Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.

 

Book Talk – the Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee came out on April 1, 2016 and I read it August 15-16, 2017.

A synopsis, from Amazon:

In a house built on truth something lays hidden. Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed. Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something. As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known. The darkness is watching.


This book is part ghost/haunted house, part demonic threat, and part vampire stories. It makes for a satisfying read because if you like the horror genre, a lot of boxes are ticked by this novel. I have still been itching for a good haunted house story and the almost haunted houseness of this book made that itch even worse.

But it brings me to one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. Setting is one of my own biggest weaknesses, so I pay close attention to the people who do it well. Lee does it very well. It starts with the Davenport house, but it’s also capturing the spirit of the village, of the shape of the roads, and the distance between neighbors. The real success is the Manor though; the house is a character in itself as much as it is a setting – the house itself is almost as possessed, as manipulated, and as broken as any of the people who inhabit it during the course of the story. Houses, dwellings, are always safer than we think they are, and the Manor learns that it is not invulnerable, and that secrets rarely stay buried. The Manor is also part of the character of Edward Carver, and the secrets the house reveals are either Carver’s own, or hurt him the most. This is definitely a story about secrets – the real and the supernatural kind – and the consequences for thinking keeping them is the best course of action.

The other thing I loved about this book was the eponymous Gabriel Davenport. He is a perfect depiction of that liminal space between child and young adult – he believes that he is ready to know the truth about what happened when he was a baby and that he can handle it, while simultaneously being terrified that he cannot. He’s also young enough and has lived such a life that he is aware of his emotions, aware of his fear, and sometimes he even finds the strength to overcome it and do the right thing. I enjoyed the chapters that were in his perspective the most because he was the least damaged in traditional ways (the damage we acquire upon growing up, and the loss of innocence) – Gabriel is ultimately still innocent, but has also been carrying an enormous burden and sense of blame his entire life which is a unique kind of damage. It made him easy to care for, and easy to empathize with.

The only character that ultimately frustrated me was Noah Isaacs, but I wonder what will be resolved with him in the next book, A Shining in the Shadows. One of the subtle questions that Making asks is what power faith has – and not just the religious kind, but the faith we place in other people. Noah’s religious faith is tested, even fails, and that effects the faith the other characters have in him. It’s about the faith the Gabriel has in Carver and Noah to “solve the problem” and save him, and when he begins to doubt that they can, he trusts someone that maybe he shouldn’t.

It’s a book with a very unique family unit, and it is both their strength and their vulnerability. It’s hard to see anything coming in this story, and I liked that a lot. I am definitely curious about what happens next.

If you like moody, scary, semi-violent horror novels then the Making of Gabriel Davenport is definitely for you.

 

Review – The Archived/The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

A review of The Archived and the Unbound by Victoria Schwab (4/5)

So. I read the Archived on May 14, 2017, and the Unbound on May 14-15, 2017.

According to GoodReads there is a third book, the Returned, but I know that sometimes what’s planned doesn’t happen and Google hasn’t revealed to me the status of this third book (as in, going to happen, or been cancelled.)

Regardless, read these books. Particularly if you are already a fan of Victoria/V.E. Schwab because her imagination and ability to create internally consistent worlds is awesome, and just to see how her writing style and approach have changed and not that much time has passed.

From Amazon with some small edits from me:

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive.  Mackenzie and her family have just moved into the city into an old hotel-turned-apartments the Coronado to run away from their past and the death of Mackenzie’s younger brother. Mackenzie has a new territory to learn, and soon, a mystery to unravel that puts both the world of the Archive and the world of the Outer, our world, at risk.


