Tag Archives: ghosts

The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe

It’s lucky that The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe was a novella because there wasn’t too much of a plot to keep our interest. It’s my understanding that Hestia, a local witch, claimed to be the daughter of Lord DeLisle and placed a curse on his two daughters when he refused to accept a patently false paternity. First Aunt Evelyn Brauning and then Lady Claire Deering’s own mother went mad. Madalane was placed in the Ticehurst Asylum whose treatment ended with her unintended fatality. The loss affected both father and daughter with dad removing himself from society as much as possible and Claire being dubbed the Mad Daughter. She accepts this label convinced that she can never marry or have children because she is destined to meet the same fate as her mom. Theodore Lockwood, Earl of Ashbrooke, her childhood playmate, has secretly been in love with Claire, and follows her to Keyvnor Castle in Cornwall for the reading of Lord Brauning’s will. She reveals her inner most thoughts and he tries to logically explain that her fears are nonsense, but some supernatural phenomena convinces him that perhaps there’s more to the story. Together that find a way to reverse the curse so they can be together.

Teddy has remained a virgin saving himself for his beloved Claire. After getting caught together in a storm in the middle of a maze, Claire decides to allow herself one moment of passion as long as Teddy takes precautions. He kind of knows what to do and gets some sort of satisfaction, but it certainly didn’t seem to set off any major fireworks for her, and honestly, it wasn’t too exciting for the reader either. His method of birth control also left much to be desired.

The best part of this Regency Romance was the ceremony of the Bocka Morrow Coven of witches who want to undo the harmful spell which the now deceased Hestia inflicted on the innocent sisters.

The plot moved forward mainly through the reflections of the two main characters, often repetitive. Better to have used the space to develop the secondary characters (or give some more depth to Clare and Teddy), many who I assume will be players in future novels in the series. There were a few apparitions who make a brief appearance that also might be of importance later. Referring to the movements of a few unexplained ghosts and revealing a raving woman with dementia locked in the attic does not make this a gothic novel, especially when these random acts are disconnected from the central story.

Luckily the book was short enough for a quick read without getting too annoyed by Monroe’s style of employing numerous means of expressing the same sentiment. This title was previously included in the Mystified Anthology.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ironweed by William Kennedy

When you hear the expression, the dead are always with us, it is meant figuratively, but in the life of Francis Phelan the phrase is literal. As a one-time grave digger, his dearly departed father (hit by a train) and shrew of a mother corpse are aware of his presence as he pays his respects to an infant son whose life was inadvertently cut short when Phelan’s slippery fingers dropped the baby on his head.

Francis began life as a talented young man who helped his neighbors and excelled at baseball, playing in the major leagues. He married and started a family, but life got in the way when during a union strike he killed one of the scab workers and ended up on the run. Eventually he returned home but with the death of baby Gregory he left for good, unable to face the consequences of his actions. Life as a vagrant became the norm, bumming drinks and cigarettes, hunting for a place to spend the night, wearing the same set of clothes until they fell apart at the seams with something as simple as a shoe lace becoming an expense beyond his means.

In 1938 jobs were scarce especially for drunkards who weren’t even allowed a cot at the Salvation Army (unless sober). Once again in Albany, Francis does a couple of day gigs to make a few bucks here and there which he wastes on booze. An angry drunk, there is still a bit of kindness in his heart as he places a blanket on a woman who ends up dead from the cold, and finds a place for his longtime friend Helen to sleep so she doesn’t meet the same fate. As he travels through the old neighborhood he is followed by the ghosts from his past giving him an opportunity to make amends for his numerous misdeeds.

Although beautifully descriptive with some subtle humor, Ironweed is definitely not a feel good book, filled with filth, sex, violence, and despair. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, I was taken aback at some of the crude, graphic sexual references despite their crass realism. Women do not come out on the good end of the stick, often using their “assets” for a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. The grittiness is a grim reminder that home and hearth are a privilege to be treasured.

William Kennedy wrote a series of books about Albany utilizing recurring characters or their descendants. A parallel book, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, involves a difficult predicament facing Phelan’s eldest son who meets up with his dad, convincing him that nobody in the family holds a grudge, then slipping him some funds and inviting him to stop by for a visit.

