Little Darlings: A Novel by Melanie Golding

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He really hadn’t seen it. Seen her, the woman from the hospital, the woman in the bushes. But Lauren had, solid and real as the trees themselves; the eyes still glared at her when she closed her own, the image burned there like she’d looked at the sun too long. She was going mad, she must be. That or the woman was some kind of witch, some kind of demon would could disappear at will.

When Lauren gives birth to beautiful, healthy twin boys, Morgan and Riley, the birthing process was less smooth than she hoped, leaving her exhausted, sore. Then, her husband leaves too fast for her liking leaving her, a new mother, alone with the boys in the hospital. When she finds time to rest, sleeping when not feeding her boys, the strange dreams overtake her, terrifying and lingering upon her waking. She is sure in between a state of wakefulness and sleep that she heard another mother with infant twins too, just like her. The next day, the nurses are perplexed, what other patient? What other babies? Trapped in the hospital for yet another night, things take an eerie turn. Is it just a bad reaction from the difficult birth that makes her imagine a filthy, ragged woman is trying to trade her babies for her own vile mewing creatures, or is Lauren’s world becoming a dark fairytale? The police aren’t taking it seriously, the doctors and her own husband are convinced it’s all in Lauren’s head. No one could possibly get in without being seen, not with the secure settings in the hospital. Detective Harper is determined to check on the new mother, despite the assumption it’s just ‘bad trip’. What she sees is a woman who is terrified, and unsure of her own mind. Something about her story pulls DS Harper in, and the hospital visit won’t be the last of it.

Once home with her husband and baby boys, everything feels like a threat, especially the strange gift she receives. Then her husband tells her he plans to head back to work sooner than he promised, leaving her to cope with no support. Wanting nothing more than to get away, a fresh breath, to escape her husband droning on about how good she is at this baby stuff, trying to convince her that she can do it when she knows she needs help, she bolts for the door ready to leave it all behind. Then she sees the frightful woman again, lurking! Patrick doesn’t though, and it feels like her mind is cracking. If no one is there, why is she so frightened? How to explain the strange gift that her friend swears isn’t from her? Before long, Lauren seems the woman’s filthy face peering in the windows of her home, creeping, waiting until the time is right to swap the babies. She holes herself up in the home, locked up, curtains drawn but Patrick won’t hear of it. All she needs is to get out, be in the world again, just get outside. Heeding her husband’s advice, she ventures upriver with the boys and meets her friends Rosa and Cindy, after commiserating over birth stories and mothering, sharing cake and coffee they part ways. Lauren walks to a clearing, upriver where the secluded bench sits. “Sinking down gratefully” Lauren closes her eyes and falls asleep, knowing only of her careless, unintended slumber when she startles awake and sees the baby stroller gone.

So begins the terror that her children must have been taken by the witch even when they are found not far away with another strange woman. Though they are returned to her, Lauren is convinced these are not her babies! That monstrous woman must have taken them,  and replaced them with these stand ins for these ‘others’ are not her own! To the raging river, she and the stroller must go if ever her real, flesh and blood human babies will return to her. This mad turn in her behavior has her locked up, but she will know the truth! She will do anything it takes to get her real children back. “They strapped her down. Like a madwoman.” The doctors know it is true that ‘someone took my babies’, for it is a fact and she is simply confused,  embellishing on a real incident because they are back now, safe, unharmed! She must play along if she is to be released, despite the constant truth that circles in her head “they are not my boys”.  Pretend, pretend they are yours.

Is it in the pretending that she becomes a threat to her children or is something far more sinister truly at work?

This is a nightmare seethed in folklore, quietly believable enough that you don’t have to suspend your disbelief. Lauren is flawed to begin with, surely someone who could create a fantasy through some sort of mental break, but there are things that lend her outrageous imaginings some credibility, and DS Harper is tied to the strange mystery because of her own past. Why does she feel so close to the case? Looking to study the evidence with an open mind when colleagues are quick to dismiss Lauren as a deluded new mother? This was a creepy gem of a novel, add it to your 2019 TBR list!

