Two Gothics!

The Wizard's Daughter is, I think, the only one of hers which isn’t in first person. It’s in omniscient, with a narrator who wryly comments on the heroine Marianne’s naivete, speculates on what Freud might have to say about Marianne’s dreams of her father, and mentions that no one yet knew the concept of allergies. More than any of Michaels’ Gothics but Someone in the House, it’s almost a Gothic parody.

When innocent and extravagantly beautiful (silver-gilt curls) Marianne is left penniless after her father’s death, she gets caught up in evil nightclubs, séances, and questions about her parentage. She ends up trying to call up her father’s ghost in a house inhabited by assorted peculiar characters, from an insane gardener who lurks in closets to an aunt with hundreds of cats. It’s very funny, down to the explanation of Marianne’s psychic trances and the revelation of the true fate of her father.

Read more... )

The Master of Blacktower, one of Michaels’ earlier novels, starts out more seriously, with Damaris (red-gold curls,) also orphaned after her father’s death, taking a position as secretary to the Master of Blacktower in rural Scotland, where servants and peasants make dire warnings in phonetic dialect. The Master has a scarred face and black silk gloves which he never takes off. At one point Damaris is shoved off a turret, caught, then dropped. To prove that he wasn’t the one who caught and dropped her, the Master inquires whether the person who grabbed her had all his or her fingers, then whips off his gloves, revealing that he’s missing several fingers and the glove fingers are stuffed with cotton!

Sadly, this is not supposed to be hilarious (I think) though as [livejournal.com profile] coraa pointed out you’d think that Damaris would have noticed before that only some of his fingers ever moved. Then there’s a rather random duel, people thought to be dead return, and several characters fall to their deaths in the Very Same Pool that killed the Master’s first wife. It’s ridiculous but not really played for laughs, which in this case makes it less funny than The Wizard’s Daughter.
An obscure Gothic by the author of one of my very favorite children’s book, the seminal psychic kid novel The Girl With the Silver Eyes (Apple Paperbacks). The latter holds up well to reading as an adult, or at least I still enjoy it.

Return to Darkness is entertaining but forgettable, though enlivened by some memorably ridiculous plot twists. Young RN Brianne Jorgensen takes a job as the private duty nurse to Simon Ruechelle, an old man who has had a stroke, because her mother never speaks about her family, and Brianne suspects that they are the same Ruechelles. The family is weird, Simon can’t speak, and ominous lipsticked messages appear on Brianne’s mirror!

The second-best part is the reveal:
Read more... )
The best part of this book was the ads for other Lancer Gothics. If anyone can locate and mail these to me, I will certainly read and review them:

Inherit the Darkness (also by Roberts): Thomasina must find her missing twin—before they both die!

These lack blurbs but make up for it with the titles alone: Curse of the Island Pool, An Air That Kills, Ghost of Ravenkill Manor, The Ashes of Falconwyk, Gemini in Darkness, Bride of Terror, Jewels of Terror, Castle Terror (the last is by Marion Zimmer Bradley!), Children of the Griffin (sadly, the griffin is almost certainly metaphorical) and best of all, The Love of Lucifer.

Vanish with the Rose.

I am very fond of Barbara Michaels, though I never got into her other series’ as Elizabeth Peters. Her Michaels Gothics and romantic suspense generally have sensible and tough heroines, likable heroes, and clever twists on genre expectations.

When lawyer Diana’s brother disappears after caretaking at a historic estate, Diana decides to impersonate a landscaper to gain access to the property without raising suspicions. As one does. As she frantically tries to keep up with the charming old lady owner’s knowledge of rose history and botany while searching for clues to her brother’s fate, she is haunted by spooky visions, flirted with by the owner’s eccentric son and manly handyman, stalked by a local wife beater, and forced to face her own family dysfunction.

All these threads come together in a surprising yet satisfying manner. I especially liked the resolution of the romance and the lesson that there is much more to fluttery old ladies than meets the eye. The ghost is creepy, the characters are appropriately likable or hissable, the history and rose lore is interesting, there are some very funny bits, and the whole story is much more thematically coherent than I had expected. If you like this sort of thing, this is an excellent example of it. I have more Michaels reviews under her author tag.
When Jennifer goes to France to meet her cousin, she finds that the cousin has died mysteriously at a convent without ever mentioning that she had relatives… and after admiring blue flowers when she has that rare condition, blue-yellow colorblindness!

