, the Lady’s Maid, who informs him a party was in full swing but all of the guests, along with the butler, have vanished. Searching the house for answers, Frank and Dottie make some unnerving discoveries, including what looks like a large puddle of blood. Something is amiss at Scarpside House and it’s down to Frank to discover what…

The Thirty-One Doors is an interesting historical murder mystery novel with well-drawn gothic aspects and a beautifully written sense of claustrophobia which pulls the reader into the story. As the snowstorm worsens and all methods of communication, along with any chance of escape from the house are removed, Frank and Dottie begin to realise that they’re trapped with a killer. Someone who seems intent on picking off the members of the Penny Club one by one. There is a large cast of characters in the novel. Many are unlikeable, oozing privilege and power. Disrespecting one another and making the reader question exactly who could be behind the dastardly dealings at Scarpside House. Well, let’s face it, any of them could be the killer! They’re all pretty loathsome people, all hiding secrets they’d do anything to keep. But to counteract the nastiness of the family and the guests, the author has created two great characters in the form of DS Glover and Dottie. I found myself cheering them on. I wanted them to succeed in their quest. They both really made the story for me. However, I did feel that there were unanswered questions about Frank’s past which were referred to often but not really explained. Perhaps DS Frank Glover is set to make a return in the future and the gaps will be plugged then.

Would I recommend this book? If you’re looking for a slow burn mystery and you’re a fan of the golden age of crime fiction then yes, I feel you will enjoy The Thirty-One Doors. The characters are interesting and the setting is vividly drawn. I found the plot a little too predictable at points and was able to spot one aspect from very early on. But I try to not let things like that pull me out of the story, so I was pleased when my suspicions were confirmed. I also found the plot a little too slow at times and I would have liked those gaps I mentioned above covered in a little more detail but otherwise, I did enjoy The Thirty-One Doors and will be on the lookout for more from this author in the future. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Thirty-One Doors. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme was published in the UK by Coronet Books on 20th October 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shopdamppebbles amazon.co.uk shopdamppebbles amazon.com shop |

Kate Hulme studied history and history of art at university and works as a cultural consultant for museums and heritage organisations. The bizarre stories, strange objects, hidden passages and secret doors in Britain’s historic buildings proved rich pickings for fiction ideas and prompted her to try her hand at writing a book. She lives in rural Suffolk with her eight-year-old son and her elderly spaniel. The Thirty-One Doors is her first novel.

#BookReview: Begars Abbey by V.L. Valentine @ViperBooks #BegarsAbbey #damppebbles

“A dark house filled with darker secrets…

Winter 1954, and in a dilapidated apartment in Brooklyn, Sam Cooper realises that she has nothing left. Her mother is dead, she has no prospects, and she cannot afford the rent. But as she goes through her mother’s things, Sam finds a stack of hidden letters that reveal a family and an inheritance that she never knew she had, three thousand miles away in Yorkshire.

Begars Abbey is a crumbling pile, inhabited only by Lady Cooper, Sam’s ailing grandmother, and a handful of servants. Sam cannot understand why her mother kept its very existence a secret, but her newly discovered diaries offer a glimpse of a young girl growing increasingly terrified. As is Sam herself.

Built on the foundations of an old convent, Begars moves and sings with the biting wind. Her grandmother cannot speak, and a shadowy woman moves along the corridors at night. There are dark places in the hidden tunnels beneath Begars. And they will not give up their secrets easily…

A chilling read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night, Begars Abbey is a must-read for fans of Laura Purcell and W.C. Ryan.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Begars Abbey by V.L. Valentine. Begars Abbey is published by Viper Books today (that’s Thursday 28th April 2022) and is available in hardcover and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year. I chose to read and review a free ARC of Begars Abbey but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Therese at Viper Books for sending me a proof copy.

