The Eighth Life, by Nino Haratischwili

Trigger warning for rape.

It feels like a century since I started reading The Eighth Life, by Nino Haratishwili (and translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)—but not because it was slow. It felt like a century because its plot spans almost the entire twentieth century, crammed into just under 1,000 pages. In this monumental novel, Niza Jashi recounts the history of her family since the Bolshevik Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union to her niece, Brilka. Not only do we get a ground view of Soviet history from a country not often seen in English-language fiction (Georgia) but also the troubled history of a family of battling parents and children.

After a brief introduction that puts Niza and Brilka together on a trip across Europe, Niza turns her attention to the 1910s and her great-grandmother, Stasia. Stasia is the privileged daughter of a chocolatier in Tbilisi. She dreams of being a ballet dancer for the Ballets Russes, but infatuation and history get in the way. Stasia marries a White (later Red) Army officer after a whirlwind courtship before the officer heads off to fight. This is the first in a series of couples divided by war. Sadly, no one in the Jashi clan ever seems to find lasting happiness again.

Niza’s tale contains numerous tales of family members who grow apart because of war or allegiance to (or rebellion against) the Soviet regime. Over and over, parents push their children to become their ideal next generation. Sometimes this means coddling them so much that they don’t understand the dangers of speaking their mind. In others, it means taking a child away from one parent to raise them in Moscow. Every attempt at perfection implodes and leaves members of the family bearing irreconcilable grudges against each other. If The Eighth Life had been set in a capitalist country, I think the children of each generation would have run as far and as fast as they could. In fact, the later generations do just this. But because this novel is primarily set in Tbilisi, Georgia, it’s not possible for the Jashis to do anything other than live in close quarters, stewing in resentment.

Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin beautifully translate this sprawling novel. Haratischwilli’s writing style—which jumps from character to character as Niza shares everything she ever learned about her family—never drags. The plot also never calms down, in part because of history and in part because of intra-family psychological warfare. I’m not sure if I would have been able to read this book in one long session. Deadlines for NetGalley and Edelweiss had me hitting pause on The Eighth Life to read other books. I was always able to pick right back up where I left off, but refreshed from a small break from the Jashis. This might sound like whining; it’s really not. It’s just that there is a lot in the 944 pages of The Eighth Life. Readers should be prepared for a long haul.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware, turned out to be an excellent choice for quarantine reading. It begins with an invitation to a hen night that the protagonist should never have accepted. Nora should have just stayed home. Sure, she lives alone and is a bit lonely, but loneliness is a small price to pay to avoid awkward small talk and, oh yeah, a murder.

Nora hasn’t seen her old friend Clare for ten years, not since they fell out of touch during college. It’s strange, then, that Clare’s BFF (she actually says this), Flo, emails Nora out of the blue to invite her to Clare’s hen night. (American readers, a hen night is the equivalent of a bachelorette party.) Nora only accepts because a mutual friend makes a pact; Nina will go if Nora does. Curiosity does the rest. Nora packs up a bag and heads up from London to the north country, to a remote luxury house made of glass. So far everything is normal, if uncomfortable. Flo raises a few more red flags over the course of the first evening as she insists that everything be perfect, but its bearable…at least until the second night.

I won’t say anything more because it would ruin the mystery. All I’ll say is that I was completely hooked on this story from the first page. I listened to In a Dark, Dark Wood and Imogen Church was a wonderful narrator. She has a deft hand at the various regional British accents; she never overacts and achieves a wonderful breathlessness as Ruth is chased here and there. I also loved the twists and turns Ware cooked up for Nora. Best of all, the crime that happens in this novel is deliciously foreshadowed. Chekhov’s gun makes a starring appearance in this book. I love it when I can look back at a plot and realize that a) everything makes perfect sense and b) my hypothesis was correct.

If you’re a mystery fan who hasn’t read In a Dark, Dark Wood, I highly recommend it—especially if you’re tired of police procedurals.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, by H.G. Parry

The Enlightenment, but make it magicians. That little phrase made frequent appearances in my brain as I read H.G. Parry’s delightful historical fantasy, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians. The cast of characters included real historical figures such as William Pitt the Younger, William Wilberforce, Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, and Toussaint Louverture, and three countries in a re-imagined version of our world. The fight for liberty is very similar, except in this version the poor and oppressed are fighting for liberté, égalité, fraternité, and the right to practice magic. Knowledge of the actual history isn’t necessary, but those who remember from high school and college will get a kick out of how close Parry hews to real events while still writing an enchanting tale.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians opens with one character, an African woman renamed Fina by her captors, in a slave ship on her way to Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Her harrowing opening offers one view of the stakes characters are fighting for. We slowly learn that, centuries before the events of this novel, vampire kings ruled Europe. They were removed at great cost, but remnants of their harsh rule remain. No one but aristocrats and royalty are allowed to practice magic. Commoners and enslaved people are subject to harsh magics and penalties if they use their natural talents. By the time the 1780s roll around, enslaved people on Saint-Domingue and the poor in France and England have had enough.

After Fina’s introduction to the harsh world of the 1780s, the novel splits into three parts. In Fina’s third of the story, we see a revolution erupt as the enslaved people break free of their magical and physical restraints and seize their freedom. In France, Maximilien Robespierre rises from obscure rural lawyer to revolutionary leader who overthrows the ancien régime—with the help of a shadowy figure who promises power in exchange for “favors.” In England, William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce are taking a more gradual approach to change by trying to nudge parliament into expanding the rights of common magicians and banning the slave trade and slavery (respectively). Two of the revolutions (Haiti and France) are nightmares of fear, blood, and fire but, in contrast, Britain’s slow progress feels painfully slow.

The role of rhetoric, surprisingly enough, plays a bigger role in A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians than magic itself. The walls of the House of Commons are even enchanted to respond to particularly great oratory. Thus, there are many conversations where characters discuss how far they need to go and how they should proceed. I daresay the conversations depicted here mirror historical conversations had by their historical counterparts (you know, minus the details about magic) as they plotted their revolutions and political maneuvers. These conversations thankfully don’t bog down the narrative. Rather, they had me thinking about how far I might go to win my rights if they had been stripped away or entirely suppressed by an unjust government. The book also had me wondering what kind of magical ability I might want if I lived in Parry’s world. There are also plenty of battles—notably the storming of the Bastille—to keep things interesting.

I had a great time reading A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and would definitely recommend it to fans of historical fantasy and alternate histories. Parry is absolutely brilliant at blending fact and fiction. The characters jump right off the page (Desmoulins is a particular favorite of mine and Wilberforce is a goddamned hero here and in actual history) as Parry brings them back to life, with the added twist of sometimes being able to do magic. Even the fact that the book ends on a cliffhanger wasn’t that much of a problem for me. I normally hate cliffhangers but this book would probably have been another 500 pages long if Parry had tried to resolve everything in one volume. I will definitely stay tuned for the next installment of Parry’s fantastical history of revolutions.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Frontispiece of Saint-Domingue, ou Histoire de Ses Révolutions, c. 1815 (Image via Wikicommons)

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale

I’ve been re-watching CSI during the continued lock-down. It’s an old favorite, even though there are some things that make me roll my eyes after so many months listening to true crime podcasts. (DNA results within a day? Forensic analysts interviewing people? Please.) In addition to providing great background noise, CSI has also provided an interesting counterpoint to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale. This book has been on my to-read list for ages and I noticed one night while scrolling through the online listings by my local public library that it was available. The book details the shocking murder of Francis Saville Kent, aged 3, in 1860. When compared to the high tech possibilities of current criminal investigation, how on earth was it possible for a police detective to try and solve a case at a time when fingerprints were unknown?

On the night of June 29-30, 1860, Francis Saville Kent was taken from his crib in a room he shared with his younger sister and governess, had his throat cut, and was placed in the vault of the outhouse. There was very little evidence to on. All Detective Jack Whicher had to go on, once he was summoned from London to Road in Wiltshire, was an upper middle class family who weren’t talking, a scrap of bloody newspaper, and a missing nightgown that belonged to the murdered boy’s older half-sister, Constance.

Detective Jack Whicher, c. 1860 (Image via Wikicommons)

If the case had happened in our era, samples would be taken from throughout Road Hill House. Fingerprint dust would be scattered everywhere. The family and servants would be asked for their DNA and fingerprints for comparison purposes. All Whicher had at the time were interviews. He talked to everyone in Road Hill House and something about Constance Kent struck him as wrong, so Whicher kept digging. Whicher started to talk to Constance’s school friends, looking for a motive, because he was sure that Constance had killed her brother.

While she details Whicher’s investigation and the subsequent legal wranglings, Summerscale dives into the world of Victorian detection. She explores fictional and actual detectives, and the tension between their popularity (true crime fans are nothing new) and the repulsion the public felt at detectives rooting out the skeletons in everyone’s closets. Summerscale even discusses Victorian language as words like “hunch” came to be associated with detectives. This last might sound boring but having Summerscale explain Victorian innuendo was extremely helpful. For example, knowing that when Victorians describe a relationship as “close,” what they really meant was secretive.

I was fascinated by The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. In addition to being a great piece of true crime writing (Summerscale clearly did a ton of research for this book), it’s a brilliant example of social history. I definitely recommend this to fans of crime history, especially ones who read a lot of current true crime. Taking a look 160 years back had me thinking about what has changed and what hasn’t. While we rely on DNA and physical evidence to clinch cases, we still put a lot of stock in confessions and eyewitness statements. We love a good detective—until it looks like they might be wrong and are harassing someone who has been judged innocent in the court of public opinion. One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is our desire, even if we’re not in law enforcement ourselves, to try and figure out whodunit.

The Heavens, by Sandra Newman

A while back—I’m not sure when exactly—a student asked me why Shakespeare was such a big deal. The student said they didn’t really care for the plays; they wanted to know why their English professors made such a fuss. I told this student that part of the reason is that professors and critics decided that Shakespeare was the epitome of literary greatness in English. (There followed a small tangent/rant about how limited the canon is.) Before anyone strips me of my English major credentials, I followed up by explaining why I love Shakespeare. He expressed such a range of human emotion in the most stirring, humorous, loveliest words. I love Shakespeare because he makes me shout, laugh, and cry. I bring all this up because, at the beginning of The Heavens, by Sandra Newman, Shakespeare doesn’t exist for the main characters.

One of the main characters, Kate, seems to drift through life. She doesn’t have a job or career. She crashes with friends, for the most part. Her relationships with others are remarkably drama-free. Her friction-less existence seems to spring from the fact that this world isn’t quite as real to her as the glimpses of another world that Kate sees in her dreams. In those dreams, Kate sees a country called Albion, ruled by a queen, where Kate is the mistress of a noble. The dreams get longer as time goes on and, eventually, Kate realizes that she is dreaming herself into the life of the sixteenth-century poet, Emilia Lanier—a woman scholars speculate might be the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Kate’s plotline is so imaginative that it makes the arc of the other protagonist, Kate’s boyfriend Ben, fade into insignificance for the first part of the book. Sadly, Ben transforms from lover to villain as Kate starts to get lost in her dreams of Elizabethan England.

Kate’s problem with her dreams is not so much that she’s having them, it’s that things are always a little different each time she wakes up in her modern life. The changes might be that the curtains change to blinds. Or the changes might be that the president has another name or that the United States fought other wars or that we haven’t figured out how to leave fossil fuels behind. Kate’s world before she started dreaming seemed a lot like the future the liberals want. It slowly morphs into this world.

By the end of The Heavens, I was left with the question of whether or not the evils of our current world (violence, pollution, anti-science thought, poverty, etc.) are the price we pay for having Shakespeare’s work. As much as I love Shakespeare’s words, I would give them up for a world where no one was hungry or had to worry about being shot at kindergarten or where the clock is urgently ticking towards an unlivable, barren planet. I really enjoyed the brief descriptions of Kate’s original world; I very much wanted Kate to figure out how to reverse the changes she made. The Heavens ended up being a very depressing book for me because Kate can’t seem to stop the changes that her minor interferences appear to have caused.

The Heavens is an interesting thought experiment but, ultimately, it was too demoralizing for me.

Creatures of Charm and Hunger, by Molly Tanzer

There’s a trope about how the Nazis might have won the war if they’d been able to create the atomic bomb or another similar weapon, but I’ve never seen it deployed the way Molly Tanzer uses it in Creatures of Charm and Hunger. This novel inhabits the world Tanzer created in Creatures of Will and Temper, then expanded in Creatures of Want and Ruin. The magic continues in what I think might be the best book of the trilogy. Tanzer takes that trope, blends it with the stories of two teenaged girls who are desperate to grow up—only to realize that the price is higher than they want to pay.

