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Posts Tagged ‘romantic suspense’

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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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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The three Bronte sisters wrote only a handful of books between them, but their influence is legion. Add in their peculiar lives in a Yorkshire parsonage, and you have the stuff of novels. Imagine moldering mansions, lonely children, crazy kin, starcrossed lovers, brooding heroes, poverty-stricken heroines, family secrets, a legacy of lies. The Brontes have been there, done that. There even are T-shirts.

But a good Gothic is hard to resist, especially if you first read Jane Eyre as an impressionable teenage girl. Reader, what a a story!

College professor and writer April Lindner is still enthralled. She makes her YA debut, Jane,  with a fond contemporary update of Jane Eyre.

Jane Moore, low on self-esteem and funds, has to drop out of Sarah Lawrence when her parents are killed in a traffic accident, and her selfish older siblings inherit the stuff that’s worth anything. Jane’s smarts, determination and lack of celebrity-awareness get her a job as nanny to brooding bad-boy rock star Nico Rathborn’s 5-year-old daughter. At Thornfield Hall, no less. Want to guess who lives in the attic?

Lindner faithfully follows the original story for the most part. It’s fun to see what details she changes to suit the times — after the wedding-day shocker, for example, Jane runs away and works in a soup kitchen with a handsome seminary student planning a mission to Haiti. That world-weary Mr. Rathborn (“call me Nico”) falls for pragmatic, good-hearted Jane isn’t all that incredible; her prissy moralizing after she’s already slept with him is more so.  Still, most jarring of all, is that well-read Jane Moore has apparently never heard of Jane Eyre, the book or many movie adaptation. Clueless.

Jane Eyre is referenced several times in the historical mystery The Distant Hours, by Australian Kate Morton. Following the successful formula of her previous novels — The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden — Morton leisurely layers Gothic details with classic romantic suspense, jumping back and forth among several time periods. The Distant Hours is a rich confection with lots of frosting.

“It started with a letter.” A letter, it turns out, that was lost for 50 years, and whose sudden arrival in the early 1990s stuns Edie Burchill’s mother, Meredith, who doesn’t want to talk about it. But the letter sets Edie on the trail of her mum’s history as a 13-year-old wartime evacuee at Milderhurst Castle, home of Raymond Blythe, author of a popular horror book, The True Tale of The Mud Man, and his three daughters. The elder sisters are twins, Percy and Saffy, and they have spent their youth looking after their increasingly demented father and their younger sister Juniper, who is subject to emotional spells and lapses of memory.

If all this sounds complicated, it is, because everyone, including all of the above, plus a handsome soldier and a former housekeeper, have secrets to spare. As kindly Mrs. Bird, manager of the B&B, says to Edie, ” ‘They can surprise us, can’t they, our parents? The things they got up to before we were born.’ ”  Edies agrees: ‘Almost like they were real people once.’ ”

Open Book: I purchased the e-book version of April Lindner’s Jane (Little, Brown), and received an advance copy of Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours (Atria) as part of a web promotion. While reading them, and rereading Jane Eyre, I consumed vast quantities of tea and quite enjoyed myself.

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