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Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall’

blackrabbitA spooky old house. Skeletons in the attic. Ghosts on the stairs. Two first-time novelists have gone gothic. I am so there.

Two young women’s family secrets intertwine in Eve Chase’s atmospheric Black Rabbit Hall (Putnam, digital galley). London schoolteacher Lorna Dunaway wants to hold her upcoming wedding in picturesque Cornwall, where her family vacationed when she was a child. Pencraw Hall calls out to her from a website, but its reality is altogether different. Black Rabbit Hall, as the locals call it, is sadly neglected, with ivy tugging on its crumbling walls, flowers pushing up from the floorboards, rainwater dripping from holes in the ceiling. Still, the elderly woman hovering over the premises tells Lorna it could be a charming venue and suggests she stay a couple of days.

Readers already know via an alternating storyline that Black Rabbit Hall was once the happy summer home of the Alton family. But in 1969, mother Nancy was killed in a riding accident, and the magical, carefree days ended for her grief-stricken husband and four children. Teenage Amber tries to cope with her angry twin Toby, young rascal Barney and baby sister Kitty, but things worsen when her father remarries an old friend Caroline, with a smile “like a paper cut” and an enigmatic teenage son Lucian. The stage is set for further tragedy, including forbidden love and treacherous lies.

Chase’s writing is seductive as she moves between Lorna learning about Black Rabbit Hall’s history and Amber living that very past. That the two story lines will merge is inevitable, but Chase keeps readers in suspense. If you like Kate Morton’s novels, book a trip to Black Rabbit Hall.

evangelineI have some reservations about Hester Young’s busy The Gates of Evangeline (Putnam, review copy), which oozes Southern gothic with its Louisiana plantation, abandoned sugar mill and ominous, gator-filled swamps. Narrator Charlotte “Charlie” Cates is a divorced journalist who, after the death of her four-year-old son from a brain aneurysm, has disturbing, strangely prescient dreams about young children needing her help. One such dream features a little boy in a boat adrift on a bayou, and when she arrives at the historic Evangeline plantation to research a true crime book, Charlie immediately recognizes the place. Could the little boy be young Gabriel Deveau, who disappeared from his bedroom in 1982 and was never seen again? Charlie  immediately plunges into the family mystery, asking questions of ailing matriarch Hettie, secretive son Andre, his conniving sisters, and various members of the household — the too-handsome estate manager, the friendly young cook, and a visiting landscaper. She makes friends with the local sheriff and his wife, who are also grieving a child’s loss.

All this is well and good, and Young makes Charlie’s visions believable. Her often irrational behavior is another thing. She falls into bed and in love with a man with whom she has little in common and knows little about. She tackles witnesses head-on, leaps to conclusions and walks into traps. She’s also an elitist snob, constantly comparing her Northern lifestyle and sophistication to the uneducated Southern rubes she’s dealing with. This is supposed to be the first book in a trilogy, but I’m not sure I’d read a second unless Young quits condescending to readers and her characters with unneeded snippets of  “dem and dose” dialect. Shame on her and her editor.

Open Book: I want to note that The Gates of Evangeline is a winter selection of the She Reads online book club, http://www.shereads.org. The web site is a great resource for readers and features reviews, author interviews, Q & As,  and recommendations in a blog-post format. I’ve been an e-mail subscriber for five years now, receiving the posts by founders and authors Ariel Lawhon and Marybeth Whalen several times a week. I also recently joined the She Reads Blog Network, a group of book bloggers who review She Reads selections on their individual sites from time to time and link to She Reads. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this literary community. Check it out!

 

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ladyvioletI dined today with Lady Violet. Not really, but I did have Sunday dinner with my mother and several of her friends, all of whom now are of the age the Dowager Countess was back then, in 1925. All were looking forward, too, to the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, which begins its American run on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre tonight. Although they’ve already bid farewell to Downton Abbey in the UK, with the finale airing Christmas Day, none of the ladies I was with went looking for spoilers on Google beforehand. Not that they don’t know their way around an iPad or a laptop, thank you very much. But they are anticipating the pleasures of reacquainting themselves with the Crawley family, upstairs and downstairs, certain that writer Julian Fellowes can be counted on to deliver the requisite drama.

Indeed, Downton Abbey has been rife with love, loss, scandal and the challenges posed by a changing world, or as the New York Times listed in a quiz about the characters: Shattering Heartbreak, Money Trouble, Forbidden Desire, Child Tribulations, Devastating Betrayal, Physical Misery, Blackmail Travails. Most of the main characters have been beset by multiple woes.

lakehouseDownton Abbey is like a good novel, and not surprisingly, it has been good for publishing, not only with the popularity of official companion volumes, but with the renewed interest in family sagas set in World War I or post-war Britain. I’ve recommended many over the last five years, but the only novel I’ve read recently that sort of falls in that category is Kate Morton’s The Lake House (Atria, digital galley). In 1930s Cornwall, the wealthy Edevane family is visited by tragedy when their youngest child, 11-month-old Theo, vanishes from the nursery during a midsummer’s eve party. The case is never solved, and in 2003, disgraced young police detective Sadie Sparrow, stumbles on the abandoned manor house while visiting her grandfather in Cornwall. She’s intrigued by the case and also by the fact that famous mystery novelist Alice Edevane, a child when her brother disappeared, is still alive but has never returned to Cornwall. Morton shifts the story between past and present as Sadie investigates the cold case and as Alice recalls in vivid detail the events of that fateful summer. It’s a Downton-kind of saga, evoking a bygone time and many family secrets.

