Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.

Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.

The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.

The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.

Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.

Request a copy here or snag a digital copy here!

True Crime Book Review

Victim F: From Crime Victims to Suspects to Victims by Denise Huskins

What happens when you are accused of fabricating the worst night of your life? How do you deal with the fact that the people meant to help you think you’re the criminal? This case is wild! With a stranger abduction, rape, mistaken identities, secret organizations, cops with tunnel vision, it’s no surprise that this case was referred to as the real life Gone Girl. Victim F follows Denise and Aaron through Denise’s abduction, the tragic aftermath, and ultimately their recovery efforts as well as lawsuits. A fantastic true crime read. 

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True Crime Book Review

Deep in the Woods: The 1935 Kidnapping of Nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser, Heir to America’s Mightiest Timber Dynasty by Bryan Johnston

As an avid consumer of all things true crime, it’s always exciting to discover "new to me" cases. The kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser is one such case. I also enjoy these “old-timey” cases; I find the distance between myself and the time of the crime offers me a bit of an emotional break from modern cases. Anyone else feel that way? Well, Deep in the Woods does not disappoint. The crime itself was strange and frankly, fascinating, the trials stranger, and the ending, the epilogue, the strangest of all. I listened to this one thanks to Netgalley and Tantor and found the narration to be perfection that added to the enjoyment of the story. Fans of historical crimes, kidnappings, and totally bonkers cases will enjoy this one. 

Warm Up With a Literary Whodunit

In his smart and funny “Hawthorne and Horowitz” series of whodunnits, author Anthony Horowitz writes himself directly into the books, playing a bumbling, self-deprecating sidekick to the often gruff and sometimes mysterious, private detective Daniel Hawthorne. The results are three (so far) very readable and enjoyable crime novels, in which Hawthorne finds his killer and Horowitz documents the investigation along the way, hoping for his next bestseller.

In book 3, A Line to Kill, Horowitz (the character) is wanting to impress his editors and finally introduces them to Hawthorne, a move that backfires when both men are sent to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England. Horowitz is aghast that Hawthorne has been included, as Hawthorne hasn’t written a single word, but is happy enough to have the investigator along after a local bigwig is found dead under mysterious circumstances.

The island is locked down until the murderer is found, and the suspects include a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of angry locals feuding over a planned power line that threatens to wreck the island’s ambiance and environment. Hawthorne finds himself enjoying the literary festival after all, and certainly won’t let anything stop him from finding the killer, not even the local cops who have never seen a dead body before.

These character rich mysteries are like modern day Agatha Christie novels -leisurely paced, rich in detail and plot points, along with plenty of dry humor that is often directed towards the world of books and writers. While A Line to Kill can be enjoyed on its own, I recommend first reading The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. And then, like me, you’ll be eagerly waiting for the next in this original series.

-Carol

Sara’s Top Ten of 2021

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell Her daughter heads to a party and never returns, leaving her one year old behind. Did she run?

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A locked-door mystery aboard a merchant vessel. A sort of Pirates of the Caribbean meet Sherlock Holmes affair…

The Viper by Christobel Kent A lovely series taking place in Florence with an aging detective , Sandro Cellini, working as a PI. You will fall in love with the characters and the scenery.

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian A YA-style read that answers the question, what would happen if you brought a group of psychopaths to a college campus to study them?

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry A fun time travel murder mystery–well, fun for everyone except Madison May.

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves A new series by the UK’s queen of crime. Beautiful but bleak settings, genuine and dedicated characters- a lovely addition to the Ann Cleeves universe.

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry Tessa’s non-political, hometown sister, Marian, is caught on video blowing up a gas station in Northern Ireland with members of the IRA. The police think she’s a member, Tessa thinks she’s been kidnapped.

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor A single mother takes a job as a vicar in a small village. Of course she must find out where the bodies are buried. Not a cozy mystery.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow Women gathering together, casting spells during the turbulent time of the suffragettes- they will help women find their power by any means necessary.

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella Cady Archer attends Harvard the year after her older brother committed suicide, hoping to understand his death. I’m pretty sure I remember something creepy happens.

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2021

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley– An iconic work of early English literature is updated in Headley’s feminist adaptation, bringing to light elements never before translated into English.

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.

The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva– An amazingly well-crafted and beautiful historical fiction novel of Mary Wollstonecraft – arguably the world’s first feminist and one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Inspiring and enlightening.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot  with commentary on gender, race, and  sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke– A timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society, delivered in a beautiful graphic novel.

A break from my tradition

This week’s book recommendation is a little different from what I usually suggest, but I was so tickled by this particular book I needed to share it with you. Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion is a delightful picture book with “explosions” by Stephen W. Martin and “cuteness” by Dan Tavis. The book is about Fluffy—an adorable kitten. So adorable, in fact, that anyone who sees her will spontaneously explode into balls of sparkles and fireworks. KABOOM! Find out if there’s any hope for Fluffy in this story about self-acceptance and finding friendship in unlikely places.

~Emma (KABOOM!)

True Crime Book Review

Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult by Susan Ashline


In October of 2015, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard was beaten to death by his parents, sister, and other members of their church. The beating was punishment for Lucas’ admission that he practiced witchcraft, wished his parent’s dead, and had committed other even worse and unspeakable crimes. Lucas’ family were members of the Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks, New York. The church was founded by the Irwin family, evangelical Pentacostals, lead by Jerry Irwin. Following his death, leadership transferred to his daughter, Tiffanie. It was Tiffanie who instructed the punishment of Lucas and his younger brother that fateful night.

Without a Prayer introduces readers to the Irwin family, tracing the roots of the Word of Life Church and documenting the church’s transformation from church to cult. The second part of the book follows the trials of the six members of the church indicted for the Lucas’ murder.

Because Tiffanie and her congregants documented everything, Susan Ashline had access to hours of video and audio materials, tens of thousands of text messages, and court documents to aid her reporting. The result is a horrifying and compelling story of the ascent of dangerous religious zealot. This is a must read for true crime fans and those interested in cults and cult behavior.

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Warm Up with a Good Book

Miss Iris Sparks (a former British Intelligence Officer) and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge (a young upper class widow), co-owners of the “Right Sort Marriage Bureau”, are contacted by Lady Patience Matheson a cousin of Gwen’s who works in the palace. A letter meant for Princess Elizabeth was intercepted. Someone claims to have damaging information. Supposedly this blackmailer has correspondence written between Alice, Phillip’s mother, and a lover. Lady Matheson wants Iris and Gwen to authenticate the assertions and find out who sent the letter. The information needs to be proven true or false before the Princess and Philip become engaged. The investigation must remain hush-hush.

The second entry in the Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery series is a delight and a sure winner for fans of British mystery series and the royal family.

Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery series

The Right Sort of Man – 2019

A Royal Affair – 2020

Rogue’s Company – 2021

Unkept Woman – 2022

~Emma

Review: All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris

Find it here.
Ellice Littlejohn escaped her poor, small-town Georgia life at 14 and has rarely looked back since building a successful life and law career for herself in Atlanta. She does the best she can to help her younger brother, Sam, but his past run-ins with the law and her fancy corporate lawyer gig means that Ellice keeps the two parts of her life separate. She was successful at that until the morning she arrives at work to find her boss and lover, Michael, dead in his office. In a whirlwind of events in the aftermath of Michael’s murder Ellice finds herself in the center of a conspiracy that she never saw coming. 

This debut novel has it all-secrets, lies, murder, and suspense. Mixed in with all the action and drama are themes of racism, white supremacy, and family secrets. 

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