Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach #BookReview #PsychologicalSuspense

An embattled actress becomes entangled in a dark conspiracy at a spiritual retreat—and starts a true crime podcast to try to break the case—in this chilling novel about fame, violence, and our morbid fascination with murder, from the acclaimed author of Dead Letters.

Olivia Reed needs a break. She doesn’t want to think about her name plastered on tabloids or be reminded of her recent meltdown on a Manhattan street. Her micromanaging publicist has just the thing in mind: a remote retreat in upstate New York—the House of Light. It’s not rehab; it’s a Spiritual Center, a site for seeking realignment and personal growth. There will be yoga and morning meditation, soft bamboo-blend fabrics and no shortage of crystals to cleanse her energy.

But Liv will soon find that the House of Light is filled with darkness. A prickly local, Ava, informs her that something twisted is lurking behind the Light’s veneer. There have been a series of mysterious suicides committed by women caught in the Light’s web, and no matter who Ava talks to, no one believes the Center is involved. To find out what’s really happened and put her celebrity to good use, Liv starts a podcast, seeking to connect the dots and expose the Light’s true intentions. Because beneath the glowing skin of the Light’s inhabitants lie rotten souls, and Liv starts to wonder if anything—even her own life—is how it appears.

Caite Dolan-Leach brings her tantalizing voice, her gift for atmosphere, and a cast of delightfully devious and absorbing characters to this riveting novel of suspense.

What’s it about (in a nutshell):

Dark Circles is a dark, dense, atmospheric story about Liv Reed, all of her demons, and a cult that seems to be the center of multiple deaths.

Initial Expectations (before beginning the book):

The book’s cover gives me a dark foreboding feeling while also attracting me with its beautiful colors and intriguing setting. But I think what says it all, concerning my expectations of the book, is the last sentence of the book description. I anticipate an atmospheric read, sinfully delightful characters, and lots of glorious suspense.

Actual Reading Experience:

My initial expectations for my reading experience were precisely correct. Dark Circles is a dark atmospheric read, and I enjoyed the foreboding threaded in every description and situation. It made the story compelling and kept me focused just waiting for what would happen next and how dire the circumstances would be. The cover art does an excellent job capturing the story’s atmosphere.

Sometimes, as can happen with atmospheric books, the writing becomes very dense and detailed, making my reading slow down unexpectedly. Still, it is broken up by podcasts, interviews, Reddit discussions, and other multimedia components. I particularly enjoyed the podcasts as the tone and pace held me enthralled and picked up the story’s pace. There are also commercial breaks in the podcast that provide witty, creative little bursts that made me smile.

I also enjoyed the twists and turns, most of which surprised me. The big twist left my jaw on the floor and reframed the story in a sinfully delightful way. I love surprises in thrillers, especially in slow-burn atmospheric stories, because it helps to pick up the pace. And that is just what I experienced. As the secrets revealed themselves, the pages flipped faster and faster until the end.

The most unexpected aspect of this book was how my feelings changed about it after I finished it. After I closed the book for the final time, my thoughts were very positive. I found the whole podcast angle so compelling. The story focused largely on how a true crime podcast is developed and executed, which fascinated me completely. But as I thought about it more and more, I felt less enamored with it and realized the “buts” in my lists of enjoys. Overall, though, I think Dark Circles is a compelling character study and a fascinating true-crime podcast creation story. Yet, where it fell flat for me landed somewhere around the main character’s detachment from the investigation she is doing. I never felt she was truly in any danger. Instead, she simply reported what she found, and even with that, she continually waffled on whether to continue. There is no actual fire or drive to make things right. I didn’t realize how important these qualities are for me, but they are.


Olivia Reed is a fledgling actress sent to the House of Light by her manager to help her gain some self-control and dry out after a particularly embarrassing situation. Liv tells this tale through first-person narration. At first, I sympathized with her, but as the story moved along, I grew tired of her self-destructive choices, mainly where men were concerned. She did, however, show a great deal of growth by the end, and I found that the story is as much a character study of Liv as it is a mystery.

To Read or Not to Read:

If you enjoy dark atmospheric mysteries and are intrigued by true crime podcasts, Dark Circles is a book you will find endlessly fascinating and compelling.

My Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

23 Replies to “Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach #BookReview #PsychologicalSuspense”

  1. I always struggle to rate those books that really wowed me whilst I read them but after a little time and space I start to spot lots of plot holes or other problems.
    I’m glad that overall you enjoyed this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me by surprise that I did that. Usually the impression I’m left with when I close it sticks. But oh, well. Still a fascinating story.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Fantastic review, Tessa, I’ll have to add this one!
    I’ve been drawn to darker stories involving cults lately and this sounds like a great addition to the lineup.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent!
        There’s something about the way cults work, the dynamics between the people, that just fascinate me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Well. That leaves me on the fence. The cover and description were so compelling, but the fact that you second-guessed any positives gives me pause. I really appreciate your candor in this review. Thanks, Tessa.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s more of a character study, which is interesting and I think the podcast on the cult and related murders was absolutely fascinating. There are just no real thrills, in my opinion, but plenty of suspense.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It surprised me. I didn’t realize what I missed until I took a few days to look back. Very interesting.


  4. Hmm. On the surface it sounds like a read I would enjoy, but there are aspects of it that would likely fall flat for me. This one is a definite maybe! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s compelling and fascinating. It just didn’t have any real thrills for me which was unexpected and I didn’t even realize it until I was thinking back. Very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The concept sounds interesting but the developing the podcast thing doesn’t really appeal, thanks for sharing your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Intriguing! I love the cover, and reading about your experience with it I’m really curious about how I might react to it, great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I get that. Not ever feeling like the MC was in danger would make the story feel a little empty for me. Like I was on the outside looking in – which I would be, of course, but I want to feel that adrenaline rush of impending doom alongside the MC. Insightful review, Tessa!

    Liked by 1 person

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