This starts off with great fun and energy, then dissolves into uninteresting running and fighting with interludes of objectionable gender issues. I was put off by Stephen, a veteran and genius composer. The more the author praises him, the less the reader, or at least this reader, likes him.

He condescends to Jennifer and is totally useless and actively unhelpful in her quest to help her learn the truth about her cousin. When she desperately begs him for help, he agrees and then gets beaten up by the bad guy—which makes Jennifer realize that he is a supremely civilized man to whom violence is repugnant and that makes him totally awesome, and she was a stupid little girl to imagine that he could save her cousin by means of bad-assery because knights are imaginary and this is the real world. He proceeds to save the day. Oh, and a rapist (not Stephen) turns out to be kind of a cool guy.

I think this is the only one of Stewart's Gothics that's in third person rather than first. Despite the presence of potentially amusingly over the top elements like evil nuns, there's a general sense of going through the motions.

Not recommended. Thunder on the Right

Click the author tag to find my reviews of better books by Mary Stewart. These are my favorites, which I am pleased to see are all still in print:

Madam, Will You Talk?. The hero is a jerk, but the writing is wonderfully witty and distinctive. The plot is a farrago of exciting chases through beautifully described countryside, interspersed with banter.

The Ivy Tree. One of my very favorite tales of impersonation, which is a favorite trope of mine.

Nine Coaches Waiting. A perfectly Gothic Gothic, well-written and pleasing.

And, of course, there's her Arthurian novels, beginning with The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga, Book 1)

Speak to me of your favorite (and least favorite) Stewart novels. I think the ones I haven't read yet are Wildfire at Midnight, This Rough Magic, The Wind off the Small Isles, Stormy Petrel, Rose Cottage, and her children's books.
The bookshop had a Gothic section! Complete with a series with titles like Alice, the Desperate and Ilene, the Superstitious. There was a complete list on the inside cover, but sadly the shop did not have Rachel, the Possessed.

Every single Gothic had a cover with a girl and a house. Some variations included a nurse, a doctor, and a house; a girl, a zombie Abraham Lincoln-esque figure, and a house; and, in the exoticized ethnicity category, a girl and the Taj Mahal, and a girl and a casa (according to the back cover.)

I now own...

The Satan Stone, by Louise Osborne. The great isolated mansion of Penetralia loomed bizarre and forbidding...

(There's no way that isn't deliberate, right? Right?)

Return to Darkness, by Willo David Roberts, author of many charming children's books including the seminal psychic kids novel The Girl With The Silver Eyes. Her Gothic heroine is a private duty nurse.

The Veil of Night by Lydia Joyce. Recced by Oyce as a sweet revisionist Gothic. Some desires flourish only in darkness...

Seimaden # 1 by Higuri You. What becomes of a man who spends his life in the underworld for a love that lasts beyond the grave?? This sounds Gothic, but it's actually manga, and very '80s-looking manga at that.

Two children's books, The Battle for Castle Cockatrice by Gerald Durrell and The Tiger's Apprentice by Laurence Yep.

Anyone ever read any of these?
In 1881, meek Hester Marsh inherits her great-uncle Diablo the Great’s riverboat magic show, after he accidentally decapitated his wife onstage while performing a magic trick and then shot himself.

It’s a fest of stereotypes as she meets Gypsy Mara, superstitious black boatmen, and “the embittered dwarf, Quantimo.” And yet, so entertaining! Shadowy figures try to push Hester overboard, spooky women lurk at her bedside, Gypsy Mara croaks dire warnings, handsome men gallop about on stallions, the ghost of decapitated Mary haunts the riverboat, and (since they’re still using it in the act) the guillotine claims another victim!

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Gypsy Mara explaining what she wants to save Hester from: “From the deep night and the spider’s web. From the crawling things that tunnel in the earth and feed on festering mortals.”

Which I guess is better than festering balls. Though if I understand her correctly, she’s saying that Hester needs to be saved from earthworms.

The only thing this story lacks is a monkey, so I have provided one in my icon.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( May. 31st, 2009 09:54 am)
I picked up four Gothics at a garage sale yesterday. Never read or heard of any of the authors before.

The Golden Unicorn, by Phyllis A. Whitney. On the cover, a unicorn looms over a guy with his hands over his crotch and a maiden draping herself over him, with the obligatory house in the background.

Back cover (reproduced exactly):

They say that the shadow
of the unicorn
will fall over the face
of the moon
and that someone in that
house
will die....

