Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Stranger Upstairs & Christmas Presents


Hi, Sharon back with another edition of Thriller Thursday.  I hope those who celebrated Thanksgiving had a great day. And even though it is now the festive holiday season, in my heart it is always spooky season. 😀  This week I have Lisa M. Matlin’s debut novel, The Stranger Upstairs and Lisa Unger’s, Christmas Presents (see incorporating festive and spooky in my readings LOL).


Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Stranger Upstairs & Christmas PresentsThe Stranger Upstairs Goodreads

Author: Lisa M. Matlin

Publication Date: September 26, 2023

Publisher: Bantam

The Stranger Upstairs is Lisa M. Matlin’s debut novel and what a debut it was.  The Stranger Upstairs was a creepy thriller that had an Amityville Horror vibe. I borrowed this book from the library, but I am definitely going to be buying a copy to have in my collection.

Forty years ago, Black Wood House was the scene of a brutal murder/suicide. Bill Campbell bludgeoned his wife Susan to death with a hammer. He then went to kill his daughter Janet, but she was able to run from the house and escape. Bill then committed suicide. No one knows where Janet is, as she has not been seen in forty years. Black Wood House has sat decaying all this time, until social media influencer Sarah Slade buys the house and plans to fix it up and then resell it. Not long after she and her husband move in, strange things start to happen. The new wallpaper they put up in the bedroom just falls off, Sarah is hearing footsteps in the attic, and she has started receiving threatening notes. With each day, Sarah’s life spirals out of control, and she becomes convinced that someone is trying to kill her.  But who? Her husband, her neighbors, or the house itself?

WOW! I don’t even know how to explain how good and creepy this book was without giving anything away. I think Matlin did an amazing job of bringing Black Wood House to life. At times I actually felt like it was another character in the book. The more that Sarah spiraled out of reality, the more she thought the house was talking to her and feeding off her anger. And I was convinced as well. I got chills so many times while I was reading this book.

Sarah was a very complex character, and she had a lot of secrets.  I liked her, but then again, I didn’t like her. LOL!  As her secrets were revealed I moved to the “didn’t like her” end, but then when I learned more about her childhood, I moved to the “I like her” end. When things started progressing in the book and Sarah started going off the deep end, I had no idea what to believe.  I have to say I loved Sarah’s cat, Reaper. What a cool name. Reaper can feel the vibes the house is giving off. When Reaper gets sick, Sarah is positive one of her neighbor’s poisoned him. But then Sarah starts getting sick as well. Is it the house or is someone breaking in and torturing her?

By the end of the book, I could not read fast enough. I just had to find out what was really going on and how this would end. I thought the book was going one way, but then Matlin threw in some twists and took it in a direction I so did not anticipate. If you are looking for a creepy thriller that will give you goose bumps and make you look over your shoulder, then I recommend Lisa M. Matlin’s, The Stranger Upstairs.  4 stars


Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Stranger Upstairs & Christmas PresentsChristmas Presents Goodreads

Author: Lisa Unger

Publication Date: October 24, 2023

Publisher: Mysterious Press

I love Lisa Unger’s books, so when I saw her new book, Christmas Presents, I knew I had to read it. What better way to kick off the holiday season than with a mystery that takes place around Christmas.

Ten years ago, just before Christmas, Madeline Martin was attacked by her boyfriend, Evan Handy. Madeline survived, but her best friend Steph did not. Also, on that night two of Madeline’s other friends, sisters Ainsley and Sam Wallace went missing. Evan was convicted of killing Steph and has always been suspected in the disappearance of Ainsley and Sam. Madeline’s father, Sherrif James Martin, has been obsessed with finding the girls right up until he had a stroke a few months ago. Madeline now owns a local bookstore, The Next Chapter Bookshop, and while she has tried to move on with her life, this time of year always brings back the memories of that night. When Harley Granger, a true-crime podcaster, comes into the bookstore one night just before Christmas, he tells Madeline he is doing a podcast on the cold case of missing Ainsley and Sam. Madeline wants nothing to do with the podcast, that is until Harley tells her that in the past ten years, three other woman have gone missing in the area, most recently a young exotic dancer named Lolly. With Evan in jail, who has taken these women and are they connected to Ainsley and Sam’s disappearance?

The story is told from the POV of Madeline, both in the present and we also get snippets of her remembering the events that lead up to the night Evan killed Step and attacked her. We also get the POV of Harley as he works on the podcast and tries to find clues that will lead to finding out what happened to the missing women. And we get the POV of Lolly, the last woman that went missing. I loved how Lisa Unger set the story this way. Each chapter and POV just added to the mystery of what was going on.

Unger did a great job in creating the characters in this story. I really liked Madeline. She was such a strong character.  She harbors a lot of guilt over Steph’s death and is just trying to get on with her life. But when she finds out that other women have gone missing and they could be connected to Ainsley and Sam, she works with her childhood friend Badger and together they use sheriff Martin’s files to try and figure out who is responsible for these disappearances.

Harley Granger was a character I loved to hate. He was not a bad guy per se, but his approach on his podcast just shed him in a sort of bad light for me. I really liked getting Lolly’s chapters. Those just gave me the chills, knowing she is being held captive, but not knowing what her fate is going to be.

If you are looking for a Christmas themed mystery with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, then check out Lisa Unger’s Christmas Presents4 stars

7 replies
  1. Lark
    Lark says:

    Lisa Unger is another one of those authors who I’ve been meaning to read for years, and just haven’t gotten around to…yet. Christmas Presents sounds like a good one.

    • Sharon
      Sharon says:

      It really was. I need to read more of Unger’s books, I only started reading her a couple of years ago, but really like her books.

  2. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I’ve never read anything by Lisa Unger but I do love the idea of a Christmas-themed mystery/thriller since most of what’s on my TBR right now is holiday romance.

    • Sharon
      Sharon says:

      LOL! I think you would like this one. The protagonist owns a book store, set around Christmas and not really scary. All check marks for you 🙂

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