Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joe R. Lansdale: The Two-Bear Mambo

This novel is the next one after Mucho Mojo in the Hap and Leonard series, and yes, the title refers to what you think it does. Think bears and Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. This one was published in 1995. And again, I love the cover. A little tombstone is just visible beside the tree.

Hap and Leonard are having fun setting fire to the neighborhood crack house on Christmas Eve when they find out that Hap's ex-lover, lawyer and wannabe reporter the lovely African American Florida Grange, is missing. Her boyfriend and their acquaintance, Hanson, begs them to do him a favor in return for not putting them in jail. He wants them to go to the still racist, backwoods circa 1960 town of Grovetown in East Texas to look for her.

They do, and it all goes from there to a town with deep, dark secrets that are better unknown. Backwoods politics, mean men in gray suits, and fights break out as they search for Florida.

Plot: 4/5 [The plot moves swiftly and with the usual humor. In fact, I was reading passages of this to my husband and good friend, and they thought they were hilarious, too.]

Characterization: 4/5 [Hap and Leonard are as likable and "real" as ever, and the minor characters are drawn well. No other author has pegged the Southern character sketch like Lansdale. He can breathe life into a character in three sentences and make readers remember that character for the whole novel. If you like your characters unique, he's your author.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [Just the thought of the mission that Hap and Leonard are given made my skin crawl, for starters. Lansdale also does a lovely job of describing the landscape that looks like a "war zone" due to all the paper mill ravaging of old oaks or the skeletal pines (like bones) that remain to be seen on a drive through Texas (44). The Southern Gothic elements-- graves, bones, decaying remains, floods and acts of nature, scary rednecks-- are strong in this one, but so is the raunchy humor.]

Literary elements: 4/5 [Yes, Lansdale writes like a dream, and he has a keen eye for what ails society, the ills of political correctness and for seeing human nature rightly.]

Rating: 4 stars    ****

I recommend this one. If you like Hap and Leonard, you will want to read them all anyway. If you need a laugh, too, and you are Southern and have a sense of humor, I guarantee you that any of these novels will make you guffaw. They will also make you think about the questions of life and death.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marilyn Ross: Desperate Heiress (my copy is free to a good home!)

I wanted to log this one even though I got about ten pages in and put it aside, then snapped a picture of the girl and the showboat on the cover. I will try another Marilyn Ross (Dan Ross) novel. This one was sitting on the shelf at Goodwill, and I liked the big showboat on the front cover. I thought it was at least creative. Plus, the novel seems tough to find based upon my search for images.

The story was pretty awful from the premise and get go-- Hester is an heiress to a haunted showboat. Moreover, sentences on the first page like "It was the fascination of terror!" didn't help me love the novel (Ross 5).  I know this is a Gothic Romance novel we're talking about, but I still like these novels to be well written and to have some basis in possible reality-- to get me into the story and help me believe it could happen. This one was so crazy from the outset that I could not willingly suspend my disbelief (ala Coleridge's suggestion).

Another telling sign for me is that when I went to write this gem up, it was not listed at all on Goodreads.

I recommend a pass on this one. I'll try another Marilyn Ross, though, as I give all authors at least two shots (sometimes more).

If you want this Paperback Library edition from 1970, complete with tattered spine at the top in fair-bad condition with price marked on the back, I'll send it to you. The first responder gets it; just post here if you want it. Ok, don't strain a finger trying to post first.

Desperate Heiress

Joan Aiken: The Silence of Herondale

This novel, The Silence of Herondale, was published in 1973. I love that title. I have the Pocket Books edition and could not manage a great cover image, but it's standard blue and white background, mist, house rising up and young woman in blue running. What is neat is the wonderful facial detail on the young lady in this novel cover; she looks terrified. I have linked to the ACE Gothic cover below on the Amazon site; that is the original cover, published in 1964.

Deborah Lindsay, the heroine, is a college aged, Canadian young woman whose parents and family are all dead. She has moved to London to become an actress. After failed attempts, she is nearly starving, so she applies to be a governess/tutor for a young girl.

She gets the job and finds out her charge is a famous young playwright, Carreen Gilmartin.

Deborah follows Carreen to Herondale on the moors, and mysterious events occur when Jeremy Gilmartin, Carreen's long lost cousin also appears. The silent, sleepy town stands as a backdrop to the drama going on in the house. Both Carreen and Jeremy are named in their possibly murdered uncle's will. Is a murderer stalking the house because of the inheritance, or is the Slipper Killer on the loose on the moors?

Plot: 4/5 [This one grabbed me on page one and kept the pace quite well for most of the novel.]

Characterization: 4/5 [I could really picture Deborah as perhaps a young Sandra Bullock. The other characters were also nicely drawn.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [These took a bit to pile on, but they came around page 40 and on-- spooky farm house on the creepy moors (which are described well), train rides, snowing in, murderous accidents. I just didn't find the novel terribly atmospheric or really creepy.]

Literary elements: 3/5 [This one is a bit fluffy, but it is well written.]

Romance? Yes, but it begins pretty late in the novel-- three-quarters of the way in almost.

Rating: 3+ stars    ***+

I have yet to be wowed by the Aiken titles I have read (the Gothic Romances, I mean. I like her Jane Austen add ons). This one is good, but it's not great.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Margaret Erskine: Don't Look Behind You

This Ace Gothic was published in 1952; it is a Septimus Finch Gothic Mystery. I didn't realize it was part of a mystery series until I sat down to read it. The cover is a nice contrast of hues, though the woman's face is a bit strangely shadowed.

I read 45 pages and put it down; a murder occurs, but there is nothing Gothic about any of it for that span of writing. The writing is quite good technically; the story just didn't work for me.

I have to say that I do like the name Septimus Finch-- lovely. I didn't care for the main character Freddie Dawes or his lackluster love interest Meg, and not enough happened in the early pages to make it worth reading-- just a possible murder.

My advice is to skip this one; I won't do a full review since I didn't read it all. I might try another one in this Finch series, but I'll choose wisely if possible. From what I can tell Erskine mainly wrote novels for this series.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Phyllis A. Whitney: The Ebony Swan

This novel is one of Whitney's later ones, published in 1992. Fun fact: the author died at the age of 104! She also thanks Dr. Robert Atkins-- I assume THE Robert Atkins in her introduction to this book. He must deserve some credit for her ripe old age.

This novel centers around Alex Montero, a seventy something grandmother/former ballet dancer. Her granddaughter, Susan Prentice, has come back to her family home in Virginia after twenty-five years away. She has not spoken to her grandmother, Alex Montero, since she went away at age six. Mystery surrounds her mother's death which led to Susan's being spirited away in silence from the family she loved.

The past is not dead, and someone does not want Susan and Alex to know what really happened to Delores, Susan's mother. Whom can Susan and Alex trust?

To be honest, I read all the way to page 150 and quit. The novel just seemed silly to me, and it was dragging terribly. Other than Alex, most of the characters were flat and uninteresting.

Perhaps the tipping point was when Whitney threw pages of health information in the middle of the novel-- all about supplements like fish oil and hawthorn root, etc. I really believe in fish oil, but that was a bit over the top! It was laughable and dampened the budding romance while being overtly preachy and bizarre. I should cut the author some slack; after all, she was around 90 when she wrote this novel, and she did live a long life, but it's still not what I want out of a Gothic Romance Novel. I know she has so many other great novels that I didn't want to waste anymore time on this one.

Rating: 2 stars    **

I don't recommend this one unless you are a hardcore love everything Whitney has ever written fan. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Contest Reminder-- Sept. 30th

I know I have some new readers/commenters, so I wanted to remind you that the Autumn Contest will end October 1st at 12 am. The details of the contest are here:

If you want to win some Gothic Novels, just post a comment by the deadline, and your name will be entered in the drawing. Your chances are pretty good since I probably have a dozen entrants at most at this point.

Happy Sunday. :)

Richard Setlowe: The Haunting of Suzanna Blackwell

I found this image of the cover of the edition I read on Richard Setlowe's website:

There is a ghostly lover there in the image with the swooning woman.

I'm going off the beaten path to review this gem of a Gothic Ghost Story/Gothic Romance novel. I stumbled upon this in the paperback section of the library last fall, and I was not disappointed. Published in 1984, this novel is an example of a modern work in the genre done well.

When Suzanna Blackwell's mother dies, she goes to be with her father, a ranking Naval officer, for his retirement ceremony on Mare Island. She begins to be haunted by a spirit soon after in her father's house-- a spirit who was obviously a soldier in life and had some connection with her mother. Some interesting things occur between her and the spirit, but real life is still going on.

Suzanna meets Michael, a photographer/reporter and ex-Vietnam vet with some major war trauma. Together, they must solve the mystery of the ghost who haunts Suzanna before they are both destroyed.

Characterization: 5/5 [The characters are real, and they have real problems. I pictured Ralph Fiennes (when younger) as Michael since he does tortured soul well and Suzanna portrayed by a young Grace Kelly. Suzanna's father and other characters were well drawn as was the ghost; I imagined her father as Charlton Heston.]

Plot: 5/5 [This novel is suspenseful and gripping; I propelled through it quickly. Setlowe's history as a Naval officer (not to mention a reporter) and his insights about that life and life aboard ships is what makes this novel so real and engrossing. He also shows sympathy for veterans and all points of view on the military; I found that to be refreshing.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [There are so many-- ghostly sex, ghosts in photographs, mysterious deaths, haunted ships, spooky owls and so much more. The ships truly act as characters in this novel, and Setlowe manages to weave past and present together seamlessly. I remember becoming interested in haunted Naval ships, and we even took a tour of a ship a a few months ago. I was and still am fascinated by ghost stories associated with ships.]

Literary elements: 4/5 [This one is pure entertainment with a good bit of history and other things thrown in.]

Romance? Yes, and it is messy and complicated-- much like romance can be in real life.

Rating: 4+ stars   ****+

** This one is not to be missed. It might be a good Halloween read pick if you are into Naval history or old decommissioned ships, especially. I didn't think I was into either, and I loved this novel.

Haunting of Suzanna Blackwell

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jill Tattersall: Lady Ingram's Room

 From Sebastian Quinn's wonderful flickr page

I love the cover of this one, published in 1972; it is spooky and creative with the cobwebs and brightly colored dresses.

In the novel, Arabel Murray is an orphan with only Bridie, the housekeeper, for a friend. She must move out of the vicarage she was in with her mother, sister and grandfather (all of whom are now dead) and live with an uncle who is known to be tyrannical. In so doing, she leaves her childhood love, Giles, and her loved home.

The novel follows a few threads in a Dickensian style; for example, ne'er do wells Jason and Zelda make an appearance in chapter two and play a role in the novel.

Arabel is a likable heroine-- sprightly and spunky; she also has a stammer which is an interesting and unusual touch that makes her seem real. On her way to her uncle's house, her plans change, and she and Solomon, her cat, end up going to Ingledale Manor to be a governess temporarily for Sir Luke.  Mysterious things happen, and Arabel finds herself trying to solve the secret of Lady Ingram's room and of her death.

Characterization: 4/5 [The characters are clearly drawn. I picture Arabel portrayed by a young Diane Keaton, and Sir Luke as Javier Bardem. Scott Scott-Ingram (What a name!), another potential love interest, I pictured as Adrian Brody. Both the hero and heroine are likable, and I was quite taken with the hero which is always a good sign for a Gothic Novel in my book.]

Plot: 4/5 [The start is a bit slow, but I like the interesting narrative style and points of view in the novel.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [Arabel herself looks like a witch with her black cat. Superstition is referred to in the novel, and the description of the windows at Ingledale Manor actually gave me the creeps. The secret room is inventive and different in its treatment in the novel, and that element along with tunnels and a ghoulish tapestry add to the spooky thrills.]

Literary elements: 4/5 [This one is written in a sophisticated way in terms of multiple narrators/points of view and stands out for that, much like the other The Wild Hunt that I reviewed a week or so ago, though Hunt is more sophisticated overall. I think that might be because of the two years between these novels; it is nice to see that this author honed her craft as she went. Another thing I like about her writing is that the dialogue is also believable.]

Rating: 4 stars ****

I recommend this one for its inventiveness and lovable heroine as well as the secret room aspect. I like it when authors in the genre do something new or inventive.

Lady Ingram's Room

Friday, September 24, 2010

Victoria Holt: The Spring of the Tiger

This novel was published in 1979; the above cover is the one I have in the hardback edition. I know I have read it before, but I can remember very little of Holt's novels since it has been about seventeen or eighteen years since I read most of them. I liked them very much then, but I'm not sure about now as I plan to reread some or most of them-- this being the first in that attempt.

This one concerns Sarah Ashington, the daughter of an actress, who has never known her father. After a scandal concerning her mother's lover, Sarah and her mother retire to Ashington Grange to live with two old aunts, Martha and Mabel. Sarah makes a friend in her mysterious governess, Celia, who leaves suddenly one day. Sarah's mother dies, and her father comes to visit. His companion, Clinton Shaw, becomes an object of fascination for Sarah almost immediately. Her trouble begins there. The setting moves from Ashington Grange to Ceylon; menacing events unfold and Toby, Sarah's beloved friend and old tutor, reappears in Sarah's life.

Characterization: 4/5 [Some of the characters seem a bit flat. I had a little trouble picturing Sarah Ashington for a while, but with her brown hair and indeterminate eye color, I thought of Jennifer Garner for her role in any possible movie. Toby I picture as a guy I once liked in my neighborhood growing up-- brown hair, blue eyes. :) I think Clinton Shaw could be played by a younger Brad Pitt.]

Plot: 3/5 [This one gets off to a slow start for me. I honestly feel the novel could be at least 75 pages shorter. I finally got into the novel around page 85, but it ebbed and flowed for me. I simply was never really captivated by it or by Holt's writing style. Also, there is a twist or two in the novel, but I had figured out the villain early in or suspected the villain. I wonder how my re-readings of the other Holt works are going to go.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [There is very little of this type of thing until a good ways in when a threatening woman shows up on the doorstep outside, and Sarah sees her. Then, ghosts at Ashington Grange become an issue along with the ever present Ashington Pearls which are said to have some sort of power and have been passed down through generations. Overall, this one takes a while to get to the spooky/menacing stuff, and when the scary stuff did happen, it sort of fell flat for me. The novel feels more melodramatic than Gothic.]

Literary: 3/5 [Poets are mentioned and quoted and the title of the book is a variation of a line from a poem; I always like that. For some reason, though, this novel feels very fluffy to me.]

Romance: Yes... and rape and other stuff. I liked one male love interest in the novel and not the other. I don't want to add a spoiler here.

Rating: 3+ stars    ***+

I am torn with this one, and that 3+ rating feels high to me, honestly. I am sure many of you would like the novel, so I recommend it on that basis. With that said, it is definitely not one of my favorites of the genre, and I'm trepidatious about my next foray with Holt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dorothy Daniels: Mystic Manor

I am not going to do a long review of this novel, Mystic Manor by Dorothy Daniels, published in 1975. Sorry I couldn't find a nice image of it; the one I found was super small. The edition I have is the same one that is linked below in the Amazon link-- lots of turquoise and black with what actually looks like a church behind the blond heroine.

Anyway, this novel was pretty terrible, from page 2. The main character went into this long narrative to another character, detailing all that had happened to her, starting in the early pages. The only problem is that the other character would have known all of it already. Then, the male character tells Melinda, the heroine, all about her eye color and every feature on her face. At that point, I laughed, read a few more ridiculous pages and quit around page 21.

I guess I need to start a "stinkers" category. This one would definitely go in there. One of the passages that convinced me of this is found on page 10:

"Melinda, you're actually a beautiful girl. There's gold in your hair and interesting flecks of darker blue in your regularly blue eyes. You have the round face of youth, a a very pretty nose and a smooth chin line. I would say you'd be a fine subject."

Now that is some unrealistic dialogue. I do not recommend this novel. I'll give Daniels another try some time as I saw that others have rated her decently or well on Goodreads.

Monica Heath: Calderwood

I started this one yesterday morning, and it was pretty suspenseful. I ended up finishing it between waiting in the car line for my daughter and having some spare reading time tonight. This is my first Gothic Romance by Monica Heath; it was published in 1975 (the Signet edition I'm reading from). The original cover is all green mossy background with a dark haired girl with a blue dress on in front of the house.

