gothic

The Visitor

17204332The Visitor by Amanda Stevens
MIRA: March 29, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Source: Free From Publisher

I’d go there again!
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The wait for Steven’s fourth installment of her Graveyard Queen series has been a long one. The last book was published in 2012 and it’s only now, several years later that readers are treated to a new installment that follows graveyard restorer Amelia Gray. I don’t know why there was such a long delay, but I can tell you that The Visitor is worth the wait. From the start readers are dropped into the highly atmospheric and haunting setting of the old South.

Amelia Gray has come a long way since her introduction in the first book in the series. Most notably she has decided to stop following her father’s rules; she’s no longer ignoring the ghosts that are attracted to her, and this has severe repercussions for both her personally as well as in her new relationship with John Devlin. In The Visitor Amelia is followed by a ghost that could be her identical twin, except for one thing, this ghost has gouged out her eyes. This visitor is only one of many that come to Amelia, but each of them compel her to Knoll cemetery, a place that only came to be after the violent mass death at a commune many years ago. For Amelia, there is a personal connection to that cemetery and only by listening to those ghosts that Amelia will find out what the connection is. (more…)

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Master of Crows – Gothic Fantasy Romance That Shines

crows

Master of Crows by Grace Draven
Published in Darkly Dreaming: A Five Book Fantasy Romance Anthology, 2014 (Fantasy Romance)*

My Rating: I’ll definitely go there again, and soon! (4-4.5/5)

Martise of Asher, slave to a bishop in the Conclave, an organization of mage-priests, moves in with the renegade and lawless Master of Crows, an isolated mage who works magic that is forbidden to the Conclave. Her owner, Cumbria (and that was confusing, because no it’s not a county in England, and I kept thinking of him as a place) has sent her to spy on Silhara of Neith, the Master of Crows, since the god Corruption has just appeared in the sky in the form of a star. Everyone knows the god is looking for its avatar, and Cumbria suspects the Master of Crows is involved. Martise must find evidence that the latter is conspiring with the god to bring Corruption down to earth.

Her first impression of the place is one of a dilapidated and dangerous manor, empty but for a mute servant and the Master of Crows himself. The manor, with creaking and sagging stairs, cobwebs, and dark corridors, spooks Martise – but she is determined to succeed in order to win her freedom. Her slavery she keeps a secret, because Cumbria sent there as an apprentice mage, answering a request from Silhara to help him search for ways to defeat the god. If she reveals her true status, the game is up, and she’ll never win her freedom. (more…)

‘Heroes are my Weakness’ – even when disguised as the villain

19367048Heroes are my Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow, August 26, 2014 (Contemporary Romance)*

My Rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been interested in contemporary romance (historicals all the way!); however, when I had a chance to grab a review copy of Phillips’ latest I decided to give it a shot. I loved her previous novels, so I was looking forward to checking out something new from her. Heroes are my Weakness wasn’t what I was expecting, and I totally loved it.

The other novels that I’ve read by Phillips have been relatively light, so far my favourite has to be Call Me Irresistible. Heroes are My Weakness takes a departure from the lighter aspects of romance and Phillips tosses in a lot more suspense and a sinister atmosphere. Happily, this doesn’t mean the Phillips trademark humour has departed (Annie has hilarious conversations with her puppets, after all); it just doesn’t take the front stage or at least shares the stage with a suspense plot. (more…)

A tale of Heaven and Hell in ‘Covenant’

covenantCovenant by Sabrina Benulis
Harper Voyager, April 1st, 2014 (Urban/Paranormal Fantasy)*

My rating: Meh. Liked the place, but the food was bad.

