2014 · 4 stars · fiction

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan
Pub. Date: January 13, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, VIKING!!)
Summary: In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.

Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Recommended for: fans of intense research with an interest in Fitzgerald’s later life and old school Hollywood

Oh, hi there. Perhaps you’ve noticed this blog’s name: The Pretty Good Gatsby. Yep. In a surprise to everyone I’m sure, I adore Fitzgerald’s works. SHOCK, I know. So when I heard about a new book detailing his final years spent in Hollywood (AND being published by Viking) I was instantly sold. To be honest, I know very little about his later life, his final few years, and was heartbroken at just how sad they were. Gone were the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age. Here we have a middle-aged writer, struggling to hold down a job and pay his bills.

With his wife Zelda in an asylum (always hoping that today will be the day her doctors allow her to go home) and his daughter Scottie starting college, F. Scott Fitzgerald heads out west, out to Hollywood where he’ll try his hand at writing scripts. Initially, things look great: he’s getting work done, he’s being paid, and he’s got a novel in the works. Then the project he’s working on goes bust, new writers are brought in, and he finds himself falling down a seemingly endless hole. In the beginning it’s always promising: he’ll write some scenes and work on re-writes from the director’s notes (more often than not this turns into a total upheaval of Fitzgerald’s original script). Then, out of nowhere, he’ll find he’s been replaced by a different writer. Rinse, repeat.

While in Hollywood, Fitzgerald meets – and begins a relationship with – Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist. The two carry on their relationship (although Fitzgerald is still married to Zelda) throughout his years in Hollywood (in the end Sheilah takes on more of a caretaker role than that of a girlfriend) and it’s in her apartment that he ultimately has a fatal heart attack.

Today Fitzgerald is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers, not just of the 20th Century, but ever. Period. During his life, however, his novels simply weren’t highly regarded. Sure, they sold, but they weren’t the defining works of literature that they are today. It’s heartbreaking how authors (or painters, musicians, etc etc) don’t receive the recognition they deserve until long after their death. Throughout the novel I kept thinking of another favorite writer: Poe. They had very parallel lives: heavy – heavy drinking, a constant struggle to make money, genius that wasn’t celebrated until after their death.

Although West of Sunset was a bit of a downer (okay, so maybe more than a bit), it wasn’t all sad. Dorothy Parker plays a fairly huge role in this novel and was always ready with a quip or snarky jab. Also, this book reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood. Humphrey Bogart is another large character and O’Nan doesn’t skimp on the name-dropping! Clearly you can’t have a novel about Fitzgerald without Papa himself, but I was a little disheartened to see Hemingway wasn’t around as much as I had hoped – though that’s clearly a Me issue; the novel isn’t about Hemingway, it’s about Fitzgerald, but I wanted more. There can never be enough Papa!

A few early reviews I read mentioned how dry West of Sunset felt. Personally, I didn’t share their sentiment. This novel reads like a novel, not a massive biography. Stewart O’Nan certainly did extensive research and it definitely shows, but at no point did I ever feel it was too much. I never felt like I was reading anything other than a richly detailed novel.

When all is said and done, West of Sunset tells a story that’s rarely revealed. It pulls back the shining veneer of flappers and bathtub gin and shows the end result: F. Scott Fitzgerald as an alcoholic in his 40s, making feeble attempts to gain the fame he lost. Gone are the glory days of all-night parties. Now he has a wife in an asylum, a daughter heading off to college, and no source of income. This isn’t how I’d like to remember or think of Fitzgerald, but this was one hell of a novel. Also, I had no idea he was a scriptwriter for Gone With the Wind!