turnerhouseBut the Brits are not the only ones who write family sagas. If what interests you is how generations of a flawed family are torn and bound by secrets over time, then check out Angela Flournoy’s absorbing first novel, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley), which was a National Book Award finalist. The house on Yarrow Street on Detroit’s East Side is about as far away from Downton as you might imagine, but for 50 years it was the home of Francis and Viola Turner and their 13 children. In the 1940s, the neighborhood was a comfortable one for a working-class black family, but by 2008, the recession has wrecked the East Side. The house is nowhere near its mortgaged value, and the clan must make some decisions. Flournoy focuses on three of the Turner offspring — truck driver Cha-Cha, young police officer Troy, and baby sister and gambling addict Lelah — and also includes flashbacks tracing Francis and Viola’s migration from the South. Social history, family history, American history. Also, Shattering Heartbreak, Money Trouble, Child Tribulation, Devastating Betrayal, etc., etc

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moonriseLast night I went in search of Manderley. Or rather, one of my  copies of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca, which is 75 this year. I have both a paperback with a scarlet R emblazoned on the front and an old blue hardcover purchased at a long-ago library sale. It’s a book I come back to again and again, and I’ve promised myself another a reread as soon as I finish writing about some more recent gothic tales.

Cassandra King’s Moonrise (Maiden Lane Press, digital galley) is a fond homage to du Maurier’s tale, with just enough plot parallels to remind readers of Rebecca and enough differences to make it a good stand-alone. The title refers to a mountainside mansion in Highlands, N.C., with a nocturnal garden that glows under the full moon. It’s also the summer home of charismatic newsman Emmet Justice’s first wife, Rosalyn, killed in a highway accident less than a year ago. Her close friends and grown daughter are still mourning her death when Emmet returns to Moonrise with his second wife, Florida divorcee and TV cooking show host Helen Honeycutt.

Some mystery surrounds Rosalyn’s death and some oddities suggest Moonrise may be haunted, but King is more interested in the complexities of long friendships and second marriages tested by jealousy, obsession and betrayal. She ups the tension by rotating the present-tense narrative among three women: Helen, living in Rosalyn’s house in Rosalyn’s shadow; Willa, the local property manager on whom the friends rely; and Tansy, a sharply observant Atlanta socialite who may or may not be on Helen’s side. Overall, Moonrise reminded me less of Rebecca and more of Anne Rivers Siddons’ novel Islands, another good Southern gothic.

eloiseJudy Finnigan’s first novel Eloise (Redhook, digital galley) is set in du Maurier’s atmospheric Cornwall and sounds a bit like Rebecca, at least in the beginning: “Yesterday I almost saw her. . .She wasn’t there, of course. How could she be, when I had seen her lying in her coffin just two weeks ago, two days before she was buried…”

Cathy is grieving her best friend Eloise, whose death from breast cancer has sent her reeling. Because she’s also recovering from a nervous breakdown, Cathy has trouble convincing people, primarily her psychiatrist husband, that Eloise is also haunting her dreams, begging her to protect her twin daughters from their father. OK, Eloise took some secrets to her grave that Cathy begins to uncover, but the many allusions to du Maurier and Wuthering Heights can’t plug the holes in the plot.

tidesHannah Richell’s  The House of Tides (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley) is more Rosamund Pilcher family saga than du Maurier gothic, but it does feature a shabby mansion on the Dorset coast. The Tides family has a love/hate relationship with Clifftops, especially Helen, a classics professor who lets her husband talk her into moving to his family’s ancestral pile. When tragedy strikes, family members fly apart, taking their secrets with them. A decade later, younger sister Dora returns to Clifftops, seeking to reconcile with her mother and with older sister Cassie. Richell’s tale moves back and forth in time, dropping clues as to what really happened that day on the beach.

darkwaterAfter my mom introduced me to Rebecca and du Maurier’s other works when I was about 11 or 12, I became hooked on the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt and Dorothy Eden. I still have all my Stewarts — mostly paperbacks — but the box with all the others disappeared years ago when someone broke into my apartment storage locker. When Sourcebooks started rereleasing Holt in paperback a couple of years ago, I quickly pounced on Mistress of Mellyn and Bride of Pendorric. Now they’re coming out as e-books, and I just reread The Shivering Sands. Similarly, Dorothy Eden’s going digital and so far I’ve picked up old favorites Ravenscroft (Open Road  Media, purchased e-book) and Darkwater (Open Road Media, digital galley) and relished their gothic delights. I also found an Eden I’d missed, Waiting for Willa (Open Road Media, digital galley), which turned out to be a 20th-century mystery set in the trendy crime-book country of Sweden. Lots of chills and even a mysterious mansion. Which reminds me: I’m off to Manderley.

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