Camilla Carlyle's father has died, leaving her on her own. She finds a letter from Aunt Marilyn at Calderwood, the old ancestral home of her mother. Camilla remembers leaving there in haste after her mother's death when she was six, but the rest of her history is foggy. She wonders why her father grew to dislike her mother so as the years passed.

Camilla decides to go home to Calderwood to find out what she can about her mother and her own history. Her arrival at the estate or near it is rife with bad turns, and a ghost appears as a face and a voice in her ear over the bayou. Whom can Camilla trust? Her Aunt Marilyn or Deedee, her spiteful cousin? Can she even trust Kris Kincade-- a man working on the neighboring Dazincourt Hall-- and to whom she is attracted? What about Jules, the man others say is her true father?

Characterization: 4/5 [I could easily picture Camilla being played by a young Liz Taylor (while her mother is played by an older Liz Taylor for the flashbacks and supernatural bits). I think Alan Tudyk would make a good Kris; I have liked him ever since he starred in Firefly. Jules Dazincourt put me in mind of Vincent Price with his "dark" looks. The characters were drawn well. The one issue I had was with the words "dark" and "darkly" used in redundant phrases three times in two pages when it wasn't necessary and many other times thereafter: "darkly hideous," and "darkly malicious" (20), "darkly skeptical," "dark-clad," "dark stare," "dark brows," (39) and so on. I decided to catalog them all for a giggle after finding so many on page 39 alone, so I did for about ten more pages. I mean, black, shadowed, onyx, obsidian and all manner of words could be used as synonyms, right? These repetitions would make for a killer drinking game. The words were repeated so often as to be distracting, obviously.]

Plot: 4/5 [The plot sucked me right in; there is plenty of action and some twists and inventive happenings in the genre as well. The end was a shocker, and that is always a pleasant surprise.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [A ghost appears early, and the Louisiana setting is creepy in its own right. Heath really gets it right (at least from the time I've spent in that area near New Orleans or driving through the LaFourche Parish area in the bayous). I also like the way Heath uses two ancestral homes in the novel; that device is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights to a mild degree. The ancestral mansion also has a "death couch" that is shiver worthy and the first mention of such in a Gothic Novel I've read. In fact, this novel is chock full of Gothic Elements of all kinds. The setting of the spring house on the property as an area where mischief occurs is creative, and this novel landed a few new elements of Gothic Novels on the Epic List. Most have been done before, so that makes this novel special. If you like moldy graves, crypts, bayous, evil rings, death masks, creepy dolls, and so on, this is your book. It is probably the most Gothic of the Gothic Novels I have reviewed thus far on the blog.]

Literary? 4/5 [Yes, Keats' Lamia is quoted and references to other literature and works are sprinkled throughout the novel.]

Romance? Yes... and I didn't know who Camilla was going to end up with until right at the end. That's always the sign of a good Gothic Romance.

Rating: 4 + stars ****+

I recommend this one; it is inventive and suspenseful and most definitely Gothic. I highly enjoyed it! I'll be hunting out more by Monica Heath; I have a double gothic by her as well-- the Clerycastle ones.

Calderwood (Ulverscroft Large Print)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Laird Koenig: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

I just ran into this novel in my local library. Apparently, though, it received some fame from a movie based on it in which Jodie Foster plays the little girl (1976). The book was published in 1974 (and I think the year before in German), and it is definitely of the Gothic Horror and Gothic Romance genres.

In this novel, the little girl, Rynn, is home all alone. What happened to her mother and father? Rynn must fend for herself as a thirteen year old (if she really is thirteen) and keep nosy people-- like Mrs. Hallet and her son Frank-- out of the house and away from the basement. She does this in ingenious and frightening ways.

Characterization: 4/5 [The little girl is well described. I could definitely see her portrayed by Jodie Foster-- who can be so serious. Mario, her boyfriend, is also a round character. I am going to have to check the movie out when I can.]

Plot: 5/5 [The plot is thick with suspense and an almost surreal quality. It keeps moving, dragging you relentlessly along, and there is a nice twist at the end.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [The novel opens on Halloween night; ironically, the girl is unaware of this, though she is creepy herself. Her Halloween visitor is a pedophile (not something I will soon forget). She is all alone. To add to that, there is a mouse she keeps as a pet as well as chanting along with a record in a foreign language. Murder and mayhem occurs. I also have to warn that if you are fond of pet mice or rats, you won't like one part of the story. With all the creepy happenings in here, I think this novel will be with me for a while.]

Literary: 5/5 [If you like Emily Dickinson, you will enjoy this novel. The girl's father is a famous poet, and she often talks about his poetry and others' poetry or recites passages aloud. Koenig also has something to say about adults and children in society and what their roles are, and perhaps, should be.]

Romance? Yes, there is a sweet love story in here, and then there is the creepy stuff.

Rating: 4+ stars   ****+

I highly recommend this one-- maybe even for one of your Halloween reads this year. It is creative and at the very least, unsettling.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Joe R. Lansdale: Mucho Mojo

Last week, a reader commented on a love for Southern Gothic Novels, so I thought I'd review one I read recently. Mucho Mojo is the second in the much acclaimed Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series by Texas author, Joe R. Lansdale. I picked it up in the library after having read a standalone by Lansdale and going "wow." I later read that many fans think this novel is the best in the series. I guess I'll just have to read others to find out.

Hap is a white trash sort of guy from Texas who is down on his luck. His friend, Leonard, is a flashy dressing, homosexual black man. They make an unlikely pair  as friends; in their spare time, they run into mysteries and trouble. When the novel opens, Leonard has inherited his Uncle Chester's house and some money. He finds out he has inherited more when he makes a gruesome find in the house. Hap and Leonard must solve a mystery and clear Chester's name. The title of the novel refers to a bottle tree that is in Uncle Chester's yard; this tree is supposed to keep evil away. It's a spooky little detail that makes the novel stand out.

This little novel is suspenseful, creepy, funny, politically incorrect, philosophical, and intelligent. Lansdale's characters are not afraid to take on race, religion, and sexuality. I found myself laughing out loud often, but Lansdale has the gift of making you laugh and then making you get mighty serious with the turn of the page. There is a complicated, smart love story in the novel as well. The ending of this one is haunting, and it's just about perfect all around. I picked up another in the series at a thrift store recently, and I will be reading it soon.

Characterization: 5/5 [I love both Hap and Leonard; in fact, I like them so much that I can't figure out who I would want to play them, but I'd love to see the movie(s). Other characters are well drawn, too.]

Plot: 4/5 [The plot moves pretty steadily, and I guess I want to say that no one writes quite like Joe R. Lansdale-- at least no author I know of yet. He's good at plot twists and at not choosing the happy option all the time. His plots mirror life in that way.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The bottle tree is spooky as are some of the collected items that Uncle Chester leaves behind, not to mention the skeletons that make their appearance in the novel. This one had me thinking about the dark side of humanity by the time it was done.]

Literary? 4/5 [This novel is smartly written, but it doesn't get high and mighty. Lansdale tackles race, sexism, religion, and other issues with a deft touch and often with bawdy, adult language. His style is decidedly, gloriously Southern.]

Romance? Yes... but it's not all happy go lucky.

Rating: 4+ stars    ****+

I highly recommend this one. If you want to fall in love with two new characters and with a novel series that has a Southern Gothic feel to it, try these out. Don't you just love that cover with the orange, yellow, and black and the Gothic script?

Dorothy Macardle: Dark Enchantment

This novel, another early Gothic published in 1953, is by the author of The Uninvited, Dorothy Macardle. I have looked for a low cost copy of that novel (also a play) for some time and have not found it, but it's a cult horror/spooky classic. I stumbled upon this one in a thrift store and decided to give it a go.

Anyway, in this novel, the heroine, Juliet Cunningham, has just left a dismal teaching school and is traveling with her father, Frith Cunningham-- love that name!-- , a movie director and alcoholic. Juliet is anemic and in poor health; her fragility is focused upon heavily in the opening chapters of the novel. She and her father travel to a small village in France where she begins to regain her strength. Juliet decides to stay there to live-- to learn to fend for herself. Her mother is out of the picture with a lover which is of course a big scandal.

After Juliet is left alone by her father, strange things begin happening. Witches and one-eyed gypsies make their appearances, and the tarot cards read doom. Whom can Juliet trust? Is the man she loves, Michael Faulkner, trustworthy?