Courtney had been the perfect adopted child. But around her neck hung a time bomb on a chain-- a tiny gold unicorn that brought her face to face with the most violent intrigues of the past-- and the murderer her real mother had not escaped....


Damn, not a real unicorn.

From the inside cover: "Don't try to find out who you are Courtney. You may find horrors you're better off not knowing. Let the door stay closed."

Desperate Heiress, by Marilyn Ross.

Trapped on a haunted showboat, Hester is stalked by an eerie menace who is neither dead nor alive!

According to the back and inside covers, she inherited the showboat from her great-uncle, Diablo the Great, who accidentally beheaded his wife in his "gruesome magic act." She has now inherited the "floating theatre," complete with "the embittered dwarf, Quantimo."

A peek inside shows that this one's racial sensitivity matches its ablism sensitivity. It goes on about some random guy's "white eyeballs in his broad black face" on page one. This does not bode well.

The cover shows the disturbingly pointy-breasted heroine lurking near her evil steamboat.

The Place of Sapphires, by Florence Engel Randall.

On the cover, a surprisingly practically-dressed heroine walks through the moor, ominous house behinf her.

Against the eerie backdrop of a demon-haunted house... two sisters apparently suffer creepy identity confusion.

The Deadly Climate, by Ursula Curtiss.

On the cover, a heroine flees with her arms stuck out from a lurching figure. In the background... wait for it... a house!

I opened this one randomly. I think it'll be the best yet! For context, a man is searching the bedroom of a murdered woman for clues, and finds her robe.

Because there it hung in the shaft of entering light, shell-pink, alarmingly sheer, as random as a butterfly in a filing cabinet.

Was it even a robe? Carmichael suspected that it had borne some far prouder name in the department store where it had been bought.


(Carmichael examines the robe in minute detail for another paragraph.)

Whatever it was, it had a pocket. Not a utilitarian square wuth a slitted mouth, but a coy little cup of pale pink, capped with lace. Because it was the only pocket he had so far encountered in this room, and therefore the only place conceivably unsearched, Carmichael slid two fingers automatically inside.

I need a cigarette!
Welcome back to insane cracktastic Gothic land!

In a moment of synchronicity, last Friday I was invited to share some Belgian chocolates labeled individually by province. Unfortunately, the font's capital I looked much like a small l, and so when asked to choose, I said, "I'll take the leper!"

I do not often come across books containing leprosy, though when I read Darcourt I immediately regretted forgetting about the YA novel in which the heroine develops leprosy, watches her mother agonizingly die of rot, is shipped off to a leper colony, and dies, the end -- I would have certainly included it in my YA agony award nominations if I had. I was also reminded of Thomas Covenant. Normally I don't find characters whiny if they have something to whine about. But Covenant managed to be so whiny that I thought, "Oh, get over your leprosy already!"

Young journalist Sally Wainwright impersonates a friend of hers in order to get hired as governess for a wealthy teenager on Darcourt Island. The island is owned by reclusive billionaire Tristram Darcourt. Sally is ostensibly doing this to write an expose on him, but really because her mother was jilted by him and she wants to find out what happened. (She can't ask because both her parents are now dead.)

Teenage Alix is wild and has a Mysterious Skin Condition for which she takes Mysterious Meds. Darcourt is high-handed and arrogant. He is also said to have let his brother die in the super-quick quicksand which is featured in the Mysterious Marsh surrounding the house, into which Sally is forbidden to go. Sally is promply menaced by snakes and scorpions released in her room, plus Mysterious Figures, and people shooting at her, whomping her over the head, and trying to kill her dog.

Could it be the Mysterious Mrs. Darcourt, alternately said to be in the south of France and lurking in Mysterious Marsh?! Or the off-stage Mysterious Middle Eastern Group which is the subject of a code-named Pentagon study? Or Andre, who is a cousin or something? Or some blonde kid with a cowlick?

LEPER OUTCAST UNCLEAN!!!!! )
While it apparently can’t compete with gems from the 1700s and 1800s, featuring mad monks, demon dwarfs, and attempted rapes in hot air balloons, Trelawny is an excellent specimen of the modern Gothic which fulfilled every bit of the promise of its back cover copy, except that sadly both mammoths and tentacles were inventions of the back cover copy author and do not appear in the book. The final six pages alone contain at least nine hilariously head-spinning plot twists, and such intricate interwoven impersonations that I am still not one hundred percent sure who several characters actually are.

