Review: Harmony House by Nic Sheff

Harmony House by Nic Sheff (03/22/16)

Jen Noonan’s father thinks a move to Harmony House is the key to salvation, but to everyone who has lived there before, it is a portal to pure horror.

After Jen’s alcoholic mother’s death, her father cracked. He dragged Jen to this dilapidated old manor on the shore of New Jersey to “start their new lives”—but Harmony House is more than just a creepy old estate. It’s got a chilling past—and the more Jen discovers its secrets, the more the house awakens. Strange visions follow Jen wherever she goes, and her father’s already-fragile sanity disintegrates before her eyes. As the forces in the house join together to terrorize Jen, she must find a way to escape the past she didn’t know was haunting her—and the mysterious and terrible power she didn’t realize she had.

Title: Harmony House
Author: Nic Sheff
Publication date: March 22, 2016

I received Harmony House from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This is my third negative review in the last week. (At least I managed to finish this one!) You might think I’m just in a bad mood or in a reading slump or something. I promise I’m not! I also finished two books that are getting four stars when their reviews are posted. I thought about holding this one just to break up the string of negative reviews, but since I’m already having trouble posting reviews of books that were sent to me or requested through NetGalley/Edelweiss before release or even during release week (read: I’m lazy), I really wanted to get this one posted “on time.” Unfortunately, the book didn’t impress me the way I hoped it would.

I expected, and hoped, Harmony House would be a creepy book about a creepy haunted house, the kind of book that would be just perfect for me to include on a Scaretober recommendations list later this year. What I got was a lot of disappointment and confusion.

Jen’s mother has recently died and her father has taken a new job as caretaker of Harmony House, a weird old Gothic mansion that’s currently a hotel. Previously, it was a family home where a young girl committed suicide and, rumor has it, a Catholic-run home for unwed mothers. Its history is not good. Harmony House is in a New Jersey beach town and it’s winter, so the hotel isn’t currently open I guess. Jen and her dad have to fix the place up to get it ready to open in the spring. Summer? I don’t know. Where is the owner? Why did he hired Jen’s dad to do all the work? Why isn’t he there making the decisions and directing Jen’s dad?

Jen gets a bad feeling before she even enters the house, which is pretty typical for these types of stories, horror movies, and ghost shows on TV. Once she goes inside and starts living there, things quickly go from bad to worse. Jen hears voices — including her dead mother’s, — sees movement out of the corners of her eyes, and starts having hallucinations/dreams/nightmares. This is where it got confusing for me. I was never really sure what was real and what Jen was imagining. I suppose she felt the same way. There was a boy who would emerge from the woods every day or couple of days and I wasn’t clear on whether he was real or a ghost or a hallucination until later.

The characters are extremely underdeveloped, even Jen. I could never connect with her. I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for her because her mom had been an alcoholic and was now dead, her dad was hard to deal with, and she was torn away from her friends and forced to move to this creepy place in the middle of nowhere. But I didn’t feel sorry for her because I didn’t care enough about her to be bothered. She was just a cardboard character, could have been anyone.

Jen’s dad is very religious. Very, very religious. There are indications that this is not new, but I also wondered if some of it was the influence of the house. He would seem to be fine one moment and the next moment he was himself times ten. (Jen was the same way sometimes. She took a pill for her headache and then all of sudden she was popping pilfered Xanax at every turn. Did she have a drug problem before moving to Harmony House or was this new? House-related or just the way Jen was?) And I’m really tired of the reading about religious extremists. If there’s a religious character in a book, that person is probably an extremist. Where are all the normal Christians?

The story just doesn’t come together very well. There are some creepy parts, but overall, Harmony House just doesn’t deliver. I kind of skimmed the end because by about 75% through, I wasn’t enjoying the story and I just wanted to be done with it, but I also kind of wanted to know how it ended. Mostly I didn’t want to DNF my third book in a week. There was a lot of Latin near the very end but I got the gist of it. I can see how everything connected, but without a single character to care about, it just doesn’t make for a very compelling book.