Monday, October 9, 2023

October Read: Starling House by Alex E. Harrow


I'm enjoying reading books that are equal parts fairy tale/gothic/slightly spooky/fantasy. It could be this time of year, when the night creeps in earlier, and the air is cool enough at night you just want to huddle on the couch and be cozy.

Starling House fit the bill, and while I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I was willing to take the ride. There's a lot going on here.

Opal lives in Eden, Kentucky-a small town limping along and prone to bad luck. Opal and her teenage brother Jasper live in room twelve of the local hotel. It's the only home they've had for years. Opal struggles to make ends meet and her one desire is to get her brother out of Eden. She'll do anything--lie, steal--to keep him safe and his asthma under control. Their mother died tragically years before in a car accident, where Opal survived, but remains haunted by leaving her mother to die. 

Then there's Starling House, that oh so very strange mansion surrounded by woods and closed off by a big metal gate. Sometimes there's a light in the uppermost window, but no one is ever seen coming and going. Opal walks by the home frequently, and is a bit obsessed with it and the legend of the author who built it- E. Starling. 

One day Opal finds out who lives there, when Arthur makes an appearance at the gate, warning her to leave. He's a disheveled young man who looks like he's battling something ominous. Opal is intrigued. She wants in. Arthur reluctantly offers her a housekeeping position, and Opal can't resist.

Starling House is unlike anything she could have imagined-the house itself is alive. It shifts, it reacts; it is helpful and sometimes it's not. Opal and Arthur get to know each other, but very slowly. Arthur is fighting literal monsters in order to protect the town of Eden.  The house is sitting on a horrible, horrible secret that only Arthur, as the Warden of Starling House, can destroy. Unless it kills him first. 

Ooh, there are layers in this novel. Home is a huge theme--the hunger Opal has for a home of her own-a place to feel safe. Home also means someone to come home to, which Opal and Arthur both desperately need. The town's horrible history of bad luck and tragedy, directly linked to the Gravely family and their coal mining operations and greed. Poisoning the ground for profit. A young girl creating a world that will protect her and punish those who used her. The strength of friendship and a made family. 

I loved the mix of fairy tale and horror. Opal is one tough cookie who never gives up on her desire for a home and a place to keep Jasper safe. When evil arrives in the form of Elizabeth Baine she is torn between protecting Jasper or giving up the secret of Starling House and betraying Arthur. 

I don't want to say anymore because this is a book that needs to be experienced. I'd say there's plenty to discuss in a book club setting. 

Thank you to Tor for an advanced copy to read and review! 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing novel about dreams, monsters, home, and a haunted town. The monsters in your dreams can be real! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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