A Dark and Secret Place: A Novel by Jen Williams

All those monsters in the wood never really went away, not for me.

When Heather Evans returns home after the shocking suicide of her mother (Colleen), all the uncomfortable feelings of their shared past, of the distance between them, comes to the surface. Remembering the simmering anger she felt as a child, the house a too quiet, cold place with memories better left forgotten, her nerves are on edge thinking of her mother’s disturbing end. The eerie mention of monsters in the wood in Colleen’s suicide note could be chalked up to derangement if she didn’t know her sensible mother better. When she stumbles upon quiet, respectable Colleen’s secret stash of letters, she is sick in her gut to discover a secret her mother kept tightly sealed. She had been corresponding with the “Red Wolf”, infamous serial killer Michael Reave, whose decades of imprisonment for brutal, ritualistic murders of women is nothing short of gruesome, terrifying. When a young woman is found dismembered, her body arranged just like the “Red Wolf” disposed of a victim decades past, his outcries of his innocence begs to be heard.

How could her ‘well-to-do’ mother have been keeping such a secret, even while married to Heather’s father? The letters dating back twenty five years reveal more than any stories her mother ever shared, as she was never one for reminiscing. Why does the fact that in all the years Colleen wrote to the monster she never even mentioned Heather feel like a personal jab? There are strange things her mother wrote in her final farewell and Michael’s letters are like a bloody trail of crumbs leading Heather on a dangerous path to her mother’s poisonous past. The only way to attempt to understand this mystery is to confront the “Red Wolf”, despite the horror she feels knowing that her mother could have been one of those ridiculous serial killer groupies. With the help of the police, DI Ben Parker in particular, she comes to learn Colleen was Michael Reave’s only friend and that suddenly the police are open to her meeting with him. The “Red Wolf” will only talk to her, and maybe the police can find some information through Heather about these the grisly, copycat murders. In meeting Reaves, Heather will discover a tale of a family “everyone whispers about”.

What, if anything, did Michael have to do with her mother’s suicide? What does he know about Colleen’s past on the ‘hippy’ commune? Who or what are the monsters in the wood, and are they watching Heather now too? Why does she suddenly have a creeping feeling of impending doom? Is her own life now in danger? Straight away he tells her “Everyone has secrets, Lass”, but she is buried in the weight of the life her mother had before she was born. Colleen made choices, choices that were both her ruin and salvation. Michael Reave’s memories are like riddles or dark fairy tales, can Heather untangle the past through him or will he muddy the facts more? It all goes back to 1977 and a place called Fiddler’s Mill.

Violence is waiting, pulsing in the dark, Parker tells her their priority is her safety but how can you keep a woman safe from the monsters of truth? The knowledge her mother kept bundled up, that appears to have driven her to the desperate act of suicide, may well strip Heather of her very identity. Heather must enter the dark and secret place where the horror was born.

The novel is a slow read at times, although there is a lot happening. My one wish was for more time spent on Colleen in the past as well as raising Heather in the aftermath, what went through her mind, her inner turmoil. It would have been a lot more engaging with more connections to the characters emotionally but it’s still a decent storyline. I could see this turned into a movie.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Crooked Lane Books

Ruby Falls: A Novel by Deborah Goodrich Royce

The old story. The old name. The scene of the crime, Ruby Falls. I will tell him all of it. It’s just too ridiculous to explain right now.

Summer of 1968: Ruby Falls in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee is the last time six-year-old Eleanor Ruby Russell’s father is seen, before she is swallowed up in the dark of the tourist attraction, left mute and alone with the horror of abonnement. In the wake of the possible crime she becomes famous for a while and a part of the unsolved mystery of her daddy’s disappearance. What she remembers haunts her, but memories are fragmented, confusing to the mind of a child. How could he let go of her hand? Did he? Could something nefarious have happened to him? People don’t just vanish without leaving a trail, do they? Is her name a clue? To be abandoned in a place sharing the same name, what was her father’s intention? Trapped in Tennessee with a long line of questions, she and her mother are left at the scene of the ‘crime’ attempting to explain the impossible.

