Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Deep by Alma Katsu is her newest novel, set aboard the Titanic. There is a growing sense of unease, and passengers become convinced that the ship is haunted – that someone, or something, is waiting for them, lurking in the sea. Then, they hit an iceberg. Years later, Annie Hebbley, a survivor of the Titanic, finds work aboard the Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship. She cannot forget the fateful night when the Titanic sank, and the memories haunt her daily. Annie is convinced something sinister happened that night, and finds herself asking the question: what really sank the Titanic?

The Deep is an enjoyable mystery / ghost story with some unexpected twists, set against an interesting historical backdrop. It reminded me in style to The Lost Ones by Anita Frank.

I thought Katsu’s idea to suggest ghosts and spirits were onboard the Titanic was creative, though at times the explanations offered for these surreal supernatural occurrences were confusing to understand.

The book follows a number of different characters – some factual, some fictional. I must admit, this was lost on me as I don’t know very much about the Titanic’s passenger and crew anyway. Nevertheless, Katsu’s decision to follow a number of different characters from different social classes was a good one, as it provided fascinating, personalised perspectives of what happened in the build-up to the tragedy, and I particularly liked the characters of Annie Hebbley and Madeleine Astor.

Unfortunately, for me, The Deep was lacking in tension; the Titanic doesn’t sink until 3/4 of the way through the book and, whilst these scenes were very exciting to read, nothing particularly horrifying happens until then. If, however, you enjoy slower-paced books, this might not bother you.

Something else that “bothered” me was that, occasionally, the language or plot seemed anachronistic for the time (1912) and so characters sometimes spoke or behaved as if they were in a modern soap-opera, which made it feel less realistic.*

*Yes, I am complaining about realism in a book about ghosts onboard the Titanic. 

In summary, I thought The Deep was a good book and, even though I have made some critical comments here, I still enjoyed it.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

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I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, of Penguin Books.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

Book Review: A Window Breaks by C.M. Ewan

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

A Window Breaks is the newest thriller novel by C.M. Ewan. Tom and Rachel Sullivan are a married couple struggling to stay together, after a traumatic event threatened to rip their family apart.. A friend suggests they take a family holiday to recuperate, and so they travel to a Scottish lodge with their daughter Holly to rest, relax, and heal. However, they are awoken when they hear sounds in the night – glass smashing, a window breaking. They are under attack.

A Window Breaks was an up-and-down read. It fluctuates between really good bits and really… underwhelming bits.

It takes a small while for the Sullivan family to arrive at the Scottish lodge. Consequently, I wasn’t interested in the events leading up to this because, due to the blurb, I knew the thrills would only begin once the family were at the lodge.

However, once the break-in happens at the lodge, the book is fantastic – for a while. The Sullivan family become involved in a tense game of “cat and mouse” as they attempt to run or hide from the intruders, who wield a deadly array of weapons. They’ve come to kill. Every scene was full of tension, fear, and drama – I felt scared and excited at the same time, and I was glued to my Kindle app.

Then, the pacing slows. Sometimes, this slow pacing is used to give characters a respite, which I completely understand. At other times, in my opinion, it simply adds “filler” – time for the characters to chat or have something explained to them, in order for the vague, secondary mystery plot (which is running through the book in addition to the horror / thriller narrative) to be developed. For me, these sections dragged and spoiled the immersion of the tense, chase sequences.

A Window Breaks continues in this way, fluctuating between fast-paced thriller action and slow-paced exposition until the climax, when all secrets are revealed and mysteries are explained. It was at this point that I realised the plot wasn’t going in the direction I thought it was going. On the one hand, this meant the novel is successfully unpredictable but, on the other hand, it meant I lost interest once I realised the book wasn’t what I expected.

I’ll try not to give too much away for future readers but, in a nutshell, the ending of A Window Breaks was rather disappointing. I had been expecting a thrilling and terrifying home invasion novel – especially given the blurb, tagline, cover, and marketing. A Window Breaks was like a home invasion novel at the beginning and during the middle but, by the ending, it wasn’t much like one at all – it was a convoluted and confusing mystery thriller. I didn’t understand much of the explanations  or “plot twists” and ultimately, it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.*

* I would have given this a 4 star rating, were it not for the mystery plot and ending. 

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars 

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I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Pan Macmillan.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

4 Years of Blogging: A Collection of Thoughts

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

This month, February 2020, marks the 4th anniversary of ReadandReview. Over these 4 years, my blog has grown, changed, and adapted as my interests and reading preferences have also changed. As a result, I’ve decided to reflect on both myself and my blog, looking back over the last 4 years.


