Completely forgot to review this when I finished it, can now barely remember it. Moderately entertaining but uninspired Gothic in which the heroine spends 90% of the book sorting papers in a spooky attic and searching for her perennially missing dog, with occasional interludes in which someone whomps her over the head, shoots at her, or ties her up.

The concluding explanation of what the hell was going on is less amusingly deranged than one might hope from Holland (author of the deliciously wacky Trelawny, in which twin brothers impersonate each other until she didn't know which was which), but did manage to bring in multiple villains, an exploding car, international intrigue, a completely pasted-on-yay romance, and surprise!secret Israeli agents valiantly uncovering an incomprehensible plot by anti-Semites. Why this was all going on at a lonely British house and involved the heroine and her dog, only Holland knew.
The opening page of Holland's thriller Grenelle is so bad in so many different ways that I feel compelled to quote the entire thing:

The scandal, a typhoon in a thimble, broke one windy autumn morning and caused, at the beginning, and before anyone connected it with that sad, unexplained death, far more raucous and ribald amusement than it did concern.

"Who the hell does he think would want the damn thing?" Father Spaeth roared at me, trying to control his cloak, which was whipping around his jeans like a sail in the fresh breeze blowing east across this part of Virginia from the Blue Ridge Mountains. "He must think he's back in the days when a lost relic would call out the armies of the Pope and the Emperor to wrest it away from the unbeliever. Christ!"

The father, who fancied himself as being, as he put it, a very Now priest, brought out the last word with emphasis, as though, I couldn't help thinking, he had laid a particularly challenging egg.


Susan Grenelle is the daughter of the dead dean of an undistinguished religious college recently shaken by an old priest's controversial claim to possess a splinter of the True Cross. It is an example of the clumsy craftsmanship of this book, so much less fun than Holland's Trelawny, Tower Abbey, or leprous Dracourt, that not only did I get through the entire book without knowing what Susan did for a living, but the origin of the cross fragment, earlier a huge source of mystery, was never revealed. I am also still not sure why the "sad, unexplained death" (the murder of a local boy) happened.

The Now Father Spaeth is spearheading Resist Relics (anti-splinter), against the more traditional pro-splinter faction. The splinter is stolen, then plastic imitations are hidden around the school. The dean's office is trashed. "Obscene, blasphemous" notes are sent (but sadly not quoted.) A group of drugged-out, criminal, Satanic and pagan hippies show up, drug Susan's niece Samantha's dog, kidnap Samantha, and lay her out for a ritual Satanic sacrifice in front of the real splinter.

There's also a romantic subplot about Susan and the former priest who jilted her in favor of her now-dead evil twin sister (now conveniently the local police chief-- the former fiancee, not the dead sister). In a desperate attempt to tie the way more interesting past family drama into the lame current cross shenanigans, the chief villain is revealed to be responsible for the deaths of Susan's father, sister, and sister's husband by hooking them all on drugs. He is also a psychotic Satanist.

Overall, this novel confirmed my theory that no book containing Satanists has ever been good.

Not one of Holland's better efforts.
The opening page of Holland's thriller Grenelle is so bad in so many different ways that I feel compelled to quote the entire thing:

The scandal, a typhoon in a thimble, broke one windy autumn morning and caused, at the beginning, and before anyone connected it with that sad, unexplained death, far more raucous and ribald amusement than it did concern.

"Who the hell does he think would want the damn thing?" Father Spaeth roared at me, trying to control his cloak, which was whipping around his jeans like a sail in the fresh breeze blowing east across this part of Virginia from the Blue Ridge Mountains. "He must think he's back in the days when a lost relic would call out the armies of the Pope and the Emperor to wrest it away from the unbeliever. Christ!"

The father, who fancied himself as being, as he put it, a very Now priest, brought out the last word with emphasis, as though, I couldn't help thinking, he had laid a particularly challenging egg.


Susan Grenelle is the daughter of the dead dean of an undistinguished religious college recently shaken by an old priest's controversial claim to possess a splinter of the True Cross. It is an example of the clumsy craftsmanship of this book, so much less fun than Holland's Trelawny, Tower Abbey, or leprous Dracourt, that not only did I get through the entire book without knowing what Susan did for a living, but the origin of the cross fragment, earlier a huge source of mystery, was never revealed. I am also still not sure why the "sad, unexplained death" (the murder of a local boy) happened.

The Now Father Spaeth is spearheading Resist Relics (anti-splinter), against the more traditional pro-splinter faction. The splinter is stolen, then plastic imitations are hidden around the school. The dean's office is trashed. "Obscene, blasphemous" notes are sent (but sadly not quoted.) A group of drugged-out, criminal, Satanic and pagan hippies show up, drug Susan's niece Samantha's dog, kidnap Samantha, and lay her out for a ritual Satanic sacrifice in front of the real splinter.

There's also a romantic subplot about Susan and the former priest who jilted her in favor of her now-dead evil twin sister (now conveniently the local police chief-- the former fiancee, not the dead sister). In a desperate attempt to tie the way more interesting past family drama into the lame current cross shenanigans, the chief villain is revealed to be responsible for the deaths of Susan's father, sister, and sister's husband by hooking them all on drugs. He is also a psychotic Satanist.

Overall, this novel confirmed my theory that no book containing Satanists has ever been good.

Not one of Holland's better efforts.
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. (The Dark Light.) 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!!!!! )
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 )
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!
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!
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.
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.
Three YA novels, three not-entirely-satisfying reading experiences.

Rats Saw God, is a first novel by Rob Thomas, who went on to create Veronica Mars. I would like to try some of his later novels, as although this one has flashes of the VM wit and style many of us know and love, he clearly learned a lot since he wrote this one.

There are two stories here. In the present day, Steve is a stoner senior who's flunking out despite his brilliant SAT scores. A sympathetic counselor offers to let him graduate if he turns in a 100 page manuscript on absolutely anything. Steve starts writing about what happened to him in his sophomore year, the year that his famous astronaut father is still married to his mother, the year he falls in love, the year he's in the school Dada club... and the year his life fell apart. This narrative is intercut with the story of how he pulls himself together in his senior year, as writing about the past gives him insight into the present.

There's a lot of intelligence here, and Thomas writes about teenagers really convincingly. It's a quick read, and often funny-- the bits about the Dada club are hilarious, although I think most of their art is actually surrealist social satire, not Dada. The trouble I have with the book is that the parts in the past are much more compelling than the parts in the present, and a lot of crucial emotional breakthroughs and character relationships are told rather than shown. For instance, late in the book Steve has a revelation about his father, himself, and their relationship-- sorry, I have to spoil this to explain, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know-- which is that their difficult relationship is because they are more alike than different, although Steve had thought they were opposites. The trouble with this is partly that another character tells this to Steve, and partly that what she says about Steve-- that like his Dad, he's a neat freak and a control freak and so forth-- is not behavior we've seen Steve exhibit. Also, Steve's big trauma is pretty predictable, especially if you saw the VM episode where the same thing happens.

Not at all a bad read, but I bet Thomas' later books are better.

Isabelle Holland was a writer of YA and Gothic novels who seems to have been most popular in the seventies. I imprinted on her YAs as a kid and her Gothics as a teen, and that's a big part of the reason why I snatch them up if I see them used. The Gothics have mostly aged better than YAs, many of which-- like the ones below-- have become sadly dated.

Most of Holland's YA novels are about a girl who is fat, used to be fat, or has parents who think she's fat, and who loves animals. Holland is very good at delineating the emotional states of angsty teenagers, and her adult characters tend to be more three-dimensional than is common in YA novels. This, however, is sometimes a problem when she starts siding with the adults over the teenagers. I'm sorry, but in a YA novel I am probably going to sympathize with the teen narrator no matter what. This is especially problematic in her problem novels, which tend to be more one-note than her general YA novels, and is a major issue in The Search and Hitchhike.

