Welcome to one of the January 5th stops on the blog tour for The Hush Sisters by Gerard Collins, organized by Silver Dagger Book Tours. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for excerpt spotlights, other guest posts, other reviews, and a giveaway! (More on that at the end of this post.) Read on for my review of The Hush Sisters and an interview section with the author himself.
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Before we get started I wanted to say that I owe a few more thanks than usual for access to this book. When I started this blog half way through 2020 and got into sharing reviews, I put out feelers to find out if any Canadian publishers had room on their PR lists for a starting blogger from Newfoundland, and local Newfoundland publisher Breakwater Books responded. Thank you so much to Samantha Fitzpatrick at Breakwater Books for the review copies I’ve been sent over the last few months. I received a copy of The Hush Sisters in October, when it was published, but unfortunately not in time for the author livestream advertised in the flyer sent with it. I’m not sure if Canada Post was too slow or if I didn’t check the mail enough that week. Either way, I received this book shortly before Halloween, and having just read and absolutely loved The Year of the Witching I was thrilled to see the pentagram symbol all over the cover. I was so ready for another great book with paranormal elements and a strong female lead! So this book took up residence on the end table beside my spot on the couch, waiting for me to get through the too many review titles I’d agreed to for fall and winter tours. (Lesson learned: don’t pick “any date is fine” when signing up as a reviewer rather than a promo host, and definitely do record the pending date to avoid double booking…)
And then I saw The Hush Sisters would be touring with Silver Dagger Book Tours. I felt terrible that I hadn’t read and reviewed this book yet, not just because it was sent by the publisher but also because I just plain wanted to read this one. I’m a master list blogger for Silver Dagger, so I’d have been on this tour anyway. Why not volunteer to review and thus make time to review it?
So thank you to Samantha Fitzpatrick at Breakwater Books for my physical copy of The Hush Sisters, thank you to Silver Dagger Book Tours for the opportunity to fit this into a schedule I hadn’t responsibly managed and for the digital copy, and thank you to Gerard Collins for writing such an amazing book and for sending along interview responses to include in this post.
Without further adieu…
The Hush Sisters
by Gerard Collins
Published 5 October 2020
by Breakwater Books
Genre: Gothic Fiction
Page Count: 312
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
49TH SHELF UTTERLY FANTASTIC BOOK FOR FALL
Sissy and Ava Hush are estranged, middle-aged sisters with little in common beyond their upbringing in a peculiar manor in downtown St. John’s. With both parents now dead, the siblings must decide what to do with the old house they’ve inherited. Despite their individual loneliness, neither is willing to change or cede to the other’s intentions. As the sisters discover the house’s dark secrets, the spirits of the past awaken, and strange events envelop them. The Hush sisters must either face these sinister forces together or be forever ripped apart.
In The Hush Sisters, Gerard Collins weaves psychological suspense with elements of the fantastic to craft a contemporary urban gothic that will keep readers spellbound until the novel whispers its startling secrets.
Sissy fixed the tea—red mug for Ava and black one for Sissy—and brought it to the table where she took up her favourite seat in the entire house. From there, if she turned around, she had a view of the back garden and, in a natural sitting position, a perfect line of sight through the kitchen and down the hallway toward the curved staircase with its wide bottom step, past the exposed brick chimney opposite the stairs, and all the way to the red front door. “Sorry there’s no sugar or cream,” she said.
“Don’t tell me—you gave them up?” Ava flashed a cheeky grin.
Sissy smiled and said, “Months ago.”
“You’re practically a monk,” said Ava as she drummed her scarlet-painted fingernails on the tabletop. “I don’t know how you stand it here with all this…old stuff.”
While she sipped from her dark mug, Sissy considered her response and wished for the drumming to stop. “It’s comforting to have all these connections to the past.”
Ava’s red-lipsticked mouth appeared to form a question. But instead of speaking, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back. “Listen.” Ava paused, allowing the natural world to have its say—the crick-crack of the walls and floorboards whenever the wind gusted, the long, inquisitive trill of a robin redbreast in one of the trees, and the chitter of a squirrel. “It’s like discordant music.” She smiled.
“The old place has its charms,” Sissy said.
Ava composed herself, willing the humour from her business-blue eyes. “You know I couldn’t live here.”
“I’m not in favour of selling,” Sissy said as she fingered the handle of her mug. “I told you already.”
“But you can’t afford to keep it up. Not by yourself.” Ava sipped her tea. “I don’t know how you live in this old city.”
“Old, old, old,” said Sissy. “That’s all you ever say about things around here. The house is too old. The city’s too old. Our father was too old to keep living here—”
“I still think he would’ve been better off at the old folks’ home till the end.”
“We both would’ve been better off if he’d stayed there.” Sissy could feel herself hardening, on the verge of closing herself off and shutting down. “But I had nightmares about him, especially after Harry…anyway, now we’re deciding this together.”
“It’s an old house, Sissy. It’s too big for you. You told me yourself you can’t afford to run it, financially or otherwise.” Ava glanced past Sissy and toward the garden, out to where the bright yellow sunflower heads bobbed in agreement with the late-summer breeze. “It’s as much mine as yours. I have a say.”
“But I can’t see it as a bed and breakfast. People coming and going. No privacy. Always serving meals, making beds. It’s not how I want to spend the rest of my life.”
“Then come live with me.”
Sissy caught a glimpse of the barefooted ghost girl, leaning out over the curved part of the stairwell that overlooked the entrance to the living room, her hair draping the shoulders of her white dress. Her hands grasped the railing in front of her. Hello, Clair. She didn’t respond, but Sissy could tell Clair was listening by the way she became very still.
“You know how I feel about Toronto, Ava. You know.“
“Yes, well, you’re not the first girl from St. John’s to hate Toronto.”
“It’s cold there. And dark. And money-driven.”
“And it’s not St. John’s. You might as well admit it. You hate change. You always have, and now when there’s an opportunity—”
“Opportunity? I have a life too, Ava. Look around you. Our parents, love them or hate them, lived here. Their parents built this house, and now I live in it too. Harry and I shared a marriage here. We were married in the backyard.”
“And you’ll be buried in the backyard, too?” Ava shrugged. “It’s just a house. I mean, sure, it’s big and glorious in its own way. In spite of everything bad that happened here, we had some fun times. I get it. My God—the big dinners, the fancy cars in the driveway. The Craigmillars. The Monroes. They all came here, didn’t they?”
“I used to hide in my closet till they were gone.”
Clair turned her head slightly toward the kitchen.
“I know you did,” said Ava. “I assumed it was just too much for you.”
Clair suddenly sat down on the fifth step and started to rock, as she often did, a motion Sissy could vaguely detect.
“They all loved you. You were the cute one that sang and played ‘Silvery Moon’ on the Steinway.” Sissy nodded toward the living room where the Victorian grand piano, with its reddish-brown mahogany satin finish, sat facing the wall.
“It was expected.” A shadow crossed Ava’s face, which caused Sissy to study her older sister, the unexpected softness of her features, especially the crow’s feet. The blonde hair suited her, she supposed. “You could have played, too,” Ava continued. “You play beautifully.”
“I didn’t want to.”
“That was your choice.” Ava grinned. “‘Amazing Grace,’ I remember. You played lots of hymns and Irish music.”
Sissy shrugged. “I’m just not as comfortable with attention as you are. I played for myself.” She sauntered to the living room and stood beside the piano. “You have even more memories here than I do.”
“Mostly bad ones.” Ava turned and watched Sissy as she caressed the edge of the closed key cover of the piano.
Sissy lifted the cover, which made its usual soft thump, and peered into the keyboard. She jabbed at a black key, a sombre A-flat that travelled and lingered, till at last it fell to a whisper and then became silent.
“But we’ve barely even talked about the bad ones.” Ava followed Sissy into the living room as the note vanished. She sat down on the piano bench, as Sissy drifted away. “We’re a family of mutes,” said Ava.
Sissy closed her eyes, feeling as if she were leaving her body. When she turned and opened them, she found herself looking at the Rostotski portrait over the piano. “What’s done is done. Talking about it wouldn’t serve any purpose.”
Ava looked up at the same portrait. Through the upper corner of the living room window, sunshine streamed in and struck a mirror on the opposite wall above the fireplace, which reflected toward the piano and divided the photograph—the older sister awash in amber light, the younger one shrouded in darkness. The sisters thought of it as their own private Stonehenge, when the sun struck that mirror at the precise time of day, during a certain time of year, to light up the half the Rostotski.
“I remember when that was taken.” The conviction in Ava’s eyes intermingled with sadness. The waning sun shone on the left side of her face as well as that of her youthful likeness. For a moment, she seemed suspended in time, halfway between fact and fiction. Reality and dream. Present and past.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Funny, dark, dogged, kind, absurdist
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, though I never called myself that until my early twenties when I started writing short stories about my childhood and hometown. There was one particular moment when I was frustrated with the whole attempting to get published thing and desperate to feel like what I did mattered, so I drove to Signal Hill in St. John’s which sits high on a cliff overlooking the ocean on one side and the entire city on the other side. Not sure where it came from, because I’m a pretty quiet guy most of the time, but I raised my fists to air and shouted into the fog and at the city itself: “Fuck you! I am a fucking writer!” I might have even said it twice. I can’t remember. But I do recall feeling differently about the whole thing from that moment on. It’s so hard to tell people you’re a writer at first, as if you’re holding the biggest secret in the world, and they’ll only laugh at you or be disappointed in your choices or even your pretension. I’d told quite a few people already – or, really, I just talked about my writing without saying I was a writer. But after that morning on Signal Hill, I never looked back. It took several more years before I started publishing in any real way, but that was the moment I always look back on as a turning point in my confidence about what I am, that wide-open, heart-baring, practically chest-thumping declaration to the world that had seemingly turned its back on me. The real moment, of course, came in publishing my first story with TickleAce magazine. I liked that feeling of acceptance so much that I knew there’d be no living with me after that.
Do you have a favorite movie?
It’s a Wonderful Life vs. Forrest Gump, probably. Both have underdogs and a fair amount of darkness, the idea that small-town people can do great things in life, and there’s a touch of magic to both worlds as well. I always believe in the possibility that magic can happen, but you have to set the conditions for it. But I also believe that life can change in an instant, and I never judge people based on what they currently are – I leave some space for them to grow, diminish, evolve, or devolve, or just become whatever they’re going to eventually become. I like movies that follow a large arc.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I’ve had some interest in Finton Moon, and I do think it would make an excellent movie because I tend to write episodically – which means it would also make a good TV show for Netflix or CBC. I’ve actually started work on a script, but it’s slow going. Finton is one of those characters like those in my favourite movies – there’s the wide narrative arc, the magical tale, a romance that seems impossible, and the wide-eyed protagonist who sees the world differently from anyone else and, no matter how the world turns on him, he holds on to his sense of wonder.
That said, I’ve also been told many times already The Hush Sisters would make a great movie. I can see that, especially because of the complex dynamic between the two sisters and how I try to show it, rather than simply offer their thoughts, and that’s better for putting onto the big screen – more outward display of thought rather than inward monologue. Plus, I think there’s a lot that could be done with the settings of spooky old house and the darker side of downtown St. John’s. Visually, it could be spectacular and quite claustrophobic, but with interesting dialogue, or so I would hope.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
These days, pandemics aside, life is a literary pilgrimage. The first one I embarked upon was by accident. I’d left Newfoundland, still strung out from the separation and pending divorce, and I simply drove to the United States – first time I’d ever done that. Getting to the States from the island of Newfoundland wasn’t so easy when I was a kid. So, in August 2015, I drove all by myself down to Maine, not knowing where I was going at all, and ended up in Bangor for the night staying at a somewhat seedy hotel that definitely had a ghost or two. A writer friend of mine saw on social media that I was there and wrote to me on Facebook, “Hey, did you know Stephen King’s house is just down the road from where you are?” So, I got the directions and drove there the next morning. Stood there about as long as I stood in front of Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights’ at MOMA in New York a couple of years earlier. I just couldn’t stop looking at the house behind those tall iron gates with the gargoyles. A couple of women from New York were driving through and had stopped, so I offered to take their picture of them together, and when I told them I was a writer, they took a photo of me “just in case you become famous,” one of them said.
I think it was at that moment I realized that I was in the U.S. and there were likely other writers’ houses to visit. So, I drove to Emily Dickinson’s place in Amherst, then down to Concord to Walden’s Pond where I sat late in the evening with a thermos of tea and a notebook, then to Louisa May Alcott’s place down the road, and to a place Nathaniel Hawthorne had rented at one point. “Little Women” was the first novel I ever read – it was in Grade Two – and I’d always taught Hawthorne’s short stories at university. From there, I drove to Salem to see where Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville, among others, had all spent time. Still, before that, my first literary quest had been to Sleepy Hollow by train from NYC a couple of years earlier. It was pure dark magic standing at Sleepy Hollow cemetery just before dark as the crickets sang a sleepy dirge. So much more I could say – including sitting where Dickens sat by a fireplace in London, at pubs where Joyce drank and wrote in Dublin, and staring at the headstone of W.B. Yeats in Sligo.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Probably the coyote and, specifically, a black coyote. I actually saw one once, and it’s inspired a novel that I’ve been working on and am almost finished.
My Rating: 5 Stars
Consider “liking” my review on Goodreads.
