Young, rich and unworldly Philip Ashley was raised by his uncle Ambrose after his parents died. For years, it was only the two of them. Philip and Ambrose. One year, in an effort to cure what ails him, Ambrose sets out for Florence, Italy, and falls for his mysterious cousin Rachel. Not really a cousin—more like a distantly related family member. Ambrose falls for cousin Rachel and marries her. Then he dies suddenly. Philip, thrown off by increasingly suspicious and mentally unsound letters from Ambrose, sets out for Florence, and is only left with more questions than answers. When cousin Rachel announces she is to visit Philip in Cornwall, he prepare to meet his cousin Rachel with hatred in his heart.
My Cousin Rachelis a gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier published in 1951. After becoming obsessed with Rebecca after reading it in April 2017 and watching the movie adaptation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier not along after, I was interested in reading more du Maurier. In early 2018 I splurged and bought the Virago Modern Classics hardcovers of Rebecca alongside My Cousin Racheland The Birds: Short Stories after seeing the gorgeous covers in a BookTube video. I tried reading MCR in 2019 or 2020, but because of everything that year entailed, stopped reading halfway through, started again, stopped. Late last year, in a reading frenzy, I finally decided to start again, and read the physical copy alongside the Borrowbox audiobook narrated by Jonathan Pryce. And I can say I finally finished it earlier this month! Was it as good as Rebecca?
Wow. So it’s the end of another year in this constant rollercoaster that is the roaring ’20s. Some people thought, perhaps naively, that the last two years were perhaps a mirage before our dazed subconscious, mocking our very existence, and we would wake up clearly and calmly to the first of January, 2030. Last night—December 31—it was 2019. The governments of the world deigned to make the 2020s invisible to the history books, much like that old joke about how “only 90s kids remember” the 1990s (implying that if you’re born earlier in the twentieth century, I’m sorry but that century ended for you in 1989).
2022 was definitely a year. A year with three twos. A year where we started to forget about COVID—which caused me to get it for the first time after avoiding the damn thing for the better part of three years. A year where Russia and Ukraine existed, and many Americans discovered Europe is not merely a singular country and actually full of many different, varied countries who can and will go to war with each other. Some celebrities died. The Queen also died. Brits and the British Commonwealth will have to replace their coins with Charles’ mug. Prior to this, Brits spent the first half of the year uniting in their shared love for a beloved fish and chip shop. Australia finally voted out Scott Morrison and now has a competent leader for the first time in almost a decade.
Halloween, 2004. It’s Nana’s eightieth birthday, and she’s arranged to celebrate in style, inviting the whole Darker family for a night of fun and shenanigans on her remote isolated home on the Cornish coast. Most of the family haven’t spoken in years, and they’re only really here for Nana’s reading of her Will. When Nana—who’s been fated by a palm reader to die when she turns eighty—is found dead when the clock strikes midnight, things start to take a darker turn. And when someone else turns up dead an hour later, the Darkers come to realise someone is killing them off one by one by one.
Daisy Darkerby Alice Feeney is a novel reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, released at the end of August, exactly a month ago. Set concurrently in the past and the present, and narrated by youngest Darker daughter, Daisy, Daisy Darker is a fast-paced, twisty thriller that was beautifully narrated in audiobook form by Stephanie Racine. While this was the third thriller/mystery I read this month, it definitely took the cake, because while Renee Knight’s The Secretary was decent, that one kinda felt like it tread a similar path to most unreliable-narrator-thrillers that I’ve read and reviewed over the past half-decade on this blog. I most definitely thought Daisy Darker was going to join their ranks, until the plot twist near the end. Holy fuck, the plot twist! I haven’t felt this way reading my current fave of character-based stories since the ending of The Heights by Louise Candlish that I reviewed this time last year. Maybe something is in the September air? Could be my ten year anniversary with WordPress, that passed me by two weeks ago completely unnoticed?
