Book review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Publisher: Mantle

Publication date: 10 March 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult | Gothic romance

Page extent: 352 pages


Goodreads blurb: Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.

If gothic mystery and soft sapphic love surrounded by a creepy setting of taxidermy animals sounds amazing, then this is the book for you! I thought this was absolutely gorgeous, so much so, I have now added several of my favourite gothic classics to my immediate TBR and looked out all my old gothic romance films I watched as an impressionable young adult so I can show my partner and he can see how I became who I am. And why I really have A Type when it comes to my film and literature crushes.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor has one of the most interesting premises of all books releasing this year. Yes I said it! What kind of premise makes me give this statement? Well, it’s the start of WW2 and the Natural History Museum is evacuating its animals from London. Hetty, a young assistant at the museum, is tasked with looking after the mammal collection as it travels and stays at Lockwood Manor, a mysterious and haunting old manor house in the country, ruled by the irascible Lord Lockwood, a man who scorns and belittles Hetty for her passion, and his daughter, Lucy, a woman as equally mysterious as the house, who Hetty is immediately drawn to despite her oddity. (Well that was a long sentence). But when the animals start going missing, Hetty’s future at the museum is at stake as she fears any damage to the collection will be held as sorely her responsibility. And with Lord Lockwood refusing to aid in her efforts to find the thief/ghost/mysterious person behind the damage, she must discover the culprit herself.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a beautiful return to the setting of all of my favourite classics. This gothic romance and mystery is so reminiscent of my favourites, from Wuthering Heights to Dracula (though Lucy isn’t quite as brooding a love interest). I found the use of the museum’s creatures as a setting absolutely perfect for this style of book. It created such a disturbing atmosphere, always surrounded by thousands of the dark beady eyes of the animals, no matter where Hetty returned something following her and looking at her. It was so creepily delightful!! The story did perhaps start a little slowly, the more mystery part of the book not picking up until further through, but I found I really didn’t mind that much because the language and setting were so captivating I was happy to luxuriate and laze my way through the story.

When the mystery does kick in, the story heats up as Hetty struggles more and more viciously to live with Lord Lockwood as he exerts his control all through the house. You never really know who the real threat is, which is one the things I most adore about these gothic style novels. I was both overwhelmed with hatred for Lord Lockwood and the way he treated Hetty and the museum as if he owned them, whilst simultaneously being completely engrossed in the more supernatural elements: the woman in white who haunted Lucy’s mother and seems to haunt Lucy herself. And the longer Hetty stays at the Manor, the more she seems to be under the spell of this haunting as well…

Of course no book such as this is complete without the seemingly effortless romance of Hetty and Lucy. I love reading romances set in this time period, because the way everyone seems to laze about and lounge and languish is just so perfectly romantic to me. The start of this novel had me squealing in delight as Hetty and Lucy danced around each other, it was such a gentle and unhurried rush to the romance, full of soft brushes of fingers, a glance across a room and of course the drunken brush of lips against a cheek.

Healey has created an absolutely marvellous addition to the gothic romance genre, one I am pleased to say was as beautiful and mesmerising as I expected!

Book review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Title: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publication date: 9 July 2019

Genre: Horror | Young adult

Page extent: 353 pages

Goodreads blurb: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.


Well that was as creepy and haunting as every single book review told me it would be! I’m not usually one for horror, but I really liked this – it was a very beautiful, picturesque horror…if that makes any sense at all?! And I can absolutely never resist media about viruses. 

Wilder Girls is set at an all girl’s school on Raxter Island, where everyone has been quarantined after becoming sick with a virus they call the Tox. 18 months after the first infection, Byatt, Hetty’s best friend, has gone missing so Hetty vows to break the quarantine to find her, in the end discovering so much more about the virus and what’s happening on the outside than she imagined possible.

First off: what a setting! The mysterious Raxter and the enchanting yet deadly forest surrounding it is just stunning and sets such a creepy tone for the whole novel. There was such a sense of fear every moment we spent in the forest, and in the unknown of what now lived there. 

The premise of Wilder Girls is so immediately interesting: at 18 months into the virus outbreak, we don’t know what the girls have lived through, and we find out in glimpses – an eye fused shut, scales on a hand, a second spine. The progression of our insight into how this virus has affected the girls and teachers through this chilling body horror is just phenomenal. There are so many brutally horrific descriptions – which I really think enhances the realness of it all, as it feels as deadly as if it’s happening in real life. And I think that’s why I particularly love torturing myself with virus-style forms of media, because there is such a constant fear of ‘this could actually happen right now’ that just terrifies me. And I think Wilder Girls really nails this fear!! 

I thought all three of our MCs were brilliant in their depictions – all fully flawed and so powerfully human in their portrayal. Hetty, the POV we read from for the majority of the book, fiercely loyal and loving and unwilling to back down to save those she loves – even if it comes at the cost of everyone else. Byatt, who’s POV intersperses Hetty’s in a dream-like haze, who loves testing people and pushing the boundaries of what she can do, with horrific consequences. And finally Reese, who keeps her emotions bound up so tightly to keep from falling apart. These three are fighters and fight to be together till the end. 

Which brings me to the ending. I did feel like I’m missing something. I wanted another 30 pages to finish everything off, it was all extremely sudden and hugely open and I really wish we’d had even a tiny bit more. 

But all in all, minus the ending, Wilder Girls is a great horror novel – it’s a psychologically horrific take on three young girls and their fight to stay alive.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Top 5 Tuesday: All time favourites!

Top 5 Tuesday was created by the epic Bionic Book Worm. You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.

This week, the topic is a big one – all time favourites. And because that is so impossibly difficult to decide, Bionic Book Worm made this topic a Top 10! I struggled even narrowing it down to just 10, and I did cheat slightly by counting several series as individual items. I also feel like my all time favourites list changes all the time, but for now, here’s my Top 10!

The Fever King – Victoria Lee

Yes I’m mentioning it again. It’s my favourie book right now, I absolutely love it, it’s so fantastic, the characters are amazing, there is so much pain, everyone should read. I have written a full review for this book here.

I Wish You All the Best – Mason Deaver

This is a book I read very very recently, it was the first book on my TBR for Pride month and I read it in one sitting because it was just so good. It tells the story of Ben a non-binary teen who is kicked out of their home after coming out to their parents. It’s a heartbreaking but uplifting story about a teen trying to come to terms with who they are. I posted my full review of the book yesterday, and you can check it out here.

The Poppy War – R.F Kuang

Everyone excited for The Dragon Republic?!?! YES YES YES. The Poppy War is definitely one of my all time favourite fantasies, it was so engaging and action-packed and I couldn’t stop reading. It felt like such a unique concept, set in an incredible world, and as much as it always hurts, I love books where any character might just die, including those you don’t expect. I can’t wait to to read the continuation of this series.

The Broken Earth series – N.K Jemisin

I absolutely adore this series, just a brilliant trilogy with some amazing characters. I’m really due a re-read of these books. I love how all of the different POVs tie together at the end of the first book, I love the magic system, I love Alabastor and Essun and it’s just so so brilliantly different to any other fantasy series.

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

I read this book last year, and I was just heartbroken the whole through. I prefer this book to Circe, I think possibly because it did break my heart so much, but it’s such a beautiful love story and a wonderful take on the the greek myth of Achilles and Patroclus.

Harry Potter – J.K Rowling

My all-time favourites will never be without Harry Potter. Whilst I have a lot of issues with J.K herself, particularly her need to constantly pretend she’s inserted diversity into a book without actually ever writing it, these books were such a big part of my childhood. I grew up with Harry and co, I got a HP tattoo, I read fanfic for absolute years, my cat’s called Draco…etc. The books had such a profound effect on so many of my generation and I will always love revisiting the world. If I had to choose, I’d probably say Half-Blood Prince is my favourite, given Draco and Severus are my two favourite characters and I feel like that book really develops both of them.

The Rain Wild Chronicles series – Robin Hobb

Another series, this time from the wonderful Robin Hobb! I seem to be in the minority in my Robin Hobb appreciation, in that I much prefer all the books without Fitz, whilst most folk I’ve spoken to prefer the Fitz books. The Rain Wild Chronicles (the ones with the dragons + keepers) is my favourite series though, I just found the Dragons themselves so so interesting, and I loved all the characters, particularly Alise, Leftrin and Sedric.

Love from A to Z – S.K Ali

This is another very recent read which has jumped onto my all time favourites (full review still to come!) It’s a contemporary YA romance, which is a genre I’ve only recently started reading in, and this book was just one of the best, most beautiful and romantic romances I’ve ever read. It’s a story between two Muslim teens who keep crossing paths and we just get to watch as they slowly fall in love and it is incredible!

Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

Mysteries aren’t really something I read much of currently, and that’s mainly because I find none ever live up to the standard that was Agatha Christie. My mum was a big fan of hers, so growing up I had shelves and shelves of her books I could read. Poirot is my favourite, and of the Poirot books I always really enjoyed Death on the Nile the most. I just love the way her books are structured, with Poirot finding clues, interviewing the suspects and then deducing the crime. It’s always a challenge to see if you can guess the villain before Poirot does, and I just can’t find anything like this nowadays! (I feel so old saying that…)

Shades of Magic series by V.E Schwab

Last on this list is another fantasy series. V.E Schwab created the wonderful Shades of Magic series, which follows Kell and Lila, Rhy and Alucard as they fight a dark and ancient powerful magic. I read all three of this series in about a day and a half over Christmas last year. They are so engaging and exciting, and the villain is one of my absolute favourites ever. Bonus content: pirates and marvellous coats.

