Thursday, January 27, 2011

Victoria Holt: The Time of the Hunter's Moon

This novel makes for the second in a reread of the Holt novels I devoured half a lifetime ago. I figure I need to review several of her works since she is a widely loved gothic romance author. I was not a huge fan of hers, but I like the genre. I read most of the novels I could find by her all those years ago. I wanted to see if my opinion from then holds up.

Published in 1983, The Time of the Hunter's Moon is a gothic romance or romantic suspense novel and a later offering in Holt's (Eleanor Hibbert's) prolific career. I classify it as possibly romantic suspense because it is something of a murder mystery with very little Gothic atmosphere.

Characterization: 3/5 [ Cordelia Grant is a bit complex, and I like that. Jason Verringer makes an appealing love interest as well, though a troublesome one. Edward Compton is also an intriguing character. One complaint I have with the characters in this novel is that I could only picture a few of them-- Cordelia, Violet, Aunt Patty, and Theresa. Holt provides a dearth of physical description, and I happen to think physical description is important for gothic romance novels. The most well rounded, loveable character in the novel is Aunt Patty, rather than the heroine, interestingly enough.]

Plot: 3/5 [Holt excels in this area-- the twisted plot. I knew what was going to happen some 100 pages in. I remembered from all those years ago, but this novel is quite ingenious. One issue with the plot: Holt comes close to a forced seduction scene with bad consequences for the heroine. Her choices later in the novel regarding the great romance of the book are interesting as well. I have to say I was not happy with the heroine's romantic decisions ultimately.]

Atmsophere/spooky elements: 2/5 [I like the idea of an abbey and of the hunter's moon legend, and this novel is probably actually one of Holt's more atmospheric, but it still falls a bit flat. It does have some spooky images called forth by the thought of long dead monks. I think Holt could have really exploited Verringer's ancestral home in terms of atmosphere. She didn't, and that is a huge downfall of the novel.]

Literary heft: 2/5 [This one is really just fun.]

Romantic elements: 2/5 [I was dissatisfied with this one. The forced seduction (or almost scene) left a bad taste in my mouth as did other events in the novel. It made the heroine's decisions unbelievable. You can read it for yourself, though, and let me know what you think. I like a Heathcliff type as much as the next girl, but I don't think it works as written.]

Rating: 2.5 + stars

** I am on the fence about this one. With all the great classic gothic romances out there, you might skip it. If you've read it, please let me know what you think in the comments! :)

I do love the cover art on this one. It's unique. Some of the newer covers are gorgeous as well.

The Time of the Hunter's Moon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barrymore Tebbs: An Author Interview

Barrymore Tebbs is an up and coming novelist. He and I have done beta reading together, and I am pleased to have him as the guest on the blog today!

1. What genre(s) do you most enjoy writing in and why?

Currently I am working in the gothic horror genre. Between Night of the Pentagram and The Haunting at Blackwood Hall there is a lot of supernatural and occult activity. There are so many possibilities to explore from werewolves to Ouija boards. My work is heavily influenced by the Gothic soap opera from the 1960s, Dark Shadows. I was in grade school at the time it originally aired and throughout my life I have tried to emulate its storylines in my writing in one form or another. Horror in general is not as popular today as it was in the 80s and Gothic is certainly in remission, so part of the reason I enjoy writing in this genre is that the market is not oversaturated with either style at the moment.

2. What has most influenced your writing over the years? I am thinking novels, movies, television, etc.

Dark Shadows, of course, and the classic horror films from Hammer Films and Universal Studios are strong story and visual influences. As a teenager I was very influenced by the American Gothic novelist Barbara Michaels. In my late teens I read a lot of Joyce Carol Oates who frequently dips into the Gothic pool. Bellefleur has been a lasting influence on me. The late Southern Gothic novelist Michael McDowell is another big influence. His stories are weird, fun, Gothic, scary, peopled with incredible characters, and highly entertaining. Thomas Tryon’s The Other, Judith Hawkes’ Julian’s House, and Douglas Clegg’s The Hour Before Dark are the kind of stories that I aspire to write.

3. When did you complete your first novel, and what are your next steps as a writer?

I finished the “polished” first draft of Night of the Pentagram this past October and immediately started outlining plots and characters for my current work in progress. I’ve received some encouragement and constructive feedback from beta readers for Night of the Pentagram. Once the first draft of my current work in progress is complete I will make revisions to Night of the Pentagram and start submitting it to potential agents and publishers.