2014 · 3 stars · contemporary · fiction

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
Pub. Date: November 25, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Plume!!)
Summary: Born during a Christmas blizzard, Jane Williams receives a rare gift: the ability to see true love. Jane has emerged from an ailing childhood a lonely, hopeless romantic when, on her twenty-ninth birthday, a mysterious greeting card arrives, specifying that Jane must identify the six types of love before the full moon following her thirtieth birthday, or face grave consequences. When Jane falls for a science writer who doesn’t believe in love, she fears that her fate is sealed.
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Magical Realism
Recommended for: Readers looking for something easy and light-hearted, but willing to overlook a few flaws

Second chances were made for Sarah Jio. If you’ve been a follower of this blog for the past few months, you might recall my review of her last novel, Goodnight June. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Goodnight June (a bookstore! Margaret Wise Brown! the ‘true’ story of how Goodnight Moon came to be!). Unfortunately, it was a struggle to get through that book and I was left with more complaints than praise. I’ll admit that when The Look of Love was announced, I was more than a little skeptical: I had already been burned once, was I really going to put myself on the line again?

Jane Williams is content with her apartment and beloved dog. Oh, sure, she loves the idea of love and would be thrilled to meet Mr. Right, but that clearly isn’t going to happen anytime soon. She’s content working in her flower shop, a Seattle staple, and spreading the love of those around her: Lo is a serial dater, in it for the thrill of the hunt, but easily grows bored. Elaine and Matthew have the kind of life only seen in magazines, so why is Elaine suddenly thinking about her new neighbor? Mel’s wife passed away nearly a decade ago and though he misses her dearly, is it possible to find love again in your 70s? Katie and Josh are newlyweds, completely passionate and more in love than ever, eager to start a life together. Jane’s family and friends are all lucky (or unlucky) in love, when will it be her turn?

On her 29th birthday, Jane receives an odd birthday card from a woman she has never met. When they finally do meet, Colette dishes some pretty heavy news: Jane was born with a special gift. Those eye problems she’s been having all her life? She’s actually seeing love. Love comes in many forms and Jane has one year to identify them before time runs out on her own love story.

After finishing Lindsay Hunter’s Ugly Girls, I was in dire need of some fluff. Enter Sarah Jio. Despite my less-than-stellar introduction to her work, The Look of Love sounding intriguing and, more importantly, just what I needed after the raw and grit of Ugly Girls. So perhaps this was merely a case of being in the right place at the right time with the right kind of mindset. Or maybe Goodnight June was a total dud and not at all representative of Jio’s work. In either case, I found The Look of Love to be a fun, quick read with just the right amount of drama. The perfect cooldown from the hard-hitting book I was still reeling from.

Flynn, Jane’s older brother, goes through girls like they’re going out of style. That is, until he looks out his window and sees the woman in a neighboring apartment. Though they’ve never spoken he’s enchanted and for the first time in his life, actually nervous. Jane’s hairstylist Mary is gorgeous. Her musician husband Eli is sizzling. Together they make a gorgeous pair, but now that Eli’s band has finally made it, his constant tour schedule has starting taking their toll. Over the course of a year Jane comes to realize what’s hiding behind smiles and outward appearances. She also discovers that love can be quiet and unassuming. Now it’s up to her to record everything.

While I enjoyed The Look of Love far more than Jio’s previous novel, it’s not without some flaws. My main issue was with Jane’s neurologist, Dr. Heller. This was a woman Jane had been seeing since she was a child – nearly two decades of her life. Shortly after one of her appointments, Jane receives a phone call and doesn’t recognize the number. It was Dr. Heller. Calling from her office. Am I really to believe that after twenty years Jane wouldn’t know her doctor’s number? Especially when Dr. Heller is, in Jane’s words, a mother-figure and mentor. Clearly these two woman have a strong relationship, they’re not just random acquaintances. It’s especially distracting when, later on in the novel, Dr. Heller’s name shows up on Jane’s caller ID. Another case of sloppy editing.

The other issue I had with Dr. Heller was a spontaneous interview she did. Jane’s love interest, Cam, was initially a slimy weasel, getting close to Jane because he needed a cover story for Time and he found out about her gift. He got in contact with the neurologist and easily obtained an interview about her client, violating all kinds of patient/doctor rights! Dr. Heller could have lost her practice, could have lost all ability to practice medicine. She threw away her entire career in the blink of an eye and thought nothing of it. Her ethics also were questionable when she practically bullies Jane into a surgery she doesn’t want:

“I’ve had to move mountains to make this happen, and you’d have to fly to Baltimore for the operation, but I pray that you’ll consent. Jane, if you don’t have this surgery, I fear you will regret it for the rest of your life.” She sighs. “That is, if you have the brain function left to even feel regret, or any other conscious though.”