Covenant is the second installment in a series about a young woman, the subject of a prophecy that foretells the end of the world. In the prophecy, she is an unknown redheaded person whose destiny will manifest as either the Archon, or the Ruin (unsurprisingly, if she’s the Ruin, the world ends). But Angela Mathers is also just a young girl. She lives on an island isolated from the rest of the world, in a sunless city called Luz. There, she attends school with her best friend, Sophie, and other redheaded children, who have all been exiled to the island so the Powers That Be (that is, the human ones) can keep an eye on them, find out who the Archon is, and kill her. The school is recovering from the devastating events of the last book. Angela and Sophie try to put off destiny, but at the Christmas Ball it comes calling – one of the redheads has brought his sister (Angela’s friend) back from the dead, and Sophie is kidnapped in the confusion that follows. Angela begins a quest through the labyrinth of the underworld in order to retrieve her, and in the process faces danger and betrayal.

This book felt like a loosely woven sweater, with pulled threads peeking out everywhere, and holes in places. (more…)

Good ‘n Gothic in ‘Devil in the Corner’

20728920Devil in the Corner by Patricia Elliot
Hachette Children’s Books, March 6, 2014 (Young Adult, Historical)*

My rating: Beach vacation (3/5)

At fifteen, Miss Maud Greenwood, was forced to become a governess. Her mother and father are both dead and she has no choice but to leave her school behind and enter into a life of service. Unfortunately, life in service is horrifying for Maud and she ends up taking laudanum in order to keep the nightmares at bay. Maud’s circumstances finally seem to be changing for the better when she hears from her distant cousin, Juliana, who wishes Maud to come and live with her. Maud hopes that she’ll finally find someone who will care for her and be able to move past her experiences as a governess; however, Juliana proves to be an unpleasant mistress and keeps Maud from making relationships with the locals. Maud’s only outlet is John, the artist who has been commissioned to restore a painting, the Doom, in the local church. When John is forced to leave and Juliana takes to her sickbed, Maud is left unprotected in a village that begins to aim their suspicions at Maud.

Devil in the Corner is most definitely a gothic tale. There’s a mystery, a creepy painting, and an isolated house. But what struck me the most about Devil in the Corner was the writing style; it was so reminiscent of the classic gothic tales I have read. At the time I was reading Devil in the Corner, I was also reading Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, another gothic romance. While the plot lines are not alike, the writing style is very similar, and I found the writing in Elliot’s novel to be the strongest part of the reading experience. She does the gothic well. It was mysterious and readers are continually left wondering what has happened and what will happen to Maud.

What appealed to me less in Devil in the Corner was the characterizations. There was something simplistic about Maud and John, and while I think this fits my comparison to the classics, I would have preferred a little more meat to the characters. Readers continued to get hints about what happened to Maud as a governess, and while these hints were disturbing, I felt that it took too long to learn more about this. I also feel exploring this past would have went a long way in explaining why Maud was the way she was. I also think a further acknowledgement of this past would have strengthened the romance between Maud and John. What has happened to Maud has affected her interactions with John and it will impact any future relationship between the two and I would have liked to see this play out. The fact that John has no idea what has happened to Maud left me feeling that the novel was unfinished with respect to their relationship.

Ultimately, I did enjoy reading Devil in the Corner. The writing was good, and if you’ve enjoyed other gothic novels like Jamaica Inn or Northanger Abbey I think you’ll like this one as well.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Similar Reads

If you enjoyed the gothic elements in The Devil in the Corner I strongly urge you to snap up a copy of Jamaica Inn. The setting is a little more gloomy but the heroine, Mary, reminds me a little of Maud. It’s a great book and I hear that it’s being made into a BBC film (yay!).

Jamaica Inn

If you liked the light romance between Maud and John, I would recommend Julia Donaldson’s Blackmoore. It has some gothic elements and I found the romance to be quite similar as both couples seem rather naive. And it’s a title that Stacey and I both agreed on in September 2013.

Blackmoore

Lastly, I’m going to recommend Simone St. James. Now I think you should read ALL of her books, but if you’re looking for one similar to Devil in the Corner, I would go with An Inquiry Into Love and Death. This is one creepy and atmospheric novel, and I would recommend it if you were hoping there was more of a paranormal flavor in Devil in the Corner.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death

Your Haunted House of Literary Monsters for Halloween

Burne-Jones-le-VampireHappy Halloween, lovely readers!