Ruby grows up trapped by the past, a child who is greatly changed by the incident. After all the options in uncovering what happened to her father are exhausted by the local police, she and her mother return to Michigan where soon Ruby decides to put an end to the torment her name inspires. She discards it with the return of her voice, becoming Eleanor and as if learning a new role, opens her heart to her future career as a soap opera actress. There is strength in disappearing into a new you. Current day, 1987 she is on her honeymoon in Rome with her new husband, Anglo-Chinese Englishman, Orlando Montague. Orlando is an antiques dealer, just like her father was and their love, a whirlwind romance of six weeks. Once they settle into their new beautiful home in Hollywood Hills, Rebecca’s career is on the rise as she takes on the leading role in Rebecca. Soon, her own life begins to mirror Daphne du Maurier’s tale, making her question where fantasy ends and reality begins. She wonders how well she knows Orlando, as he begins to behave oddly, arguing with her one moment, dismissing her feelings the next, and then unsettling her by making her look and feel demented. There is the strange old lady next door, Dottie, who seems to know impossible things. There is an air of mystery about her that doesn’t sit well. Eleanor and Orlando know little about each other, each has their own secrets they aren’t sharing but could his be a danger to her? As she goes down the rabbit hole the discoveries she makes will cause her to question her entire universe, every truth and fiction she has swallowed and what has been born from it all.

As her dreamy new life unravels, so too does her mind. Why is she keeping the trauma of her past from her beloved? Could Orlando be unfaithful? Is he really out to get her, or is she still trying to come to grasp with the disappearance of her father? It’s a labyrinth of lies, but who is the biggest deceiver?

It was a decent storyline and not what I imagined at all. I actually think the truth, yes you get it, of what happened to her father is perfect, makes so much sense. I wish the end didn’t rush upon us so quickly, but it was a good ending. My one issue is the way she and Orlando interacted. Their voices played in my head like a classic movie. You know, that stilted, unnatural, controlled “old-timey” voice. I wonder if that was the intention though, with her state of mind, with being in Hollywood. Hmmm. A decent read.

Publication Date: July 28, 2021

Post Hill Press

Night Rooms: Essays by Gina Nutt

My dread has no origin. It extends back as far as I remember.

Moments in life can induce emotions not unlike those horror movies provoke. Unsure what’s creeping around the corner, insidious illnesses, dangerous strangers, being swallowed by the dark… stage fright. Maybe so many people gravitate towards horror films because it is an escape from all the real things in life that give us the “heebie jeebies, the creeps”. In this collection of essays, Gina Nutt examines moments in her own life and scenes from horror movies, translating distress, deflecting misfortune, mulling over displays at the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans and the many instruments of horror from days of old. Nature isn’t off the hook, it can devastate too- as she ponders the many disaster rides at theme parks.

There are the terrors particular to women, our biological clock, sometimes faulty. How we feel about our bodies, desire, our very sexuality which can be both pleasure and pain. Sickness that hits us from nowhere, feeling like a specimen before the doctor, wondering if something lethal is inside of you, the sickness of stress. Obsessive focus on worst case scenario scenes, and having filled up on horror movies supplies endless fodder for that. The mad feeling of an unquiet mind, the torment of knowing death waits for us all and how do we live happy lives while that hangs over our heads? Okay, so going to the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a little, well… morbid- but one has to wonder, if yesterdays science and norms are todays horrors, doesn’t it translate that the same will one day be said of our norms? We humans are strange creatures, and Gina Nutt indulges all the things that people are meant to avoid. It truly is the distance watching horror films provide that makes it ok to enjoy them, right?

Life has it’s grim moments, if you live long enough you will house illness, be party to grief, loss, have your own dark night of the soul, but there is always poetry and hope. There is balance, there will be sunny days, but remember too much light can be brutal too! As Gina Nutt writes, “Horror movies are contained catastrophes.” That could be it. We can live out our biggest fears and walk away alive.

This was an interesting, unique collection- I watched a lot of horror movies as a teenager. It was fun to be spooked, scared stupid! She takes intimate moments from her own life and intertwines the memories with pieces of horror films she has feasted on. It’s not all dark humor, there are tender and heartbreaking incidents, one involving suicide. Yes, a solid read for anyone who loves personal essays or horror.

Publication Date” March 23, 2021

Available now

TwoDollar Radio

The Drowning Kind: A Novel by Jennifer McMahon

I was on my hands and knees, whispering my secret, watching my reflection, and feeling with deep certainty that there was something down in that water. Something listening, waiting, watching.

Something I’m sure I caught a glimpse of.

Something that I’m also sure caught a glimpse of me.

Jennifer McMahon has written a Mystery/Thriller that has the eerie, gothic feel that other novels lay claim to and fail to deliver. All those things you imagine beneath the surface might truly be there, waiting to pull you down to your watery grave. I love the water, as much a fish all my life as the doomed character Lexie and reading this novel over the summer as I did gave me pause walking by the pool at night. Loneliness, births, deaths, family bonds, mystery, and a haunting touch of the supernatural, McMahon has written another engaging, creepy, haunted tale.