EXCUSE ME? If I had a doctor who mocked me like that, you can bet that would be the last time I ever saw that doctor.

So while there were issues I had with The Look of Love, it was still leagues better than her previous novel. At times it can be overly sweet, but it came about at a time I needed something happy and I really didn’t mind at all. I’m disappointed with some of the endings (I didn’t see what made Cam such a great guy), but I’m positive Jio’s fans will be right on board with this novel. Pure escapism – with a gorgeous cover to boot!

2014 · 5 stars · fiction

GoodReads Recs: Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Pub. Date: March, 2012
Source: Library (though we have the gorgeous paperback at work and I think it’s calling my name!)
Summary: October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century. Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the red-clay dust of the Great Depression to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community.
Genre: Fiction, Southern, Family Saga
Recommended for: fans of sweeping epics, family histories, the American South, readers who loved Steal the North

Last week I started a new feature called GoodReads Recommends where I take a look at the books the site suggests based on other books I’ve read. One of the books mentioned was Glow and it sounded so fantastic, I immediately requested it from my library and bumped it to the very top of my stack. I started reading the moment I got my copy and I’m absolutely thrilled to say it did not disappoint!

Told in multiple voices, Glow tells an incredible tale of a family and spans over a century from a plantation in the 1830s to a Southern town in the throes of racial tension on the cusp of World War II. Although the story opens in a very sweet way with Amelia and her daughter, it soon turns frightening with an act of violence (while Amelia is White and Cherokee, the man she loves is African-American) and it’s that fear that has Amelia packing her daughter’s belongings and sending her off to her brother in their hometown. But Ella doesn’t show up when Buddy comes to collect her and it’s then we learn about this remarkable family from the very beginning.

Glow is one of those novels that’s SO difficult for me to review. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I also want to say all the things. This is a beautiful, lovely, wonderful, haunting, heartbreaking novel and I delighted in every word. Every single character shines – from the good to the vile – and the voices were so strong. I had no trouble differentiating between the narrators (though I suppose it helped each chapter was labeled with a name ha!), and I adore any and all jumps in time.

Race is a huge theme in this book and it brought to mind Steal the North, one of my top reads this year. A comparison to that novel is NOT one I make lightly, but while reading, I couldn’t get StN’s characters and story out of my head. No, the plots aren’t similar at all, but the Big Pictures are: religion, race, humanity. Glow met each one head-on and wasn’t afraid to pull back the curtain to tell it like it is. Many atrocities are committed in the name of hate, but Glow shows that love is just as powerful, that one single emotion can be so strong (whether it’s for a child, a parent, a spouse) that it can move mountains and that faith is a force to be reckoned with. Life isn’t clean-cut or fair, but good does prevail and actions are held accountable.

It’s rare that in a novel with multiple narrators I don’t favor one voice over the rest, but here, each one held her own story and brought something to the book the others didn’t. These characters are all connected, either by blood or marriage, and their stories wove together beautifully. I feel as though I keep repeating myself, but Glow is just that good. It’s powerful and raw and it hurt something fierce when I was done. I wanted to race to the end, but the minute I reached that final page, those last words, I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted more from these characters. I wanted to watch Ella grow just as I got to see Amelia and Willie Mae become women. I wanted to see what the future held for George and if Lovelady ever found peace. The excitement of the biplane, the stark horror of witnessing prominent men in the town come together and hang a man, hanging onto the hope that there will be one more letter from a soldier gone off to fight. Every emotion I felt was real and vibrant. Tuccelli did a fantastic amount of research and it shows.