Creatures of Charm and Hunger begins near the end of World War II. This world still has diabolists—people who make pacts with supernatural creatures for power. Jane and Miriam are apprentices, both working towards being fully-fledged masters but for different reasons. Jane hopes that mastery will let her literally fly around the world and explore. Miriam believes that more power will help her find out if her parents (the family is Jewish) are safe. Meanwhile, Jane’s mother, Nancy, does her best to apply the brakes to the girls’ too-rapid progress while Jane’s aunt, Edith, does her best to use her diabolist powers to thwart the Nazis.

One might think that the aunt’s diabolical spying would be the focal point of Creatures of Charm and Hunger. I certainly thought so. I was even annoyed a bit, initially, at the early parts of the book that described Jane and Miriam’s schooling. But the novel quickly won me over. Before too long, I was hooked on Miriam’s incredible efforts to try and find her parents and Jane’s equally gutsy attempts to fly. The stakes kept rising and the girl’s ingenuity matched it and the conclusion to this book completely blew me away.

What made me love this book was the way that it showed different sides of sacrifice. Edith’s sacrifice—literally fighting Nazis to keep them from fulfilling their plans—is easy to understand. There’s no question that she’s doing the right thing, even though she’s risking her life. Nancy’s sacrifice is more subtle; it’s also less complete than her sisters. On the one hand, motherhood is a sacrifice. On the other, Nancy has set things up so that she lives exactly the kind of life she wants as she raises her daughter and shelters Miriam. Sacrifice is still present in Jane and Miriam’s stories but, because we’re in the midst of their stories, it’s harder to see if the girls are really making sacrifices—or if they’re paying a really big price to get what they wanted in the first place. It’s only when we get to the end of the book that we see them make their decisions.

The books in this series have gotten better and better. I thought Creatures of Will and Temper was a little bit slow, although I loved the ideas in it. The plot in the second book, Creatures of Will and Ruin, was anything but slow. It was a fantastic adventure. Creatures of Charm and Hunger moves at the perfect pace. There’s adventure and emotional depth. I really did love this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Unsuitable, by Molly Pohlig

Trigger warning for self-harm.

Irene Wince never really had a chance at a normal life. Her father loathes her. Injuries she’s had since she was an infant still pain her. Oh, and her mother—who died in a terrible accident after giving birth to Irene—haunts Irene. Irene hears her mother’s voice everywhere she goes…except when she hurts herself. Molly Pohlig’s The Unsuitable is a disturbing portrait of a tormented young woman. This book is one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever read.

The first chapters of The Unsuitable led me to believe that this was a story of a neglected Victorian girl, who just needs a chance to metaphorically spread her wings. Even when Irene and her mother started to have dialogues in Irene’s head, I hoped that The Unsuitable would turn out alright for Irene. Instead, even chapter either reveals more of Irene’s mental disorders or introduces new complications to her life. Her father has been trying to marry her off for years, so that he can get her out of the house. The potential suitors have gotten less and less attractive. Now, even the old, unhealthy, bald men are turning her down. Irene doesn’t mind. She is as unimpressed with them as they are with her.

When her father brings the very last possible suitor, there are glimmers that Mr. Wince has found someone who might actually be a good match for Irene. Jacob is a sweet, understanding man…who happens to be silver. Yep, he’s silver. At this point, I really thought that the book would have a happy ending. At the risk of ruining the novel, Irene’s relationship (for lack of a better word) with her mother grows ever more destructive. The ghost of her mother or her own mental illness push and pull at Irene until she doesn’t know what to do. She goes back and forth between wanting to go her own way and wanting to please her mother.

The Unsuitable took me down a road that I didn’t really want to visit. It kept getting darker and darker. I think I only finished the book because I hoped everything would turn out all right. Instead, I got an unsettling trip inside the mind of a young woman who never had a chance to be normal. Because of that, I’m not sure who I can recommend this to, especially since it contains so much that could trigger people who self-harm.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

To Calais, in Ordinary Time, by James Meek

In a horrible sort of coincidence, I ended up reading the perfect book for waiting out a pandemic: a book about the beginning of another pandemic. The Black Death looms over most of To Calais, in Ordinary Time, by James Meek, until the characters run right into it on England’s southern coast in the summer of 1348. Some of the characters think that the plague is a hoax. Others think it’s a French plot. Yet other characters are so caught up in their own personal dramas that they don’t care about the plague at all until people start to sicken and die.

