Sunday, November 30, 2014

'I Came to a Castle' by Velda Johnston

Published:  1969
Setting:  Modern Day


She came to the ancient and fearsome Castle Estillio as the guest of a rich scientist and his frivolous sister. But she quickly realized that she was a prisoner among madmen. The bizarre tower which had been turned into a modern laboratory...the grim dungeon with its macabre instruments...the legendary tunnel which no one dared speak of...even the handsome, enigmatic stranger whom she longed to trust...all were essential to the grotesque experiment for which she, Dinah Haversham, had been carefully chosen....

Dinah Haversham had no idea when she came to Castle Estillo, one car in a bandwagon of vehicles carrying months' worth of food and goods, that her job as charge to two young boys would turn into a living nightmare.  As Dinah and the two young boys grow accustomed to the strangely modernized castle and it's weird inhabitants, she finds herself drawn into a dangerous game of deceit, murder, and an all-out apocalypse!

Setting:  Gloomy Castle Estillo

Plot:  A mad scientist who holds a household hostage as he awaits an apocalypse he's predicted.

Gothic Elements:  mad scientist, dark and gloomy castle, foreign servants (some evil and some good), murder, lost & stolen fortune (art), heroine being locked away in a chamber, stormy weather, reporter/cop undercover, a fortune hunter, hidden passages and trap doors, 

Romance:  the heroine sparks a romance with the reporter/cop early on but remains suspicious of him until he saves her

I feel that this book could have been an incredible read, had it some other plot.  Johnston included some really great gothic elements to set the mood, yet the story just did not live up to it's description.  In fact, there was really no mystery or suspense until at least after page 100.  I found the novel to be mundane and boring, interspersed with some great gothic humor here and there, yet overall just not an interesting read. This book would be better grouped in the genre of sci-fi horror, not gothic romance.  Would NOT recommend to fans of gothic romance, despite the cover art and story-line, this is not a gothic romance!

My rating:  
2 Stars

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Round-Up Wednesday

Okay, folks.  I don't do these as often as I'd like (sometimes I'm really not working on a lot of Gothic-related material so I don't have a lot to share), but here goes.

What I'm Reading & Upcoming Reviews:

I'm reading three books at the moment (I like a little variety in my reading!)

1)  Green Shadows by Lucille Vernon Stevens
2)  I Came to a Castle by Velda Johnston
3)  The Wrath by Kristina Schram

You can also expect a lovely interview with Kristina Schram, as she was kind enough to oblige to an interview for the blog.

What I'm Watching:

I recently had a film-maker (yes, gasp!) inquire as to whether I'd enjoy reviewing his Gothic Romance film.  I have watched it and am working on the review.  He's also agreed to an interview, for which I'm also working on putting that together.

I'm really excited about this, I haven't yet had the opportunity to interview one who partakes in playwrights or film, so this will be new and hopefully we can learn something too.

I don't want to disclose the site/person just yet...I want first dibs on this review, and I like giving my readers a little bit of a surprise every now and then!

I'm also about to relax to a few movies on Netflix this morning (going to steal some 'me-time' while I can) and I might possibly review a good gothic-themed movie sometime this week.

Other News:

I added quite a few more gothic titltes to the Open Library Gothic book list.  Now we have almost 800 free gothic ebooks to choose from!

I also had someone recently ask me to review some Dorothy Daniels books, so those are next on my TBR list.  Also, I write this blog not just for my own enjoyment but for readers and fans of gothic romance as well.  So PLEASE if there is a review you'd like to see, or an author you'd like to see more of, leave me a comment or shoot me an email.  I'd be more than happy to give you the review(s) you're looking for if I can find the titles!

I know I get quite a few hits, I'd like to see more comments and interaction, please, from those of you who do enjoy visiting.  I like to hear your thoughts, too!  Let me know what you like and dislike, and how I'm doing.

I'm still strumming away at my own Gothic Romance novella House of Hollow Wind.  Tread gently while reading, what I'm posting is the very first draft as I go.  I plan to polish it all up and sell it on Amazon once I'm done, so read it here while it's free and let me know what you think!

You can also expect some V.C. Andrews reviews and other related posts coming very soon.  I once had an online VCA web-ring.  I have read all her books (except the last four or so series) so I'll be dedicating a little area of this blog to my favorite author of all-time as I post things from my beloved VCA site that I took down back in 2010.

I think that 'rounds' things up.  I wish you all happy reading and writing.
Have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, for those of you who celebrate!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 12)

It was late evening as I sat at the dining table.  The setting sun sent haphazard rays of yellow into the treetops outside the kitchen window.  I watched as the wind whipped a hollow moan, shaking the old walls of the house and blowing the last lingering snowflakes into a frenzy.  The house was as silent as a tomb.  I shivered at the thought and glanced about the empty kitchen.  Shadow, laying obediently at my feet, yawned loudly.  I absent-mindedly scratched her ears and wondered where everyone was.  Libby had Saturday evenings off to visit her own family.  Consequently Grandmothers bible group also met every third Saturday. I was wondering if I should make myself a quick sandwich and dine alone when I heard the familiar scrape of Aunt Helen’s cane.

“Looks like it’s just me and you for tonight, child,” she smiled and began to forage through the well-stocked pantry before pulling a large can of tomato soup from its perch near the top.  “Anyway, this will give us some time to chat, catch up a little.  How about some tomato soup and grilled cheese?  Quick and easy!”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” I said as I scrambled to the counter with Shadow at my heels, no doubt hoping for some fallen crumbs.  “Why don’t you let me help you?  I’ve spent so much of the day just lying around reading and watching the snow.”

That statement wasn’t entirely true.  Of course, the snow had fallen on and off all day and I had cuddled near the fireplace in the sitting room, looking out the window and daydreaming.  And twice during the day, I’d peeked in to record Grandpa Wayne’s vitals and make sure he was comfortable.  I’d also spent nearly an hour soaking the dirt-clad piece of fabric found by Shadow.  I was almost positive it was a scarf and it looked to be green, although I wouldn’t be sure until it dried.  Afraid of being late for dinner, I’d left it hanging on the towel rack in my bathroom upstairs.  I was sure it would be dry enough by the time I returned to make further stipulations.

“How about you work on the grilled cheese,” Aunt Helen said over her shoulder.  The clatter of cookers bringing me back to the present as she rummaged through a small shelf beneath the sink.

I quickly took the small iron skillet offered me and pulled a tub of butter from the fridge.  These were the same cookers from my childhood, the same ones I’d learned to cook pancakes in.  I could so vividly remember the chirpy laughter of Vanessa as we, two silly school girls sharing secrets about our crushes, worked giddily at making our own breakfast.  How old Grandmother’s cookware seemed to be.  I turned it over and over in my hands thoughtfully, no shiny, contorted reflection to be found at the bottom.

            “You know, your mother loved grilled cheese,” again Aunt Helen’s thin voice pierced the aura of my thoughts.

            “Really?”  I said, tears smarting my eyes at the thought of my parents.  Oh, how I wished I could unwind the past.  If only it were my own mother here, cooking with me.  Maybe I would have found a more steady place in life with the support of loving parents.  Rather, I’d been reared by the hateful glares of overbearing nuns at the boarding school where I’d grown into a young woman.  There had been no sense of love or belonging at that school of obedience where I’d been terrified into submission by the ghosts of dim-lit hallways and the promise of meager meals.
 College life had brought to me a sense of freedom and self-efficacy.  For once in my life, I’d a choice where I’d dine at lunch, for whom I’d spend my free time with.  Yet, for the most part, free time had evaded me.  Aside from my 4.0 GPA with the nursing department, my job at the cafĂ© had taken up most of my free time.  Oh, I’d had dates.  Many of them, in fact, with suitors who wished to woe me into mundane lives in rambling farmhouses where I’d assist them with troughs and children.  No, I had wanted only the serenity of my own career.  A place in life to call my own.

Yet, how ironic it was that life had led me right back to the very thing I’d found repulsive since the death of my parents:  a cold family and the unwelcome atmosphere of the drafty, old farmhouse that looked to be darned near dilapidated.  And now with no sign of Vanessa, the only one who’d bothered to correspond with me over the years, I felt more an outsider than ever before.  The career I had so vigilantly worked towards was evading me with every passing day and I could not seem to shake the apprehensive feel of danger at the homestead that should have served a haven from the outside world.

I felt more alone than ever as I fried the sandwiches and joined Aunt Helen at the dinner table.  The tomato soup was in desperate need of salt and sour cream, but I did not complain.  Nor did I make an effort to find the condiments in the crowded cupboards.  I feigned interest in conversation about the weather.  Though  I did make  a few attempts to ask my aunt about my mother.  She would only pause, spoon halted midway to her mouth,  and gaze at me pointedly while reminding me that my mother was such a beauty, always popular with the boys.

“Oh, but I always did look up to her,” she reassured me.  Yet I sensed jealousy, if not downright undertones of hostility, in her voice.

And, at last, when I spoke of Vanessa and how dire the atmosphere here without her, I was shut down yet again.

“That ungrateful child,” she spat out.  “Running off, knowing full well I can’t chase her.  I’m crippled, for God’s sakes.  Running off with some man.   Running from that Greg, I tell you.”  She leveled her glare at me then.  “I’ve seen you with him a few times, don’t think it’s gone unnoticed.  I hope you won’t get involved with him.  I’ll be damned if I’ll let him ruin another honest girl!”

And with that, she dismissed herself.  I watched as she dug her cane into the stiff linoleum, scraping the floor with a dangerous strength.  Her nostrils flared and she batted her eyelashes feverishly, refusing to look back at me as she left the room.  She lumbered from the kitchen, slamming the swinging door so hard behind her I was surprised she didn’t knock herself down.

I thought about her reaction to my question about Vanessa as I cleared the table and washed our few dishes.  How angry she had become!  I couldn’t understand what had set her off so terribly.  Only, I noted, with something like fear wedging itself between the cave of my ribs, that she seemed like someone struck with madness.  I’d seen crazy people with uncontrollable tempers and urges when I’d interned at the city hospital.  They did not act unlike Aunt Helen. 

“And if she is crazy, I’d better be more careful with my tongue,” I said to myself.

<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 11

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reading Radar: 5 Haunted Locales with Strange Secrets

It's been quite a while since I posted one of these, so I thought I'd share with you a few great books I grabbed for the Kindle reader.

Get ready for some eerie houses and dangerous secrets in these quick reads.  And the best thing about them?  They won't break your wallet!

The Secret of Greystone Hall
by Elezabeth Wilde


After the sudden tragic death of her parents, Abby Sanders is invited to travel to the Green Mountains of Vermont to stay with William Drake, the brooding old master of Greystone Hall. Then suddenly the man vanished. All too soon she finds that the corridors of the gloomy mansion are filled with sinister secrets. To her sheer horror she begins to question whether the old man could be behind terrifying events that shrouded the ancient walls and stalked her into the very shadows of death and madness. 

Price:  $0.99

by Sarah Ballance

After a terrifying encounter with the unexplained, it takes ten years and the news of her grandmother’s passing for Emma Grace Hawthorne to return to her childhood home. She seeks peace in saying a proper goodbye, but what she finds is an old love, a sordid family history, and a wrong only she can right. 

Living in the shadow of Hawthorne Manor, Noah Garrett has never forgotten about Emma Grace. In a house full of secrets, his search for missing documents reveals a truth that can cost him everything. What he finds gave Emma the freedom to walk away from the mansion, her heart free and clear, but at what price to Noah?

This is a novella.

Price:  $1.29

Windwood Farm
by Rebecca Patrick-Howard

Windwood Farm has a terrible secret–one that’s been buried for more almost 100 years. Taryn Magill aims to uncover it…or die trying.

As a mixed media artist and urban explorer with a love for abandoned houses and a big imagination when it comes to the past, 30 year old Taryn has never really met an old house she didn’t like. In fact, she’s made a career out of painting these sad, often derelict structures, to show them in their former glory for her clients.

With Windwood Farm, though, she might have bitten off more than she can chew!

The locals refer to it as “the devil’s house” and even vandals have stayed away from this once grand stone farmhouse in Vidalia, Kentucky. Hired by the Stokes County Historical Society to paint it before it’s demolished by a land development company, Taryn’s determined to make friends with the house and farm everyone around her seems to be terrified of.

As it turns out, though, their fears may just not be unfounded.

Who is the woman whose cries echo throughout the farm and what does she want? What negative force about the house is so powerful that it won’t even allow the upstairs bedroom to be touched? Does the 93 year old vanishing of the next door neighbor have anything to do with the house’s mysteries?

Taryn wants the answers to these and the house may just be trying to tell her because now, when she looks through her camera, she doesn’t have to use her imagination to see the past–


Will Taryn be able to figure out what happened here AND escape with her sanity and life before the house comes down? Because now it seems like someone is trying to kill her! Using what her camera reveals to her and her wits, she’ll try to unravel the mysteries of the farm and get out before it’s too late.

The first book in the Taryn’s Camera series.

Price:  $2.99

Haunted Lake
by Lauralynn Elliot

After losing her best friend in a fire, Rachel Madison rents a cabin on Misty Lake, trying to work through her guilt and sorrow. While there, she meets two men, one good looking and friendly and the other handsome, but scarred. Soon, she realizes that the peace she was trying to find here wasn’t to be, as supernatural events begin to take place. The strange encounters with ghosts at the lake cause Rachel to form a strong bond of friendship with the two men. The three friends move closer and closer to danger as the events unfold to a possible tragic result. 

Price:  $0.99

The House on the Moor
by Lalla Squeglia

Abigail Brewster didn’t want to work for Nathan Raven, not with all those stories swirling around him. It was too late now, though, and she was in too deep. Now she has to find out if Nathan is just an eccentric recluse or if he really is a murderous lunatic…before she suffers the same fate as all the others.

Price:  $0.99

All prices are currently as listed at Amazon price.

I hope you find at least a few to enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 11)

Libby was nowhere to be found when I entered the kitchen, though she’d left me a rather elaborate breakfast tray atop the buffet counter.  My stomach growled at the sight of thickly buttered French toast and poached eggs, complete with orange juice and coffee.  I thought to myself, as I dug in, that Libby’s fine cooking might very well be the demise of my petite figure!  I also wondered where the cheery housemaid had run off to.  Loud and chirpy as she was,  I could surely welcome her warmth and conversation this morning.

I found myself alone after breakfast.  I had a whole day to fill and seemingly nothing to do so I took to the sitting room as usual.  If all else failed, Aunt Helen had an endless supply of books.  So far, I hadn’t found any real alone time with Aunt Helen and there were many inquiries I’d like to make of Vanessa and where her mother thought she might be.  The absence of my cousin lay heavily upon my mind.  Yet, no one else seemed to be willing to even speak about it, much less make an effort to find out where she’d gone. 

I thought back to the psychology classes I had and the stages of grief Professor Adams had outlined.   I reflected to myself that perhaps everyone might still be in denial.  How much easier it must be to believe that Vanessa was safely tucked away somewhere with her doting boyfriend, happily enjoying her first taste of independence, than in mortal danger.  I wanted to believe she was happy and safe, but something about her swift departure, particularly how she had sent me no notice and no following phone call, did not quite sit right.  Call it intuition or a sixth sense, but I feared for the livelihood of my childhood confidant.

I grabbed a fashion magazine and took a seat on the old, red velvet couch.  Everything in the farmhouse seemed to be a lost relic of my childhood.  I could vaguely remember my own mother sprawled across the couch, listening to a record and twirling her hair like a teenager as I occupied myself with a dollhouse.  And my father, who’d sit at the foot of the couch, tickling or rubbing her feet depending on his fancy.  I missed them both dearly but tried hard not to think about my childhood years.  There was too much pain within the pages of my past.

I absent-mindedly flipped through the magazine as I glanced out the small, curtained window behind the settee.  The sky was overcast with the threat of a fresh snow.  Puffy, white clouds leaned heavily towards bone-bare treetops.  It would have been a serene picture but for the bounding black shadow that kept weaving in and out of the trees near the edge of the where the wood began.  It took me a moment to realize that Shadow must be at play  again.

Remembering my scare from the previous night, and fearing that grandma or Aunt Helen might find themselves in my same predicament if Shadow wandered too far, I resolved to go call the dog in before early evening fell.  However, the way she threw her head back excitedly, whilst running too far into the trees to see and returning to the edge yet again, finally got the best of my curiosity.

“Here girl,” I called as I stepped through the icy, graveled driveway and made my way carefully towards the trees. 

Shadow galloped towards me, barking feverishly, yet would not come close enough for me to touch.  As soon as I made an effort to grab for her, she’d dodge out of sight and run between the cover of trees.  I could hear her barks fade as she descended deeper into the woods.

“Shadow, c’mere girl,” I yelled.  No reply.

I sighed heavily and followed the paw prints as they zig-zagged between the trees.  I didn’t want to venture too far for fear of a repeat of the previous night.  I’m sure I seemed silly.   Here I was again chasing the dog into the woods when just last night I’d gotten lost and nearly frozen to death.  And what was that Greg had said as he guided me home last night with the gentleness of a grandpa?  I’d been almost too shocked from cold and fright to listen to his gentle chiding.  I remembered only a warning that a frozen river lay somewhere deep into the woods, near the left.  Covered by a new snowfall, one might not notice the river at all and unknowingly plunge to their own hypothermic death.

I shivered, and momentarily feared that Vanessa might have come to the same tragic end.  Only, growing up here and spending most every waking moment of each summer and spring in these hills, I was secure in the knowledge that Vanessa would know exactly where that icy river lay.  And besides, she’d gone missing weeks earlier, before any real snow had fallen.

