Maggie Holt has lived all her life in the shadows of her father’s book, an account of the twenty days they spent in the Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall, before fleeing in the dead of night and swearing never to come back. House of Horrors, that’s the title of the book, is an allegedly true account of the haunted house and the spirits that tried to kill five-year-old Maggie during their stay. She has no recollection of the events, but the success of the book has shaped all of her relationships: from the kids asking her about ghosts, to the teenagers inviting her to seances, to the hundreds of people who, at the mention of her name, ask her: What was it like? Living in that house.
She couldn’t remember the first book she had eaten.
Jane North-Robinson is moving across country with her mother Ruth, after her father died and left them with no money. With no other option on the horizon, her mother decided to sell their house and go back to her childhood home, a place she hates and had promised never to go back to. North Manor is big, dark, full of broken windows and strange noises, and in the backyard there are huge rosebushes blooming out of season.
Jane is grieving for her father, but she does her best to adjust to her new life. She makes new friends at school, while at the same time becoming the target for the town bully and struggling to cope with her rising anger. Only her father and her books can calm her down, and now he’s gone. Whenever she’s upset, she picks up one of her childhood books and starts eating a page, slowly, feeling her anger fading as the paper settles in her stomach.
But anger is not her only issue. The house is getting to her: the strange noises, like steps on the upper floor; the lights flickering on and off in one of the empty rooms; the roses growing back wild and black after her mother cut down the bushes. She starts blacking out from time to time, and comes back to consciousness to find messages she doesn’t remember ever sending. Her mother feels far away, buried in her new job and evading Jane’s questions about the house and her past. It all seems to point to the “storage room” her mother keeps locked, and when Jane finally finds the courage to open the door, she doesn’t find piles of boxes inside, but instead a little girl’s room left untouched for years.
In this last period I’m finding it hard to focus on reading and writing, and so I’ve been picking up more short fiction than usual. I usually end up really liking it – do we want to talk about the satisfaction of finishing something in one sitting? – but sadly I found both of these reads very underwhelming. I mean, the ideas were there, the settings were interestings, but the stories themselves just fell flat. So this is a double-review post, in which I’ll try to explain the reason why I felt this way.
So, August was kind of a hectic month for me. I didn’t have big plans for it, but then at some point I was convinced to go back to Italy to see my family – which I hadn’t seen since the end of November and, well… everything else kind of fell apart.
That said, even with me not being at home and trying to see as much of my family and my friends – and, let’s be honest, the beach – as I could, I managed to read 15 books. Which, if you ask me, it’s not too shabby. I read a couple fantasy novels, a few mysteries, and some non fiction books.
Eight of these books I read out of curiosity: if you remember, I read Eight Perfect Murders at the end of July, and it features a list of the eight “perfect” fictional murders according to the protagonist. Well, I kept hearing good things about those books, so I decided to give them a go and read them all. If you feel in the mood for some crime fiction/mystery recommendation, you can check out my thoughts on them here.
A month ago, more or less, I finished reading Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. While the book was not a new favourite – kind of forgettable, to be honest – most of the reviews I read agree that the eight books mentioned in the infamous list are all better than the novel itself. Mystery is not my go-to genre, but I do enjoy it most of the time when I pick it up and I liked the idea of reading some older books in the genre. I hadn’t read any of these books in the past, I was curious, and it sounded like a good idea for a blog post.