Cover of Harmony House by Nic Sheff. A ghostly woman appears on a staircase

About the Book

Title: Harmony House
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Weird Title
Drinking Buddy: Nope
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Flatline
Talky Talk: USA Up All Night
Bonus Factors: Haunted Mansion, THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!
Bromance Status: Fifth Grade Campmate

Cover Story: Weird Title

It’s an okay, if not cliche, cover for a horror story. But the title makes it seem like we’re talking about an LGBTQ-friendly community center.

The Deal:

Jen Noonan’s mother just died. Her hyper-religious father takes her to live at Harmony House, a dilapidated hotel in the middle of nowhere. They’ll serve as…I dunno, caretakers or something. This was never explained very well.

Anyway, the hotel has a bad reputation. It used to serve as a home for unwed mothers, back in the day. Very high infant mortality rate. Very high. And now that the Noonans have moved in, strange things happen. Jen keeps seeing visions of a young nun and a little boy. Hearing voices. Things move. She forgets things. Wakes up with strange bruises.

Is the house haunted? Does Jen have a mysterious power? Or could it be linked to the handfuls of stolen prescription pills she downs every night? Jen tries to make sense of the loss of her mother, the mysterious injury of her ex-boyfriend, and her father’s increasingly disturbing religious fervor.

Drinking Buddy: Nope

Two pints of beer cheersing with a "Denied" stamp over them

I think this book would have been better had there been a main character with more depth and emotional range. A cardboard standee, for instance. Jen reacts to physical assault, weird visions, the decline of her health, the loss of her mother, and her father’s mental breakdown in the same way: popping pills and worrying.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Flatline

Things would have been scarier, had Jen been capable of reacting to anything.

Witnesses pedestrian getting killed in traffic accident: upset…for hours

Nearly raped in brutal home invasion: no point in cancelling my sleepover tomorrow

Sees vision of dead woman hanging by her neck: goes to brush teeth

Weird local lady foretells her doom: blows her off (but worries later that she was rude)

Talky Talk: USA Up All Night

If you don’t remember this show, it was a late night movie program, featuring low budget movies, often horror flicks, hosted by Gilbert Gottfried.

And that’s what this novel is. It tries hard. It really does. The book rips off nearly a half-dozen Stephen King stories. But when it comes down to it, Jen is unlikable, her visions are episodic, and the horror factor simply is not there. By the time the climatic final storm takes place (an event foreshadowed about eighty-seven times), I was kind of flipping pages.

To add to this, there is almost no backstory, and a lot is left unexplained. Perhaps they’re building for a sequel, but I think it was just sloppy writing.

Bonus Factor: Haunted Mansion

Little ghost sugar cookies

The book opens with a flashback to this 1800s girl hanging herself. And Jen finds a bunch of infant graves out in the woods (no names, only dates. One date). And in her visions, we realize the nuns were killing the babies because they were…I dunno, Satanists or something. Again, we’re left in the dark.

A good set up, a poor execution.


Black and white still of Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunted, where he plays a psycho minister

Mr. Noonan is a religious guy. He starts off normal: praying before meals and trying to frame his wife’s death as part of God’s plan. But the more he stays in Harmony House, the more frightening his blend of Evangelism and Catholicism becomes. Soon he’s ready to drive the devil out of Jen, no matter how long her has to hold her underwater.

Bromance Status: Fifth Grade Campmate

Yeah, this book reminds me of the old ghost stories we’d tell around the campfire when I was in elementary school. They didn’t scare me then, either.

FTC full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. But no money. They’ll pay. Oh, they’ll pay.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.