Small Angels by Lauren Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

Small Angels is engrossing, a haunting tale that gave me shivers. The shivers were half because of the eeriness that drips from every page, and half because of the beautiful writing. The past and the present melded into a single story, one that kept me glued to my seat.

There once were four girls growing up at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods in a small town. No one went into the woods- except for them. These four knew the rules of the Woods and they knew what would happen if they didn’t follow them. There was something angry residing in Mockbeggar, something that only played nicely if they followed the rules.

The four girls helped their mother keep the history of Mockbeggar at bay, protecting the town (even though the people living there looked down on the family and avoided them). But when four becomes five, Mockbeggar takes notice. The history of Mockebeggar is a circle, and what goes around comes around.

That is one narrative. The story of the girls and their life, how everything revolves around the mysteries of the Wood and how it affects their characters and relationships. The second narrative takes place in present-day when a bride decides to have her picture-perfect wedding in a church that belongs to the Woods (at least, to the thing residing in the Woods). There is no way I can be vague enough to avoid spoilers for that part of the storyline, and it’s best to go in unknowing. Suffice it to say, it’s creepy as all get-out. Which is, of course, the point.

Usually, I can pick out one aspect of a book that I enjoyed most: the setting, the characters, etc. With Small Angels, though, it was a perfect marriage of characters, setting, tone, and plot development. The story behind Mockbeggar Woods, and the way it developed slowly throughout the book, lent an aura of uncertainty and a sense of paranoia that the best horror writers would envy.

The setting was perfect: eerie but believable. It’s easy to picture a quiet, wooded area hiding something less than benign. The descriptions were beautifully done and given in a way that felt like the sort of story told in the dark on a gloomy night. I loved how one character saw a quaint beauty to the church (known as Small Angels), but their viewpoint changed throughout the book until Small Angels resembled something threatening to them.

And the characters! They each added something to the book, although the four daughters reminded me in some ways of the sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so cut off from anything resembling a normal life that they almost seemed unreal (for those wondering, there is no suicide in Small Angels). My favorite character was Lucia the Bad. She was headstrong yet fearful and was inadvertently the catalyst for the events in the book.

The book, while never slow in pace, ramped up at the end, giving a sense of urgency that was breathtaking in a way. I loved how it ended. Small Angels never quite crossed into horror territory, instead remaining an eerie ghost story, the sort I love to read toward the latter half of the year (I have no idea why Fall becomes the creepy read season for me; it doesn’t get cooler where I live, just goes from “hot” to “hot with a chance of hurricane”).

Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read. Grab a hot drink and give it a go.

The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James- ARC Review

Image result for the woman in the mirror by rebecca james

For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond.

In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.

In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Eerie and compelling, this is a perfect rainy day read. I had a hard time putting this book down; I was so completely immersed in the odd, spooky story of the Winterbourne women.

This book took place in two separate times, with the narrative switching easily back and forth. Alice went to the Winterbourne estate in 1947 to become a governess (why is it always a governess in spooky stories?), the previous governess having vacated the position abruptly. Alice immediately falls in love with everything about Winterbourne, from the two children she nannies to the widower who also lives there. However, all is not idyllic. Something is off, and things start to spiral out of control.

In many ways, this made me think of The Turn of the Screw. At times, I wasn’t sure whether Alice was the most trustworthy of narrators. As she descended into madness (or did she?), it became more and more difficult to discern what was really happening. The changeable nature of both the book and Alice were fascinating.

The other part of the narrative took place in present day and followed a woman named Rachel. She learns that she’s inherited Winterbourne, as well as a host of unanswered questions about who her relatives were. I didn’t connect with her character at all; in fact, she really annoyed me for a good chunk of time. I didn’t like that she was so wishy-washy. The parts with her in it were less interesting to me than the parts about Alice.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. There was something about the way it was written that conveyed tension and a sense of wrongness, without ever overdoing it. Each word was placed with care and used to great effect.

My big quibble with the book is that the female characters had terrible taste in guys, every last one of them. I really couldn’t understand what the draw was to the widower, in particular. He was a world-class jerk. However, the rest of the book was excellent.

I highly recommend this one.