The Search was written in 1991, which probably makes it one of her last novels, and it still feels dated. Seventeen-year-old Claudia goes to her teacher's house; he gets her drunk, has sex with her while she's in a blackout, and gets her pregnant. She gives up the baby for adoption, to an agency that will never ever let her know who has her baby or what happened to him. But afterward, she worries about her baby: what if he didn't go to a good home? What if he's being abused? She embarks on a search.

This is readable, like all Holland's books, but ultimately meh. She is way more sympathetic to the father of the baby, and at Claudia's expense, than I would be. Points for a sympathetic priest and a touching ending, though.

In Hitchhike, teenage Pud is told to never ever ever hitchhike. She hitchhikes. Bad stuff happens. There is an interesting idea here, which is that Pud is first picked up by a man whose daughter ran away, because Pud reminds him of his daughter and he thinks that by getting insight into Pud, he can figure out what happened to his daughter and why she left. If this had been the whole novel, and had been developed at more length, it would have been a better novel. But hitchhikers must pay for their stupid deeds, so Pud flees that guy and promptly gets kidnapped and held for ransom.

It is symptomatic of something that drove me nuts all through the book, which is that Pud is always excoriated at length for everything she does wrong, but not praised for what she does right, that after she escapes she tries to see the bright side by saying, "Hey, it was pretty cool that I sawed through the ropes and broke through a weak place in the shed and escaped, huh?" and is answered by a scolding about how stupid she was to have gotten in the truck in the first place.

The dog that she rescues early on doesn't die, though, and she does get to keep him, so props to Holland for not punishing Pud by killing her dog.
Three YA novels, three not-entirely-satisfying reading experiences.

Rats Saw God, is a first novel by Rob Thomas, who went on to create Veronica Mars. I would like to try some of his later novels, as although this one has flashes of the VM wit and style many of us know and love, he clearly learned a lot since he wrote this one.

There are two stories here. In the present day, Steve is a stoner senior who's flunking out despite his brilliant SAT scores. A sympathetic counselor offers to let him graduate if he turns in a 100 page manuscript on absolutely anything. Steve starts writing about what happened to him in his sophomore year, the year that his famous astronaut father is still married to his mother, the year he falls in love, the year he's in the school Dada club... and the year his life fell apart. This narrative is intercut with the story of how he pulls himself together in his senior year, as writing about the past gives him insight into the present.

There's a lot of intelligence here, and Thomas writes about teenagers really convincingly. It's a quick read, and often funny-- the bits about the Dada club are hilarious, although I think most of their art is actually surrealist social satire, not Dada. The trouble I have with the book is that the parts in the past are much more compelling than the parts in the present, and a lot of crucial emotional breakthroughs and character relationships are told rather than shown. For instance, late in the book Steve has a revelation about his father, himself, and their relationship-- sorry, I have to spoil this to explain, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know-- which is that their difficult relationship is because they are more alike than different, although Steve had thought they were opposites. The trouble with this is partly that another character tells this to Steve, and partly that what she says about Steve-- that like his Dad, he's a neat freak and a control freak and so forth-- is not behavior we've seen Steve exhibit. Also, Steve's big trauma is pretty predictable, especially if you saw the VM episode where the same thing happens.

Not at all a bad read, but I bet Thomas' later books are better.

Isabelle Holland was a writer of YA and Gothic novels who seems to have been most popular in the seventies. I imprinted on her YAs as a kid and her Gothics as a teen, and that's a big part of the reason why I snatch them up if I see them used. The Gothics have mostly aged better than YAs, many of which-- like the ones below-- have become sadly dated.

