Book review: The September House by Carissa Orlando


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Orlando has a doctorate in clinical-community psychology and specializes in work with children and adolescents. In her “day job,” Carissa works to improve the quality of and access to mental health care for children and their families. Prior to her career in psychology, Carissa studied creative writing in college and has written creatively in some form since she was a child. It was only a matter of time before Carissa, an avid horror fan for much of her life, merged her understanding of the human psyche and deep love for storytelling into a piece of fiction.

Publisher: Berkley (Sep 05, 2023) Length: 352 pages Formats: ebook, audiobook, paperback

Navigating the housing market is hard. Margaret and Hal had always dreamed about owning the house but couldn’t afford it. Once they saw a listing for a grand Victorian home at an unusually low price, they took a leap of faith. Without getting into details like, say, multiple deaths that happened within its walls.

Fast forward a few years, and Margaret is happy with their purchase. Sturdy floors and interiors overweight nighttime screams or birds that smash themselves into the side of the house. The river of blood cascading down the stairs, though, is problematic. So are some of the house’s undead residents. Most of them are lovely, mind, but Elias, for example, has a habit of lashing at everyone. And then there’s the matter of the basement, which is best left unmentioned.

The September House tells a great story and does it well. Margaret’s stoic demeanor and practical approach to dealing with the supernatural are refreshing. She makes no big deal of ghosts trying to attack her or maimed bodies of deceased “pranksters” who had the misfortune to die in the house in the past. She’s refreshingly unclichéd, and I loved her for it. 

I also loved how the tone of the book changed from laugh-out-loud funny to horrifying. In the beginning, you may think “Whoa, I didn’t know cozy horror was a thing but apparently it is”. And you would be almost right. Except for the bloodier bits. Quite graphic, those. But even in the darkest moments, the story remains human and heartfelt.

The haunted house story alone was enough to keep me glued to the pages but it’s just one layer of this narrative. Others reveal the secrets of the couple who purchased the house, exploring themes of an abusive relationship and mental illness. The stakes escalate rapidly when Hal goes missing, and Margaret’s daughter, Katherine, visits her mother to understand what’s going on with her parents. Her arrival allows the author to unearth even more family secrets, all delivered with empathy, wry humor, and impeccable timing. 

While I wouldn’t describe the twists as shocking, I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the time spent with Margaret and her eerie home. 

The September House is not only compulsively readable but also emotionally satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciated how it played with the familiar trope of the haunted house. 

And if you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to it – Kimberly Farr (the narrator) has done a stellar job, here.

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