Following the death of her mother, Vera, Sam Cooper comes to realise that she has nothing left. She’s barely existing, she has no money and her Brooklyn apartment is crumbling around her. Whilst clearing out her mother’s belongings, Sam discovers a stack of telegrams her mother failed to mention. The telegrams reveal a family and a substantial inheritance several thousand miles away in Yorkshire. Sam is desperate to connect and find out why her mother would rather live in squalor, struggling to put food on the table each day, than ask her family for help. But on arrival in Yorkshire, Sam’s expectations are dashed. Begars Abbey is a crumbling ruin of a house, run by a strange housekeeper and a number of incompetent staff. Sam’s grandmother, Lady Cooper, is wheelchair bound and unable to utter a word after several strokes. There’s something not quite right about the house. So when Sam discovers her mother’s teenage diaries, she’s determined to discover what secrets Begars Abbey holds…

Begars Abbey is a thoroughly enjoyable, dark, chilling gothic mystery. I’ve been living on the edge recently and not reading the blurb of a book before I make a start on it so I went into Begars Abbey almost blind. Yes, it is clear from the cover that it’s a gothic tale but that’s as much as I knew. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that our story starts in Brooklyn in the 1950s! Sam is a fantastic character – well rounded, likeable and quite ballsy, which I really appreciated. I warmed to her instantly, despite the chill of the New York air already giving me goosebumps! I really enjoyed meeting Sam and finding more out about her relationship with her mother.

After a long journey across the Atlantic Ocean Sam’s arrival in England falls flat, with her pre-arranged escort nowhere in sight and the icy bitterness of the Liverpool docks providing the reader with even more chills. But with the help of the family’s solicitor, Alec Bell, Sam is whisked to her ancestral home. The supporting characters in the novel are all well-written and absolutely fascinating. I found Alec to be wonderfully frustrating whilst the eccentric but endlessly loyal Mrs Pritchett was unpredictable and unnerving – superb characterisation.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. If you’re a fan of gothic mysteries, or just well-written mysteries full stop, then I heartily recommend Begars Abbey. Dark, creepy and compelling, I flew through this book in a few short sittings and would gladly read more by this author. Wonderful imagery, marvellous characters and lots of surprises in store for the reader. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of Begars Abbey. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Begars Abbey by V.L. Valentine was published in the UK by Viper Books on 28th April 2022 and is available in hardcover and digital formats with the paperback to follow (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

V.L. ValentineV.L. Valentine is a senior science editor at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., where she has led award-winning coverage of global disease outbreaks including Ebola and the Zika virus. She has a master’s in the history of medicine from University College London and her non-fiction work has been published by NPR, The New York Times, The Smithsonian Channel and Science Magazine. The Plague Letters is her first novel.

#BookReview: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone #Mirrorland #damppebbles

“The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…

No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.

Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. Mirrorland was published last week (on Thursday 1st April 2021) by The Borough Press and is available in audio and digital formats with the hardcover to follow later this month and the paperback in October. I chose to read a free eARC of Mirrorland but that has in no way influenced my review.

This book has so much appeal. I couldn’t resist that gorgeous cover and the intriguing blurb. However, once I made a start on Mirrorland, I began to question whether I was the right reader for this book. It’s incredibly rare that I DNF a book once I’ve started, and I really wanted to like Mirrorland, so I persevered. And oh my gosh, I’m so glad I did. Otherwise I would have missed out on one heck of a twisted story!

