Cover Image: The Curse of Penryth Hall

The Curse of Penryth Hall

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Member Reviews

Was I lost for several chunks of this book? Ya but I didn't care cause I had a great time and it all came together in the end for the most part. Over all this was a fun, twisty, and somewhat creepy story that kept me hooked. And I do love a story where everyone believes something has a supernatural explanation but the real answer is much simpler and the perpetrator is just as flesh and blood as the rest of us. I love going through the book wondering if there really is something supernatural going on or if everyone is just superstitious. It makes it more fun and allows me to think up more outlandish theories. And the narrator was great!

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I just loved the gothic feel of this book. The love you have for your best friend the need to protect the ones you truly love.
This books show that friendship and love can achieve anything!

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Have you ever read an entire book, and when it ends, you kind of just sit there wondering what you even just read? Not in a horrible way, but it just feels like absolutely nothing happened? Yeah, that's this book. The writing was great, the world was great, the book felt dark and dreary, which I loved, but what happened? I know I have a bad memory, but I just finished this five minutes ago, and I'm struggling to hold on to most of the storyline. So, all in all, the author has a lovely writing style and a great voice, but the story itself was lackluster.

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I had such a great time reading this book! This story that's historical, and a mystery, with maybe a bit of paranormal, as well as romance? Yeah, this book had a lot going on, and I couldn't get enough! And Ruby was such a great narrator!

Ruby is something of a wild child, at least, for her time. I don't know if they stated her age, but her family has passed (not before she had a big scandal with what turned out to be a married man) and she served in the war, driving back and forth to ferry the injured. And she is logical, she doesn't believe in magic. So encountering the Pellar really shakes things up for her!

This whole mystery, of the man who married her friend-but didn't treat her right, was really engaging. There were so many suspects, because he was a powerful man who abused his position and those under him. Plus there was the family curse. So she had a lot to sift through, and I loved watching her and Ruan put the pieces together! That ending though? Totally unexpected, but used everything that we'd been given so well!

That whole thing where she and Ruan were linked at birth? Yeah, that's an interesting thought, and I hope that we explore that, and their abilities (her dreams have to be an ability), in the future books, because it does sound like he's going to be in the sequel, yeah!

Loved reading this book and I can't wait for more! That the start of the set up was the end of this book was perfect!

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(3.75 rounded up to 4)

The Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong is a debut historical gothic mystery set just after World War I in Cornwall.

The audiobook version is narrated by Emma Love, and she did a great job! There are several characters with various accents, including some more local dialects, and she excelled there.

I'm quite pleased that this is the start of a series, because I really liked our heroine Ruby, an American heiress running a rare bookstore along with her elderly employer. I also really liked our hero: the Cornish Pellar (aka English folk magic healer, diviner, and breaker of spells) Ruan Kivell. Their banter was on point.

Casual queerness is one of my favorite things, especially in historical fiction, and our main character Ruby appears to be at minimum bisexual.

The vibes here were great. Though the plot moves a bit slowly at first, I got super into the story a few chapters in. I liked that there were some slightly speculative elements.

Also, this cover is GORGEOUS.

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The Curse of Penryth Hall is the first book in a gothic mystery series by debut author Jess Armstrong. Released 5th Dec 2023 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout.

This is a creepy/atmospheric mystery set in Cornwall in the interwar period. It's a fusion of genres: mystery, dark broody gothic tale, even a dash of romance, and it manages to coalesce them into a thoroughly enjoyable read. There is some lack of depth in some of the characterization, but especially for a debut work, it's surprisingly cohesive, well constructed, and with a moving gravitas.

Although it's not derivative at all, fans of cerebral academic mysteries will find a lot to like here. There are hints of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Diane Setterfield, though again, it's its own creature and should be appreciated as such.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 10 hours 40 minutes and is very capably narrated by Emma Love. She has a beautifully nuanced voice and manages a credible job of the extremely varied accents (American, West Country, RP, etc) with no discernible hiccups in the dialogue. Her voice is light with bright tonals and isn't obtrusive at all, letting the prose take center stage. Sound and production quality are high throughout the read.

