Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Round-Up Wednesday

Hello friends, readers, and gothic romance fans!

It's been a while since I posted a round-up, I apologize for the absence.  I haven't had much to report in the way of updates, other than the usual reviews I post.

I thought about doing a gala Halloween celebration here on the blog, but felt it would just be better to resolve to posting more than often here during the month of October, since Fall is such a perfect time for the creepy tales we all love.

I do have a few things in order for this lovely, darkly October:

1)  A Sitcom Review & Interview with Screenwriter

2)  An Author Spotlight of some ghostly books sure to turn your chills up a notch or two.

3)  I will begin the daunting task of providing a play-by-play summary (with screenshot photos) of the original Dark Shadows television series (from the first episode to the last!).

4)  My October Reading List (I have tried to pick stories reminiscent of hauntings, curses, sinister secrets, vacations gone awry and scarily brooding houses but really, what gothic romance doesn't have one or two of these elements?).  Here is my list of reviews you can find on the blog throughout October:

 The Moonlit Trap by Ruth Willok

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

 House of the Whispering Winds by Elizabeth McCrae

Were Joycelyne's ravings to be believed? Was this really the grave of her mother who had been murdered? A grave that would soon make room for one more? What, and who. was buried in the recesses of the Villa Miramont? Anne Travis seeks a woman believed to be dead for forty-five years and is led by a quirk of fate onto the ground where a nameless body has rested since the war. It is a crypt whose secrets demand the ultimate price: insanity -- or violent death.

Unholy Spell by Claire Vincent

Emily had long cherished the hope of meeting her mother's friend Amanda and of residing with the Parkers of Beacon Hill as "one of the family." But Emily's first impression of the balconied mansion with its fancy grillwork and leaded panes was fear. What secret lay beneath those dank stones? Then Emily learned that the Parkers had much to hide. A baby of uncertain parentage. A woman who always wore purple. A brooding son who insisted Emily wear the gowns and jewels of his dead wife. As Emily grew closer to the dread secret of Beacon Hill, the fabric of evil enclosed her like a shroud.

The Whisper of Shadows by J.L.H. Whitney

From the moment librarian Ruth Carson set foot in the gloomy magnificence of Chinois, her instincts told her to flee. The house had an atmosphere of evil that made a mockery of its elegance, but created a perfect backdrop for Stephen Bonner, the mysterious, surly but attractive male animal who was its master and Ruth's employer.

With mounting horror Ruth soon found that violent death was a fellow guest at Chinois, and that her presence was a threat to someone in that strange, Oriental household -- someone who would stop at nothing, including murder, to get her out of the way.

Was that someone Stephen Bonner? Did his eyes follow her every move out of love--or was he even now plotting to destroy her...?

The Shrouded Tower by Theresa Charles

Was she too late to save her sister from the fate that awaited all the mistresses of that shadow-haunted estate?

House of Dark Illusions by Caroline Farr

Even before lovely young Megan Marshall crossed the threshold of the House of Ferrari, her dead mother's family mansion, she sensed that a chilling menace reaching out to her from the great stone house that rose from the swirling sea fog. Why was her aunt, Lissi Ferrari, suddenly behaving so strangely? What dark secret from the past hovered in the shadows of the vast old house?

The nameless fear mounted as Megan found herself caught in a macabre web of evil that slowly tightened around her. When Denis Fulton appeared on the scene, Megan longed to turn to the blond young man for help. In his searching gray eyes she had glimpsed something more than friendship. But did she dare to trust him...?

The House at Fern Canyon by Willow Davis Roberts

An unbreakable web of terror traps Deonna Tyler in the dark past of her dead love...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Witch's Tale - "The Mannequin"

I briefly introduced old time radio shows, and The Witch's Tale in a previous post.

Today I'd like to share with you another of my favorite episodes from this little radio sitcome, titled Mannequin.

It has all the eccentric elements of a creepy gothic read, with  just a little hint of The Twilight Zone thrown in for good measure.

An artist visits an old shop in Paris, he claims he is in search of something that called to him, something that wanted him to have it.

The shop clerk leads him through a series of locked doors, until they open a closet only to find a mannequin. Eerily, the mannequin is hanging by the neck with a rope, her wrists and ankles tied.

The mannequin is exquisite, so lifelike that the artists can't believe the shop-keeper offers such a work of art for free so long as the artists takes it. What with hair that has been drilled into her head hair by lone hair, joints that move without sound or effort and eyes that seem to convey a bit of intelligence. He feels he's found quite a bargain and offers to purchase the mannequin.

She is so lifelike that even the artists wife claims she is a corpose, espeially how she seems to drape her arms around his neck each time he lifts her. His wife claims, “Her arms move with life, she is more than a mannequin, I do not like her.”

The artists and his friends later claim that the mannequin is sighing and making hissing sounds, with eyes that rave towards his wife with hate.

Later, as the the artist and his wife embrace for a kiss, something suddenly strikes his wife. Upon examination, the hammer that was used to free the mannequin from the box for which same came, lay near the wifes feet. The wife claims that mannequin is trying to kill her out of jealousy. She says the mannequin wants her husband!

Is it true? Could the mannequin, indeed, be a real entity? Can a mannequin really come to life? And what will happen if she can? What lays inside the stuffing and wood of the exquisite mannequin?

You'll have to listen to this exceptionally creepy tale to find out!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"The Devil's House" by Julia Tremonte

Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern Day


The eerie moonlight flooded the hallway where she stood, covering everything with a thin veil of translucent gauze.  How strange everything seemed in this light.  How unearthly the formal living room looked.  The massive pieces of furniture crouched in the corners, as if waiting to spring out at her.  She looked down the hallway toward the kitchen.  It was a long tunnel of darkness- an endless tube of gloom that seemed to be drawing her forward.  Almost against her will.