My current work in progress is tentatively titled The Haunting at Blackwood Hall. It is an old fashioned Victorian Gothic ghost story set in “Baskerville Country”. This one is more overtly supernatural than Night of the Pentagram and is peopled with a handful of wretched and miserable characters as well as an arch bad guy whom I have nicknamed “Mr. Sandman”.

4. What are your main strengths as a writer?

I think my main strength is in creating visuals for the readers. Most of the feedback on Night of the Pentagram to date has been of the “I can totally picture this” variety. I also like to create larger than life characters and as a writer I am learning every day that it’s okay to let go and let these people be mean, ugly, abusive, what have you, and then show a side of them that reveals that they do have a human heart after all. I read a lot of psychological thrillers, James Lee Burke and John Connolly and the like, and this is a common trait in their writing in the way they draw characters in their novels. Hopefully this is something that comes across in my writing. Also, my work is liberally sprinkled with a wicked sense of humor and people seem to like that. I think horror works best when it is carefully punctuated with humor.

5. What other artistic pursuits do you enjoy?

I am a huge music fan, mostly as a participant, although I have played guitar in the past. Cincinnati, where I currently live, has a vibrant independent rock music scene. There are many great bands producing and performing here, really something for everyone’s taste. Some weekends there are too many options, but I love going to see my favorite acts as often as possible. I like opera and theatre. Incidentally, the first opera I ever saw was Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw! I am an avid amateur photographer and am fairly well skilled in Adobe Photoshop. I created the inverted star graphic that accompanies this interview as a potential book cover for Night of the Pentagram.

6. What is your writing process (in brief)? For example, are you just a person who gets it all on paper and revises later, or do you carefully plan and outline each novel?

I wrote off and on for years without being able to complete anything. I think this shortcoming was because I would get a concept and jump right in and start writing without any consideration for character depth or plotting. Once I realized that my best process would be to create character biographies and a plot outline/synopsis before I began writing I was able to finish my first book in a relatively short amount of time and then turned around and plunged right into a second one. I have read both pros and cons of this method, but if there is a magic formula for writing long form fiction, this seems to be the one for me.

7. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or something else?

Yes please! And why not? They are all “children of the night” and I would be quite happy to continue working in the genre and creating tales centered around these classic supernatural creatures. I have a half finished manuscript involving werewolves in the Louisiana Bayous which I hope to get back to in the near future.

8. Which living or non-living writers do you admire and why?

Several years ago I fell in love with the Dave Robicheaux detective novels by James Lee Burke. I admire Burke’s poetic simplicity and complexity of characters. Legion Guidry in Jolie Blon’s Bounce is one of the most evil characters of all time and yet Burke was able to show very human and sympathetic sides to this villain. Burke is a Southern writer first and foremost, so even though he is writing detective thrillers, his work frequently verges on Southern Gothic.

Shirley Jackson has been a long time favorite, as well as the aforementioned Barbara Michaels. I recently reread Michaels’ occult trilogy, Ammie Come Home, Prince of Darkness, and Dark on the Other Side and was highly impressed by the way she was able to impart so much information on everything from spiritual possession to contemporary witchcraft in compact little Gothic suspense novels. Like Shirley Jackson, Barbara Michaels never has to raise her voice.

Of course I am a long time admirer of Stephen King, though I no longer follow his career. I would have to name Douglas Clegg as one of my favorite writers in the genre. I have a love hate relationship with Anne Rice’s books. I found the Vampire series difficult to read and find the Mayfair Witches downright silly at times, but I admire her output and the way she single handedly revived a rather baroque style of Gothic storytelling and rode it to the top of the best sellers lists.

Outside of thrillers and contemporary fiction, I am a big fan of Charles Dickens. Look at how many fun and memorable characters he created, and some of his plot twist would put today’s writers to shame.

9. Tell us a little bit about one of your books.

Night of the Pentagram is set in Hollywood in 1968, a time of mini-skirts, ironing board straightened hair, and a flourishing interest in astrology and the occult. It was also a time of race riots, the Viet Nam War, and the Mansion Family murders. Elizabeth York is a young actress suffering from unexplained blackouts after her husband, film director Sven Lindstrom, was murdered by satanic cultists. In order to keep her contract on her current film project, Elizabeth agrees to be committed to the Abernathy Clinic, an experimental sanitarium which caters exclusively to Hollywood and other high profile celebrities. Elizabeth soon finds herself caught up in a tangled web of pot smoking, séances, unexpected romance, experimental drugs, and mystery as one by one the lives of the other patients at the clinic come to bloody and horrifying ends.

