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Ancestral Secrets Buried in A House with Good Bones

The vultures are watching…

two vultures on a chimney on top of a house, with trees in the background and an overlay of the book cover for T Kingfisher's novel A House with Good Bones

T. Kingfisher’s books are known for her signature humor and practical characters, both of which were on full display in previous award-winning works, such as The Twisted Ones (2019), The Hollow Places (2020), and Nettle & Bone (2022).

As an author, she is also known for effectively blending fantasy and horror, which she continues to do in A House with Good Bones. It is here, similar to The Twisted Ones and The Hollow Places, that readers will discover that the house within A House with Good Bones is a main character in its own right.

The house comes alive, pun intended, when Samantha Montgomery returns to Gran Mae’s house in North Carolina for an extended period of time. Sam’s childhood fascination with insects leads her to Arizona, and a career as an entomologist, or a scientist who studies insects. But after an unexpected disruption, Sam decides to come home while figuring out her next career move.

However, it doesn’t take long for Sam to realize that something isn’t quite right on Lammergeier Lane. For starters, she notices a vulture watching her every move. Then another one appears. Within the span of a few days, Sam notices that vultures appear to be everywhere in and around Gran Mae’s house. Not only are they watching the house, but they are also following Sam everywhere she goes. 

T. Kingfisher's A House with Good Bones invites readers into a strange and macabre world full of secrets.

a house with good bones

A House With Good Bones

By T. Kingfisher

Many questions, few answers

Sam’s mom, Edith, doesn’t quite seem like herself. Sam notices her mom is more skittish and anxious than ever before; she longs to find answers to what could be causing the house to feel off and what could be causing her mom to feel unsettled in her rightful home.

As a narrator, Sam brings dry humor, sarcasm, and a scientific curiosity to every question. 

In her quest for answers, Sam turns to her brother Brad, her mom’s gardener Phil, and her neighbor Gail, who each bring their own backstories to the central story.

Brad, now living on his own with his girlfriend Maria, is also increasingly worried about his mom’s unusual behavior. Although Phil doesn’t have many answers for Sam, she does find him appealing to look at—and talk to in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Gail—Edith’s confidant—has answers, but is also reluctant to divulge the house’s secrets.

Maybe some secrets are better left unsaid? 

A garden with no insects; a room full of ladybugs

In this Southern Gothic tale, T. Kingfisher’s suspenseful writing captures the reader's attention as she illustrates the secrets of Gran Mae’s house, and her beloved garden.

As a scientist, Sam is unsettled to notice there are no bugs or insects in the garden. The garden itself feels like a relic of the past, and the house appears to be transported back in time.

The tension increases when Sam wakes up to find her bedroom floor covered in ladybugs. Later, ladybugs pour out of the sink, clinging to Sam as she tries to take them outside. While still considering why and how the ladybugs appeared, Sam wakes up on the couch to find a trail of rose petals in the house.

Who is in the house? What do they want?

As Sam asks herself these questions, she begins to have unsettling dreams with voices telling her to stay away. Stay away from who? And why?

All the while, vultures continue to circle the house with increasing intensity.

Is the house haunted? What secrets does Gran Mae’s house hold?

Ancestral sorcery and a dinner party gone horribly wrong

With fast-paced chapters, the action increases towards the end of the book, as Sam attempts to learn more about her ancestors; not only Gran Mae, but Gran Mae’s mysterious dad, Elgar Mills. Learning about her ancestor’s connections to sorcery leads to more questions than answers, especially after Sam makes a gruesome discovery in Gran Mae’s rose garden.

A horrific dinner party gone wrong leads Sam to learn the answers to all of her questions—about Gran Mae, about the house, and even about her neighbor Gail.

Ultimately, A House with Good Bones is a story about power and the power of secrets. It also leads Sam to determine if she has power of her own.

This recurring theme of power and privilege makes this book both powerful and resonant. T. Kingfisher also skillfully interweaves discussion of fatphobia, racism, and privilege into the narrative, as Sam learns more about Gran Mae’s family history. 

Instead these being one-off themes, the author has interlaced them throughout the fabric of book, a reminder that family can be flawed—and we might have differing memories of our relatives than other members of our family. 

Speaking of family, the narrative also shines a light on family history and genealogy, both of which are often recurring themes in T. Kingfisher’s works. Family secrets are often in the background of A House with Good Bones, and this overarching theme of family legacy is a powerful reminder of how often families take secrets to the grave, and how we might not learn the truth of our ancestors until long after they have died. 

If you enjoy this book, here are some others like it:

  • If you’re interested in another story of family secrets in a haunted house, try How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix.
  • If you like the blend of fantasy and horror in a haunted house setting, pick up The September House by Carissa Orlando.
  • If you’re looking for another book full of family secrets and intrigue, check out Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison.