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May 10, 2022

Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach ~ a Review

by MK French

After a very public meltdown, Olivia Reed goes to the House of Light in upstate New York for a spiritual retreat. A local warns her that nothing is what it seems and that no one will listen to her. Olivia figures she can use her celebrity status for good, but Olivia starts to wonder if anything is what it seems.

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

book cover of thriller Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach
May 2022; Ballantine Books; 978-0593356043
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); thriller

Caite also wrote the amazing novel Dead Letters (read my review), so one of the characters may be familiar. Don't feel bad if you don't catch it, it took me a laughably long time to realize it because I was too focused on Liv's story and didn't notice until it was obvious. Intercut with interviews, parts of Liv's podcast, and other ephemera, the mystery of the House of Light deepens. Staff members seem to act in creepy ways, another retreat member disappears, Liv sees an odd ritual at night, and she's summarily thrown out for asking too many questions. She's contrary enough to keep going, and even her fear, when threatened, isn't enough to keep her from her new mission in life.

Embedded in this novel is the question of fame, family, and identity. Even when we know the names of the women that died, we don't know why it happened or who was behind it. Trying to discover that becomes more about the process than the women themselves, commodifying the dead. Liv does have some qualms about this and persists despite threats. Her mother had abandoned her years before, her father is a genteel leech, and her manager Jess circles her orbit and redirects where she goes. Liv has a measure of self-absorption as a result of her popularity, but at the same time she does have paparazzi following her that's only too eager to paint her in the worst light. She has few real connections in life, so she quickly bonds to those paying attention to her and catching her interest. Her bond with Ava and Ava's family is like that and helps to push the second half of the book forward.

I was enthralled with this, much as I was with Caite's earlier novels. Even if you find the characters unpleasant, they're still charismatic and you can't help but wonder what's going on as they do. We find the answers to all of our questions by the end, even questions about Ava and her dead twin sister. I couldn't put this book down, and I think you won't be able to either.

Buy Dark Circles at Amazon

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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