A gripping blend of psychological suspense and historical true crime, this riveting novel—inspired by a sensational real-life murder from the 1800s—by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault delivers a heart-stopping mystery linking two young mothers from different centuries.
Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living in the same house in two different centuries.
1885: Frances Barnett is in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, telling her story to a visitor. She has come to distrust her own memories, and believes that her pregnancy, birth, and early days of motherhood may have impaired her sanity.
During the earliest months of her baby’s life, Frances eagerly followed the famous murder trial of Mary Stannard—that captivated New Englanders with its salacious details and expert forensic testimony. Following—and even attending—this trial, Frances found an escape from the monotony of new motherhood. But as her story unfolds, Frances must admit that her obsession with the details of the murder were not entirely innocent.
Present day: Abby has been adjusting to motherhood smoothly—until recently, when odd sensations and dreams have begun to unsettle her while home alone with her baby. When she starts to question the house’s history, she is given the diary of Frances Barnett, who lived in the house 125 years earlier. Abby finds the diary disturbing, and researches the Barnett family’s history. The more Abby learns, the more she wonders about a negative—possibly supernatural—influence in her house. She becomes convinced that when she sleeps, she leaves her daughter vulnerable—and then vows not to sleep until she can determine the cause of her eerie experiences.
Frances Barnett might not be the only new mother to lose her mind in this house. And like Frances, Abby discovers that by trying to uncover another’s secrets, she risks awakening some of her own.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 26, 2016)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 26, 2016)
I adore a good ghost story, spooky and atmospheric and The Evening Spider certainly delivers. You have the old historic house, the bleak and snowy winter setting, a lunatic asylum in 1885, the centuries-old murder of a young girl with details of the forensics involved at that time, an exhausted new mother--mostly alone with her baby (who has mysterious bruising), a ghostly voice shushing an infant... and it all comes together into a smart and creepy story with a quiet build up of tension. The back and forth perspectives of Abby's present-day experiences, Abby reading Frances's journal, and Frances telling her story to her brother from the asylum make for a disjointed and slightly jarring reading experience which works to build the suspense and a deep sense of foreboding. It's hard to discern what is real and what is imagined by both Abby and Francis. Is Baby Lucy in danger? Is the presence in the house Francis and did she do something horrible to her own child that got her sent to the asylum? Is Francis really speaking to her brother or is she telling her tale in her head? How are the past secrets of Abby and Francis connected to what is happening in the house?
This is the second of Arsenault's books that I have read, the first being In Search of the Rose Notes which also had parallel timelines and a narrative of past and present from dual perspectives. I think The Evening Spider does it even better. I find it interesting that what sparked Arsenault to write the book was an actual experience that she had, hearing her baby fussing over the baby monitor and then hearing a voice softly shushing her. The scene is replayed in the book and if that isn't creepy enough, there is the inclusion of a true crime case from 1878 Connecticut where a young farm girl is murdered that Frances is obsessed with (I love true events in my fiction). The Evening Spider successfully blends history, mystery, suspense, and paranormal elements into an absorbing story--perfect for adding a few goosebumps on a stormy evening.
Author Notes: Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I’m Gone. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.
Find out more about Emily at her website and connect with her on Facebook.
Food does not play a big role in the book but it is present--particularly in the journal that Abby obtains chronicling Frances's life. In it Frances talks about making dinners for her family and baking--in particular her mother's Cider Loaves. Frances doesn't have a passion for baking--seeing it as something she should do as a "normal" housewife and growing up was more interested in the scientific aspects of baking "...with its measurements and proportions and chemical reactions." In addition to the cider loaves, there are mentions of Molasses Biscuits, Saturday Spice Cake, sponge cakes, spice cake, plum pudding, gingerbread and ginger snaps, pumpkin pie, squash pie, and an less successful carrot pie, Baked Apple Pudding, soup, buttered bread and milk, roast chicken, and a Thanksgiving dinner including cornbread, turkey and oyster stuffing.
With all of the baked goods mentioned, I could have taken my inspiration there, but I am not a big fan of baking and I am currently cutting wheat, dairy, and processed sugar out of my diet for a few weeks. Instead, I decided to take loose inspiration from the cider loaves (thinking apples and apple cider vinegar) and cabbages, as a man that figures into Frances's past, sells or trades pumpkins and cabbages and at one point brings Frances and her husband three whole cabbages that she complains about in her diary (the smell of boiling cabbages makes her nauseous).
Having very recently purchasing an Inspiralizer and having all kinds of fun slicing every applicable produce item in my kitchen into spirals, I was trawling the Inspiralized website and saw an Apple, Fennel and Celeriac Slaw with a dressing of Apple Cider Vinaigrette. Since celeriac isn't as easy to find (or prep!) as cabbage, I switched up the recipe a bit. (Changes are in red below.) I liked the pale, mostly white color of this winter salad as it reminded me of the snowy setting of the story, but (and not to be graphic but it's part of the inspiration...) Frances has an interest in science and forensic details and an obsession with blood and "corpuscles" from the murder trial, so I thought that adding some bright red dried cranberries would be a nod to that, as well as add some color and flavor interest to the salad. You can now forget the fact of why they are in the salad and just enjoy them. ;-)
Apple, Fennel, and Cabbage Slaw with Dried Cranberries and Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted from Inspiralized
1 small head of cabbage (replacing the celeriac in the recipe)
1.5 Tbsp minced parsley (I used fennel fronds)
1 Granny Smith apples (I used 2 apples)
1 fennel bulb
(I added 1/3 cup dried cranberries)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (I added an extra tsp)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used grainy mustard)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I reduced to 2 Tbsp)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing into a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add cabbage, apple, fennel. Pour the dressing over and toss thoroughly to combine. Serve.
Notes/Results: Crisp, refreshing and a nice blend of sweet and tangy. I added extra apple and when making again, I will add another fennel bulb, as it's one of my favorite vegetables. The slaw partnered really well with a piece of seasoned and pan fried cod and was even better the next day. The spiralizer made quick work of shredding the cabbage and slicing the fennel and apple but you could also cut it all by hand and still enjoy the flavors in you don't have one. (If you do have a spiralizer, there is direction on the different blade settings to use on the site.) Easy, healthy, and delicious, I would happily make it again.
I am linking this book review and food pairing up at the Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking Event, an event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Evening Spider" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.