Simone St. James wrote an intriguing paranormal mystery – “The Broken Girls.” In it, the strong-minded lead, Fiona, is obsessed with her sister’s murder. Under the guise of reporting the reopening of the historic girls’ boarding school Idelwild Hall (where her sister’s body was discovered), Fiona discovers some mysteries won’t – and shouldn’t – stay buried. Though told in two distinct times lines, the book reads like a dream with a lovely rhythm and attention to Gothic details. St. James fleshed out the cast of characters, including a ghost named Mary Hand. Although this is the first time I’ve read a book by Simone St. James, it will most definitely not be the last.
This amazing ghost story by Toni Morrison haunts. It touches on the horrors of slavery, the lasting harm of imprisonment, and the freedom that even frustrates death. Why do I say only “touches on slavery” when the story’s main characters are escaped slaves pursued almost two decades after they arrived in a free state? Because there are so many more evils to slavery than can be exposed even in a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Love in its many complex forms, desperation, will to live and die by one’s own volition – Powerful themes dealt with beautifully by Toni Morrison. This is a book that will leave a mark, and not only on literature. Beloved’s compelling, non-linear story with its visual, heart-wrenching writing, Beloved is a story not to be forgotten.
Little Paranoias is a collection of twenty short stories, flash fictions, and poems written by Sonora Taylor, a writer whose easy way with dialogue puts the reader smack-dab within her decidedly dark imagination. I recognized some of the stories from previous publication in “The Siren’s Call” and the Ladies of Horror Podcast, and although all of the stories have merit, my favorite was “Hearts are Just Likes” which is found at about the half-way point of the book. Its modern imagining of Edgar A. Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” made me very happy, indeed! One of her shorter pieces, Stick Figure Family, has a definite sense of humor in its twisted telling. Within the 140 pages, there’s sure to be something especially interesting to any horror lover, which makes this an excellent recommendation.
As with the other Dawn Kurtagich book I read (Teeth in the Mist), The Dead House uses clever formatting to convey elements of the story. This story is told through diary entries, interviews, emailed communications, redacted hospital notes, transcribed video descriptions, and even Post-it notes which describe a tragic “Johnson Incident” at Elmbridge High.
The main player in this story is suspected of suffering from what was once called “Multiple Personality Disorder” and is now termed “Dissociative Identity Disorder” or D.I.D. by psychologists. She’s lived through the shock of her parents’ death and finds treatment. What her psychiatrist doesn’t understand, however, is she’s always had two separate people dwelling within herself, sisters, one belonging to the daytime, and the other a child of the night. She forms tight friendships at school, but something sinister draws her deep inside herself to the “dead house” and its denizens.
Shelved as “Young Adult” or “New Adult,” this story skips around some very disturbing subjects, including murder. Its open end leaves room for speculation, theories, and a sequel or two.
Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich is an ambitious, atmospheric novel. It follows several timelines through diary entries, letters, journals, and the story itself.
Story line one sets up the Gothic sensibility, with Fostos who makes a deal with the devil to live an immortal life. There is a cost, though, that Fostos willingly pays – he must give souls to hell. (Where does a soul reside, and can it be ripped from a host?) Fostos somehow finds ways to ferret out the soul through organ extrication and a water wheel, which leads to story line two. Said water wheel needed to be built, and what better place to build than over the very spot Fostos made his original pact, on a mountain of slate and death? Under an assumed name, he oversees the construction of Mill House. Workers and his own children go missing. His wife witnesses his communication with a huge black goat and fights to save her last boy.)
In the 1800’s, a young orphan with unusual abilities is taken to Mill House where she meets other wards of the mysterious Dr. Maudley. Things get a bit muddled, people go missing, and a brutal sadist is hired to teach a young boy (and not Roan or the other female ward) the legend of Faust.
And in modern times, a teen named Zoey is drawn to Mill House where her father went mad.
The novel is peppered with interesting typeface and unusual formatting, pictures and illustrations, and some DaVinci-style letters. It is presented almost like a found-footage film, which means it is disjointed. There are grisly scenes and interesting concepts, but the novel leaves the reader requiring Ms. Kurtagich’s promised sequel to tie up a good number of loose ends.
In 6 year old Kya’s experience, everyone leaves. Her siblings fled, leaving her with deeply troubled parents. Her abused mother walked away, stumbling a bit on the crocodile-skin heels she favored, swallowed by the shadows at the end of the lane outside their ramshackle cabin in a marsh situated along a North Carolina coast. Eventually even her drunken father abandoned her. Yet somehow, timid Kya survived in the wetland she loved, among the birds and the insects with whom she felt kinship. From the folk of the nearby town, she endures prejudice and experiences kindness. But when the one-time star football player is found dead, a murder investigation embroils Kya, the shy “Marsh Girl” in suspicion.
Delia Owens’ novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” provides a rich, almost tactile coming of age tale told as a mystery and a fantastic survival story. It touches on classism, racism, and sexism. Owens weaves biology lessons into the lush prose, tips in a sprinkling of poetry, and stirs it with a tear-jerking courtroom drama that leaves readers longing to see if Barkley Cove, NC is a real place. This beautiful, non-linear book is well worth reading.
Nora’s a bit of a recluse, but when she’s invited to the “Hen Do” of a past friend, she feels she must attend. The get-together is scheduled for a weekend in an immense glass house in the middle of the woods, with its spotty cellular service and opportunities for creepy interactions. Included for the guests by the up-tight party planner are a trip to a shooting range, no coffee, and even an Ouija Board. What wasn’t on the agenda was the murder.
Ruth Ware writes of a strange encounter where the suppressed past collides with the present, and her protagonist can not run from the intrigue when blood is spilled. She expertly crafts a mystery that weaves subtle elements of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” with aspects of Gillian Flynn’s books to create a suspenseful, intriguing tale.
**I had the poor judgement of reading this before my baby sister’s bachelorette party which was, incidentally, hosted over a weekend in a dark, dark wood of our own.
Much like “The Turn of the Screw” written in 1898 by Henry James, Ruth Ware has crafted a story with Gothic influences. While James began his story as a tale told as a ghost story told around a fire on Christmas Eve, Ware relays her story as a letter written to seek help from a solicitor. Both tell of a young woman put in charge of young children in seemingly supernaturally-assailed locations.
In “The Turn of the Key,” a reputedly haunted Scottish manor house has been remodeled. The front retains its old-world styling, but to the back half is merged an ultra-modern smart house. A young woman takes a position as a nanny to the children of a busy couple. Her relationship with the kids is plagued, though, with odd and sometimes hostile interactions. Strange footsteps and other disturbances wake her in the night. The lady who comes in to clean is unwelcoming, and by investigating the history of the property, she discovers a tragic past.
Ruth Ware’s book blends modern sensibilities and technology with the ages-old ghost tale and mystery to create a slow-building, nail-biting, and atmospheric story.
Two teenage friends become obsessed with finding a missing classmate. To gather information about her, they attend a party. However, the girls forget all about their quest when a couple of cute college boys invite them to their game room. They hand over their cell phones. (I don’t care how cute the boy; I know very few kids who willingly hand over their phones.) From there, the girls learn what happened to their classmate – and all the missing teens from their area.
This book ends with an obvious ploy to force readers to buy the next book. I suppose this book nods to the “Saw” franchise, sort of, or gladiatorial combat ala Hunger Games, Divergent, or Maze Runner. In truth, I’d hoped for more from the life-long friendship that begins the story, but it was dropped, and I had a hard time buying into the protagonist’s flip-flopping love interests.