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October 13, 2021

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke ~ a Review & Excerpt

by MK French


In 1998, single mother Liv is hired to paint a mural in a decommissioned lighthouse in Scotland. She sees it as a new start with her three daughters Sapphire, Luna, and Clover. The cave beneath the lighthouse once held witches condemned to death, and there is a local legend of wildlings mimicking the children that had gone missing. Then the unthinkable happens and two of her daughters disappear. Twenty-two years later, Luna had been searching for her missing mother and sisters when her younger sister Clover is found. The thing is, Clover was found in Scotland at the exact same age she was when she went missing.

 Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Lighthouse of Witches
October 2021; Berkley; 978-0593334232
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); paranormal suspense

The Lighthouse Witches
is fantastic and hooked me in from the beginning. Liv had a lot of difficulties in her life before accepting the job in Scotland, fifteen year old Sapphire was desperate to be liked and accepted, ten-year-old Luna felt invisible and seven-year-old Clover had no idea what was happening. The local legends are frightening, especially with stories throughout the centuries of missing children, calamities befalling the town, and the curse placed upon the town by the witches that had been killed there in the 1600s as part of the Witch Hunts spurred on by King James. The lighthouse is older and decrepit, and the mural Liv is asked to paint is one of runes. The spooky place hadn’t been kept up, and the locals tended to band together, keeping the newcomers at bay.

In this book are several threads: Liv in 1998, Sapphire in 1998, and Luna in 2021. Dovetailed along with this are sections from a  grimoire that Sapphire found in the lighthouse that detailed what had happened during the witch hunts that set off the curse in the town. The stories progress with a greater and spookier outlook, especially when some of the past tales seem to be happening again in 2021. We don’t know why Clover is still seven years old and where she had been for twenty-two years, and Clover can’t explain some of her bizarre behavior when Luna sees her. The two go back to the lighthouse, knowing that they have to be there, and it’s only toward the end that we find out why everything had happened. It’s an enthralling story, one that had me racing through the pages to see what would happen next. The different voices and the timelines are richly done, and I enjoyed every moment reading this.

Buy The Lighthouse Witches at Amazon

Read of an excerpt from The Lighthouse Witches

LUNA, 2021
I

Luna swims to the surface of sleep and lurches upright with a gasp.

She had the dream again. The one about her mother killing her. This time her mother made her sit in the lantern room of the Longing, the sky outside dark and sequined with stars. On the ground, a silky plum-dark liquid swirled around her feet.

“Hold still,” her mother said, and she squeezed her knees together as she had a hundred times before, when her mother braided her hair and ordered her to sit still. Only this time, her mother wasn’t braiding her hair. She was smashing Luna’s head with a hammer. The liquid on the ground was her blood.
The tapping sound of the hammer continues, seeping into her conscious thoughts. She realizes she didn’t dream that part at all— it’s coming from the front door.

She gets up awkwardly, cradling her stomach with a hand as she moves one leg at a time over the side of the bed, the roundness of it fitting neatly into her palm. Up until twenty weeks she’d had no bump at all, no proof of her cargo. She fretted about it, mostly because her pregnancy app depicted a cartoon of a woman with a neat round melon and all she’d developed was a kind of spare tire around her waistline that sagged over her jeans. Somewhere around week twenty-four her belly had seemed to erupt. Now she can’t go an hour without peeing and could eat beefsteak tomatoes until the cows come home. She eats them like apples, letting the sweet red juice run down the sides of her mouth, seeds corralling in her cleavage.

The knocking continues. She pulls the door open to find Margaret standing there, their neighbor from the flat upstairs. Marga- ret’s in her seventies and generally aggrieved about something or other. Today is no exception.

“I really do think I’m a very patient neighbor, but this really takes both the cake and the biscuit!”

“I’m sorry, what?” Luna’s eyes fall on the object that Margaret is holding in front of her like evidence of some sort. It’s a limpet shell.

“I have no objection to you running a business from home,” Margaret says, “and when Ethan said he wanted to clean his tools in the front garden, did I quibble? Not a word did you hear from me. But when you decide to fill your bin until it explodes all over the street, I really must speak out. I could have twisted my ankle!” “I don’t know what you’re . . .” Luna steps forward, following the sweep of Margaret’s hand to the wheelie bin left out on the curb. Someone has dumped another two bags of rubbish inside, leaving the lid flipped open. The top bag has ripped, revealing hundreds of shells that spew over the garden path: cockles, whelks, periwinkles, barnacles, and even what she used to call smacked lugs, the purple and black ear-shape of mussel shells. Someone’s shell collection, perhaps, or a homeschool project.

Margaret follows her to the bin, where she stoops down, trying to pick up one of the burst bags to stuff it back into the bin.

“I can’t for the life of me work out why you’d gather so many shells,” Margaret says, aggrieved. “Nor why you’d put them in the general waste.”

“I didn’t.” Luna says it with a sigh. Her head throbs and it’s suddenly difficult to breathe.

“Ethan must have done it,” Margaret decides, folding her arms. “Ethan’s not here.”

“Not here? Well, where is he?”

Luna turns and places her hands on the old woman’s shoulders. “I’ll clean it up,” she says with a forced smile.

“But . . . but . . .”

Before Margaret can think of another stream of questions Luna has headed back inside, locking the door behind her.


II

Light from the window washes the surfaces of Luna’s flat: a Pilates reformer, her sewing table, the life-sized orthopedic skeleton she bought Ethan as a gift when he started his physiology course, her handmade necklaces of leather and driftwood hanging from an ironing board. The plan was to sell the necklaces on Etsy and buy baby things with the extra cash, but the orders haven’t exactly been flooding in. Ethan has taken on extra Pilates classes to cover their rent, but he failed his last physiology exams. On the coffee table—an old milk crate they plucked out of a Dumpster—there’s a stack of textbooks borrowed from the library for Monday’s re-sit.

She sinks down on the sofa, anger crackling in her ears, fizzing in her wrists. The dream of her mother dances around her head like shards of glass. Every time she thinks or dreams of her mother, it happens. Ethan calls the days after such dreams a rage hangover— the massive comedown from some intense buildup of fury—and as usual she’s drained and weepy. Her memories of Lòn Haven are still so fragmented, little more than shattered slivers of a mirror.

The psychiatrist said trauma can cause memory loss. Whatever happened was so terrible it caused her to dissociate, effectively checking out of the horror. But the memories will be in there somewhere, buried deep in the earth of her mind. It makes her angry, the forgetting. What she does know—or what her social services file states—is that her mother, Liv, abandoned her there when she was nine. No explanation. No apparent motivation. Just dumped her in the woods and vanished into thin air.

She’s never been back to Lòn Haven, never so much as googled it. The very thought of that place triggers a panic attack.

She cradles the small gray triangle of a limpet shell in her hand. A limpet will wear away a patch of rock to fit its shell exactly. A home scar, it’s called, sealing it to the rock. Creating a tight fit to its home. Limpets move around at night to feed, but they always return to the home scar.

Where did she learn that? A few images begin to coalesce in her mind: her mother at a garden gate, bending down to pick up a limpet shell. There’s a raging sea behind her. And a lighthouse.

It’s Lòn Haven.

Luna gives a shudder and sets the shell down as though it’s white hot. She doesn’t dare touch it. Ethan is coming to pick her up shortly for the hospital scan. She’ll ask him to sweep up the shells when he arrives.

Excerpted from THE LIGHTHOUSE WITCHES by C.J. Cooke, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by C.J. Cooke


Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.



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