The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics (Sept. 2016, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373211944
Recommended for ages 13+
Lucy Acosta lives with her cousin, Margaret, her aunt, Penelope, and her father, Felix, in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her loving aunt and distant father. When Lucy is 17, Penelope takes a walk into the woods and disappears, throwing the household into chaos. Margaret, Penelope’s daughter, is becoming unhinged, telling Lucy that she hears her dead mother talking to her through the walls, telling her to join her. Her father, obsessed with throwing dinner parties for the exclusive club he belongs to, ignores Lucy’s pleas for help; he won’t accept any sign of weakness. As Lucy tries to get to the bottom of the voices in the walls, she starts hearing them too; and when she begins digging into her family’s legacy, the things she find may doom her.
This was a gloriously creepy novel with just enough gore to move it from haunted house novel to horror. Think Wicker Man meets The Legacy (wow, did I just date myself with that reference), with wonderful madness tossed in, to make things interesting. Be warned, delicate sensibilities and stomachs may find some of the language and violence too much. This is not a book for your conservative readers.
Lucy and Margaret are fairy skin-deep characters with the potential for deeper storytelling, but it’s not really their story, as you’ll discover. The real development is going on around them. Think of Lucy as the narrator – which she is – and the host of the story. She’s the central character, but she’s in the dark almost as much as we readers are. The supporting characters are where the story lies, and when the elements all come together, this is a page-turning read. Horror and suspense fans will enjoy this one.
The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman, by Brady Stefani (June 2016, SparkPress), $14.95, ISBN: 9781940716343
Recommended for ages 12+
Courtney Hoffman is a 15 year-old whose biggest fear is that she’s going insane, like her grandfather did. When she was 7, her alien-obsessed grandfather had her tattooed with a strange symbol, and then he tried to drown her in his bathtub. She’s lived with this for years, but now, the aliens are visiting her in her bedroom. Her mother and her mother’s doctor boyfriend are more concerned with trying to commit her so they don’t have to deal with her anymore – stellar parenting, right? – and she’s just discovered that the girl she grew up envisioning as her imaginary friend is real, that she’s got some alien obsessions issues of her own, but that she’s also got information that will help Courtney get the whole story about her grandfather and about herself. There are secret societies, family secrets, and conspiracies aplenty to be had.
There is a lot going on in The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman: think X-Files meets DaVinci Code, with family drama tossed into the middle of it all. Courtney’s mother is just an awful human being that shouldn’t even have custody of her older daughter; she’s more concerned with getting her locked away so she can focus on her Courtney’s younger sister and her sleazy doctor boyfriend. Courtney’s father is almost nonexistent, except for that one time he bailed her out of the nuthouse and let her stay with him for the summer to let things blow over. What kind of father lets his daughter go back to a woman like Courtney’s mother? Agatha, Courtney’s imaginary friend who’s not so imaginary, is a tough character to like; she vacillates between trying to help Courtney and being obnoxious and rude. Agatha has alien visitation history of her own, and ends up helping Courtney figure out more than she does to push her away, which ends up being a huge plus.
Overall, this was a promising paranormal adventure that just needed a little more structure to be unputdownable. If you really love alien visitation theories and stories, take a chance on Courtney Hoffman; I was hoping for just a little more.