Characterization: 3/5 [I pictured Juliet as a thin blond, but she wasn't described well enough for my taste other than being tiny and frail. Her father I saw in my mind's eye as Sean Connery. I couldn't envision Michael Faulkner. I like to see my hero and heroine!]

Plot: 2/5 [This novel just sort of meandered; I read for 71 pages, waiting for the scary or the good story line, but it just wasn't there-- just drinking, wandering around bazaars, and that's about it. Great plot stuff might have appeared later, but I didn't feel like reading 170+ more pages to find it.]

Atmosphere/creepy elements: 2/5 [The only creepy thing in the first 71 pages was a one-eyed gypsy woman-- still gorgeous of course-- who lived in the woods. Seriously.]

Literary elements: 3/5 [The writing is not bad; the story is just boring at best. There is information about gypsies and their history that is intriguing.]

Romance? Yes... it was slowly developing.

Rating: 2+ stars    **+

I do not recommend this one. This novel must be a weak one for Macardle from what I have heard of her other novel/play as mentioned earlier in the review. Comparing this work to one of Mary Stewart's from the same era shows the shortcomings of the novel: no scariness, suspense, or even the tiniest hint of dread.

Dark Enchantment

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mary Stewart: Wildfire at Midnight

In Wildfire at Midnight, published in 1956, Stewart weaves a Gothic novel full of mystery, menace, and suspense.  Gianetta Brook needs to get away from it all, and she chooses Scottish Isle of Skye as her getaway. Little does she know that her ex-husband, Nicholas Drury is also vacationing there. She is also unaware until she meets some of the people she is staying with that there has been a brutal murder on one of the mountains, Blaven, there.

A full cast of characters makes this an intriguing and likable novel from the outset. When two climbers go missing, spooky threats are made, storms pound the Isle, and other murders are discovered, the tension rises. Who is the murderer? Can Gianetta even trust her ex-husband?

Plot: 5/5 [The pace moves quickly, and the novel doesn't get bogged down by too much lengthy description. The reader is there in the mountains with the panoramic views, but the action moves along well.]

Characterization: 4/5 [I had a little trouble keeping the many characters straight for the first 100 pages or so, but overall, Stewart does a nice job of painting the main characters and many secondary ones. I could see Gianetta as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Nicholas as Clive Owen. Mr. Hay I pictured as Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marsha Maling played by Marcia Cross. Roderick brought Robert Redford (when he was younger) to mind.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [It took a while for these elements to build, but the murder, when Gianetta hears about it, is shocking, and the theories about it are even more shocking. I got a chill thinking about the fire and about the true intent of the murderer. Other chills and thrills follow; this novel reads especially well in gray, stormy weather like we've been having these past few days.]

Literary? 5/5 [Yes, references to pop icons as well as to current events are sprinkled throughout along with philosophy and other tidbits from history and art.]

Romance? Yes, of several types. Stewart definitely tests the bounds of conventionality for the time with portrayals of divorce, promiscuity, and borderline lesbianism, but she does it in context of the London jet set of the time.

4+ stars  ****+

** I recommend this one. It just might be my favorite of the Mary Stewart novels I have read thus far, in fact. It has the feeling of a Gothic, of a whodunnit and of a cozy mystery with an edge.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Good Gothic Reading Weather/Your Gothic Novels List

It's great Gothic Novel reading weather today-- rain and gray skies. Do you enjoy your Gothic Novels more when the weather is gloomy, or does it matter?

I'm also wondering what you have on your Gothic Novel reading list for the upcoming month(s)?

These novels are on my list and in my to be read stack (in my Gothic Novel box) at home:

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

The Stone Maiden by Velda Johnston

Masquerade in Venice by Velda Johnston

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt (a re-read, but it's been a while)

The Eye Stones by Harriet Esmond

The Magic Cottage by James Herbert

Don't Look Behind You by Margaret Erskine

Silversword by Phyllis A. Whitney (a re-read after fifteen years or more)

The Changeling by Philippa Carr (to see how Gothic this one is)

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

... and many others.

How about you? What's on your Gothic Novel reading list for the coming months (if anything)?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Susanna Kearsley: The Shadowy Horses

This was my second foray into Kearsley's work after having read Named of the Dragon. The Shadowy Horses was published in 1997, so it falls into the category of newer Gothic Novels. It is one written "in the tradition of Barbara Michaels" according to its cover. The cover reminds me of some of Michaels' recent book covers.

Verity Grey finds herself in Scotland for an archaeological dig. A boy with psychic abilities has seen a ghostly sentinel in the area, and the head of the dig, Peter Quinnell, believes the lost Roman Ninth Legion is there. Other characters include the handsome David Fortune, Verity's old lover Adrian, the disliked Brian McMorran and his friendly wife Jeannie, and the lovely Fabia, to name a few.

Mysteries abound about the ruins and the tower, potsherds, and coins that are found there. On top of these puzzles, ghostly horses ride at night, and Verity herself experiences the sentinel's presence. What danger awaits them all? Are unearthly or human forces trying to make the team leave the excavations?

Characterization: 4/5 [The characterization is nicely done for the most part. Each character seems real and round. Verity Grey-- love that name!- I pictured as Jennifer Love Hewitt, and David Fortune would be played by someone like Colin Firth. Peter Quinnell might be portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.]

Plot: 3/5 [It must just be me, but this novel did not pick up or take off for me until around page 120. I stuck with it because of the good bits here and there, but Kearsley's plotting is, well, plodding, to me. I think she could use more slight cliffhanger chapter endings and other devices to keep readers' interest early on in the novel. Perhaps I am the only reader of this opinion, though, as others seem to rave about her work.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [Things didn't feel spooky to me either really until that late point in the novel. Kearsley's atmosphere falls flat for a while even with the ghostly devices, but at least they are there. I did get a chill a few times in reading post page 120. I just wonder why it took so long for things to heat up.]

Literary: 5/5 [Yes, the poetry alone that is quoted as well as the numbering of the sections in the novel by horse numbers (First Horse, for example, with a bit of poetry and so on, much like Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting has chapters numbered by coaches) is wonderful. The section headings make me think of doom, Apocalypse, etc. The novel is also rich with history of Scotland and of the Romans.]

Romance? Yes, and Kearsley manages to make it a bit suspenseful and interesting.

Rating: 4 stars  ****

** I recommend this one, and I see hints of Barbara Michaels, but to me, Kearsley doesn't build the type of spooky atmosphere that grips me and holds me, propelling me through the pages. It took me about about two weeks to finish it where most Michaels' novels and other favorite Gothics were about three days. :) I am sure most would recommend it, and it is fairly lengthy at over 350 pages-- one of those novels you can savor.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quickie 48 Hour Contest Winner/ New Autumn Contest

Kristen is the winner of this contest! She was also the only reader who entered. So, I guess this means the blog is not ready for quick contests yet. :)

Congratulations, Kristen! I'll be mailing your novels to you this week. Thanks again for entering...

The next contest starts now and will run through October 1st at 12am. It is the Autumn Contest in honor of, well, the start of Autumn-- the season of the Gothic Novel, in my opinion! I'll make this one easy; just post any comment between now and the cut off date, and you will be entered into the drawing hat to win a nice copy of Anya Seton's Dragonwyck and a random Gothic Novel of my choice.

So, there's just one step to enter this one: comment on any post between now and October 1st.

Happy weekend, all! :)

Dianne Day: Obsidian

This novel was published in 1987; I found it in the paperback section of my library because it looked and sounded like a Gothic from the front cover and back blurb.

Rosamund Hill, a medical student from up North who needs a break, takes a position as home nurse for the manic-depressive and diabetic lady of the house, Arabella Charpentier, at a Southern ancestral mansion named, imaginatively, Charpentier. From the beginning strange things happen: second sight, visions, time lapses, and omens. Rosamund longs for normalcy which she has had until the last few months, despite her mother's disappearance when she was a young child and her upbringing by an aunt.

To make matters worse, Rosamund falls in love with Charles Charpentier, Arabella's husband, and the local reverend is also vying for her affections.

The tension mounts as events unfold, and tragedy looms.

Characterization: 4/5 [I like the details the author includes and I can picture most characters. Rosamund might be played by a young Sissy Spacek while Charles could be played by Joaquin Phoenix (or someone taller). Arabella I see as totally Angelina Jolie with green eyes, thin arms, and bewitching looks, and Regina could be portrayed by Halle Berry.]

Plot: 5/5 [I didn't want to put this one down; the plot kept moving steadily with twists and turns thrown in along the way.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [This novel has atmosphere-- a mad woman, dead birds, second sight, spooky graveyards, old plantation, creepy characters galore, possible possessions, water like a black sphere... and so on.]

Literary?: 4/5 [The writing is quite good.]

Romance? Yes, plenty of it-- dripping through the pages. In fact, at times, the dialogue from Charles gets a little corny, but it's not bad enough to make me give up on the novel. Romance is certainly not sacrificed for chills and thrills in this novel. In fact, the speed with which Charles Charpentier makes a play for Rosamund made my head spin. I found Rosamund to be a strong character with her own mind, and I like that as well.

Rating: 4+ stars

I recommend this one as a worthy addition to the modern Gothic genre. It is one of that rarest of finds-- a truly spooky and suspenseful Gothic Novel from the 80s and on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barbara Erskine: Midnight Is a Lonely Place

Midnight Is a Lonely Place, a modern Gothic published in 1994, is the first Erskine I have read. I am always looking for Gothic Novels written in the last twenty years that are worth a darn.

I was a bit off put by the heaving bosoms and manley pointers scene in the prologue, but I felt right at home for the first three pages or so when Kate Kennedy, a Byron scholar, is introduced.

The basic plot is that Kate ends up going to a cottage to recover from a failed love affair, and spooky stuff linked to an old Celtic love affair happens. Are the spooky happenings truly supernatural or brought on by human agents?

Now, for the full disclosure. I made it to page 31 amidst sighs of disbelief and howling laughter that made my husband look at me and say, "what is it?"; then, I flung the book to the floor-- gently. The curse of a literature degree strikes again.

Plot and general storyline: 2/5 [The trouble started by page 15 when I found myself annoyed by the childish manner of Jon, the boyfriend, very quickly. He constantly flings this or that and speaks ridiculously over the top lines that no real man would say. Moreover, the narrator inserts an explanation of her characters' feelings in every few paragraphs when there is no need; that is what good dialogue is for.

Telling-- bad:  "Suddenly he was terrified by what he had done" (19).

No, no, no! Show me he is terrified. Make his voice quake, hands shake, or tears fall.

Show me the tears threatening to slide down the heroine's cheeks or let me hear her quavering voice and see her twisted hands; don't explain that "it hurt to talk about it" (21). Sigh. And definitely don't do both in the same paragraph-- dialogue and then leaden explanation that only an idiot would miss. As if that weren't bad enough, Erskine also favors short, choppy sentences and fragments. Her style makes it tough to get into the flow of the novel.

The awkward foreshadowing by the boss of how cold and desolate his cottage was is also rather trying. He must say this to Kate at least three times (okay, he does. I counted them). We get it, okay. It's a scary place. A nice bit of writing took place on pages 24-25 in my edition when the coast was described in a brief snippet. If all of Erskine's writing were like this, I could power through the book; heck if even a third of the writing were like this, I would make it. The problem is that there are way too many silly men, bad lines of dialogue, and other offenses for me to try.]

Characterization: 3/5 [The male characters are all unlikable-- Jon, the boss, Greg-- the ones I actually met. Kate just seems awkward and nervous in the mix, unfortunately.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: I didn't make it to those, so I can't say. I hear they are good, but the bad writing was too much for me to overcome.

Literary elements: 5/5 [Yes. I loved Carl Gustav Jung the cat and the Byron scholarship background from the opening pages, and that continued and was added to as the novel unfolded.]

Romance? Not any that I was interested in. I don't like private parts shoved in my face in the prologue, so the rocky start didn't bode well for the rest of the novel. The schizophrenia of steamy sex and a man who acts like a two year old in his love relationship was unnerving.

Rating: Meh.

-- I did not attempt to rate this one with my usual star rating since I didn't read it all. I made it to page 31, and I couldn't deal with more-- definitely not some 400 pages more. I did flip through and giggle and was further convinced in the rightness of not reading to the end.

I don't recommend it since I did not fully subject myself to it. I would not expect you to suffer, but if you want to try it out, it might have its rewards in terms of spookiness. For me, it was like water torture-- every ill chosen word plinking on my head and driving me to  madness or at least giggles of incredulity.

With that said, I will give Erskine another chance. :)

Improved Blog Commenting and Jill Tattersall: The Wild Hunt

Just a note: I have made blog commenting easier by removing moderation and verification; this might lead to other issues down the road, but I will stay on it to keep the blog from getting spammed. Please let me know if you are still experiencing trouble with commenting. If not, comment away (and enter the current 48 hour contest please. Your chances will be good, as you would be... well... first). Now, on to the book review...

The Charles Geer cover of The Wild Hunt is the main blog photograph right now. I think his illustration captures the feeling in the novel of Holly Wood and its dark elements well.

Tattersall has been recommended to me several times now. Curiously, her novels are tough to find even in the gothic section of the secondhand store. I found this one published in 1974, The Wild Hunt, in my local library. By page five, I was hooked. Tattersall is a skilled author, and her plotting is deft and original for the genre. She also has a playful and confident narrative voice throughout the novel.

The previously orphaned heroine, Chantal Fabian (what a romantic name!), is 18 and still at a finishing school, thanks to a secret benefactor. One day, she is summoned to a meeting with Lord Mortmain who chooses her to be governess for his nephew. The Earl's scar and maimed leg immediately catch her attention, but his face stirs feelings of fear and almost recognition in her.

From there, the story takes place at the ancestral estate, Holy Mote, and Lady Perowne, Mr. Perowne, Hugh Perowne, and assorted servants play key roles in the story. Are there witches in the house and the woods, or is something else going on? And what exactly does go on in the wild hunt? Does Chantal's childhood friend Rowley have something to do with all of this?

Characterization: 5/5 [The characters are skillfully drawn. I picture Chantal Fabian portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, and Lord Mortmain (love the symbolism of that name) acted by Joaquin Phoenix. Mr. Perowne could be played by Adrian Grenier (the curly hair and good looks).]

Plot: 5/5 [The plot is intriguing from the start, and it never lets up with intrigue, twists, and spooky/Gothic elements mixed with sly humor.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The Gothic Novel elements run deeply in this one: witches, masks, drugs, moats, family portraits, maimed anti-heroes and all; however, the novel rarely made me get a chill up my spine. It does entertain, though, and the Gothic elements are well used. I have to say that Jill Tattersall's writing reminds me a bit of Barbara Michaels' writing, though this novel is not one that really chills me as Michaels can. I think it is the humor that is similar.]

Literary: 4/5 [Yes, references are made to various battles and to mythology, and the author's intelligence crackles between the pages, if that makes sense. Some authors are just like that.]

Romance? Yes. This novel has another dark, brooding hero, Lord Mortmain, that I fell in love with. For me, that is the mark of a good Gothic Novel. :)

Rating: 4+ stars   ****+

I highly recommend this novel, and I'll be searching now for Tattersall's other works.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September Contest Winner! 48 hour Quickie Contest Starts Today...

Thanks to all who posted a comment in the last few weeks and in so doing entered the September book giveaway contest. The winner this month is Hannah. Her comments and recommendations for other Gothic Novelists were superb. Congratulations, Hannah! I'll be contacting you. :)

The next contest will be a bit different. It has two steps to enter:

1. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account or a blog (or another social network account that I don't have but that you use regularly), pick any blog post on this site to share on your account with a post or a tweet.

2. Then, comment below, telling how/where you shared it. It's that easy!

The prize will be a mystery/surprise grab bag of three Gothic Novels (at least one of them will be a 4 star reviewed novel from this blog). This contest is a quickie-- just 48 hours. :) It ends September 17th, 10:01pm EST. So, any shared post or tweet makes you eligible. I will do a name draw out of a hat to choose the winner. The odds should be good for this one, and how can you pass up three Gothic Novels?

A Guest Review by author Shaindel Beers: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

When Lisa listed her Elements of Gothic Novels on Gothicked, I was reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt and was surprised at how many of the elements it shared. When I asked Lisa if she thought it would qualify as a “Southern Gothic” novel, she agreed that it did and invited me to write a guest review.