I’ll admit that in the last year I’ve developed a tendency to be triggered by deaths or incidents that involve car accidents after my friend died in one. It took me a few deep breaths when I first encountered that detail, but I made it through. The loss of Ben, the youngest Bishop, is central to the plot of the Archived, and I appreciate so much the way Schwab writes about the different kinds of grief we experience, and the different ways they can affect us. By the start of the story Mackenzie’s grandfather (Da), who she inherited her Keeper duties from, is also gone. Both those losses were traumatic for Mackenzie and for her family, and watching her process those things and figure out when to let go and when to hold on was really cathartic. The way each member of the Bishop family grieves is also varied, and also, irritating. It’s not hard to side with Mackenzie against her mom, even when you don’t like what Mackenzie is doing either.

The aura of spookiness in both books was a definite favorite feature. Between our world, the Outer, and the Archive, is a realm called the Narrows. Remember that creepy hallway in Beetlejuice with all the doors to the different places and houses? I imagine that it’s kind of like that only maybe less weird shapes to things and less weird glowing green light. Just a dark, dusty hallway full of doors. Where small, violent, reawakened dead children are slowly losing their minds and you have to find them before they do. If that doesn’t give you the creeps, I don’t know what will.

If Schwab needs to brainstorm an idea for another project, I would love for her to write a straight up horror novel. She throws in bits of horror/thriller/morbid/macabre in everything I’ve read by her so far, but I would read the fuck out of a haunted house story written by her. My struggle with a lot of contemporary horror is that it’s gotten gory, and plays a lot more on violence. I want a psychological thriller that’s also firmly a horror story…that’s a lot to ask, but I also think Schwab would totally blow my mind.

I have a weakness for characters named Owen. Ever since Maureen Johnson’s Devilish. It can’t be helped. This Owen is…delicious, on many levels. I can say without spoilers that he is very dynamic, and that dreams are very, very different from reality.

The jury is out on my feelings about Wesley, and will likely stay that way unless there’s a third book. I will say though that summer Wesley, of the spikes, guyliner, and black nails, sounds like my cup of tea. Actually because two things meshed in my brain at once he kind of looks like Dan Howell in my head (danisnotonfire on YouTube. My new crush.) Also soccer player. I mean, Wesley ticks a lot of boxes for me, but I don’t like how secretive he is while also being mad at Mackenzie for being secretive. Like, bro, that’s hella controlling. But given everything Mackenzie has been through, he’s also awesome for her healing process and I know what that’s like. Some people fix what’s broken, even if it’s not forever. Their effect is.

Another recurring Schwab theme that is also present here is younger people “sticking it to the Man” so to speak. There’s a rebellion. A revolution, maybe? And that’s something that comes up in all of her novels – the way things are isn’t good enough, and the individual character is always asking what they can do to change it. Sometimes for selfish reasons, sometimes for altruistic ones, and sometimes killing two birds with one stone. All I will say to that plot in these books is GIVE ‘EM HELL KENZIE.

I rated both of these books a 4/5 on GoodReads – I was totally hooked, loved the main character, loved the concept and the specificity of the rules, and um, good kissing scenes? Haha. Even the most awkward kiss I’ve ever read in a book but also the most realistic to actual teenagers ever.

Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab came out in July 2016. I bought it because her anxiety on Twitter about people buying its sequel overwhelmed me so I bought it and it’s imminently releasing sequel. I read it May 8-13, 2017. It’s good preparation for when Our Dark Duet comes out June 13, 2017.

I think if I keep reading Victoria Schwab, all my top favorite female characters will have been created by her. Because Kate is awesome, and I’ve already pretty much given my entire heart to Lila Bard.

From Amazon:

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.


One of the things that sets Schwab apart from anyone else I read is the depth of emotions her characters experience, and how dynamic they are. Her characters always have the power to surprise me but not in ways that seem out of step with the plot, or with everything you already know about them. They are as real as people, and that’s such a unique talent. Kate and August, as well as some of the more periphery characters like Ilsa, Leo, Callum, and Henry all have more to them, and more to understand. Even some of the smallest characters, like Emily Flynn, have these tiny touches of detail that tell you more than just their name and their relationship to the main characters.

