REVIEW: HOME BEFORE DARK, BY RILEY SAGER

 

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

When Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she is hoping to finally settle in her mind what really happened back then, when they lived in the house her father wrote about. Had he written lies, or were the things he wrote about true?

Home Before Dark is narrated alternately by Maggie’s father Ewan, back when the family lived in the house, and Maggie herself as she tries to sort through the discoveries she makes in the present.

Were her family members victims of some ghostly creatures back then? Are the strange events that continue even to this day part of something supernatural?

An enticing tale that kept me turning pages, I was surprised by how all the events unfolded. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NEIGHBORS, BY ANIA AHLBORN

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Andrew (Drew) Morrison has finally escaped. Driving away from the home where he and his mother lived together after his father left years before, he feels the wings of freedom lifting him up and away. For years, he has been his agoraphobic/alcoholic mother’s lifeline, her link to the outside world she cannot face.

He feels guilty leaving her, but he has no choice, he tells himself. He heads across the small town of Creekside, Kansas, to Magnolia Lane and the room at his old friend Mickey’s house. Disappointed at the filth of his friend’s home, Andrew scours and redecorates his own space. And then, as if he has stepped into a fairytale, he is drawn into the world of Harlow Ward, the gorgeous woman living next door in the cute fairytale cottage, from which come plates of cookies and home cooked dinners. He is soon addicted to the attention and the charm, but as he finds himself hooked on Harlow’s world, and sees the rage of the now resentful husband Red, Drew begins to sense that all is not right in the Land of Oz.

Behind the façade lie deep, dark secrets, and the dark inner world of the people next door will bring terror and horrifying events. Who, if anyone, will live to tell about it?

The Neighbors was a heart-clutching horror tale that kept me turning pages, even as I wanted to run away and hide. Why did Harlow do what she did? What events in her past created her, and what would she continue to do to escape the pain? An intriguing tale for those who love horror…which I do not. For me, 3 stars. But others might find the story gripping and fascinating.

FROM LUSH BEGINNINGS TO CREEPY, MYSTICAL HORROR — A REVIEW

In the well-known style of Anne Rivers Siddons, Burnt Mountain begins in the slow, somewhat dreamy way that illustrates Southern life and traditions. I could almost feel the humidity and see the lush trees and old houses that typify Atlanta.

Childhood moments, trauma, and a devastating love affair carry Thayer Wentworth, our primary character, into a love match and marriage with Aengus O’Neill. What begins as a happy love connection turns suddenly, and almost inexplicably, into a dark and mystical horror tale. The magic (and the horror) center on a strange camp with a reputation for turning potential bad boys into well-behaved ones.

What secret events are going on at the camp? And what does any of it have to do with magic and mysticism?

In the beginning, I enjoyed this story and Thayer’s journey from the traditional childhood into independent young womanhood, but moments from the past continue to plague her until the day she learns about a terrible betrayal by her mother. One that changed the course of her life.

I would have enjoyed seeing Thayer confront her mother about what she did all those years ago. Further, I think the story needed a confrontation between Thayer and Aengus. Instead, we see an abrupt end, followed by an epilogue that seems totally too surreal to fit with this story.

I would have given this one four stars until I got to the ending. Therefore, I’m awarding three stars.