Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

In the 1950s, Idlewild Hall in rural Vermont was a place where families sent daughters they’d rather forget. The residents of the boarding school are illegitimate, traumatized, criminal. But the school may be haunted by more than bad memories; a spirit called Mary Hand is said to stalk the halls, and four roommates, bonded over shared misery, will face the spirits of Idlewild when one of them disappears.

Meanwhile, in 2014, a local journalist is shocked to hear that long-abandoned Idlewild Hall is being restored. Her own obsession with the overgrown and forgotten school started when her sister’s body was discovered on the grounds twenty years earlier. As she begins to dig into the history of the school, she finds old mysteries entwined with new, and a growing sense that something haunts the grounds of the old school.

This was a wonderful mystery story with a supernatural twist. St. James weaves her narrative between 1950 and 2014, slowly parsing out information and clues to the reader. The book is atmospheric; the boarding school exudes a palpable sense of menace and despair. Fiona Sheridan, the journalist, and the four roommates from 1950 are well-written, with the young students quickly becoming characters to care about and fear for. 

The supernatural elements of the story are well done, and fit organically into the plot. Who, or what, Mary Hand may be is dangled in front of the reader, but largely kept teasingly out of reach until the very end.

In all, this is a wonderfully satisfying mystery that avoids the pitfalls of the mystery thriller genre. Anyone who wants a ghost story mixed in with their mystery will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen

The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen

Nestled within the wild mountains of Wicklow, Ireland lies Deeprath Castle, ancestral home to the Gallagher family for centuries. The brooding, ancient keep holds many secrets, and has seen many deaths. When Carragh Ryan is hired by the family’s stern matriarch, Lady Nessa, to catalogue the castle library before the current Viscount donates the property to the National Trust, she finds herself drawn into mysteries both modern an ancient. Ghostly legends and shadowy menace stalk the halls of Deeprath Castle, and death isn’t far behind.

This was an entertaining modern gothic mystery, complete with everything your heart could desire. Andersen gives us an ancient, brooding pile of a castle, complete with a young, handsome (and brooding, obviously) viscount. We have a ghostly “Darkling Bride” said to haunt the castle and grounds, and mysterious deaths from the 1890s and 1990s. Objectively satisfying is the fact that our heroine, Carragh, is no wilting violet, but a smart, bold woman, and certainly up for the challenge of unravelling the Deeprath mystery.

The narrative is split into three parts, following Carragh in the modern day, Lily Gallagher (murdered mother of the current viscount) in the 1990s, and Evan Chase, a writer who marries the troubled Jenny Gallagher in the 1890s. The split narrative can be fraught with peril, but Andersen does well with it, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the central mystery.

If you’re looking for a gothic mystery with modern-day trappings, this is an excellent choice. Fans of historical mysteries, ghost stories, and anything Irish will find a lot to like in this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride By Yangsze Choo

5 out of 5 Stars

I started this book expecting it to be one thing, then it spun around on me and went in a completely unexpected direction, and I definitely enjoyed the ride!

Li Lan, an impoverished but genteel Chinese girl living in Malaya, receives an offer of marriage–to a dead man. The man’s wealthy family,are seeking a bride to help his soul rest in peace, an arrangement the dire financial straits of Li Lan’s family makes hard to resist. But resist she does, and Li Lan soon finds herself haunted by the dead man, the barrier between the living and the dead becoming thinner and thinner around her.

This is the start of the book: a well researched historical fiction, with a supernatural twist that somehow feels natural to the plot. However, within a a few chapters, catastrophe strikes for Li Lan, and even this unusual pairing can no longer contain the story. I suddenly found myself immersed in a murder mystery/ghost story that jumps between planes of existence and across the barrier of life and death. This description might make you think the book is chaotic, but the author beautifully weaves everything together into an interesting and original shape.

The characters in this book stand out for being superbly written. Their flaws, hopes, and dreams seem real and believable. I greatly enjoyed the repartee between the heroine, Li Lan, and her occasionally unwilling companion, Er Lang. My difficulty in this review is that I am loathe to tell too much of the plot, as one of the highlights of this book was the joy and surprise of following the story as it unfolds.

In all, a well-written and enjoyable book. If you don’t mind a bit of a ghost story with your historical fiction, or a bit of a monster movie in your mystery, this is a great book for you. The author brings colonial Malaya to life (and afterlife) in this book with vivid, accurate detail. Her use of Chinese and Malayan beliefs and superstition is glorious and well used in the plot. I would love to see a sequel on the horizon!