Julie Clarke is in her final year of school and has her future sorted. Move out of Ellensburg, move in with her boyfriend Sam Obayashi, attend her dream college Reed, write while he plays guitar, and spend a summer in Japan. Then Sam dies. Julie skips the funeral and struggles to work out how to pick up the pieces. She’s ready to chuck out all of Sam’s things and pretend he never existed. Then Julie decides to call Sam one last time. And Sam picks up the phone.
You’ve Reached Samis a 2021 contemporary romance by Dustin Thao. I was lured by this novel because, despite almost never reading contemporary romances, it sounded very similar to a short story that haunted me as a kid—Shake by Paul Jennings. Who knew a short story collection I got in a cake mix would have such an effect? I’m glad I read You’ve Reached Sam—it’s not a genre I would typically read, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out of our comfort zone.
Timothy Blake isn’t your typical FBI civilian consultant. He’s a cannibal who solves crimes for the FBI purely so he can be given death row inmates to consume. Behind closed doors, he’s constantly starving and poor as dirt, solving riddles online—originally as a method of stealing credit card numbers—but soon it’s part of his personality. He’s also a genius who catches the eye of Houston FBI Director Peter Luzhin. When a 14 year old boy vanishes on his way home from school, the FBI employs Blake to help them out. But has Blake finally met his match?
Hangman by Australian author Jack Heath is the start of a trilogy I devoured in just over a month, alongside its sequels Hunter and Hideout. I came across Hangman because I was lured by the prospect of a book that’s basically the midpoint between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. Having already read two of the Hannibal books this year, I thought, “Why not read more cannibal books this year?” Is there such a thing as reading too much cannibal fiction in one year? How did I accidentally get my reading mojo back with such a specific subgenre of crime novels? Without answering these questions, I can only say I raced through the Christopher Ragland-narrated Timothy Blake trilogy. Ragland’s Texan accent makes listening to the trilogy a complete delight. I got myself absolutely immersed into this series. “But, surely,” you start, wide-eyed and confused. “The series can’t possibly remain good over three books…can it? The Dexter series devolved into hot garbage far too quickly. Does this?”
Nora Seed’s life is going nowhere. Once an aspiring swimming star, rockstar and glaciologist, her relationship with her boyfriend Dan is over and her brother’s barely in contact, she’s just lost her part-time job, and her cat Voltaire is found dead on the side of the road. Thinking her potential is lost, and everything is over, Nora plans to end everything…until she wakes up in the Midnight Library. The Midnight Library’s is Nora’s consciousness’s way of dealing with quantum immortality and alternative universes, with its head her former school librarian and only real maternal figure, Mrs Elm. Now she has the chance to relive her lost lives, make her way through her book of regrets, what could have been. In the process, we wonder what could have been if we’d diverged a different path in life. What will Nora Seed learn?
The Midnight Library is a 2020 novel by Matt Haig, part-fantasy and part-philosophical manifesto. During the lockdown, everyone and their cat was talking about this novel, and I was lured by the prospect of another book about a bookstore/library where magical things happen. Just see my previous reviews for Pages and Coby Anna James and The Left-Handed Booksellers of Londonby Garth Nix. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but when I do, apparently there’s a lot of magical bookstores and magical libraries. Need more? I’m also intrigued by The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu and The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston. But…back to The Midnight Library. Everyone and their cute cats (named after literary references a la Leo in Elegance of the Hedgehog) were fascinated by The Midnight Library. I was late to the train until early this year, when I chanced upon the Carey Mulligan-narrated audiobook on Borrowbox. Ooh, I thought. I liked her in Never Let Me Go. And Promising Young Woman was okay, but it got me obsessed with Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning, so it has that going for it. So I started listening. But was it worth it?
