Welcome to My Nightmare: The Sleepwalker (audio)



Sleepwalking as a concept terrifies me. The thought of walking around unconscious to what is happening in the real world is right up there in irrational fears for me. That total loss of control of your body to your sleeping brain... ugh, no.

Sleepwalking: not this cute

In The Sleepwalker, my nightmare of losing that control is Annalee Ahlberg's reality. Over several decades, Annalee has gone walkabout while sleeping. She's found herself in unusual places after waking and either walks herself or is lead back to bed. One night she doesn't return to her bedroom.

Her daughters, 21 year old Lianna and 12 year old Paige, discover their mother missing while their father is away on a business trip. The police are called and after brief investigation everyone assumes Annalee walked herself into the river.

Though this seems like the most logical conclusion, Lianna isn't so sure. Lianna starts an investigation of her own, looking into the particulars of her mother's disorder, and her parents' marriage. She speaks to the people closest to her mother as the days turn into weeks with no sign of her mother's body. She finds herself drawn to detective Gavin Rikert, a man who knows all about this particular sleep disorder as he's a sufferer himself.

The trouble with Lianna's investigation is that she might find out too much.

The Sleepwalker was a real slow burner. At times I wanted it to pick up the pace. There are a number of red herrings (or slight of hand tricks since Lianna is a magician) and Annalee's disorder is not what it seems at first. There is a lot going on. I didn't know what to focus on.

As for Lianna, the narrator, I found her to be standoffish. I wasn't sure if it was the trauma of losing her mother or if that was just her personality.

The Sleepwalker has an interesting, and scary, premise. It's the kind of idea I don't want to think too much about. I don't sleepwalk, but I have had occasional bouts of hypnopompic hallucinations. They can be scary enough, though most of the time they're pretty cool and I'm now aware of what they are. I once woke with an amazingly large tree in my room, like Disney's Tree of Life!

I wasn't quite as enamored with The Sleepwalker as I was with The Night Strangers. Still, I wouldn't say avoid it.
About the Audio: Cady McClain is the main narrator: Lianna. She's always terrific. I didn't enjoy the brief interludes by an unknown narrator read by Grace Experience. Her voice took me out of the story. Maybe it's because I didn't know who she was supposed to be. 
My thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Lolly Willowes: She Just Wants To Be Alone


One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that - to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to by others

Laura Willowes has lived her entire forty-seven years in service to her family. After the death of her father, she is packed up like a piece of furniture and moved to her brother and sister-in-law's home in London. She's given a room, not the best spare room, and the job of taking care of her nieces and nephews. Her family at first attempts to find her a husband. After a few awkward dinner parties, they decide to leave her to spinsterhood. The family does love Laura, especially the children, who call her Lolly, and she becomes an indispensable member of the household.

For her entire adulthood, Laura feels as if she is missing something, something she can't put her finger on. The present Willowes like their smooth routines, even taking the same vacation year after year. Only the First World War disrupts their routine. After the war, Laura dreads more of the same, forever until she dies. She makes a spontaneous decision to move by herself to the country. The family is shocked. How can she live on her own? What is she thinking? But Laura is determined.

She loves living in the town of Great Mop, even if the neighbours keep strange hours and play music late into the night. She feels she's fitting in and the town belongs to her.... until her nephew shows up with plans of his own.

The classic image of the witch is of an old spinster kissing the devil's butt. Why do spinsters sell their souls to the devil? Well, Lolly Willowes would tell you it's so that they can be left alone. Selling their souls to the devil seems to be the only way for women to get out of family obligations.

"This wasn't in the brochure."
Laura wants the freedom to live her own life. To go for long walks, help her neighbour with his fancy chickens, to just lay in the grass and look at the sky. She's tired of taking care of other people's kids, of being useful. She just wants to do what she wants for a change. The town of Great Mop offers her an escape from her old life.

I felt for Laura who knows deep down that her life is being wasted. She does as she's expected uncomplainingly for decades, even giving up her own name and letting everyone call her by one the children chose. I cheered for her when she breaks free.

I didn't know what to expect from Lolly Willowes. It seems at first to be rooted in reality, but after Lolly leaves London, things take an unexpected turn. I thought her giving her soul to the devil would be more figurative, but nope, it's not. It gets a little weird. Nature and woodland places take on magical properties. Satan seems like an old world pagan god.

It's a funny but also serious book. It looks at the problem upper class single women in the early 20th Century had. There was no place for them in society. They had to be useful in order to not be considered burdens. The thought of a single woman choosing to live on her own was a radical idea. What is her purpose?

No witches were harmed in the making of this book, that makes it a winner!