A sudden sound made her whirl around.  Directly behind her, framed in the doorway, stood a tall figure dressed in a black cloak.  A pointed hood shadowed the face, and only the large, burning yellow eyes were distinct.  Sally was too frightened to make a sound.  The figure raised a hand and pointed a long, bony finger at her.  The voice was like a moan:  "You are ours."  As the words were spoken, the eyes of the creature grew in size and intensity, burning into Sally's soul.

It was only then that the strangled fear managed to wrench itself from her throat and escape as a horrified scream...

Back Cover Synopsis:

Whispering Voices From Beyond

As night  creeps into the old, timeworn house, Sally huddles in a corner, alone.  Without any apparent reason, her husband has strangely disappeared.

Outside the window, hovering trees make low, morbid sounds as they beat tormentingly against the glass.  Oh my god!  She wonders in terror, Could there be voices in the cellar?

Sally rushes to the phone, her heart pounding wildly, like a fish dying in a pit of sand.  The phone is dead.  The lines have been cut.

Frantically, she stumbles around the house, locking the doors and windows.  Then, moving stealthily into the kitchen, she grabs a knife, hiding in the folds of her skirt

Trembling fiercely, Sally edges toward the basement door.  She opens it but hesitates at the top of the stairs.  Abruptly the lights go out.  A faintly sweet smell assails Sally's nostrils as her body convulses with sobs.  Emanating from the depths of the basement, a yellow glow dances in the black air.

"Sally, Sally, Sally," chants a chorus of soft voices rising from the darkness below...

The Devil's House.

Best Gothic Elements:  witchcraft and witches, evil emblems, mysterious murders, religious sacrifices, spells, family secrets.

This book was just okay.  To be honest, it was rather flat.  The characters were never really explored.  Nor was the backstory.  And the whole idea with the evil being, or apparition was never resolved.  I was left wondering if it was her husband, or really the ghost of the evil man who once inhabited the house.  I had a hard time completing the book, it was just boring.  Wouldn't recommend because it barely kept my attention and the mystery wasn't tight enough to keep a feel of suspense going.

My Rating:
2 Stars

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"House of the Evil Winds" by Millie J. Ragosta

Published:  1973
Setting:  Modern Day

....the congregation began to chant anew.

All this time I had been clinging to the wall in frozen desperation, hardly daring to move.  Now I realized that I had only minutes to escape from this terrible place before the ceremony was over.  If I could get away undetected, I would run to the highway, beg a ride from a passing motorist, or, if I had to, walk to the nearest house.   Whatever happened, I had to get away from Maison des Vents Mauvais.  I eased back along the passage, slipped through the doorway, and ran silently across the hall.  I threw back the bolts on teh great door and went swiftly out into the morning.  

The winds had sunk to their customary low moaning, but the swamp was noisy with awakening wildlife.  Mist rose in pearly iridescence from every inch of swampy ground in the chill morning air.  I ran across the intervening lawn and plunged into the thicket.

The ground was wet and uneven, and my slippers were soaked almost instantly, but I was grateful that my footsteps made little sound.  The driveway was off to my right.  I stood frozen for a moment...Henri had warned me about the poisonous snakes that lived in the swamp, but they held less terror for me than the witches I had just fled from.  I plunged blindly into the marshiest center of the woods, losibg my slippers, ignoring the roots that tore at my feet.  The bayou glimmered off in the trees and I made toward it...

Jacket Blurb:

It all seemed to innocent at the beginning.  To Victoria Chase, stranded in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time with no money, the offer to act as a companion to the invalided wife of writer Henri Rousseau came at a most opportune moment.  And the prospects of assisting Henri with his history of the occult were equally enticing.

But before Victoria began her duties at Maison des Vents Mauvais- The House of the Evil Winds- Henri and his wife's twin sister, the dark and statuesque Francine Benet, took Victoria to a masked ball at the home of wealthy Madame Heloise Dulac.  Madame Dulac expressed her delight that Henri had found someone so suitable to tend Monique, his wife.  Earlier, Francine's approval of Victoria had also seemed rather profuse- and Victoria wondered fleetingly why these people- strangers, really appeared so enchanted with her.

It was at Madame Dulac's that Victoria met widower Stefan Thomas, and though their time together was brief, Victoria knew that she had fallen in love.  But Stefan had not seen Victoria unmasked, and it looked as if he were unlikely to, for her new positio did not permit her visitors of phone calls.

When Victoria discovers that odd religious rites are being conducted in a cave beneath the mansion, she fears that her continued presence in the House of the Evil Winds will only lead to her destruction- and she knows that only Stefan can save her.

Best Gothic Elements:  an orphaned girl, disease and death, paid companion, a creepy house in the midst of the bayou where howling winds ceaselessly blow,  Witchcraft, occults, spells, body-snatching, and murder.

This probably isn't the best gothic romance I've ever read, but it holds up well as an Avalon gothic.  It has all the great, spooky elements that surmise of good gothic romance reading.  Also sustains a dark hint of danger throughout the complete story.

Some parts of the story are a little too fantastic to believe, but then it is a work of fiction.

It's a short read, as all Avalon gothics are.  I would recommend to fans of the vintage gothic, as it held my attention fairly well.  I just wish it had 1) been longer and 2) the characters had been fleshed out.

My Rating:
3 Stars

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"The Sleepwalker" by Helen McCloy

Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern Day

I have no idea what time it was when, once again, I became aware of the dark landscape with the silent flicker of lightning along the horizon.

Once again I faced a dark door that must not be opened, two lamps burning on either side of it, one red, one green

How had I got here?  I must go home!

I ran so fast that, like a plane, I became air-borne.  Not merely weightless, like an astronaut in a capsule, but ripping through resistant air with the speed of a jet, hurling over mountains far below with a flash and a  roar.

It was more exhilarating than anything else I have ever experienced or imagined, this flying actively with one's own worrying about landing.  Who ever saw a bird crash on landing?  

Now I was over a sea, banking, circling, descending in a spiral that grew narrower and narrower until there was only myself, a point at the end of a corkscrew, and the dark waters which received me coldly, laving and rocking me in the rise and fall of their billows.

The water was gone.  Everything was gone.

