Book Review: Horseman by Christina Henry

Title: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.

Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods? 

Christina Henry books are always a treat, and this new release is another book that was perfect for my October spooky mood.

Horseman revisit the tale of the Headless Horseman, but with plenty of twists. While in the original legend, Brom Bones was a bully and somewhat of a villain, here in Horseman, he’s main character Ben’s beloved grandfather. Brom is big and self-assured, a leader within the town, a successful farmer, with an amazing laugh, and the person Ben turns to for love, understanding, and reassurance above all others.

Brom is happily married to Katrina, and theirs is a love match that often makes Ben blush after stumbling across one of their embraces or loving looks.

As the story starts, Ben stumbles upon a corpse in the woods — a boy from town who’s been left gruesomely dismembered, missing his head and hands. Soon after, Ben discovers a sheep in similar condition. Who — or what — is stalking Sleepy Hollow? Is it an evil spirit? Is it human wrongdoing? How does the legendary Horseman of Sleepy Hollow’s past fit into this? And what are those scary voices that Ben hears in the woods?

Without giving anything else away, I’ll just say that I loved this book! There’s gore and terrifying interludes, but most of all, the story itself is fast-paced and immediately immersive, and I loved the characters. The author does an amazing job of weaving in the classic Legend of Sleep Hollow, providing new context for the story and new explanations of its events, but also bringing the key characters forward into the next generation.

Brom is a fabulous character, hard-edged when threatened, but absolutely lovable and lovely when it comes to his wife and grandchild. Katrina, as seen through Ben’s eyes, initially comes across as mean and restrictive, but as the book progresses, we (and Ben) get to know her better and see that all is not as it initially seems. And Ben! Well, I encourage everyone to read Horseman and get acquainted with Ben on your own, but Ben is a brave but vulnerable character who struggles not just with the strange and scary happenings within Sleepy Hollow, but must also come to terms with family history, finding one’s place in a world that has strict expectations and limits of what’s acceptable, and embracing one’s true identity and committing to setting a path of one’s own.

Horseman is a terrific read at any time, but particularly if you’re looking for eerie, spooky, haunting reads in the weeks before Halloween. Highly recommended!


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Book Review: Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Title: Cackle
Author: Rachel Harrison
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All her life, Annie has played it nice and safe. After being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Annie seeks a fresh start. She accepts a teaching position that moves her from Manhattan to a small village upstate. She’s stunned by how perfect and picturesque the town is. The people are all friendly and warm. Her new apartment is dreamy too, minus the oddly persistent spider infestation.

Then Annie meets Sophie. Beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who takes a special interest in Annie, who wants to be her friend. More importantly, she wants Annie to stop apologizing and start living for herself. That’s how Sophie lives. Annie can’t help but gravitate toward the self-possessed Sophie, wanting to spend more and more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the townsfolk seem…a little afraid of her. And like, okay. There are some things. Sophie’s appearance is uncanny and ageless, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power…but she couldn’t be…could she?

Feeling witchy? Cackle is a perfect choice for the spooky month of October!

As Cackle opens, Annie’s life, to be blunt, sucks. Her long-term boyfriend has informed her that their relationship is more friendship than romance — but since good apartments are hard to come by, they keep living together, taking turns on the futon, for five more months. No wonder Annie is depressed and in a rut, especially since Josh was so much the center of her world for all these years that she never developed a friend circle and is now alone and miserable.

Annie finally makes a change in her life, and it’s a big one: She’s moves from Manhattan to the small town of Rowan in upstate New York, where she accepts a teaching job at a local high school and moves into a rented apartment. She doesn’t quite know how to connect with locals and worries that she’s made a terrible mistake… until she meets Sophie.

Sophie is beautiful and kind, immediately taking an interest in helping Annie settle in and offering her unconditional friendship. But why do the townspeople all seem so deferential and even afraid when it comes to Sophie? Sophie takes Annie to her mansion in the woods, showers her with gifts, and offers her a refuge in which to be pampered and recenter her life. And Annie loves it — but is Sophie too good to be true?

Cackle is a fun romp, with some scary/slightly gross moments in the mix, but it stays mostly on the lighter side. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found in Annie’s enjoyment of Sophie’s friendship, even while red flags are popping up everywhere. (There’s also super adorable Ralph, and I’m not going to say any more about him! You need to meet him for yourself.) While it seems clear from the start that Sophie has secrets, Annie remains oblivious for quite a while, and even when she begins to sort it all out, her responses aren’t entirely what I would have expected.

This is an enjoyable pre-Halloween read — not too heavy or serious, some good character development and support of not bowing to others’ opinions, finding one’s true self, and a celebration of friendship. Plus… witches!!


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