Book Reviews

Book Review: A House of Bells

A House of Bells

By J.T. Croft

Published 2021

270 pages

Grace Meadows is a governess with a special skill – she works exclusively with Deaf children, helping them to speak.  This may seem a bit odd to a modern audience, but the novel is set in 1918 and apparently at that time, the onus was not on the parents to learn sign language, but for the children to be taught to speak.

When the novel commences, she’s running to escape her failure to protect her last ward, Arthur, who perished in a house fire.  Her guilt and fear escalates when Arthur’s spirit continues to appear to her.  Released from her position due to her proclivity to inflict self-harm, she has the choice of returning to her hometown and a boring life processing herring, or finding a mysterious woman in London referred to her by her former employer’s father.

Using the last of her resources, Grace goes to London and, with help from Arthur, finds Lady Foster, an eccentric medium who is, indeed, able to find Grace a new position at a crumbling manor house peopled by more than just the living.  Grace is hired to teach the owner’s daughter, Rose, to speak again, although Rose has her own reasons for her muteness.  But the mystery of Rose’s silence is not the only thing that greets Grace – the Tower has been permanently blocked off, strung with silk and bells, and no one is allowed to leave their rooms once the curfew bell has been rung.

What is haunting the Tower and is it the cause of Rose’s strange ailment?  Most importantly, will Grace overcome her own fears in time to help this family escape the hold of whatever is haunting them?

I chose this book because it was Amazon Kindle’s Editor Selection and the description set my hair tingling – historic paranormal with a Gothic tone.  Ooh, yes, please!  And the author delivered a story that met my expectations.  Deeply atmospheric, great period details and a suspenseful ghost story/mystery all rolled into one.  I also cared about the characters – all of them – and there were some nice red herrings inserted into the story as well. 

Despite all this, I found myself in a quandary how to rate it.  I was all set to give it a solid four stars (which, if you know how I rate, is most people’s five stars), except for a hiccup that appeared throughout the book.  Whenever the author described a room in detail, I got lost.  Possibly it was just me, but I could not visualize his descriptions.  This wasn’t really an issue and I rolled with it until the last few scenes, when I had no idea if the scene was taking place in the top or bottom of the tower, which was important a bit later in the book.  The action in the finale scene left me just as confused and **spoiler** I found myself wondering why it was taking so long for the fire to consume the tower.  I kept thinking, “based on earlier descriptions, shouldn’t the fire be burning faster than it is?” And, as any reader knows, getting pulled out of the story at the climax is worse than irritating.

Because I kept getting lost at key points, I lowered my rating to 3.5 stars.  However, until Goodreads and Amazon gives the reviewer/reader the option of using half stars, I rounded up to four on those platforms.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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