As girls who grew up enjoying summer visits at their grandmother’s estate in Vermont, Jax and Lexie often plunged into her large, spring-fed pool surrounded by carved granite and creeping moss. Filled with a darkness of water that Jax hated to disappear in and her sister Lexie lived for, delighting in treading its cool depths, Jax loyally followed suit. Jax always followed where Lexie led, even eschewing friendships with other girls, whether she wanted to or not. Lexie had always been the favorite, ‘excelled at everything’, but it was hard to be jealous of her even when she demanded so much oxygen and an audience for her dramas. In adulthood, Jax is finally able to build a life ‘outside of Lexie’s orbit’, and has learned to set up boundaries, particularly when Lexie is off her meds and in the throes of a manic episode. It is for self-preservation that Jax has been ignoring her sister’s needy, pressing phone calls, especially when Lexie herself has been distant the entire year. Concerned when she listens to the frenzied, confusing messages Lexie left, Jax is ashamed for ignoring her, though everyone agreed that Lexie had to learn to manage without her. By the time Jax returns the calls, there is no answer, she reaches out to her aunt who lives close to Sparrow Crest, their grandmother’s estate and Lexie’s inheritance since her passing. It’s too late, Lexie is discovered dead, having drowned in the very pool she loved so much and it is now Jax’s turn to drown in grief and regrets.

The thriller intensifies when Jax returns to Sparrow Crest to make sense of what happened in the final days leading to her sister’s tragedy, only to be met with a deepening mystery. Lexie was obsessively researching the land’s past as well as their family history, which has its own dark tragedies. It’s not so easy to dismiss her sister’s discoveries as hallucinations nor the result of a decline in madness, though there are signs she wasn’t well. Truth be told, it wasn’t outside the norm for Lexie, in a manic state, to be uncannily focused on something. She was never one to do anything in half measures, but had she lost touch with reality? Jax soon begins to uncover the strange history of the land her grandmother’s estate was built upon, the estate her grandmother could never seem to leave. Her sister’s journal entries are full of facts, questions and implications, and odder still the letters and numbers written in crayon on the surface of stones by the pool. What was she studying or tracking? Alone in the big, dark house Jax senses something, could it be a ghost? Is Lexie still trying to grab her attention, despite her death? There really may be something sinister beneath the surface of time, something that took her sister away, something waiting for Jax to join her. Either that, or Jax is losing her sanity.

1929: Newlywed Ethel Monroe longs to have a baby with her husband Will and she is desperate enough to try anything, even blind faith in a natural spring at the new hotel handsome Will has booked for a surprise getaway. On the grounds is a spring that might grants wishes and possibly has healing powers. Her hunger for a child surpasses the warnings of locals they meet on their way that it is a ‘dark place’, best avoided. She and Will chalk it up to ‘foolish stories’, nothing more, never imagining that even water can hunger for life. Once at the hotel they meet the owner Mr. Harding. Ethel becomes fast friends with Mr. Harding’s wife, maintaining a correspondence with her new  confidante after Eliza and Will return home. As blessings rain on Ethel and all her hopes are met, she feels conflicted, troubled even by dreams but happy letters from Mrs. Harding reach her about former guests, and their small miracles. Their future is suddenly full of promise, all things bright and happy. Eliza doesn’t yet realize that nature has a mind of it’s own, that is has desires too. Can it be bargained with?

The past is always alive in the present, in the walls, in the shadows and sometimes in the ripples on the water. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Gallery Books

Gallery/Scout Press

The Taxidermist’s Lover by Polly Hall

I admired you as I would admire any artist, although your medium was grotesque. It stank. You messed with nature.

In a word, this is an earthy novel, one where you can smell the dank, dark corners, musty fur, taste the blood, guts, and skin. Scarlett worships the skillful perfection Henry Royston Pepper applies to his taxidermy, each specimen in the end replicating the living, blessing creatures with life everlasting. His touches on her skin are euphoria… witness to his tender care, precision as he peels back animal skin and flays sinews it is an erotic experience that makes her very being shiver in anticipation. For Pepper, his art is deeply intimate, requiring hours of solitude, Scarlett honors his needs while longing with jealousy to be under his masterful hands herself.