“Come on Shadow,  let’s go get a treat,”  I called into the quiet of the trees.  Out there, everything seemed so silent.  Even a cracking branch from a squirrel scampering snapped the silence like a shot in the night.

I was nervous, and kept glancing over my shoulder so as to keep the old farmhouse within sight.  I was determined not to get lost this time.  I shivered a little, realizing too late that I should have grabbed a jacket before coming out here. 

 Lost so deeply in thought, I did not notice the two vultures that suddenly swooped low, caw-cawing their angry voices dangerously close to my face, as if I were pervading their premises, before echoing their flight back toward the swaying treetops.  Their bird-calls sounded eerily familiar to fun house laughter, almost as if they intended to frighten me away.  I shook my head to clear my thoughts.  The birds were simply scavenging the woods for food, perhaps the carcass of some unlucky rodent that had come to a swift demise.  

Now frazzled, heart in my throat,  my patience for the dog was growing short.  I was about to give up and leave Greg to deal with chasing her out of the woods when, with a bounding gallop, she nearly knocked me over.

“It’s about time, ole girl,” I said as I scratched her ears.  It was when I bent to get a secure hold on her collar that I saw the piece of fabric. 

“What do we have here?”  I said and Shadow barked eagerly as I picked it up. 

The fabric was long, rather soft, and smelled of decayed earth.  I scrutinized it for a few moments, turning it over and over in my hands, before discerning that it probably was just a scarf.  Bits of frozen dirt clung to it's delicate fibers.  I noted that it could not have been exposed to the elements for long as it seemed to be completely in-tact.  I told myself that it might mean nothing at all.  After all, Shadow found it in the woods.  I had no idea how long it had been there, or whom it belonged to.   Anyone could have lost it on a windy walk through these unrelenting hills.    But Shadow had been so excited about her find and something told me to keep it, just in case.  

I folded it and placed it in the pocket of my sweater.  I would wash it later, after dinner when I could do it undisturbed.  Once it was dry I would take a better look at it.  Even if it ended up being nothing, it would give me something interesting to do after dinner when the house grew silent and the unquiet settling of it's ancient rafters wore against my already-frazzled nerves.

New Installments Every Monday!  

'Last Place in the World' by Margarete Sparks

Published:  1975
Setting:  Modern Day

She had better hurry and get off this narrow, unfamiliar road while there was still time before dark.  There was no use calling upon the occupants of the house in the distance, since she handn't their names on her list.  On this old, abandoned road it was not likely that they were newcomers anyway.  Usually the older, large mountain homes were owed by well-to-do people who had been fleeing to the mountains to escape the summer heat for years, since Fleming was a small settlement.

The car wouldn't start.  She tried to bring to life the small sound she heard and kept turning the key until she was afraid she might wear out the starter.  Exasperated and now a little uneasy on the deserted road, Madrid again glanced through the trees and observed the outline of the house.  The reflection from its windows was now gone.  If she had not noticed the awesome balls of tinted gold five minutes ago, she would have been completely unaware that the house in the distance existed.

She had walked three-quarters of the way from her car to the house when the breeze grew stronger and the trees, some with their branches hanging directly overhead on the narrow road, changed their whispering to moans.  Grass growing between the cracks in the paving waved frantically in a sudden wind.

Madrid was not too surprised when lightning began to flash from a darkening sky, and she was soon pelted sharply with large raindrops.  She quickened her pace as thunder rolled above her.  When the thunder crashed and the rain began to pour, she changed the fast walking to a run...she was suddenly terribly frightened of the gathering darkness...

Madrid Palmer is new to the small town of Fleming, Arizona.  She's just been transferred by her company, the Hi Ya Stranger Agency, and is doing a house call for a new resident when her car breaks down.  Thankfully, the sun is setting in just the right spot because she notices its reflection in some windows in the far distance and realizes there must be a house hidden deep within the woods, away from the prying eyes of the public.  Just as she nears the beautiful, old house, the sky opens and she's drenched before she ever reaches the front door.

However, the friendly lady (Virginia Toblin) who opens the door is more than cordial, and not only offers her a dry robe, but invites her to stay for dinner as well.  And as Madrid awaits dinner, she's also met with another fellow resident of Southerly Road, D'Arcy Nelson, whom is a rich heir to the family who owns the tudor-style mansion she's found in the mists of the woods.  Yet, as Madrid waits out the storm, she finds herself quickly forming a friendship with the two eccentric souls.  Virginia is obviously an alcoholic in need of a babysitter.  Ironically she's also redecorating the house for her ex-husband, who is said to be planning to reside in the house with his new wife in mere weeks.

What's even more ironic is how Virginia has been hired, with the help of D'Arcy and his artistic skills, to imitate the decor of the master bedroom so as to duplicate a bedroom the owner has in Pheonix, Arizona...but as Madrid stays on, she will discover hidden rooms, dangerous family affairs, secrets better left buried, dead bodies, and a murderer on her heels!

Setting:  a tudor-style mansion in the woods

Plot:  a murder mystery, sort of who-dun-it

Gothic Elements:  storms, lightning, creepy woods with moaning branches and a secret passageway.  Dead bodies and funeral homes.  Crazy house maids and sedatives given to unsuspecting victims.  A kidnapping and lots of oddball characters.

Romance:  there's an undercurrent of romance between the hero and heroine, though she still views him a a suspect until nearly the end of the book

Honestly, this book ended up being so out-landish, confusing, and just overall odd, that I would not recommend it.  Sadly, it was off to a great start, but at about 100 pages in it became apparent that the author just kept going in circles.  I finished the book by pure will and was bored with the weird ending as well.  Of course, this is an Avalon gothic, I suppose with those there's always the chance of reading a dud.  I also found it rather sad that the author seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth after writing this book, I could find no other publications by her, nor even a biography anywhere.

My Rating:
2 Stars

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Makes for a Compelling Gothic Romance Story?