Publication date: April 30, 2019

Crooked Lane Books

 

 

 

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Dracul:A Novel by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker

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“Why are you hiding, Nanna Ellen? You’re frightening me!”

The peculiarities of Ellen Crone, oh yes, is the perfect place to start this creepy novel. Written from the notes, missing pages, remnants of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, there is an eerie intimacy in this prequel, sharing the inspiration behind his dark creation. It seems fitting that Stoker’s great grand-nephew carries on his legacy, co-authored by J.D. Barker (a horror and thriller fiction writer himself). That is turned out so good  is simply an early Halloween treat for your bucket.

We begin with Bram, a sickly ill-fated child (how gothic) until a peculiar Nanny ‘monster, wraith, friend’ (sounds about right if you think about Nannies of bygone days) cures him. Spending miserably sad, mounting days from his attic room wondering if it’s to be his last, with his older sister Matilda for company, watching life outside his window. There from the time of his birth, lending her strength to his being and disappearing for days at a time always returning restored again (cheeks flush with color, life) his nanny (Nana Ellen) is a force.  Ellen of the changing eye color and strange mysteries is it imagination that brother and sister let run wild, or is she something ‘other’? Is it just his illness, playing games with his mind? Feeling her, but not seeing her when at his worst? Curing him when leaches fail him? The cure, that strange beastly overpowering… did she truly save or change him?

interrupting these journal entries, Bram of the present is being stalked by a presence on the other side of the door, trapped in a room, engulfed by the awful stench of this monster, wondering if he’ll ever leave alive. Back to the past, brother and sister snooping through Ellen’s room, when they aren’t watching her strange nightly encounters, looking for evidence of something. Being children, they know not what but why is there a box of dirt, with a body impression, as if someone sleeps there in her room? Why isn’t her bed as clean as their own? Well, the ‘help’ is often busy and exhausted, is it so bizarre to be a messy nanny? Shoo, children, what does your Ma care so long as Ellen watches out for you and the house is clean?

Naturally they don’t give in, they continue to hunt, stalk their Nanny who disappears into mist. Maybe their feet just aren’t as fast? Are they really chasing her? Is he dreaming? Bram wakes with an itch. Could siblings share the same dream, or is it the sinister games of Ellen? If there was nothing unholy about her, nothing monstrous, why has she left in the night, without a word, leaving nothing of herself behind?

The monster means to seduce him into opening the door. After all, he owes it his very life, he wouldn’t have reached adulthood without it. Come on, open the door! Let’s get to the bottom of this!

They will find Ellen again, and discover the origins of her monstrous heart. What is great about this prequel is the knowledge shared about Stoker’s childhood, life. There is folklore and I love folklore but I wish there was more heart pounding terror. What you will find is the undead, plagues, murders and a strange love for the very thing he fears.  It  is a solid read and perfect for fans of Dracula, and old horror stories. We’re to believe that Stoker encountered the very sort of ‘evil’ he wrote about. It is part horror, thriller, mystery and Stoker family history, fictionalized (or is it) mwwwwaaaaa…

Available Now

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

The Nightmarchers by J. Lincoln Fenn

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The jungle can do tricky things to the Western mind that lacks spiritual protection.

Julia Greer’s life has crumbled, formerly living in an enormous Victorian in Palto Alto with her now ex-husband Ethan and their daughter Evie, she is now trapped in a bleak apartment off the freeway longing for her child, whom Ethan has fully custody of. Money is power,  and Ethan has it all, why did she sign the prenuptial agreement? Why did she ever give up her work as an investigative journalist to be the sort of wife that reflected beautifully on the very man who has taken everything she loved from her? Is he really the great cold manipulator she tells us?