The odd pair live on shifting land, atop murky, watery marshes, moors not an hour from Stonehenge, in Somerset “on borrowed ground” with buried beasts and creatures beneath their feet. This sanctuary is the perfect place to burrow into Henry and avoid the world. It is a dark, warm nest for the lovers and Scarlett’s dreams of strange creatures, ideas for Henry’s exhibits. Sometimes monstrous constructions that in nature would be abominations, defiled by the madness of human interference. She can feel their electric thoughts, but how can that be? Is she becoming undone? If only Henry could stuff her, fill the abyss inside her, home to the demons of memories. Despite the smell of death on his hands, it is not beastly, much older lover Henry who is haunted by things that hiss and growl but delicate, young Scarlet. It is only her twin brother Rhett that shares in the horror of their childhood tragedy, the truth of what happened a fracture that eviscerates them both. Where Scarlett retreats from the world, Rhett is in constant motion, unable to anchor down in place nor stick with one lover. Always they reach out to each other, but it’s not long before he is off again, running from blame he feels is his to bear. Scars on the flesh tell a story, but how it is remembered, told is hazy and could change everything.

Felix De Souza the rising sun in the dark art of taxidermy, burning the trust between Henry and Scarlett. A rival Scarlett pushes Henry towards, urging him to show his exhibits where hoards of fans come to see Felix’s “modern art” displays. His magnificence is undeniable, his persona, allure impossible for others to resist, particularly female fans. Will Henry fall in her eyes, an overlooked master, or will her infatuation remain? Never has a man consumed her every thought, like Henry has, made her body burn with the desire to merge forever but Felix… there is some strange triangle born of their meeting.

The novel creeps deeper into the throb of darkness, the fluttering of angry creatures, accompanied by a strange synergy flowing between every character. Love as mania- a hunger that peels away every bit of flesh and picks it’s teeth with your bones. It reminds me of a man named Tanzler, I’ll say no more. I loved the atmosphere, the madness of love as an insatiable hunger which at the heart is really about loneliness. Novels that connect us to nature, which is both life and death, always draws me in. What can be saved through rebirth. Gothic, dark, and more than a bit twisted- for anyone who longs for mud between their toes and the eerie cries of strange birds.

Publication Date: December 8, 2020

CamCat Publishing

CamCat Books

White Ivy: A Novel by Susie Yang

Even then, Ivy had none of the undiscerning friendliness of other children; her love was passionate but singular, complete devotion or none at all.

Complete devotion, singular love, obsession, class, frightening stolen pleasures… these are just a few of the things burning beneath Ivy Lin’s thieving skin. Is her immigrant grandmother Meifeng to blame, raising her in China while Ivey’s parents left for America and a better life, entrusting her into Meifeng’s care for three formative years? Or does her influence spoil the child’s morals when they are settled in Boston, Massachusetts and reunited with Ivy’s family? After-all, it is when they are living in the city where Meigfeng’s first most important lesson, one that requires stealing at the local Goodwill, takes root. Or does Ivy’s inward turn lay at her distant, cold, hardworking parents feet, who want nothing more than for Ivy to grow up and become a doctor?

Maybe it’s all those books in the library she escapes into, full of bleak tales where beauty is the cure for all. One thing is certain, she isn’t the adored child in her family, that falls to her younger, indulged brother, American born Austin. “And so Ivy grew like a wayward branch”, and when she falls in love there are no half-measures. Friendless, she bonds with a boy trapped in starker circumstances. A lonely liar, she befriends Roux Roman, fascinated by his gruff manners and impressed by his “enterprising spirit” the two share dark secrets and the shame of being outliers. Always hiding something, Roux respects her criminal savvy, but not so much her eagerness to rise above their humble origins. But her heart belongs to Gideon.

Ivy yearns for the privilege her female classmates take for granted, but her most fervent desire is to have Gideon Speyer. Speyer, who lives in a glass and stone manor, son of a state senator, a beautiful, youthful mother and cool older sister- people with money, those whose very voices speak of ownership and everything her family isn’t. Piercing her ears, wearing the right clothes, nothing will make her look like the girls in the popular clique, erase her ethnicity… she will never pull off being the typical, lazy American kid. Teens who have never known a firm hand nor stern word, unlike Ivy whose parents have mastered corporal punishment like an art form. If she can get the right birthday present for her crush, she believes everything will work out in her favor, even if she has to break her parents rules. Just when she thinks her devious plotting has been successful, everything crashes around her, so too the house of lies she has built.

Busted by her mother Nan, suffering publication humiliation, Nan proves Meifeng isn’t the only woman in the family with a lesson to teach Ivy. She banishes her to China, for her own good. It is there a lasting impression is made, where she learns that it is possible for a Chinese girl like her to have everything. Her Aunt Sunrin’s wealth is a constant glow, as vast and bright as her generosity. Ivy finally gets a taste of the good life… the trip is life altering. When she returns home, her parents upend everything yet again solidifying the sad fact that Gideon is a dying dream.