We all have personal preferences when it comes to reading for pleasure.  Of course, if we didn't, then there would be no such thing as a 'genre.'  And although I believe that gothic romance has either been largely regrouped into 'paranormal romance' or 'romantic suspense,' it is still characteristic of the same timeless elements.  The same spooky, mysterious plot twists and engaging atmospheres that hooked readers in the early 60's are the same ones you find in today's more contemporary gothic romance novels.

And while somewhere in the future I may want to elaborate more upon the plot twists (rather formulaic or not), today I want to talk about the gothic elements that I find most compelling.  The bits and pieces that keep me turning the pages.   Being a collector of these books (probably close to 1,000 or more, not counting ebook editions), people oftentimes ask me what is in the history of this genre for me?  Do I not find these old, outdated books boring?   Of course not!  Because while they may be old, indeed, they are neither boring or outdated.

For me, the vintage gothic romance is timeless and endearing.  All good books are timeless.  And what is 'good' or 'bad' really is left to the discretion of the reader.  Many of these books have served as excellent history lessons.   A reminder of simpler, more innocent times...way back to days before the emphasis of technology and computers and smartphones.  I am pulled into each of these stories not for an erotic display found in many 'romance books,' nor because they are the 'latest and greatest' from the New York Times.  Rather, I genuinely find them interesting, page-turning, different (and oftentimes even better) than the books that mainstream authors spew forth at an alarming rate these days.

Anyway, I've had a lot of people ask me why  I prefer this genre to, say, just general horror.  And while I do love authors Richard Laymon, John Saul and some works of Stephen King, the vintage gothics (and the good contemporary ones that are reminiscent of the originals) have my heart!

But what do I love most about them, you ask?  Well let's take a look... (remember, there are many, probably innumerable) elements that make great gothic reads...these are merely my favorites!

When it comes to settings, I want to go somewhere I've never been:
-a rambling mansion on the Moors
-Yorkshire chateau
-A grand old ancient castle somewhere in England
-somewhere near the ocean, or ocean cliffs (Cape Cod, for example)
-an isolated old mansion turned bed and breakfast, hotel, or boarding house
-a cottage somewhere in the desert
-traversing ancient ruins, like that of the Mayans
-somewhere in the bayou, Louisiana (think 'Ruby' by V.C. Andrews)
-an old haunted house inherited by unfamiliar relatives
-a cottage/house in the woods
-the city or boarding house of a foreign country
-any kind of ruins
-ship or houseboat on it's way to a creepy, isolated location
-tropical island with coves, skeletons, and hidden treasure
-family graveyards and creaking tombs
-a grand Victorian Christmas....with a horrific twist
-an old house with hidden rooms and secret passageways
-ancient graveyards or tombs
-musty old shacks in the woods or bayou
-a rambling house on a sea cliff
-dangerous sea cliffs and ocean, in general
-dangerous, dark woods
-fleeing from a place of peril in the darkness and danger of night
-a haunted house, in general

I want to read about and get into the heads and lives of characters that make the story real:
-orphans who have gone from 'rags to riches'
-an unsuspecting heiress who makes a dangerous voyage
-a student at a convent or boarding school
-a writer or artist whom has moved to a strange environment for work, school, or to solve a mystery
-missing persons, disappearances
-maids, chaperons, evil butlers
-witches and other 'evil' person's who plan for the demise of the main chracter
-protagonists who are out to get the main character (hateful grandmother, jealous relative)
-women who have married into families, only to realize someone wants her dead...but whom?
-evil in-laws and mother-in-laws
-evil husbands
-conniving nursemaids
-some of the best gothic romances I've read had at least one person who has been struck by madness
-a character who has a sort of affliction, sickness, disability
-children whose lives are endangered
-a mad scientist or philosopher
-a rich, evil benefactor
-a hateful, vindictive stepmother or step grandmother
-a flamboyant, irresponsible sibling (usually female) who has gotten themselves into trouble
-rogues, killers, embezzlers, and impostors
-witches, voodoo, spell-casters and old curses
-stalkers, ghosts, evil presences or spirits
-old murder mysteries
-skeletons in closets and secret rooms and attics
-some of my favorite vintage gothics have always had a character who was locked up in a secret underground chamber/room, or in their own private quarters because they were either mad or had to be kept away because they knew too much
- characters who have amnesia or who have been struck by the inability to communicate
-crazy wives or daughters locked away, oftentimes drugged with sedatives to keep them quiet
-a maiden who marries into a wealthy family, only to realize that her husbands previous wives have died under mysterious circumstances
-person who looks frightening...a few I can think of were characters who were once in the circus, physically deformed with birth defects, and violent cripples
-forbidden and/or incest relations (think V.C Andrews)
-heroine who has wits and determination
-hero who is a friend of heroine and becomes a love interest as the story develops
-long lost relatives reunited (some good, and some evil)
-a pregnancy or childbirth that has been kept a secret

And of course, I need  some creepy, scary elements to really set the atmosphere:
-haunted/creepy dolls
-a full moon
-a black cat or dog
-a horseman (could be a ghost, a headless horseman, or real)
-carriages voyaging long distances in the night
-cold, snowy, lonely nights
-fireplaces as a gathering spot for tea, reading, or coffee
-ghosts and apparitions
-an ominous presence
-bad omens
-storms, cloudy skies
-magic and voodoo
-a black bird or raven
-bats...and plenty of them
-secret doors
-ancient books and keys
-dark corridors
-loss of light and electricity
-fog and mist
-rooms with spiders and snakes
-cobwebs and dusty
-rooms with covered furniture
-hidden maps
-old photo albums and journals of deceased
-jewels and heirlooms
-creepy, haunted paintings of the dead
-statues...particularly dragon
-poison and opiates
-moss and tangled vines
-mysterious cries in the night
-creaking doors, shutters, halls
-shadows across the moon
-the woods at night
-rites of passage
-rituals and human sacrifice
-ware wolves
-hidden corpses
-trap doors
-underground tunnels
-poisoned food
-psychic children
-haunting music
-common drinks used to calm a frightened heroine:  coffee, tea, brandy, scotch, rum
-dusty libraries with antique books
-cold drafts
-old trunks and suitcases
-creepy masks
-faces appearing in windows and mirrors
-creaking steps and floorboards when no one's there
-lots of dangerous secrets
-roads blocked by trees
-vehicles that will not start
-creepy hotel rooms
-hand-written letters (especially those from the dead)
-stolen treasure and money
-wills being read
-dusty attics with secret rooms and doors
-creepy door knockers
-housemaids that are either crazy, mean, scary, or lame (unable to speak)
-the calling of birds
-lakes and ponds
-mountains and cliffs
-weather:  thunder, lightning, severe storms, crying winds
-starless, moonless sky
-weeping willows
-a weird doctor
-a conniving lawyer
-phones that do not work, or lack of phone at residence
-a guest that usually seems hostile, though little is known about them
-taking meals in one's room, with a tray or buffet stand
-phantoms in the night
-gala party events (wedding, christmas, dinners) with a deadly twist
-old cooks who enjoy gossiping, whom often inform the heroine of unknown peril
-stolen or misplaced corpses