In Ironweed, Francis decides to purchase a turkey with these proceeds and arrives at his former home with this somewhat of a peace offering. His wife, Annie, remaining true to him over the past twenty two years, welcomes him back, no questions asked, for as long as he’s willing to stay. A visit to the attic locates a trunk filled with Phelan’s belongings, including a suit of clothes. Now cleaned up and snazzily dressed he saunters off to catch up with his derelict friends knowing he has an open invitation to return to his family if and when he chooses. Memories flood his mind as he visits old haunts, some not so pleasant, allowing a glimpse into his motivations even if they often lack commonsense. While the culminating events tug at ones heartstrings, there is a bit of hope that the future might hold some promise. (Spoiler alert: in Very Old Bones Phelan’s demise corresponds with his youthful endeavors – a fitting end of life passage.) Four and a half Stars.

Too Sinful to Deny (Scoundrels and Sinners, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Susan Stanton loves gossip, so much that when she overhears a juicy bit from a wife cuckolding her husband, she finds herself on the wrong side of The Ton, despite the truth to her words. Her mother’s attempt to marry her off to a morally questionable but well off gentlemen was destined to fail (see Too Wicked to Kiss) so she ends up confined to her room until further notice. Yet Susan was determined to attend The Frost Fair in celebration of the Thames freezing over, a rare occurrence. Who knew that despite her stealthy attempts to sneak out, she was discovered when she fell through the ice and drowned. Luckily she was rescued and brought back to life, but only to be banished from her beloved London – packed up and sent to the end of nowhere at Moonseed Manor in Bournemouth, to stay with her cousin Lady Beaune with the closest center of civilization the town of Bath.

The situation is even worse that Susan expected when there is no Lady Beaune to greet her and she is “welcomed” instead by her cousin’s creepy husband, Ollie. The town folks don’t cotton to her overtures of friendship, especially the owner of the dress shop who resents her popularity with the only decent men around including Gordon Forrester, the local magistrate. Susan’s only interest, though, is to find a way home again, if only she can discover a way to get to the closest town where her recognizable family name will provide the means of the necessary escape. Things are looking up when Forrester offers to accompany her to the upcoming Assembly in Bath, occurring in about two weeks, but Susan is not sure she can wait that long. It seems that there have been a series of recent deaths, and the lingering ghosts can’t rest until she does them each a favor. Seeing and hearing spirits seems to be a new but unwanted talent she has acquired after her near death experience and she’ll do anything to shut them up. Of course, these are ghosts of the recently departed, so who exactly is the murderer? There is a plethora of suspects which only a Bow Street Runner could untangle. Then there is the question of her missing cousin. Is she buried under that unmarked grave or is it that freshly dug mound of earth the resting place of some other hapless soul? Nobody’s talking.

Complicatiog her life is Ollie’s friend, Evan Bothwick, a devastatingly handsome rogue tinkering in the Pirate business and bent on making her his latest conquest. If only she could trust him, but she worries that he will not only keep her from escaping, but also steal her heart. Her focus is to keep her eye on the prize – someone from The Ton who loves London as much as she does, ready to marry a chaste and pure innocent, a dream threatened by Evan’s carefree ways.

Too Sinful to Deny, Book 2 in the Scoundrels and Sinners series, never seemed to end. While Erica Ridley tried to capture a sense of gothic all she exceeded in doing was to create a horrifying scenario filled with mean spiritedness and senseless violence which could not be compensated for by the rest of the trappings of a Regency Romance. The ghosts actually provided a bit of levity, if you can believe that. While the love interests had a somewhat decent sensibility, the townsfolk were a horrid unredeeming bunch who I’d just as soon not meet again. The only scene which brought a smile to my lips was when the heroine buys a seemingly endless round of drinks resulting in a packed bar with a tab she can never hope to pay unless her parents cough up her allowance.

If you are a fan of the Saw movies, this one is for you, but if you avoid fare such as chainsaw massacres, then find another book to read. Two and a half stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

