Book Review: The Listening House

Having surpassed my Goodreads challenge for the year, I’m hoping to spend more time writing during the upcoming fall and winter months. That means I’ll have less time for reading, but like any bookworm, I can’t resist adding to that TBR list.

Today’s review is a book written and published in 1938 – something a bit different from my usual reads.


After losing her copywriting job, young Gwynne Dacres seeks a place to live when she stumbles upon Mrs. Garr’s old boarding house. Despite the gruff landlady and an assortment of shifty tenants, Gwynne rents a room for herself. She spends her first few nights at 593 Trent Street tensely awake, the house creaking and groaning as if listening to everything that happens behind its closed doors.

A chain of chilling events leads to the gruesome discovery of a mutilated body in the basement kitchen, dead of unknown circumstances. Was it an accident or murder? Under the red-black brick façade of the old house on Trent Street, Gwynne uncovers a myriad of secrets, blackmail, corruption, and clues of a wicked past. As she closes in on the truth, the cold, pale hands of death reach for Gwynne in the night…

My Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve read enjoyed several Agatha Christie books, so when I learned of The Listening House, I thought it might be an enjoyable read. I’ll preface my review by saying the book was written and first published in 1938 and realized the writing would be different than what we’re accustomed to today.

The main character, Gwynne Dacres is an out of work copywriter who moves into a rooming house run by an eccentric old woman, Harriet Garr. Mrs. Garr believes her tenants are snooping through her things and she has no qualms in telling Gwynne she doesn’t believe in banks.

On her first night there, Gwynne has trouble sleeping, and she believes the house is “listening.” Shortly after her arrival, things begin happening. Gwynne discovers the body of a murdered man near the street back of the house. Next, Mrs. Garr turns up missing and is later found dead. But did she die by natural causes or was she murdered?

Someone attacks Gwynne, and she gets involved with the investigation. Who in the house had a motive to kill Mrs. Garr? Will the mystery be solved before Gwynne becomes a victim?

Positives. The author kept me guessing the killer’s identity. That’s always a plus for me. I had my suspicions, but the killer wasn’t who I thought it would be. Seeley weaved in a nearly twenty-year-old suicide of a young woman that had links to several of the characters. Nicely done to keep the suspense flowing.

Negatives. This book was not a page-turner. It took me more than a week to read it. There was a large cast of characters, and I sometimes had trouble keeping track of who was who. The storyline was intriguing, but it dragged on way too long. By the end of the book, I was just ready for it to be over. Although I realize the book was written in a different era, I cringed whenever one of the male characters referred to Gwynne as “baby.” Thank goodness this sort of thing wouldn’t be tolerated today.

In my opinion, the writing didn’t live up to the skill level of Agatha Christie, but readers who like cozy mysteries set during the 1930s would probably enjoy it. Three stars from me. Didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it.

Book Review: The Secrets of Thistle Cottage

I love a good bargain, especially when it comes to books. (If you haven’t signed up for BookBub, you really should. Not only can you follow your favorite authors, but you can get email notifications when books in your favorite genres are on sale.) Anyway…

I also enjoy a good dual-timeline story. The Secrets of Thistle Cottage delivered.


1661, North Berwick, Scotland
One stormy night, healer Honor Seton and her daughter Alice are summoned to save the town lord’s wife – but they’re too late. A vengeful crusade against the Seton women leads to whispers of witchcraft all over town. Honor hopes her connections can protect them from unproven rumours and dangerous accusations – but is the truth finally catching up with them?

Present-day, North Berwick, Scotland
After an explosive scandal lands her husband in prison, Tess Blyth flees Edinburgh to start afresh in Thistle Cottage. As she hides from the media’s unforgiving glare, Tess is intrigued by the shadowy stories of witchcraft surrounding the women who lived in the cottage centuries ago. But she quickly discovers modern-day witch hunts can be just as vicious: someone in town knows her secret – and they won’t let Tess forget it…

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in Scotland, The Secrets of Thistle Cottage is a dual timeline story of two mothers and their daughters.

In 1661 widow Honor Seaton and her daughter Alice live in Thistle Cottage in the seaside town of North Berwick. Honor isn’t like most women of her day. She’s able to read, has a vast knowledge of plants and herbal remedies, and many of the townsfolk call on her when they have ailing family members.

Honor’s late husband left her with a position as a burgess, giving her a voice in matters involving the town—something only men of that era usually had. This doesn’t sit well with the laird, Gregor Kincaid. When Honor votes against his idea to deepen the harbor in order to bring trading ships to the area, it’s the beginning of her troubles.

Honor’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, was born “in the caul.” Some believe babies born this way have power, second sight, and the ability to raise storms on sunny days.

Gregor Kincaid’s wife, mother, and nephew become ill with a sudden illness and he and his brother Davey call on Honor to help. Accompanied by Alice, Honor isn’t able to save Gregor’s wife, but Davey’s son and their mother survive. Was it Honor’s tincture that cured them, or did Alice play a role when she touched Davey on the head willing him to live?

The modern-day story begins when Tess Blyth and her daughter Jemimah (Jem) move into Thistle Cottage, leaving Edinburg after Tess’s husband, Alistair, was convicted of the sexual assault of three women. Alistair was a television personality, so the case got a lot of publicity. Jem’s “friends” turned against her, and remarks made by Tess on Twitter were misinterpreted by many to believe she supported her husband.

Tess is a little paranoid, not wanting Jem to have any social media accounts, and she’s a little overprotective. Jem, more outgoing, befriends their elderly neighbor Eva and starts making friends at school. It’s not long before Jem and her best friend Cassie embark on a historical project that is supposed to tie the past to the present. They select the story of Honor and Alice Seaton.

When a major storm causes a tree to crash into Jem’s bedroom window, she finds a mysterious bottle wedged beneath the window seal. They soon learn it was a “witches bottle” something women used to hide as protection against those who proclaimed them as witches. Another bottle contains a note written by Alice.

Strange things begin to happen at the cottage. Someone paints the word “witch” on their fence, and later on the windows and walls. Two skeletons are placed near their door—one wearing one of Tess’s scarves which had gone missing, the other a tie belonging to Jem.

Tess, who has tried to keep their identity a secret, begins to suspect a young woman who works at The Haven, a women’s center where Tess does pro bono legal work. Or is it Cassie’s mother? Or Rory, the handyman who repaired the damage to the cottage?

Will Honor be burned at the stake having been accused of being a witch? Or will the townsfolk support her against a vindictive Gregor Kincaid and the witch hunter he brought to town? There are similarities between the lives of Honor and Alice with that of Tess and Jem. I found the dual timelines easy to follow. While I thought the ending for Tess and Gem was a little rushed, overall this was a satisfying read.