Shew, for now I think this tops the list of things that I really find page-turning in a great gothic romance!  I'm sure I  haven't included them all, but I think it's a great idea to start taking note of each of these while I'm reading a book, that way I can expand upon the list...and hopefully this will help me with my own gothic romance writing.

And speaking of my own writing, I have new installments coming of House of Hollow Wind.  Hopefully I can resume my weekly Monday posts, so keep watch!

I hope, if nothing else, this post has entertained you....or perhaps even encouraged you to read some gothic romance!  Trust me when I say, there's nothing boring or outdated about these dark, moody, excitingly mysterious stories!

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Beware the Night" by J.H. Rhodes

Published:  1984
Setting:  Modern Day

Nearing the light, they saw Orby Merton as he raised a shovel into the air and brought it down on a mound of earth.

Orby sensed they were watching him and he turned to face them.  "Cat got run over.  Buried the animal here, away from the house."

With that, Orby picked up the light and walked away into the darkening night.  For Shauna the walk had suddenly lost its appeal,

"Let's go back to the house," she whispered, and her voice had a croaking sound to it.

The picture of Orby Merton raising the shovel and smashing it against the mound of earth etched itself on Shauna's mind.  She wondered if he really was burying a cat.  It had been such an eerie picture that she couldn't keep from shuddering as she and Mike walked back to the house.

They entered the back door, which led to the kitchen.  Bonnie was standing in the center of the room with her hands on her hips.  She glanced at Shauna ad Mike and slowly shook her head.

"Is there anything wrong, Bonnie?"  Shauna asked as she slowly advanced toward the cook.

"It's that can of rat poison," Bonnie said.  "I could have sworn I left it on the lower shelf.  But it's not there now.  Either I misplaced it, or someone has made off with that poison."

Shauna Travis is beyond delighted when she receives an invitation to High Cliff, a yearly gathering spot for writers and artists, all expenses paid by an eccentric millionaire.  After working at a simple job in a small town, Shauna sees this as an opportunity to devote her time to painting, as she's a flourishing artist with little time left in her busy life for the arts.

However, things aren't what she expected as the first night brings an ominous accident to the poet-in-residence as she falls and hits her head dangerously close to the sea and bordering cliffs, or was really an accident at all?  Things turn even more sinister as strange lights appear near the shore and eerie screams pierce the night...then deadly, dangerous accidents begin to happen as the artists are plagued by pranks.

Each of the artists are eccentric among themselves, and Shauna wonders to herself if one of them may be hiding a dangerous motive beneath the accidents and strange happenings that seem to be haunting the shadowy mansion.  It seems the only person she can really trust is the mysterious sculptor Mike Robbins.  But she's not sure if she can trust him or not.

Will she survive her season by the sea, or will it come to a murderous end aa mysterious specters haunt the grounds, and for who knows what?

Like usual, Rhodes served as a quick, light, mysterious read.  I especially enjoyed the creative, artistic atmosphere, particularly with the eccentric cast of characters.  There was a good element of suspense, and the story did keep me reading.  At a little less than 200 pages, I finished this one in one sitting.  Recommend to fans of gothic and vintage gothic romance.

My Rating:
4 Stars

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review of 'The Lady in Yellow' and an interview with Alyne de Winter

Published:  2014
Setting:  Historical (Victorian)

Outside, a high, thin wail rose up, making her shiver.  A wash of moonlight illuminated the filmy curtains that wafted in from the floor length windows.  Veronica put her hand on her chest to calm her heart.

A howl rose up.

Veronica wondered if she had the nerves for mysterious old houses in the untamed wilderness of the Yorkshire moors.  She stroked her face with her hands before covering her eyes.  Foxes didn't howl like that.

It was best to go to bed and forget.  Sleep had a way of sorting things out, arising with the sun.

Eyes riveted to the moonlight curtains, Veronica walked slowly to her bed.  She sat on the edge looking out through the balcony doors.  That was beautiful, soothing as a lullaby, but also haunting as if to instill uneasy dreams.  She got under the covers and pulled the bed hangings tight.

Veronica had just fallen asleep when, just below, a high-pitched wail climbed the air, then faded.  

Wide awake, she got up and went out to her balcony.  The moon cast long shadows over the grass.  Though the night sky had cleared, remnants of mist still clung to the roots of the birch trees, gathering in the wishing well among the lilies like a cloud.  She couldn't see the animal that had whined anywhere.  The only sounds, accompanied by the chirupping of frogs around the well, were that of the children singing...

Veronica Everly was orphaned when her parents died prematurely.  And although her aunt did take her in, she was a cold, domineering alcoholic who didn't offer Veronica much in the way of mothering.  When her aunt dies, Veronica is turned over as the ward of a Catholic orphanage.

Now, as she nears the legal age of nineteen, Veronica is left penniless and with no where (and no one) to turn to.  She's excited, and a little shocked, when she learns she's been offered a position with the job agency for which she's applied.  

