Home Is Where the Heart Is? - 14 Novels Where a House Stars Alongside the Characters

Homes are often our sanctuary, the place that holds and cares for us, however they can become our prison, or house memories that haunt our very being. Here I have chosen fourteen novels where the dwelling places sitting within hold the story together. From historical fiction and gothic thrillers, through to modern and contemporary and relationship tales, there are a variety of stories on offer here. The buildings are of huge importance, and at times carry the story, allowing the words to drift through them creating intense and evocative feelings. There are the homes that wrap themselves in a loving warm hug around the residents, and then of course, there are the houses that whip into thoughts, taking them apart, holding the occupants to ransom with their very essence. I do hope you enjoy these novels and enter each with a particular awareness for the homes sitting within, waiting for you with their doors wide open.

Rawblood

Rawblood

Author: Catriona Ward Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/09/2016

Highly Recommended. A ghostly, achingly sad, yet excruciatingly beautiful debut. This is effectively one story, however there are a number of narrators covering a period of 80 years from 1839; at times it feels as though you are being kept at a considerable distance, at others as though you are at their shoulder, seeing, listening, feeling. The stories are not told sequentially, instead time meanders, darts, pulls and pushes, which initially creates a feeling of confusion, yet, yet…Rawblood gradually takes a grip and absorbs you, as a malevolent presence hovers over the pages, waiting. The house of Rawblood set within Dartmoor sits centrally in the storyline, described so vividly it feels as though you can reach out, touch it. As understanding grows, a fear develops for what is to come, for what has already been. To describe Rawblood just as a ghost story feels like an injustice, Catriona Ward has created a moving, original tale of love and destruction, one that is truly enthralling and memorable. - Liz Robinson * Catriona Ward’s assured and artful first novel is a wonderfully gothic tale. Set in an Edwardian Devon haunted by the Great War it has its roots in some dark Victorian family secrets. The story revolves around Iris, last of the Villarca line, who lives in the eponymous Rawblood house. The Villarcas have died young for generation after generation; struck down by a curse that means they must be alone. So when Iris falls for farmer’s son Tom her father forbids her from seeing him. So far so melodramatic but this is no corny dark romance. Ward is an astonishingly adept writer with a wonderfully poetic turn of phrase and she is also in complete control of her characters and the plot. It quickly becomes clear that this is a many layered, complex and subtle novel and Ward has a real gift for sowing her horrors seamlessly into a psychologically real story. The west country setting and the period Ward has chosen add real flavour and while the obvious shadow of Thomas Hardy hangs over this Ward knows what she is doing and makes the book her own. Key to this is her prose style. There are real poetic touches here but they are always robustly rooted in landscape and nature – there’s more than a hint of Ted Hughes’ very physical poetry in her descriptions. If you enjoy Essie Fox or Sarah Perry Rawblood will haunt you. - Simon Spanton

eBooks of the Month
The House at the Edge of the World

The House at the Edge of the World

Author: Julia Rochester Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/04/2016

Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016. Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. A wonderfully unconventional and thought-provoking read, where a mystery waiting to be solved shelters behind a penetrating and wryly emotional family tale. The first paragraph, short as it is, marks itself indelibly in your minds eye, it also encapsulates the detached and challenging personality of Morwenna, the narrator. The family from ‘The House at the Edge of the World’ hold ambivalent feelings towards each other and their home. As the story ponders the weight of family expectations it also peeks at the tricky complexity that is imagination versus recollection and how often the two blend into a murky uncertainty. Julia Rochester has a fascinating way with words, words to make you stop, think and consider, she captures your thought processes and then hurls them in an unexpected direction. This is an intelligent, discerning and surprising debut novel and deserves to be highly recommended. ~ Liz Robinson Desmond Elliott Chair of judges Iain Pears said: “Rochester’s writing is quite wonderful – she is particularly strong on her sense of place. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.”

eBooks of the Month
Erringby

Erringby

Author: Gill Darling Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/06/2021

Our June 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Heady, rich and evocative, and while a reimagining of Great Expectations, this debut stands as a unique and startling read in its own right. As a child, orphaned Kit finds the world of his Uncle and Aunt an enticing place to be, as he grows older he discovers that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Gill Darling travels through three decades from the 1970’s, creating the most spelling-binding novel. She doesn’t flinch from the harsher side of life, and while building an enchanting world, exposes vulnerability, selfishness, and excess. The characters feel as real as can be, with a tapestry of traits they ensured my feelings moved through the gamut of emotions. While I knew this was inspired by Great Expectations before I started, I entered and read it as Erringby, completely absorbed and only looking between the two when I had turned the last page. I found growing up with Kit at times disturbing, while at others I relished his adventures, and the ending sent little goose pimples skittering down my arms. When I finish reading I always return to the cover again to see with new eyes, and oh what a gorgeously expressive and clever creation it is! Thoughtful and loving, yet passionate and provocative, Erringby is a truly striking coming-of-age novel and a deserves its place as a LoveReading Star Book.