Reviews and Writing Style 

The first book review I posted on this blog was of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Now, this strikes me as an odd choice. Whilst I did – and still do – enjoy reading classics from time to time, they have never been my favourite genre. At the time, however, I think I was concerned to start my blog in the “right” way – by writing about books that were deemed “suitable”, or already well-beloved. In other words, I was nervous to “embarrass” myself by “exposing” my personal reading preferences. This would explain why I wrote so many reviews of classics when I first started blogging. Whilst I do enjoy classics, this choice of content was not truly representative of what I regularly read and watched.

Nowadays, I’m much more open about the genres I enjoy, and I post about all kinds of books – books that I’ve read and liked, or books that I’ve read and disliked. The reviews are (generally) a lot longer; I try to include a mixture of positive and negative feedback, and I always aim for constructive criticism, especially when reviewing books sent to me. It feels odd to say I’ve grown in confidence when blogging, though I suppose it must be true. I’m no longer embarrassed to explain the books I like, to write reviews, or to share my opinions – and why should I be?

University 

An obvious factor that has affected my reading preferences, writing style, and personal life in the last 4 years is studying an English degree at the University of Nottingham. Due to the structure of the course and available modules, I studied a wide variety of texts – ranging from Old English manuscripts, to early modern plays, to Victorian novels, to contemporary popular fiction. As a consequence of all the lectures, essays, and wider reading I did, I have an increased desire to write longer posts about particular books or topics that interest me. I’m unsure yet if my blog is the right space for this, though I have experimented with this style of blog post before, however, as every exam season, I wrote blog posts detailing the themes of particular books to consolidate some of my revision.

University has also helped me to focus my reading preferences. For example, in my final year of university, I studied the Gothic and horror genres in immense detail whilst researching for my dissertation. I already liked Gothic horror fiction before university; now, I can say I am keenly interested in these genres. I am fascinated by specific tropes, stylistic choices, and motifs, and I would love to study this in more depth – I feel my dissertation barely scratched the surface. In the future, I might consider using this blog to write more about the Gothic and the horror in an academic and analytical way.

Social Media 

I’ve recently started watching “booktube” content on YouTube. On the one hand, I enjoy occasionally watching these videos because I find the content entertaining and inspiring but, on the other hand, I am discouraged as I realise just how small my own audience and readership is in comparison to these “booktubers”. However, I do not want to become an influential “vlogging” superstar. I don’t! My passion (and hopefully, talent) is for writing and thus, I will persevere with this blog.

Currently, some of my favourite things to do as a blogger are reading blog posts and engaging with other bloggers. I also like reading new books by new authors via NetGalley and engaging with these authors and publishers on Twitter. I only joined NetGalley in late 2018, and it’s so exciting to be able to read books that aren’t even published yet and give feedback. I often see authors posting about how much they value readers’ reviews and so, even if I’m not a “vlogging” superstar, it’s nice to know that my blogging efforts are appreciated.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

How have your reading tastes changed over time? 

– Judith

Book Review: We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

We Are Monsters is a horror novel set in a mental asylum, in which Dr Alex Drexler experiments on his patients, trying to find a cure for schizophrenia. In the process, however, the drugs administered have caused unforeseen and dangerous side effects, unleashing patients’ past traumas and inner demons, transforming them into monsters.

I love the convention of mad doctors and experiments within the horror genre – the last one I read was Doctor Perry by Kirsten McKenzie – so I was excited to read We Are Monsters.

It was dark and interesting to begin with, as we see Dr Drexler attempt a variety of experiments which all fail. This built up well a foreboding sense that something is going to go extremely wrong at Sugar Hill – especially when it is suggested to Dr Drexler to experiment on the asylum’s most notorious, dangerous, and violent patient.

Of course, this experiment does go wrong and, as a side effect, causes multiple characters to hallucinate. I really liked these sections, as I had no idea what was real and what was fake – the narration was delightfully unreliable. There were also some scary and gory scenes, which felt appropriate for the genre.

However, there are some elements on We Are Monsters which, for me, let it down.

Firstly, Dr Alex Drexler is not a mad scientist or doctor – he’s not even slightly psychotic or twisted. This was disappointing, particularly as the book is meant to be primarily a work of horror fiction. Alex only ever seems interested in his experiments in order to financially benefit from them, which made him seem much more like a businessman than a doctor. Personally, I think it could have been an interesting parallel if the doctor working so hard to cure his mentally unstable patients was as equally mentally unstable himself.