If you want to stay current on Barrymore's writing projects, find his fan page on Facebook: Barrymore Tebbs

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stuff and a new blog feature

If I owe you books, I'm running behind. Sorry about that. If you don't see any by February 1st, send me an email nudge. :)

As for the New Year's Survey, I didn't have many folks complete it. I'd still love to know your thoughts on what you'd like to see more of and less of on the blog.

I also want to note that if any of you would like to review a gothic romance novel or gothic novel, please let me know. I would love it! You could also write a bio. for yourself and promote your website or other venture.

Finally, I am starting a new feature if I get any takers. I would like to interview or have guest reviews or guest blog posts about all things Gothic from up and coming authors. This suggestion from one survey participant who emailed me was one I liked. If you are an author and want to be featured, comment here or let me know on Facebook or via email.

I am wading through The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Gargoyle currently. I'm loving both and can't wait to review them!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Monica Heath: Return to Clerycastle

Return to Clerycastle is the other Gothic in the Heath Signet Double Gothic I read.

This novel was published first in 1970 and is set on the Oregon coast. I am really digging that setting lately and had not seen it used in any other novels I can think of until recently.

Courtney, a young actress, has been hired as a pretend bride for Kirby McClery. She accompanies him back to the Oregon replica of the Ireland ancestral home of Clerycastle. Once there, she discovers a dangerous red haired wraith and chilling secrets. Could Kirby be a killer? What are the secrets of Clerycastle?

Plot: 4/5 [I really enjoyed the pace of this novel, and it had some interesting plot turns.]

Characterization: 4/5 [Kirby McClery is delicious, and I felt like Courtney was a well rounded heroine.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [I really liked the beach scenes. Heath is an outdoor writer. I mean she is best with describing the outdoors in any given novel. That is why this one shines. Clerycasle is weaker due to such an interior setting. I think Heath has trouble pulling those off from the three novels I have read by her now. She is a genius, though, on a beach, in a graveyard, or in the family crypt. ;)]

Literary elements: 3/5 [Not really. There is a little Shakespeare, but this one is pretty light.]

Romance: 4/5 [I like the hero of this novel and the crackling relationship he has with Courtney.]

Rating: 3.5+ stars

** I recommend this one. If you can only get your hands on one of the Clerycastle series, I think this one is your best bet. I am a big fan of Monica Heath's work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year Blog Survey

Hello, dear readers.

I am thinking it's a New Year, and I'd like to see what you are looking for more of this year as far as this blog goes. I've asked a few questions below, and I'd love to see your answers in the comments or even emailed to me (lisalgreer at yahoo dot com). I'll be taking them into consideration as I run contests, choose which novels to review, etc.

If you only want to answer one or a couple, that's great, too! I appreciate any feedback you might have.

1. What types of contests would you like to see this year?

2. Which novels would you like me to review? Specific titles, authors, or genres would be great to add here.

3. What other features would you like to see? More guest reviews or something else?

4. What do you most enjoy about the blog in its current state?

Thanks for your thoughts, and happy reading! :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yvonne Norman: The Treasure at Seacliff Manor

I picked this little gem of an Avalon Romance, published in 1977, up from my local friends of the library group. They have a constant sale going on, and at .25 or .33 cents per book, can you beat it? I can't. The cover art and novel intrigued me, so I gave in and read it. This gothic romance is appropriate for young adults or adults, and it's probably around 50000 words. Interestingly, Avalon still publishes romance novels of this length.

Holly Bronson's sister has gone missing at the ancestral home, Seacliff Manor. Holly sets out up the Oregon coast to find her, but someone wants Holly dead and is after the treasure hidden under the house, too.

Plot: 4/5 [This novel had some interesting twists and a car wreck or two. That was a nice change of pace for a gothic romance. I have seen them before, but not like this one was used.]

Characterization: 3/5 [Holly is a bit weak as a character, and I didn't care for the male protagonist or antagonist much.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [This one had some genuinely spooky moments. I felt the isolation the novelist was trying to build, and the setting on the Oregon coast really worked for me. Strangely, I am reading another novel set there as well right now.]

Literary elements: 2/5 [No, this one was all about the fun.]

Romantic elements: 3/5 [The romance is just so so, but there are the usual two men vying for Holly's heart.]

Rating: 3+ stars

** I do recommend this one. It had an interesting setting, and the ending was a bit unexpected. I liked it.
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