The huge, ghastly mansion Trelawny Fell has been held by the snooty Trelawny family since Nicholas Trelawny left his identical twin brother Giles behind in Cornwall and moved to Boston just in time for the American Revolution. But Giles was hanged as a highwayman and Nicholas hanged himself from a beam in one of the tentacle-like attics in Trelawny Fell. And ever since, every fifty years, a Trelawny has hung him or herself from that very beam!

Kit Trelawny was the product of a Trelawny father (missing; legally dead) and a country mother (definitely dead) from Wyoming. She was traumatized as a child when her dying mother attempted to foist her on the snooty Trelawnys, and they were both ridiculed and snubbed. Kit crushed on the handsome identical Trelawny twins, named Nicholas and Giles as is traditional for Trelawny twins-- and twins, like insanity and snootiness, run in the family. Mean Nicholas almost drowned her, and sullen Giles rescued her from a runaway horse. Kit and Mom left.

Now Kit is an adult, and has inherited Trelawny Fell, since Nicholas and Giles are both MIA in the Vietnam war and presumed dead. (Yeah, right.) She decides to turn it into an artist’s colony, and invites an assortment of counterculture artists. She gets lost and locked up inside the labyrinthine attics, hears spectral footsteps, and sees ghostly figures. There is poisoned stew, rabid rats, and exactly halfway through, the plot really gets cooking.

Unless you're definitely planning to read the novel, you will regret not clicking )
Kit wouldn't rest until she exorcised the spirits of her scornful ancestors from the mammoth house which she now possessed. Or so she thought, until the house strangely began to take possession of her. In the mysterious attics which spread like tentacles over the roof, legends of the past came to life. Somewhere there lurked what remained of her lost, unrequited love, and he was coming to claim her kin.

-- Back cover of Trelawny, by Isabelle Holland.

Oh boy oh boy, this is going to be great!
This was similar to but not quite as cracktastic as Aiken's A Cluster of Separate Sparks: an adult suspense/Gothic thriller featuring irritating "humorous" racial stereotyping or possibly parodies of racial stereotyping, I seriously could not tell which, that keeps the form of a thriller while subverting the tone of one at every step, and has a completely and deliberately ridiculous plot and a pro-forma romantic subplot, though possibly its pro-forma nature was also part of the joke.

Martha works at an advertising agency, a job which provides some pricelessly funny bits involving explosive self-heating soup cans and Bom the Meat'n Milk drink. The eponymous bouquet refers to the new perfume she concocts an advertising campaign for, and which somehow leads her a decaying Cornwall castle, her long-lost insane ex-husband who is now a monk, more monks, one repulsive baby, one adorable baby, a phosphorescent dead seal, a black widow spider whose bite proves that Aiken did not even attempt to research its actual effects, and some ravenous slugs which, like the wind in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, destroy the McGuffin that the entire plot revolved around.

If this is the kind of thing you like, you will certainly like this book; I have a number of Aiken's other and hopefully even more cracktastic thrillers on my Book Mooch wish list, and plan to instantly mooch them should they turn up.

Thanks [livejournal.com profile] cija!
It turns out that I have two that I haven't read yet, Thunder on the Right and The Ivy Tree. Which is better and/or more cracktastic?

PS. [livejournal.com profile] telophase, are you familiar with the Gothic genre? If so, do you like it, hate it, and/or enjoy MST3King it?
I read one of Aiken's Gothics, Nightfall, a while back and was startled that it was not merely bad but conventional; but this one is exactly what one would expect from the sentence, "The author of the totally insane Dido Twite books, in which pink whales are spotted off New England and sinister plots to roll St. Paul's into the ocean are foiled by a girl on an elephant, writes a Gothic."

It functions perfectly well as a Gothic in the atmospheric and well-written Mary Stewart style: a young woman with a tragic past arrives in a gorgeously described Greece, and immediately something violent happens, attempts are made on her life, and romantic interests who might be villains appear. It's extremely page-turny.

It's also a hilarious parody of the form. The attempts on the heroine's life are extraordinary inventive and frequent. No one seems to care that people they supposedly love, or just people they know, are dropping like flies. The hero/villains are not physically attractive. There is an oubliette in the kitchen, and a sauna covered in bees; the heroine sings the bees to sleep, allowing her to make her escape. At one point I thought there was an army of clones, but that turned out to be a misunderstanding.

If you obtain this, do not read the inside or outside cover; my single favorite bizarre plot twist occurs on page 37.

Also, if you obtain this, standard warning for mysteries or Gothics written before 1980, ie, mild racial stereotyping (in this case, largely or possibly entirely parodying racial stereotyping in other Gothics) and now-offensive terminology like "Mongol" for "Downs syndrome."

So, on page 37 )
Cheesy teen Gothic, which sadly does not rise to the level of over-the-topness promised by the author's ridiculous pseudonym. I write "sadly," because the story is fairly entertaining and as the prose sucked anyway, the book would only have been improved if it was more outrageously melodramatic than it actually was.

Lyda, a teenage girl with no personality, is an orphan raised by her older sister Lilli, who is a flighty model and socialite. While Lyda is in boarding school, she gets word that her sister has married Jason Ducat (!) This is the first Lyda has ever heard of him, but off she goes to visit Lilli and Jason in Jason's palatial and creepy castle in the terrifying wild of... Canada. There are scary moose.

Jason is clearly evil, his two former wives died mysteriously, his son hates him, his daughter is an eerie doll-like character straight out of a Kaori Yuki manga, and he's boffing the governess. Shortly thereafter, Lyda falls into Jason's creepy clutches, and next thing she knows she's locked in a tower while Jason schools her in daughterly obedience. While the tower section is the most vivid part of the book, there's not much Lyda can do there other than inwardly rebel: someone has to rescue her, or she'll never get out.

There's more sex and sexual innuendo in this one than I would have expected, but it's not actually terribly scary. Clunky prose, flat characters, and a lack of atmosphere make this one a non-keeper, though it's page-turny enough that I did finish it.

Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] oracne!
I spent the day in the juror room. No one was called for seven hours. After a while, it looked like an airport when all the flights are snowed in. People were doing crossword puzzles and sleeping on the floor. They had a little library, which contained a nice hardcover edition of Georgette Heyer's rare and excellent Cotillion, which I do own but was still tempted to steal. However, given the location, I decided it was too risky. Also a very handsome and not terribly old judge had earlier come in and very charmingly lectured us on our civic duty (he reminded me of the Flying Congressman, only not sleazy and evil. And blonde.) and I felt guilty.

I got as far as being called into a courtroom and told about a case, and sat in the audience while eighteen of us prospective jurors were put through voire dire. Given that only two were dismissed so far and there are still about fifteen of us left who haven't even been questioned, I am very unlikely to get on the jury, but I still have to go back tomorrow. If I get dismissed then, I'm off the hook for the next year. (Actually, I've always wanted to be on a jury. It's just not very convenient right now.)

I brought Downbelow Station, but Cherryh, or anyway that Cherryh, is too dense to read when you're in a freezing room with a hundred people and a TV set. But I did finish several New Yorkers and two books. I enjoyed both books, but I have a mouth and I must snark (plus I am totally fried from a full day of civic duty-- I got off jury duty and immediately voted), so...

Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: While I'm in Lebanon, I think I shall visit my crazy old aunt Harriet, who has modeled herself on Lady Hester Stanhope.

Sinisterly Handsome Young White Man at Lady Harriet's Exotically Crumbling Estate: Eek! You're a relative of hers? Uh... she hardly ever sees anyone... totally a recluse... I mean, no one but me and her two sinister Arab servants and sinister missing doctor have seen her in months and months... Say, you haven't seen her in years and years, right? Like, you don't even remember what she looks like?

Heroine: Not a bit! But if you don't let me see her, I'm calling the cops.

Sinister: Oh goodie! Well, in that case I believe she'd love to see you. Of course, she only entertains visitors in dark and shadowy rooms at night. Yep-- eccentric! Just gimme a few hours to find and make up an imposter let her wake up.

Heroine: Okay!

Hot Lebanese Chauffeur: This seems fishy. By the way, did you notice that he's stoned?

Heroine: Uh, what?

Hot But Sadly Ill-Informed Lebanese Chauffeur: Yep! Marijuana is a gray plant whose flowers may be smoked to induce a hallucinogenic high. It's bad stuff and can totally ruin your life, but luckily you're not likely to get addicted if, for instance, Sinister drugs you with it as part of his evil plot. By the way, for later plot reasons you should know that there is an enormous drug trade. Did I mention that I'm hot?

Heroine: Sorry, but I am in love with my cousin.

Kissing Cousin: This seems fishy. I have a theory about what's going on.

Heroine: Yeah? What?

Kissing Cousin: I'm not gonna tell you.

Marijuana is fun! )

Laura Kinsale's Uncertain Magic in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: I am telepathic in 1797 Yorkshire and every woman in my family with that cursed gift has died as a wretched old hag, because no man can bear to be around a woman who can read his mind. Woe!

Faelan Savigar, the Devil Earl who also happens to be immune to telepathy: Yo.

Heroine: QUICK, MARRY ME!

Devil Earl: I am a bad, bad, horrible person. I ruin women for fun, I dissect cats, and did I mention that I murdered my father when I was ten?

Heroine: o.O. ...I don't believe you. I think.

Devil Earl: Here's one of my wretched ruined women!

Heroine: I HATE YOU!

Devil Earl: WELL, I HATE YOU FOR HATING ME!

Heroine and Devil Earl: Dude. We're kind of well-matched, aren't we?

Devil Earl: You thought the plot was on crack before? Let me take you to my ancestral home in Ireland!

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: Hello Robert Post's child. Only you can save the Devil Earl, so you better get cracking.

Heroine: Uh, what am I supposed to do?

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: ...Not sayin'.

Heroine and Devil Earl's Mutual Buddy: I'm starting a rebellion!

Fae Folk: Hello!

Redcoats: Down with the rebels!

And then a plot twist ensues )
Three suspense novels, all of them entertaining reads, none of them in the first rank of those author's works. I'd recommend any of them as airplane reads, since they'd keep you glued to the pages, but could be abandoned without too much of a qualm when you're done. Well, personally, I wouldn't abandon the Holland, but that's because it's out of print and you'd never be able to find it again if you wanted to re-read it.

See my overview of Barbara Michaels for more details on her work. Be Buried in the Rain is mid-range Michaels, with some intriguing elements but somewhat awkward plotting and a less-than-compelling romantic subplot. Julie is a medical student who gets stuck spending her summer break caring for her grandmother Martha, who has had a stroke, on her picturesquely decaying Virginia mansion with attached Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM). When Julie was a child, her mother left her with the physically and emotionally abusive Martha for several years. At that time Martha managed to cripple Julie's self-esteem, and later destroyed her relationship with a guy named Alan. Alan, now an anthropologist, has returned to Virginia, intent on excavating the Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM); naturally, the romance rekindles, although the most compelling relationship in the book is between Julie and a stray dog she adopts.

This is a little difficult to describe without spoilers, but my problem with the main plot, which involves a mysterious female skeleton found holding a baby's skeleton (Aieeee!), is that it trundles along without much input from Julie, so that her story doesn't seem very integrated with the suspense plot until near the end. If you read this book, I recommend not doing so as bedtime reading. I finished it in bed, and the fucking creepy final paragraph terrorized me not only that night, but for about the next three nights.

Isabelle Holland's Bump in the Night is a non-Gothic suspense novel about Martha (yes, another Martha), an alcoholic divorced mother whose son is kidnapped by a pedophile. It sets up that in order to save him, she must remain sober, but actually the fact that she remains sober throughout the book turns out to be more of a personal victory than the means to saving her son. The son has a more active role than one might expect, which I kind of liked but which also, rather like the Michaels book, made Martha a marginalized player in her own story. This is one of those books which would have had to be substantially rewritten if cell phones had existed at that time, as interminable amounts of verbiage concern people waiting for phone calls and trying in vain to call each other. There are animals in this one too-- the son's cat and a neighborhood cat lady's cats have minor but significant roles.

The hero of Dick Francis' Second Wind is a weather forecaster whose decision to accompany a friend who wants to fly his private plane into the eye of a hurricane sucks him into an elaborate suspense plot. The plot in question doesn't really hang together for-- I swear I really did read all three of these books in quick succession-- the same reason as the two above: the plot would have worked out in pretty much the same way if the protagonist hadn't existed. Also, the romance is perfuctory. There's a great shipwrecked on a deserted island sequence, though. This one doesn't have any characters named Martha, but a filly and a herd of cows play supporting but crucial roles.
Another Gothic novel by Isabelle Holland. With apologies to The Princess Bride, let me explain-- no-- it is too much-- let me sum up:

Candida is approached by Diana, a childhood not-friend, to be her companion in the apparently haunted Tower Abbey:

"And you think it's a possible twin sister who is haunting you?"

Since Candida has just lost her job and is about to be thrown out of her apartment, she agrees. When she arrives, who does she find but her childhood flame, Simon, who is now a doctor and an Episcopal priest (handy for doing exorcisms, yet marriageable!), even though:

"I also had heard before that you had been killed-- or committed suicide-- in a bad accident. I thought you were dead."