I have so many others that could’ve been on this list, particularly some of my recent reads. Let me know if any of these books are on your all time favourites list!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Anxious Nachos introduction

My top 5 books of 2019 so far

Hello world!

Thank you for reading the very first of (hopefully) many bookish posts here at Anxious Nachos. I’m Rachel and I’m here to talk to you all about the many books I’m reading and loving.

I thought I’d start with a little introductory post that would give everyone an idea of the type of books I read and enjoy. So without further ado, here are…my Top 5 books I’ve read so far in 2019!

2019 is the first year in quite a while that I have properly got back into reading, and I’ve already read so many excellent books that narrowing it down to just 5 was so tricky.

There is one book I’ve read this year which I had no problem deciding to put on this list. It has become one of my absolute favourite books, it is ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR: The Fever King by Victoria Lee. The Fever King was released earlier this year, and I picked it up after spotting it on a ‘Best queer books releasing in 2019’ list. It tells the tale of Noam, a queer Jewish immigrant, in a post-apocalyptic America. Lee combines science and magic into a fantastic, unique magic system. A full review will follow for this title, but suffice to say, it is my favourite book I’ve read so far this year, and I fully expect it to be a contender for my favourite book of the year. I couldn’t sleep the night I finished this book because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The sequel, Electric Heir, is out in March 2020 and I cannot. wait.

The next book on my list is a bit different from my normal reads. I picked it up after V.E. Schwab kept recommending it and I am so glad I did. It is the marvellous If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. If Were Were Villains opens when you meet Oliver, a man who has just spent 10 years in prison for murder. The story jumps back and forward between the present day, where Oliver is telling the true story of what happened to the police officer who investigated the murder back when it originally happened; and then the past, which takes place at a elite arts school and follows Oliver and his 6 friends as they study Shakespeare. This book is absolutely beautifully written, and it twists and turns until the very last page. The ending is just…..Gah. I have no words.  

I won’t say much about this third book, it’s a book I completed very recently and there will definitely be a full review to follow in the next week or so. Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh I think might be my favourite sci-fi book EVER. There’s not a huge amount of focus on technology or space, instead, it is very character-driven which I loved. Do You Dream of Terra-Two follows 6 teens who have been training to go to space in search of a new, habitable planet (Terra-Two). It follows them as they launch their mission and is very much focussed on how space travel and the mission affects each of the characters. Absolutely fantastic, more will follow on this book soon..

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd was the first book I bought when my hard copy purchasing ban ended (a move to Australia and lack of space at various flats very much limited my buying power). But The Book of M caught my eye as it has such a pretty cover and looked beautiful in the bookstore. Set in what feels like a very near future, people start losing their shadows. And it turns out that shadows were where memories were stored. The book follows the story of Ory and Max, a couple who escaped to a hotel in the woods when people started losing their memories. However, when Max loses her shadow, she runs away from Ory to avoid causing him any pain at seeing her deteriorate. The story then switches between Ory’s point of view, as he tries to find Max, and Max’s, as she tries to reach New Orleans, where ‘something’ is happening. This is another one that has an ending that hurts (appears to be a theme in this list), but it felt very unique and I really loved reading it.

The last one for this list is very special one for me. I read it very early in the year, and it was so fabulous and magical and I cannot recommend it enough: Witchmark by C.L Polk. This book was really what propelled me to start reading in earnest again, because I was so happy at seeing the diverse cast and the beautiful queer relationship that it made me want to go find more awesome diverse books to read. Witchmark is set in what feels like a Edwardian England, where noble families use their powers to control the nation. Miles Singer was born less powerful than his sister, and thus was destined to spend life enslaved to his family’s desires. Not willing to suffer this, he went to fight in his country’s war. When he returned, he started work in a hospital, where he treats those suffering mentally after the war. His powers give him a gift for healing, but when a patient is murdered and his powers are revealed, he has to investigate the death. I struggled when I first read this to find words other than MAGICAL to describe this book, because that’s what it truly is. It features such an interesting magic system, and yet feels like it could’ve been taken out of a history book, the setting is so realistic. Add the fierce character list, and it really is just such a wonderful read. Witchmark has a sequel coming out in 2020 with Grace, Miles’ sister at the helm, and I am so interested to see her thoughts on what happened in the first book.

And that’s it for my first post! In working out this list, I noticed two very clear themes that come through:

  • Queer books are killing it in 2019.  Expect to see quite a lot of amazing books featuring queer characters on this blog. This year so far, I’m very much reading for teenage me who would’ve killed to see such awesome queer books on her shelf (but instead had to resort to fanfiction).
  • I like to be hurt: 3 of the 5 books on this list had endings which absolutely killed me

Let me know what you think of these reads, or if they’re on your TBR!

Goodbye from me, and Draco (my cat)

What a babe.

P.S. Okay so I’m cheating with the whole ‘Top 5’ and giving a special mention to The Poppy War by R.F Kuang which I only finished last week and which was phenomenal.