In Donna Tartt’s follow-up to her international bestseller
The Secret History, The Little Friend, twelve-year-old Harriet Dufresnes has become obsessed with the death of her older brother Robin, who was murdered on Mother’s Day in the yard of the family home when he was only nine years old. Inspired by her active imagination and the freedom of summer vacation, Harriet and her best friend Hely plot revenge against Robin’s killer.

Like most young characters in gothic novels, Harriet and Hely have absent parents, a detail which allows them to run free all summer, plotting revenge against Danny Ratliff, whom they believe to be Robin’s murderer. Harriet’s father lives out-of-state and has taken a mistress since his son’s death, and Harriet’s mother Charlotte exists in a drugged-out oblivion. Hely’s parents appear to be nouveau riche and spend more time playing tennis at the country club than tending to their children.

Characterization: 5/5 [I could picture the characters vividly. Harriet seemed like any precocious little girl with a summer obsession, and her friendship with Hely, a year younger and in awe of Harriet, was beautifully written. The descriptions of his feelings for her were some of my favorite passages in the book. The Ratliff brothers may seem caricatured to some readers, if they haven’t spent time with dysfunctional drug-dealing families, but they certainly seemed real to me.]

Plot: 5/5 [I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. Part of the success of the plot relies on the main characters being a twelve-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy. If you can deal with the characters acting illogically because they are at an age where getting in trouble with their parents is scarier than risking their lives plotting a revenge killing, then you’re going to be okay with the plot. If adolescent main characters aren’t for you, you may want to skip this novel.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [The home Harriet’s elderly aunts grew up in, aptly named Tribulation, isn’t even standing during the time the novel takes place, but it feels like a character. The fallen plantation house seems a tangible reminder of the family’s ruin, which down-spiraled after Robin’s death. Other than that, the settings are older houses in town and the Ratliff family’s trailer. There are abandoned factories and warehouses, which I don’t typically think of as “gothic,” but which are spooky and symbolic of decay. This novel is rife with snakes and drugs, if you consider those gothic elements.]

Literary?  5/5 [I’m always a fan of Donna Tartt’s writing. She manages to write in a flowing, expansive 19
th century style and still keep modern readers’ interest. Her references to the young adult literary works that influence Harriet’s imagination are perfectly chosen.]

Romance? Only the type that occurs between you and your opposite sex best friend when you’re twelve, but if that’s not romance, I don’t know what is. But, there’s no hand-holding or kissing or yucky stuff.
Rating: 4+stars ****+

Ever since I read
The Secret History in high school, I’ve been a fan of Donna Tartt. It doesn’t bother me that she takes ten years between novels. They’re worth it. 

About the author: 
Shaindel Beers is the author of A Brief History of Time and the Poetry Editor of Contrary ( Find her online at .


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Praise of Doug who sends great books...

This post is a special one to thank my friend Doug W., a man of many talents.  Hailing from Detroit, he's a comparative religion expert, historian, university instructor, book collector and seller, comic book lover, Firefly fan(atic) and all around wonderful guy, and not just because he sends me and my family books.

I told him I was going to do this, and he said that if he were blogging, he would have done a book haul video where he discussed each book and wore a Che t-shirt while making leftist comments. See, that's the major difference between me and Doug. He is actually an extrovert-- sometimes.

Anyway, in the future, I will be reviewing a wonderful copy of Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. As a bonus, he threw in a copy of Dawkins' The God Delusion (I guess he's still trying to make me a fan of that guy) and a lovely copy of Little Women. And that was just for starters. He sent me all of these books and more in a tidy box yesterday. And he has sent many more before-- the ones he says won't sell but that are in excellent shape. I suspect he just sends them because he's a nice guy; I'm pretty sure he could sell them if he wanted to. So, here's to Doug-- a rare friend and colleague.

My nefarious reason for posting this tribute is also to encourage him to join Facebook (or at least Twitter-- I even did it finally-- today) and start a comic book (or any of his other interests) blog. He is a creative genius (and all around genius), and I keep trying to get him to write up and pitch the stories and concepts he has. I can see his name in lights or at least on books.

Thanks again for all the books and for your friendship, Doug. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that blog or at least a Facebook page for your musings. :)

Josephine Boyle: Holy Terror/contest reminder

Just as a reminder, if you want to enter to win a copy of a Gothic novel, all you have to do is post a comment on any thread by September 15th. There will be (at least) a monthly contest, and the winner will be decided in different ways, so if you don't win this one, you can post again on Sept. 16th and beyond for the October contest. :) Here's the link to the details:

Now, on to the review. I stumbled upon this wonderful Gothic novel, Holy Terror, (don't you love that title?!) by Josephine Boyle in the library last fall. It was published in 1993, and it's proof that good Gothics are still out there from the last fifteen or twenty years. Apparently, Boyle has written other novels, but they are not easy to find locally.

Emily Wakelin and her husband John move to an humble cottage in a rural English community. Emily is a gifted artist-- especially with embroidering. She quickly receives a commission to work on an elaborate tapestry of a famous local holy man of the people from the early days of the village.

Soon, she also becomes friends with the elderly Lady Curran and her husband next door in Holly House; she is fascinated and frightened by the house on the outside and the inside. Her husband travels often, so her imagination concerning the goings on there only grows. Her visits to Holly House don't ease her mind any since she feels a ghostly presence and mounting terror each time.

Unfriendly church members are a menacing force in the novel as well as the mystery of the ghost next door and the link to the local saint Emily is bringing to life with her art unravels.

Plot: 5/5 [The pacing was perfect. I enjoyed every moment of this novel.]

Characterization: 4/5 [Some characters could have been better drawn, but I easily picture Emily Wakelin played by Juliet Binoche and Lady Curran's character as Dame Judi Dench.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [This one totally delivers; it is creepy with Gothic spaces,  ghostly presences, bad weather, and other Gothic elements.]

Literary? 5/5 [Yes. The book is smart, and I learned about art and about history from a creative perspective.]

Romance? Yes, but it takes a back seat to the Gothic elements which is just fine with me.

Rating: 4.5+ stars  ****.5

Don't miss this one. If you ever see it in your library, thrift store, book sale, or used bookstore, snag it, and let me know what you think. Has anyone read it? If so, did you enjoy it?

I don't have a picture of this one. The hardcover is simply black with the words Holy Terror on it and the author's name. I wish I could find an image; I don't have a copy handy, but I saw it at the library today and remembered that I wanted to review it as little known but worth reading.

Holy Terror (Magna Large Print General Series)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Obsessions Revealed: Paperbacks section and bookmarks

I found some interesting novels today at the library by authors I have not yet read that I'm looking forward to reviewing; I also found a couple that I loved and need to review on this blog-- novels by little known authors in the Gothic genre who have written in the last twenty years or so (Judith Hawkes and Josephine Boyle come to mind). A little trick I have learned is to peruse the paperbacks section for novels that might be waiting there by an author who otherwise has gone away from the hardback section.

I also wanted to recommend the ALA store (American Library Association) website today. I ended up there last fall because I needed some good bookmarks, and for some reason, the Brownsville Public Library rarely has good sized ones or any at all. If they have any bookmarks, they are long ones that will bend easily or really skinny ones that I hate.

You might say that I am funny about my bookmarks, and I suspect other readers might be (or maybe it's just me). I adore them-- well some of them. I like them just so, and I like them disposable because they always get bent-- at least mine do. So, there is no point in a very nice bookmark for me. I like shiny or smooth on one side and paper texture on the other-- or both sides shiny. I also prefer it if the bookmark has quotations by favorite authors or poets. I'm not a big fan of the ones your granny laminated for you years ago that are fraying on the edges. In fact, the peeling on the edges drives me nuts. Oh, and I always like my books to have bookmarks in them-- not dog eared pages as markers. When I don't have a bookmark, the reading experienced is diminished for me. I remember being this way even as a young child.

Yes, I am crazy, and it's official now. So, we've gotten that out of the way.

Anyhow, I bought a set of 100 bookmarks on the ALA store website, and I'm still using them. I have at least 70 of them left. I reuse them until they get bent up more than I can stand (usually three or more books) and then I give them to my daughter if she wants them or I trash them. I got this set, and I love them:

And the whole glorious lot of bookmarks is here:

A set of bookmarks you have chosen for just a few dollars that will likely last for years of reading--  how can you beat that? Besides, when you buy from the site (maybe you like something other than bookmarks) you are supporting American libraries and their programs. It's a win win.

How about you, dear readers? Do you make your own bookmarks, take free ones at your library, or do without? Do you love the paperbacks section in the library and/or do you need your bookmarks just so, or does this whole post make you roll your eyes or go, "meh"?

Phyllis A. Whitney: Sea Jade

I can't remember ever having read this one by Whitney, though I have read many by her. It turned out to be quite surprising and well written-- a true Gothic published in 1964. I wish I could find the Fawcett Crest cover of the edition I read (my copy cover is quite tattered). It is quite different with shades of jade on the back and periwinkle and jade on the front as background for a ship labeled Sea Jade, a yellow moon, and the heroine in a pink dress and black cape, looking back at a small house.

In the novel, a young woman, Miranda Heath, has traveled to the creepy Kent mansion of Captain Obadiah Bascomb, her father's old friend and sailing partner. After her father's death and with her mother having died long ago, she hopes to find help -- shelter, etc. from him, though her father warned her right before his death not to trust him or ever go to him for help.

Miranda realizes something is strange right away, and that she is not wanted there in Bascomb's Point. The Capt. tells her his plan that she will marry Brock McLean, the son of his other business partner, so that the business may rise again to greatness. She does under some duress-- rather foolishly as McLean is not outwardly interested in her, to say the least.

In an unhappy marriage, she explores a mystery that Captain Bascomb  mentioned right before his death and gets more than she bargained for. Of course, there is a rival love interest, Ian, and a cast of other characters who are well drawn. The love entanglements are not predictable; the plot is not either. It is full of twists and turns.

Characterization: 5/5 [I could picture the characters vividly. Brock McLean would be played by Clive Owen; Miranda Heath might be Scarlett Johansson. Ian Pryott could be played by Ewan MacGregor. I pictured Lucy Liu in the role of Lien, Capt. Bascomb's wife, and Glenn Close as Sybil McLean-- Brock McLean's mother. Then, there's the black dog named Lucifer... ]

Plot: 5/5 [I was into the plot from page 1 and it moved steadily and unpredictably.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The ancestral home is mysterious as is the lighthouse, and old ship, and the brooding husband and menacing Captain. The 1870s setting in New York is another Gothic touch. I could only wish for some true supernatural elements, but most are only suggested at by characters who want them to be true.]

Literary?  4/5 [It is well written and smart. The novel references Gothic writers, and some history of Chinese trade and ship building make the novel a standout.]

Romance? Yes, but much unhappiness before that happens.

Rating: 4+stars ****+

I highly recommend this one. I have read some of Whitney's weaker, older OR more modern works, and this one is superior to several. I will be on the lookout for other similar ones by her.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Joan Aiken: The Crystal Crow

I finally got my hands on a Joan Aiken Gothic (there are also Gothics by her sister, Joan Aiken Hodge) and I have mixed feelings. First of all, I think it's more mystery-suspense than Gothic. I should also mention that it was first published in 1967.

I figured I would like this novel since I liked Jane Fairfax some years ago and Aiken's writing style in general. Before I get into it, check out Joan Aiken's amazing website if you missed it and are interested:

The Crystal Crow was original and unusual starting with the heroine and her train ride as a virgin and then, well.... I won't give it all away. The opening pages have hints of closeted lesbianism as well. The novel is definitely twisted and different; I will say that it made me gasp aloud several times.

Aulis is the main character, and her story goes for the first chapter; then, the narrator introduces Charles and Eleanor (Nell). Charles receives the news that he has severe heart troubles and will not live much longer. He thinks back about his now deceased, but previously new wife, Zita, and how she died mysteriously in Italy. The narrative follows Charles for some time through a disturbing incident with a battered female friend where he says she "probably deserved" it and wants to commiserate with the batterer. That part of the novel turned me off a bit; I will say that it is definitely not politically correct.

More characters are introduced, including Aulis' roommate, Magda, who is in love with her and is abusive. The violence in the novel is staggering, actually, but the pitiful acceptance of violence by the heroine and others is even more annoying.

Anyway, all these characters and more converge on Cornwall together, and then the story sort of sputters along to an unsurprising sort of conclusion.

Characterization: 3/5 [I could picture all the characters, but their motivations were fuzzy at times, especially those of the heroine. She was just not smart with some of her decisions at all. Furthermore, most of the characters were plain unlikable.]

Plot: 3/5 [The complex narration style deserves a 3/5, but only a 3 because there are too many characters and subplots at times.]

Atmospheric/spooky elements: 2/5 [It's not too spooky; there are Gothic elements here, though, for sure, but I would honestly call it a murder mystery or something like that. It is disturbing at points, for sure, and I would call it controversial.]

Literary? 3/5 [Not extremely so, but the novel is not stupid either.]

Romance? Yes, and plenty of sex, too, especially for this time period.

Rating: 2+ stars    **+

I don't recommend this one unless you want a change up.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Joan Aiken Page and Updates

Check out the amazing Joan Aiken website, apparently run by family and publishers:

Also, see the updated The Epic List: Elements of Gothic Novels if you would like. Many more elements have been added (and will continue to be added upon your ideas and suggestions). I have also started a new category for food and drink since these novels have peculiar or different choices that are steeped in various cultures or eras. I have always been intrigued by what characters in Gothic novels eat and drink:

I am sure there are many more foods, drinks and other elements to add, so suggest away as they come to mind. :)

Anne Maybury: The Night My Enemy

This Gothic novel is my first one by Maybury; it's another Ace Gothic, published in 1962. I must say that the cover is lovely-- hunter green and black background with a lovely raven haired woman in a champagne colored dress. The author and title stand out in silver, sparkling lettering. This image is a poor one, but that is the cover of the one I have.

The settings were Vancouver, BC (where I lived for a couple years, so that was neat) and London. I had high hopes when I saw the setting. The heroine, Vonnie, meets a man-- Nigel-- and falls in love on a train back to Vancouver. He promises to contact her after his brief stay is over there; she doesn't hear from him after months pass, but she knows he lives in London.

Her friend, Myra, gets a sudden invite to see her old Uncle Joss in London; she doesn't want to go due to a chance to reconnect in Mexico with a lost love, so she offers the trip and an impersonation assignment to Vonnie. Vonnie accepts, and off to London she goes as Myra, in her place. She arrives right after the murder of Uncle Felix and a house with secrets. And then... the story stalls out. It lingers through a boring afternoon and too many exclamation points. Only the heroine and Uncle Joss were remotely interesting.

I thought 80 pages was enough to give the novel. There were virtually no Gothic elements other than secrets and a murder-- and a friendly cat. :) The atmosphere was nil. I'll try another by Maybury, but this one simply fell flat.

I don't recommend it...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mary Stewart: My Brother Michael

With this novel, I finally, truly get what all the Mary Stewart fuss is about. I felt like I was in Greece-- in the ruins of Delphi, driving through the small towns and villages, and I fell in love with Simon myself, just as Camilla did. I have not warmed to other heroes of Stewart's making (the hero in Thunder on the Right or in Nine Coaches Waiting, for example), but this novel changed that for me.

What is not to love? Camilla takes someone's rental car-- not hers-- to Delphi after a mix-up. She is looking for Simon and his girl-- the ones who should have the rental car. She quickly finds Simon and gets involved with his search for his brother Michael's killer. The novel is suspenseful, but it is the kind of suspense you want to live in for a while. If you are a WWII history buff, you will love this one as well since Michael died during war time in a deft tale of intrigue.

I do have to say that this novel has some Gothic elements, but it is not the ancestral castle type of Gothic. It is a Gothic romance. It has a hero (and his dead brother) with secrets, murder, buried treasure, mysterious letters, villains, Greek tragedy, exotic locales... and more.

Characterization: 5/5 [I loved Camilla; she is modern yet demure while still being sassy when it counts. Simon, as I mentioned before, I fell in love with. He is intelligent and wise as well as kind. Stephanos, Niko, Danielle, and Nigel were also round characters.]

Plot: 4/5 [I only have one plot issue: the car mishaps that went on for pages to show readers that Camilla cannot drive. They were a little funny, but they went on for too long. Otherwise, the plot moves steadily, inexorably to its brilliant conclusion.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The ruins themselves were ghostly; I felt removed from the here and now as I read. Of course, quoting from tragedies and dramas also lends to that atmosphere. When Stewart mentioned the "wine-dark sea," she had me at Homer.]

