After a devastating loss, Brynn Wilder escapes to Wharton, a tourist town on Lake Superior, to reset. Checking into a quaint boardinghouse for the summer, she hopes to put her life into perspective. In her fellow lodgers, she finds a friendly company of strangers: the frail Alice, cared for by a married couple with a heartbreaking story of their own; LuAnn, the eccentric and lovable owner of the inn; and Dominic, an unsettlingly handsome man inked from head to toe in mesmerizing tattoos.
But in this inviting refuge, where a century of souls has passed, a mystery begins to swirl. Alice knows things about Brynn, about all of them, that she shouldn’t. Bad dreams and night whispers lure Brynn to a shuttered room at the end of the hall, a room still heavy with a recent death. And now she’s become irresistibly drawn to Dominic—even in the shadow of rumors that wherever he goes, suspicious death follows.
In this chilling season of love, transformation, and fear, something is calling for Brynn. To settle her past, she may have no choice but to answer.
While the summary for this novel certainly caught my attention, what truly sold me was the blurb by Darcy Coates, a horror novelist I have a great deal of respect for: “Evocative and beautifully haunting, Wendy Webb’s latest transports you to a location you’ll soon want to call home, in a story you won’t want to put down. It’s no exaggeration to call this the standout gothic novel of the year.”
However, after reading this novel, I can’t help but wonder if the author tied Coates up in her basement until she agreed to give this novel a 5-star review.
Undoubtedly my biggest gripe with this read is what I read on the tin is not what I ended up consuming.
Instead of a heart-pounding, spine-tingling thriller, what I got was a mildly mysterious romantic novel with some spooky stuff thrown in as an afterthought.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with romance. There is nothing wrong with paranormal romance either. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with romance in a thriller/horror novel.
But I didn’t order the hamburger, I ordered the friggin’ salmon.
When I pick out a thriller/horror novel, it’s because I want to be thrilled and horrified.
This isn’t merely a case of the author subverting our expectations. No, this is subterfuge plain and simple.
What makes it worse is the “romantic” portions are easily the dullest out of the entire book; a pretty big achievement considering how boring the rest of it is.
It doesn’t help that Dominic—our “mysterious love interest—is easily the most boring out of our extensive catalogue of characters, no matter how much the author tries to get us on board with him. His dialogue is painfully generic and he is about as humorous as a brick to the face, yet the author makes him out to be the most charming, funny person in Wharton.
Speaking of Wharton….
The people in Wharton are incredibly friendly and likable to the point where it’s actually unnerving. I realize this may sound weird, but I came across a review on Amazon that perfectly encapsulates what this lake town is like—
Seriously, what the hell is in the water in this town? No one is ever rude. No one says anything wrong, has PMS, or is otherwise distrustful of anyone at any point at all. Not even the side characters are annoying or cause issues.
To make things worse, they are constantly talking.
For every action that takes place, every bump in the night, every strange vision, we need three or four pages dedicated to the characters discussing it among themselves at length. Nothing can just happen, we need an intervention every five seconds so the main character can explain to everyone else what we, the readers, already know.
Brynn: I had the weirdest dream last night.
Everyone: Really? Oh, spill it. We want to hear all about it.
Why do these characters feel the need to share everything? They barely know each other.
I grew up in a small town. I know they are gossipy, but these people are super clingy. It’s freaky and not in the way the writer intended.
While reading, I kept waiting for the big pay-off. Surely there is an explanation as to why the main character trusts these people so implicitly (and they her). There has to be a reason for why they act as if they have known each other for years when they just met, like, yesterday.
No. There is no explanation. They are just unbearably wonderful 24/7.
Sprinkled in we get a few spooks, the odd strange occurrence. Make no mistake, however, the main event is the characters and their never-ending font of feels.
Dammit do these people have feelings.
If I had a dime for every time someone cried or was about to cry, I would be Scrooge McDuck.
They are also credulous to the point of being lemmings. Our girl Brynn talks about ghosts, visions, and past lives and everyone just nods along like it makes total sense. I can see them being receptive to the idea of ghosts (small town people find that sort of thing easier to swallow), but there’s nothing wink-wink about it. They take it entirely at face-value even though, for all they know, Brynn is just some crazy person off her meds.
I know I’m really hung up on this one aspect, but it matters.
The over-friendly, overly-communicative nature of the town makes it so none of the tension lands. If everyone is always in your corner— you always have a shoulder to cry on, you never have to worry about someone judging you or misinterpreting you— then why should we be worried on your behalf?
And there is hardly any development in any of the relationships. They all just adore each other immediately with hardly any build-up. And they are always doing inane crap with each other instead of advancing the plot.
I did not sign up for Mayberry.
I wanted to read a horror, dammit.
In the end, all that horrified me was how badly the supernatural elements were written. It’s all so rushed and inconsequential it honestly felt like she wrote them after she finished the first draft. As in the writer realized more than halfway through her book had no plot and so she had to do something in order to keep the reader invested.
Now….let’s get into spoiler territory.
I am not joking when I say this book has one of the absolute dumbest endings I’ve ever read in my life.
Now, because this is a romance novel (apparently) the male lead has to die. I don’t make the rules, that’s just how it is.
But that isn’t the dumb part.
No, no, no.
The dumb part is he dies in the last 9 pages of the book. That’s right. They write his whole death scene in the last 9. Pages. Of this 274 page book…and I’ve done something I have never done before when reading about the demise of a main character: I laughed.
I laughed hard.
Let me set the scene: The main character and her boo-thing are on a boat. I think. I don’t care. Anyway, they are on a boat and there’s this guy who decides he’s going to jump to his death. And our brave character decides to jump in after him. Keep in mind, this was all during a storm. He jumps after guy that willingly plunged to his death during a storm.
That isn’t brave. That is dumb.
So dumb I literally put the book down because I couldn’t stop laughing. We are talking gales of laughter. Peals like church bells of laughter.
But wait…there’s more.
Not only does the author crowbar in a death scene for the mysterious “illustrated man,” we finally learn why this guy has been so secretive this whole time.
You see….he’s an angel.
No. Really. He’s an angel. From Heaven.
He even has wings.
See, he’s an angel that comes for souls and-and takes them to heaven…maybe…also he is the reincarnated lover of the main character….and also…not dead but alive and….
This book blows like a fog horn on a foggy ocean.
Don’t read it.
Books keep disappointing me recently and I don’t know how to cope. Should I turn to alcohol? Drugs?
How could it go so horribly wrong?