Help for the Haunted

Help for the Haunted by John SearlesTitle: Help for the Haunted

Author: John Searles. He’s the author of two previous suspense novels, including Strange But True.

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Readers: Production coordinator Joanna, event planner Kathy, freelance writer Piper,  small-business owner Samantha and librarian Mary Liz.

Summary: It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping “haunted souls” find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church’s red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.

As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family’s past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

Our Take: A ghost story light on the ghost and heavy on the character development. A teenage protagonist we loved. A family story about a very strange family that anyone can relate to.

Joanna

I love a good ghost story, especially during the autumn months when the chill provides the perfect backdrop for curling up with a warm blanket and a creepy tale. Enter Help for the Haunted. Ostensibly it’s about a husband and wife team helping haunted souls find peace, and while there is a Gothic ghostliness to the story, what really it’s about is family: how we try to live up to their expectations, and how the expectations we have for them sometimes fall short of reality. At times it can be hard loving our relatives and seeing them for who they really are; we may not always understand or accept them (or likewise feel understood and accepted), and that can be an uncomfortable truth to live with.

Author John Searles deals with these themes and more with an honesty and sensitivity that is admirable. He has a knack for creating a mood, and he imbues everyday objects and contexts with descriptions of a more spooky nature: a nightgown “unfurled like a pale spirit before her”; two empty chairs shape-shift into “ghosts among us”. Even if that mood didn’t necessarily give me the chill and thrill of my life, I enjoyed and applaud the beauty of his effort all the same. All in all, I’d say Help for the Haunted scores moderately in the creep factor, but gets high marks for its empathetic depictions of family turmoil.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a straightforward murder mystery or ghost story, you won’t find either in Help for the Haunted (though it’s perfectly eerie, this isn’t your ordinary ghost tale). But if you enjoy a suspenseful plot, with complicated characters and family dynamics in a real-life setting, then this book is right up your alley.

Grade: B+

 

Kathy

I’m easily scared. It’s a thing I live with – like the dark is scary and cookies are delicious. So when Jess approved my request fro this book I was a little hesitant – worried that the scary of it would give me nightmares (NOS4A2 did, so anything’s possible). Instead I just couldn’t put it down. There are a lot of books that deal with this age range coming out recently, these books for adults that show a glimpse into the harsh realities of being different in High School. While this book doesn’t deal with that directly the story arc definitely brought me there. It reminded me that life is full of challenges and sometimes our family can be at the very center of those challenges. At it’s heart this is totally a book about family, about a girl coming to terms with her parents and sister. It’s about making choices to protect yourself, and others.

It’s lovely. And sad.

Read this if you want a book with complex characters and surprising twists. This is a murder mystery but not, it’s a ghost story but not. Mostly it’s a family story – and a story of choices.

Grade: A-

 

Piper

Recently I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy of John Searles’ new book, Help for the Haunted. All I can say is . . . WOW! There aren’t too many books that keep me up through the night, but this one had me hooked until the wee hours of the morning. Part ghost story, part thriller, the suspense in this book will always leave you guessing where you stand.

Aside from the murder mystery that shrouds the theme of the book, Searles did a marvelous job creating a teenage protagonist that isn’t YA. Any adult who picks up this book will not have to wonder if this is adult literature, which in my opinion can be hard to do sometimes. It seems that every book with a teenage protagonist instantly gets shelved (or dismissed) as YA. Not the case with this wonderfully crafted novel.

This is the first time I have had the pleasure of reading a John Searles novel, but I plan to put his other two on my must-read list right away! A great read for the upcoming Halloween season if you want a novel that will leave you disturbed, yet wholly satisfied.

Grade: A-

 

Samantha

Help for the Haunted is the second book I’ve read recently that has centered on unraveling the story behind a tragic family occurrence (the first being Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, which I loved).  I really enjoy books that let the reader follow a character’s journey into their past, finding surprising and usually dark secrets lurking somewhere under the surface.

I expected this to be more of a ghost story.  However, I am in no way disappointed with the plot progression into different territory.  The best part of this book for me was the narrator – I felt like Sylvie acted, thought, and reacted exactly how an almost-teenager would.  I will admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the author when I started the book and was completely shocked when I got to the end and realized the author is a man!

Help for the Haunted has a nice blend of creepy bits mixed with surprising plot twists.  I ended up staying up too late reading it a couple nights in a row, which is always a sign of a good book for me.  My mom and I have similar taste in books and I’ll definitely be passing this one on to her with a hearty recommendation.

Grade: A

 

Mary Liz

Let me start by saying that I don’t like to be scared. I was 14 the last time I watched a horror movie and A Nightmare on Elm Street truly did give me nightmares for a week. So I am a bit of  wimp when it comes to the horror genre. Help for the Haunted, however, provided just the perfect level of creepy without venturing into Jason Vorhees jumping out of a closet territory. And while the Mason’s story is firmly rooted in the supernatural world, this truly is a coming of age story.

Sylvie and Rose Mason are compelling characters whose struggles with finding their place in their family and in their world are written in an authentic and relatable way. From the moment Sylvie and Rose’s parents are killed, I was invested in this story. I felt like a detective who kept finding clues and needed to keep going to help these two lost girls. Each new clue added layers that deepened the mystery and revealed the secrets that each family member had hidden away within themselves. But even with all these details I never could quite get the pieces to fit. When the answers were revealed to me in the final few pages of the book it felt a bit like spending a week working on a New York Times crossword puzzle and then having the last couple of elusive words told to you by your husband as he glances up from the paper. The pieces all fit in the puzzle but somehow the reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of putting them together. While the ending wasn’t perfect, the story is eminently entertaining and readable with characters that you can’t help but root for. Don’t wait for Halloween! Read it now.

Grade: A-

 

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