A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher horror book reviewsA House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher horror book reviews“There was a vulture on the mailbox of my grandmother’s house.”

A couple of weeks ago there was a big discussion on Twitter about “cozy horror.” I followed it, but never really understood what “cozy” was supposed to be. I feel confident saying that T. Kingfisher is the queen of Cozy Horror, though —if “cozy” means there’s a house (haunted or not) and the ending has some bit of optimism. With 2023’s A House With Good Bones, Kingfisher delivers yet again; a creepy, suspenseful story with genuinely frightening entities and brave humans who struggle to take care of each other—with parts that are laugh-out-loud funny.

Sam (Samantha) Montgomery is a archaeo-entomologist, and when her work in Washington state is derailed by the discovery of ancient human remains, she decides to spend the summer with her mother in her home state of North Carolina. The first line, quoted above, gives you a sense of what she finds when she arrives at the house her grandmother lived in, and her mother has inherited. Gran Mae, Sam’s grandmother, was a nasty, controlling old woman, and when Sam, her mother and brother moved back in after Sam’s father died, she made the children’s lives miserable. Sam’s mother had changed the house after Gran Mae’s death, painting the rooms bright colors and swapping out some art, but when Sam arrives for the summer, she is shocked. The walls have all been returned to shades of off-white, and the hideous “bride and groom” painting over the mantel, featuring the groom in his Confederate uniform, is back in place after her mother had taken it down. Sam’s mom seems different too in many ways; she’s lost a lot of weight; she suddenly decides they say grace before meals, and stops Sam from swearing, even though she herself used to swear up a storm when circumstances required. And somehow, Gran Mae’s vast rose garden is as lush and pristine as ever. Someone is tending the bushes and they are thriving. Sam’s mom says it’s Phil, the handyman, and Phil thinks it’s her, but this is only one of the inconsistencies and mysteries Sam uncovers; along with terrible dreams, sleep paralysis, and a swarm of lady beetles that is one of the freakiest and most concretely described scenes in the book. And… there are vultures.

From the smart, sarcastic Sam to Phil, to the strange neighbor Gail that Gran Mae called “an old witch” (she’s younger than Gran Mae was), the book is filled with rounded lively characters and a “slow-burn” anxiety that ratchets up to a Dinner Scene From Hell that is unforgettable. Finally, Sam and her mother are able to band together to confront the rose witch, and only then do they discover that there are even worse things on the property.

If you like birds, the vultures in this story, especially a permanently injured vulture that lives with Gail, will captivate you. If you are interested in roses, you’ll… well, maybe you won’t end up loving them by the end of this book (I mean, Yikes!) but you will learn a lot, especially because Kingfisher starts each section, named for a numbered day of Sam’s visit, with a description of a different variety of rose. This is a book soundly rooted in generational horror, and Kingfisher makes good, with enough real-world humor to let the reader breathe. This was a solid five-star read for me.

Published in March 2023. “Mom seems off.” Her brother’s words echo in Sam Montgomery’s ear as she turns onto the quiet North Carolina street where their mother lives alone. She brushes the thought away as she climbs the front steps. Sam’s excited for this rare extended visit, and looking forward to nights with just the two of them, drinking boxed wine, watching murder mystery shows, and guessing who the killer is long before the characters figure it out. But stepping inside, she quickly realizes home isn’t what it used to be. Gone is the warm, cluttered charm her mom is known for; now the walls are painted a sterile white. Her mom jumps at the smallest noises and looks over her shoulder even when she’s the only person in the room. And when Sam steps out back to clear her head, she finds a jar of teeth hidden beneath the magazine-worthy rose bushes, and vultures are circling the garden from above. To find out what’s got her mom so frightened in her own home, Sam will go digging for the truth. But some secrets are better left buried.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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