Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Pictures of You" by Diane M Dickson (A Short Review)


Published:  2015
Setting:  Modern Day


Back Cover Synopsis:

A tense edge-of-your-seat psychological drama you won't want to put down 

Since losing her husband, receptionist Mary has lived a quiet and rather dull life. So when she begins to be seen around with a handsome, considerably younger man, it raises the eyebrows of her friends and family. But do they really know what is going on, and what might happen to Mary before they understand the danger she is in? 

"One hell of a creepy stalker novel. A real page-turner." Betsy Raven 

"The tension built up to breaking point. I could not put this thriller down." Geoff Stewart 

"An edgy psychological suspense. One of Dickson's best." Patricia Holmes 


First of all, this isn't a gothic romance.  I would categorize it as a first-person romantic suspense.  The book was one of those edge-of-your-seat page-turners.  I couldn't put this book down and found myself sympathizing for the main character, Mary.  Middle-aged and single, Mary seems to have found the excitement she's been missing in life since her husband died.  She didn't see any harm in adding a little spice to her life, but when she gets a whole lot more than she bargained for she must use her own wits in order to save her life.  This is ridiculously good read and I'd highly recommend it to fans of romantic suspense/thriller.


Best Gothic Romance Elements:  a stalker, a voyeur, a dysfunctional romance, an intruder, psychological mind games


My Rating:
4 Stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dark Shadows: The Original, Episode 1

My name is Victoria Winters.  My journey is beginning.  A journey I hope will open the doors of life to me and link my past with my future.  A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place.  To the edge of the sea, high atop Widows Hill.  A house called Collinwood.  A world I've never known, with people I've never met.  People who are, tonight, still only shadows in my mind but who will soon fill the days and nights of my tomorrows.






The episode begins with Victoria Winters arriving at Collinsport, Maine via train.  She seems rather frightened/nervous.  Not even an elderly lady she rides beside on the train gives her much hope, as the town seems a bleak oasis plopped into the middle of nowhere.  Obviously no place for a young lady who may be seeking excitement or others of similar age.




As she awaits to arrange for a ride to the old house, she is met with a young man by the name of Burke Devlin, and he warns her:  "Welcome to the beginning and the ending of the world, Miss Winters."




As she has a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, she is befriended by the young waitress, Laney Evans, who doesn't have anything positive to add to the dreary description Victoria has heard about the mansion on the hill.

Laney:  They own the biggest, darkest, gloomiest old house.  And they're kooks.  Every one of them.

Victoria:  You make it sound like some old English novel with rattling chains and ghosts in the corridors.

Laney:  You think that's wrong?  I could tell you things about that house that would rock you from here all the way back to the railroad station.

Victoria:  Well I'd rather not hear them.



Devlin is in town to investigate the Collins family.  He meets with a private investigator at the Blue Whale, a local eatery and hangout.



We also learn that Elizabeth Collins Stoddard hasn't left the house on Widows Hill for over 18 years!  Makes one wonder why she sticks around so vigilantly. 



At last, Victoria arrives and is met by  stone-faced Elizabeth.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"The House at Fern Canyon" by Willow Davis Roberts

Published:  1970
Setting:  Modern Day

The floor tilted under my feet so that I seemed to be moving uphill.  The door behind me...the one into the girls' room...rattled as if someone were shaking it.  The soap slithered off the edge of the sink and skidded across the floor, swept by some unseen hand.

In the room beyond the massive chandelier swung freely, as if it had been given a gigantic push, making an eerie creaking sound.  I managed to take another step, reaching the doorway, wondering if this old house would come down around my head...

As suddenly as it had begun, the motion stopped.  Simultaneously, two things happened.  The lights went out, cutting off the air-conditioner, as well, and as I was in the process of moving out into my room something struck me a vicious blow across the back of the head and neck.

The pain was excruciating.  I felt the nap of the carpeting, smelling of dust, under my face, and was powerless to move, to speak, to cry.  I didn't lose consciousness...that would have been too much to ask...and in the ensuing silence I distinctly heard a door close.  My door, the one onto the veranda.


Back Cover Synopsis:

WHO WAS SHE?

It started in San Francisco, where Dee Tyler found herself a war widow after only three weeks of marriage;   Three weeks of happiness that were not enough to make up for the following months of sorrow.  She had come to San Francisco to meet her returning husband, and instead found herself stranded, without resources.  The future seemed bleak, until she met Enid Cassel, a fifty-year-old widow in town to pick up her niece's children.  Enid's sudden appearance in Dee's life was like a gift from God.  The older woman needed someone to care for the children, and Dee found herself on the way to Fern Canyon as companion to the two young girls...Not realizing she had invited herself to her own funeral!


This book was solid, from the first page to the last.  I fell completely into the atmosphere of this bizarre mystery.  The author did an amazing job bringing each and every character in this book to life.  I felt almost as if I were a voyeur watching this story unfold.  Loved getting the chance to visit the back hills of California via the lovely and amusing descriptions.  I found the main character to be sharp and endearing.  She faced fears and kept her wits about her.  The villains were also not of the usual variety, which made the mystery even better.  The ending was explosive.  Literally.  This story was an excellent 'whodunit' and I highly recommend to fans of vintage gothic romance.


Best Gothic Elements:  A young and lonely widow is befriended by an old lady who offers her a job, family secrets, money laundering, an escaped convict, drunkards, huge old decaying mansion in the middle of nowhere, near-death escapes and attempts being made on the main characters' life, familial dysfunction, heiresses, being stalked, graveyards.



My Rating:
5 Stars

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Inheritance" by Irina Shapiro (A Short Review)

Published:  2011
Setting:  Modern Day / Historical alternating story-lines


Back Cover Synopsis:

Katie Price is baffled when a man claiming to be her grandfather leaves her his entire estate in the Scottish Highlands. The bulk of the estate consists of a thriving whisky distillery and a moldering castle, where the eccentric old man actually lived until his death. The Will stipulates that Katie must travel to Scotland and claim her inheritance in person. 

As Katie’s stay extends from weeks into months, she uncovers the secret that led to her mother’s birth, and begins to unravel a two-hundred-fifty-year-old mystery surrounding the beautiful young wife of the last laird of Clan McBride. According to local lore, Isobel McBride vanished from the castle without a trace shortly after the Battle of Culloden, and some believe that her ghost still walks the battlements at night. A strange dream in Isobel’s tower room leads Katie to Isobel’s hiding place, where she discovers love letters from a man other than Isobel’s husband, his initials being the only clue to his identity. 

As Katie begins to unearth the clues to Isobel’s fate, she embarks on a romantic journey of her own and finds a new life she never expected. 



First and foremost, I would not categorize this book as a gothic romance, particularly in the sense of a vintage gothic.  Yet it does have some of the same, great, appealing and mysterious elements that you find in any good gothic.  Perhaps this book would be better described as a historical mystery romance.  Or a historical gothic romance, at best.

The book does begin much the same as any great gothic...an unsuspecting female inherits a Scottish castle and goes there to claim it.  She then finds herself immersed in a historical mystery of a romantic legend as well as her own love affair.

The book alternates between past and present.  There are two voices in this book...the narrator of the present and the romantic female of the past.

I could not put this book down.  You have an engrossing romance, such descriptive pieces of Scottish history that you have to know more.  Then there is the historical romance aspect.  You just have to read this book to understand how great it is!

So, yes, if you enjoy gothics of the historical variety, or romantic historical suspense/mystery, you'll love this book as much as I!


Best Gothic Elements:  a fatal romance, old legends of ghosts, rambling Scottish castle, single woman inherits a castle from a relative she never knew existed, family secrets, secrets and lies



My Rating:
5 Stars

Saturday, January 23, 2016

"The Moonlit Trap" by Ruth Willock

Published:  1973
Setting:  Modern Day

Just on five o'clock, and now the clouds had masked the sun completely; it was darker than twilight.

Perhaps office such as these, I thought, adhered to rigid hours; opened early as European firms were rumored to and closed precisely at this time.  And yet I had seen no person, no car leaving the house at all.

If the place had been neglected,  I should have been less surprised at the quiet.  The villa bore rather the same turn-of-the-century air of affluence that it must originally have presented to the community...

I had not moved more than a few yards from the last step when I heard the low br-r-r of a motor on the Malinastrasse, the lane at the drives' end.  And I started forward, thinking that an employee or employer might be returning from some business negotiation perhaps.  I was in the drive when I heard the motor accelerate disproportionately for the confined length of drive and court.

In a flash I thought:  he'd better have good brakes!

But it was too late.  It was almost too late for me.  The dark hood of the car came straight at me, seemed almost to rise like a jungle animal pouncing on its prey, the gleam of the metal bumper a stretched mouth, the grill of the radiator its teeth.

I leaped sideways and fell, the entire right side of my body striking the drive's soft shoulder with a thud.  The fall had not been voluntary; the cars fender had caught my left hip as I flung away from it.  But I did not lie even for an instant on the resilient blend of pine needles and black earth that had cushioned the fall for me.  I had heard the sharp squeal of brakes as the driver brought the car to a very short stop in the court, not many yards behind me.


Back Cover Synopsis:

What more pleasant prospect could there be for two young American girls like Constance and Peg than to fly to Europe for a summer trip?  Constance would study in London for a few weeks, then join Peg, who is interested in Medieval carved figurines, in Zurich for a mountain holiday in search of treasure.  Both have romance in mind as well as foreign travel.

But from the beginning Constance worries about her impulsive, temperamental friend.  There is little news from her, and what there is is alarming.  She seems to have met a fascinating man and is going off with him on a mysterious mission.

Then curious things begin to happen to Constance herself:  Her London flat is ransacked, and she is assaulted in the lobby.  And two interesting but enigmatic men pursue her with their attentions.

She decides to go to Switzerland to find Peg, but neither in Zurich nor later in Liechtenstein, where the trail leads her, can she catch up with her best friend.  At length the search leads her to the remote Verlorenen Tal, where an action climax plunges Constance into tragedy.


I honestly wanted to like this book.  I fell in love with the setting.  There was so much mystery, the surroundings of foreign cities I've never seen before.  Even the romance was compelling.  I was also drawn into the mysterious magesty of the figurines and the treasure hunt.  However, this book was just...jumpy.  I got lost in between the series of events and had trouble really stringing the whole mystery together.  In a lot of places, things moved much too slowly.  Things that didn't need that much description were just totally over-written.  The author fleshed out aspects of the novel that seemed to be going in one direction (that perhaps the initial male was going to stalk one of the main characters) which ended up not being so.  I was left utterly confused during the last half of the book.  The only saving grace was the action-packed climax at the very end.  Yes it's a vintage gothic.  It's more of an adventure mystery than anything.  I finished it because, really, I just kept trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  I would recommend it if you're bored and are looking for a drawn out, sort of mysterious, foreign adventure.  Otherwise, go to your next selection on the TBR pile.


Best Gothic Elements:  weird ancient figurines, traveling to a foreign country alone, someone's living quarters being ransacked, someone's luggage being ransacked and/or switched, impostors, drug trafficking, murder, abandoned villages and mansions in mountain towns in the middle of nowhere, being isolated and held against one's will.



My Rating:
3 Stars

"The Dark Doctor" by Stella Noir & J.B. Duvane (A Short Review)

Published:  2015
Setting:  Modern Day

Back Cover Synopsis:

Abby thought she was running away from her problems, but she wound up running into the arms of her worst nightmare.

“…from this point forward your will is no longer your own. You belong to me.”

I thought I had found the perfect guy. Jake was handsome and sexy and had eyes that could get me to do just about anything. The problem? The thought of being in love scared the hell out of me, so I called it quits and ran before I got in any deeper, driving off into a crazy winter storm. When I woke up the next day I was in a strange hospital and slowly came to the realization that I was being drugged and held there against my will…by my ex-boyfriend Jake. He claims he’s someone else though…a doctor in this dark, creepy private hospital in the middle of nowhere…but I know it’s him, and I don’t know how I’m going to get out of here.

This is a standalone novel of 44,000 words with dark sexual themes of kidnapping, nightmares and insanity.
 


I enjoyed this novella.   And although it does have some of the typical gothic elements, I would not categorize it as a gothic romance.  I think this story falls more beneath the dark horror gothic theme as it includes very dark sexual themes (think 50 Shades of Grey) and is most definitely a rated 'R' read so it doesn't have that sweet, clean mystery feel of a vintage gothic.  I didn't much care for the head jumping of the story, particularly how it only began toward the end which made it a little confusing and seemed to almost disrupt the turn of events.   I don't usually read books this dark but I have to say that it was just interesting, creepy, and bizarre enough to keep me turning the pages so I read it in almost one sitting.   The writing is of good quality and is atmospheric enough to almost make you shiver.  If you're looking for dark, disturbing, and creepy...this is your read!

Best Gothic Elements:  kidnapping, bizarre hospital wards, being held against one's will, food being poisoned or drugged, dark family secrets, mistaken identity, huge rambling mansion in the middle of nowhere, an insane doctor, a car accident that leaves the damsel helpless



My Rating:
4 Stars

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Pointe of Danger" by Lisa Greer

Published:  2011
Setting:  Modern Day

Her second night in the house proved to her what she had known her first night.  It breathed around her, almost as if it watched her every move.  It had been there for 150 years, more or less.  The widow's walk had been used then, and the lighthouse nearby served a true purpose of guiding sailors home, according to the landlord.

As with the night before, a tingle of fear settled into her gut, one reason she had been on the boardwalk with throngs of people, anonymous.

A desire to see the widow's walk up close gripped her.  The realtor had waved to a trapdoor in teh attic that led to it, but she wanted to see it herself, to stand up there, even it if was twenty degrees outside.  At least the snow hadn't come yet.


Back Cover Synopsis:

When Neve Warren finds an old pair of pointe shoes, a dangerous obsession from the past threatens to replay itself in her present.

Neve Warren, an injured ballerina, is spending the Christmas season in Ocean City, Maryland. Panic attacks and fears about her violent ex-boyfriend, Joshua Payne, challenge her attempt at recovery. After being followed one night on the local boardwalk, she realizes the past is never far behind.

Cam London, a police officer with his own troubled history, collides with Neve, literally, that night. When Neve finds out the history of the house she is renting and that the threats of the past coincide eerily with those of the present, can Cam keep her safe? And will Neve put the ghosts of the house to rest?



This short novella made for a cozy little holiday read during the Christmas season.  There were several subplots, which were interesting enough to keep the pages turning at ease.  The main character, Neve, is a ballerina who is nursing an injury and evading a dangerous stalker.  Yet, when she rents the house another mystery falls into her hands, the mystery of another young woman who once danced.  I enjoyed the storyline.  Overall, it's a good short read.  As with many of her books, I wish this one had been longer.

Best Gothic Elements:  traversing between history and present, a historical mystery the heroine must uncover, house being broken into, finding the old dance clothes of a woman deceased for decades, being chased by a dangerous stalker, a huge old house that seems to breathe, the creepy widows walk, a heroine who has rented a holiday home alone, being followed in a crowd, old theatres



My Rating:
4 Stars

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Upon A Ghostly Yule" by Amanda DeWees

Published:  2015
Setting:  Historical

The room felt like a raw wound.  There was so much misery here, a lingering malaise of frustration and grief and futility.  Turning, I noticed a tall object covered with a sheet a few yards away.  It was about the height and breadth of a person, which startled me.  "What is that?" I asked involuntarily, and Sir James took hold of the cloth and drew it away to reveal a standing mirror.

In the reflection, I somehow did look more like Lady Garnet's portrait than myself.  In the cold illumination of the moon, my eyes were darker, and the shape of my face seemed altered.  A peculiar illusion caused by shadows, no doubt.

And then the reflection smiled.

Cold fear gushed through my veins, and I was frozen to the spot.  In the mirror, Lady Garnet's eyes swept me up and down, and here smile widened.  An avid smile.  A hungry smile.




Synopsis:

In this short story, when the ghost of a willful 18th century beauty takes possession of spirited young Felicity Reginald at a Victorian Christmas house party, mystery and danger follow...but so does romance.


This was the perfect little holiday read.  A hefty amount of creepy suspense and mystery with a shot of the sweetest kind of romance, this little story was a breeze to finish.  Amanda's characters are always endearing and her uncanny ability to set the stage of any atmosphere makes any of her stories a true gothic win.  The only issue I had with this book is, I wish it had been longer!


Best Gothic Elements:  possession, an angry ghost who may be seeking retribution, sickness and death, old family heirlooms and secrets, secret locked-away rooms, secret passageways inside the walls.



My Rating:
4 Stars

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Pictures of Fear" by Lucy Fuchs

Published:  1981
Setting:  Modern Day

She left me then and I walked through the house toward where I thought the living room must be.

It looked as if it were never used, never entered.

But what really caught my eye were the large pictures on the walls.  These were Elizabeth's own paintings.

Every one of them was of a house.  In the dim light of the low-wattage lamp, I walked around looking at one picture after another.  They were all of the same house, I realized after a while, all this house.

The pictures showed the house as evil, menacing.  More than anything else, they reminded me of old fairy-tale illustrations I had seen of stories about scary castles and frightening ghosts and ogres.  Stories of witches and goblins and evil monsters.  Here, the house seemed to be the villian.  The windows were like so many eyes, staring and disproving.  The doors in some pictures looked like prison doors, forever locking in what was there.  In other pictures they were open, threatening to draw and entice the watcher inside to some kind of unmentionable horror.



Back Cover Synopsis:

Naomi Thompson was not the least bit frightened on her way to Wetherington House.  Because she had no one to share her college Christmas vacation, she felt lonely and sad and perhaps resentful.  But not frightened.  In fact, she was relieved to have a two-week job at Wetherington House, typing some poetry for Elizabeth Amberly, a talented, eccentric painter and writer.

Things started to change for Naomi when Elizabeth told her, "This is the house of evil.  It can change anything to hate."  Then the girl saw Elizabeth's frightening paintings of the place and learned its scary history.  Yet it was not until after she met Elizabeth's strong-willed mother-in-law and handsome nephew that Naomi's deepest fears took root.



I found this story to be a bit juvenile.  The whole theme revolved around a reclusive painter who believes the house she inhabits is evil.  Several people have died, or have received crippling injuries while visiting the house.  Elizabeth, the recluse, has been accused (but never charged) with the crimes.  Yet, during her stay as typist for the eccentric woman, Naomi gets a fresh glimpse at the evil mother of Elizabeth and her more-than-handsome son who come to spend Christmas holiday at the family home.  Soon after, things take a terrifying twist.  Several attempts are made on Naomi's life.  Elizabeth's husband is killed in a one-car collision because his brakes were tampered with.  Someone is attempting more murders....but everyone knows a house can't really kill anyone, can it?

It was a fun, quick read.  Not much in the literary department.  I figured out who the villain was long before the story ended.


Best Gothic Elements:  family secrets, murder, an evil house, a crazy eccentric artist, lonely girl goes to work at secluded mansion during holiday, attempts made on heroines life, murder by tampering with one's vehicle, jealousy, family feuds and rivalries



My Rating:
3 Stars

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