ghost story

Prison Sentence, With Ghosts: “Fellside”

26030697Fellside by M.R. Carey
Orbit: April 5, 2016
Genre: Thriller
Source: Free From Publisher

I’d go there again!
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Jess Moulson is recovering from severe facial burns when she is transferred to Fellside, a women’s prison. Jess wakes to discover that her face has been burned beyond recognition and she has been charged with murder after setting her apartment ablaze. Learning that the fire she apparent started killed the young boy that lived her building, Jess doesn’t put up a fight when she is sent to Fellside, and in fact, chooses to end her own life. However, soon after arriving at Fellside Jess begins to have doubts about her guilt in killing Alex, especially when his ghost tells her that she did not kill him. But, how can Jess investigate when she has turned down the support of her lawyers and is locked away? (more…)

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Ghosts in the Manor House: “Lost Among the Living”

25329513Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
NAL: April 5, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Publisher

I’d go there again!
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I’ve been a long-time fan of Simone St. James and I longingly await each new book. I will admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of the book, but there is a turning point in Lost Among the Living and when I reached that there was no way I was putting the book down. If you read it, you will no exactly which event I am referring to.

Jo Manders is a young widow still mourning the loss of her husband, Alex, three years after his disappearance during the war. Due to the fact that Alex’s body was never recovered, Jo has been living in a state of limbo and strained finances, as she cannot receive her widow’s portion without petitioning the court. Instead of pursuing the legal channels, Jo accepts Alex’s aunt’s offer to become her companion. After traveling on the continent with Dottie it’s time to return home. Dottie’s son is returning from his stay at a hospital and Dottie wants to be home to greet him; Jo must also go as she has no other place to call home. (more…)

The Stylishly Thrilling “Wolf Winter”

21413846Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
HarperCollins: January 27, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Library

I’d go there again!
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“Wolf winter,” she said, her voice small. “I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.”

He was silent for a long time. “It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,” he said. “Mortal and alone” (p. 107).

Wolf Winter is a historical thriller set in 1717 Sweden and what a stylish read it is. Maija, her husband, and her two daughters, Frederika and Dorotea have moved to the Swedish Lapland from Finland, having traded properties with a family member. Soon after arriving, Frederika and Dorotea find a man dead near a marsh. The settlers want to believe that it was an animal attack but Maija is convinced that it was murder and sets out to prove her point, only to have the settlers tell her that there is something evil on the mountain. (more…)

A Ghostly Romance in “The Uninvited”

19547848The Uninvited by Cat Winters
William Morrow: August 11, 2015 (Historical Fiction)*

Beach Vacation
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“I admit, I had seen a ghost or two.”

The Univited is a ghost story set in Illonis in 1918, in the midst of the First World War as well as the Spanish Flu epidemic. Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan wakes up one night to learn that her father and younger brother have killed a man. With the war raging, anti-German sentiments are high, and reeling from the loss of Ivy’s other brother, her family seeks retribution. For Ivy it’s the last straw; she leaves home. Seeking to assuage the guilt she feels for what her father and brother have done, Ivy goes to pay her respects to Daniel, the brother of the man killed. This initial meeting unravels as expected, which is to say, not well. However, that does not stop Ivy from returning or from Daniel and Ivy forming an attachment to one another. (more…)

Spooks, Spectres and Hauntings in these Ghostly Reads (Halloween Special Part 3)

Continuing on with our weekly Halloween special, this Saturday’s theme is ghosts (and one haunting), last week was werewolves, and before that vampires. I’ve encountered ghosts in many different genres, and my eclectic list below reflects that. Here’s hoping there’s a spooky read for many different types of readers.

My favourite author of ghostly tales is Simone St. James. If you’ve followed this blog at all, this will not be a surprise, since I rave about her all the time. To date, all of her novels have been set in post-WWI England and have focused on a ghostly haunting. These books are creepy (without being terrifying). And, they generally feature nice light romances. I recommend starting with The Haunting of Maddy Clare, but you can’t really go wrong with any of these atmospheric novels; see my full review on An Inquiry into Love and Death or Silence for the Dead.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare (more…)

Keeping the world safe from evil spirits in “The Curse Keepers”

thecursekeepersThe Curse Keepers by Denise Grover Swank
47north, November 14th, 2013 (Urban Fantasy)