All motion had stopped, from the ponderous wheeling of great galaxies which take billions of years to make a single turn to the lunatic random motion of subatomic particles.  Time itself stopped because time cannot exist without motion...

I was cold.

I groped for a blanket.

My touch couldn't find anything that felt like blanket, but it reached something smooth, hard and cold.  Metal.

There was not metal on my bed.

I opened my eyes.

I was sitting at the wheel of my car, wearing an old raincoat over jeans.  The light came from headlamps and a moon round and radiant as a silver plate...

Back Cover Synopsis:

Marian Tansey appears to be living a happy life. She has great friends, a job in a thrift shop, and she has just bought a new car. She may even be falling in love with Dick Lang, who sold it to her. She could be on top of the world, but there are a few clouds in the sky. 
There is a mystery surrounding the car. It has been 'borrowed' during the night by someone unknown. But most of all there's the frightening fact that, although she hasn't admitted it to any of her friends or colleagues, Marian lost her memory a year or two ago and has no idea who she is. Then, there is a murder...

Best Gothic Elements:  murder, amnesia/fugue, a woman who does not know her own identity stumbles unwittingly into the hands of a killer, missing persons, sleepwalking

During the first fifty pages of this book, I really felt that the whole mystery was going to refer to someone stealing Marian's car and the story would be devoted to finding the culprit....which, to me, sounds like a really boring story with not much depth.

I'm glad I kept reading, though, because there was much more to the story.  What I hated was how none of it was ever really fleshed out.  You never really get to know the life of Mirian before the only get to know her as her new identity as she searches for who she was and why she's sleepwalking.

And when the climax does occur and the secrets are revealed, it is in such a hushed way that you're left wanting more of this story.

The book is easy enough to read (though a bit boring the first 50 or 60 pages).  It does have a creepy, mysterious feel.  So if you're looking for  a quick, cozy read, you'll probably enjoy it.  It's not as much of a gothic romance as I'd hoped.

My Rating:
3 Stars

"Black Candle" by Christine Randell

Published:  1968
Setting:  Modern Day

...I drove off down the unfamiliar lane, then glanced in the driving mirror to see if I was being followed, smiling at myself at the absurdity of the thought.  For who would suspect the nature of my errand, and credit the eccentricity of an old man who thought his savings safer in a barn than in a bank?

I reached the barn with no need to refer to the diagram.  It stood on the edge of the wood as father had described.  The place was so big, solid, and windowless with a heavy creaking door the full length of the building.  I pulled it open and stared uneasily.  Inside it was black as night, and I wished my father had advised me to bring a torch.  The door would not open far but I pulled it as wide as possible to give me the maximum light, then moved inside.  The place was cold and damp, and had a foul smell of decay.  Cautiously I groped my way across the ground, stumbling over some unseen object and hurting my leg.

I stopped to rub my leg, and to try to become accustomed to the gloom.  This errand was not going to be as easy as I had supposed, and I suddenly felt a disturbing sense of apprehension, and wished I had never embarked upon it.  My heart was racing as I moved further into the darkness, then I leaped like  startled cat as the door slammed shut, and the darkness was absolute.

It took a moment or two before I could stumble my way back to the door, where my trembling hands seized the handle and pushed with all my might.  The door did not budge...suddenly reason vanished, and I was pushing and pulling in turn, and felt the wetness of tears on my face.  The door was jammed solid, and could not be budged...

I was a prisoner in this old barn, with no idea when I might be released.  I sank to the ground in hopeless despair, and covered my face to hide the darkness from my eyes...

Back Cover Synopsis:

I could feel that evil things had happened in this house and that evil people had lived here.  Overlaying the chill, the damp, the smell of death and decay, was an overwhelming sense of awareness that evil forces were at work, and had been throughout the centuries.

This is Lorna's first reaction to Maulicrane Farm where she has come to visit her dying father- a father she had never met.  As the days pass, events prove to Lorna that there is still a very real danger at Maulicrane.

At first she believes it is her father who is threatened- kept in a drugged state so that he cannot recover from his mysterious illness.  Suddenly she learns that she herself is the target- the intended victim in a terrifying, deadly plot.

Best Gothic Elements:  buried/lost fortune, heroine who stumbles into the hands of a dying father and stands to inherit his fortune, curses, evil & senile housekeepers, a sick man being held prisoner, exchanging of identities, impostors, murder, faking ones death, ghosts and hauntings, one person drugging the drink of another, heroine is locked in an abandoned barn, Irish Farm, diabolic love affair

This book was easy to read with a mystery well enough designed to keep things paced.  

Lorna loses her mother to a car accident and, left with no family, decides to contact the father she never knew.  Years earlier, Lorna's own mother escaped what she described as an evil place, with Lorna in tow as a young child.  Now, Lorna feels compelled to at least meet the man who fathered her.  

But there is no warm homecoming at Maulicrane Farm, where her father lays, deathly ill.  She arrives on the day of a funeral, but soon will learn the death was her father's close friend, who has placed a curse upon the house prior to his death.

Much of the story consists of Lorna trying to escape the evil, domineering clutches of a crazed housekeeper who intends to keep her father there for her own selfish there is a fortune hidden somewhere and she's hell-bent on getting her hands on it.    Things aren't made easy for Lorna, what with the perverted & dishonest farm help, jealous housekeepers, and a ghost who steals an important piece of jewelry left to her by her mother.  Her only solace in the whole situation is the young English doctor who has befriended, and romanced, her.

But just when Lorna feels she's solved everything...she comes face to face with a horrific truth even more diabolic than any nightmare!

Highly recommend for fans of vintage gothic.  Very original with a surprise twist ending!

