This year things began looking up, and my bank account stopped crying, when libraries reopened and I didn’t have to succumb to buying every book I was interested in. Last week, I picked up Beth Morgan’s debut novel A Touch of Jen from the library last week. I, like many, am drawn to unique book covers, especially when they’re pink. I don’t know why – maybe some of you color theorists out there can help me out – but pink always grabs my attention.
Of course, a great cover can only get so far until you have to read the actual book. I briefly skimmed through the synopsis because I just wanted to see whether this was worth getting into. Just the beginning sentence, “Remy and Alicia, a couple of insecure service workers, are not particularly happy together” was intriguing. As I started reading the first page, A Touch of Jen sucked me and, two days and 300 pages later, mercilessly spat me back out.
Remy and Alicia are a millennial couple with bills, debt, and an unhealthy obsession of a woman named Jen. You can describe Jen as an Instagram Influencer who makes jewelry and travels so much she screams trust fund baby. Much to Remy’s dismay, Jen is dating a wealthy man named Horus who has a painfully ironic lack of self-awareness.
Jen invites Remy and Alicia to join her, Horus and a gaggle of other friends on a surfing trip to the Hamptons, where chaos painfully progresses, leading up to a horrific, Lovecraftian climax.
“Now she looks like a hot shark.”
Morgan’s prose is captivating from the getgo. Her writing is quirky, fitting with the eccentricity of Remy and Alicia’s unique relationship. Each chapter ebbs and flows with vibrant, brief descriptions that add color and unease to the story. Everyone, even the most minor characters, are complicated and difficult; they are true reflections of what it is to live in our social media driven world.
A Touch of Jen can be classified as a horror dramedy. The events that take place, and the way Morgan illustrates them, are ridiculous. Several times I found myself laughing out loud in the most uncomfortable places. While the drama and comedy portions are strong, what I struggled with was the horror aspect of the novel.
Morgan does well to build tension, creating a mindset of “what’s going to happen next” throughout the book. There are atypical horror elements involving a nuanced, gruesome take on the dangers of consuming social media. When we get to the climax, there are sudden cosmic events that take over and drown the story. The buildup to the horror could have been stronger and there could have been less reliance on allegory. However, even when things get messy, Morgan’s writing is vibrant and hypnotic until the last sentence.
A Touch of Jen is an inventive and immersive novel that plays with common horror tropes in a unique, twisted way. It is gruesome, beautiful, cringeworthy, intoxicating. Despite issues that prevent the story from being the best it could be, it is a whirlwind of a book worth reading.
(4 / 5)
Check out what else we’re reading here at Haunted MTL.
Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review
“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.
The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot.
As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew.
Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless.(4.4 / 5)
Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review
“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.
I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.
My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house.
A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book.(4.8 / 5)
Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!
“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%
Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?
Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.
During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.
As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?
Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.
The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.
As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.
It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. (4.5 / 5)