Star Books
The Forever House

The Forever House

Author: Veronica Henry Format: Paperback Release Date: 18/05/2017

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 |  Gorgeously affectionate, loving, and generous, this is a read to escape into and really enjoy. Hunters Moon is a forever home, yet the current occupants are selling up and when Belinda takes on the sale, she finds herself becoming emotionally attached to Sally and Alexander. Veronica Henry sets the story so beautifully in two time frames, it feels completely natural to journey back to the late 1960’s as well as spend time with Belinda in the present. I was completely enchanted, both with the characters and the setting in the beautiful Peasebrook. If you are an existing fan, then you will recognise locations and a few of the people you meet along the way, however this can very easily be read as a standalone. I have to say that ‘The Forever House’ is one of my favourite reads by Veronica Henry, and the honey glow of Hunters Moon sweeps you up in a deliciously warm embrace.  Explore our '80+ Books That Deilver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.

eBooks of the Month
Starve Acre

Starve Acre

Author: Andrew Michael Hurley Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/10/2020

So beautifully written, the chills prowl with unexpected menace to climb inside your thoughts, to lurk and provoke. Richard and Juliette’s son Ewan died at the age of 5, Juliette, convinced that her son is still in the house turns to a group of occultists, while Richard searches for the remains of a hangman’s oak tree opposite their home Starve Acre. Andrew Michael Hurley doesn’t waste a single word, each forms a web to create a picture as he captures the essence of a thought or thing. As the story grows, as the oak planted itself in my minds eye, the unsettling force of grief came to settle over everything. I sank into this tale and couldn’t leave, reading from the deep, dark and incredibly soulful first page through to the startling last in one heady afternoon. Folklore gathers in the background, grief preys on the unsuspecting, and a compelling story unfolds. Highly recommended, I have chosen Starve Acre as one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book.

Star Books
The House on the Edge of the Cliff

The House on the Edge of the Cliff

Author: Carol Drinkwater Format: Paperback Release Date: 16/05/2019

A striking and compelling family drama where the past takes a ferocious bite into the present. The House on the Edge of the Cliff explores relationships, how they can alter, move with fluidity, ever-changing almost without realisation. The house in question sits on the edge of a cliff in France, a character in its own right, a sanctuary, utterly bewitching, and yet full of history, of memories. When Grace was 16 an event occurred which has affected and remained with her ever since, when the past suddenly rears its head, danger beckons. We first meet Grace in the present and within the first few pages, I became as hooked as a hooked thing can be. Heightened, in fact, frantic emotions dance across the page and left me feeling breathless. Time then begins a slide backwards, explaining just enough, setting more questions and encouraging more thoughts to flow. Carol Drinkwater writes with captivating eloquence, I find her books so wonderfully readable, I just slip down into the welcoming pages and enjoy. Full of secrets, tense moments, gorgeous descriptions, and emotional interplay, The House on the Edge of the Cliff is a truly beautiful read and one of my picks of the month.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Key In The Lock

The Key In The Lock

Author: Beth Underdown Format: Hardback Release Date: 27/01/2022

I read this beautifully stormy dark gothic mystery while perched high up on the edge of my seat. A dreadful fire has haunted Ivy for years, she mourns two deaths, and now seeks the truth. Beth Underdown’s debut  The Witchfinder's Sister was a bestseller and winner of the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award 2017, this is her second novel and it more than lived up to my expectations. The two time frames, sitting either side of the First World War, are initially fractured before they gradually fuze together. Information dripped and then seeped into the pages before hiding in my thoughts. The story is secretive, occasionally sullen as it begins to unfurl. Cornwall, and the house in particular cast a brooding presence which adds to the intensity of this tale. The characters are perfectly imperfect, trust is a scare commodity, and each casts a deep shadow. I was held in limbo while I read, totally immersed in the writing. Expressively powerful The Key in the Lock thrills and chills in equal measure. Chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month and LoveReading Star Book, this historical mystery is a worthy contender for the very top of your reading list.