My Rating:
4 Stars

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Fatal Affiar" by Velda Johnston (A Short Review)

Published:  1986
Setting:  Modern Day

Book Synopsis:

The inheritance of a condominium in New York, along with a considerable amount of money, brings Betty and Jenny Carr from the small town of Carrsville, Missouri, to the glamorous big city. Betty, the younger of the two sisters, has dreams of becoming a famous dancer. Their sole contact in New York is their unsavory cousin, Colin. Soon Betty takes up with Colin's equally dubious friend, the sleekly sophisticated, middle-aged Antonio Braselmo. Jenny knows little of Betty's affair with Antonio, nor that after months of rejection and disappointment in the theater, Betty has gambled her half of the inheritance on a show that folds after only one performance. Shortly thereafter, Betty disappears, and with only a terse poscard from London as a clue to her whereabouts, Jenny takes off across the Atlantic in search of her sister. There she meets the attractive, sardonic journalist, Mike Baker. From him she learns that Braselmo is a notorious, throughly unscrupulous trafficker in anything that makes money. If Betty is with him, she is in very grave danger indeed. Mike joins Jenny in her desperate search, which leads to a confrontation that is as bizarre as it is deadly. Set in Manhattan, London, Paris, and a mansion high in the Swiss Alps.

Best Gothic Elements:  shattered dreams, missing persons, crime, kidnapping, inheritance, dangerous relative with evil intentions, a secluded glen in the Swiss Alps, a surgeon willing to commit an unthinkable, two sisters torn apart by secrets and lies, businessman who've become rich by crime, money laundering

This is one of my favorites by Velda Johnston thus far.  This book begins with a well-enough sense of mystery and danger, and it only progresses as the terror/mystery deepens the complete span of the book.

I would have to say my favorite thing about this book is the harrowing sense of adventure, and the heroine who is not afraid to bend heaven and hell to save her unsuspecting sister from criminals hell-bent on doing anything (even maiming the beautiful ballerina dancer) for the promise of a quick-made fortune.

The story begins in Manhattan, the girls then travel to Paris...the grand finale occurs in the deep green, rolling hills of the Swiss Alps.

I loved this book.  My only complaint is I wish it had been longer!  Fans of vintage gothic romance will love this story.  Also makes for a great, exciting cozy mystery and is a great mystery, in and of itself.  Highly recommend!

My Rating:
4 Stars

"Shadows on the Lake" by Leona Karr

Published:  2005
Setting:  Modern Day

Relieved  that her aunt seemed to have reluctantly accepted her decision, Courtney began finalizing her departure.  The next morning, she did all their washing and began to pack.  As usual, Devanna ignored her and gave all her attention to the baby.

Toward late afternoon when Jamie went down for a nap, Courtney decided to enjoy one final sunbath on the roof.  

"Good idea.  You've been as pale as a bleached rag lately," her Aunt commented with her usual bluntness.

As she put on her bathing suit, Courtney had a momentary flicker of regret.  Even though the atmosphere inside the houseboat had been oppressive, outside the sun, the beautiful view of the lake, and the pleasant climate had offered her some enjoyable moments.

And then there was Neil...

Her eyes were misty as she turned away from the deck, and started to climb up the narrow ladder.

She made it nearly to the top.

Then it happened!

The ladder suddenly puled away from its fastenings and she was flung backward.

She screamed as she hit the deck railing with such force that it broke, splintered and raked her arms and legs with deep cuts.  One end of hte falling ladder hit her head and propelled her over the side of the houseboat.  Black water drew her down and down.  Kicking and flailing her arms, she barely made it back to the surface...

Back Cover Synopsis:

A lonely houseboat on an isolated dock was not what Courtney Collins expected when she and her infant son arrived at Hidden Cove for the summer.  But their cold, mysterious host was Courtney's reclusive aunt and the only family she had left.

As the days passed, the hostile atmosphere was broken only by their landlord Neil Ellsworth's charming attention to Courtney.

The sexy-but-forever-single businessman offered a strong shoulder for Courtney's uncertain fears and for once Courtney could foresee a happy future.  But her dream was shattered the moment her baby was kidnapped.  With few clues and a nearly spotless crime scene, could Neil hold the key to unlocking the truth?

I had mixed feelings about this book, once completed.  Yes, it was full of action and had a solid mystery from beginning to end...the problem is that from the beginning, we already know what the mystery is.  The mystery was good, but it was completely predictable.

That being said, I also disliked the personalities of both characters.  Courtney was so cold and evasive that it was nearly impossible for anyone to permeate the stone wall she'd become.  And Neil didin't make her want to with all the constant talk of all his women friends he's left in the dust and how he's a 'forever' bachelor.  These two seemed an unlikely pair.  I found it weird that Neil would find all the wealthy, young, beautiful society ladies in his circle unworthy of his time yet he'd find an insane love attraction to a woman with a baby, a mystery, and a shady past.    The romance was unrealistic, but I guess anything can happen.

Despite this, I did read the book in a day.  It was an interesting, quick read.  The author writes well, and there was enough chaos to keep things interesting enough to finish the story.

If you enjoy the Harlequin Intrigue line, I'm sure this book will be enjoyable.  It has a few gothic elements, but this is not a gothic romance.

Best Gothic Elements:   musty old creepy houseboat, a kidnapping, a heroine who has no other family and has come to spend the summer with an eccentric aunt, murder, gunshots that sends a car flying over the edge of a cliff (the hero and heroine barely escaping with their lives)

My Rating:  
3 Stars

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"You'll Like My Mother" by Naomi A. Hintz

Published:  1969
Setting:  Modern Day

"Our Siamese mated with an alley cat. The kittens were no is always true of any species when a thoroughbred mates with a mongrel." 

Her eyes moved over me, came back to my face. And then, almost instantly, as if to deny any intended slur in her words, she gave me that big, brilliant Mother-of-the-Year smile, held it.

Back Cover Blurb Reviews:
If you want your eight hours' sleep, don't start You'll Like My Mother at night, because you'll stay up until you finish it...a completely engrossing tale.
--Charlotte, NC, Observer

This tense and poignant novel of a young widow caught in the diabolic web spun by a monstrous mother-in-law is a shuddering encounter with evil you will not easily forget, if you're a nail-chewer, they'll be bitten to the quick.
--Best Sellers

Compelling, admirers of Rosemary's Baby should attend this birth...
--Book-of-the-Month Club News

Book Summary:
Francesca hasn't had it easy.  After a sordid affair with a professor concluded in a suicide, her own family disowned her.  Though Francesca had never been very close to her step-mother and her half-siblings, it was a dire blow.