Home again behind the walls of deprivation, all she can think about are the things missing in her life, longing for the fresh smells of New England. She’ll never buckle down and become the studious girl her parents desire, but she knows she must work harder if she is to get into the college of her choice, despite the fury it is sure to ignite. Neither American or Chinese, or maybe both, Ivy carries the weight of Meifeng and her mother Nan’s pasts, misunderstanding their choices, hearts. Ashamed of her family or proud of their climb, it is her own choices that come into question.

By some strange happenstance, Sylvia Speyer drops into Ivy’s life and a flood of all the things she thought were lost to her, especially Gideon, come rushing back. Invited into the circle, she isn’t going to blow her chance with Gideon and continues to worm her way in at every opportunity. If she has to display false cheer, ‘say frivolous things’ and charge up her credit cards to secure her place in his life, so be it! “Magic, she’d realized then, was not inherent to a place, it emanated from the person viewing it.” But even all things magical can turn dark. Just when she is swimming through life, uncovering all the secrets she needs to succeed in Gideon’s world, the past coughs up a surprise.

Who are you Ivy? How far are you willing to go? What is really at the center of your lonely, hungry heart?

This is dark, so dark. What traps do we set for ourselves when we cannot control our desires? How blinding love and shame can be, married to each other! The immigrant dream for a better life, the demons that follow on the heels of our children, the disease of want. The rage that some of us are forced to scratch the ground for our fair share while from afar other’s lives appear charmed. The reminders thrown in our face when we’ve shucked our old skin… Grave sins, dirty secrets, betrayals, is this the gilded cage you really want? Is it better to settle, remain rooted to where you belong? I loved it. I wish I could write more but don’t want to spoil anything! It’s one of my favorite reads this year. Incredible debut, it blew me away!

Publication Date: November 3, 2020

Simon & Schuster

Girls of Brackenhill: A Thriller by Kate Moretti

Brackenhill stole the sanity of women and the bodies of children.

When Hannah Maloney is awakened by an alarming call, she is informed by the hospital in New York that her Aunt Fae has been in a serious car accident. An accident she might not survive. Beside her fiancé Huck, they rush from Virginia to the hospital, fully aware that time is of the essence. Sadly, with a six hour drive between them, they are too late, time has run out and Aunt Fae has passed away. Hannah is stunned to learn that she must identify the body, with her uncle bedridden back at Brackenhill it falls on her shoulders. Somehow she gathers the strength to proceed, as she’s always had to do. It would be so much easier, safer to return home with her loving fiancé Huck, leave the past buried but she must head to the castle and confront the ghosts waiting for her, including her dying uncle. Brackenhill is calling her back, but she will escape its clutches, she has done it before, she will do it again.

Huck, with his large, raucous, happy family, it has been best he be kept in the dark about Hannah’s past and the summers she spent in the Catskills. Once a charmed time with her aunt and uncle at Brackenhill, an enormous towering castle, it now remains a black spot in her heart. Worse, he is heedless of the knowledge that she had an older sister who disappeared seventeen years ago. The floodgates open when they arrive at the castle and Huck finally learns more than he could have ever imagined about his fiancé’s guarded past. The time has come to revisit the painful wounds of the last time she saw Julia alive, the final summer when she was fifteen, when she left Brackenhill for good, without her big sister by her side.

Still, she keeps some secrets for herself. There is comfort in Huck’s obliviousness, his trust. When the couple’s dog Rink, alongside his master, digs up a bone by the river, could it be the remains of her sister? The discovery and its implications are shocking enough without the added stress of Wyatt being present, now working as a detective, concerned about the ‘inconsistencies of her aunt’s accident‘. Wyatt, a knot in her heart, the boy who came between the sisters that terrible last summer. Her repressed memories are rising like ghosts…fragments of moments that have her questioning her sanity. Can she wrap her mind around the slippery impressions, sort through solid facts and find answers in her own investigation? How does one press forward when they can’t fully trust themselves?