Star Books
Bitter Orange

Bitter Orange

Author: Claire Fuller Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/05/2019

An atmospheric, stormy beauty of a read which made me positively ache for the characters. As Frances lies on her deathbed she revisits the summer of 1969 when she met Cara and Peter at an abandoned country house, as the summer progresses vulnerabilities are highlighted and tragedy strikes. Claire Fuller peels open the lives of the characters with exquisite care. Feelings spin and slice across the page, freedom, isolation, menace all tumbling together in an uncertain dance. The house is a hugely important part of the tale, creating a setting that alternates between forsaken and decadent. Whenever the story left Lyntons, whether to the village beyond or the Frances of now, I felt an easing of pressure, I was able to relax muscles sitting in tense anticipation. ‘Bitter Orange’ sets a chilling yet poignant stage and allows access to the memories of the past, the emotions are touchable, the ending so perfect it hurt. Featured in Episode 5 of the LoveReading Podcast

The Butterfly Summer

The Butterfly Summer

Author: Harriet Evans Format: Paperback Release Date: 19/05/2016

A gorgeous, loveable read, this hovers on the edge of the feel of a fairytale, of being almost dreamlike, yet at the same time it is startlingly believable and real. Nina Parr is 25, divorced, living at home and working in a job that she doesn't belong to. As Nina begins to learn about her family and a house called Keepsake, her world is turned upside down. There are two tales being told here, when in the depths of one, I almost forget there was another waiting to be revealed. Harriet Evans not only breathes life into these fascinating characters, she also excels in describing locations so they become a vital part of the story, the houses in particular were vibrantly intense in my minds eye. As you sink into the swirling depths of the story, you may have suspicions about the outcome, yet there are still surprises in store and ultimately, ‘The Butterfly Summer’ isn't about an ending, instead it’s discovering the beautiful pathway that leads to it. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.

eBooks of the Month
The Visitors

The Visitors

Author: Caroline Scott Format: Hardback Release Date: 09/12/2021

This thought-provoking and exquisitely written novel has touched my heart. In 1923, Esme Nicholls travels to Cornwall in the hope of learning more about her husband who died in the First World War. This is the first book I’ve read by Caroline Scott, and it won’t be my last. Her debut The Photographer of the Lost set in 1921 was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick, and When I Come Home Again set in 1918, was one of The Times Best books of 2020. The Visitors is so eloquently emotional and earthy it will stay with me for some time. The Cornish setting just sings, the house full of former soldiers where Esme stays made me feel welcome. The garden and natural surroundings soothe and act as a foil for the feelings of the people who reside there. Diary entries and articles add hidden thoughts and an awareness of the war. I adored the ending, the closing information so simply imparted, yet so satisfying and fulfilling, made me smile. The Visitors is beautifully expressive and heartfelt, and I’ve chosen this gorgeous novel as both a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month. 

Star Books
Sundial

Sundial

Author: Catriona Ward Format: Hardback Release Date: 10/03/2022

So exquisitely haunting it hurts, Sundial slithers into thoughts to carve out a spot and make itself at home. Fearing for the future of both her daughters, Rob takes troubled Callie to her own childhood home in the Mojave Desert and revisits the past. I have been of fan of Catriona Ward since her debut Rawblood, each of her subsequent novels has become my new favourite, and that is most certainly the case here. Just reading the synopsis sent a shiver through me, I had to have this book! As I started to read, goosebumps shivered and skittered their way down my skin to declare just how special this was going to be. A quiet menace slipped past my boundaries to create a heightened sense of fear for what was to come. The smallest yet most vital of moments are created to tip feelings already in the balance. Trust is a scarce commodity, love though, love is more than evident as mother and daughter test their relationship. There is also a grace to be found, in the eloquence of words as they slice and then stitch to form the most vividly real and vibrant story. Sundial is an intensely dark and blazingly beautiful novel about the love that can hold us together, or shatter us into pieces. This stunning tale that hovers on a sharp edge of horror has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Pick of the Month, it will undoubtedly be one of my books of the year.