She was hiding away in a fisherman's shack on the beach, near-death from a blood-poisoning infection, when Matthew found her.  He whisked her into a world where, at least, she was loved.  She is pregnant when Matthew is killed in Vietnam, and with no family to speak of, she feels it's her duty to at least go meet his mother.

Matthew always promised 'you'll like my mother,' yet the woman refuses to answer any of Francesca's letters.  After much though, she boldly goes to see the woman, uninvited.

There is no warm home-coming...the woman is cold, domineering, and cruel.  In addition to this, Francesca is met with reception of Kathleen, the poor deformed sister of Matthew.

Just as she's had enough of the heart-breaking encounter with Matthews family...the town is flooded, she finds herself forted in the old castle...with a houseful of monsters and secrets, locked doors and lies...and a birth more terrifying than she could ever imagine!

This book held me in it's grip from beginning to end!  The author does an amazing job fleshing out the main character, as well as making every other character, and the terrifying atmosphere of the house, as vivid as if you were standing in it's eerie halls.  It comes as no surprise that this book earned Naomi Hintz the Edgar Allan Poe book nomination and was made into a well-received horror movie starring Patty Duke.  This is a must-read for fans of the vintage gothic romance!

My Rating:
5 Stars

Alternate Cover Art:

"Cries in the Mist" by Stacey Coverstone

Published:  2012
Setting:  Modern Day (1950's)

Before stopping to think, Briony ran down the seashell path to the lighthouse.  She rattled the padlock on the door.

"The light isn't automated.  Who turned it one?  And how did they get inside?"

With her heart galloping, she backed away from the base of the tower and gazed upward.  A woman's face stared at her from the lantern room.  From somewhere inside, a door slammed.

The same fragrance she'd smelled in the cottage last night materialized from out of nowhere and swirled around her.  Briony stumbled to the door again and shook the lock with all her strength.  She had to break the lock and find out who was inside the lighthouse!  Maybe it was Mira.

She ran around to the other side of the tower and searched for a big rock in which to bust the padlock with.  In her haste, her feet slipped out from underneath her.  As a scream burst from her mouth, she slid on the grass and down the sloping bluff.  Digging the heels of her shoes into the ground, her hands snatched at the loose earth.  When her body jolted to a stop, she gasped for breath.  Sea spray misted her face.  Waves pounded the rocks below.

Briony slowly scooted backwards on her elbows and rear end until she was in no further danger of falling over.  Her chest heaved.  If she had gone over, she would have died, and no one would have known...

Book Blurb:

Book One of the Briony Martin Mystery Series. The year is 1955... After discovering a desperate letter from her estranged father, Briony Martin faces one of her many fears and travels from Kansas to the isolated island of Cape Marble, Maine in search of answers. While approaching by water, she spies a lighthouse eerily shrouded in mist. A woman in a long dress appears on the observation deck and then vanishes just as quickly. Could she be the missing woman Briony's father spoke of in his letter? Or one of the many ghosts John Fletcher, Cape Marble's prodigal son returned, has casually mentioned on the ferry ride? Shortly after arriving, Briony learns her father has been murdered. She soon takes on the role of detective and realizes just how many residents had a reason to wish him dead. As the mystery thickens and she uncovers a shocking secret and his chilling connection to the spirits haunting the lighthouse, her paranormal experiences escalate-as does her attraction to John, a man with secrets of his own. Could her father's murder and the woman's disappearance be linked? Whose cries does Briony hear in the lighthouse? And whose face stares at her from the lantern room? Is the alluring John a friend or foe? One thing is for certain. If Briony doesn't watch her step, she may lose both her heart and her life.

Setting:   An eerie, isolated house/lighthouse on the secluded Cape Marble off the coast of Maine.

Plot:  After receiving a letter from the father who abandoned her family years earlier, Briony feels it is her duty to go to her father.  But when she arrives to the island...her father is missing as well as the woman whom her father lived with.  Soon Briony will discover that her father is dead.  Some on the island believe he was murdered because of his illegal abortion operation.  Others only urge Briony to leave the island forever.  One thing is for certain...something haunts the lighthouse, and someone wants her dead!

Gothic Elements:  murder, graveyards, secluded island, unfriendly residents, hidden notebooks and journals, ghosts, a haunted lighthouse, illegal operations, a creepy old empty house where the heroine resides.

Romance:  a bit of romance seems to blossom between the main character and a local, who rescues her from peril.

I love this book.  Another reader described the book as a story of nonstop action, and I have to agree.  From beginning to end, there wasn't a boring moment.  No droning of unnecessary conversation, no boring elongated details.  This book was the perfect rainy day read.  With invigorating descriptions and an atmospheric mystery, the author really seems to immerse the reader into the dark and gloomy atmosphere the main character has walked into on the island of Cape Marble.  Very enjoyable contemporary read that unfolds much in the fashion of the vintage gothic romance!  I hope to read more books by this author!

My Rating:
5 Stars

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Invitation to Paradise" by Lesley Howard (A Short Review)

Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern Day

I was looking for some way of escape when I heard the door open.  I was hidden around a corner, but I could tell from shadows on the wall that whoever had come in was carrying a lamp.  

There was nothing big enough to hide behind except a large sofa, and that was such an obvious place that I was growing panicky as the shadows moved around.  I thought of the painting- who would think of looking there if I could manage to get behind it?  By kneeling down I was able to squeeze in quietly.  I held my breath as I listened to someone move on the couch, then stand listening.  I watched in horror as the light got brighter on the little area of the wall I could see.  Then someone was breathing close by, and I knelt, paralyzed like a rabbit, wondering if my thundering heart would give me away.

Would they never go, I was thinking, when the painting was suddenly kicked in against me where I knelt on the floor.  I was discovered- there was nothing I could do...

Book Synopsis:

Cleo travels from her home in New York to tropical Sardinelle, a tiny island right off St. Tropez.  She's been assigned (by a prestigious author of historical novels) to explore some Roman ruins for details that are required for a book.

Yet, the expedition doesn't go quite as planned.  She finds herself being stalked by falcons, trained by barbaric 'Arabs' who are on the island operating in illegal business matters.  As she's climbing the mountain edge, she hears someone call for help and finds herself rescuing a young man from the certain death of being stranded on the side of the cliff.  He says he is certain he was chased off the cliff edge by falcons.

Mark says he came to the island in search of his sister, Olivia, who went missing while on vacation.  Mark believes Olivia has been kidnapped and is to be soon sold into human trafficking.

Cleo finds herself pulled into the dangerous world of looted treasure, kidnapping, and murder amidst the beauty of a strange paradise...but will she survive...will she find love?

This book was decent for a hot, lazy summer read.

I enjoyed the setting of paradise and the story-line of human trafficking as you don't see many romance mysteries with such dire social issues (particularly in the vintage gothics).

I know the book was written in the early 70's, but I couldn't help but feel it was a bit racist in the light that it displayed Arab people.  But back then, I suppose even the topic of human trafficking was probably was the author brave, or just stupid?

There were a few scary moments, all in all the book was just a series of odd events all strung together.

The most gothic elements included:  a dagger being found under a pillow, someone being entrapped in the caves of a ruined Roman temple, the main character was locked inside a brick shack and left to dig her way out or die, an overtly sweet housekeeper, a cat was crucified against someone's window panes (a bit gory for me!), kidnapping, murder, smuggled Egyptian treasures.

The characters were not fleshed out well.  And I had trouble finding an emotional attachment to the main character.

If you like vintage gothics, I'm sure you'd enjoy it.  

My Rating:

3 Stars

"An Afternoon Walk" by Dorothy Eden

Published:  1972
Setting:  Modern Day


shattered the peaceful sun-drenched afternoon.

The voice was the voice of a stranger. "Am I speaking to Mrs. Simpson?"

"Yes," said Ella tersely. "I am Mrs. Simpson."

"The very lady I want. Just a word of advice, love. Drive carefully."

The caller hung up abruptly.

Not that Ella would have wanted to talk to him. She hated the sound of his voice. Very vulgar. But why was he calling her all the time? Warning her? About lots of things. Even about her small daughter, Kitty.

"Do you know where Kitty is?" the voice threatened.

Her husband didn't believe a word of it. Told her she was imagining things. That she was loony.

He also didn't believe about the old, empty house she and Kitty had stumbled upon a few afternoons ago.

But she had seen the house. And so had Kitty. And now that she thought about it she realized that all her troubles had begun with the visit to that house.

There was something dark and evil about the place. Something terrible. But what? And who would believe her even if she did find out?

Book Synopsis:

On a leisurely afternoon walk one summer day Ella and her five-year-old daughter come upon an abandoned house with an eerie overgrown garden. For the attractive young housewife and her imaginative child, the old house conjures up fantasies of grand parties and bygone fashions. But in the midst of the reverie they hear a horrible, throaty scream and, from a second-story window, see the spreading white wings of an owl taking flight.

At home that evening, Ella describes the experience to her husband, Max, only to be reminded that, having recently lost a child at birth, she is still emotionally unstable. Later, pointing out her strange lapses of memory, he insists that she needs more quiet and rest. Ella reluctantly agrees with him and all but forgets the experience, even though she feels it is somehow connected with the sudden disappearance of a woman in the neighborhood.

Then she begins receiving a series of anonymous phone calls. Trapped between the cold neglect of her husband, who openly questions her sanity, and the increasing terror of the calls, which hint that her child is in danger, Ella herself comes to question her own sanity...

Setting:  A safe, boring house in the suburbs where the family resides.  

Plot:  Ella (stay-at-home housewife and mother to five-year-old kitty) and kitty take a long walk one hot summer day and discover a beautiful old abandoned Victorian house.  Though the house has been neglected and is falling apart, they fall in love with it's extravagant ballroom and the over-grown garden of wildflowers.  Though a screeching own horrifies them both momentarily, they vow to visit the old house and it's imaginary family again.  Yet, as Ella walks away she gets a peculiar feeling of danger, as if footsteps are following them.  As her fascination for the house grows a succession of prank phone calls and warnings of danger begin, yet her own husband tries to convince her she's gone mad.  Suddenly the news story of the kidnapping of a local woman takes center stage in this bizarre mystery.

Gothic Elements:  A gossiping house-keeper & gardener.  An old ramshackle Victorian house.  Footsteps.  A kidnapping.  Murder.  Prank phone calls.  Ominous threats to one's life and family.  The heroine being victimized and brainwashed.  A sensitive, quiet writer as the hero.  An disloyal husband.

Romance:  There's not much romance inside this book.  The marriage of the main character is compromised.  However, toward the end there are overtones of  romance that may blossom between the heroine and her neighbor, who is also a bit of the hero in the story.

I really enjoyed this book.  I totally found myself immersed in the summery atmosphere, particularly where the old Victorian house is concerned.  I love the descriptions of it's empty rooms, the imaginary family that Ella and Kitty concoct for it, and the creepy talk of footsteps on the overgrown garden full of wildflower.  All the talk of summer, flowers, and the weather really gets one in the mood for some hot weather.

I felt the mystery was rather engaging, although the telephone calls get a bit redundant.  

The characters in this story were pretty well fleshed out.  I empathized with Ella and despised her cold-hearted husband.  

Overall, it's not the best mystery book out there but it is a fun, relaxing, interesting read of the vintage gothic genre.