The house seems to have been holding its breath until she was back in its guts, but is it the house or her own mind that is haunted? Even Huck feels uneasy behind Brackenhill’s walls, surely something is wrong with the place. Once, she and Julia found sanctuary here from the mess that was their mother. A pleasure to be ‘banished for the summers’ to their aunts place. Life was a dream, despite the chilly spots in the home and the locked doors of forbidden rooms, there was so much excitement and mystery to keep their young imaginations alive. For Hannah the woods, a thousand acres of peace, hideouts, chirping birds, fresh air and endless hours with her best friend, her big sister Julia, were a welcome respite from their other life. It is a glorious pleasure being in such a place, despite the awful stories surrounding its origins. Of course it couldn’t last, no spell was truly broken and the bubble burst. Once they were old enough to ride into town, befriending local teenagers, growing up, losing their innocence their own connection was tested. In letting other’s in, they invited ruin. But did this ruin cause Julia’s disappearance? She must put the recollections from that ill fated summer into order and face the shameful things only she knows.

The mysterious vanishing of Julia adds weight to the urban legend about Brackenhill and its Ghost Girls. A legend alive and well with 10 girls missing over 150 years, not to mention the women and madness. But what really happened? Why the subterfuge? Was it the house or something more sinister? What is locked away inside the castle, inside Hannah’s own mind?

It is a well written gothic story that makes you wonder who to trust. Hannah and Julia are at a tender point in their sisterhood, confused by leaving childhood behind, stuck between loyalty and resentment towards their mother and slipping into bouts of selfishness that comes between them. By the time we come to the end, the reader feels both disturbed and confused… reminds me of classic, spooky thrillers. I liked it, I just wish it was scarier. I was surprised by the ending, and I was happy about the path the author took but I admit there are a few loose ends and questions swirling in my head. A decent read for the fall.

Publication Date: November 1, 2020

Thomas & Mercer

Cardiff, By The Sea: Four Novellas of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

She wonders if the great-aunts have spied her from the upstairs windows. Fat, dimpled spiders lurking in their web waiting for their spindly limbed insect prey.

The atmosphere is always as alive as Joyce Carol Oates’s characters and it is much the same in Cardiff, By The Sea. The aunts- ‘fat, dimpled spiders lurking’ sent chills up and down my spine because there is always the suggestion of a threat in the sentences, by deftly describing the people. In the title story, when an ‘academic in Pennsylvania’ (Claire) discovers she, an adoptee, has inherited a house in Cardiff, Maine it sets off fireworks of emotions. Someone cared enough about her, she who was discarded and unwanted by her unknown, biological parents, to put her in a will. The shock of it, the possibility… but she cannot imagine the nightmare that awaits her, the horror of the past, nor the peculiar, eccentric family hungry for her arrival. Do they long to welcome her into their warm arms or do they have something far more sinister planned? I could smell the house as I read the story and feel her struggle between passivity and resistance. Clare is a capable, intelligent woman who has had little thought of her origins or ancestry but suddenly feels content to slip into the ‘childish comfort in sleepiness’ despite her fears, the alarms beneath her skin once she is within the walls of her family home. What will she discover? What bones, family skeletons await?

Mia Dao: The ground shifts beneath twelve-year-old Mia’s feet when her father leaves the family. Warmth, comfort and love is found with ‘wild kitties’ , a feral colony of cats living on a vacant lot next to her family home. Through them she learns the art of ‘hiding in plain sight’, a necessary strategy for surviving school and the tortuous realities of the body’s physical maturity. Secrets bloom inside of her, secrets from her mother who concerns herself more with her little brothers and their pain over father’s abandonment. Aching with loneliness, hurt by her father’s departure, she craves connection. A new man enters Mia’s mother’s heart, lifting the cloud of bitterness and misery, but for Mia it is a’ stricken kitten’ that claws its way into hers. The furry creature shields her from every threat, particularly the violence of the male species, sleeping beside her every night so Mia never feels alone. Miao Dao (the kitty) and the new man are not friends… not all animals, nor people, can be domesticated. Resentment mounts, but will it all end in blood?

Phantomwise: 1972 That ‘he’ noticed her leaves nineteen-year-old Alyce exhilarated. Through a slow, smooth seduction, her life will finally begin and her lover is not Philosophy 101, as all the other students could attest too. It is charming Simon. How easy love, desire can slip into shame. She didn’t know love would be like this, not as tender as she had imagined. Impregnated and terrified of what to do next, salvation arrives in the form of a true gentleman, visiting professor and acclaimed poet- as she begs, “God help me. Even if You don’t love me”, he throws her a lifeline. But is the old bachelor too late? A tale of haunted hearts and brutality.