Occupants of the house soon include Diana, Candida, Candida's menagerie of pets who are dab hands at reacting to ghostly presences, Simon, Diana's estranged nine-year-old son James, James' cat Hannibal who also reacts to ghosts, childhood friend Eric (who is afraid of cats, so you know he can't be a good guy), possible former Nazi and housekeeper Mrs. Klaveness who keeps making vague and ominous statements and refusing to explain them:

"I will say nothing more. You will see. That's enough."

An odd-job man who sleeps in the cellar, two hippies who are friends of Candida's and are hoping Diana will sell Tower Abbey and replace it with low income housing, and the possible ghosts of everyone who died on the property:

"My God, Candy, you've got to remember who Donnie was. The whole world knew who Donnie was and what happened to her."

#

"After all, it was on just such an outing-- when they were alone that time-- that his daughter was lost."

#

She suspected that Totsie's death was not accidental.


The last three statements are all about different people: two children who drowned in the same well at different times, and a governess who got locked in an elevator when the family went on vacation. There's also a hidden treasure, a hidden diary, a fire, a hostage situation, an imaginary kingdom, lots of cold drafts, an exorcism, repressed memories, and lots of dysfunctional family dynamics. I found it all great fun.
Since this is even more Gothic in some ways than Nine Coaches Waiting-- more unusual-to-the-genre elements but also more coincidences-- I shall italicize the most Gothic elements once more. Antonia Moncrieff, a beautiful editor with a thirteen-year-old son, receives a surprise inheritance: a big house. Yep, girl meets house. This one is a brownstone in Brooklyn. Antonia is an orphan who has changed her name to escape her dark past and evil ex-husband, but her aunt was the housekeeper for the Standish family and inherited the house from Mrs. Standish when the lost heir who was supposed to get it could not be found, and the aunt left it to Antonia.

Meanwhile, Antonia is assigned to edit the latest book by genius Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Kingsley, who was disgraced, jailed, and blinded after he killed a child in a drunken hit-and-run accident. Adam's now out of jail. Antonia had an affair with him thirteen years ago, but he doesn't recognize her because he's blind, and she doesn't tell him who she is. (Much like Lurlene McDaniel's Carley!) In order to facilitate the editing, he moves into her new brownstone, which has a mysterious draft, hidden passageways, and evildoers who want it or something in it. Her ex-husband, who turns out to be a Standish, comes out of the woodwork and blackmails her. I was going to spoiler-cut the next part, but since I don't think anyone else is ever likely to read this I won't; if you don't want to be spoiled for the most ridiculous and unnecessary plot twist ever, stop reading now. Adam turns out to be the missing heir.

This book is chiefly interesting because Antonia's son, animal-obsessed Ewan, is a dry run for Alan in Holland's later YA novel Alan and the Animal Kingdom, in which teen orphan Alan tries to live by himself after his last remaining relative dies, because he has pets and the last time a relative died they were all put to sleep. More spoilers ahead, though again, the book is long since out of print and this isn't a surprise ending...

It concludes on a "realistic" note of sort-of hope amidst the general misery and despair: Alan is adopted, and his pets aren't killed, but he has to give them all away because his new adoptive mother is allergic to animal fur. As a consolation prize, he's given a poodle puppy that he doesn't love. It occurs to me now that this ending isn't really more realistic: a family that would adopt a son on a moment's notice might not hesitate to take in his pets too, and the deadly allergy is just there because a real happy ending, presumably, might give kid readers hope that sometimes things really do work out OK.
This enjoyably over-the-top Gothic novel is so Gothic that I will italicize all the most Gothic elements of the plot.

Linda Martin, an orphaned young Englishwoman, is engaged as a governess for nine-year-old Phillippe, the child-heir of a huge brooding isolated hilltop chateau. Because she's supposed to teach him English, she does not mention that she speaks fluent French. This enables her to overhear sinister secrets. The head of the chateau looks like Lucifer, and is disabled due to a tragic and mysterious riding accident. His wife is cold, aristocratic, and has a heart condition for which she takes special medication. His dashing, handsome, yet possibly sinister son, Raoul, also an heir should Phillippe die, immediately becomes the possibly reciprocal object of the heroine's affections, although he just might be trying to kill her and/or Phillippe. A series of near-deadly accidents befall Phillippe. And then more Gothic stuff happens, but it's all spoilers from here on out. Lots of nicely-written French atmosphere, and although there's an annoying amount of "I love him! But I think he's trying to kill me! But I love him!", Linda is not a wuss.