An unusual coming of age story where eleven year old Lewis Dearborn is forced to develop an inner strength in order to deal with seven very lively and very dead ghostly pirates. These seven mates are the legacy from his great grandfather who grew too old to assist them with their mission of retaking the ship on display at the local maritime museum and sailing to Libertalia, a utopia for pirates. Once great grandpa dies, the family inherits the old ramshackle Shornoway, and Lewis takes over the tower room overlooking the sea which houses the seven trespassing ghosts. Now it’s up to Lewis to find a way to deal with this motley bunch. Yet Lewis has troubles of his own. His shyness makes him the target of the class bully. He is also embarrassed by his parents and scared to speak up in class. By remaining mute, he becomes a further magnet for ridicule by his classmates. When new girl, Anna, shows up in class, Lewis expects her to receive the same treatment, but surprisingly, she is accepted despite her odd behaviors. Unlike the others, Anna reaches out to Lewis who finally has someone with whom he can share his secrets, bizarre as they may be. With the help of the pirates as well as his new found friendship, Lewis discovers an inner courage and a sense of adventure hidden behind his fear of life.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey stretches the realms of reality, especially in the book’s conclusion, but since this is a ghost tale, all scientific principles are suspended. The reader roots for Lewis and laughs at the misadventures of his pirate friends. The old historic house from the mid 1800’s along the East Coast is a perfect setting for a “spirited” tale. Middle schoolers will love this adventure, perfect for those hard to please tween boys. 4 stars.

And a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Further Adventures of Ebeneezer Scrooge by Charlie Lovett

A Christmas Carol must be the most well known publication next to the Bible. It has been recreated in many artistic formats on the stage and screen. My favorite cartoon adaptation is the beloved Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol, but the holiday season is not complete until I revisit the 1970 musical version, Scrooge, starring Albert Finney. I discovered this Charles Dickens’ book in grade school, stuck on my Father’s bookshelf, and was fascinated by the Victorian tale, awestruck with wonder as I contemplated how anyone could imagine such a marvelous story.

Obviously I am not alone in my love for this book. Charlie Lovett traces modern holiday traditions, such as caroling and family time together, back to this very story, as well as the other writings of Dickens. Using the same style and tone as the original, as well as references and details from various Dickens’ works, such as Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and David Copperfield. Lovett has written a sequel entitled The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is twenty years since Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation and he now lives life as if every day were Christmas Day. No longer a miser, Scrooge has given away all his money to those in need. He now lives simply, not to horde, but to enable himself to impart all the more to others. Yet all his good deeds have only released the burden of former partner Jacob Marley’s heavy chains by just five short links. In a stroke of genius, Scrooge decides to call upon the three Christmas spirits to revisit and fill other souls, not just with the milk of human kindness, but the desire to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

This short story/novella is a quick, fast paced read which feels as if Dickens himself is continuing Ebenezer’s adventures perhaps due to numerous quotes from the original. This is the perfect book to pick up at Christmas time to remind us that there are numerous needs throughout the world and that through our actions we can lighten the burdens of our fellow man.

So four stars along with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

What lurks beneath the facade we present to the world? What secrets do we keep hidden, even from ourselves? How many lies are we willing to live in order to satisfy the realization of our innermost fantasies? The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a fascinating character study of a group of adolescent girls who struggle with their true identities, the ones that fill their souls.

The book banters back and forth between premiere ballerina, Violet, set to attend Julliard in September, and Amber, sentenced to Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for a heinous crime she was accused of committing at the age of thirteen (an act so horrendous that even her own mother refuses to visit). One common denominator between these two teens is Orianna – former best friend to Vee and cellmate to Amber. Ori is a girl who is easy to love, one who brings light even to the squalid prison conditions of the institution. The inmates who struggle daily with their own feelings of guilt fail to see exactly how this harbinger of kindly gestures could have been dubbed “The Bloody Ballerina”.

Yet, that’s the story which is slowly revealed through the musings of our two storytellers – exactly what happened that day behind the dance studio where the pubescent girls gathered for a “bit of air” in the smoking tunnel. Even more fascinating is the narrative of life behind bars for young female inmates at the Upstate New York detention center. Throw in a touch of supernatural déjà Vous and you’ve got a mesmerizing little book.

While, at times, the plot allusions get confusing, it is readily evident which are the guilty parties. The author’s style keeps the reader riveted wanting to know how the events all tie in together with a conclusion that is in some ways predictable and in others totally shocking. Each character’s motivation, however, is not kept a secret. We might not approve of their actions, but we understand the circumstances that led to their dastardly deeds (and there are several). It’s too bad I can’t go into further details, as there are numerous highlights I am dying to discuss.

Don’t be put off by the Ballet theme, this is a book for both teens and adults, even those who don’t know a cartwheel from a plié. I especially liked the literary references (Amber’s life skills assignment was to wheel the library cart around, just in case anyone wanted a book to read or a message to pass). While Suma includes numerous citable quotes in her narrative, I was especially tickled with Ambers’s assessment that “reading a new book before anyone else got to it was like getting the first hot lunch”. Four stars for a fascinating psychological study.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.