Then comes a letter from her estranged and very wealthy great-aunt , Dr. Lydia Greer. Julia’s memories aren’t fond ones of the old woman, whom surely must be ancient now. Too young at their last meeting, she hasn’t spent much time ruminating over why her mother left so abruptly, ending the visit. Certainly there hasn’t been any communication from her great aunt since, but if she’s learned anything lately, its that money is the only chance she has to tackle her mounting debts, and more importantly, have a chance at getting her daughter back. Money matters, her Aunt is asking her to tea, what could it hurt? This may well be the means to hire a good lawyer to help set things right for she and Evie.

What Julia learns is that her Aunt will give her a lot of money to travel to a remote island, her task simply to smuggle samples of a mysterious flower that her sister Irene had written about decades ago before her suspicious death. The leader of the Church of Eternal Light, according to her aunt, must be hiding not just the real reason for her sister’s demise, but the true properties of the plant. It is risky, but she will have tools to communicate, unlike the others that go for escape from the modern world. Lydia has the means to help her get Evie back. What choice does Julia have? Others would agree to more for far less, and she is desperate!

1939 Irene Greer has set up camp in Kapu and is forging ahead collecting specimens for her sister back home, while tolerating the occasional visits from the Reverend.  She is nursing her wounds, after the horrible touch of tragedy. As time stretches, her ‘ignorant foreign ways’ wears off, and she befriends a young orphan Agnes, who shares her knowledge of Kapu with Irene. Letters home are filled with the thrill of discoveries until she writes of illness, and her musings turn dark, strange. Is it madness that led her to believe she saw a line of warriors marching with her dead husband Charles and daughter Lila?  Are the locals supersitions eating into her common sense? Was it simply illness that caused her to jump to her death into the falls, following them into some other world? There couldn’t possible be truth in her mad writings, could there? After all this time, as much as then, Lydia isn’t convinced by the Reverend’s assurance that it was all just a tragedy, possibly a plant that caused delusions. Irene’s body was never returned home. It is the perfect cover for Julia’s visit, there only to solve the mystery with disinternment- while in truth she searches for the plant.

Present day, deep into the challenge set forth by her aunt, Julia is beginning to think there is far more to the tale than her aunt let on. The religious cult is odd, it’s leader menacing, treating outsiders like her as if they are a disease. He is special, born of the island, a survivor. There are strange rules, dangerous insects and Noah. Noah, who seems to have his own motives for being on the island, can she trust him? Can she trust herself? The place begins to play with her mind, both she and her deceased aunt Irene had lost their child and spouse (to death or abandonment). Maybe with their family history,  losing her grip on reality like Irene did all those years ago, is the product of stress, sadness? Who is this child now helping her? Why always a child?

The island itself is an important character, not just for the atmosphere. It is rooted in superstition, true, but nature itself is deadly, mysterious particularly to an outsider. It can be friend or foe. At every turn she is forced to face off with the elements, more alive than the visitors, more dangerous even. Still it remains the nature of human beings that are the real scary part of this novel. I enjoyed Irene’s letters, and Aunt Lydia is a tough bird, a perfect character for this story (though I won’t go into why), someone whose intelligence is still sharp and can pierce you even in her years of decline.

The motives of some are downright chilling. The advance of science can sometimes be monstrous too. We are all ‘hungry’, we want the answers, we want to play God. Sometimes Science can make convincing excuses for it’s horrors, but nature can be just as brutal.

I liked the beginning with Irene, I have a thing for the past. I didn’t necessarily feel invested in Julia’s plight, I began to think – maybe you just offer yourself to be a victim.  The ending, I get it… I think… but it is weird. Will she take Kapu with her, or will Kapu take her? Maybe even her ‘clever’ aunt is out of her element too, doesn’t truly know just how powerful this thing is. Is the Reverend just a creepy cult leader, high on the mysteries of the island or is he on the verge of Eternal Light? I still don’t know for sure. I am not sure the ending resolved all my questions.

Publication Date: October 1, 2018

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

 

Days of the Dead by Kersten Hamilton

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Papi held me tight and told me Mamá’s depression was a sickness. We aren’t ashamed when people die of cancer or pneumonia. We can talk about it and cry. He said mamá had been too sick to understand how much her leaving would hurt us.

