“Softly and Tenderly”
by Lisa Binion, 2018
The story begins as a child's tale of horror. As the heroine, Lori, grows up, the nightmare only continues. When her mother dies, Lori has visions of death and blood, with creepy beetles crawling all over everything and everyone.
The language of the book is plain and simple, befitting a child as the narrator. Years later, Lori becomes more mature and worldly... but the visions reoccur as death strikes again.
There is perhaps some unintentional humor in having a piano teacher named Mrs. Minuet. If it is intentional, it's out of place. Equally out of place is laughter at a funeral. But there's a reason for this happening.
There's also a degree of confusion throughout the story, but it's intentional. Like Lori, the reader is left wondering what is real, what is dreamed, and what is supernatural.
If the first half of this book is a genuinely creepy nightmare, the second half delivers a MAJOR shift in the story. I appreciate the imagination and inventiveness of this abrupt change but I do think the actual shift could have been presented better. Giving the reader a few clues here and there, or presenting the elements in stages, would have made it more dramatic. But even if the revelation is more WTF than OMG, it's still clever.
The intrigue after this point is far different from the horror in the first half of the book, but it's still interesting. The ending is unexpected as well.
“Softly and Tenderly” is certainly one of the most unique stories I have read in a long time. It’s very good for the author's first effort.