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Title: The Little Stranger
Author: Sarah Waters
Year of Publication: 2009
Genre Keywords: British, gothic, haunted house, mystery, post-war, psychological thriller, suspense.
Summary: Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that Dr. Faraday becomes involved with the Ayres family living up at Hundreds Hall, where his mother used to work as a nursemaid years ago. The house’s inhabitants are the latest in a long and aristocratic family line: the aging Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, plain and practical Caroline and shell-shocked Roderick. They work hard to keep the crumbling house afloat, but the days of the aristocracy in Britain have passed. That’s problem enough for any family of British squires, but gradually Dr. Faraday starts to see some particularly strange things unfolding at Hundreds Hall, troubling the family and leaving human tragedy in their wake. Is Hundreds haunted by a ghost? Or by the unstable minds of its own inhabitants?
Who’ll Love It: Fans of a good, atmospheric ghost story will want to wrap themselves up in a nice warm blanket and share this story with a biscuit and a spot of tea – perhaps a good roaring fire if possible. It’s also a fascinating read for anyone who’s interested in the human mind and abnormal psychology. Be warned, though, that this is not the kind of story with a strong and firm conclusion at the end, telling you whether you can chalk up the experiences at Hundreds to ghosts, crazy people, or rats living in the walls. You will be left to draw that conclusion for yourself.
A Wealth of Possibilities: There are so many possible explanations suggested in this particular story, you could probably read it a half-dozen times or more, looking each time for supporting evidence for a wide range of explanations for the Ayres’ troubles. A ghost is the most obvious reading, but even within that there are so many subcategories: demon? poltergeist? ancient ancestor? Caroline and Roderick’s dead sister? Is Roderick generating these phenomena subconsciously as a result of his wartime trauma? Or is Caroline manifesting it to escape from her duties to her family? Is the maid a prankster flying under the radar and destroying the family from within? Is the house itself to blame? A family curse? Or perhaps, as Scully (and Doctor Faraday) would suggest, there’s got to be a logical explanation. I leave it to you, dear reader, to ferret out the truth.
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Title: The God Project
Author: John Saul
Year of Publication: 1982
Genre Keywords: conspiracy, genetics, horror, medicine, mystery, psychological thriller, suspense, techno-thriller, thriller.
Summary: When Baby Julie dies of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), it’s a terrible tragedy that’s hard for anybody to understand. But her mother struggles more than anyone to reconcile herself to the sudden, unexpected loss. In fact, Sally doesn’t believe that “sometimes babies just die” – she thinks there must be some unknown reason for Julie’s death. Searching for answers (in defiance of all the family members who think she must be unhinged) leads Sally to Lucy Corliss, a mother whose son Randy has gone missing. The women learn that their children are subjects in a mysterious medical study for which none of them gave consent, leading them to a sinister patient list with some strange commonalities – all children, all born from unplanned pregnancies that began with a failed IUD, all delivered by the same OB/GYN . . . and all disappearing or dying.
Who’ll Love It: Are you suspicious of the medical industry, the many pharmaceuticals we’re given, the studies that claim to give us all the answers? You’ll definitely find this worldview confirmed in this dramatic “trust-no-one” tale. But even if you’re a confirmed believer in modern medicine – and I am, because I’m nearly thirty years old and nobody considers me an end-of-life hag as they would’ve in the Dark Ages – the appropriate suspension of disbelief can make this a fun conspiracy read without a deeper message.
Reality Check: Contrary to Sally’s assertions, which turn out to be correct in the world of story, sometimes babies do just die. Though it made for an enthralling story, I would hate for women whose babies die suddenly to get stuck with an added burden of guilt or confusion while they’re already suffering a tremendous loss. Parents can reduce the risk of SIDS, but since science can’t really tell us what causes it, there’s a limit to how much we can do to control it. Some doctors theorize that there may be some sort of in-born malfunction in the body that leads to SIDS. But we can be reasonably sure it wasn’t put there by a sinister medical consortium.
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Title: Good Night, Sweet Angel
Author: Clare McNally
Year of Publication: 1996
Genre Keywords: afterlife, child in danger, ghosts, haunting, murder, parenting, possession, psychological thriller, supernatural, suspense, thriller.
Summary: After her abusive ex-husband dies trying to get revenge on her and her daughter, all Jenn Galbraith wants is a new start. But that won’t be so easy. Evan’s angry spirit is searching for them from beyond the grave, wanting above all to get revenge on Emily for telling the truth about her father’s abuse. Emily has one ally in this supernatural battle – a ghost-child called Tara. But Tara isn’t always a nice friend; she can be capricious and mean-spirited, and she’s causing Emily some trouble. But surely it can’t be greater than the trouble Emily would be in if her father got to her . . .
Who’ll Love It: Anybody who likes a genuinely creepy ghost story will be enthralled by this one. Tara’s ghost leaves nobody at peace; even minor characters feel her wrath in the form of strange hauntings during a Thanksgiving visit. And don’t forget to look out for strange side characters like Laura, the fifties-throwback housewife, her creepy fieldhand, and her troubled son. It left me inspired by its perfect blend of paranormal phenomena and real-world creepiness.
A Touch of Romance: Most of the book’s emphasis is on the fear factor of a malevolent haunting, but even that leaves time for a single mother to find love. What’s noteworthy is how lovable her beau really is! Nick Hasken is an all-around sweetheart, a science professor with a love of karate, ballroom dancing, and really nerdy ties and T-shirts. Even more refreshing, he’s not your average bodice-ripping muscleman from the cover of a Harlequin romance. He has a bit of a belly, an awkward sense of fashion, and ever-present chemical stains on his skin from the science lab. But I’ve rarely found a love interest so endearing in any book I’ve read! (To carry the point forward, the evil ex-husband is repeatedly described as “handsome”. Looks really aren’t everything here!)