How could we prepare you for Halloween without a collection of creepy stories featuring scary monsters, in addition to the ghostly selections we listed earlier? (The answer is, we couldn’t. Which is why you’re reading this post.) Keep reading for a stunning selection of scary (and some not-so-scary) tales of vampires, werewolves, serial killers, and one monster.

In the Drawing Room, we have … Vampires.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Duh. A classic. I bet you already think you know what it’s about. Read it – and go back to the original that inspired all the knock-offs. Word to the wise: watch out for the misogyny, but the suspenseful story and creepy Vampire make it worthy of its classic status. By the way – have you seen the new show yet?

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Another about Dracula, but a much different take – follow a young woman as she searches for her father, who once searched for her mother, who got taken by … you guessed it – Dracula. It all starts with an ancient book and mysterious yellowing letters. Her travels span the globe, and several stories (the heroine’s, her father’s, and Dracula’s) are intertwined. This was one of those books I couldn’t let go, and I was particularly impressed by and enamored of this Dracula.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

These days, another classic take on the Vampire, although much more recent than Dracula. I’ve not read this one, but if you’ve seen the movie (with Brad Pitt – enough said), my work here is done. I’ve heard it’s erotic, and shocking… you’ve been warned.

Nightlife by Matthew Quinn Martin

Shivers. This dark modern-day tale of vampires you’ve never seen before is dark, spooky, suspenseful, and riveting. Beth Becker is just an outsider bartender in a small town, until her best friend goes missing – and she discovers a creepy, alien world she never suspected existed. Along the way she meets Jack, a vigilante motivated by a devastating past. And the vampires – they’re definitely NOT your friends. Try putting it down. I dare you.

In the Kitchen, with the Knife: Serial Killers.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Hannibal has to be the creepiest fictional sociopath. In Red Dragon, the first in the series chronologically, FBI agent Will Graham relies on hints and manipulative advice from mental patient Hannibal to track a serial killer associated with the Dragon. Even if you’ve seen the Hannibal movies, it’s worth checking these out in book format. There’s something about using your own imagination that makes it even scarier.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Do you like stories about time travel? Do you like cringe-worthy novels about horrifying (fictional) events? What about a strong, determined heroine who wins the day in the end? Can you stand graphic and disturbing imagery. This is a twister about a sociopath who discovers a house that allows him to travel through time. Kirby is one of his victims, who can’t let her attempted murder go. Cue mystery, suspense, danger, and sleeping with a light on.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The only nonfiction book on this list, this is one of the best and creepiest serial killer stories. This time, the serial killer was for real. Adds an extra dash of spine-tingling horror. Intermingled with (and almost as interesting) the true-crime story of the serial killer of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, is the story of the fair itself.

And on the Back Porch, howling to get in, are the Werewolves and Monsters.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

I haven’t read this yet, everyone knows it’s a classic. Mary Shelley (daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, if you’re interested in the history of feminism) started writing this story when she was 18. How’s that for youthful accomplishments? Anyway, Frankenstein is a science student who thinks there’s nothing wrong with attaching scavenged body parts to other scavenged body parts and then animating them. Riiiiight. Nothing could go wrong! Except poor Frankenstein ends up with the first vengeful undead monster (if we’re not counting vampires, who have been stars of folklore and fireside tales for even more centuries).

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

This is magical urban mythical fantasy along the lines of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Galina, a young woman in 1990s Moscow, searches the mundane world and the underworld with a young clear-eyed policeman, Yakov, when her sister turns into a jackdaw and flies away. In Moscow’s underworld, you’ll find more jackdaws, weeping trees, and creatures of Russian folklore. Fasten your seat belt!

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Okay, not so scary. But definitely kick butt. Volvo mechanic Mercy Thompson is not a werewolf – she’s a coyote shifter. This makes relations with her neighbor, attractive alpha of the nearest werewolf pack, tense (and intriguing). Not to mention, her former boss is a gremlin, and one of her customers a vampire. This mix ends up getting her in trouble with the local supernatural community. One of my favorite series about werewolves. Ever. Go check it out from your local library now. Go, go!