It’s been a while since I’ve read children’s books, as my son and daughter are adults now, but sometimes I see books that grab my attention. In Days of the Dead, Glorieta Espinosa is trying her best to move on from her mother’s suicide even accepting her father’s marriage to a white Texan woman, Alice. That doesn’t mean she has to accept Alice’s nightmare of a daughter, Lilith. Since she’s stormed into her life, she’s done nothing but rip off her friends and spread her cruelty. Angus, her new step-brother isn’t so bad, even if he sometimes thinks he is a truck. When she isn’t dodging Lilith’s twisted games, Glorieta is devising plans to convince her Tía Diosonita (the town patron) to allow her mother’s ashes to be buried with the rest of her family.

Tía Diosonita is a strict Catholic, she refuses to see the souls of her ancestors, their people, be stained with a suicide in their midst even if she loved Glorieta’s mother as her own. Glorieta doesn’t have a chance to see her mother’s spirit during los Días de los Muertos if she is kept out of the cemetery. Her mother will have no company in the afterlife, no chance to reunite when it’s Glorieta’s time to die. Tía Diosonita won’t even talk about her mother! Could there be things she doesn’t know, shame her own Tía carries with her about what happened to her mother?

How can she convince her Tía of anything when poisonous hatred is collecting in her own heart, soul? She wants nothing more than to see her tormentor, step-sister Lilith get her just deserts! After an incident with immigration officers she is traumatized, then raging but she must keep her word as an Espinosa to never reveal Lilith’s true nature, having struck a deal. That all changes when Glorieta goes above her Tía Diosonita, which feels like an unforgivable betrayal, a sin! Accident or not, it’s caused a crack in her family, one she isn’t sure she can ever mend. She feels cast out, as doomed as those in Fool’s Field, where the dead were too sinful in life to sleep (be buried) in consecrated ground.

This is when Glorieta will be tested, and discover if she is weak or strong.

This was a wonderful story about love, compassion, tradition and immigration. It would be perfect for 6 grade and up.

Available Now

Skyhorse Publishing

 

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

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“And Lydia,” she added before I could dart away back to the stable, “you must never show the world what it is that you have inside of you.” 

It is 1821, banished to ‘the edge of the world’, according to her sister Catherine anyway, the Montrose family find themselves living in the much more isolated Willow Hall, having had to flee Boston. A portrait of a doomed ancestor on the Hale side presides over the library, always watching, one of grim fate, that of a witch who was hanged. It seems that scandal seems to follow the women, and now thanks to Lydia’s eldest sister Caroline, they have had to give up life in society, no more parties, visits with friends and it all hits their mother hardest. Rumors destroyed them “We’ve only been here a day, but it already feels too full of ghosts of a happy family that might have been“, things will only get worse. Something sinister is lurking, and both Emmeline and Lydia will be caught up in its terror.

Little Emeline is dreamy, delights in exploring their new surroundings with images of mermaids playing in her mind. It may well be this childish fancy that endangers her. The romance isn’t all hummingbirds in the heart, Lydia isn’t as beautiful as her sister Catherine and her intended needed, for appearances sake, to be well rid of her and the stink of scandal. Maybe it wasn’t a great love, but it aches all the same that he abandoned her  when family could have used some support and broke things off, chosing the cowards way. Is love through with her? What is the story behind the mysterious Mr. John Barret, whose partnered up with their father? Are the rumors true, that ghosts and all matter of supernatural beings haunt their new home? Emeline believes so. After their chance meeting with Mr. Barrett, Catherine delights in having visitors, male ones to be exact. Lydia knows she is scheming, her beautiful sister is always up to something. Her improper sister seems bent on ruin.

Lydia’s peculiar nature is growing stronger, she is seeing things, messages in mirrors, a woman in the night, or is it simply a ‘figment of her imagination’? Whom dare she confide in  about the things that are happening to her? Everything is about to turn dark, and Lydia’s powers bind her to her dear sweet sister  Emeline in ways she never had imagined. Caroline has her own future happiness, survival to contend with and she will do everything she can to secure it. But at what cost?