My Rating:

Alternate Cover Art


Friday, May 15, 2015

"Karamour" by Ariadne Pritchett

Published:  1968
Setting:  Historical

Her sleep was disturbed by a slowly growing sense of uneasiness.  Something was tugging her toward wakefulness.  The strange conversation at dinner leaped into her mind.  Nancy had lied to Hawks.  But why?  She opened her eyes, and in that instant a bolt of lightning slashed across the sky.  Then the room was plunged into blackness.  Again and again the lightning flamed white hot, and in the black sky the thunder smashed down on Karamour.

Suddenly, in the fury of light and sound, Enid realized that her terrifying experience on the rocks earlier in the day was no accident.  Someone had tried to kill her.

Book Blurb:

They had found her unconscious on a lonely stretch of beach along the Cornish Coast -- a beautiful stranger cast up from the sea.

Now half out of her mind with fever and confusion, she found herself an unwilling guest in the gloomy old mansion of the mysterious Mr. Hawks whose wealth and power no one dared to defy.

Only Hanna, the superstitious housekeeper, foresaw that the girl's presence meant trouble. "I see bad things, I see death in the fire," she said. Hawks laughed at her. But she was right -- horribly, terribly right...

This book began well enough.  Enid is aboard a ship with her two charges when it crashes into the cliffs and goes down.  By some miracle, Enid is the only person aboard the ship who survives but as she is brought to shore, she's rescued by the enigmatic, rich Hawks, known in the tiny town for his wealth and mystery.

As Enid is whisked away to the big, gloomy mansion of Hawks (who is displayed as a savior of sorts), she's met with a hellish nightmare...a malicious housekeeper who wishes her dead, voodoo spells, a jealous mistress who rivals for Hawks, lies, deception, and the bitter, horrifying truth that someone had actually planned her murder!

Honestly, I was hoping to like this book...but the constant head-bouncing from character to character was exhausting (and confusing) and it takes away from the feel of growing suspense.  It's hard to feel suspense when you never know what's really going on!

As if that weren't enough, with the sketchy plot that's all over the place, the characters in this story are just....loathsome!  I found myself hating every single one of them, even the idiotic main character.  I know this is meant to be a historical novel but inside this book, women were displayed as merely merchandise that men claimed as personal valuables.  Even the women were horrible to each other.  And the men weren't just the regular old thieves or men who'd claimed old, they were ruthless, heartless killers...almost all of them!

I completed this book because I hate unfinished stories.  I would not recommend it, though!

My rating:
2 Stars

"Someone is Watching" by Penelope Fields (A Short Review)

Published:  1976
Setting:  Modern Day

"What happened next is blurred in memory.  I know I panicked...with an increasing certainty of that presence behind me, my hand reached along the wall to my right for a door to any room, found one, opened it.  I was sure the only audible indication of my exit from the hall was a slight click of the latch as I closed the door behind me.  Darkness here.  I strained but could perceive no graying rectangles of windows.  When I tried to secure the door behind me I felt an old-fashioned keyhole and no key, nor did my touch discover a bolt or any other means for locking it.  

Pushed through a maze of passages, never did cross the tiled kitchen, but at last, through several small rooms I did no recognize, I reached the dining room.  Even in the country blackness of this November night its light walls gave off a kind of pale ambience and I could make out the vague dark outlines of its heavy furniture.  To the loggia, I thought, and was cheered, remembering its many french windows that could open to freedom.

My cheer was premature.  Before I could reach the loggia, I heard faint and very human footsteps on the kitchen tiles.  The footsteps stopped, as if someone were listening.

I began to run.

Down the loggia and off its center rug I ran, and now across the bare tiles to the french doors on the right- giving my position away, but no help for it.  The doors were locked, the three I had time to try.  If they were only bolted, I could not find the bolts.  And then I heard breathing.  Behind me.  Frantic.  I ran again.  I veered in what I hoped was the direction of the front door.  Stumbling and confused in the darkness, I thought I was cornered, when suddenly I touched the solid carved panels of the front door, wrenched it open,a nd flung myself into the open air.

But my pursuer was after me and now I could hear those footsteps.  My eyes by now were discerning some slight gradations in the outdoor darkness, and I tried to use that slight to keep from falling.  Across gravel, across soft dirt and spongy turf.  I had no plan except to outrun my pursuer- if I could.  I could feel his hot breath on my neck.  I put on a burst of speed, the last I had, and just as my feet touched  solid paving I slipped and staggered, then wheeled to right myself.  Then a great pain crashed into my head.  

Book Blurb:

Lonely after the death of her father, Brenda Wilcox is resigned to a humdrum life in Seattle.  One day a letter arrives from a great-aunt whom her father had never mentioned, inviting Brenda to live with her.  A stroke of amazing good fortune, the letter seems to offer Brenda both a home and a heritage she never anticipated, and she flies to San Francisco to join her great-aunt Mariel.

But someone is watching, watching even in Seattle, where her apartment is ransacked; watching perhaps on the plane, where she meets attractive and sympathetic Jonathan Weatherby; watching certainly at the Palo Alto motel where she receives a threatening phone call; and watching most of all at La Casa del Sol, the enormous mansion nestled in the peninsula hills that is to be Brenda's future- and perhaps her destruction.

Yet this glorious old house proves to be irresistible to Brenda, its strength and grace dating from the days of the Spanish land grants, its luxury and languor recalling the parties of Aunt Muriel's heyday, when celebrities roamed the vast rooms and the classic adobe walls were smothered in new wealth.  But even as Brenda begins to explore her legacy, the romance turns menacing and the once-inviting pieces of family history begin to form the jigsaw puzzle of a nightmare.  The warning signals are everywhere:  the figure who follows Brenda across Seattle, the "accidents" that become too frequent to ignore, the very sounds in the dark.  Someone must be watching.  But who?

And then Aunt Muriel dies...

With it's California setting at striking contemporary characters,  Someone is Watching brings new variations and high suspense to this popular genre of romantic entertainment.

Despite that wonderfully long and flowery blurb on the front and back flaps of the book jacket, this story offered absolutely nothing new to the Gothic Romance genre.

Actually, the story was one of the many recycled variations on the poor, silly girl who roams aimlessly into the great sidewalks of a city, unaware that a regal last relative somewhere (who is also dying) has a vast inheritance just awaiting her.

