A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

A halt to her archeological dig and the vague mention from her brother that something seems off with their mother send Sam Montgomery across the country to her mother’s house in North Carolina.

The house on Lammergeier Lane was never her favorite place to be. It used to belong to Sam’s grandmother, Gran Mae – a harsh woman with exacting standards. When Sam was very young, her family lived with her grandmother briefly. Sam only has limited memories of that time, all unpleasant.

Her grandmother had strict rules for their behavior, requiring that they appear “nice and normal,” like a sitcom family. She used to threaten her grandchildren with stories of underground children who would come for them if they misbehaved. Her only joy came from her meticulously kept rose bushes.

When Sam arrives at her mother’s home, Edith does seem off. Her usually peppy mother is jumping at shadows, they now have to pray before dinner, and Edith will not hear a word against Gran Mae – who has been dead for many years.

The house itself is also different. When Edith moved in, she repainted all of the rooms and redecorated the house to match her own warm, chaotic style. Sam notices immediately that the house looks almost exactly the way it did when her grandmother was still alive: white-walled and sterile, devoid of all personal touches from her mother. There is also a large vulture living on the mailbox.

Stress about her mother’s condition and an inexplicable swarm of ladybugs in her bedroom have Sam on edge. She is not sleeping well, and she has been having strange dreams about someone whispering in her ear.

Determined to help her mother, Sam begins poking into her own family history. She discovers that her great-grandfather was a notorious “sorcerer” in his day, with correspondents with whom he discussed creating human life through magic.

Sam cannot imagine her straight-laced grandmother having anything to do with these fantastical beliefs. In fact, when she was alive, Gran Mae had a feud with a neighbor that she only referred to as “that old witch.”

The neighbor, a lovely woman named Gail, has befriended Edith since she moved back to town. Afraid that her mother may be developing dementia, Sam goes to Gail, hoping to get some insight into her mother’s condition.

Instead, Gail assures Sam that magic is real, her mother is perfectly in control of her faculties, and something evil is inhabiting her grandmother’s house.

A HOUSE WITH GOOD BONES by T. Kingfisher is a horror novel with a modern Southern Gothic flair. The atmosphere is perfect for a haunted house story. Much of the suspense is drawn from the reader knowing that there really is a malevolent presence in the house, while Sam steadfastly refuses to believe it.

Sam is certain that there is a mundane answer to her mother’s distress right up until the moment her grandmother’s ghost appears at their dining room table.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian