Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Review: The Shadow House by Anna Downes

by Anna Downes
Release Date: April 5, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 309 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250264848
Audiobook: B094DZVBZP
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Horor
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
Alex, a single mother-of-two, is determined to make a fresh start for her and her children. In an effort to escape her troubled past, she seeks refuge in a rural community. Pine Ridge is idyllic; the surrounding forests are beautiful and the locals welcoming. Mostly.

But Alex finds that she may have disturbed barely hidden secrets in her new home. As a chain of bizarre events is set off, events eerily familiar to those who have lived there for years, Alex realizes that she and her family might be in greater danger than ever before. And that the only way to protect them all is to confront the shadows lurking in Pine Ridge.
My Thoughts
The Shadow House had a lot of interesting elements: a spooky house, an isolated community, a woman on the run, secrets, unexplained events, and a local legend.  And while I enjoyed the overall story and thought there was a lot of potential, there was way too much telling rather than letting the suspense build up. I did have high hopes when I first started reading it, but that fizzled rather quickly and I was assaulted with mundane romance tropes that took the thrill right out of the thriller novel.
First of all, I'll start with Alex, a character I sort of grew to dislike throughout the novel.  On the run from an abusive husband, she also has no relationship with the father of her teenage son, so it made me wonder about the direction of the story when she began to develop an interest in the 'leader' of the Pine Ridge community.  The author made a big deal about her relationship with her son and how she prefers her baby daughter because she is much easier to manage, to the point where it was turning me off the book and the character.  Maybe she should listen to her son once in a while?  But then her daughter would start screaming and the focus would be on that aspect of being a parent.  I get that being a parent is difficult as I have two children, but I think it's the way it was written that turned me off.  Was the author purposefully trying to make Alex look like a bad mother because that's how it came across.  
Personally, I preferred Renee's story, just for some relief.  However, it was quite jarring to realize the story lines were only a few years apart as I kept thinking they were very far apart and I had to stay focused on the short time difference.  What was going on with Renee's family was far more interesting, and that's saying a lot, but I liked the family dynamics, even if there were some major issues going on.
I did find the overall story to be weak, and while there were some nice moments at the beginning of the book with some good, creepy supernatural vibes happening, it unravelled pretty quickly.  Instead of trying to keep that nice eerie tension going, with more creepy stuff and more happenings, it kind of simmered into a lot of mom issues with complaints about their teenage children and a lot of winging about crying babies and so on.  I also felt the timelines were very misleading as it felt like years between them, and I was kind of wondering how such a community could be built in such a short time line when it takes years to even get a local high school built in my area.   And don't even get me started on the ending as I felt like I was reading a woman's literary fiction novel instead of a mystery/horror novel. That epilogue was a doozy, and not in a good way, with nothing dark, creepy, or supernatural about it. 
The Shadow House had a lot of potential, but definitely did not live up to it.  While it started strong, with some nice creepy, supernatural happenings, it jumped rather quickly into a women's literary fiction with some mystery thrown into it, with a lot of mom angst and romance, not quite what I was expecting. It was predictable, so I figured out quite early on what had happened although it did take me a while to figure out the witch legend.  The time line did not do this book any favours though, and while I just went with it, as I am writing this, it still bothers me.  I was not a fan of the ending, and that epilogue was an even bigger disappointment.  For horror fans, I do not recommend this book, but those of you who like a more literary mystery, this might be your cup of tea.