Four stars. Well worth a look. The second book in the series is due out late 4th quarter 2024 from the same publisher. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition, buddy read, or bookclub selection.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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Ruby Vaughn works at a rare bookstore in Exeter and finds herself having to deliver a box of books to a folk healer who lives in the Cornish countryside. But rather than simply dropping off the books, Ruby finds herself stumbling across someone from her past who currently lives at Penryth Hall. Forced into a visit she’s eager to cut short, she finds herself staying at the Hall longer than she wants, especially when they discover that someone there has unexpectedly died. Is there a curse involved? Magic? Or is it simple revenge?

I’m a sucker for the gothic genre, but I’ve had a difficult time finding any recent publications that really live up to the gothic atmosphere/vibes. This is another case where the book just didn’t deliver. The only real gothic aspect was an old manor and hints of the supernatural. These two things alone do not a gothic read make. The author also tried to create an intriguing mystery, but the number of ideas that were introduced then just went nowhere made it feel like we invested a lot of time for no good reason. This also affected the pacing of the story negatively.

A big part of where this book fell short was in relation to the characters. The love interest was boring with minimal depth. And this was extra unfortunate as he plays a pretty big role in the main plot. It made the romance feel bland and forced. Ruby wasn’t that compelling of a character, either. She started off strong with some sassy dialogue, but as the book went on, she just became another hard-headed, predictable protagonist who needed to be rescued.

If you like drama-filled historical mysteries then you’ll likely enjoy this one, but it doesn’t necessarily feel gothic. My thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for allowing me to read this work. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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✨ About the Book ✨

After the Great War, American heiress Ruby Vaughn made a life for herself running a rare bookstore alongside her octogenarian employer and house mate in Exeter. She’s always avoided dwelling on the past, even before the war, but it always has a way of finding her. When Ruby is forced to deliver a box of books to a folk healer living deep in the Cornish countryside, she is brought back to the one place she swore she’d never return. A more sensible soul would have delivered the package and left without rehashing old wounds. But no one has ever accused Ruby of being sensible. Thus begins her visit to Penryth Hall.

A foreboding fortress, Penryth Hall is home to Ruby’s once dearest friend, Tamsyn, and her husband, Sir Edward Chenowyth. It’s an unsettling place, and after a more unsettling evening, Ruby is eager to depart. But her plans change when Penryth’s bells ring for the first time in thirty years. Edward is dead; he met a gruesome end in the orchard, and with his death brings whispers of a returned curse. It also brings Ruan Kivell, the person whose books brought her to Cornwall, the one the locals call a Pellar, the man they believe can break the curse. Ruby doesn’t believe in curses—or Pellars—but this is Cornwall and to these villagers the curse is anything but lore, and they believe it will soon claim its next victim: Tamsyn.

To protect her friend, Ruby must work alongside the Pellar to find out what really happened in the orchard that night.

Author: Jess Armstrong
Release Date: December 5, 2023 by Minotaur Books
Genre: Mystery, Gothic, Historical fiction
Pages: 326 pages, Hardcover
Star Rating: 3.6 /5


📚 How I See it 📚

This book was right up my alley and I really enjoyed reading it.

The book is written in a simple writing style that makes it just the best cozy book to curl up with. I enjoyed the cozy gothic mystery ambiance of this book and found the characters interesting and well developed - except maybe for Tamsyn who I didn't warm up to.

I feel like the author dropped a few hints towards the end indicating that perhaps this is the first book in a series? If so, I would love to read the next books.

What I Liked:

🩵 Well-developed characters
🩵 I loved the cat’s presence throughout the story
🩵 Well-rounded mystery with a great ending.
🩵 The gothic atmosphere
🩵 The chemistry between Ruby and Ryan
🩵 🌈

What I Didn’t Like:

💔 I didn’t really understand the relationship between Ruby and Tamsyn. I think it might have been more understandable if we had more background on their history.

💛 Find Me Here 💛

Blog : themidnightbookclub.com
Instagram : @the.midnight.book.club


Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for this advanced copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own thoughts

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Touted as a historical gothic mystery thriller, The Curse of Penryth Hall, is a debut novel that has already won an award. Ruby Vaughan is an American heiress in Exeter, working as an assistant to a rare books dealer. She travels back to Cornwall and the scene of painful memories to deliver books and gets sucked into a murder, family curse, an old love affair and a new one.

I loved the atmosphere and setting and thought Armstrong did a really good job of creating that. I also enjoyed the mystery part of it and Ruby's amateur investigation to try and unravel the curse.

However, I didn't feel it quite hit that gothic note. Historical mystery thriller is how I would describe it. I also found the complicated romantic aspects a bit out of context and some of them unnecessary. The resolution was a tad far-fetched and unbelievable.