Secondly, the book does not solely focus on Dr Alex Drexler, but delves into other the backgrounds and characters of other staff members at the asylum, such as Dr Eli Alpert and Angela. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy their storylines very much, as I was only really interested in Alex’s character, and I didn’t think they were as relevant to the overall plot.

Finally, the latter half of We Are Monsters gets very confusing, very quickly. The patients kept talking about the shadows and the monsters within, but these things weren’t explained particularly clearly.  By the time I finished the book, I still didn’t understand what had happened, and I thought the ending merely added to the confusion.

To sum up, although I was interested in the premise, and some good ideas were displayed throughout, I think the execution of these ideas, for me, let We Are Monsters down.

Star Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Flame Tree Press, an imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding is part psychological thriller, part magic realism, and part Gothic fairytale.

Lauren Tranter gives birth to twins: Morgan and Riley. Whilst recovering in hospital, Lauren swears she sees a woman dressed in filthy rags, who tries to steal her babies and replace them with her own. Her husband doesn’t believe her. The police find no evidence. The doctors are concerned for Lauren’s mental wellbeing. Then, a month later, something happens to Lauren’s babies. To everybody else, they still look like Morgan and Riley – but not to Lauren. They are not her babies, and the only way to prove it is to risk the unthinkable.

I loved this book. I picked Little Darlings up by chance whilst at my local library, browsing for interesting-looking thrillers. The cover and tagline caught my eye, so I added it to my pile. I was not disappointed.

I absolutely loved the combination of a traditional thriller with Gothic and folklore conventions; it made the story incredibly dark and gripping. This might sound like a complete juxtaposition to what I said last week about Behind Her Eyes, as I specifically criticised it for mixing the supernatural and thriller genres together. In Little Darlings, however, it just works.

I was fascinated by the threat of a baby-stealing witch and the terror Lauren experiences wherever she goes, and the confusion we experience was readers. Is it postpartum depression? Is it psychosis? Is it truly supernatural? Is it all 3? The lines are blurred fantastically by Golding, and I was drawn to keep reading.

My only real criticism* would be that DS Joanna Harper, the police investigator researching Lauren’s claims, was a much weaker character. In general, actually, the police scenes were less interesting. Really, Little Darlings isn’t a crime novel. It is a novel about a mother’s fear of losing or endangering her children. Therefore, whether Lauren’s fears are revealed to be a malevolent spirit, a psychotic hallucination, or the symptoms of postpartum depression, in one sense, it doesn’t really matter. The fear and panic Lauren feels – and we feel too, as readers – is strikingly real and terrifying, regardless of its cause.

* As a minor point of additional criticism, I know Little Darlings is set in Sheffield but not everybody in Yorkshire ends every sentence with ‘love’, ‘luv’, ‘flower’, or some other term of endearment. Reading dialogue written in this way got a bit frustrating after a while!

I really, really enjoyed Little Darlings and would strongly recommend to anyone looking for a book that blends the format of a traditional thriller with the Gothic and the fantastical.

Star Rating: 5/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Halloween Book Review: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Lost Ones is a historical ghost story set in the aftermath of World War One. Gripped by grief from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham goes to stay with her sister Madeleine. On arrival, Stella finds her sister in a constant state of terror and unease, and strange things begin to happen. Stella hears a child crying in the night and footsteps on the stairs, but the staff insist no children have lived in the house for years. Determined to prove the existence of the supernatural, in the hopes she might reconnect with her fiancé, Stella decides to investigate the house and makes a tragic discovery.

My Photo [The Lost Ones]

I really liked The Lost Ones, and I particularly enjoyed the choice of historical setting and Frank’s descriptive, immersive narration.

As Stella stays longer at the house, more and more disturbing things start happening. Voices can be heard, doors open and close on their own, and things go missing. This was all enjoyable build-up which emphasised that the house is well and truly haunted. I also thought the fact Stella was a nurse in the war was an interesting part of her character, as her warnings that the house isn’t safe are dismissed by almost everyone, on the grounds that she is a delicate woman – grieving, mentally unstable, and struggling with PTSD. I could feel her frustration when no one would help or believe her, and so I was keen for more ghostly things to happen that would convince the others!

If it wasn’t already obvious, I love ghost stories and haunted house stories! The Lost Ones fits the bill almost perfectly.

