Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The Secret of the Vineyard" by Monica Heath

Published:  1968
Setting:  Modern

Terror gurgled in my throat and I clutched madly at the wheels of my chair, sending it crashing among the casks that crouched around me like hunchbacked beasts on their shallow racks.

I managed to right it at last and sent it plunging along the dimly lit passageway that narrowed suddenly, the floor becoming strewn with rubble.  Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn.  Crisscrossed planks loomed before me, and I knew then that I was trapped.

"Cammy."  The faceless form closed in on me.  Unbelievably, it had Nate's voice.

I tried once more to send my chair ahead.  The wheels caught on a rotting stave and it jerked sideways, striking the limestone wall.  A patter of loose stone showered from somewhere above me.

"Cammy!"  Nate's voice called to me out of that frightening faceless being.

I screamed.  Then something unyielding thudded onto my head and the world folded around me...

Cammy is a hopeful twenty-year-old, new to San Francisco and excited at the prospects of a new life when someone in a black Mercedes begins to stalk her.  At first, she assures herself it's just her imagination.  But after a few days it is an undeniable fact that someone is desperate to catch up with her...but why?  Then one night as she peruses the streets of San Francisco, she's cornered by the  car.  Her last memory is of the glossy, shiny vehicle speeding towards her before her world bends into only gray shadows.

When Cammy wakes up, she's in an institution.  Nurses and doctors inform her that she's been comatose for weeks, but is gradually improving, give her broken ankle.  News stories suggest she is a victim of failed suicide, as she was found at the edge of a wooded cliff, barely clinging to life when rescued but was it a coincidence that her new apartment in San Francisco burned to the ground on the very same night?  And what about the crude voice who speaks to her over the phone a warning to never remember?

Everything in Cammy's world is unfamiliar to her, give the soft drone of Nate's voice.  Nate, the employer who has become her legal guardian during the sleeping weeks of her ordeal.  He says that prior to the 'accident' she served as secretary to his vineyard business, and so when she is well enough to leave the hospital, she accompanies him back to a vineyard...and seemingly a life and identity that is lost to amnesia.

Cammy's introduction to Vinecroft, the dreary old, outdated mansion that lay between hills and ravines of grapevines, is a cold and uncomfortable welcome.  Sabrina, cousin to Nate, is brash in her brutal honesty about family affairs.  His brother Jeffrey seems to be a bit of a ladies man and showers Cammy with unwanted male attention.  And his feeble mother Claudia seems bitter and resents her presence from the onset.  To make matters worse, since she is confined to a wheelchair, the household help must accommodate and turn the old musty-smelling library into a sleeping quarter for the weary girl.  She reasons that at least the room has a perfect view of the vined hills...a view that gives her a first-hand glimpse of a love affair forbidden between the hired help and Nate...or is that Nate she seems moving lithely into the hills to meet the young maid, Maria?

As the days go on, Cammy finds bits and pieces of memories from her old life, names of plants and wines...she becomes sure her old life is somehow intertwined with Vinecroft...even if no one seems to recognize her.  Then she learns that Nate's own father disappeared seven years earlier under mysterious circumstances and hasn't been seen mere weeks his will is to be read.  Everyone in the household is sure they are getting a share of Vinecroft, they are also hell-bent on selling it to land developers for a fortune...everyone but Nate, who labors over the precious vines in hopes of reestablishing the Bantry name in wine business.

After Cammy learns of fatal deaths befalling the Bantry women and of ghostly legends, she begins to hear the voices herself...or is she just going insane?  Her midnight escapades into the overgrown hills will find her many a secret...and a fight for her own life as she regains her memory and meets with the epitome of evil in the eyes of someone she'd never have guessed a murderer...

This was an excellent read.  I loved the idea of the amnesiac being thrown into a world she can't remember, and a mystery she must uncover if she is to save her own life.  I thought the twist at the end couldn't be easily foreseen so I was pleasantly surprised.  Great mystery, good amount of suspense, loved the detail of the whole vineyard...nice blossoming of romance towards the end.  Wonderful altogether!

Rating:  4.5 Stars

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Torn From Him By Death" Part 3 (Mini Blog-Series)