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop has always, all my life, been a favorite author of mine. And with her latest series, she just KILLED it. In a world where humans are not at the top of the food chain (that’s the Others: werewolves, fae, and the like), Meg Corbyn is a rare cassandra sangue, which means her blood gives her prophetic visions (meaning that she gets cut every time a vision is required, and every time she gets a cut, she sees a vision). She, and others like her, are confined and controlled by a mysterious agency. Clever Meg escapes, though, and hides with the Others. Leading to all kinds of intriguing situations and interspecies relationships. Another Must-Read here.

What’s on your Halloween shelf? Read any really scary, really good monster stories lately? Share in the comments!

*Image credit: Philip Burne-Jones, The Vampire, 1897

Joint Review: we love Blackmoore

15795628Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Date: September 9th, 2013
Genre: Historical Romance; Young Adult
Source: NetGalley

Blackmoore marks the inaugural joint review between Stacey and me. For the most part, we have very similar taste in books; however, there are some books we differ in opinion. Happily, Blackmoore is not one of those books. We both loved this one! But there are, of course, different things that we enjoyed about it.

Kate Worthington longs to escape her scandalous family and visit her close friends’ home, Blackmoore. For as long as she has known Henry and his sister, Sylvia Delafield, she has waited for them during the summer when they inhabit Henry’s inheritance, Blackmoore. Henry has promised to bring Kate there, and in July 1820, it seems Kate is finally going to Blackmoore.

Unfortunately for Kate, her manipulative mother decides to revoke her permission for the trip, unless Kate agrees to a bargain. If Kate receives three marriage proposals while at Blackmoore her mother will not only allow her to go, but will also allow her to travel to India with Kate’s aunt. Yet when Kate arrives at Blackmoore, she receives a much colder welcome than expected.

Jaclyn’s Adventure:

Rating: I’d go there again!

I completely adored this “proper romance.” I haven’t read Donaldson’s Edenbrook but you can guarantee that is now going on my reading list.

Kate was a wonderful character. She was so obviously not perfect, but that was what made her such a fantastic character. She was completely trapped in her station in life. She wanted freedom, and you could just feel the cage that was wrapping around her. She was doing the best that she could with the limited options available to her.

And the romance. Seriously, I had no idea that sweet romances could be written in such an engaging and sensual way. I just haven’t come across novels that have been labeled “Christian” or “clean” that have this kind of emotion. The longing between Henry and Kate was so evident, even on Henry’s part, which is difficult considering that the novel is from Kate’s point of view. I loved the fact that both Kate and Henry were willing to make sacrifices for each other’s happiness, although I have to admit I felt they were a little over dramatic, but such is young love.

So why not five stars? I really wanted to give this one a five star review and I would have had the ending been a tad more fleshed out. For the entire book we have this fantastic and drawn out relationship between Kate and Henry. They’re star crossed lovers and it seems that they’ll never get their happily ever after. But, one chapter solves this problem. One chapter! I don’t want to spoil what happens, but I was some what dissatisfied with the quick resolution, and I would have liked to know what happened with Henry and Kate’s mothers, who couldn’t have been more manipulative throughout the story. The resolution just seemed a little quick to me. But, do not let this stop you from reading this because the lead up was so engaging, I could barely put the book down.

Ultimately, this is a fantastic historical romance that I think would also appeal to teens and for those who aren’t fans of the steamy romances in that section of the library. There is great characterization here and a beautiful atmospheric setting that will grab you from the first chapter.

Stacey’s Adventure:

Rating: I’d go there again! Or maybe even Outstanding Adventure

Most of the story is actually told through flashbacks, as Kitty tells her readers about her childhood, and explains why Blackmoore means so much to her. At first, I was exasperated by the flashbacks. In general, I find flashbacks distracting and even as negative techniques, that take away from the drama and speed of the main plot. But the masterful way the author reveals the growing and changing relationships between the three young people (Our protagonist, who in my notes is Kitty, and her friends Henry and Sophia), and especially between Henry and Kitty, soon had me anticipating each flashback.