When Lucifer calls Linda "Jane Eyre" I suspected Mary Stewart of commenting upon the genre, but it turned out that she was merely pointing out that she is aware of the genre. This is not a deconstruction of, parody of, or commentary on the Gothic genre, but merely a good example it.

Other books by Stewart on my shelf: Madam, Will You Talk?" and The Gabriel Hounds.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jun. 5th, 2004 04:05 pm)
Barbara Michaels writes romantic suspense novels. (She also writes romantic-ish mysteries under the name of Elizabeth Peters.)

There's no better airplane reading than Barbara Michaels. She has a nicely unfussy prose style, a page-turning approach to pacing, and generally sensible heroines. her novels, which are all stand-alones, sometimes have supernatural elements, but sometimes the seemingly supernatural elements have a non-supernatural explanation. This gives her novels a pleasing unpredictability. Her historical and other research is solid.

But the main thing that makes her interesting to me is her method of plotting, which is to take some familiar genre plot and do something interesting and unusual with it. She doesn't usually deconstruct standard plots or completely invert them, but there's always something odd or non-standard going on in her books.

Because of this, they're a little difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I'll try as I want to do an overview for anyone who might be unfamiliar with her. If you want to discuss specific genre-warping elements, please do so in the comments.

THE SEA KING'S DAUGHTER. "Don't call me Ariadne. That's not my name any more." There's an odd tendency for Michaels' most evocative titles to adorn her worst books, but this one's an exception, being quite good. Ariadne is a young swimming jock who goes to a Greek island to assist her archaeologist father, whom she never knew. There she gets entangled in ancient Greek... stuff. This one's fun and the atmosphere of sun and sea is vivid.

INTO THE DARKNESS. Meg Venturi inherits her grandfather's jewelry business and lots of trouble, family and otherwise. This one is notable for the romantic lead, a moody Vietnam vet (I've never encountered a cheerful and lighthearted one in fiction), a sense of truthfulness about love and family, and great details about jewelry. The genre-bending in this one is that the hero has a serious physical disability, but I think that's been done a fair amount in Gothics before.

WINGS OF THE FALCON. "Authors who write in the first person cannot expect their readers to be seriously concerned about the survival of the main character." Set in 1860 Italy against a backdrop of politics and rebellion. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek Gothic pastiche with identical twin romantic leads, ancient Etruscan tombs waiting for a blonde heroine to get locked into them, and a mysterious masked rebel called Il Falcone. I can forgive Michaels for her addition to the long list of evil effeminate bisexuals in literature because of the startling plot twist which befalls him, and also because it must be the first time in the history of the genre that the heroine's father provides for her by becoming the kept man of another man.

SOMEONE IN THE HOUSE. Some critic said that the plot of the Gothic novel is "girl meets house." In this quintessential example of Michaels' peculiar approach to genre, a girl meets a possibly haunted house. A lighthearted, romantic comedy-meets ghost story approach leads to a truly startling conclusion. I imagine Michaels laughing as she wrote the last page of this one.

SHATTERED SILK. After being dumped by her husband of ten years, Karen opens a vintage clothing shop. This one reminded me a bit of Jennifer Crusie, being a witty two-couple story with likable heroes, good character development, and a very funny dog. The mystery element is also pretty good.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Her first book, and though it shows it's still a good read. There's a horrendously bad prologue which is somewhat redeemed at the end, when we realize why everyone sounded so stilted. It's her only book which has a male protagonist, and it has some good twists. One of the few books which I enjoy despite the presence of Satanists as characters. (I usually detest books which involve Satanists.)

HOUSES OF STONE. A feminist English professor discovers works by a hitherto-unknown female eighteenth century writer. The background of this one is fascinating, but the romantic suspense part feels tacked on.

HOUSE OF MANY SHADOWS. A heroine suffering from hallucinations after an accident moves into a historic house that might be haunted. A nice intertwining of past and present mysteries.

SONS OF THE WOLF. Another historical Gothic pastiche. Not one of her best but redeemed by an unusual and clever turn of the narrative toward the end.

HERE I STAY. Another girl meets house story. This is ruined by the total unlikability of the right-wing heroine. It does have a nicely surprising end, though.

OTHER WORLDS. Her most recent novel is experimental: a re-telling of historic ghost stories in a club where famous historic figures propose various solutions. Incredibly boring.
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