The Surviving Child is lucky to have slipped out of the hands of death, a delicately boned, beautiful boy of ten. Though he is wounded and disturbed by his mother’s suicide and murder of his little sister, Elisabeth (his father’s fiancé) longs to warm the boy’s cold hands and fill his broken, empty heart upon their first meeting. Not a trace of her fiancé’s dead wife (N.K.-the famous poet) remains, unless you account for the boy. Surely this should give her comfort moving into the home of Alexander Hendrick, ‘distinguished man and director of a wealthy arts foundation”. Older, formidable, the exact type of man she has been longing for since her youth, ‘who could intimidate her and yet make her laugh.’ Now she is his wife, being there, in this house where N.K. wrote ‘her most savage poems’ unsettles her. Soon, the garage, the scene of untold horror and brutality carried out by N.K.’s very own hands lures Elisabeth. In truth lies the darkness of one’s heart and the dead wife is alive in the mysteries.

I came to the end wanting to read more stories. My experience reading this book of four novellas is akin to hiding in a closet while bad things happen. The main characters are always the one’s caught suspended in web’s spun by those with darker souls. Their desires, dreams, and naiveté always cost them a pond of flesh because despite one’s goodness the world is full of sharp teeth, even for kind, sweet people who deserve better. Deserve, what a loaded word. I’m a huge fan of Oates’s work, no one writes like her! No matter how serene the surroundings may be, she is aware of the freshly disturbed earth… Read it, yes!

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Grove Atlantic

The Invisible Girl: A Novel by Lisa Jewell

I have a dark past, and I have dark thoughts. I do dark things, and I scare myself sometimes.

Seventeen-year-old Saffyre Maddox’s past is dark, and haunting. She hides a terrible secret in the dungeon of her mind, something that occurred when she was only ten; a pain that only finds release through inflicting self-harm. This serves as the catalyst for the charming, handsome, kind child psychologist Roan Fours coming into her life. Through the strange mechanics of the universe, she one day sees Roan and his family move into the wealthier side of the village. Now their time together, the sessions are at their end. Roan is sure she is ready to move on with her life, but she isn’t better, not at all. She becomes a shadow in his life, on the fringes of his world. Watching Roan is her new hobby, something everyone needs. They never even notice her.

Roan Fours seems to lead a charmed life with his wife Cate (a physiotherapist) and their children, teenagers Georgia and Josh. But what looks perfect to outsiders is often far from it. Roan may be an expert at caring for damaged children, but with his own he is confounded. Immersed in his own job, often home late at night, there is resentment growing inside of Cate. Since moving into their new Hampstead home, things have felt ‘off-kilter’. Roan seems strange too, distracted. Then there is their weird neighbor Owen Pick, a computer science teacher who Georgia swears followed her home one night. This strange neighbor who gives off weird vibes has been recently accused of sexual misconduct. Furious over the false accusation, which could easily be the ruin of his already small life., Owen has yet another reason to blame women. Single, 33 and rejected by every single female for some unfathomable reason, now these lies. He finds comfort in an online website called YourLoss, as a self-described Incel where he becomes a part of a subculture of “involuntary celibates”, here he befriends Bryn who understands the rage and inadequacy men like Owen suffer. The two plan to meet each other in a pub.

Saffyre has been watching and sees more than the people living together do. Every omission, secret, and misstep. When she disappears on Valentine’s Night it is Owen who becomes a suspect, having been the last person to see her alive. Will the cops find something to connect him to the crime? It’s bad enough he is taken in for questioning, now in the court of public opinion he is guilty, his face plastered all over the newspaper. He thought life couldn’t get worse after being accused of sexual misconduct and now this! Cate has always felt unnerved by Owen, with that look about him, he just looks like he is guilty of all sorts of unsavory things, even if her son Josh feels a little sorry for the guy, who could be innocent. But Josh has always been such a sweet, lovely boy, one quick to think good things.

But is Owen a killer? Why is Saffyre maintaining an unhealthy connection to Roan and his family? Who is Bryn, why does he hate women so much? What did happen to Saffyre when she was just a little girl? This is a tangled knot. Our gut instincts are always right, aren’t they? Or is Owen caught up in misunderstandings? Is there someone else out there hunting?

Each of the main characters are guilty of some strange, questionable behaviors. Sometimes by being different we invite trouble in but who is the real monster? Misogyny, shame, loneliness, guilt, lies, regrets and abuse of power- this is a sinister tale.

Publication Date: October 13, 2020

Atria Books

We Are All the Same in the Dark: A Novel Julia Heaberlin

She has a bad, bad mystery to her. I can feel it deep in the hollow of my spook bone, the one my dad broke when I was a kid. My arm is never wrong.

