Monday, August 7, 2023

Review: Magdalena by Candi Sary

by Candi Sary
Release Date: July 11, 2023
2023 Regal House Publishing
ARC Kindle Edition; 218 Pages
ISBN: 978-1646033348
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher / Blog Tour
2.5 / 5 Stars
In a small, secluded town that thrives on gossip and superstition, Dottie offers plenty of both when the scandal breaks about a missing girl, a ghost, and the affair that started it all. Having suffered a history of miscarriages, reclusive Dottie develops a strange motherly interest in her 15-year-old neighbor, Magdalena. Somewhere between fantasy and reality, Dottie finds new life in her relationship with the mysterious girl. But Dottie’s entanglements with Magdalena, a curious centenarian, a compelling stranger, an ex-mobster, and a murder of crows thrusts this once cloistered woman into a frenzy of public scrutiny. To quell the rumors, Dottie puts pen to paper and discovers something as frightening as it is liberating—her voice.
My Thoughts
Magdalena is one of those books that intrigued me because of the paranormal aspect and it was touted as a horror novel, one of my favourite genres.  Thing is, what I got was more of a literary fiction, something that touched on relationships and emotional discovery and really didn't have a whole lot of horror or paranormal aspects to it.  Yes, the whole town was supposed to be enveloped in this environment where ghosts try to stay and develop relationships with their loved ones, but the book didn't really focus on that too much.
First of all, I had a lot of difficulty connecting with Dottie as a main character.  Yes, she's a very sympathetic character and you can't help but feel sorry for her, but there comes this certain point when I just started to feel annoyed and wanted to give her a good shake because she was kind of apathetic as well, doing little to improve her circumstances or her relationships.  Dottie's husband was in a terrible accident and her parents left the town a long time ago looking for a cure for her mother's mental illness, something that haunts Dottie to this day, but while the author gives us some background information, it isn't enough to really develop enough empathy with Dottie to forgive her for her other actions.  
The plot of the story doesn't put Dottie in a good light as the author has her make some pretty poor decisions.  Why in heaven's name would you follow a 15 year-old girl around town and not expect anyone to notice your behaviour? She was stalking this girl, almost believing this girl was one of her lost children, and for a while I thought the story was going to delve into mental illnesses, but a golden opportunity was definitely missed here. As for some of the other things she does, they're just downright creepy, such as sitting in her backyard and staring through a fence hole for hours at a young girl.  Honestly, who does that? And to believe that all these other things are signs of the divinity? Like birds hanging around your house? Well, if you don't want an animal hanging around, don't feed them meatloaf everyday. I just felt like there were better ways to show something was creepy or paranormal.
To me, I feel like the author didn't do justice to this character and as I've already mentioned, missed a golden opportunity to develop her and delve into mental health issues.  I think some of the things she does are supposed to make you feel sympathetic, but all it did was make me wonder why no one was helping this woman, no one was encouraging her to seek help.  There was a nun who had been helping Dottie for years, so why didn't she encourage her to talk to a psychologist, get therapy, get some help? When the accident happened to Dottie's husband, why did no one encourage her to get a job, join a committee, further her education, etc.... So, what does she do all day? 
Now the plot. I tried to give it a chance, but it was more about Dottie and her lack of relationships than anything horror or paranormal. She latches onto this 15 year-old kid as if she's her lifeline and develops this unhealthy fantasy about being her mom and creates scenarios where she is hers. And then we have Magdalena, the 15 year-old, a character I also didn't care for as she seemed pretty selfish from the get-go, lying to get her way, and always sneaking around.  To be honest, I had a hard time trying to figure out the plot as there were so many different threads looping around and I don't think the author knew exactly which way she wanted to take this novel either; therefore, at times we would get scenes that would hint at paranormal stuff and mysterious goings-on, then we would get these familial scenes without really developing either one.  The setting itself was intriguing as I like it when you have a town that is eerie and perpetually covered in fog, but that is where the intrigue ends as the other plot lines kind of meandered all over the place.  I couldn't actually tell the time period as Magdalena had a cell phone, but Dottie's house had an old tv that didn't work and everything that was described seemed like it came from the 70s.  There was no mention of computers or the internet or anything remotely technological.  I think the author was trying to show the town was secluded, but didn't quite know how to give off that vibe so it came across as confusing. 

Magdalena just didn't work for me as a horror or paranormal novel.  I struggled to empathize with any of the characters and there were so many things that happened in the story that just didn't make sense.  I thought Dottie's behaviour was creepy, but that doesn't make this a horror novel. There were a lot of aspects that I did like about this novel, but when you put them all together, they did not work and it was difficult to understand the point of the plot as it didn't fully make sense.  It's not that loose ends were not tied up or anything, it's just that it left me feeling unsatisfied at the end.  This is not a spooky book by any stretch of the imagination; my recommendation would be to try it and judge for yourself.