Overall though it was an entertaining read that I would recommend to wile away a happy afternoon. 3.5/5⭐

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3.5 rounded up
The budding relationship between Ruby and Ruan was the only thing that kept me interested and invested in the story. It's a historical gothic novel, and it reminded me the The Hound of the Baskervilles. But even that wasn't enough to save this overly complicated plot (complete with secret passages in the main house). The ending does hint that their might be a sequel, and I am likely to read it.

Audiobook was well narrated and easy to follow.

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Thank you to Minotaur books and Dreamscape Media for my review copies!

The Curse of Penryth Hall is a gothic historical murder mystery with a sprinkling of magic. This was a strong debut, and I loved her heroine, Ruby Vaughn. As a primarily romance and fantasy reader, I could have done with a little more of both.

The relationships felt a little surface level, with either the backstory doing a lot of work or having a magical connection between them. Since I thought each of the characters were really interesting, I wished I had a little more “show, don’t tell” to show how the characters grew together. (Or back together.)

The mystery definitely kept me guessing, but the pieces seemed to all come together with the big reveal at the end!

🎧 The audio was fantastic. Emma Love’s accent is the perfect amount of atmosphere without losing clarity. She created a world of characters with her performance, and I enjoyed listening to her!

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The Curse of Penryth Hall follows Ruby Vaughn as she helps to solve the murder of a close friends husband.

The setting of this novel is what I liked most. The small English village and mansion where the story takes place were vividly described and gave the novel an atmospheric quality. I also enjoyed the narration.

I had a really hard time connecting to the characters and the story dragged for me. Sadly, this one just wasn’t for me.

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Loved the setting and intrigue. Set in the 1920's in an English countryside, the heroine is a rare bookseller visiting her old flame's estate. A murder happens and a mystery unfolds with the help of a local witch doctor. Fabulous debut novel from Jess Armstrong!

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I sometimes struggle with books that are described as being written as a love letter to books. Often they feel like they're all aesthetic and no substance. The Curse of Penryth Hall is an interesting mix of substance in the story and general mysterious, bookish vibes. With the intriguing setting of a historical fiction title and the lure of a good thriller, The Curse of Penryth Hall is enthralling from beginning to end.

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Thanks to @netgalley for the chance to review The Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong. This was an incredibly fun, creepy gothic novel. Ruby, a bibliophile, is required to return to her former friend’s strange estate, Penryth Hall. Shortly after Ruby’s arrival, Tamsyn’s husband suffers a gruesome death. To protect her friend and figure out what happened to her husband, Ruby works with the town Pellar, who is known to be able to break curses.

The narration was wonderful, and my attention was kept the entire time.

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(NetGalley Audio Book Review)
This was a Gothic mystery with a supernatural undertone that added to the gruesome events. A good solid historical fiction story line about an heiress working in a bookstore who needs to deliver an old book to a folk healer who lives in England, where the trouble begins for her. She has a lot of history in England and its beautiful countryside…..however the forboding curse seems to darken the adventure. A great story about a time in the past with some very colorful people and scenes. A definite read for lovers of gothic mysteries!

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Ruby Vaughn has made a nice life for herself, running a rare bookstore alongside her octogenarian employer and house mate in Exeter. When Ruby is forced to deliver a box of books to a folk healer living deep in the Cornish countryside, she is brought back to the one place she swore she’d never return. A more sensible soul would have delivered the package and left without rehashing old wounds. But no one has ever accused Ruby of being sensible. Penryth Hall is home to Ruby’s once dearest friend, Tamsyn, and her husband, Sir Edward Chenowyth. It’s an unsettling place, and after a more unsettling evening, Ruby is eager to depart. But her plans change when Penryth’s bells ring for the first time in thirty years. Edward is dead; he met a gruesome end in the orchard, and with his death brings whispers of a returned curse. Ruan Kivell, the person whose books brought her to Cornwall, the one the locals call a Pellar, is the one man they believe can break the curse. Ruby doesn’t believe in curses—or Pellars—but this is Cornwall and to these villagers the curse is anything but lore, and they believe it will soon claim its next victim: Tamsyn. To protect her friend, Ruby must work alongside Ruan to find out what really happened in the orchard that night.