Glow is the kind of novel I want to shout about, the kind of novel I want to shove into the hands of complete and total strangers. I’m floored that it’s a debut (again, just like Steal the North!) and I’m a tiny bit angry with myself for not discovering it sooner. This is a book written for me. A family deep-rooted in the South, heavy-hitting themes tackled respectfully but without sugar-coating anything, a well of faith, and just a hint of magic. Glow is a phenomenal novel that left me breathless. Not only will I be itching for whatever Tuccelli happens to write next, but you can bet I’ll be pushing this novel on whoever gets within shouting distance! Do yourself a favor, guys. Read this book.

2014 · 4 stars · fiction

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
Pub. Date: November 4, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!)
Summary: Ugly Girls, at its core, is about the friendship between two girls, Perry and Baby Girl, and how that friendship descends into chaos, taking their world and the identities they hold dear with it. Their friendship is woven from the threads of never-ending dares and the struggle with power, their loyalty something they attend to like a pet but forget to feed. Ugliness is something they trade between themselves, one ugly on the outside and one on the inside.
Genre: Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of Law & Order: SVU looking for a read with a similar feel

Baby Girl and Perry are more frenemies than friends. Though they grew up together and spend all their time with one another (usually late at night while they’re out joy-riding in stolen cars), they really don’t feel any kind of bond or love for each other. Instead, their relationship is all about power. Perry, the pretty one, and Baby Girl with her shaved head and hard attitude. Perry’s trailer park and alcoholic mother, Baby Girl’s new role as her brother’s caregiver after a motorcycle accident left him with the mind of a Kindergartner. Both of these girls are far more broken and fragile than they’ll ever admit and it’s a new facebook friend, a high schooler named Jamey from the neighboring town, that starts their downward spiral. Unbeknownst to the girls, Jamey has been talking to both of them, reaching out to both girls and now he wants to finally meet in person.

I wasn’t at all prepared for Ugly Girls. Oh I knew it would be a rough read, but it wasn’t until I was actually inside its pages that I realized the extent of it. When I finished those final sentences I felt dirty. Unwashed. Filthy. And you know what? I enjoyed this book. A lot. There was a rawness to it that almost hurt. Lindsay Hunter had no time for sugar-coating: she laid out the facts, made you really see these characters for who – and what – they are.

Prior to starting the book, I knew there would be something wrong about Jamey’s character, that he wasn’t the teenage boy he claimed to be. I’m not sure if it was done intentionally or not, but when his true character appeared in the book, I immediately knew who he was. Whether or not I was supposed to know so early on didn’t matter to me and didn’t change my feelings. In fact, if anything, it made his all-too-innocent actions seem even more appalling and chilling. There were moments in Ugly Girls that actually sickened me and for that, I applaud Ms. Hunter. That her words could have such an effect on me proves her skill as a writer.

A word of caution: don’t expect a happy ending. Ugly Girls is just that: ugly. There are no sunshines and rainbows here. Despite knowing that, I still held out hope for an ending, maybe not one that was cheerful or upbeat, but perhaps satisfying? I wanted these characters to get the ending they deserved and, for the majority of them, that meant retribution and consequences for their actions. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say I was pleased with how things ended – though I’ll admit there was a huge shock, a twist I wasn’t expecting one bit!

Ugly Girls lays everything out in the open from the very beginning. There’s no glossing over or pretty little bows. Instead, this is a story with a stark portrayal of two unhappy and bitter girls. There’s no one to root for, no team to cheer on. At times overwhelming, and without a doubt tough, Ugly Girls held me captive. Despite the gritty feeling I had when it was over I enjoyed this one immensely and I do recommend it – though have a sappy love story on deck. Trust me, you’re going to need kitten videos by the time Ugly Girls is through with you.

2014 · 4 stars · fiction · thriller

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain + GIVEAWAY!

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s!!)
Summary: Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the trust, she must decide what the past means for her present.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Recommended for: Curious readers who love their drama in spades!

Is it just me or is Autumn the best time to curl up with a good mystery? There’s something about the red and orange leaves, the chill in the air, and early nights that leaves me craving fuzzy blankets, hot cups of tea, and a Who-Dun-It. When I first heard about The Silent Sister I immediately perked up: a sister long-thought to have committed suicide is actually alive and well? Oh, that I needed to read! And read I did.