Kate Harker is awesome. I love that she begins the story thinking there’s only one way to be tough, or one way to take control, and learns that there’s more than that. Kate isn’t as cold as she likes to pretend, and ultimately that will prove to be a positive thing for her. Still, I might be more afraid to meet Kate in a dark alley than any Corsai or Malchai.

I will admit it took me a bit to get into this book – it’s a very different world, and there is a lot of history and rules that are alluded to that you have to try and parse out. I was only reading 1-2 chapters a night which is unusual for me, but once the friendship between Kate and August is established I was hooked in. It’s definitely the kind of story that needs to do some exposition before it gets to the main action of the story, and even if it’s interesting it doesn’t always make the story move quickly. Still, it was break-neck pace once things really got going and I was so concerned for those two and the people in their lives. I read the majority of the book today, in my hammock. It was wonderful.

I’m totally obsessed with the mythology of Verity. I think I’m just obsessed with Schwab’s brain and the mythology she creates in general. Back to the point – the Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai are a symptom, not the problem. We learn a little bit about where they came from and how they were created, but there are more questions than answers. There are more things to be discovered about what role they really have to play, and what direction the world is heading in. War has happened, war is inevitable, and there’s no guarantees that everyone will survive. There’s no guarantee that humanity is even supposed to. Because ultimately this is a story about what makes us human, and what happens when we forget what those things are. What happens when we fail to see the humanity in others. Let’s think about humanity like this: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

You know why YA dystopian is a thing? Because teenagers see the world in black and white, they see NOW, and when you’re fighting the system that’s what you need to be able to do. This is another series that makes clear how little the adults see the landscape of their world. How much easier they find it to sacrifice people, and kids don’t see things that way. I cannot wait to see what Kate and August make of the mess the adults have made, and how they might find a way to save the people that can be saved.

Overall I give this a 4/5 because it took me a bit to get into it, but once it hooked me I was all in. If you like supernatural mythology, ridiculously well-written characters, then you should absolutely read this. I am really ready for Our Dark Duet!

Review: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

A traveling carnival, a small town in Louisiana, terror in the night, and an unexpected love – Freeks by Amanda Hocking (4.5/5)

After a long break, I have returned! With a review of a very enjoyable book. Freeks was released on January 3, 2017 and is a standalone novel by Amanda Hocking. I read it on January 12, 2017. I feel like I’m always reading series and this was such a self-contained story that felt like a balm for my brain.


From Amazon:
Mara has become used to the extraordinary. Roaming from place to place with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival, she longs for an ordinary life where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future.

She gets her chance when the struggling sideshow sets up camp in the small town of Caudry, and she meets a gorgeous local guy named Gabe. But before long, Mara realizes there’s a dark presence lurking in the town that’s threatening the lives of her friends. She has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she had in order to save everyone she cares about―and change the future forever.

This is not a great summary, but it’s better than the one I tried writing. This is a fun story in a familiar kind of setting. I recently read the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology, and the short story “Brand New Attraction” by Cassandra Clare laid out the concept well – “It was a dark carnival. You know the drill.” We do know the drill, and Hocking doesn’t waste time setting up the mysteriousness of the carnival, but rather outlining the supernatural abilities of the members, and establishing their close ties and relationships. I wouldn’t say that the carnival of Mara’s universe is dark, but it has its secrets.

I don’t know why Hocking chose to set this story in 1987, but there’s a little bit of a Star-in-the-Lost-Boys feeling to Mara (appearance and dress mostly,) and god help me I was picturing a buff Steve Harrington from Stranger Things as Gabe (it may have been the mentions of fabulous hair.) I have to say, I love how suddenly we as a pop culture are excited about the ’80s again. Gabe’s house was also a fun setting – antebellum mansion with 1987 decor and art is quite the contrast to picture.