I am torn about this book. The premise sounded good, and I really liked Ruby. She was plucky, stubborn and fearless. I liked Ruan, and enjoyed the interactions between him and Ruby. The mystery was good, and it kept me guessing until the end. I also enjoyed how quirky several of the villagers were. I really didn't care for Tamsyn at all - she just seemed spineless to me. I felt the story seemed to ebb and flow, rather than either build slowly or stay steady throughout, so at times my attention wanted to wander. I did enjoy the mysticism of the curse, & the strange vivid dreams Ruby started having. Overall, I felt it had a bit of an Agatha Christie vibe, with a little supernatural element added to it.

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The Curse of Penryth Hall is a debut novel by Jess Armstrong. This historical mystery, which I don't normally read although I love both of those genre's separately, was a surprising find.
Our heroine, American heiress Ruby Vaughn, makes a life for herself after running from some scandal after the Great War. She is now living in Exeter and working in a bookstore, alongside her 80-something year old friend, employer and housemate.
When he gives her a job to deliver some mysterious books to a Pellar in the deep Cornish countryside, she realizes that the delivery is not far from an old and special friend of hers. So, against her better judgement, she decides to visit her friend, Tamsyn, and Tamsyn''s husband, Sir Edward. After spending an awkward evening, Ruby is awoken by the orchard bells on the property - Sir Edward has been murdered.
Ruby and the Pellar, Ruan Kivell, dive into the history of the small countryside village to figure out who could have killed Sir Edward. Goodness knows, he has a lot of enemies. Could it be the Vicar? Could it be the newly widowed friend? Or could it be the raith-like figure Ruby thought she saw the evening of his death? There is a lot going on in this historical mystery.
I enjoyed the relationship between Ruan and Ruby and how Ruby seemed to be more than she thought she was. I also enjoyed meeting and getting to know Mr. Owen and a few of the older side-characters along the way. I sometimes got lost as far as the time period. This book took place in the 1920's, but sometimes the "time" wasn't present. It didn't take anything away for me, but I sometimes fumbled because it would talk about boys coming back from the war and I would have to stop and think about what war and where they were. Saying that about the time, I will say the opposite about the sense of place. The gothic setting in the Cornish countryside was vivid and I could feel where I was and the dampness in the air from the moors.
All together, this was a great book to listen to. I enjoyed the narration and the voices that she gave so much. I could really distinguish between each character, even though it was a single narrator and her accents were spot on.
Thank you for the opportunity to listen to this great debut!

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3,5/5 ⭐

My favourite part of this book was how the narrator of the audiobook really brings all the characters to life. It sounded really realistic and immersive at the same time, so I’d definitely recommend you to check out the audiobook if you want to read this story.

I found the story itself slightly less engaging. Although I am a fan of murder mysteries set in the last century, for some reason this story could not keep me as captivated as I'd hoped. It also involves a magical side, which is normally only a plus for me. However, in this case, the story remained too flat for me, there were too many loose ends that were not dealt with further and the characters lacked development and depth. Some actions also seemed rather out of character for this story's characters. There were also several vague and volatile elements present throughout the book.

Nevertheless, it is a story that does read smoothly and is easy to understand. The atmosphere and setting are also conveyed very well so that you can really picture everything. I think there is also a possible lead-up to a second book, so who knows, maybe a sequel will appear at some point.


Thank you Netgalley for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

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I listened to the audiobook of The Curse of Penrith Hall by Jess Armstrong. It is a great Gothic Mystery set several years after WWI. The story centers around American heiress, Ruby Vaughn, who after experiencing a scandal back home, moves to Exeter, England where she helps run a cozy bookshop owned by an elderly gentleman. When she is asked to deliver a box of books to a healer in the Cornish countryside, she hesitates because she knows she will have to visit her former best friend who lives in a grand estate nearby: Penryth Hall.

Shortly after arriving, Ruby is invited to stay at Penryth Hall, which she does reluctantly. The following morning, her friend’s husband is found murdered by mysterious circumstances. The rest of the story is Ruby trying to solve the murder with the assistance of the healer who is viewed by the villagers as some sort of wizard.

I really enjoyed trying to figure out who committed the murder, as well as a few others 30 years before. I was convinced it was someone else until the very end!

This audiobook was narrated by the Emma Love who provided varying voices for both male and female characters and inflected just the right amount of emotion in all the right places. I am unsure whether this is the first book in a new series; but if it is, I will definitely listen to those audiobooks that follow!

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