However, when I was about 80% of the way through, the book’s focus suddenly switches from ghosts and the paranormal to family gossip and rumours. Admittedly, I did like finding out more about the house and the family, and receiving an explanation for the paranormal activity. However, from this point onwards, the book devotes almost all of its time to various characters confessing or revealing secrets, one after the other. This was a somewhat dull and unsatisfying way to reveal everything and piece together the puzzle which had been hinted at from the beginning. Personally, instead of these confessional scenes, I would have preferred a malevolent and vengeful ghostly confrontation which would have not only forced the sceptics to believe in the paranormal, but would have revealed the secrets and lies in a more exciting, horrifying, and shocking way.

Despite this, I still really enjoyed The Lost Ones and would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a new ghost story to read.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and HQ, which is an imprint of Harper Collins UK.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020

Halloween Book Review: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Hex is a supernatural horror novel by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, set in the modern American town of Black Spring, which is cursed by the presence of Katherine van Wyler. Katherine, an alleged witch, was put to death in the 17th century, but has haunted Black Spring ever since. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut. She wanders through the town, entering people’s homes at will. She prevents anyone from escaping. The townspeople are instructed to avoid her as, if they get too close, Katherine begins to whisper, and bad things begin to happen.

“Her name is Katherine Van Wyler, but most of us call her the Black Rock Witch.”

I had to work really hard to write a clear, succinct plot summary of this book because personally, once I started reading, I found it really difficult to understand what Hex was about. The descriptions were unclear and they made it hard for me to imagine the town of Black Spring at all. Initially, I thought the book was set in the 17th century and it wasn’t until WIFI and CCTV systems were mentioned I realised this was not the case.

In fact, the first few chapters were such a struggle to read and understand, I considered putting Hex down – a great shame, as I generally try to persevere with books, even if I’m having a bit of trouble.

This is because Hex begins by immersing the reader in a world we know nothing about, following characters who are already accustomed to life in Black Spring with Katherine, and so nothing is explained or described to the reader. We have to wait until chapter 6 to receive exposition about Katherine van Wyler, why she has cursed the town, and why it’s such a terrifying place to live.

I think the opening of Hex could have been much better had it began differently. For example, we could have followed Burt and Bammy Delarosa from the start, a new family who, later in the novel, move to Black Spring.

Opening Hex with the Delarosas’ move, despite the desperate pleas of the townspeople for them to live elsewhere, would puzzle and intrigue both them and the reader, leading us to wonder what could be so terrible about Black Spring. Then, as the Delarosas begin adjusting to their new life in the town, they would notice the curiously high number of surveillance cameras. They would notice that Black Spring is incredibly closed off and hostile to outsiders. This would pique both their suspicions and ours; what is wrong with Black Spring? Then, Katherine could appear in their home – terrifying both the Delarosas and us.

Unfortunately, this is not how Hex begins, so you must make it past chapter 6 in order to understand and enjoy the narrative as, once we know more about Katherine and Black Spring, the book immediately gets much scarier and creepier.

After this moment, I was drawn to keep reading – I had no idea what was going to happen next or when things were going to happen, and this filled the book with such exciting unpredictability. The townspeople interact more with Katherine and, as a result, Black Spring devolves into a savage, violent, and dangerous community.

Then, towards the end, Hex becomes disappointing and confusing. The narrative is filled with dream sequences that make no sense and abhorrent violence, with no real resolution. The protagonist (if there is one), Steve Grant, suggests Katherine has been innocent all along, and that it is the people of Black Spring who are really at fault; they have corrupted themselves with evil.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced by this at all. Throughout the book, we see Katherine bewitch, attack, and even kill people. Admittedly, some extreme or violent actions committed by the townspeople are not caused by Katherine, but are caused by the people of Black Spring allowing their fear and anger to transform them into lawless savages. However, to suggest Katherine is entirely innocent and Black Spring would have been corrupted anyway, even if she had never existed is just wrong. Katherine has clearly had a negative influence over some of the townspeople, and this exacerbated and escalated the cruelty, violence, and savagery which takes place.

Overall, I was disappointed by Hex.

I almost stopped reading after the first few chapters, and I couldn’t make sense of things. Then, it suddenly became really good – it was exciting, interesting, and engaging. Yet, by the ending, I was left puzzled, cross, and disappointed again.

Sadly, I don’t think I could recommend this book.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars 

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020