The September House by Carissa Orlando

It’s that time of the year again here in the western hemisphere: Fall. Or autumn, as some prefer. Whatever you call it, do you like to read dark, creepy, and scary stories this time of year? I do.

The September House by Carissa Orlando is a fantastic haunted house story. It is bit on the gory side for my taste, but it serves a purpose. I believed the unbelievable experience that the protagonist was living through and was curious to see how Orlando would manage a satisfying ending. I saw it going a couple of different ways, but not the way it actually went.

One of the strengths of the novel is its dark humor. Less skilled writers overplay humor until it becomes cringe-worthy or numbing. The dark humor in The September House is well done and oddly relatable. What exhausted woman wouldn’t mind the help of a ghost housekeeper who never complains and always has a cup of tea ready, even if her head has been cleaved by an axe?

I also appreciated the real-world challenges like alcoholism, abuse, and strained relationships. Sometimes haunted house stories can get so myopic that the world disappears (which can be good when it is intentional), but Orlando manages to keep this story firmly grounded in the real world, as odd as that sounds. As one of the characters says, “What I think is so neat about horror movies . . . is that they shine a light on what we think is scary. Not just ghosts and demons, but what we find really scary.”

Although things get very gory toward the end, it was a satisfying ending for me with a good message. This is a twisty, original tale that hangs tight. It’s Orlando’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb so you don’t have to go looking for it:

A woman is determined to stay in her dream home even after it becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

When Margaret and her husband Hal bought the large Victorian house on Hawthorn Street—for sale at a surprisingly reasonable price—they couldn’t believe they finally had a home of their own. Then they discovered the hauntings. Every September, the walls drip blood. The ghosts of former inhabitants appear, and all of them are terrified of something that lurks in the basement. Most people would flee.

Margaret is not most people.

Margaret is staying. It’s her house. But after four years Hal can’t take it anymore, and he leaves abruptly. Now, he’s not returning calls, and their daughter Katherine—who knows nothing about the hauntings—arrives, intent on looking for her missing father. To make things worse, September has just begun, and with every attempt Margaret and Katherine make at finding Hal, the hauntings grow more harrowing, because there are some secrets the house needs to keep.

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