My rating: I’d go there again

The Curse Keepers is about Ellie, a townie in a coastal town near the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. She’s been told all her life that she’s a Keeper, an inherited position meant to keep the world safe from the vengeful spirits of the lost colony. There will come a time when two Keepers will have to perform a specific ritual, in order to prevent the Curse and keep the door to the Otherworld closed, thereby preventing the spirits from entering the human world. It’s very Pandora-esque, except the culprit was a man. Ellie doesn’t believe in the Curse, believing that nothing exciting in her life will ever happen – and not wanting excitement, either. Except one day, Collin walks into the restaurant where she waitresses, and she discovers that a current of electricity sparks between them. As the pieces of the prophecy fall into place, Ellie tries to ignore (and then adjust to) the fact that the Curse is real, to take the steps necessary to complete the ritual and prevent the Curse from taking place, and to deal with her fellow Keeper, who is tricky, secretive, and possibly untrustworthy.

This book is not without flaws. The first sentence was cliche’; the setting was a little too shades-of-Sookie-Stackhouse. Both Sookie and Ellie are waitresses, their waitress friends are named Arlene and Marlene, and they feel a strange connection to a handsome stranger who walks into their restaurant/bar. Initially, the banter falls a little flat. I was disappointed – Ellie’s character and circumstances suggested snappy dialogue and sarcastic wit. However, over the course of the novel the dialogue improves, and the circumstantial details recede to white noise.

The worldbuilding is slightly sketchy – in particular, the author creates a weird juxtaposition of science and spiritualism. The Curse was put in place by gods, and the world was created by a god in a short period of time – I forget if it’s seven days or not. I could have used a better explanation of what theology supported the events. I did enjoy the mythical underpinnings.

For all its awkwardnesses, I couldn’t put this one down.

The plot moves along very quickly, with lots of twists, danger, and suspenseful moments. Ellie’s partner, Collin, is a bit of a cipher – is he a bad guy, or a good guy? Is he trying to maintain the status quo, or is he in league with the (evil) god trying to bring back the spirits of the Lost Colony? I’m a fan of mysterious heroes, and Collin is a fun example. I loved trying to guess by his actions whether Collin meant well, or had a different agenda.

I really enjoyed the attraction between Ellie and Collin, and also their resistance to that attraction. The romantic arc (quite steamy, incidentally) was one of my favorite parts. As they rolled on toward the Keeper ritual, I was able to predict the general resolution of the plot, since it’s hinted at in a dramatically ironic way. But I love dramatic irony. And, some aspects of the ending surprised me. It ended on a cliffhanger, so I’ll be reading the next in the series. Hopefully the world is returned to rights, Ellie finds even more strength and courage, and she and Collin find what they end up losing as a consequence of the Keeper ritual.

Read-alikes

If you enjoyed the mystery of the Lost Colony, and the magic involved, you may like this story about the mystery of a real witch persecuted during the Salem Witch trials, and about her descendant’s search for her grimoire in a modern Salem (NB: the tone and writing are very different):
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

If you gravitate toward contemporary urban fantasies with a seaside town and a heroine with unique abilities, you may also enjoy this novel about a half-succubus, half-human investigator:
Dark Currents (Agent of Hel #1)

Were you drawn to Ellie, and her struggle to recognize and deal with the unexpected reality of the Curse? Try this novel about a carousel mechanic (also in a seaside town) who has renounced her unique powers, but must take them back up to prevent disaster:
Carousel Tides (Carousel #1)

For a young adult urban fantasy with a similar feel, check out City of Bones, about a young woman with a strange, fantastical destiny:
City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1)

Do you know of other similar books? Share in the comments!

Happy Halloween with ‘Doctor Sleep’

16130549Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Scribner, September 24, 2013 (Horror)

My Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I’ve been drifting through Doctor Sleep for a couple of weeks now and just finished it in time for Halloween; fitting, I think.

While this one did take me awhile to get through, it was not because I didn’t enjoy it. Stephen King is just one of those authors that I get engrossed in, set down and then don’t return to it for awhile. But, as soon I start back up, I’m sucked in. This was the case with Doctor Sleep. I would set it down, but would finish big chunks at a time.