One of the best things about this book was the path of Gabe and Mara’s relationship, particularly physically. It was realistic (not saying it was right or smart, but realistic.) One of the things that pisses me off the most in YA is the lack of kissing. Not because I’m like “Oh squee kisses!” but because teenagers kiss each other. A lot. Before they should. Because they are struggling under an insane hormone cocktail and a lack of impulse control, and physical affection is fun. There’s a tendency to delay first kisses for ages even when the characters have clearly expressed feelings and attraction, and I think that it’s false tension. Not so in Freeks – the first night Mara and Gabe meet they make out, I think it was in less than the first 30 pages, and my first thought was – hell yeah, this is such a relief! It’s also pretty clear that Mara doesn’t trust people or give in to her impulses very often, so I think it also established early on that something with Gabe is different.

While Freeks is not a groundbreaking novel, it definitely has its own spin and flavor on carnival lore, supernatural abilities, and demonology. The characters are believable and sympathetic, and their relationships and histories established without extensive back story, and no flashbacks. There’s enough lore in regard to Mara’s family and the town of Caudry that the breaking point that leads to the final battle is strong, and a little scary.  It was fun to read, and took my mind over and away while I was cozied up on the couch reading it. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. I really love my sleep.

There’s one thing that I keep going over in my brain, and I can’t decide if it’s a like or dislike. In a lot of books I’ve read recently, I feel like a lot of time is spent on knowing every single little detail about every character – and when the characters are interesting, it’s fun to fall down that rabbit hole. In Freeks, characters are tantalizing because we are given just a brushstroke of who they are – they aren’t central to the emotional plot, just the big picture resolution, so there really isn’t a narrative justification for knowing them more in-depth. For example, Gabe’s sister Selena. She wasn’t what I expected her to be and I wanted to know more about her, but there was no narrative reason for more to be revealed. Same with Gabe’s parents – I knew what Mara needed to know. There was no giant exposition from Gabe about his family that didn’t have to do with resolving the thing terrorizing the carnival. My curiosity was not sated, but even though I’m still curious, I’m not disappointed. Hocking stayed so tightly true to Mara’s perspective, and it’s just frankly awesome writing, and awesome choices.

And I know I started this saying that I didn’t want a series, but I would read the hell out of a book about Elissar, Mara’s great-grandmother. She sounds like a badass.

Overall, Freeks gets 4.5/5 rating from me – that half off because some things felt a little too rushed, and even the awesome writing choices can’t override the almost step into Chosen One territory. Still, another solid piece of writing from Amanda Hocking and a fun foray into the genre of dark carnivals.

 

 

Review: the Women in the Walls

When I was reading this book I kept thinking, “I need an adult!”

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics was released September 27, 2016 and I read it December 5-7, 2016. Weirdly enough, I think I can consider this a holiday-appropriate reading choice as the conclusion of the story revolves around a Christmas party. Someone is even wearing a tinsel and ornament dress.


From Amazon:
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

For those who might need it – trigger warnings for significant self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and general gore and violence.

Things that gave me feelings:

  • Lucy’s father is a bastard.
  • This is another one of those novels that affirms how much people suck, how self-centered we can be, and how we never really know anyone in our lives. There are just too many secrets, too many scattered and errant thoughts that start to change us or eat us alive to ever really say we know someone.
  • This book can get really scary because you doubt what you know, and everyone becomes suspect. It’s made clear very early that the Acosta family is exceptionally secretive and isolated, and that no one comes into their home or interacts with anyone else without motive.

While I agree with Lucy’s eventual realization that she gets caught up in herself and can be a little judgmental, I also think she might be too hard on herself. This poor girl is so clearly abused into submission, and it’s done in partnership by her two parental figures. No one really cares about her – she is just a tool. The interactions between Margaret and Lucy are especially heartbreaking because they are cousins, friends, but the thumb under which they function has twisted even that one good thing in their lives. Margaret is hella sassy though and I enjoyed her. I wish she had been used more to call out the bullshit – Margaret was the Id to Lucy’s Ego, and it would have been fun to see more of that go wild.