Soon, she is whisked off on a new journey, one for which she won't easily return.  For her life at the huge Belden House, a rambling Victorian mansion that borders the wilderness of Yorkshire, will leave little room for boredom and idleness.  She finds her job as governess to identical twins, Jacques and Jacqueline, challenging to say the least.  The twins seem to be from a different realm, they are given to fancy whims and are much more intelligent than the common child.

The grounds are beautiful, and her living quarters are more than she could have ever dreamed of.  Yet, there's an eerie sense of doom and macabre hiding within the walls of the atmospheric mansion.  First there is the horseman who terrifies her in the broad of day, warning her to leave immediately.  Then there's the creepy, resonating ringing of an unseen bell somewhere towards the horizon.  As if that were not enough, in the dead of night,  Veronica begins to hear the howling of wolves...enmeshed with that of the children's playful laughter.  Then the most frightening of all, the lady in yellow, with the bloody eyes, whom frightens Veronca beyond her wits.

Soon, Belden house becomes more of a nightmare than a refuge.  And what of the enigmatic attraction and affection she feels for the man of the house, Rafe de Grimston?  What secret does he hide behind his rough exterior?  And what is the horrifying mystery to the lady in yellow?

As Veronica struggles to find answers to these mysteries, will she survive the evil that lurks, menacingly, waiting, willing it's victims to succumb it's ancient curse?

Alyne de Winter is a pleasure to read.  The visuals and rich descriptions of the Victorian mansion are esoteric enough to touch.  In fact, fans of the book have hailed it a book that rivals The Others and Rose Red.  As I flipped the pages of this book (and it most definitely is a page-turner) I felt as if I'd been transported by a time machine, a mere spectator peeking a glance at this story from behind a dark corner.  I am enamored by the Victorian era, and if you enjoy historical novels at all, you are in for a treat!  The main character, Veronica Everly, is such an admirable and lovable spirit.  You will find yourself rooting for her happiness, dreading the dark right alongside her, and cheering her on in her victories.  Let us not forget the twins, for which I found highly entertaining (and endearing) of themselves.  This may not be your typical 'romance,' but it's one of the best contemporary gothic horror novels I have read in a very long time!  Miss Everly's story gives Jane Eyre a run for her money in this engaging novel of suspense.   I am excited to read more spine-tingling stories from Alyne, and am proud to call myself a fan of her work.

My Rating:  
5 Stars

Alyne has been wonderful enough to provide us with an awesome interview, written in her epic format,  I simply asked of her some questions, and she enlightened me!  I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did:

Author Interview: Alyne de Winter

It sounds like a cliché but I've been writing since I could. My father was a reader of the Classics, plus Science Fiction and Fantasy and he always passed his books on to me. I also loved fairy tales and wrote one about the spirits on the woods behind our house when I was eight years old. In my teens I wrote two novels---both mysteries, very bad, and won prizes for my short stories in school. They were all weird and macabre in the tradition of Poe and Blackwood. I always loved the dark, mysterious tales.
I wanted to be a visual artist---in those days that meant drawing and painting, and I was always taking art classes. My goal was to be an illustrator of fairy tales and children's books, maintaining my link with storytelling. Because I have strong psychic ability, I have tended to use my artistic and storytelling skills as a means to express the visions, sensations and intuitions I pick up in the ethers. I grew up in nature, highly attuned to the spiritual realms close to the earth. Nature is always prominent in my books, as are graveyards and churches----quiet, peaceful places where spirits make themselves felt. I love religions and superstitions, secret societies, antiquarian books, folk beliefs and the occult. My ancestors came from France in 1604, carrying with them a particularly Medieval brand of Catholicism. Because of this I feel I was born with a Gothic consciousness.
In college I wrote poetry and illustrated my poems with pen and ink drawings---always in dark-fantastical and mythic themes, designing my own little books. I suppose I was already an Indie author! I later published poetry and won prizes for that, but never followed it through as a career.
I wanted to write fiction, but somehow never felt worthy. I figured, being so right brained, and thus a total "space-case", that my ideas would not be taken seriously. I felt that a writer needed to have something to say, and that writing revealed, more than any other art form, the quality of one's thinking. I got involved in theater and dance, acting in Shakespeare productions, dancing in an esoteric dance company, and singing faery ballads in a Celtic band. In the mid 1990s, I was designing a tarot deck, went to the UK for research and, long story short, ended up living there for 9 years. Part of my time was spent in a haunted house---not a good place for a psychic---and found my stories.
Realizing that all of my artistic endeavors revolved around storytelling, I figured I might as well buckle down and write novels.
Since I began writing fiction in London, a great Gothic city with a strong Goth community, my stories take place in the UK or Europe. As a lover of castles and cathedrals, ancient tombs, history and old traditions, I feel Europe is my creative home. The first story I wrote with an American setting was Lenore: A Southern Gothic Re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. The setting is Louisiana and the inspiration Jean Cocteau's great film, La Belle et la Bete----a European source. Portrait of a Vampire is the only contemporary American story I've written so far, and was inspired by real events.
The Lady in Yellow is close to my heart because it was a breakthrough for me on many levels. It was inspired by The Turn of the Screw by M.R. James, Jane Eyre and the werewolf tales of Tanith Lee. The Haunted Garden is one of my oldest novels and went through many revisions before it achieved its final form. I would say my favorite of all my books is The Vampire's Mirror. I love it so much, I have sequels in the works, a series of novellas following the cursed mirror into modern times.
My character, Veronica Everly, in The Lady in Yellow just grew out of me. I suppose they all do. The artist Jasper Johns had a saying about painting: "Do something, do something to it, do something else to it." In fiction, the goal is to put as many obstacles into your protagonist's path as possible. Since my own life has been a series of hurdles, (stories) some pretty darn scary, like that haunted house (exploring that theme in another book) it's not difficult to come up with nightmarish obstacles to plague the characters with, or to find creative ways to overcome them. Since I'm lucky to be alive, so should they be.
As far as my imagery goes, my first love was visual art. Many works of art have inspired my stories. Both painting and writing are time consuming and pay little at first, so I had to make a choice. The art world is much more narrow, I feel, much more difficult to navigate for a working class person like me who has no connections. Writing fiction seemed to be a career path that would be more open to me, plus I could use my love of art and art history, nature and architecture, to build entire worlds. When you read a descriptive passage in one of my books, you are reading the words of a frustrated artist. If I had my life to live over, I'd go into film. I love movies and want my stories to be as visually stunning as my favorite films, with the added power to reveal the inner lives of the characters.
A day in the life of me... I have had a varied and adventurous life. Probably about five lives rolled into one. Maybe I get nine, like a cat. Since I've been in this Indie Author world, things have become more focused. I write in the morning, at least four hours a day. (I'm a slow writer) I keep a tidy house and work out because I need a long life to finish all my projects. I have a part time job to keep things afloat until I can replace that income with book sales. There isn't much time left in the day!
As far as hobbies, I write stories that involve things that interest me, so I get to do all sorts of research into things I love. Travel is huge for me. When I have the money I want to take a research trip to Spain and the Pyrenees for two doorstopper novels that have international locations. These books will be along the lines of Dan Brown meets Anne Rice meets Elizabeth Kostova. I can't wait to get started on both of them.
Thank you for being a fan!
My biggest struggle is speed. I am a slow writer. I can't even type properly.
I have a new release up for pre-order at 0.99 on Amazon now! The Shadows: A Paranormal Thriller. In this one, the Gothic stream veers toward Horror as 14-year-old Poppy Farrell begins a life at a new boarding school, Blight's Academy, a turreted neo-Gothic mansion in the remote English countryside. I love it because it practically wrote itself and was so much fun. The plot for a sequel came on its heels. If it sells, I'll work on that.
I have a Dark Fantasy/ Horror series that was planned back in 2004. The first book in the series, Roses of the Moon, was the first book I published to the Kindle. It was inspired by the life of Countess Bathory, an icon of the Goth culture and prototypical vampire. It has a unique, multi-layered mythical world that could spawn more books than I can write. I was convinced by the marketing people on the web to write a prequel---a short novella to give away free to get people into the series. Well, the first draft of this prequel is over 50,000 words and needs about 50,000 more to be done right. It's called Dark Reliquary: Prelude to Roses of the Moon. I am very proud of how cohesive and intriguing this Vampire Gothic book is, but like Roses, it is not a walk in the park to write. I planned it for 2014, but it looks like I will need to take into 2015.
Look for Song of the Sea and Starlight: A Celtic tale of the Selkies at the end of 2014. This was meant to be a short story but became epic and will be a substantial novella with a sequel called Morna. I've been to Scotland a few times, but the history and culture of Scotland requires more research than I thought. This international Kindle market means that you can no longer fudge on even the tiniest cultural details since people from those countries will read your books. Luckily, you can find people from those places to sort you out with a beta read.
I'm also getting The Lady in Yellow into print. It's almost there!
So those three are coming. There are so many more stories clamoring for attention that, like the old woman who lived in a shoe, I'm on my last nerve sometimes.
Here's the current blurb for The Shadows:
"From the moment she enters the world of her new boarding school, Blight's Academy, teenage sleuth, Poppy Farrell, finds danger. From a strange encounter on a train platform, to the evidence of a murdered student in the woods that surround the school, life at Blight's Academy grows more menacing by the day.
Poppy and her friends, Clair and Georgie, must outwit their Shadows, older girls assigned to mentor them, but who coldly follow them wherever they go. There is a dark secret at the heart of Blight's Academy: disappearances, deaths, and conspiracies pervade the wooded grounds, flicker in the stained glass windows, tinkle like a music box lullaby through the turreted halls.
Enter the world of The Shadows where witchcraft is afoot. Young Adult or Old Adult, this story is guaranteed to send a shiver up your spine and keep you turning the pages far into the night."

Oooo---favorite authors! I adore short stories and some of my favorite all time stories are short. I can read them over and over again. I love Tanith Lee's short works, Angela Carter--both authors of rich imagery and hypnotic phrases. E.A. Poe, the British Gothic writers from the Brontes to Bram Stoker to Algernon Blackwood, Wilkie Collins and Dickins---especially Great Expectations. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is a huge influence. I'm loving Victoria Holt's Gothic Romances at the moment.
For a small niche, Gothic covers a lot of ground. I love Romance that involves intense moral struggle, and spiritual battles. Gothic Romance gives space for that, as well as elements of suspense, mystery and horror. You don't even need a happy ending---look at Wuthering Heights! I think atmosphere is the main quality that sets Gothic Romance apart, a pervading psychic dread, dark secrets, nostalgia for the glorious past and its ghosts.
The hardest thing about writing is my slowness and the pressure to get all these stories out of my system. I feel like if I die before they're all written, I'll have to come back to finish up. Some of these books are destined to be doorstoppers. (I suppose you can wedge your kindle under the door...) I'm almost good enough to write them.
My advice to aspiring writers is coming from one who had often wondered: Am I sane? Isn't spending all this time in your head and not having a life a form of madness? If I had known back in 2001, would I have embarked on this path? The option to publish independently has alleviated most of these concerns because I feel I can produce instead of spinning my wheels for the traditional deal. So I am sold on Indie Authoring and always suggest it to my writer friends. The other thing I would say is that is that you have to love it. This work requires enormous dedication and a thick skin. If you don't love it more than just about anything, it will be hard to keep going. And read a lot.

Alyne De Winter is an author of Gothic Mysteries and Occult Thrillers featuring tormented beauties, eerie settings, night religions, secret histories…

Pictured above is the lovely Alyne de Winter in the flesh!  She is  author of Gothic Mysteries and Occult Thrillers featuring tormented beauties, eerie settings, night religions, secret histories…

I have a special Alyne de Winters post pending very soon, so you'll want to make sure to stop by again for some great info, book blurbs, and info pertaining to her marvelous works.