Twenty-five-year-old Riley has just returned to her childhood home. Her homecoming, unfortunately, was brought about by an unhappy circumstance: her father unexpectedly passed away. With her mother already gone and her brother less-than-helpful, it falls to Riley to empty the house and sort through his belongings. It’s while she’s going through his personal items that Riley first begins to wonder about a truth she believed for the past twenty-three years: her older sister took her own life. Growing up, Riley and Danny were never allowed to bring up Lisa, never allowed to discuss their sister. Suddenly Riley’s not so sure – could it be possible her sister is still out there? Is it possible her father knew all these years?

This is a difficult review to write. There’s so. much. to talk about and discuss, but it’s all one gigantic spoiler and it’s killing me to keep quiet! Throughout the novel there are scenes from twenty years ago. Little glimpses into Lisa’s life as a child prodigy. Her time spent at recitals. The dreadful night when her life changed forever. Once Lisa leaves home, The Silent Sister essentially breaks off into two stories: Riley’s in the present and Lisa’s two decades earlier. A dye job, a new name, and a one-way ticket to California. I found Lisa’s perspective absolutely fascinating – I wanted to know more! I needed answers! What really went on that night? Eventually I had my suspicions and turned out to be correct, but even though I guessed at the Big Reveal, it was still one hell of a ride and I loved every minute.

Back in the present, Riley’s quickly discovering that people know far more than they’re letting on. Little old ladies aren’t nearly as sweet as you’d expect and why was her father paying a man $500 a month with no explanations? As the reader I saw the answers before Riley and the ones I didn’t I easily guessed at. Still, nothing prepared me for the tail end of the novel. In those final few moments, Ms. Chamberlain pulled all the stops. Nothing was sacred, nothing was off-limits. Toward the end, The Silent Sister read like a Lifetime Movie – in the best of ways! Drama galore, one thing right after another, anything – anything – that could happen did.

In keeping this review spoiler-free, I feel like I’m leaving out so many talking points. Trust me, though, you’ll be glad I did! The Silent Sister reads like a movie, has all the ups and downs of a soap opera, and the thriller at the heart of it all left me breathless. This is one you definitely do NOT want to miss!


The release of the Necessary Lies paperback coincides with the The Silent Sister release in Hardcover and to celebrate, St. Martin’s is going to give one lucky winner BOTH BOOKS!
All you need to do is fill out this form – easy peasy!
US Residents only and I’ll announce the winner 10/19! Good Luck!
1 star · 2014 · fiction · sci-fi/fantasy

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Pub. Date: September 16, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!)
Summary: Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of “Trace Italian”—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.

Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, and are explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called on to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tracing back toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.
Genre: Literary, Sci-Fi
Recommended for: Open-minded, die-hard fans of The Mountain Goats, RPG fanatics

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this one. As a fan of The Mountain Goats, of course I had to read Darnielle’s debut! Unfortunately, the magic he creates with his lyrics just didn’t come through in a full-length novel. I really am wondering if perhaps I’m missing something – much like Neverhome (one of the biggest disappointments of the year) – I seem to be on my own with my rating. Every other review I’ve come across, both from professional reviewers as well as average readers, has been nothing but glowing remarks.

Wolf in White Van has an incredibly interesting premise that could – and should – have been amazing. Sean, a man horribly scarred and disfigured after an unnamed accident, lives his life through a game he created. Trace Italian is a role playing game played through the mail where players navigate their way through an America that’s little more than a wasteland. While many players simply mail Sean their envelope along with their move (from a list of options), a few long-time players start to include messages and even letters. Over time, Sean learns more about these players, begins to see them as real people.

Two of those players are Lance and Carrie, high school students from Florida. When their game choices become reality fingers start pointing at Sean and it isn’t long before he finds himself in a courtroom, defending both himself and his game in front of an audience.

I don’t know whether I should be more disappointed in myself or in this book. Was I missing something? Was it all an allegory for something greater, something my piddly mind couldn’t grasp? Or is this a case of a not-so-great book getting love and praise because of the author’s fanbase? Both are entirely plausible and it’s a shame I couldn’t get into this one!