This book drove me crazy with the weird sequence of events.  The characters were interesting enough, but the story and events just did not add up.

I finished this book solely because I'm just stubborn that way...the ending was rushed and seemed like the author decided she should hurry and pin one of the characters as the guilty party.  The end did not make sense, nor tie in well, with the beginning.

Don't bother with this one...unless you're abandoned on an island and it washes up...then I guess, if you're bored enough, bore yourself some more!

My Rating:
2 Stars

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Creep Out (A Ghostly Short Story)

Mary Ann shivered in the darkness and pulled the cardigan tighter around her shoulders.  October had brought with it freezing weather and foggy nights, she could see her breath rise into the air as she stood there momentarily lost in thought.  The graveyard lay eerily before her, it’s many headstones peeking up from the ground like stone hands ready to grasp unsuspecting victims and drag them into clammy, decayed graves.

She crossed her arms, as if to yield out any more morbid thoughts, and scanned the crowd for a familiar face.  She was attending the 30th Annual Creep Out, a gala celebration that the Liberal School of Arts carried out by tradition come every Halloween.  Every year students gathered around the town’s old graveyard for a bonfire, ghost stories and a nightly camp-out.  Mary Ann was a freshman and had never attended the event, and now that she stood there alone, her childhood fear of graveyards was quickly returning.

She swallowed hard and turned her back to the graveyard as she made her way to the refreshment table.  A few moments later, a plate full of junk food and a Coke in tow, she scoured the area for a place to sit.  There were some benches but all were filled.  Someone had pulled some overturned tree logs out from the wooded area surrounding the graveyard as makeshift seats.

Mary Ann weaved her way through the crowd and sat down on one of the logs, she preferred an empty one.  She ate quietly in the comfort of her own company as she observed the huge crowd.  One student had brought a boom box and many kids were laughing and dancing in a small circle around the bon fire.  A bunch of benches on the far right side of the graveyard held a rambunctious group of screeching students and smiling faces.

“I probably won’t stay here for long,” she contemplated quietly to herself while eating.

After all, she hadn’t brought a sleeping bag and the night was getting colder with each tick of the clock.  Wind blew blonde strands of hair into her face and fog had gathered quickly on the horizon, engulfing the graveyard and surrounding the students in a chilling gray illumination.  She was cold, alone, and knew she could never have a good time with that huge expanse of tombstones laying behind her.

“Care for some company?”

Mary Ann looked up into the face of a very cute boy.  The wind had whipped dark bangs into his eyes and his lips upturned a huge smile fit for mouthwash commercials.  Although she’d never met him before, she was grateful for the distraction of his company.

“Sure, have a seat,” she smiled back as she nodded her head towards the plate balanced between her knees. “I was just chowing down on hotdogs and chips.”

“My name’s Ian McGomery,” he extended his hand for a shake.

“Oh, Mary Ann,” she swallowed the remaining mouthful of chips before wiping greasy hands on her jeans and shaking his hand.  “Wow, you’re freezing!  But so am I, I’m thinking about leaving soon.”  She shivered and mumbled an appreciative ’thank you’ when he offered her his scarf.

“Nice to meet you,” Ian flashed another toothy smile.  “You mean you don’t enjoy hanging out in graveyards?”  He laughed heartily at his joke.

Mary Ann talked to the soft-spoken stranger for a while and was delighted to discover that he, like herself, was majoring in Journalism and earning a minor in Creative Writing.  They also shared the same appreciation  for old 70’s music like The Beatles and old school Aerosmith.  The two proved to have much in common and she was truly mesmerized by his good looks and shy charm.

She was sad when he declared suddenly, “I’m really tired, I think I’ll head back home.”

“Oh wait,”  Mary Ann dug into her shoulder bag for a pencil and some scrap paper.  “Can I have your number, I’d love to hang out sometime, perhaps we can help each other with our writing.”

“Of course,” Ian quickly scribbled his number on the post-it note and leaned close to offer Mary Ann a small hug.

“Gees,” she smiled into his beautiful blue eyes.  “It’s a good thing we are both leaving, you are about to freeze to death!”

“No chance in that happening,” a smirked danced across his lips and his eyes clouded over.

They parted at the graveyard entrance, Ian went east towards Madison Drive and she went West and headed back to the dorm.  She wondered for a moment why Ian wasn’t walking towards the dorms and then realized with a nervous laugh that he must live off campus.  He did say he was a senior so he probably lived in a frat house in another part of the neighborhood.

Once she was standing safely in her dorm room she tried to shake the thought that she’d spent three hours of Halloween night hanging out in a creepy graveyard.

“Well, at least I met a nice guy,” she reasoned as she pulled off her jacket.

Much to her dismay she realized she’d forgotten to return Ian’s scarf before they parted.  Oh well, she wanted a good excuse to call him anyway and his scarf was just as good as any.  She quickly dug his number from the mess inside her purse and the plucked the receiver from it’s place on the wall.

“Hello,” said a cheery female voice after just two rings.  Mary Ann’s heart dropped.  Perhaps he lived with his girlfriend, or worse, his wife, in off campus housing.

“Hi,” Mary Ann began after collecting her bearings.  “Can I speak with Ian, please?”

“Who is this?”  The lady clearly sounded angry.

“My name is Mary Ann, I was just calling to remind Ian that I still have his scarf,”  Mary Ann explained quickly.  “He let me borrow it earlier this evening at the Creep Out.”

“Nice joke,”  the lady sounded like she was choking back tears.  “This happens every year, please don’t call again.”

“What, what are you talking about?” Mary Ann was confused by the mannerisms of the lady on the other end of the telephone line.

“Ian was killed 27 years ago,” the woman spat between sobs.  “In a freak accident on Halloween night.  Now please, don’t ever call here again.”

The phone line went dead and Mary was astounded.  She reach up to her neck for the scarf, but it was gone.

(Written by Stacy Lynn Mar)