Identical mirror twins, Ellice and Catriona, have lost touch with each other as the years pass. Catriona lives in the US and doesn’t speak to Ellice, who lives in the family home on the outskirts of Edinburgh. But then Ellice goes missing. She sailed her boat from the harbour on the Firth of Forth and hasn’t been seen since. Which prompts Catriona’s immediate return to her home town. The search for Ellice is in vain. She’s disappeared without trace. That is until Catriona starts to receive strange, anonymous messages. A treasure hunt no less! It’s time for Catriona to confront her past, to recall memories which she had long since buried and find out what has happened to her sister…

So what was it about Mirrorland that made me question whether I was the right reader? A lack of imagination on my part is the most honest answer I think. The book is written in the past – when the twins were young children – and the present. It was the ‘past’ sections I struggled with as the girls have created a magical world within 36 Westeryk Road which, to a child’s mind, makes perfect sense. These scenes are fantastical, abstract, full of the things that add to the wonderment of childhood (pirates, the tooth fairy, witches, clowns *shudder at the clowns*). But I couldn’t understand their placement, to an extent, and why the author was spending so much time building a picture of the twins playing together, as children do. As you progress through the book it all makes perfect sense but at the time, I just wanted to get to the juicy stuff; the lies, betrayal and danger!

There is a good reason for these scenes and I can see that now with hindsight. It’s all part of the author building her characters and their story. I wish I had appreciated it more at the time.

Catriona is a fascinating character who I can’t claim to have liked – she does some pretty awful things – but I could empathise with her to a degree. Other characters in the book are well-written. My favourite character was DI Kate Rafiq who is tasked with discovering what happened to Ellice, alongside DS Logan. What a formidable team they made! I loved that Rafiq was there for Catriona when she was needed the most.

The plot has plenty of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming and was left reeling after their reveal. The more you dig, the darker things become and I adored that. It’s a complex story which you need to dedicate time to – to savour what the author is sharing with the reader. It’s a beautiful piece of fiction and it needs to be appreciated.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Mirrorland is a deliciously dark debut. Its gothic tones are done to perfection with the creepy old house on Westeryk Road. I became completely invested in finding out the truth and my heart went out to Catriona as she made shocking discovery after shocking discovery. It’s a devilishly twisted tale and I’m so glad I read it. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of Mirrorland. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 1st April 2021 and is available in digital and audio formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America.

Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press.

Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US).

More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com

#BookReview: Pine by Francine Toon @DoubledayUK #Pine #damppebbles

“They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.”

Welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of Pine by Francine Toon. Pine was published by Doubleday in all formats on 1st October 2020. I chose to read and review a free ARC of Pine but that has in no way influenced my review.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year (and let’s face it, for many of us that would probably have been preferable!) then chances are you’ve seen Pine mentioned before. It’s a huge book. A prize-winning novel, shortlisted for many prestigious crime fiction awards. And rightly so. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like Pine before.

Lauren and her father are driving home one night when a mysterious, unresponsive figure steps out into the road. They bundle her into their truck, take her home to safety and give her a good meal. In the morning, the woman has gone. But only Lauren can remember what happened the night before. Odd occurrences like this aren’t all that unusual in the small town on the outskirts of the pine forest in the Scottish highlands though. Strange things sometimes happen, people go missing without a trace…

I really felt for Lauren who is such a beautifully written character. Her innocence and her maturity broke my heart in equal measure. She really got under my skin and I was repeatedly drawn back to the book to see what was going to happen next. I willed for her to have a happy ending. You’ll have to pick up a copy of the book yourself to see if she does.

For a debut, this is quite an astonishing book. The prose is stunning and the setting is creepy and atmospheric, almost haunting. I would go as far as saying it is a character in it’s own right. There’s a supernatural feel to Pine which had me on the edge of my seat. The author sprinkles unease over her story from start to finish and I loved how the building sense of the unknown drew me into the pages. I was hooked and with Lauren every step of the way.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Pine is a beautiful slow-burn gothic mystery. I’m a huge fan of claustrophobic small town settings and Toon has achieved something great here. It’s haunting and suspenseful, eerie and compelling. A tale of fractured relationships, grief and addiction. Of lives destroyed and of lives with just nowhere to go. As I said earlier, I’ve not read anything like this before and I don’t expect to read anything like it again. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of Pine. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Pine by Francine Toon was published in the UK by Doubleday on 1st October 2020 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryBookshop.orgthe damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.