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The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Title: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Author: Simone St. James

Genre: ghost story, historical fiction

I love finding new to me authors and going through their back catalogs. Simone St. James is one of them. I first read The Sun Down Motel and really loved it. It was a great mix of thriller and supernatural. Then I read The Broken Girls, another mix of thriller and ghost story. So, I decided to keep going. This one is more of a historical fiction and ghost story, heavy on the ghost, namely Maddy Clare who is haunting a barn where she died.

From Goodreads: Sarah Piper’s lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis—rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts—has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide.
Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah’s task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a desperate struggle. For Maddy’s ghost is real, she’s angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair’s assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance—before she destroys them all?

I’m not a big historical fiction fan, but this one was much more of a ghost story than anything. I’m not a believer in ghosts, so the story wasn’t truly scary to me, but it was definitely well-written and creepy. You really do start to feel bad for ghost Maddy when you learn more of her background. Sarah, Matthew, and Alistair make a good team and try to figure out why Maddy is still around. What needs to be resolved before she moves on, out of our world? I’m at the point where Simone St. James has yet to let me down, so, even though I don’t normally read ghost stories, I thought this one was great. I’ll definitely keep reading her books.

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The Broken Girls

Title: The Broken Girls

Author: Simon St. James

Genre: mystery, thriller, ghost story

PopSugar Reading Challege Prompt: a genre hybrid (part ghost story, part murder mystery)

I read The Sun Down Motel last year and really enjoyed it. I thought it was well-written and spooky but still plausible. When I heard some buzz around The Broken Girls, I thought I would give it a chance. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed this book even more!

From Goodreads: Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . . 

I don’t believe in ghosts at all, but I enjoy reading ghost stories, especially ones that aren’t too horrifying. This book was a great blend of unsettling supernatural and solving a murder mystery. All the characters were interesting, and I loved how both the 1950 and 2014 stories came together. This story kept me reading and guessing. Definitely recommend this one!

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Craven Manor

Once again, this book was recommended by the Books in the Freezer podcast. I’m way behind, but this book was mentioned by a guest on an episode about Indie horror. The premise sounded good, and I like a good haunted house/ghost story, which don’t scare me at all because I don’t believe in ghosts but these are still fun, creepy books to read, especially this time of the year.

From Goodreads:

Some secrets are better left forgotten…

Daniel is desperate for a fresh start. So when a mysterious figure slides a note under his door offering the position of groundskeeper at an ancient estate, he leaps at the chance, even though it seems too good to be true. Alarm bells start ringing when he arrives at Craven Manor. The abandoned mansion’s front door hangs open, and leaves and cobwebs coat the marble foyer. It’s clear no one has lived here in a long time…but he has nowhere else to go.

Against his better judgment, he moves into the groundskeeper’s cottage tucked away behind the old family crypt. But when a candle flickers to life in the abandoned tower window, Daniel realizes he isn’t alone after all. Craven Manor is hiding a terrible secret… One that threatens to bury him with it.

This book was just okay for me, though. I thought the secret was good, the main character was fine, but it just didn’t come together. I felt like 100 pages were missing. I also didn’t understand the main character’s loyalty to anything. If a ghost is haunting me, no matter how sad the ghost is, I’m out. Plain and simple. I don’t need to “help” a ghost. That seemed a bit preposterous. The book is short, and I thought it could have been more developed, overall. The scare factor was minimal, but was sufficiently creepy. To rate as the ladies do on the podcast, this was a room temperature book for sure.

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Home Before Dark

I’m new to Riley Sager. I’ve dug through his work in the past few months. I read Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied first. When I saw Home Before Dark was on the Book of the Month club, I selected it, even though I wasn’t sure I was sold on his books. Both Final Girls and Last Time irritated me for various reasons (click on links to read the reviews), but I went ahead and read this one. Lock Every Door is on my kindle now, and I’ll read it next!

Home Before Dark is a ghost story/haunted house story. This genre isn’t one I seek out, mostly because I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do appreciate a good imagination and creativity. And this book definitely had that. 5-year-old Maggie’s parents bought a house and because of the events that happened while there, fled in terror. Her dad wrote a book about their experiences. The book was best-seller, but Maggie knows the true. The entire book was a lie. The legend haunts her, but she vows to find the truth of what really happened.

She returns to the house in question as an adult and tries to uncover the truth of the events, and whether ghosts are real. The book is cleverly told in alternating perspectives. One chapter is the fictional book her dad wrote and the next chapter is present-day Maggie. The events in her dad’s book parallel Maggie’s current life. This book was my favorite by far. Not only was the story great, but the back-and-forth chapters were really creative. I could take or leave the other Sager books I’ve read, but this one was worth reading

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Heart-Shaped Box

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve had one spooky incident, though, but it’s not enough to convince me. The aunt of a friend of mine had recently passed away, and he was given her cd collection. I was flipping through them when the stereo turned on by itself. He was convinced his aunt was saying hello, but I just chalked it up to electronics doing weird stuff.  There are people who believe, which is totally fine, but I’m just not one of them, so ghost stories don’t really scare me much. I’m much more terrified by religious demon possession terror, even though I don’t believe in that either, than ghosts. But I do enjoy a good, creepy story.

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel, published over 10 years ago. And although, he publishes under the name Joe Hill, his name is really Joseph Hillstrom King. Yes, son of the famous Stephen King. He chose to publish this way in an efforrt to make his way into publishing without being associated with his father. His identity has since been revealed, and I don’t think anyone cares much who his father is, simply because Joe Hill’s work is truly outstanding. I’ve read Horns and The Fireman and NOS4A2 (before I started reviewing books) and really liked them all. However, Heart-Shaped Box might be my favorite. NOS4A2 was the most disturbing, by far, but Heart-Shaped Box has a sufficiently creepy story and interesting characters.

Judas Coyne is a washed-up mid-50s rocker. He has tons of money, no career, and likes his girls young. Not that young, but a good 30 years younger than him. He treats them well until he gets bored, then sends them on their way. One of them ends up killing herself after being kicked to the curb, and her family isn’t happy. This girl’s stepfather recently passed away and is now haunting Jude and his current girlfriend. Haunting is putting it mildly. He is able to inflict harm upon them and guarantees they will both die. Jude and his girl spend the rest of the book trying to escape and destroy this ghost.

If you are a fan of horror novels, or even of Stephen King, you absolutely must read Joe Hill’s work. His works are definitely reminiscent of his father’s, but there’s no coat-tail riding here. Hill has carved his own path in the genre, and I look forward to reading more of his books.

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Lincoln in the Bardo

So, this book wasn’t for me. I’m just going to say that right up front. However, it deserves all the awards it is getting. The author, George Saunders, has written a really interesting book that I think many people will enjoy. But it was just too “out there” for me, in a non-traditional sense.

The story mostly takes place in a graveyard with ghosts telling the story. And I use the term story very loosely. Young Willie Lincoln has just passed away and is being interred soon. The ghosts observe President Lincoln coming to visit his son’s body. They describe what they see, discuss their own lives, squabble with each other, and are a variety of characters.

Interspersed between the graveyard descriptions, Saunders tells us about Lincoln and his son. I believe (I could be wrong) these are all non-fiction passages with cited sources after each statement. This was much more interesting to me. Considering I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction, I preferred hearing the details surrounding Willie’s death and how his family dealt with it.

I had no idea what to expect with this book. And I won’t say I was disappointed or that I even disliked the book. I think Saunders has tapped into a new style of writing and is simply a genius about it, but it just didn’t work for me. But I still recommend the book because it is so uniquely written.