Part 3:
He leapt onto the window ledge, swinging long legs over the casement.   Determined to follow her, not be deserted again, he landed in mud on the other side of the window, struggling past the hedge as the wind and rain tore at him.
He fell once, slipping, lunging upward, in pursuit of that voice calling him into the night.
Howling currents, drone of thunderheads, monstrous formations engulfing the skies, lit by sheets of blue-white, flickering light, bleached his vision in the dark.  He stumbled across the western causeway, dilapidated slave cabins, losing his footing, half-tumbling, half-crawling down a terraced slope.     
Brambles conspired to catch, snag his clothes, ripping into his skin. He grunted, pain shearing his ribs when he skidded on his stomach, in a mulch of gravel and clay.  
A strong man, Thomas fought the driving gusts of sleet, heaving himself to his feet.
He whirled about, finding himself in a grove of hickory, elm and poplars.  The thrashing limbs bare, silhouettes of gnarled branches formed a net, sheltering him from the edge of that buffeting, ravaging wind. 
MARTHA! WHERE ARE YOU!?” words splitting the night, an invocation to darker powers. 
The raging tempest dropped, the space of a breath, trees stilling their ecstatic motions. 
 A moment of respite, her voice reached out him, suddenly clear, cogent in his ear.
I am here, Thomas.” 
His physical senses were addled, bludgeoned by the elements, vision burned to sightlessness by sporadic lightening, numbing wind icing his fingers; yet, against all rationality, he heard those words, as clear as his own thoughts.
Her voice, treasured music to his heart, it left him bruised, raw as the savaged earth, peace of his days, grace of his nights, for the last ten years. 
Her light touch at his elbow, from behind, just to his right, was a tangible pressure. 
I am here,” soft-spoken, a whisper at his ear.
He closed his eyes, turning to that siren-call, her hand on his arm, not caring anymore, sick of sorrow. 
Thomas opened his arms to embrace the presence of something he would not question. 
They sank together, to their knees, holding each other upon the soaked ground. 
Her lips were cold as they never had been in life.  She responded to his kiss though, mouth opening upon his—simple explanation that the cold gale, like that first night of their wedding, coming out of a blizzard, covered in snow and ice, made her skin, her lips, feel like frozen petals.
Their fingers twining as they clasped one another, the fresh turned dirt of her grave, compacted over the weeks of her death, was damp from the rain, molding to their bodies.
He resurrected flesh by touch, out of mind’s eye, lids remaining shut, not wanting to corrupt this sudden manifestation of grief and love.  Hands shaped to the contours of her body, the sinuous waist, soft belly, the weight of her breasts, relearning the taste of lips and tongue, sensitive creases of skin.
Tattered clouds sped across the face of a full moon, infernal winds scoring the dark heavens, split by tassels of fire. 
A Raven was perched in the majestic, bare-leaved branches of a towering oak tree, guarding the family plot of the Jefferson-bloodline. 
Uncanny, how its black, feathered form seemed untouched by the raging elements, the Raven cocked its head, angling a beady eye, peering through the storm-driven night, upon the man’s writhing form, frantic union and dark congress, amid drenched dirt piled over the grave.
The marble tomb-marker was slick, ghostly white in the pouring rain.
In those first blithe years of their marriage, they had invented a game such as all young lovers indulge.  Sheltered by a brick-walled single room—foundation of a home yet to be—he would hold her in the sweet aftermath of lovemaking, bathed in moonlight, husband and wife, quiet, content to simply be in each other’s company.  In the soft peace of the night, he and Martha would see how silent each could be, straining to hear each other’s breath, the swish of each other’s heart.  She would tease he was so serene, at times she could almost listen to his thoughts.    
Into that strange void of silence between them, shutting out the thrashing gale, obscuring the looming thunderheads above, he said, “I can’t hear your heart,” head pressed to her breasts.

And you will no more,” she whispered back, icy lips taking his, her kiss, cold as the grave and her flesh. 

Part 4 Coming Soon! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"The House on the Cliffs" by Caroline Farr

Date Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern

I froze, staring at my door in disbelief.  Someone was emerging from my room,  partially obscuring the square of light.  A man who was just a dark figure etched against the light as he turned with the bats almost upon him, as though to get back inside.  But I realized abruptly that had not been his intention.  He had worked the door mechanism.

The entrance to my room was closing, locking me out, the door sliding down while the bats beat impotently at it with their wings.  Some were trying to squeeze through the rapidly diminishing vertical bar of light that was the opening, while the man down there struck and kicked at them viciously.

Then suddenly there was nothing...
Complete darkness!

I sat trembling, waiting for whoever it was to switch on a flashlight and discover me sitting there frozen in terror and doubt...through my panic I heard a man talking to himself, the words confused and incoherent, the voice strangely flat and unemotional.  It was the voice of a stranger, a sick man, a mentally sick man...

When Trudy accepts an invitation from her best friend, Toni, to holiday at their grand old estate off the coast of Oregon, she expects a relaxing vacation full of sandy beaches and sunny days.  But, ironically, when the bus drops Toni off at the edge of the gated estate no one awaits to take her bags and the fog is so thick she wonders if she might walk right off the edge of a cliff while trying to blindly find her way to the house.  And as if that weren't bad enough, she's all but accosted by the crazy gardener who insists on speaking in riddles about a hitchhiking girl who's recently been kidnapped and murdered right off the main highway near Farland Town.

Her curiosity is only deepened when she is not met by the welcome of Toni, as the housekeeper says Toni is away with Gene (a former love interest and Toni's brother, whom now seems more like a brother to Trudy as well) on some kind of business arrangement.  Yet when Toni returns that evening, Trudy's curiosity turns to disbelief when she learns that her trusted friend Gene is being accused and questioned for the kidnap and murder of the young missing college student, who supposedly hitchhiked from California all the way to Oregon in her obsession for the handsome, rich architect.

Then, late one night after almost falling off the cliff into the rumbling ocean after stumbling into a landslide, Trudy is resting in her rooms when she is met by a frenzied Gene, who seems to have walked right out of the wall.  He tries to drag her with him and when she screams, she's rescued by officers who have the house staked out in search of Gene, who has fled the investigators and is now in hiding.  The police believe Gene is hiding inside the walls of the old mansion that lie behind secret passage doors.  Trudy knows where the passage lies, but believes Gene is innocently hiding out from false accusations.

In the meantime she finds herself befriended by the handsome, enigmatic artist Bruce Gallard, who saved her from the menacing landslide she'd walked into near the woods.  Bruce seems to have an uncanny interest in Farland House and the missing girl.  He warns Trudy against perusing the passages again, but she can't help her own stubborn curiosity.  When she goes in search of Gene once again, she finds herself trapped in a dark, winding chamber of absolute darkness, secret rooms, murdered victims as she's pursued by a madman in a secret passage no one else knows exists.

Will Trudy survive to uncover the mystery of the missing girls of Farland Town, and will she figure out what Bruce's morbid interest in this news story mean...or will she succumb to the dark malice of the tunneled passage?

I thought this was an excellent read from Farr (as you've probably noticed by now, I'm a bit of a fan).  It maxed out at 95 pages so I do feel she could have fleshed it out a little better.  All in all, nice mystery, nice climax of events.  The romance seemed realistic.  The last few pages were a bit rushed.  Would recommend this read to fans of gothic romance!

Rating: 4 Stars

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Torn From Him By Death" Part 2 (Mini Blog-Series)

Part 2:
The grieving man lacked the impetus, insisting on stricter adherence to domestic duty from the household slaves.
Empty of thought, trying to obliterate feeling, he wandered into her sleeping quarters.  The last place she occupied in those final months of her fading days, the bedchamber was chilled with the wild night, wind howling between glass panes, where the window had been left open once again.
Thunder snarled, advent to the sudden onslaught of hale clattering against the windows.  Mountain squalls were common at this time of year, changing seasons, dropping temperatures fed blustery winds. 
Dark clouds swept across the face of stars, branches thrashing about like a hag’s wild tangles. 
Listless, he neared the window, fancying her scent, sweetness of her voice beckoning.
An endearment, the way she had murmured his name in those first years of their marriage—before the failed pregnancies, death and war brought to their doorstep, the precarious flight to stay ahead of the British.
Moonlight broke between shifting clouds, path of waxen luminance running out beyond the lawn, to distant shadows, swallowed by the ancient oak and hickory sheltering her grave, settled into the copse beyond a low rise.
He bolted the window, gathering himself to exit her empty bedroom, when the wind rose. 
A sudden, whistling tantrum, its fury burst open the window latch, latticed panes crashing inward, causing Thomas to spin around.
In two long steps, he was at the trellis, struggling to shutter the windows against the strength of the gale outside.
Sheets of rain and hail pouring through the open frame, he was struck off his feet by an explosive thunder-clap, blinded by lightening.
Disoriented, ignoring elbows smarting from where he caught himself on the slick floor, he scurried back to the window, hauling himself over the ledge. 
Martha!” he cried.  Her after-image branded into his vision, a figment of his bereavement, a mirage construed from his slowly breaking mind.
 She had been there…
He inhaled deeply, her scent still hanging on the stormy air. 
Heedless of the chill rain, the whipping gale, Thomas leaned out further into the night.
Come back! Martha, please!” his desperation strangled him, searching the blackness across the lawn, through the pelting hail.  “Please,” he entreated, hoarse in his grief. 
Sinking to his knees, sorrow was an invisible wave collapsing him beneath its weight, head buried in his elbow, at the casement.
It was a testament to his unfamiliar confusion—exhaustion of a fractured mind—he seemed oblivious to the dousing rain and screaming wind tearing past the open window, water spreading in puddles upon the polished wood floor.
The wind shifted, rain dropping to a bare tap against the brick walls of the stately Monticello.
Thomas, darling…
His head came up, alert suddenly, straining to listen. 
Her laughter—he swore it was her laughter, echoing, bizarre shimmer of mirth, through his mind, jarring in the darkness, spreading throughout the restless shadows of the room, made more unsettled by the flickering of sheet lightening high across the vale of the Blue Ridge. 
He shook his head, knowing it to be some auditory illusion, figment of his grief, dismissing it as such.  
Again, her laughter strumming the dark wind, stirring stronger, stealing the remnants of leaves off the trees, rattling loosened roof-tiles, shearing branches to clatter against the house.
He held his breath, all his senses focused.
Thomas, come to me, the note guttered like a dying torch, carried away by the drenching zephyr.
Surely her mirth, mischievous as she could be, never stoked the senses of a man the way that voice had, a chord of otherworldly danger, invite permeating flesh, heating his loins.
Thomas, darling, moaning, a whisper of wind, a shudder of leaf in the stormy night.  It’s so cold…dipping softer, weakening to silence.
No!” he implored. “Wait! Where are you?!” standing, reaching out, grasping at rain and wild wind.

Beyond the Shades and Dust, my dearest, the murmur retreating into the battering current, jolted through his nerves with portent...

Part 3 Coming Soon!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reading Radar: 9 New Releases!

Hello fellow gothic enthusiasts!

I'm always on the lookout for new books of the Gothic Romance genre.  I think sometimes they are hard to find because they are either released under the guise of 'paranormal' or merely 'fiction.'  And while I have no problem occasionally reading a book about vampires and demons (which seems like what the gothic has become in our modern times), I really love the kinds of contemporary gothics that capture the feeling of the original gothic romance.  The mystery, the scary settings, the deranged characters, ghosts, and maybe a witch or two with a little smidgen of romance thrown in for good measure!

I created this blog to preserve the original vintage gothic but also to celebrate the contemporary gothic.

So today I bring to you nine new releases that I feel are reminiscent of the original vintage-type gothic romance.  I've added quite a few to my own wish list and hope (at some point when I get caught up on my reading) to offer reviews for some of them.

To her mother's dismay, Harriet Grant is not like other girls. 

Her independence and fierce spirit leads her decline her family's preferred suitor - Mr. Thompson - because his marriage proposal is based on convenience and not true love. 

Instead, she leaves to become a governess at Roseleigh, a place of haunted rumours, for the two young daughters of Sir Simon Dester. 

Upon her arrival though she soon realises that the longer she spends time with the brooding aristocrat, the more her resolution to stay away from him starts to weaken. 

However, despite their magnetic attraction Harriet cannot help feel that Sir Simon is hiding something from her. 

When she wakes up in the night to the sound of crying, he is quick to dismiss her concerns as nothing but dreams and a wild imagination. 

But nothing at Roseleigh is quite what it seems, least of all her employer who, far from being the dull middle-aged widower she had imagined, is a dynamically attractive man still in his thirties. 

Will Harriet get to the heart of the 'House of Secrets'? 

Or will she simply become its final victim? 

Price:  $3.99

Nothing is as it seems. 16-year-old Claire McKenna and her sister, Lauren, have been stuck in a group foster home for teens for nine miserable months. When a prominent family in Gallows Point, MA requests guardianship, it gives Claire hope that her life will be semi-normal again. Those hopes are shattered soon after arriving to their new home, Bloodsworth Manor, when her sister disappears. 

Evidence suggests Lauren ran away, but when Claire learns of a similar disappearance that occurred in the town five years earlier, she suspects her sister was taken. Her foster parents don’t believe her and neither do the police. It’s up to Claire alone to uncover the truth and save her sister. Uncertain whom she can trust in the strange town, Claire follows a grim trail of clues and discovers an ancient connection between the cruel witch who once served Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary and the founders of Gallows Point. As frightening events start to occur at Bloodsworth Manor, Claire can’t help but wonder if the mansion is haunted, or if she’s losing her mind—just like her biological mother did. She soon discovers that things are not at all what they seem in the creepy town of Gallows Point. Dark secrets … deadly betrayals … and ancient curses are only the beginning. 

To complicate matters, Evan Bradford, the hottest guy in school, seems to have his sights firmly set on Claire. He offers his help, and their friendship evolves into something deeper. But are his feelings for her sincere, or are his attentions merely one more part of the dangerous web of lies that is rapidly closing in on Claire? 

Price:  $2.99

An award-winning journalist in the late 80s can't accept the unsolved murder of her parents -- and finds the sudden appearance of a long-lost cousin odd, thinking he may not be related, out to scam her. Soon she is pursuing his past involvement with her father to buy an old rundown mansion. Upon her visit there, she is slowly drawn into the strange ghostly haunting in the mansion -- and attracted to the mysterious man who lives nearby and who may be a murderer.

Price:  $1.00

On a storm-shrouded island, ghosts of the past threaten to kill again.

Sheeva Desmond always believed she’d marry for love. But when she’s left penniless after her parents’ deaths and her fiancé cancels their wedding, she’s convinced love is a fairy tale. Desperate to find a way to support herself, she takes a position as governess to a troubled mute boy. She never expects to lose her heart to the boy’s handsome father. Or to become entangled in a deadly mystery.

Ronan Quinn, Master of Rathlin Island, spent years in an unhappy marriage. When his faithless wife threatens to leave him and is later found dead, he blames himself for not keeping her safe. He’s left with a hardened heart and a devastated young son. The beautiful governess he hires may have the courage to help his son and to heal Ronan’s soul. But a murderer from his past haunts the shadows and threatens them all.

Price:  $3.99

In USA TODAY Bestselling author Kate Danley's deliciously twisted story, A Spirited Manor, grieving widow Clara O'Hare accepts an invitation to a séance in the remote country home of Lord Horace Oroberg. Joining her around the table are Oroberg's cad of a son, Clifford; his mousy fiancée, Violet; her overbearing mother, Hilda Nero; Norman Scettico, a renowned scientist; the lovely Marguerite Matson; and the dashing young medium, Wesley Lowenherz.

Before long, the group's fascination with the spirit world calls up something sinister, and Clara and Wesley are pulled together to solve a murder most foul.  Laced with gothic tension, romance, and mystery, A Spirited Manor will delight readers with its unexpected turns and thrilling conclusion.

Price:  $2.99

When a cryptic letter arrives from Evalina Filmore’s two aunts, she travels to England to find out what they want, figuring this will be the chance to experience the romantic adventure she has so often read about in her beloved gothic novels. 

When she arrives, she finds the eerie mansion, the strange atmosphere, and the adventure, as hoped. But there are troubles. On the train, she meets a man who, upon learning her name, walks away without a word of explanation. Not long after, she passes unharmed through a wood called the Wrath, even though, as she later learns, no one ever has. While in the Wrath, she meets a tantalizing and seductive stranger, one who just might be her gothic hero. But he has a secret. 

It seems everyone in the village does, including her aunts, and it’s up to Evie to figure out what is going on before the Wrath lures her in and never lets her go.

Price:  $3.99

A Gothic novel in the romantic suspense tradition of Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt... 
CAULDSTANE, the new novel from the award-winning author of Kindle bestseller, HOUSE OF SILENCE. 


When ghostwriter Jenny Ryan is summoned to the Scottish Highlands by Sholto MacNab – retired adventurer and Laird of Cauldstane Castle – she’s prepared for travellers’ tales, but not the MacNabs’ violent and tragic history. 

Lust, betrayal and murder have blighted family fortunes for generations, together with an ancient curse. As members of the family confide their sins and their secrets, Jenny learns why Cauldstane’s uncertain future divides father and sons. 

But someone resents Jenny’s presence. Someone thinks she’s getting too close to Alec MacNab – swordsmith, widower and heir to Cauldstane. Someone will stop at nothing until Jenny has been driven away. Or driven mad. 

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Especially a dead woman. 

Price:  $.99

When Rebecca Lennox receives a proposal from Sir Montague Chastain, she welcomes the chance to escape from poverty - but her new home is a maze of dark secrets, and temptation beckons in the form of her husband’s cousin Mervyn. 

As she battles against her forbidden passion and Sir Montague’s strange machinations, Rebecca realises that her only hope for survival is to unlock the secrets of Willow Castle…

Price:  $2.99


Olivia Hampton's lifelong love of dark literature led her to accept a job as a cataloger for Julian Dunraven's extensive but extremely disorderly library. The only problem is that the position requires her to work at Dunraven Castle, the remote and mysterious home of the Dunraven family. In Victorian America, a young lady had to either earn her keep or be married off to the best man for her hand. Olivia accepted the position at Dunraven Castle.

Olivia could not have guessed the dangers that awaited her in the exotic but darkly menacing castle. When there is an accident on the road to Dunraven, she wonders: Are the broken carriage wheels mere random misfortune or a sign foretelling doom? Olivia's fears soon turn to mortal terror after a subsequent encounter with a terrifying faceless phantom disabuses her of the 'random misfortune' theory. Frightened but undaunted, she decides to put the nightmare behind her and throw herself into cataloging the enormous Dunraven library.

What Olivia could not have foreseen was the devastatingly beautiful Marion Dunraven's effect on her heart. But the madness that seemed to curse the rest of the Dunraven family makes Olivia realize she must find a way to escape Dunraven Castle with her life and the woman she loves before they both become victims.

Price:  $3.99

Aren't some of those covers amazing?  I especially like the very last one...totally took me back to the books from the 60's and 70's!

The books are currently listed, and available, on with the prices as above.

So, go grab a book or two!  And until next time, happy reading!!  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Torn From Him By Death" Part 1 (Mini Blog-Series)

Written by "Bonnie" 
My dear wife died this day at 11:45 a.m.” –Diary of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, Virginia, 6 September 1782
To the memory of
Martha Jefferson
daughter of John Wayles
born Oct. 19. 1748. O.S.
intermarried with Thomas Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1772
torn from him by death
Sep. 6. 1782.
this monument of his love
is inscribed
Torn from him by Death…”
Monticello, Virginia-All Soul’s Eve, October 1782, roughly seven weeks following the death of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson
The epithet scarce encompassed the effect of her dying upon his mind. 
Almost two months had passed since she had been laid to rest, released from the ravages of prolonged illness. 
In his grief, he embarked on mindless wanderings beneath wooded paths, his eldest daughter close on his heels.
That had been a glorious fall, the year of her death. 
Seeking surcease, he was unable to escape from the pit of sorrow left by her eternal parting.  Beneath an indifferent sun, the seasons were cast into a mutable palate, the green-gold of late summer changing to the vivid fiery yellows and oranges of autumn foliage. 
With ceaseless monotony, the weeks passed.  
Her half-sister, Mrs. Eppes, his eldest daughter—all of them residing on the Little Mountain that year—knew how closely he skirted the corridors of madness, isolated by his sorrow, rambling over the solitary web of forest-tracks swallowed by tree-covered slopes.
Rage mingled with tears, a toxic ferment in those first weeks.
Keeping to his rooms, pacing like a caged animal, the Poet of Revolution seemed incapable of expression for his great loss, staring into the face of despair.  Trying to conceal, hide-away fury with grief, the suppressed upheaval of his feeling would erupt, bouts of violent emotion crashing over him in a great wave.  He broke down suddenly, crushed, his tortured breath full of wrathful tears against a God who could inflict such a mortal blow. 
For what purpose, the experience of such profound sorrow?
He wondered at his daughters, how they seemed so unaffected by their mother’s passing.
All but Patsy, his eldest, ten years old that autumn, easing her father’s grief with stalwart affect mustered in the force of his savage mourning.
Somewhere in the corridors of his mind, Thomas Jefferson realized, more than the passing of his wife—mother of his daughters—it was the tormented picture of his suffering frightening his daughter. 
Her father was a man of gentle humor, indulgent patience with his children; suddenly became a creature catapulted into volcanic storms of bawling. 
Even when she wanted to flee from him, hide beneath the covers of her bed, and escape to the comforting fantasy-world inhabited by her younger siblings, Patsy stayed at his side.
She didn’t know what else to do in those harrowing moments, but wrap her skinny, childish arms around her father’s shaking shoulders until the raging grief subsided, and Thomas fell once more into a drained, dozing twilight-sleep.
Thomas comprehended, distantly, the disturbing picture of mourning observed by his daughter.  
Needled by the stab of guilt at his neglect toward his own person, his family, he tried to reach out to little Patsy, a pat on her head, accompanied by a wan, empty smile. 
The smile, to her young eyes, looked like a twisted grimace; his efforts to reassure he hadn’t entirely lost a grip on reality proved apathetic, only serving to increase Patsy’s disquiet all the more.
His passions were dead.
Without his wife, Martha, at his side, nothing in his life mattered.  He cared neither for the accomplishments achieved in service to State and Nation, nor for his alleged failures as governor. 
As for his family, the extended members of relatives and slaves inhabiting that stasis of deconstruction, gallantly dubbed Monticello, he would forever be grateful to Mrs. Eppes for having taken on the running of daily plantation maintenance, including the care of his children.  He could scarcely rally the energy, stagger up from his bed facing another day knowing his wife—his dearest Companion—no longer remained amongst the living.
Still too recent, his awareness of her death, too unreal, leaving Thomas to roam like a lost soul, entering the library or his rooms, catching a trace of her perfume, lilac and delicate lemongrass, a wafting of rose lingering in her absence, as though she had just exited to the hall, or gone downstairs to the cellars.  
The rustle of her petticoats, he realized in his fancy, was the stirring of wind through the barberry hedge outside. 
He would close the window, not recalling it having been left open...

Part 2 coming soon! 

"Sable in the Rain" by W.E.B. Ross

Published:  1970
Setting:  Modern

Young, vivacious Erica Blake is content with her simple job and college-girl life, and especially with her romantic promises from Bruce Cord whom has recently decided to forego his studies in hopes of becoming a successful businessman.  However, soon after an exclusive party given by some rather famous people and entrepreneurs (one being the famous actress Belinda French) Bruce stops communicating altogether.  With the detective skills of a few mutual friends, Erica comes to realize that Bruce seems to have mysteriously vanished!

Desperate to figure out where Bruce is and why he might be avoiding her, Erica takes over the position of Secretary to the beautiful Belinda French, the same position Bruce was said to have abandoned.  Her job proves less than glamorous as the mystery of Bruce's disappearance is deepened by a two similar experiences (twenty years ago Belinda's fiance went overboard on her luxury ship and was speculated to have drowned, though no body was ever found, and just five years earlier another of Belinda's love interests disappeared under mysterious circumstances).

Erica begins to suspect that Belinda's lawyer, whom seems eerily devoted and in love with Belinda, might have something to do with the disappearances.  Yet, there's also the jealous, desperately unpleasant-looking sister who appears to be deranged with jealousy and contempt for her beautiful, successful sister.  Then there's the grotesque obsession Belinda has with the love song she shared with hear dead fiance and she insists on playing it over and over so much so that the record has become warped with time.  Erica becomes even more frightened when a ghost begins to appear to her, and although she's warned away she feels she must stay and uncover the disappearance of her close friend.

The more Erica delves into the mystery at The French House, the more in danger she puts the risk of losing her own life to the mystery.  A killer stalks the grounds, a killer hell-bent on preventing Belinda from ever loving another...and it's a killer no one suspects!

This was a shorter gothic (only 95 pages or so), and was rather flat.  There was one great mystery:  the disappearance of three men, Erica's friend being the most recent.  The beginning of the book was so rushed it seemed highly unlikely that things could ever unfold as they did, yet once the book moved to the setting of The French House, it moved quite smoothly.  I also didn't feel there was much 'meat and bone's to the mystery, nor much motive for the murders, that was never made clear.  All in all, I did enjoy this read.  It had a good, creepy setting and kept my interest well enough.  I wouldn't say this is one of the author's strong works, but it's readable.

Rating:  3 Stars

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Black Rose" by Jenna Ryan

Published:  2014
Setting:  Modern Day

"The shop air smelled musty, but Mia detected an underlying scent of beeswax.  The floors, little more than worn strips of plank, sagged precariously beneath her feet.

A clock ticked deep inside, but otherwise the place was silent.  The main room was crammed with old furniture, paintings, tools, toys, jewelry, books and ornaments.  Each piece vied with its neighbor for elbow room, of which there was none.  The contents of the shelves brushed the low ceiling in many areas.  A desk lamp with a deep blue bulb gave off a ghostly glow that had Mia rubbing her arms and wishing she'd worn a jacket.

She made her way through the labyrinth of cast-off treasures.  Some might qualify as antiques in better light, but most of what she saw was junk.  Dented metal pitchers, nicked tables, chairs half stuffed, a pole lamp held together with red duct tape.  There were jars of pickled no-idea-what, beads everywhere she turned, a damaged Victrola, a mannequin minus its head and later the head sporting someone's old dentures.

The ticking clock grew louder the farther she ventured into the space.  Strings of black pearls hung in shadowed entryways that undoubtedly led to anterooms filled with even more stuff.  Outside one of those anterooms, a doll that looked like a miniature wooden puppet set cockeyed in a rocking chair and regarded her half-lidded."

Mia is independent, she seemingly has her life held together what with her own business nestled into a corner of the French Quarter.  Everything in her life is about as calm as it's going to get....that is, until she witnesses a grisly murder by the hand of a serial killer who appears to be knocking off only women.

Before she knows it, she's being swept away with agent Rick Ryder, who says he's there to protect her, as she might just be the next victim since she saw the serial killer and the chances are quite good he saw her as well.

As Ryder and Mia venture into the heart of the Louisiana bayou, danger lurks at their every turn...from a shootout at a run-down mom and pop to an all-out chase into the swampy glades.  Mia fears for her life and struggles for sensibility as she and Ryder encounter ghost witches that speak of old curses, legends, a rickety bayou shack with a doll that seems to have human powers...then an isolated river shack where a killer can easily corner them.

They fight for their lives and simultaneously fall in love...but will they ultimately survive the web of a cold-blooded killer?

This was a really enjoyable read.  It's packaged in with the harlequin e-shivers box set, so it does have some nice gothic overtones:  bayou shacks, witches, ghosts, serial killer, fortune tellers, creepy dolls that come to life.  However, I felt that the book could also have been published as a harlequin intrigue, as it had a lot more action than mystery.  Either way, it's a highly entertaining and fast-paced read, but definitely a more modern gothic.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

"The Devil's Eye" by Dawn Brown

Published:  2014
Setting:  Modern Day

"She groaned and pulled the covers over her head.  Despite the heavy duvet and blankets cocooned around her, she shivered.  The temperature in the room had dropped since she'd gone to sleep.  And what the hell was that smell?  She wrinkled her nose at the thick, mossy stink seeping through the sheets with the cold.  Pushing back the blankets, she sat up and froze.  Her stomach dropped.

A huge shape lumbered between her bed and the fireplace, blotting out the glow of the coals like an eclipse.

With wide, staring eyes, her gaze traveled the length of the massive shadow, from the hem of a long coat, to broad, masculine shoulders, to the outline of a wide-brimmed hat.

A man.  There was a man in her room!

A scream burned up the back of her throat and lodged there.  She couldn't move.  She couldn't speak.  She could scarcely breathe.

Instead, she stared into the black void where a face should have been.  Then, like tiny beacons from hell, two red eyes appeared."

Brynn isn't aware she has any living relatives when she receives a letter from her sister, Eleri, asking her to come for a visit as her father is dying.  With the loss of her beloved grandparents fresh in her mind, and the rejection from a former lover, Brynn sets off on a journey to the isolated island of her childhood and her birth home, Stone Cliff.

But if Brynn is hoping for a warm welcome and a wholesome family reunion, she's in for a shock.  Her father all but coldly dismisses her and tells her to go back where she's come from.  Her half sister, Eleri, seems evasive and distant as well.   When a putrid shadow man haunts her room at night, terrifying her to the core, she thinks perhaps she might be going insane from shock.

As if shadows and hauntings weren't enough, Brynn will soon discover that over the past decades, many men have rumored to have gone missing from Stone Cliff, and one recently turned up dead and her sister is suspected as a serial killer.  Deemed the 'witch of stonecliff,' Eleri has nothing to say of the accusations, except that they are lies and that Brynn's own mother was an evil entity who tortured and killed.  But Brynn has in her possession childhood letters written from her mother, letters that are nothing but loving and humble.  Letters that make her feel that at least someone from the wretched house might have loved her.

All the same, someone here tried to kill her when she was three years old.  Eleri insists it was more than likely her mother but all Brynn can remember are the two strong hands pushing her under, slowly drowning her in the ocean...or was it in The Devils Eye, the evil green swamp that medium (and current workhand), Reece, can't even approach.  At first Brynn believes Reece to be a tease and a phony, until he bails her out of one dangerous bind after another.

When someone tries to stab her to death and detective Harding finally has enough evidence to arrest Eleri, things only become more dangerous.  More bodies show up dead and Brynn finds herself enraptured with Reece.  But there's a madman on the lose at Stone Cliff, and it's not someone that anyone has ever suspected!

Soon detectives will begin to pull dead bodies from The Devil's Eye, and Brynn is in a struggle to save her own life, and the life of the man she has grown to love.

I thought this book was absolutely amazing.  Dawn Brown has written the ultimate contemporary gothic and she hasn't neglected one detail from the original vintage gothic.  You have the old castle by the sea, murders and mystery, distant relatives and tales of crazy witches, an evil entity/ghost, someone is out to murder the main character, and then there is the strong, masculine hero that steps into the picture.  This book has it all...danger, mystery, a ton of suspense, a tantalizing love story, and an ending no one would ever suspect!  Long live the gothic!


"The Girl on the Beach" by Velda Johnston

Published:  1987
Setting:  Modern Day

"...someone had been walking along that narrow strip of sand between the low breakers and the wide swathe of rocks.  A woman.  A young woman, to judge by her slenderness and her lithe walk.  Well, that wasn't surprising, even on a night this chill.  

The woman had stopped at turned toward the house...The girls dress, also of some pale color, was a loose, caftan-like garment.  For a moment that puzzled Kate.  In her mind, caftans were associated with warm weather.  Then she realized that there was no reason why a caftan should not be made of wool rather than gauze.

The girl turned, then moved on up the beach..."

After recently breaking up with her long-term boyfriend and suffering a miscarriage after a head-on collision, Kate is reeling with lack of creativity and a deep sense of depression.  She has no family since the death of her mother, and she hasn't spoken to her father in over twenty years.

When her job begins to suffer as well, Kate's boss recommends a vacation, that's when Kate remembers the tiny coastal town her family vacationed at in Northern Carolina when she was merely a child.  Before she knows it, Kate has rented a house that sits along the stretch of a rocky beach.  She plans to relax and try her hand at painting while mending from recent disappointments.

But things aren't as calm as she was hoping, particularly after she comes face to face with what she thinks is a ghost on the first night of her stay.  In addition to that, she is visited by a stranger named Martin, who says he once owned the house.  Later, once she's beginning to feel an attraction for Martin, she will realize that he's spent twelve years in jail for murdering his wife in the very beach house for which she resides!

However, knowing the truth of Martin's past does not distract her from the attraction she feels for the man, and she continues to try to get to know him while also doing some of her own private detective work.  Kate believes that Martin is innocent of killing his scandalous, simple minded, wife and has been framed for a crime he did not commit.  Yet, the more Kate pries, the more Martin pulls away.

Everyone tells Kate to forget about her detective work, to go home and resume her normal life, but she can't.  She has found herself entrapped in the mystery of a fortune, of a philandering dead wife, and of murder case that was botched, at best.  She has to stay and find the truth.  Even after attempts are made on her life and she hears someone in her house in the late night hours, Kate stays on.  Will she find redemption for the man she's fallen in love with, or will the haunted coastal town pull her into the depths of it's murderous grip?

I really enjoyed this book.  I particularly loved the setting and the beach house.  I also appreciate the subplot of the murder, as it seemed an original whodunit.  However, I felt that the book lacked a certain energy, there was not enough chaos or suspense.  Although the book was a fast read at little less than 200 pages, the whole plot was slow-moving and not exactly exciting.  Nothing was ever really worked up to the breaking point.  I'd still recommend it for an entertaining, light read.