Most of Holland's YA novels are about a girl who is fat, used to be fat, or has parents who think she's fat, and who loves animals. Holland is very good at delineating the emotional states of angsty teenagers, and her adult characters tend to be more three-dimensional than is common in YA novels. This, however, is sometimes a problem when she starts siding with the adults over the teenagers. I'm sorry, but in a YA novel I am probably going to sympathize with the teen narrator no matter what. This is especially problematic in her problem novels, which tend to be more one-note than her general YA novels, and is a major issue in The Search and Hitchhike.

The Search was written in 1991, which probably makes it one of her last novels, and it still feels dated. Seventeen-year-old Claudia goes to her teacher's house; he gets her drunk, has sex with her while she's in a blackout, and gets her pregnant. She gives up the baby for adoption, to an agency that will never ever let her know who has her baby or what happened to him. But afterward, she worries about her baby: what if he didn't go to a good home? What if he's being abused? She embarks on a search.

This is readable, like all Holland's books, but ultimately meh. She is way more sympathetic to the father of the baby, and at Claudia's expense, than I would be. Points for a sympathetic priest and a touching ending, though.

In Hitchhike, teenage Pud is told to never ever ever hitchhike. She hitchhikes. Bad stuff happens. There is an interesting idea here, which is that Pud is first picked up by a man whose daughter ran away, because Pud reminds him of his daughter and he thinks that by getting insight into Pud, he can figure out what happened to his daughter and why she left. If this had been the whole novel, and had been developed at more length, it would have been a better novel. But hitchhikers must pay for their stupid deeds, so Pud flees that guy and promptly gets kidnapped and held for ransom.

It is symptomatic of something that drove me nuts all through the book, which is that Pud is always excoriated at length for everything she does wrong, but not praised for what she does right, that after she escapes she tries to see the bright side by saying, "Hey, it was pretty cool that I sawed through the ropes and broke through a weak place in the shed and escaped, huh?" and is answered by a scolding about how stupid she was to have gotten in the truck in the first place.

The dog that she rescues early on doesn't die, though, and she does get to keep him, so props to Holland for not punishing Pud by killing her dog.
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.

Tower Abbey
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.
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.
My back hurts too much to concentrate to the level the memoir requires and way too much to train, so yay for livejournal and a pillow stuffed behind my back.

When I stopped for lunch in Santa Maria yesterday (seafood bisque, very nice) I popped into a thrift shop to check out the books. Thrift shops are often havens for books that I read when I was a kid and which I should have hung on to, because they never appear in bookshops. Eureka!

A Choose Your Own Adventure book, MASTER OF JUDO. I must have read hundreds of those, but not that one. The "others in the series" list includes MASTER OF KUNG FU, MASTER OF TAE KWON DO, MASTER OF KARATE (too bad they didn't have that one), and (to cover all bases) MASTER OF MARTIAL ARTS. My favorites, however, were not in that series but were Rose Estes' Dungeons and Dragons books, especially CIRCUS OF FEAR and REVENGE OF THE RAINBOW DRAGONS.

Ellen Kushner wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book, incidentally. Hers was about getting transported back in time to being an immigrant at Ellis Island.

CAN I GET THERE BY CANDLELIGHT? by Jean Slaughter Doty. Doty wrote pretty good and comparatively realistic books about horses; THE MONDAY HORSES, for instance, is a gritty backstage portrait of a rental stable, complete with pushy parents and doped horses. CANDLELIGHT is a moody timeslip novel about a girl who rides her horse Candlelight a hundred years into the past. The ending is unexpectedly bleak.

HEADS YOU WIN, TAILS I LOSE, by Isabelle Holland. Holland wrote a number of glum YA novels, of which my favorite was ALAN AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, about a boy who doesn't tell anyone that his last remaining relative has died, because he thinks they'll put all his pets to sleep, which is what happened when his next-to-last relative died. It ends on the signature glum YA novel note of a teeny ray of hope in the midst of inevitable misery and despair. Holland also wrote some adult suspense novels, which I remember enjoying but have never been able to find.

