Sunday 18 February 2024

THE DOLL TWIN by Janine Beacham


illustrated by Nathan Collins.                                                                                    


An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Literary Cat©, International Book Reviewer.

Hello, and welcome to my weekend Book Review featuring this week a Middle-Grade Gothic Horror Adventure.

We have a delightful read for you today, one that came right out of the blue when Mrs H's book-to-be-read pile was perilously low. So without further ado, dim the lights, stoke the fire, and wrap up for an amazing read.


AUTHOR:  Janine Beacham

Cover art by:  Nathan Collins

Published by: Firefly Press

Publication date Paperback:  4 April 2024

Paperback ISBN:  978-1-915 444 479

UK Cover price for Paperback:  £7.99

Kindle UK price:  N/A

Pages: 295 (in proof copy)

Age range:  9 to 12


Yes, some as to plot direction and characters.

Thank you to... 

We are exceedingly grateful to Graeme at Firefly Press Publishers for the delightful surprise package that gave us the chance to Read & Review this very atmospheric eerie book before publication.

As ever, our views are our own, and we only share reviews of books we have bought, been given as gifts, or received in exchange for an impartial review.

First and foremost, the books we review are those we select to read and review, like, and feel our global readers deserve to know about and that we hope they, their families, friends and students will enjoy.


The plot

Cared for in the Home, which was run by a matron of strict sensibilities and dislike for any child that did not conform, Una is adrift. She longs to be back in the lighthouse her father and mother ran on Anglesea. The life of ‘Groundlings’ is not one she recognises or enjoys. She is a quick learner and loves all things to do with the sea. Mechanisms, too. She helped her father repair and run the big light that would save many ships and lives. He didn’t have to go to war, he was in a protected job, but he went to the war to end all wars, because of his passion for all things mechanical. Dieing in the trenches, he left his wife and daughter, Una, behind to tend the lighthouse. But when Una’s mother dies of influenza, she becomes homeless and an orphan.

Una is a dab hand at repairing things as a result, tinkering and making things. So, when Mrs and Mr Smith turn up at the Home, they seem to have found the perfect child as both have a love of turning their hands to practical things. Mrs Smith repairs dolls, whilst Mr Smith is repairing a mechanical carousel, complete with candy-twist poles attached to ponies. And Una thinks she has found the perfect parents as their motivation is to adopt the child they always wanted and don’t seem stuffy at all.

Mother and Father, as they prefer to be called, have everything Una could hope for short of a life at sea or in a lighthouse. But their recently acquired house, Copperlins, an aged large three-storey house above the village of Knifely Stifling, is close to the sea. And even though a boy at her orphanage had warned her about the house, she is determined to make it home. It may be outdated and cold, but Una has a room of her own and views. Good food abounds as Mother is always baking. Father enjoys tinkering here and there at his carousel and smoking a pipe. In fact, they are both very much the archetypal parents one might have seen in the magazines and adverts of the time.

Una is enrolled in the local school. She has never been to a groundling school before, though she did have postal lessons while on the lighthouse. It is so very different. In fact, it is very inhospitable. The villagers don’t like strangers. Worse, they fear Copperlins and what was said to lurk within after the reclusive, elderly lady owner, a doll maker, died. They have horseshoes over their doors to ward off the evil. The adults, including Una’s teachers, and the local children, shy away from Una and mutter in closed, cold groups.

But a girl called Mary soon makes friends, not least because of Una’s unusual and daring but practical short haircut. It is very movie-star-like, Mary says. Though Una has no knowledge of such things and prefers nature and her books.

Whilst settling into her new home, Una hears strange noises coming from the second floor. Could they be mice? The scratching and bumping and creaking may not be unexpected in such an old building being exposed to frigid, buffeting winds.

Mother and Father, such nice people and as good as perfect parents as she could ever hope for as an orphan, think there is nothing amiss. So Una, for fear of being sent back to the Home, steals herself, saying she is a Wexford and has endured far, far worse in the lighthouse.

But little things start happening. And little things mount up and Una is soon aware of things being moved, or worse, going missing from her room. Then, when Mary comes for a sleepover but flees midway through the night without explanation and clearly terrified, Una starts to have doubts. Could what the locals fear about the house be true? Is it haunted by malevolent spirits? Mary goes so far as to extend a safe harbour at her house if Una is too scared.

When the noises in the basement, and music from the carousel she and her father are repairing, rouse Una from her sleep, she is minded to investigate. But there is nobody in the room. Later, she ventures to investigate noises on the second floor. It is an area of shut-off rooms, closed curtains and cobwebs. When none of the rooms reveals the source of the sounds, she steals herself again to check within the last room, a broom cupboard. There she confronts the doll; child size and, if that wasn’t scary enough, it has Una’s face and hair and eyes. When telling Mother and Father, who neither heard the carousel music or other such strange sounds, Una can not find the doll to show them.....

Now things take a turn around about here, and Una actually gets to meet the Doll Twin. Ani (short for animated curiosity) is the doll's name, and she seems to be out to copy Una completely. Is Ani bent on taking over Una's new life and parents? What happens next is both dramatic, scary and heartwarming.

Put aside notions of scary demon dolls.

This story is far more skilled and doesn’t need such adult-style nonsense. Arguably, it is far more human than that. What we have going forwards is a series of revelations, of journeys and discoveries sewn together with twists and turns both bold and powerful and yes, at times, as chilling as the storms Una and her once family faced as lighthouse keepers. Which is where we have to leave this review. 

So, what did we think?

A 1920s gothic horror-style feast of suspense, fear and automata, driven by a descriptive text that makes every page pulse and whir with life, and the senses tingle with anticipation from cover to cover.

One of the book’s great strengths is its being set after the ‘Great War’. With many children left fatherless, and as with Una Wexford, later motherless in the influenza outbreak, the book becomes very thought-provoking and powerful from the off. I can imagine this being a key point for classroom discussion, too.

There were no points where we weren’t immersed in the telling. Looking back, there were telltale clues that we just didn’t see or see clearly enough. Mrs H even peaked forwards, and with a gasp, carried on reading even quicker. She was still surprised by the final chapters; which were magnificently executed. We were raised up on a crest of hope, then sent to the depths of despair or shattered on the rocks with our characters.

Because of the writing skill, ultimately the ending was immensely satisfying. I won’t say what that is, as I don’t want to give it away.

So . . .
Crunch time.

A middle-grade ‘gothic’ horror, you’ll have to go a long, long way to find one better or more skillfully written. I dare say Mr King would be impressed if he were to read this. We were thoroughly entertained and devoured this in record time, and I think most other kids and parents will, too.

Steeped in atmosphere, this is one adventure not to be missed, as it has it all.

Want to buy a copy?

To get a copy, please do consider and support your local and independent bookshops and publishers.


Janine Beacham's web page at Hatchette UK can be found HERE or type this:

Firefly Press' web page can be found HERE or type this:

Nathan Collins' Twitter feed can be found HERE or type this:

We are joining the Sunday Selfies, hosted by the wonderful Kitties Blue and their mum, Janet Blue, in America.


Small image. The Cat on My Head Sunday Selfies Blog Hop badge. Features a yellow-haired lady with a tuxedo cat on her head.

I shall leave you with a selfie entitled: Black and White on Paisley 🙂 🙂

Till laters!