Star Books
The Carriage House

The Carriage House

Author: Louisa Hall Format: Paperback Release Date: 24/04/2014

An intelligent, compassionate and thought-provoking novel where the writing sparkles through the weight of expectations, hidden hopes and damaged dreams. The broken, faded Carriage House, threatened with bulldozers somehow binds a splintered family together and is found to be deserving, worth fighting for. The characters are rounded and feel so very real, one paragraph finds you wanting to hug, to console, to soothe their pain, the next to shake their apathy, to smack their selfishness, to shriek at their audacity. The author is able to open the door and walk in on the secluded part of a consciousness, one that’s not visited very often, that’s shied away from, ignored. Hall’s writing is eloquent, discerning and moving, she has the ability to make you sit back and think, to ponder…in a world of other peoples expectations, can you ever truly just be yourself? ~ Liz Robinson   In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion for The Carriage House a small number of Lovereading members were lucky enough to be invited to review this title - 'A stunningly beautiful tale of family expectations, consequential change and relationships...Full of heartwarming poignancy' - Lucinda Fountain. Scroll down to read more reviews.   A 'Piece of Passion' from Viking Publisher Venetia Butterfield... 'Warm-hearted, intelligent and hugely compassionate, The Carriage House is a beautifully written novel about families and expectations, growing up and finding your place in the world, and rebuilding lost lives - from fantastic debut author Louisa Hall. William Adair, patriarch, doting father of three girls, Men’s Tennis Club Champion from 1967-1974 wakes up in his hospital bed and realizes that his family are less extraordinary than he had believed. For more than thirty years, his faith in life was grounded on two indisputable principles: his daughters’ exceptional beauty and talents and the historical resonance of a carriage house built by his grandfather. Now, both have begun to collapse. The three Adair daughters once so brilliant have all returned home; Elizabeth, the divorced but once promising actress, tennis ace Diana, now a University dropout and beautiful, sorrowful 18 year old Isabelle. Having lost their father’s pride they struggle to define themselves.  To help him recover, William’s daughters take on the battle for their dilapidated carriage house and attempt to recapture some of the promise of their former selves.  Told through the alternating perspectives of the family, a dramatic fire jolts them out of their self-absorbed misery and each of the Adairs start to overcome their wrong turns and to find the promise of a fresh start.' A message from the author... 'Just before starting The Carriage House, I re-read Jane Austen's Persuasion and realized that it was, in part, about a young woman who's forgotten how to be her previous self. Anne Elliot is twenty-eight years old, and everything about her has changed; she's lost her looks and her confidence, and she can barely remember how she used to carry herself when she was her younger, prettier version.  At the time I also felt as if I'd wandered out of a previous existence. When I left my early life as a professional squash player to pursue a literary career, I lost all of the ways I used to measure myself, I found it hard to imagine life without the reassurance of a numerical ranking.Between my own and Anne Elliot's loss of a former persona, I became fascinated by the idea of characters who are suspended between two iterations of their life. I wanted to see how each of them could move forward, whilst mourning the loss of a former version of their self and their family. The Carriage House is my exploration of such characters.' – Louisa Hall

eBooks of the Month
Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground

Author: Claire Fuller Format: Paperback Release Date: 13/01/2022

What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant? What would you do to get it back? Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance. But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother's secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake. Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness. 

Star Books
The Beresford

The Beresford

Author: Will Carver Format: Paperback Release Date: 22/07/2021

Dark, provocative, and addictive, The Beresford saunters out into the limelight as it plays in the shadows. In an apartment building, in a city somewhere, a never-ending cycle of death is watched over by landlady Mrs May. This standalone supernatural thriller enters a fascinating world where hope cowers in the corner. Will Carver skirts and plays with the unseen curtain that sits on the edge of irreverence. There is a knowing, almost teasing atmosphere that is dark and grim and entirely seductive. The short punchy chapters ensured I couldn’t stop for breath or take a break. It felt as though the rhythm increased, as though I had to read that little bit faster in order to keep up as the ending hurtled towards me. I devoured The Beresford in one all-consuming sitting, if you find the edge of darkness a fascinating place to stand, then this is the book for you.

Star Books
The House of Ashes

The House of Ashes

Author: Stuart Neville Format: Hardback Release Date: 03/02/2022

Compelling, compassionate, yet deeply unnerving and dark, this is a novel that will delve into and haunt your thoughts as you’re reading it. Mary knocks at the door to Sara’s new home claiming it’s hers and demanding to know what she has done with the children. As Sara begins to investigate, she opens up a chilling and shocking window to the past. Stuart Neville writes with huge empathy, yet he doesn’t hold back, and I felt a shiver of dread as I began to read. Featuring the two women in the tale, two time frames vibrate with tension. Their voices are as individually distinctive as can be, yet there are aspects within the two stories that mirror the other. The sense of place is piercing, with the house featuring as a third main character. A supernatural element hides in the shadows, it brushed against my awareness then kept me company, blending with the entirely realistic and harrowing story, heightening emotions and keeping nerves taut as can be. I found myself wincing with regret and anguish while hopeful for the present, and the writing ensures this balance is encouraged and maintained with care and attention. I felt, really felt the ending as it resonated within my heart and soul and I sat a while, contemplating. While The House of Ashes is a formidable and provocative read, a contemplative beauty can be found within the pages and I’ve chosen this stunner as a Liz Pick of the Month.  

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