When Wyatt Branson stumbles upon a young girl laid flat and still off the highway, he knows it doesn’t bode well for him. Girls and their bad mysteries have been his ruin and if the locals are to be believed he is guilty of doing something to his missing sister. Trumanell was the town’s good luck charm, with beauty as delicate and fine as bone china that belied her strength. There wasn’t a local alive that didn’t love her, unless you count her own father. A decade later her poster still hangs in the police station, a reminder of the towns longing for their favorite daughter, her disappearance a legend they feed on. With Wyatt’s new discovery, a one-eyed girl who seems more alive than dead, likely a curse among dandelions beneath her, he awakens interest in his sister’s disappearance a decade ago. The girl reminds Wyatt far too much of the beautiful Trumanell, who believed in fairy tale nonsense until she became one. Fate has never favored him and this is just another warning from the universe. He is nothing but a shadow in his hometown, a marked man living a lonely existence in their decrepit house, the one place he still communicates with Trumanell.

Odette Tucker is painfully familiar with Wyatt’s mental state and knows in her heart how wrong the town is about him. She is painfully aware of the hell he and Trumanell suffered at their father’s hands and trusts what her own father (the police chief) believed until the day he died having exhaustively worked the case, that Wyatt is innocent. The town has other ideas, since Wyatt has been out of his mind ever since that night, where a bloody hand print hints at what happened to his sister, it’s evidence enough to point fingers at him. His mind shattered for a reason, and that reason is murder! They aren’t the only ones, even an FBI agent has labeled him a monster. Odette’s heart at sixteen was captured fast by Wyatt and despite her grandmother’s warning, she could never stay away from him until that night. Trumanell never came back, neither did Wyatt, not completely anyway.

Leaving town and it’s ghosts at her father’s insistence, Odette escaped but could never forget the past nor make peace with not knowing. Despite making a life of her own far from it all, it is destiny that she returned to bury her daddy’s ashes and decided to become a cop, having been born into four generations of law enforcement. Showing up on Wyatt’s doorstep after rumors and tips from locals that he is keeping a girl in the house, she is betraying her dead father, involving herself in a case whose truth he felt was better left buried. She clings to hope that it’s nothing but lies, that the girl is simply a figment of other’s imaginations. For his sake, it can’t be true.

It is impossible to know that this odd, quiet girl (Angel), barely in her teens will set events in motion, a turning that will uncover everything that has been buried, altering her own life. With the help of her cousin Maggie, Odette is desperate to save Angel from the system and Wyatt from the locals she knows all too well can become a mob in no time, just as they did the night his sister and father disappeared. He doesn’t help himself with his wild ideas, broken thoughts, talking to his dead sister and following young girls. Their time is not finished, nor is the story. The more he is poked and prodded, the stranger he seems and the less people believe him. Are secrets truly hidden in the family home? Does Wyatt know more than he admits to? Does Odette really want to know the truth that she is about to uncover? Can she afford what it will cost her?

Obsession with the truth drives more than one woman in this clever, twisted tale. Nothing is as it seems while shame and guilt are two sides of the same coin. When the unthinkable happens, blame is easy to place, but only those closest to the crime question what came before. People own girls and their stories when they are victims, living and dead. Angel knows that fury can be felt from the grave, like the dandelions she was found among, she had been blown to a safe place and planted in soil where she could flourish, and she owes this all to Odette. Strangers can be salvation, and they can haunt you as deeply as a loved one. Her story is a knot in Trumanell’s nightmarish vanishing as well as Odetter’s hunger for the truth and there is a hunt, but can she succeed in outsmarting the killer?

We are all the same in the dark, but is it easier to distinguish truth from lies without light? I didn’t have a clue who was guilty, I was thrown in every direction scratching my head. The novel provokes us to assume things, because it is what the majority of us do, based on scant information. It works, maybe that is why people get away with so much in the real world, with others so busy planting their flags of guilt like conquered lands… Each character feels guilty of something like being a catalyst, a coward and Angel too, who walks into a story that is already written, blames herself for what is coming. The women in this novel are tough, they are survivors and fighters- but that doesn’t mean they are safe. Their trauma shows, worn as a prosthetic eye and leg but what makes them vulnerable is the very thing that makes them strong as titanium. Strong enough to outwit a killer? You are not on steady ground, and good guys lose sometimes but it’s a hell of a tale. Sure, I got mad as things unfolded because that isn’t how it’s supposed to be but what happens is believable. We don’t all get happy endings but how about justice? Just what did happen that night? You have to read. Julia Heaberlin can write her characters into some serious dark corners, can’t wait for the next tale.

Publication Date: August 11, 2020

Random House

Ballantine