Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: Help for the Haunted by John Searles

Title:  Help for the Haunted
Author: John Searles
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.

As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

My Review:

It's nearly October, and for me, that means at least some of my reading selections have to get me in the mood for Halloween.  I love a good thriller, mystery, or horror book from time to time, but they're never better than this time of year.  BOO!

Help for the Haunted certainly fits the bill.  Ghosts plus murder mystery = can't go wrong for the season.  Paranormal is not generally my thing, but I like how Searles handled it in this novel.  Ghosts and spirits are not the main point here: Sylvie's quest to understand her parents and their deaths is.  The world of the paranormal that they worked within provides a creepy background ambiance that makes this a little different than your normal mystery or coming-of-age story.

For me, the best thing about this novel was Sylvie herself.  She is an excellent narrator: in her early teens, she is often working just as hard to figure herself out as she is trying to find out what happened to her parents.  As a result, sometimes she comes off as precocious and whip-smart; other times, she makes mistakes typical of any middle-school girl.  The balance in her character is what makes her believable and relatable.  I loved watching her grow emotionally throughout the novel.  I also enjoyed the changes I saw in her parents' characters--especially because, for most of the novel, they are deceased and only described to you through Sylvie's recollections.  My impression of them changed completely as I read, and I love that Searles was able to make them morph so much (even after their deaths) as the story progressed.

The story/mystery itself is also good, though overall, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed by the time I reached the end.  Obviously this was not because of Sylvie or the narration...and it wasn't the ending itself, which I found to be pleasantly unpredictable (a total must for mysteries, in my eyes).  It may have been the pacing.  I felt like some parts of the novel were unnecessarily drawn out, which pulled me away from the story at times.  Then something great would happen to pull me back in, but those moments of standing still were enough to make me feel a bit "eh" by the whole thing at the end.

So, my final verdict: excellent plot balance and characterization!  Unpredictable mystery!  Ghosts for Halloween!  But, at the end I wasn't bowled over.  I wish things had moved a little more smoothly, because the slower pacing took my head out of the story too many times, and left me with an overall impression at the end that didn't allow me to love it.  This may be more of a personal preference though, so if you're looking for a book that combines mystery and solid characters, this could be a good one to try out (especially this time of year)...

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with John Searles on Twitter or see the book trailer HERE.

Have you read any books lately that left you with that "eh" feeling at the end?


  1. My latest "eh" was Francine LaSala's The Girl, the Gold Tooth, and Everything. I liked it while I was reading it, but the way everything wrapped up just didn't quite work for me.

    1. Yeah, I feel like that "eh" feeling is most often brought on by either a so-so ending, or a book with a lot of great things about it that just doesn't manage to pull me in overall (this one).

  2. This has been on my radar! Your review sounds interesting, I think ill add it to the tbr list :)

    1. Would love to hear what you think if you read it!

  3. I'm not into paranormal as a genre at all, but when I don't mind those elements when they come with a different approach (literary, surreal, whatever). Sorry this one fell a little flat for you toward the end - pacing is so important! Still, sounds like a good read when wanting something a bit different.

    1. I agree re: paranormal, it has to be done along with something else (can't be the central focus or primary genre).

  4. This sounds really good! I'm not big on paranormal but because the book is not about the ghosts so much as the narrator's story I will have to check it out. Thank you!

    1. Would love to hear what you think if you get a chance to read it!

  5. When this happens to me it's almost worse than if a book was total garbage, lol. It's almost there, the goodness is SO CLOSE you can't taste it...but then nope. Rats!

    I'm sure you have more spooky reads on tap ;)

    1. I agree! At least if a book is total crap, it will stick in my mind for a while (even if not for a great reason). If a book is rather blah, I'm likely to forget about it more quickly, which is a shame.

  6. I haven't really noticed that my reading tastes change with the season, although I've definitely noticed how popular horror gets in the fall! Here's a nice list of halloween-ish challenges in case you're looking for some :)

    1. Thanks for the list! I love Tanya's blog and will definitely check that out :)

  7. Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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