Literary? 5/5 [Oh my yes. Homer, Euripides, John Donne, the gods-- especially Apollo-- and more are  invoked, and there is a particularly arresting philosophical discussion between Nigel, Camilla, and Simon about whether the means justify the ends and how no man is an island ala Donne. I would even argue that Camilla fulfills the role of the heroine on a Homeric sort of journey, and Simon fulfills his role of avenger of his brother's blood. The novel is just brilliant that way.]

Romance? Yes, and it felt so believable. I suspended my disbelief throughout this novel and found it credible that Camilla and Simon would be together.

Rating: 4+ stars ****+

** I recommend this one. If you have struggled with Stewart, give this one a try (though I doubt many of you have struggled with her). I bow to her genius... :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Epic List: Elements of Gothic Novels

I thought we could start a list of the elements that make Gothic novels, well, Gothic. I have started the list, and I would love for you to add elements to the comments. I'll revise the list and give credit where it is due as well.

I have divided the list up into sections as well.

-- questionable, dark hero
-- heroine in danger (usually ages 18-25)
-- virgin heroine 
-- hero with secrets
-- recluse
-- sick or dying matriarch or patriarch
-- evil stepmother or aunt or other older female figure
-- evil older male character (anti-hero, antagonist)
-- child in danger
-- old sea captain
-- heir or heiress in danger
-- orphaned heroine
-- heroine of lowly means turned governess
-- gypsies
-- old crones with "the sight"
-- witches
-- deceased wife or husband who still haunts the hero or heroine
-- kind male friend who helps the heroine but is not a love interest
-- childhood friend who wants to be love interest
-- "mad" woman or relative
-- the Other-- person who is not Anglo Saxon and thus appears mysterious or frightening
--"monstrous" person or deformed person
--disabled person who seems threatening (thinking of villains in wheelchairs etc).
-- servant girl who informs heroine of dangerous goings on
-- hero with a limp
-- idiot savant
-- angry peasants
-- mute child (or adult) with a secret
-- blind child or adult
-- vicar or priest who is not what he seems
-- vampires
-- evil servants colluding with their masters
-- cute, mysterious or clever cat (Thanks, Hannah. How could I have forgotten this one??)
-- lovable or courageous dog (And again, Hannah's contribution...)
-- child or adult who has second sight or vision (~Hannah)
-- secret benefactor
-- cruel school mistress or head of orphanage
-- missing person (childhood friend or sibling, often)
-- seductive lord or lady

-- exotic locale
-- haunted ancestral home or mansion or castle
-- island
-- lighthouse
-- on the moors
-- old, abandoned church
-- old abbey
-- isolated home or cottage
-- in Cornwall
-- turrets and towers
-- by the sea
-- ancient ruins
-- caves
-- coves
-- huts
-- sheds
-- secret rooms or passages
-- green houses (hothouses)
-- attics
-- pavilions
-- graveyards
-- family burial plot
-- tunnels
-- basements
-- crypts
-- family burial vaults
-- ancient burial mounds
-- train
-- secret garden/garden maze (Thanks, Hannah!)
-- urban setting and its seamy elements: Urban Gothic (Thanks, Todd...)
-- right before or at Christmas
-- heroine's childhood home
-- sailboats
-- ships
-- orphanages
-- girls' finishing schools
-- Pagan ruins/in the woods
-- moat
-- the bayou/rural Louisiana
-- old springhouse

Supernatural Elements:
-- frightening animals (black dogs, hares, black cats, crows, etc)
-- familiars
-- incantations/spells
-- mist and fog
-- ghosts and spirits
-- voices
-- strange laughter
-- extrasensory perception
-- reincarnation
-- possession
-- patches of cold
-- mysterious lights
-- visions and nightmares with portents 
-- Satanic books
-- devil worship
-- exorcism
-- curses and cursed items
-- voodoo
-- patches of cold air/rooms
-- phone calls from the beyond
-- seances
-- mediums
-- premonitions
-- omens
-- portents

Creepy/common elements:
-- old statues or figurines
-- family heirlooms like jewelry
-- medallions
-- talismans
-- voodoo dolls
-- porcelain dolls
-- exotic flowers
-- power blackouts
-- flickering lights
-- old books
-- mysterious letters
-- diaries or journals of the deceased
-- twins
-- mirrors
-- maps
-- secret panels
-- family portraits of the former, now dead, wife
-- family portraits of ancestors that seem to change
-- black candles used for rituals
-- sacrificial rites
-- old trunks of clothing or belongings
-- twisting, unsafe roads
-- paths in the woods
-- screeching birds
-- howling
-- footsteps in the hall
-- secret will
-- invisible horses and riders
-- peeping toms
-- masks
-- scorpions in the bed or in a shoe
-- snakes in the bed or in the room
-- poison
-- laudanum
-- opium abuse
-- marijuana abuse
-- sleepwalking (Thanks, Shaindel.)
-- bats
-- sleeping pills and lots of them
-- hallucinations
-- creaking doors that open and shut for no reason
-- skeleton keys
-- locked rooms
-- small, locked boxes
-- dust
-- rooms of the deceased that have been preserved and untouched
-- murders finally uncovered
-- murderers uncovered only after many years
-- literal skeleton hidden in a house
-- decaying corpse hidden in a trunk or in the basement (Thanks, Todd!)
-- death by drowning
-- house fires set by enemies
-- cobwebs
-- chippendale desks with secret drawers and cubbyholes
-- snuff
-- pipes/tobacco
-- lavender
-- violet
-- death couch where deceased loved ones were laid out
-- family birthmark that is passed down
-- death masks (and other parts to resemble the beloved)
-- jasmine
-- moss
-- cypress
-- tangled vines
-- whippoorwills
-- alligators

Taboo Elements:
-- incest or hints of it (Thanks, Shaindel!)
-- necrophilia or hints of it
-- lesbianism (Thanks again, Shaindel! I think this is your category.)
-- orgies (Um, Shaindel again. I'm sensing a pattern.)
-- rape or unwanted sexual contact with humans or ghosts
-- secret love child (~Hannah)
-- secret STDs like syphilus (~Hannah)
-- secret adulterous affairs resulting in children
-- ritual human sacrifice
-- murder/suicide that no one speaks of

Natural elements:
-- moaning wind
-- tree limbs scratching at windows
-- rain
-- sleet
-- storms
-- hurricanes
-- blizzards
-- lightning
-- thunder
-- fog
-- mist
-- full moons
-- no moon at all/dark night
-- mountains
-- willows
-- dense woods
-- unnatural stillness
-- dangerous cliffs
-- deadly sea
-- December, bone chilling weather\
-- fire

Classic foods and beverages in Gothic novels:
-- sauterne
-- sherry
-- whisky
-- gin
-- meal on a tray
-- spiked tea
-- port from the wine cellar
-- boiled puddings
-- broth
-- cigarettes (not a food but some characters smoke as if they are)
-- brandy
-- rum
-- buttered toast
-- black coffee
-- roast beef (this one seems to show up in every other Gothic Novel!)
-- quince jelly
-- speckled brown eggs

Florence Hurd: Rommany

This novel was my first by Hurd. Published in 1976, it covers a family estate, Rommany, and the dark secrets that go along with it, through three generations of women. This novel has witches, murder, Satanism, kidnapping, you name it. It's there, and it all is connected by a map and potential treasure.

I read three quarters of it, and I had to put it down. I have a feeling that Hurd can probably write a good Gothic novel, but I don't think this is one. It is too sensational with few historical or realistic details. The novel is designed for shock more than anything, in my opinion.

I know some of my readers like Hurd. Which of her novels did you enjoy? I plan to try others by her and hope for better luck. If you liked this one, please post about why. I know some of my readers might enjoy it. I just did not.

Plot: 3/5 [Extremely fantastic and pretty silly after one intriguing turn with the first generation.]

Characterization: 2/5 [Very thin. I could picture only a couple of the characters, and none were really round-- other than perhaps Eustacia and Trina Blake.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [I give it 3 just for the first segment of the novel involving the estate. The trick that is played upon Eustacia is unsettling and confusing for the reader. That twist was the only interesting one in the novel.]

Literary: 2/5 [In short, no. This is sensationalized fiction.]

Rating: 2+ stars **.5

I don't recommend this one.
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