Lydia’s family isn’t the only one whose past is clouded, there is more to Mr. Barret than meets the eyes. Not all menace comes from outside forces either. Her inheritance is an unusual one, an ancestor long dead may have answers, but her mother may have been keeping her in the dark. What are her reasons?

Without giving anything away, I found the story similar to gothic stories I used to read in the summertime, well-loved, battered copies from my grandmother’s bookshelves. I was always surprised that despite its lack of sex there was always some depravity within. The same holds true here, nothing was easy for women back in the day.  Easy to scoff at what was considered ‘ruinous’ in bygone days but reputation was serious, it was about more than just being snubbed. Any whiff of indiscretion and there goes your standing in society, your very livelihood too, business connections, even maids would leave you standing in the lurch. It didn’t make for sisterly affection when one sibling is self-involved at the risk of brining down her entire family. Imagine the deeds of other family members barring you from future success, or hope for a happy marriage? There is romance, but it isn’t the entire story. It is about protecting family, even to one’s own detriment. Supernatural forces come into play, wreaking havoc on a family that already has disturbances of its own making.

Secrets have a power of their own too, depending on who knows them. Will Lydia be strong, brave enough to embrace her abilities and salvage what she can from her family ruins? An enjoyable read that has haunts, family scandals, deaths, and a witch whose blood still flows in the veins of her descendant. This is will be out in October, the perfect month for all things otherworldy.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harlequin

Graydon House

 

 

 

Hag:A Novel Kathleen Kaufman

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You will see the places where time touches other paths; you will see all the what-ifs and possibilities. You will know things that others do not, and they might fear you for it.

Hag tells the story of a bloodline of women that hail from a Cailleach (a divine Hag of Scottish roots). Many generations come to pass, some in hiding from their abilities, others with the power to heal or harm. The common thread is the fear others feel, damning them for their powers, haunted by superstitions, marking them as evil. It spans the old world, and America as each daughter is meant to learn the old ways, as the Cailleach is a watcher of sorts from her cave, waiting for another to take her place.  Some daughters throughout the story embrace their inheritance, while others run from it, but there is no corner of the world far enough.

The women are timeless, and much wiser than the people, regardless of the era their story takes place.  The novel begins with  six-year-old Alice, playing in the Glasgow rain in her red rain boots. Already she has the gift of foresight, and understands there are paths in life that change the outcome of the future. Maybe she won’t grow up to run the shop, selling herbal tinctures, as her mother did before the war. These red rain boots have other plans for her, and her future is waiting in Colorado, the United States. So opens her path. As she comes of age, with the gift of knowing, she lives a life of desire and passion for a while, knowing it can’t last, finding herself caught up with a dangerous man, Tiburon in Venezuela, another story, another path she has to close. Then there is Paul, deceptions and his family blaming her for everything, as seems to be the way for all the women of her bloodline. There are many examples of just how intuitive and wise she is, from her days as a teacher to her love for Tiburon.

Throughout the chapters about Alice, there are the stories of her many ancestors and their gifts. I particularly enjoyed Catriona’s tale during the Spiritualists movement, how mesmerized she is by ‘the Russian Woman’ during a time when so much chicanery was taking place, and much of high society itself was bamboozled. It’s an authentic part of the novel, considering all the theater the fraudulent clairvoyants took great lengths to create. She should have heeded her mother’s warning. But there are other great powerful women in the line, weaved into the story, just as interesting. Muriel for instance,  who learns upon the heath that her moods  are tied to manifestations, that with her mind emptied she can control nature, to an extent. Gifted with herbal knowledge, she too has her patrons in neighbors, who come to her when in desperate need but also whisper about her. As people are want to do, they may appeal to the women in the line when it suits them, and yet turn on them with suspicion, mistrust and hatred dependant on any event that demands a target for their woes. Rather than your typical witches in the mainstream these days, Kaufman paints old world witchery that comes off as much more genuine.  While there is love, Hag isn’t a romance novel where one’s gifts lead to happy endings with suitors. It is more often that the blood flowing through each character dooms them, in a sense.