The romance is sweet and lovely, slow and dramatic. Henry is my favorite kind of hero – patient, kind and subtle but honest with himself about his feelings. Kitty spends most of the novel being oblivious and naive, but she does a lot of growing up over the course of the book. Each character lives in his or her own head, unaware of the other’s feelings. I LOVE how Henry’s feelings for Kitty are slowly revealed to the reader as she remembers the ways that he taken care of her her whole life, and I really enjoyed Kitty’s journey to self-awareness.

The story is very simple, in that the history between the neighboring families is vague and obscure, and Kitty’s desire to travel to India with her aunt is pretty nebulous. The focus is truly on the budding romance between Kitty and Henry. I only vaguely remember the ending being abrupt, I was so pleased with the rest of it. However, the romance makes up for these shortcomings, in my opinion. Like Jaclyn, you can bet all books by Julianne Donaldson are going on my to-read list, starting with Edenbrooke.

Read-Alikes:

An Inquiry Into Love and Death Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood #1)A Tryst with TroubleShades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1)Shadows on the NileThe Stanforth Secrets (Lovers and Ladies #1)The Caged GravesArabella

Book Review: An Inquiry into Love and Death

inquiryintolovenaddeath

An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James
Publisher: NAL Trade
Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery / Romance
Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this one since I read St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare, yet when I got my hands on An Inquiry Into Love and Death I was strangely reluctant to start it. It was one of those times when you’re so excited to read a book, you just want to save it and you don’t want to be disappointed. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed with this one, it had all the elements that I loved from St. James’ first book – highly atmospheric, touch of the supernatural, dash of mystery, and a good helping of romance.

In An Inquiry into Love and Death Oxford student, Jillian Leigh receives the news that her ghosthunter Uncle Toby has died, and she has to identify the body and take care of his effects. Jillian drives to the seaside town of Rothewell and becomes embroiled in a ghostly mystery she had not anticipated. Along the way she meets RAF pilot turned Scotland Yard detective, Drew Merriken, who is investigating some mysterious happenings in the sleepy seaside town.

What I loved about this one was the atmosphere that St. James evokes. This book is set in 1924, shortly after world war one and you can feel the sadness and melancholy that you would expect people to feel after the war; after realizing all that they have lost. This same atmosphere was also present in The Haunting of Maddy Clare and I think its a perfect match for the post-war era. The setting of the novel seems to mimic this melancholy, but I also think that the investigation of ghosts (the focus of both St. James’ books) also demonstrates a mentality that I think people would embrace after such a tragedy as war. I thought this atmosphere was marvelously well done and it wasn’t at the expense of characters. I like a character driven novel and I liked that in An Inquiry into Love and Death we had a character driven plot that was also highly atmospheric. I find that it’s difficult to find a novel that had both strong characters and a strong sense of place.

I also loved the creepiness factor. The exploration of ghosts is a major theme and the way the ghostly encounters are described are terrifying. For example, one of the very first encounters Jillian has with the ghost, Walking John, hits you viscerally:

“At the top of the window – the very top – a hand was pressed to the glass.
 
The hand was reaching down – from God knew where – ans flattened to the glass. It was grayish white, damp. The  pads of its fingers were rotted black. I glimpsed blackened fingernails and a ripped, ruined thumbnail. As we watched, the hand pressed harder into the window glass – as if being used to launch the body – and disappeared. It left behind no mark.

‘Drew,’ I said. ‘It’s climbing up the wall.'”. (p. 123)

I think what also helps the scariness of the ghostly encounters is the way that Jillian reacts to them. You can feel her terror when she sees and experiences things that just couldn’t possibly be real. By having Jillian narrate her reactions, the horror of her experiences are ramped up another notch.

This was a very good read, and I think it will appeal to Downton Abbey fans for its atmospheric setting, but I think it will also appeal to a wider audience because it has a little bit of several genres: historical, romance, mystery etc. I will be anxiously awaiting St. James’ next book! And, if you haven’t read The Haunting of Maddy Clear do so immediately.

Read-alikes:

The House of Velvet and Glass The Uninvited Guests The Dressmaker The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)