Justine Larbalestier recently posted a tweet:

“How to write a novel: create shitty situation for your protag. Make it worse. Worser. Now REALLY make it worse. Resolve that shit. #theEnd”

That is pretty much how things for for Lucy, except true to horror form the resolution may actually be worse than anything else that has happened to her. The end is a big, gaping tunnel of mouth screaming “No!” for eternity. There are so many layers to why the ending is so awful, in general and for Lucy in particular. It was just devastating. But it’s also the source of one of my dislikes with this novel – why? Why did Lucy give in to the ending? Why would she stay?

Everyone is the villain in this story. There’s this sense while reading that there is no safe place – no person, no room, not even in sleep. The tension just builds and builds until all the shit hits the fan and then it gets weirder and weirder. I was less scared of the Big Bad at the end than I expected, and part of it is because…well, some of the shit that happened was justified. The Big Bad might be the only one who was justified to do anything, which is interesting to consider – the primal, ancient dangers that still lurk around us and how their violence can be acceptable.

I still have a lot of questions about why things went the way they did, and I can’t quite say this was a five star read for me. Lucy was clearly intelligent and aware of how dire the situation was and yet…nothing. Maybe it’s commentary on the fact that humans often talk ourselves out of the facts that are smacking us in the face and it’s easy to play them down or talk ourselves out of it, or say if something else happens or waiting for arbitrary reasons, we are punished by life itself.

From a purely technical sense, I was confused by some of the structure and I don’t think it was intentional. Chapters would start with Lucy’s narration as if a lot of time had passed, or as if she’d been bothered by a certain event or feeling for a period of time, and then we would jump from narration to action and I would find zero time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of the next, or only a handful of hours. The sense of time was not what it needed to be in some chapters, and it kind of broke the feeling of urgency that was built. Luckily, it was built up again in quick fashion, but it still jerked me out of the narrative because I was asking questions about structure rather than plot.

I definitely want to read Lukavics’s first novel, Daughters Unto Devils, and will absolutely pick up her work in the future. She is a fresh, frightening, wickedly macabre and morbid voice and it seems that the women she writes have something to say. Or something to destroy.  The Women in the Walls was 4/5.

Review: the Winter People

When Ruthie’s mother goes missing, she is pulled into a mystery and a horror more far-reaching than she can imagine. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (5/5)

“If snow melts down to water does it still remember being snow?”

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon was published in 2014 – I read it December 4-5, 2016.
As summarized on Amazon:

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
 
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

It’s a mystery about grief and letting go – about magic – about ghosts – and maybe even…zombies? I definitely fall into the camp of people who would call this a zombie novel, albeit an elegant and delicately crafted one.

The novel switches between times and points of view: in 1908 we are with Sara and Martin, and in the present time we are with Ruthie, and a woman named Katherine who is pulled into the mystery through trying to understand the source of her own loss.

How things tie together is so immensely layered – all these little pieces come together to form a picture that is multi-dimensional. Things from the past effect the future of course, but things from the present shed a lot of light on the past. It really asks you to consider – how far would you go to see a loved one again? What price would be too high?

It’s interesting as well that the relationships mothers have to daughters and the bonds we form with our families play such an important role – even the peripheral characters have important roles in the plot, and in the survival of the mystery so that it stretches all the way to the present.

I cannot say enough that this novel is just expertly crafted – there are no wasted words or scenes, there’s very little exposition for its own sake, and it makes you question. Art is supposed to make you feel something, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable or wonder or doubt. I hope that anyone who reads this novel feels uncomfortable. It makes us confront the cost of our choices.

Also, it manages to be totally supernatural in a way that seems completely plausible. It plays on the unknown – just enough is revealed or explained to make you keep your disbelief suspended, but in the end you still don’t entirely understand how the magic works. You even get the feeling that you don’t want to – and I love that.

“Oh what power the dead have over the living!”

I give the Winter People 5/5 – it’s an excellent read.