The Ex Hex

By: Erin Sterling

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

This book was recommended by countless folks online. Hailed as a fun, sexy, witchy, Halloween read sure to leave me crying in laughter, I lost not time in making this my Book of the Month Club choice, eager to dig in and read this holiday rom-com. 

What I wanted was a fun, lighthearted, romance book with a touch of the supernatural. What I got was a cringe-worthy, smutty, high school-ish story that was so bad, I couldn’t finish. 

Overall, the concept overall sounded fun. I instantly fell in love with the town of Graves Glenand the whole concept of hexing a former lover seemed hilarious. Anyone who’s ever been through a breakup of any kind wishes they had the kind of magic to bestow something unfortunate on their ex. As someone who is (happily) divorced, I would have given almost anything for a magic wand and a grimoire filled with spells to cast those most hapless of circumstances on my ex-husband. 

But that was after 10 years of marriage. It’s hard to imagine being that upset after only a 3 month snog fest. So, right off the bat, I was a little confused as to why Vivienne was so heartbroken as to cast a curse. And with a Bath and Body Works candle, no less. Then NINE YEARS LATER, Rhys comes back to town and she’s all undone again? And so is he? I just couldn’t buy it. It made no sense. And there was no chemistry at all between Rhys and Vivi. 

The overuse of certain female anatomy had me cringing. Gwen’s obsession with sex was very high-schoolish and not worthy at all of someone who is supposed to be in her late twenties. Rhys acting clueless 100% of the time was more than I could take. I got about 40% through the book and had to DNF it. I couldn’t go on anymore. And that was after I survived the magic cave of instant arousal which was just high school. 

I wanted to like this book. The overall concept hooked me. Unfortunately, that’s where this ended. It was too immature, too high school and too cringy for me. 

The Shadow House

By: Anna Downes

Alex, a single mother-of-two, is determined to make a fresh start for her and her children. In an effort to escape her troubled past, she seeks refuge in a rural community. Pine Ridge is idyllic; the surrounding forests are beautiful and the locals welcoming. Mostly.

But Alex finds that she may have disturbed barely hidden secrets in her new home. As a chain of bizarre events is set off, events eerily familiar to those who have lived there for years, Alex realizes that she and her family might be in greater danger than ever before. And that the only way to protect them all is to confront the shadows lurking in Pine Ridge.

If Oscars were given out for opening chapters of a book, I’d hope Anna Downes would get one for this one. The opening chapter was deliciously creepy and drew me in right away. I instantly wanted to keep going. 

Alex is such a broken character. With a teenager (who’s good at being a teenager) and a baby still being breastfed, she’s clearly worn out and looking for something new. Add that she’s running from an abusive relationship and you have a woman so mentally exhausted even the smallest shadows will play on her mind. 

Alex’s story is told in the first person point of view (my favorite!) so we’re treated to the internal monologues of a person trying to stay connected with her disengaged teenaged son who clearly needs his mother now more than ever yet still care for a baby whose basic needs seem all consuming. I liked her instantly. I felt her weariness at life over all, her desire to constantly run away and her fierce love for her children. 

Renee’s story is told in 3rd person but we are also treated to a kaleidoscope of emotion. I placed Renee at around the same age as Alex. While Alex has a baby to contend with, Renee has two overbearing, interruptive and opinionated parents to deal with. She feels their constant judgment of her as a wife and a mother while standing in the gap between them and her husband and her son, trying to keep the peace. 

In the midst of all of this is a creepy force attempting to steal their children and their lives. It disrupts the very fabric of the lives of these two women at the very worst of times. It plays on their minds, steals their peace and leaves both women hopeless. 

I really loved how these two stories were written. The events in Alex’s and Renee’s lives are lived perpendicular to each other at first but later in the story, they intersect in a most shocking reveal which I did not see coming. 

I loved the ending. Just when you thought it was all over, it really wasn’t. Not until the very end and I have to say, I was so pleased with the ending each character got. It wasn’t unbelievable in any way. 

If I have a critique at all, it’s how Renee’s parents were written. They could have been written as the insane, overbearing, judgmental people they were without adding in the Christian element. This is more of a personal remark as we Christians are almost always portrayed as Bible-thumping, unloving, calling Satan down, unreasonable people when most of us are not and most of us would not act like they did with our families. That being said, I will also add that it works well in this story. Go figure. 

My recommendation is to read this! It’s not scary but it is creepy and will keep you engaged from the first page to the very last. 

NOTE – Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