Marie’s Reading: “Starter House” by Sonja Condit

starterhouseThis is a Saturday Afternoon Movie in prose form.   That’s not a criticism, merely the best way I can think to describe the general vibe of this novel.

It’s got a nice even pace, some creepy imagery, a couple laughs, and a few scenes to tug the heartstrings.  The characters are flawed but not too terribly complex.  There’s also enough suspense and mystery to keep you going through to the end, which boasts a reveal that’s a bit out of the ordinary.  It’s not absorbing, but it is compelling.  The structure is cinematic, going from scene to scene and character to character in a nice linear way.

That’s what I mean by a Saturday Afternoon Movie feel.  I was completely absorbed for a few hours, got my entertainment and my suitable ending, and then it was time to go do something else.  Sometimes, that’s just what you need.

In Starter House, teacher Lacey and attorney Eric are in the market for a new home.  They’re recently married, have a baby on the way, and are looking to begin putting down roots.  Lacey finds herself drawn to a particular house.   The realtor tells them that people have died in that house, but Lacey will not change her mind.  Soon enough they move in, and immediately they are drawn into the dark force that permeates the house.  Trouble is, this dark force takes the form of a troubled young boy, just the sort that Lacey always tries to help in her classroom.  She’s determined to help this boy, too.

Starter House is a ghost story, but it’s also a story of broken relationships.  Readers who aren’t necessarily horror fans, but respond to novels that feature plenty of flawed characters and their often dysfunctional relationships might enjoy this.  As with any good ghost story there’s an undercurrent of the search for completion and release for the living characters here, too, and Condit depicts those journeys quite well.

The Amazon page for this book suggests The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill as readalikes in is publicity blurb for this book.  I say….Okay, sure.  Those work.   Both are definitely more challenging than The Starter House in terms of writing style, character, and plot complexity, so certainly go for it if you want something a bit more complex.  I would also say that if you like the ghost plot and/or the personal dysfunction of the characters as a primary concern, go with Heart-Shaped Box.  And if you enjoyed the family secrets, the haunting tone, and the suspense, go with The Thirteenth Tale.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles might also be a good readalike choice.  It’s got the same haunting sort of tone, nice characters, and there’s a pretty good reveal at the end.  I talked about it in detail in this post.  I’d also suggest anything by Alexandra Sokoloff.  Her books have the same flawed characters, the same suspense, and the same cinematic pacing and feel.  They’re also great for a few scares!  The Unseen would be a good choice, and The Harrowing even better.  Readers who liked Lacey as a character will probably like the protagonists of both of those stories as well.

–Marie

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