As most people are aware (unless you’ve been living in a cave) Doctor Sleep is the sequel to King’s 1980 The Shining. In Doctor Sleep we return to little Danny Torrence who is all grown up and still trying to deal with his shining abilities. We are immediately aware that Dan’s not been so successful at dealing with the shining, in fact, he’s taken the same path as his father and has turned to alcohol to deal with the strange visions he experiences. Because of his dependence on alcohol, Dan’s done some not-so-good things over the years, and when he finally hits rock bottom in a small town, he vows to get sober with AA. Dan ends up settling in this small town and eventually starts working in a hospice where he helps the residents cross over; hence the nickname, ‘Doctor Sleep.’ Over the years he realizes that there’s a young girl, Abra, that also has the shining, and she periodically gets into contact with him. For the most part, Dan doesn’t really think too much about Abra, but understands that she’s significantly more powerful than he is. However, when a sinister group, The True Knot, set their sights on Abra, Dan has to make a decision and to contact Abra and her family. The True want Abra for her “steam” or psychic talents, which they can “consume” if they kill her and inhale her essence. They have been doing this to kings for a long time, and it’s given them longevity; however, they don’t count on Abra having help to defend herself.

There was a lot of stuff going on in Doctor Sleep and I really don’t think I can completely capture it in a short review. What I really liked was the contrast between the unnatural family of The True, and Dan and Abra’s makeshift family. On one hand, it’s very clear who the bad guys are. The True are killing kids and stealing their essences. That’s obviously a villainous thing to do. But what threw me off balance is the fact that The True are a family and they care about one another. We see their side of the story, and while it’s completely twisted, they still have those qualities that most families have. It was bizarre at times to see the villains thinking in a family-oriented way rather than being completely vilified.

Now for those who consider King merely a horror writer, I think you should reconsider. First of all, Doctor Sleep isn’t particularly scary. I personally found it sinister with The True’s creepy caravan of kidnappers, traveling across America in their RVs and murdering children. It was sinister because The True were hiding in non-threatening bodies as bad people so often do. To me, the characterization of The True as RV-goers was the real creepy part of the novel. Although, there were some cringe-worthy moments while I was reading. Anytime that Dan knew a person would die, flies would appear on that person’s face. There’s something about the way this is described that makes my skin crawl. So, if you’re worried about being scared, I wouldn’t say this book is “scary,” but it does have it elements of creepiness.

Overall, I thought this was an exceptional book and showcased a lot of elements that I like best about Stephen King. And make no mistake, King is a good writer – after all, Margaret Atwood says so.

My Favourite Stephen King Books (excluding The Shining, of course):

The StandUnder the DomeItPet Sematary

Shades of Potential in Delia’s Shadow: a book review

deliasshadowDelia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
Publisher: Tor
Date: September 17th, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery
e-Arc provided by NetGalley

Rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed. (In other words, I didn’t like it much).

And now, just to confuse you, lovely readers, in this post I recount a vastly different experience with Delia’s Shadow than my fellow reviewer, Jaclyn. (Spoiler: We do agree on the lacking romance). Forewarning: I watch a lot of Criminal Minds, that show about horrible horrible crimes and behavioral analysis of criminals.

Delia Martin steps off the train in San Francisco, her home, after three years in self-imposed exile in New York. She has returned because her “Shadow,” a young woman brutally murdered before Delia was born, haunts her, leading her back. Shadow’s death in San Fran is related to a serial killer currently stalking the city’s denizens and threatening the Pan Pacific Fair of 1915. Delia has a few close relationships – with her second mother and her best friend, Sadie. All her life, she has seen ghosts.

Gabe Ryan is a young police detective on the serial murders case, with a secret: this case may be related to an unsolved serial murder case that his father worked before him. He is determined, focused, by-the-book, and good friends with his partner, Jack, who is Delia’s best friend’s fiance.

At first, I found the novel compelling. I was hooked. I liked Delia a strong heroine with a sad and creepy ghost and a mystery to solve. Gabe was interesting, and I wanted to watch their relationship develop. I even enjoyed the visceral crime scenes, which added a vividness to the plot, although some are uncomfortable to read. (NB: If you get squeamish at gory details, you might want to give this one a miss. But check out a few of the titles I’ve recommended below.)