Time doesn’t really flow in a straight line, it is more circuitous as is evident in this tale. There is a child, Coira and soon a long-awaited homecoming.

Perfect if you enjoy folklore and witches.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Turner

 

 

Miss Subways: A Novel David Duchovny

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But her senses were too acute to be failing- she could feel everything around her, smell the grass and the musky standing water of the pond, see the moon and make out the face that always looked aghast to her- as if the moon, in its slow orbit, were watching Earth the way drivers slow down at the scene of an accident. Each long night was a new, slowly unfolding catastrophe.

Emer spends most of her days as a New Yorker riding the subway, above ground and under (not unlike Persephone). Never without a book in her hand,  she harbors her own literary aspirations but focuses her energy in supporting Con as he works on his “opus”. Exhaustively fanning the flames of his passion, making him seem successful to others, she herself is collecting dust, ah the things we do for love. Delighted by the placards of random literary quotes and philosophy that catch her eye on the subway, her mind whirls with musings. Losing herself in her own curiosity, Emer is the dreamer and often touches the old scar on her head to ground herself in the now. She lives with her boyfriend Con, and is very much in love, but that life is about to go to the Gods, whichever Gods they may be. Enter a story rich in myths and religion and Gods that are bored by us diluted mortals. Emer seems to be their latest victim, either that or she’s losing her mind.

Love divided, Con and Emer are split apart and upon the threat of death, she proves her love by erasing him from her current life. Delete, fate is unfair! She wakes up new, with a niggling feeling that something is misaligned. Con is nothing but a man from her dream, but how real it feels. She throws herself in her job teaching second grade at St. Margaret’s Catholic School on the Lower East Side. A treasured teacher, she still manages to muck up her reputation by introducing a myth about a crow and forbidden fruit, a watermelon. As I write this the crow I feed is outside cawing, I can’t make this stuff up! A crow is just the latest strange creature that has entered her life. She’s always been a waking dreamer of sorts, so is it all just her overactive imagination, fed by all the books she’s devoured or does it have to do with the difference in her brain? Is it her secret seizures that make her sense things that probably aren’t there?

If her mind is attuned to parallel lives and beings, then her father’s is a stark contrast, suffering from Dementia. It isn’t long before even he seems to be making appearances in her lucid dreams. There is no way to know if any of it is real, his mind scattered to the wind with the disease, how can she question him and trust the answers? What about the Polaroid of Emer with a man, is this proof that her dreams exist as a real life? Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The story is about Emer’s love for Con, but more than that it is about Emer finding her strength and power. Emer’s tepid love is not enough, it is through the meddling of the gods and mythical beings that the brew of her heart grows stronger. It is when Con is caught in the West African trickster Spider God Anansi’s web, that everything becomes twisted. To what ends? Are Con and Emer just pawns in a game, begun long before they were born? Why does Anansi want Con? Why not? Why is one of the mythical Irish Bean-Sidhe (who is definitely not a leprechaun!) paying her visits, tormenting her? Is she losing her mind?

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve read in a long time. It is full of clever humor, and a nod at what likely many travelers on this polluted earth of ours are pondering from time to time. At the start of the novel Emer is as average as any of us come, going through the motions, loving on automatic as we do but one difference, she has a bridge between the two halves of her brain that is maybe a supernatural gateway, or maybe it’s just a rich imagination. You decide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by David Duchovny, I was pleasantly surprised, his writing is solid and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the aftermath of Emer’s incident in the lunchroom with her three students, the ‘weird sisters’. It’s not earth shattering, unless you’re a teacher in this time where students have more power than the teacher.  At time when teaching children about other cultures verges on criminality, how can you not laugh, uncomfortably of course, at Emer being in ‘trouble’ for daring to tickle children’s imaginations with a story? How did we become so ridiculous, so bland, so numb?

Out today! May 1, 2018

Farrar, Straus, Giroux