When it comes down to it, I suppose my disappointment lies with the vagueness of the storytelling. Sean is permanently injured and it’s never fully explained what happened. As a reader, that’s the kind of detail I need to know. He’s been living like this since he was seventeen, but he never talks about it. It’s never shown through a flashback or a memory. How could I possibly be sympathetic toward this character (who was, honestly, unlikable) if I don’t know what happened to make him the person he is now?

Upon finishing Wolf in White Van, I spent a good hour reading reviews – what were they seeing that I couldn’t? That was back in August. Now, weeks later, I’ve gone back and looked at those reviews again, the glowing praise, the life-changing commentary. Still I’m not getting it and that more than anything is what frustrates me. Even when I don’t like a book I can still see the other side, understand just what its fans find so appealing. That’s not the case here. Wolf in White Van is barely over 200 pages that still managed to take a few days to read. I hate to say it, but I think I’ll be sticking with Darnielle’s songs, rather than any upcoming novels. I will say though, that the cover is simply stunning. The title is a metallic foil and when the sun hits it just so…gorgeous.

2014 · 3 stars · fiction · mystery · paranormal

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Pub. Date: August 12, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Epistolary

Summertime isn’t exactly my preferred season for supernatural novels – they’re more for Halloween/fall – but this slim little novel caught my eye and my autoapproval on netgalley was all I needed to make the leap. To say The Supernatural Enhancements is a horror novel wouldn’t be correct, nor would labeling it a ghost story. While there are definite elements of the genre (okay, so there’s actually a ghost, but..!), this is far more a mystery and I was so set to take this ride.

When A., 23-years-old and never fully named, receives a letter declaring him to be the sole relative (and therefore heir) of the fabulously wealthy Ambrose Wells, he does what any reasonable adult would do: pack up his belongings and head across the Atlantic. With his friend (? girlfriend? companion?) Niamh, a mute, shaved-headed, punk-rock girl, they move into the sprawling Axton House. The house isn’t quick to give up its secrets, and there aren’t many around who are willing to talk: Ambrose followed in his father’s footsteps by committing suicide; the butler packed his belongings and fled; and the townsfolk definitely aren’t eager to get involved in anything dealing with the estate.

Told through a string of diary entries, telegrams, and Paranormal Activity-style camera footage, The Supernatural Enhancements delves into the life of a reclusive man, his estate, a ghost, encryption codes, and a mysterious garden maze. I’m typically not one for epistolary novels – I was never able to get into the story and get a good feel for the characters – but I lapped this one up. I plowed through it in a matter of hours (the formatting definitely helped with that!) and discovered an odd little novel that was seriously entertaining.

Hands down, the best thing about The Supernatural Enhancements was Niamh. Despite her handicap, Niamh is snarky and crass, always quick with a comeback and she never shies away from putting A. in his place. At her insistence they get a dog which they name Help (..so as to ensure he’ll assist us in case of peril) and, just like me, Help immediately took a liking to this girl. She knows how to Get Things Done; when they first start to experience strange things, she heads to town to arrange for security cameras to be installed. She’s always the first to figure things out and leaves both A. and the reader to play catch up.

To discuss the novel’s plot would be to give away the best part of the book – and trust me, uncovering the clues is half the fun! All I’ll say is that Wells wasn’t as reclusive as people thought. Sorry guys, that’s all you’re getting from me! To find out more you’re going to have to read The Supernatural Enhancements, but I promise it’s so worth it!

If you’re into creepy settings (This silence here was somewhat heavier, lonelier than the preceding one. The former was an elevator silence; this one was a walking-through-the-woods-by-night silence.), rooms that lead to nowhere, secret pasts, awesome characters, quirky formats, The X-Files, and historical fiction (the novel takes place in the 90s, but were it not for a few specific references to television shows, I could have easily believed this took place far, far earlier), this is the book for you. From what I can tell, this is Cantero’s debut in English. If the rest of his books are this fun, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for translations!