Before long, however, I found first the characters and relationships falling flat. In particular, the romance seemed forced, overplayed. Then, I noticed that I kept imagining the events were taking place in the 1940s. While this could be my own fault for not knowing the Ford Model-T was mass produced by the early 1910s, and that cloche hats were first designed in 1908, I was right about the fedoras, which were not worn regularly by men until the 1920s. The setting just wasn’t realistic enough, present enough, and I repeatedly lost the sense of being in 1915. Names were inconsistent – characters thought of each other by different names, often on the same page, which I found distracting. The climax  was almost glossed over, with little tension or suspense.

By the second half of the book, no part of it convinced me. The romance, the setting, the plot felt flat, contrived, and unrealistic. I had quite high hopes for this novel, but in the end I felt the delivery made it a quite forgettable tale of murder and romance in 1915 San Francisco.

Suggested Reading:

A historical account of the real-life serial killer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and an account of the fair itself. Superb.

The Devil in the White City

A complex detective story that revolves around the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1922 Berlin. Fascinating.

City of Shadows

A cozy, witty murder mystery set in 1920s England, by the woman who established Regency England historical romances. Fun.

Footsteps in the Dark

One of my favorite mysteries ever, which follows a young girl in search of her family … and Dracula.

The Historian

A new, very creepy, gory murder mystery about a serial killer who travels through time. Definitely creepy.

The Shining Girls

Book Review: Delia’s Shadow

10576071Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
Publisher: Tor
Date: September 17th, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: Vacation by the beach

Delia Martin has returned home to San Francisco when she begins to see ghosts that have dropped out of sight since her move to New York. What Delia soon learns is that this ghost is the victim of a terrifying serial killer stalking San Francisco.

Once home Delia finds herself immersed in the investigation because of her unusual connection with the ghost, who is trying to lead Delia to her murderer. Helping Delia is the lead investigator of the case, Lieutenant Gabriel Ryan. As the killer raises the stakes Delia needs to learn to understand her ghost if she has any hope of stopping the killer who is now threatening the lives of those she loves.

Delia’s Shadow was a nice historical mystery with just a dash of romance. What I liked most about this one was the historical atmosphere that Moyer evoked. Historic San Francisco was a new setting to me and I found the descriptive setting to be a highlight with this one. The mystery was also fairly well executed, although I didn’t feel like there were any surprises about whodunnit. However, I felt that the serial killer and his crimes were sufficiently creepy, and had there been more violent detail I doubt I would have continued reading. So if you like a mystery, but don’t love explicit violence, this would be a good read for you.

For me, the weak part of the novel was the romance. Now, I’m a romance reader, so personally this aspect was important to me, and others may not have an issue with the relationship between Delia and Gabe as I did. From my point of view I found Delia and Gabe’s relationship to be a little flat and passionless. In the end, I just didn’t buy into the emotions that Delia and Gabe claimed to have for one another. Perhaps because a lot of this relationship development happened “off camera” and readers are just told that the pair goes walking and presumably has forged a strong relationship. I really would have liked a little bit more interaction between these two and I think it would have gone a long way to cementing a more believable relationship between them. But, again, this is coming from someone who is a big reader of romance rather than the mystery genre.

Overall, I enjoyed this historic, paranormal mystery and I would recommend it for fans of light mysteries. It was a quick read and I would gladly return to the setting since I’ve learned that it is to be the first in a series. I would love to delve more deeply into the characters of Delia and Gabe and explore more of historic San Francisco.

Read-Alikes:

The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1)The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)The House of Velvet and GlassSilent in the Grave (Lady Julia, #1)

Classics: The Shadowy Horses

shadowyhorses The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Jove
Date: March 1st 1999
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
My rating: Outstanding adventure
This novel went way beyond my expectations, into “truly delightful” territory. I had expected something a little less fiction and a little more fluffy (Kind of like Elizabeth Lowell, who writes stories involving art history, book history, studies of artifacts, etc. – but whose writing is not nearly as good).

This novel has a perfect mix of history, romance, and mystery.

The plot begins immediately, with an archaeologist re-tracing her route on a bus after managing to sleep through her train stop. She’s received a teasing letter from an old flame about an amazing dig in southern Scotland, and is on her way to the Scottish borderlands to find out if she wants to work on it. The man financing and leading the dig has a reputation for being a bit mad, which she doesn’t find out until she meets him. It turns out he’s looking for the fabled Lost Legion, the Legio IX Hispana.

The author throws in a ghost – “The Sentinel” – and a psychic boy, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like. Fortunately, the supernatural stuff does not ruin the story or the characterization, both of which are compelling.

(more…)