The Hush Sisters by Gerard Collins is a contemporary gothic fiction set in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. It tells the story of Ava and “Sissy” (Cara) Hush, a pair of adult sisters who disagree on what to do with the ageing and expensive family home. Sissy still lives here and wants to stay. Ava can’t stay far enough away and wants to sell. Many things are buried in and around this house, both literally and figuratively, but none of it is gone or forgotten. This book is told from two points of view, the two sisters, and jumps back into the past and pieces of their younger years become relevant to the mysteries unravelling in the present.
Normally when I finish a book I intend to review I like to rush over to Goodreads and see what stood out to other reviewers, and what stood out to me that they missed, so that I can organize my thoughts into a review that presents something new. This time, however, I’ve chosen to write my review entirely blind in that sense. This book is steeped in Newfoundland culture, and while I’m curious to see how international readers responded, I’m also a little worried that some stars will be docked for what a few CFAs perceive as poor editing when what they’re reading is actually the local dialect. On that note though, nobody said “Yes b’y!” in 300 pages? In St. John’s? Go on wit ya!
As someone who has called this province home since 2012 and spent the first two years living in St. John’s itself (now in CBS), I had a lot of fun spotting locations and businesses I’m familiar with. Obviously for legal purposes a lot of things couldn’t be named correctly, but I know which number to dial to get the orange taxi (rather than the yellow one or the blue & white), I have my suspicions which establishment Finnegan’s Pub actually is, and I really want to drive down Forest Rd to see if I can spot the inspiration for the Hush house.
I loved the way all the layers of mystery and horror unfolds in this book, no matter how horrible those horrors are. None of it surprised me, I called every reveal chapters before they came, but that didn’t spoil it at all. I do share an unfortunate amount of similar ghosts of the past with these sisters, so perhaps that’s why none of it surprised and maybe this book holds a lot more suspense for less storied readers. I will say the horrors were written beautifully and tastefully, true to form for gothic fiction, and didn’t go into needless gory detail. If anyone who sees their own past in the trigger warnings I’ll include at the bottom has had time to heal, then I would say approach with caution but don’t avoid this book. I’ll sleep fine tonight, and this masterpiece of a story was worth the read.
I really enjoyed all the different ways this book examined and explored intimate relationships. We’ve got Cara Hush, a divorcee who has no idea where her ex is now, and the travelling musical vagrant from across the pond who’s captured her timid heart. We have resilient survivor and career woman Ava Hush and the unexpected lover she finds while visiting her sister. We have the stories from the past that expose Mrs. Hush’s scared silence in her marriage to the monster who was Mr. Hush and her not so secret affair with the gentleman next door. Then there are the actual ghosts in the old Hush house both keeping Sissy company and slowly pushing her away.
My critiques of The Hush Sisters are minor. Besides the shocking lack of Newfoundland’s most famous colloquial phrase, Sissy (the one who actually remained in the province all this time) is surprised on multiple occasions that someone who just walk in uninvited or that Angus is so comfortable greeting random strangers. Maybe I’ve been living with baymen too long and townies are more uptight than I remember, but nobody coming to visit knocks on an unlocked door around here, nor calls ahead before coming. Every stranger on the street says hello. Sissy’s excuse that she’s a woman by herself is odd when they’re in broad daylight and she’s not even alone. I can’t check the mail without saying hello to at least 5 neighbours, day or night, and those who don’t say hello while passing by are still going give a way or a nod.
I was also frequently taken a little out of the story every time the character Cotton Hush was mentioned for the first time in a while or even made an appearance, for two reasons. First, I couldn’t figure out if Cotton is a nickname or a legal name. If it’s a nickname it’s odd that his legal name never comes up at all, even once. (My brother in law is Skipper around the family and Harold with his friends most of the time, but hang around long enough and somebody will call him Adam.) If Cotton is the character’s legal name, then that’s also odd. I’ve never met anyone here or elsewhere with that first name, and this book clearly takes place in the 21st century. This is the uncle to sisters whose parents’ gravestones say they were born in the 1940s. On top of that, the sisters repeatedly refer to him by his full name, Cotton Hush. Not Uncle Cotton, not just Cotton (I doubt they need to distinguish him from another Cotton,) but Cotton Hush.
Overall this book was a pleasure to read, and the in-laws are lined up wanting to borrow my copy (the print one, don’t worry!) as soon as I’m done with it. I high recommend this book to fans of gothic fiction or Newfoundland stories.
Trigger warnings: Sexual assault of a minor, death from cancer, murder, pregnancy loss, familial estrangement
GERARD COLLINS is a Newfoundland writer whose first novel Finton Moon was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award and won the Percy Janes First Novel Award. His short-story collection Moonlight Sketches won the NL Book Award, and his stories have been published widely in journals and anthologies. He lives in southern New Brunswick.
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