Her Fearful Symmetry

I’m not much of a fan of horror or scary stories. That being said, I enjoy supernatural and paranormal stories, especially those with deep secrets and mystery. Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger fit the bill, even with a good ghost story thrown in.

Julia and Valentina are identical twins. Well, actually they are mirror twins. Even Valentina’s insides are mirror images, with her heart being on the right side of her body. This causes quite a few medical issues. The girls’ mother, Edie, is also an identical twin. The girls don’t remember ever meeting their Aunt Elspeth, who lives in far away London, and their mother never talks about her.

Elspeth dies of leukemia and leaves her entire estate to Julia and Valentina, with the stipulations that they must live in her flat, overlooking Highgate Cemetery, for at least a year before being allowed to sell it, and that their parents are never to enter the flat or their inheritance is void. Julia is terribly excited, but Valentina has misgivings, much playing the role of “Mouse,” which is Julia’s nickname for her. Based on Edie’s response to this news, as well as other lifelong clues, the girls know that there is some sort of secret and feel compelled to solve the mystery.

In London, they meet their neighbors. It takes a while, but Elspeth’s much younger lover, Robert, finally shows himself. He obviously prefers Valentina, who takes an instant liking to him, which develops into love. Julia befriends Martin, the brilliant and kind man upstairs afflicted with severe OCD. Try as they might, they cannot figure out Edie and Elspeth’s secret. At Elspeth’s request, Robert had removed all her diaries and private papers, but it takes a while to convince himself to read them.

Elspeth always wanted to know the twins, and now they are living in her flat. She is finally able to make her presence known, communicating by tracing letters in the dust that has settled on top of her piano. She is not an overly friendly ghost, nor is she malevolent. She is merely there, and willing to communicate with the twins, and with Robert. But, she is very tight lipped when it comes to the reason she and Edie stayed apart for the past few years of their lives. Although it seems that Elspeth has befriended them, Robert warns Valentina that Elspeth is clever, and not to be trusted.

Valentina desires individuality, a career, a life separate from that of Julia. However, her sister, who is the dominant twin, wants them to always remain together. Feeling trapped and even a bit crazed, Valentina begins to formulate a plan of escape that will end up involving, or affecting, everyone she loves.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It had just the right amount of haunting, sibling rivalry, angst, loyalty and love, mystery, and longing. The reader did have to suspend disbelief a bit, but the writing was so beautiful that was easy to do.

I loved how the title encompassed so many themes of the novel. Valentina was a mirror image, which caused health problems. Edie and Elspeth had a secret symmetry in their own lives. There was also a bit of symmetry in the relationships of some of the characters. And if one pronounces the title in a British accent, “symmetry” sounds much like “cemetery,” which was a central theme and location in the novel as well.

Very well done. I look forward to the author’s future works.


Restless Spirits

I won a Kindle version of Restless Spirits, a novella by Jean Marie Bauhaus from a giveaway on a blog that I read. (More on that later, and no, I do not have a Kindle and a Nook. I just have the Kindle app on my MacBook.)

The book begins with the death of Veronica “Ronnie” Wilson. She and her sister are partners in a ghost hunting business, and they have finally received permission to investigate the old Baird house. This house is about 80 years with a history of tragic murders, suicides, and other deaths. Ronnie’s sister, Chris, is about two hours away at thee time they get the go ahead, and she begs Ronnie to wait for her. Obviously, Ronnie doesn’t listen, as when she wakes up, she is a ghost looking down on her body, twisted at a grotesque angle from falling down the stairs.

She meets other inhabitants of the house, including the Bairds themselves. Ruth Baird apparently went crazy and took an axe to her husband, then locked her daughter in the basement to starve to death before killing herself. Joe, a very quiet ghost, who is a mystery to Ronnie, and Ed, who keeps to himself in the attic, along with his ghost Jack Russell, are the other two occupants.

Well, there is one more… Sarah, a red-haired little girl in overalls seems sweet enough in appearance, but as Ronnie soon discovers, is the one that caused her death, among others. Sarah is strong, and she can transform into a demonic being with a gaping black maw that can apparently swallow up ghosts, seeming to kill them again. Sarah takes pleasure in keeping them all trapped inside the house, and making them relive their deaths over and over whenever she seems bored.

The others are used to this, trying to take sanctuary in the relatively safe kitchen, but Ronnie has had enough after a couple of days. She wants to fight back. Chris comes back to visit the house, and Ronnie is able to make sure that she knows she is there, but Sarah is angry enough that Ronnie tells Chris not to come back, afraid that Sarah will kill her, too.

Ronnie figures out that she can actually touch solid things, etc. when she is feeling an intense emotion. Originally, she thinks it is anger that allows her these abilities, but as she and Joe fall for each other, she discovers otherwise. This is when she finally figures out she can leave the house, and goes to visit her sister Chris.

Ronnie tells Chris everything she knows and Chris takes the information and uncovers as much as she can in her research. Ronnie hopes that she will find a way to defeat Sarah so that the ghosts can be free. But what Chris discovers only creates more questions for Ronnie. What kind of person is Joe? Did he play a role in Sarah’s death?

Ronnie returns to the house to find answers to these questions. She knows she must find out the truth in order to help herself, and all of them, be rid of Sarah and escape her prison.

I have very mixed feelings about this story. While the story was plotted out well, and I enjoyed it for the most part, I do have a few complaints.

Mainly, there were inconsistencies that should have corrected in the editing process. The main character’s last name is Wilson, but in one statement, she identifies herself with the last name of Parker. Also, Sarah was spelled as “Sara” in a few places, but was still referring to the same character. One statement read “If the look on Lilly’s face weren’t enough to…” “The look” is singular, so it should have read “wasn’t,” not “weren’t.” There were many grammar issues in dialogue, but that is accepted because it was the character’s speech that was incorrect, not the writing.

I also felt there were inconsistencies in Joe’s behavior. Initially, I was given the impression that he was honorable, and a gentleman from a past era, but then something happened that didn’t at all seem to fit with that description either.

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed the story, but the grammar issues and inconsistencies were very distracting. There just should have been more editing before being published.

I understand that this novella was self-published using smashwords. As a writer with aspirations of publication, this only reinforced that self-publishing, for me, is not the route to go. After all, I’ve written a novel. I could easily use smashwords myself and get it out there, but I don’t want that for my work, either.