The Healing by Karen E. Stokes
Published by Crooked Cat Books/Darkstroke (20th July 2020)
Purchase from | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon UK |
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Actual rating of 3.5
When Jess ends up at a local market on her way home, she stumbles upon a bookseller. Taking advantage of the buy 2 get a third free offer, she heads home with her purchases and soon finds herself embroiled in a haunting that will push her to her limits. Jess discovers an old photograph inside the third free title, and soon after this her son Jonas becomes friends with a little boy who is actually a spirit. The spirit soon turns vengeful, and Jess is left feeling terrified for herself and her son. Determined to uncover the truth, Jess sets out to find the woman in the photograph as she believes this to be the ghost boy’s mother. What she doesn’t expect to find is the possibility of an abhorrent crime. Will she be able to help uncover the truth of what happened that day? And if she does, will it bring peace back into her family’s life?
I was super stoked to be approached by the author and offered the chance to read this story. It’s no secret that I love horror stories, and I especially love those that are based around hauntings. Plus this one is novella length so that was also a bonus! I’ve been struggling with my reading goal this year so having shorter stories sometimes really helps me get back into the swing of things.
This story follows single mother – Jess. She’s just trying her best after trying to heal and come to terms with her recent separation from her husband, as well as be an active and present parent to her son Jonas. I really enjoyed the character of Jess, initially the style of writing made her character come across as a little bit superficial in ways, but as the story progressed and I fell into the pattern of Stokes prose, I soon found myself warming up to Jess’s character and she became someone I could really get behind. I loved that Jess is someone who’s just trying her best, she’s just a normal person with daily struggles who sometimes finds it hard to dodge the lemons that life is lobbing at her. I love characters that are written raw and real and feel like someone that you could literally meet in the street. I feel that it’s so important for characters to have flaws and challenges and not just magically be the best at everything or able to combat everything that comes their way. Yes you need to be able to suspend belief to a degree with fiction, but I feel that there also needs to be some level of believability and reality in a story as well. I feel that we really got this with Jess’s character. I also really enjoyed the character of Jess’s mum, she was more of a support character but there was just something about her that I really enjoyed.
I enjoyed the story a lot, it was a well thought out story that I became quickly invested in and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. Was this a groundbreaking, gasp inducing twisty thriller of a read? Not necessarily. Was this simply a thoroughly enjoyable story that really delivered what I hoped it would and entertained me while doing so? A thousand times yes. It wasn’t just about the haunting for me, I really enjoyed the character developments and the relationship dynamics between different characters. It can sometimes be quite difficult in short stories or novellas for the author to be able to create decent connections and relationships between characters due to the shorter page count, but I feel that Stokes did a fantastic job here. I do wish that we had a chance to delve a bit deeper into different characters as I feel like there were some that could have been fleshed out a bit more and tied into the story a bit better, such as Jess’s neighbour (Who’s name I have completely spaced on). I enjoyed her and feel that she was a very complex character that I would have loved to have gotten a chance to get to know better and delve deeper into her story and backstory.
One downside for me with this read was that the language used felt a bit too complex for what the story was. I understand the need to change up words so that it doesn’t become repetitive and stale, but I felt that some of the language just came across too complex and overly formal for there to be a really fantastic flow with the prose. I also struggled a bit with the scene jumping. I got used to it in the end, but it’s not something that I loved. I feel like instead of jumping between events and scenes and leaving such a huge gaping gap there where the reader had to take a second to catch on to the fact that the scene and setting had changed, maybe turning those scene jumps into chapter endings would have worked better. Or simply just adding a little bit of filler that explained the path between one scene and the next. I feel like this style of narration was used, especially being a novella, in order to cut out the unnecessary drivel and keep the story moving at a steady clip, which sure, it did do that; I just feel that it created a very stilted narration that didn’t have a very free flowing movement to it. That sort of thing does have a tendency to push me back out of the story instead of pulling me in and allowing me to be fully immersed alongside the characters.
All in all, I really enjoyed this read, I did have some issues but that was with the grammatical and technical side of things, and not the story or characters that Stokes has created here. I still find my mind wandering occasionally back to this story and I finished it a couple of week ago, that to me denotes a great read, because it’s memorable and not forgotten as soon as the last page is finished. I’m definitely keen to check out some more by this author as I feel that she does a great job at writing a riveting horror story that can build atmosphere and suspense without needing to over embellish, and that can be difficult to do. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read and love a good ghost story, give this one a go.