The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
Be careful what you wish for.
When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie’s mental state has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax returns to the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching their family’s and the house’s history. And as Jax dives deeper into that research, she discovers that the land holds a far darker history than she could have ever imagined.
In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the spring is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.
A haunting, twisty, and compulsively readable thrill ride from the author who Chris Bohjalian has dubbed the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson,” The Drowning Kind is a modern-day ghost story that illuminates how the past, though sometimes forgotten, is never really far behind us.
I almost didn’t request this thriller because the plot above seemed to be the standard “girl returns home after sister dies in mysterious circumstances and she discovers deadly family secrets” trope and I wasn’t sure it would be interesting enough. However, the book’s blurb doesn’t do it justice.
The story is part mystery, part thriller, part family drama, part paranormal, and part horror story. It’s got layers upon layers upon layers that peel back like onion skin and couldn’t take the familiar trope further from its gothic roots. I even googled the setting of Brandenburg, Vermont to see if there had ever been “haunted” mineral springs there related to a hotel.
The author does an excellent job of portraying bipolar disorder in both Jax’s older sister and her father. So often this illness is mocked or belittled, and I was happy to see it written with an eye to how it affects both family members and the one’s who struggle to live with it.
The dual timeline of Lexie’s (older sister) research into their ancestor’s story and links to the mineral springs revealed the genetic link to mental illness, as well as the springs “haunted” lore and affects on people who came to use its waters as both cure and comfort.
The ending was one I didn’t see coming and that’s all I ask of a great thriller. Keep it rolling right up until the end and shock me. This book is SO much more than what the blurb gives it credit for…you won’t be disappointed! I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own. 5 stars.
Egyptian Princess: A Story of Hagar by KD Holmberg
Two women, one ancient Egyptian harem, and the daring decision that changed the course of history.
In the opulent court of Egypt’s tenth dynasty, Princess Hagar has always known her destiny. One day, she will marry the Crown Prince Merikare and become the Great Royal Wife, the most powerful woman in Egypt. But dark dreams afflict Hagar the moment she hears of the latest addition to Pharaoh’s harem: the stunning, iridescent Sumerian, Sarai. Princess Hagar feels a powerful presence around the Sumerian woman. Hagar suspects Sarai has brought black magic into the palace—but what can she do to convince Pharaoh?
The intrigue of Pharaoh’s court pales in comparison to that swirling in the Royal House of Women among the wives, children, and concubines of the king. Sarai’s arrival upsets the already precarious balance. Loyalties divide, and betrayal, jealousy, and tragedy plague the once peaceful household. When a series of disasters befalls Egypt, Hagar must make a daring decision, and the stakes could not be higher. She could lose everything—her position, her power, her family, and even her life.
Torn between the silent gods of Egypt and the powerful presence that surrounds Sarai, Hagar’s world falls apart around her. She must acknowledge the terrible price of truth, and decide for herself who she will serve.
I flew through this book in two days, and it’s not a short book. I read it on my phone when I couldn’t be on my Kindle. I’d never heard of the fact that Hagar, “Sarai’s Egyptian handmaiden”, as she’s described in the book of Genesis, was first a royal princess of Egypt and the twin of a Pharoah in the 10th Century.
This is something not widely known in Christian denominations but is well known in Jewish and Islamic traditions. It’s written about in The Midrash (Gen. R. xlv.) which states: Hagar was the daughter of Pharaoh, who, seeing what great miracles God had done for Sarah’s sake (Gen. xii.17), said: “It is better for Hagar to be a handmaid in Sarah’s house than a mistress in her own.” The Midrash is an ancient Rabbinic interpretation of scripture. There is also reference to Hagar in the Ancient Book of Jasher, known as The Book of Wisdom. Jasher was in the original King James Version of the Bible in 1611 AD and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but is no longer included in the Biblical Canon.
In Islamic tradition, Hagar and her son Ishmael (by Abraham) are considered to be ancestors of their prophet Mohammed, and there are many miracles attributed to Hagar, which neither the Torah nor the Midrashim refer to.
So, now that we know where the author got her fascinating premise for the book (and she explains her research more in detail at the back of it), her impeccable details of Egyptian life at the time of Abram and Sarai arriving during the famine are fascinating. When Abram lies about Sarai being his wife and says she’s his sister so that they might be spared death at Pharaoh’s hand, Sarai and Hagar become friends in The House of Royal Women.
If you love Biblical fiction, this book surpasses most in terms of its historical detail and research. I loved the care the author took in developing the characters and showing how limited a woman’s life was, even though she was one of the most powerful in the land. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I bought my own copy on a whim, as I’m usually disappointed by the lack of depth in Biblical fiction. I’m anxious to read the next book in the series, which is coming out from Mountain Brook Ink in 2022. 5 Stars.