The name Clarice Starling is iconic thanks to Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the whip-smart young FBI Academy student, pitted against charismatic serial killer Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, in the Academy Award winning film from 1991. But her roots begin, as always, in the original book. Starling is a trainee at the FBI Academy, one of the brightest students in her class, and that’s how she draws the attention of the one and only Jack Crawford. Crawford knows imprisoned cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter knows more than he’s telling the Feds about the string of murders happening around the U.S. by a killer the press have dubbed Buffalo Bill. Since he lost his previous protégé, Will Graham, after the events of Red Dragon, he turns his sights on pretty, intelligent, female student Starling as his last resort.
The Silence of the Lambsby Thomas Harris is a 1988 psychological horror novel, and the sequel to Red Dragon. I both listened to the audiobook narrated by Frank Muller and read the physical book borrowed from the library. I had this book in my possession for a few many months, and it was only when it reached overdue status at the library that I finally pulled it out and read it in a couple of sittings. It’s been over a decade since I watched the Jodie Foster film, and basically nothing stuck except the basics, which made the book an exciting, fresh reading experience. Back then, I didn’t appreciate the film and was basically, like, “Oh, it’s just a lot of talking”. Over a decade on, I definitely appreciate the psychological element more.
2021 is finally over, and I know there’s more than a few of you thrilled to see the back of 2020: Part II. 2020’s sequel. Not like we were ever going to escape from that dreaded year.
It’s been a year. COVID-19 continued its dreaded wave of destruction. I commemorated getting out of two lockdowns by getting tattooed each time. Anne Rice died and, as a not-so-secret lover of vampire media (my hot take: Dangerous Girls by R.L Stine is the best vampire novel), it was definitely not the news we needed to hear. I watched a really good Netflix TV series, Perfume, this week, and Dexter: New Blood‘s surpassed all my expectations so far. I was surprised that I enjoyed the Chris Rock Saw movie. I stopped consuming news for the most part, and my mental health has improved considerably. Probably a good thing, since Australian Prime Minister Scott “Scummo” Morrison’s trying his damndest to censor the internet under the guise of “protecting children” from “internet trolls”, which is code for “only allowing his pre-approved legacy media hacks to bleat his propaganda without any criticism whatsoever”. But enough of that.
In the mid-1990s, in Claremont, Western Australia, three young women went missing after visiting local nightclubs, and two of them turned up dead. Despite a massive public outrage and an unprecedented police investigation, no killer was arrested as the so-dubbed Claremont Serial Killer until December 2016.
So goes the tale in Bret Christian’s true crime nonfiction Stalking Claremont: Inside the hunt for a serial killer. It’s not the first book to tell the story of the elusive, threatening Claremont Killer who haunted Australia for two decades, but this January 2021 release is the first to tell the full story now the killer, Bradley Edwards, is behind bars.
I first took notice of the Claremont Serial Killings probably around 2015, somewhere around the time of a report on the case on current affair TV, and spent much time poring through the news articles and Websleuths/Big Footy forums (which it was later revealed the killer himself had an account), and had heard about the many details from Debi Marshall’s ‘The Devil’s Garden‘ recited to me by someone else interested in the then-unsolved case, before the big news was announced in late-2016. Bret Christian is a local journalist in Western Australia, and his story is the first full, respectful, comprehensive account of everything surrounding the case, dispelling myth and portraying the facts.
In what’s supposed to be a slightly alternate 1983, Susan Arkshaw is about to start university, but first she wants to find her biological father. Before she can even begin to start her new life in London, Susan’s life is turned upside down. She meets up with a man who may know something about her dad, crime boss Frank Thringley, but before anything can happen, Frank is dead at the hands of Merlin, a left-handed bookseller, and her life will never be the same again.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a 2020 fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. I’m not much of a fantasy reader, that stage passing me in my early teens after the Harry Potter urban fantasy trend died down. But I was on Borrowbox, which is like Libby, and this audiobook rekindled something in me. I’m certain I read Nix as a child, so I decided ‘Why not? Why not read his fiction again?’ Left-Handed Booksellers, in its plot, sounded similar to Pages & Co by Anna James, and while it wasn’t that similar once I got into it, I still surprisingly enjoyed this 11-hour audiobook.