I picked this up because a reviewer for The New York Review of Books discussed how Meek wrote dialogue for his narrators in different registers of English at the time. I am a sucker for books that feature earlier varieties of English. (#wordnerd) Will Quate, a serf who makes a bargain with his lord for his freedom by servicing as a bowman in the English army, speaks in plain English. The daughter of his lord, Berna, speaks an English that his heavily seasoned with French. Berna is a big fan of the Roman de la Rose, a popular allegory of love. Thomas the Proctor speaks and writes a Latinate version of English. At times, the three narrators confuse each other with their vocabularies. Meek brilliantly recreates the Englishes of seven hundred some odd years ago.

To Calais, in Ordinary Time reads like a series of learning opportunities in the form of adventures on the road. Because it’s not safe to travel alone, first Berna and then Thomas join Will’s company of bowmen. There are fights, confessions, and even a pageant of the Roman de la Rose on the way. Slowly, while all of this is happening, Will and Thomas piece together what happened to the woman who is held captive by the bowmen, a Frenchwoman who was raped and abducted just before the battle of Crécy. Berna and her maid Madlen (actually a swineherd Hab, who has disguised themself as their own “sister”) are wrapped up in their own dramas as they chase after men they believe to be their true loves.

My linguistic entry point turned out to be a small part of To Calais, in Ordinary Time. This book revolves around issues of war crimes and rape, different kinds of love, oaths and obligations, atonement, absolution, what it means to be a man or a woman, and so much more. In spite of many opportunities to bend his moral code, Will mostly remains a stubbornly upright man, who refuses to cut and run even when he should. In contrast, Berna has to learn that, for her, romantic love is a fantasy that came from reading her roman too many times. Of all the narrators, she was the one I wanted to yell at the most because of her insistence on following her own plans. It’s only toward the end when Berna grows up. Lastly, Thomas provides many doses of worldly wisdom for his young companions as they make their way south to Calais. I liked Thomas a lot. He’s been on the planet long enough to know how to manipulate the guilty to reveal their crimes so that they can go to purgatory or heaven with a clear consciences.

The end of To Calais, in Ordinary Time, when the company encounters the plague and bowmen start to drop dead, is frightening. The helplessness and fear the characters feel was absolutely palpable, made all the more believable by what I’ve been seeing on the news over the past weeks. I am deeply thankful that the virus sweeping around the planet is far less destructive and deadly as Yersinia pestis was. Thinking back on this book and its apocalyptic ending, I find it very fitting that the plot is all about what characters are willing to fight for, their identities, their loves, and their (more or less malleable) codes of honor. When the world is ending, who are we and what do we stand for?

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

A scene from Roman de la Rose (one that’s recreated in To Calais, in Ordinary Time
(MS NLW 5016D, National Library of Wales, image via Wikicommons)

The Eighth Girl, by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

Trigger warning for sexual abuse, rape, and suicidal ideation.

Alexa Wú, the protagonist of Maxine Mei-Fung Chung’s The Eighth Girl, is one of the most damaged characters I’ve ever encountered. Abuse at the hands of her father caused her to develop dissociative identity disorder (a very rare and still controversial condition). Years later, Alexa tries to get ahead, for once in her life. She has prospects as a photographer and a plum job helping a photojournalist…but she just can’t say no when Ella, her best friend, draws Alexa into the world of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. This book is not an easy read. Not only does it contain a good half-dozen topics that warrant trigger warnings, but Alexa’s fractured mind means that she is a supremely unreliable narrator. We can never forget that everything Alexa says needs to be verified before you can trust it.

I almost gave up on The Eighth Girl in its first chapters. I found its initial approach to mental illness to be facile. (There were also far too many paragraphs of not always relevant backstory wedged into the main narrative in the first chapters.) Alexa is a veteran of years of therapy, which means that her appointments with the book’s other protagonist, Daniel Rosenbaum, are stilted. It isn’t until Alexa and Daniel start to trust each other (well, until a majority of Alexa’s alters start to trust Daniel) that the book starts to improve. These appointments anchor the book while Alexa and Ella get sucked into the awful world of the Electra Club and Daniel struggles with his sobriety. The ending is incredibly well written and, I think, more than makes up for the wobbly beginning.

