Mel is an overworked, overstressed recently single mother who lives in an apartment block in a gentrified beachside suburb of Sydney, Australia. She’s only just moving on from her ex-husband when the ghost moves into the upstairs apartment—a ghost from Mel’s past. Mel is soon utterly obsessed with the ghost upstairs and his new English backpacker girlfriend. Set during the 2020 pandemic, the lives of Mel and the couple upstairs become more and more intertwined, more connected, with horrifying consequences. Is there such a thing as going too far?
The Couple Upstairs by Holly Wainwright is a 2022 contemporary novel with psychological thriller, drama, and romance elements. I was recommended this book by my mum a while ago. I’ve been on an insane reading blitz this year, and requested a bunch of books on Borrowbox and Libby assuming they’d be available at different times, but alas, no. Suddenly I had nine books to read in a short period of time, which I’d be forced to read in order of due date rather than what I actually wanted to read first. Luckily, the first one was Headcase by Jack Heath, the latest in the delectably amazing Timothy Blake series. And it was pretty great. Then there was The Couple Upstairs, a decent read but largely forgettable. The last book I read in April was a total shitshow: book eight of the Phryne Fisher series, which was a slog that took me over a month to finally finish, and would have been a DNF had I not been listening to the audiobook.
So what does all this preamble—this preamble you likely didn’t read in your haste to scroll to the bottom of the page and check out my review for The Couple Upstairs—lead to? Well, it means that The Couple Upstairs was a complex book, a decent read, sandwiched in between a great book (Headcase—just shy of four stars) and a mediocre drag (Urn Burial—two stars).
“You don’t support the author, you heartless monster!”
“Think about the Almighty Algorithm™“
“Think about the writers!”
Apparently, there’s been (ongoing) discourse on Book Twitter about whether readers should be allowed to rate books less than five stars.
Perhaps I’m surprised there are still people on Twitter after the Musk takeover, but I stumbled across the blog post Reviewing and rating books: A deeply personal act by Krystal Gagen, and forgot just how passionate terminal Twitter users get about their interests. Gagen’s post was great reading. You should check it out.
Twenty-six year old Celeste Price is incredibly beautiful and vain about it, married to the older, richer, toxic masculine, ignorant, aptly-named Ford. But she has a secret—her husband is seventeen years too old for her sexual urges. Celeste is a reverse Humbert Humbert, attracted only to prepubescent boys, fourteen year olds like the quiet boy, Jack Patrick, a student at the middle school in Florida where Celeste teaches. Remorseless, narcissistic, and constantly manipulative, Mrs Price engages in a relationship with fourteen year old Jack, and what happens from there will shock and stun you.
So goes Tampa by Alissa Nutting, a gender-bent Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov released in 2013. Nutting, a creative writing professor, wrote Tampa as a biting social satire, exploring society’s relationship with female beauty and how we view female predators. I read most of this book over the course of a day in a haze, really quite unsure what to think of it. Much like American Psychoby Bret Easton Ellis, which this book compares itself to alongside Lolita, I was left with way too many thoughts and no idea how and what to rate it, and whether I loved or hated it. It’s a book that makes you feel things, mostly uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s great to read a book that invokes a response other than “Meh! Totally forgettable”.
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?
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?
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.