{Review/Giveaway} HARMONY HOUSE by Nic Sheff

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O P E N I N G   H O O K:

Harmony House
   THERE'S A FEELING LIKE my stomach is trying to climb out my throat. I drop on my hands and knees in the tall grass and retch. The sun is hot and bright overhead, so I'm sweating through my clothes. I take off the heavy topcoat and unbutton the shirt around my neck.

A pain cuts in along my thigh and I pull up my petticoat and see the vibrant shock of red turning dark and sticky along the white of my skin. I must have fallen on a sharp rock in the grass. There's a purplish bruise already forming there.

I spit on the cut and rub it with my thumb.

I stand.

A snake, black and glinting in the sun, slithers past.

(Page 3, US Hardcover Edition)

                   “He starts writing 'All work and no play makes Anselm a dull boy' on a typewriter over and over? You get the hell out of there.” 


I really wanted a good old fashioned haunted house story. HARMONY HOUSE, by Nic Sheff, didn't necessarily give me what I thought I wanted when I turned to the first page, but it can be nice to be surprised sometimes. The general premise of this YA story may sound a bit familiar; winter and an oncoming storm, a quiet removed town, a family the lone occupants of a hotel, and the father's sanity questionable right from the getgo. I'll admit I started to go down the "been there done that" route, until Sheff sort of broke through the fourth wall and threw in a lot of The Shining references. The comparisons are obvious, but there's enough individual and unique detail thrown in to make this story its own.

I love a story that tries to creep you out right from the getgo, and the whole atmosphere of the prologue is meant to make the reader feel desperate and emotionally raw. We share only a brief moment with the first character before we are catapulted into chapter one, but the author makes sure you know that you shouldn't forget about what you read previously. "There's a feeling like my stomach is trying to climb out of my throat." just so happens to be the first line in both the prologue and chapter one. I like it when an author sort of nudges me and tells me what parts of the story I really need to pay the most attention too, and Sheff has some very subtle but effective ways of doing this.

Now when you're reading a horror story there's a tendency for the reader to automatically distance themselves from the characters. You don't want to get attached because you don't know who is going to survive. But I really liked the main character, Jen. The characters most susceptible to a horror storyline are the ones who have suffered a recent loss, which Jen most definitely has. Her mother has passed, and her relationship with her father is obviously strained, considering the man is one of those Carrie-esque crazy religious types. The thing that kept my attention is that Jen, while processing a loss and obviously traumatized like any other teen might be, was a strong character from the getgo. Her voice comes through crisp and clear, she's rebellious and independent and she questions everything around her. When your family member is someone you feel a biological sense of loyalty too, but they're also someone you don't quite like as a person, it can leave your head reeling, and I liked how Sheff gave attention to the emotional seesaw occurring inside Jen. The other characters were a bit forgettable for me, place holders and sidekicks for the most part, but it didn't bother me at all that this was Jen's show.

In terms of plot I'll say that there were points were I wasn't sure if this was psychological horror, or a ghost story, and to be honest I think that might have been the author's intention; to keep the readers guessing. There's nothing wrong with that either. I think sometimes we as readers are too comfortable with having all the information spooned to us; Hello dear reader, here is your setting, here is all relevant background that you have omnipotent knowledge of, etc. We stay in this circle of knowledge that usually ends in a story where all questions are answered and all the pieces of the storyline have been put together with a dedication we would never see in a real life scenario.  To be honest, it was kind of refreshing to read a book that kept me confused the whole way through, that left me reeling and clinging to every word as I tried to figure out what was going on. It honestly reminded me of how I felt when I watched The Shining for the first time, scratching my head and going "Okay but I still don't understand why any of those apparitions happened...were they there cause Jack Nicholson was crazy, or was he crazy because they were there?" If you were the victim of a real life haunting or paranormal experience, chances are you would not get your hands on all the answers. And isn't the best part of the horror genre the lingering questions that chill you hours later?

This book is a fairly fast read, but it's also one you want to pay attention to. There's breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout which hint at an idea of the ending. You've got an engaging main character, a plot with a lot of twists, turns, and questions marks. That you may not have all your answers when you get to the last page doesn't mean you'll have a bad reading experience, in fact it may just ensure that the book stays with you longer.


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: 15+ (Hinted flashbacks of incest, a sex scene that was watered down but still obvious, a lot of handling of sexuality, teen pregnancy )
Language: PG13 ( Moderate amount of cursing )
Violence: 15+ ( Violence including murder, suicide, graphic gore)
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

There's something about the green text of the cover that is sickly and immediately gets you in the mindset for horror. Add in the black and white illustration of the winding staircase, complete with a ghostly figure, and you've got high expectations for the book. I like that this cover is semi simple...it doesn't try to do too much. 
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Nic Sheff
Release Date:March 22nd 2016 
Publisher: Harper Teen // HarperCollins
Received: For Review

Jen Noonan’s father thinks a move to Harmony House is the key to salvation, but to everyone who has lived there before, it is a portal to pure horror. 

After Jen’s alcoholic mother’s death, her father cracked. He dragged Jen to this dilapidated old manor on the shore of New Jersey to “start their new lives”—but Harmony House is more than just a creepy old estate. It’s got a chilling past—and the more Jen discovers its secrets, the more the house awakens. Strange visions follow Jen wherever she goes, and her father’s already-fragile sanity disintegrates before her eyes. As the forces in the house join together to terrorize Jen, she must find a way to escape the past she didn’t know was haunting her—and the mysterious and terrible power she didn’t realize she had.

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