The Eighth Girl has some very interesting things to say about honesty, the boundaries between patients and their therapists, and how very divided a person can be even within themselves. Not to make light of dissociative identity disorder, but I think all of us are familiar with the feeling of showing different parts of our personalities to the people we spent time with. There is also the fact that we sometimes lie to ourselves about parts of our personality that we don’t like or things we’ve done that we’re ashamed of to minimize negative feelings. Being a witness to Alexa and Daniel’s actions is interesting, but uncomfortable reading. There were many passages when I wanted to yell at Alexa’ because she makes so many terrible decisions. At other times, I wanted to smack Daniel upside the head because of his reluctance to challenge Alexa and intervene when she makes her worst decisions.

Unfortunately, for me, The Eighth Girl suffered in comparison to the excellent series The United States of Tara—where the protagonist with dissociative identity disorder is acted by the brilliant Toni Collette. The United States of Tara is leavened with humor and normalcy often enough that, when things do get dark, it feels like there’s something real at stake. The Eighth Girl goes to so many dark places, so often, that it gets overwhelming. It reads more like a train wreck than anything else. It’s not fair of me to compare Chung’s work to that of the team that wrote The United States of Tara. The problem is that the Diablo Cody series got into my head first; I can’t not compare other stories featuring dissociative identity disorder to Tara.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor, by Jane Healey

Trigger warning for sexual assault and child abuse.

Reading Jane Healey’s The Animals at Lockwood Manor was not a comfortable experience. At first, I felt annoyance and frustration on behalf of Hetty Cartwright. Hetty is one of the lone women employed by an unnamed London natural history museum at the outset of World War II. As such, she faces a lot of snide comments about being a spinster in a man’s job. She keeps her head down and does her job as a preservationist for the Victorian-era taxidermied specimens as best she can, but she is the kind of person who is dogged by bad luck. When Hetty is assigned to accompany the museum’s collection to a country manor—to avoid anticipated German bombing of the city—it is a chance to prove her worth once and for all. Except for the fact that Hetty’s luck lands her right in the middle of a house full of chilling secrets, a place that makes her wonder if she wouldn’t have been safer with the bombs.

Hetty should have known that Lockwood Manor was not the best place for the museum’s collection right from the beginning. In the process of getting the animals unpacked and resettled, a very expensive stuffed jaguar goes missing. The lord of the manor, Major Lockwood, is curiously blasé about the disappearance. In fact, he chides Hetty for getting worked up about it. Readers and people who’ve had the misfortune to meet people like Major Lockwood will instantly spot the signs of a gas-lighter. Major Lockwood had my hackles up right away. If he wasn’t bad enough, his daughter, Lucy, brings out Hetty’s protective instincts—so much so that Hetty ignores everything the Major says about her delicate nature to befriend her and give her jobs to do to help take Lucy’s mind off of her night terrors and anxiety.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor‘s plot ratchets up the tension by moving the taxidermied animals around the house. Nothing stays where Hetty puts it. Things go missing entirely. The housekeeper is inexplicably hostile. Major Lockwood is proprietary about his things and very dismissive of Hetty’s concerns. As it must, the plot builds up to an explosive reckoning. Unlike other creepy country house novels, this one features a touching romantic plotline as Hetty and Lucy realize their attraction for each other.

I debated whether or not to put details into my trigger warning for this book. I didn’t want to give away significant details about the characters’ secrets. In the end, I put some details because I’ve learned of the necessity of giving reader’s a heads-up about content that has the potential to distress people. While the events that merited a trigger warning are heinous, I wouldn’t say that this book is too frightening or upsetting to read. The Animals at Lockwood Manor is fairly original for a country manor mystery novel, with a wonderful main character in Hetty. I completely identified with her preservationist instincts because, as a librarian, I have a strong respect for conserving important objects for the future. I also have a similar distain for people who try to treat artifacts like props. I also enjoyed seeing two characters who believed that they might live loveless lives find each other; this trope always makes me happy. Also, like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, the ending of The Animals at Lockwood Manor makes up for a lot of bitter doses earlier in the novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.