March 04, 2024

Gwendolyn Kiste: "The Haunting of Velkwood" (ARC Review)

Title: The Haunting of Velkwood [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Gwendolyn Kiste [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2024
Age: 14+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age in the present, but it can be read by mature teens. There are far more graphic YA books out there)
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Original take on the haunted house trope (where the house is a whole street). Riveting, atmospheric and suspenseful. Heartbreaking, but hopeful as well.
Cons: Could have used a little more worldbuilding and character development.
WARNING! Violence, domestic abuse (off-page), pedophilia/sexual abuse (off-page), homophobia, bug horror. 
Will appeal to: Fans of literal and psychological hauntings with a mystery (or more) to crack. Readers who favour dual narratives (past + present), female friendships/would-be-romances and sisterly relationships.

Blurb: The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter - and only one has in the past twenty years, until now. Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end? (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Edelweiss. Thanks to Saga Press (Simon & Schuster) for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


A haunting like no other. After a mysterious incident, a whole street vanished in plain sight (or, it didn't exactly vanish, but since then it has existed inside of a blurred bubble that nothing and no one can access...with a few exceptions), giving a brand new meaning to the expression "ghostly neighbourhood"...and its resident became ghosts themselves - or did they? It makes for an exciting premise and a fantastic setup, and for the most part, the story lives up to them (I have but a couple of minor quibbles that I'll come back to in the second part of my review). First one, then two, in the end all three of the estranged childhood friends who escaped the fate that befell their homes are able to enter the ghostly vicinity - but of course, at a cost; and with each trip, a new piece of the puzzle is revealed. Now, if grown-apart adults returning to their childhood lair, secrets and mysteries, and super-eerie locations/manifestations are your jam, this alone would be worth the admission fee; but like all the best horror stories are wont to do, The Haunting of Velkwood ultimately packs a lot more into its slight frame. [...]


You know how readers often complain about books being too long/loaded for the story they're meant to tell, or inflated with unnecessary filler? Well, this isn't the case here. On the contrary, I wish the worldbuilding and some characters (mainly Enid) had been given more space to breath. On the same note, I also wish we'd gotten more insight into the "ghosts" of Velkwood as a whole, their reactions - or lack thereof, I guess, at least in the beginning - to the first visitor they got (a flashback would have been neat), and the reason why they don't seem to acknowledge than the returning women have aged twenty years (especially when it comes to Grace and her old boyfriend)...though at the same time, I realise it adds to the eerie and warped atmosphere of the place. Lastly - and this is a personal preference - I wish the writing had been less fond of clauses and more structured, though there were a lot of concepts and similes that I liked. My nitpicking aside, The Haunting of Velkwood kept me entertained and spooked all the way through, and it will satisfy your craving for atmospheric and time-bending (or more like, time-looping) horror, all while weaving together threads of queer awakening (and women's awakening), dysfunctional parenting, sisterly love, child abuse, small-town bigotry/apathy and lingering trauma. No small feat for a relatively short novel (it clocks in at 256 pages) - and let me tell you, after reading it I'm definitely keeping Kiste on my radar. As you should 🙂.

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  1. You said bug horror, and I immediately felt itchy. HA! Bug horror is a spider in my shower, but I am sure it was something way worse in this book.

    1. "Bug horror is a spider in my shower"
      Yep...a bit worse, though no one was actually covered in bugs...

  2. Blurred bubble? wHAAT? I want to know

    1. The neighbourhood is hazy and an extent 😉.

  3. This reminds me of IT but not, lol. I hope that makes sense. (Also, I'm going using the two movies as a guide since I've never read IT.)

    1. I've never read IT...nor have I seen the movies LOL. But from what I know second-hand, it's quite different.

  4. Bugs and water are two of my nopes. lol
    I'm glad you enjoyed it though.

    1. I HATE bugs, but for some reason I can stomach them in books...Anyhow, this isn't hard bug horror, if it makes sense. It's not like they crawl over people or something 😅.

  5. I'm really regretting not requesting this. And I still haven't read any of Kiste's books! This is firmly on my TBR to get to at some point. Awesome review!

    1. Thank you! This was my first Kiste too. I hope you'll get to it eventually...😅


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