Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review Tuesday: Haunted by Sommer Marsden

Haunted by Sommer Marsden
Excessica, 2015

Betrayed by his fiancee, Maddox Kinsey is on a tour of abandoned and desolate places, places that mirror the empty wasteland of his spirit. Rumor has it that Screamland Amusement Park is haunted. All Maddox sees are the bleached remains of a world once dedicated to fun, now derelict and ruined. Sure, a child was abducted from the park years ago, only to be found murdered months later. Yes, the boy’s father hung himself in the park on the anniversary of his son’s disappearance. But Maddox doesn’t believe the stories of a curse, despite the accidents that dogged Screamland in the years before its final closure.

Olyvia Bennett knows that ghosts exist. A member of the East Coast Ghost Squad, she prowls supposedly haunted locations, seeking evidence of a world beyond the grave. After losing her unborn daughter to a miscarriage and her husband to the consequent ravages of grief, she’s practically a ghost herself. She spends most of her time alone. She has to set an alarm to remind herself to eat. To stop the hurt, she has muffled her heart in layers of deliberate indifference.

These two lost souls meet among the dilapidated amusements, the Tunnel of Love choked with trash and the roller coaster collapsed like some dinosaur skeleton. Both are so accustomed to the pain of loss that the spark of mutual attraction astonishes them. Wary at first, then increasingly eager, they reach out and connect, each finding physical delight and emotional sustenance in the other’s arms.

However, they are not alone. A malicious specter stalks the park, threatening not just their newly-formed bond but their very lives. As Maddox and Olyvia struggle to escape the vengeful ghost, they discover just how powerful love can be.

I loved this book. Ms. Marsden evokes the sad, creepy world of Screamland with astonishing skill. For me, amusement parks and carnivals have always had a dark sort of magic, an aura of concentrated desire. Ms. Marsden shows us that magic, scattered and scarred but still potent.

The very best parts of Haunted, however, are the gorgeous love scenes, which are simultaneously explicit and spiritual. Sex is pure pleasure, rare joy, but much more. It elevates. It heals. Like Screamland’s coaster and carousel, Maddox and Olyvia are both broken. As they open themselves to one another, learning to trust and express their arousal, old wounds close. New hope builds. Terror, physical pain and threat of death only accelerate that transformation.

Ultimately, Haunted is a tale of redemption and a paean to the power of sexuality, a beautiful, uplifting and yes, very sexy, book. I bought it on impulse while shopping for something else, drawn by Willsin Rowe’s stunning cover. I’m so glad that I did.

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