She's probably best-known for THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, in which a boy apparently has a sexual moment with a man-- something which blew right over my head when I read it. I hope this review at amazon is a joke:

"For the same reason that the historical novels of Mary Reynolds are failures - a trilogy which purports to depict the relationships between Alexander the Great and his boy, but suppurates with honey and marshmallows until no self respecting male can continue reading them - Holland's book becomes absurd rather than tragic. Women should not try to write about relationships between men and men, or between men and boys. They possess neither the physiological instruments nor the erotic imagination for the task. Women see the male sex drive as something superficial, anatomical and standing in the way of romance. How little they understand! Sex between men turns on shared understandings of how muscles flex, organs pulse and juices flow; and we make from our animal excitement something playful which opens the door to a testosterone driven romance more powerful than any fairy-tales that giggling girls may tell each other. Don't read the book."

The front cover of HEADS reads "Melissa lost weight steadily, but her days were spent as unknowing 'highs.'" Yep, copyright 1973. Melissa is supposedly a compulsive eater, though we don't ever see her compulsively eating. We do see her being depressed because her monstrous parents keep verbally abusing her for being fat, ugly, and unworthy. She starts popping her mother's diet pills, with predictably bad consequences. There's a vague feminist undercurrent, in which feminism keeps getting mentioned and seems to be a fad, but Holland never quite seems to connect the social pressure on women to conform to an ideal of appearance to feminism. Still, Melissa's adolescent pain comes across vividly, which is no doubt what attracted me the first time I read it.

The bit where Melissa "freaks out" reminded me to look up the ads for other books in the back of Jay Williams' wonderful middle-grade fantasy, THE HERO FROM OTHERWHERE:

TUNED OUT, by Maia Wojciechowska. Winner of the 1965 Newbery Medal.

"Summer turns into a nightmare for sixteen-year-old Jim when his brother Kevin comes home from college. Kevin, whom Jim idolizes, has changed drastically during his year away. He has become a person full of doubts, with urgent needs-- one of which is drugs.

We share the experience of that terrible summer in this moving book-- the LSD, the marijuana, the hippies, the disillusionment, the helpless confusion and fear. It is all recorded frankly, to the final horror of Kevin's freaking out and the shaky beginnings of his redemption."

Yep, the teeny ray of hope in the midst of inevitable misery and despair.

It goes on to quote "Horn Book's" review: "No recent novel or factual treatment succeeds as well in showing the self-deception, the sense of alienation, the bitterness against the established order today..."

The picture shows a silhouetted man freaking out in the middle of a psychedelic swirl.
My back hurts too much to concentrate to the level the memoir requires and way too much to train, so yay for livejournal and a pillow stuffed behind my back.

When I stopped for lunch in Santa Maria yesterday (seafood bisque, very nice) I popped into a thrift shop to check out the books. Thrift shops are often havens for books that I read when I was a kid and which I should have hung on to, because they never appear in bookshops. Eureka!

A Choose Your Own Adventure book, MASTER OF JUDO. I must have read hundreds of those, but not that one. The "others in the series" list includes MASTER OF KUNG FU, MASTER OF TAE KWON DO, MASTER OF KARATE (too bad they didn't have that one), and (to cover all bases) MASTER OF MARTIAL ARTS. My favorites, however, were not in that series but were Rose Estes' Dungeons and Dragons books, especially CIRCUS OF FEAR and REVENGE OF THE RAINBOW DRAGONS.

Ellen Kushner wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book, incidentally. Hers was about getting transported back in time to being an immigrant at Ellis Island.

CAN I GET THERE BY CANDLELIGHT? by Jean Slaughter Doty. Doty wrote pretty good and comparatively realistic books about horses; THE MONDAY HORSES, for instance, is a gritty backstage portrait of a rental stable, complete with pushy parents and doped horses. CANDLELIGHT is a moody timeslip novel about a girl who rides her horse Candlelight a hundred years into the past. The ending is unexpectedly bleak.

HEADS YOU WIN, TAILS I LOSE, by Isabelle Holland. Holland wrote a number of glum YA novels, of which my favorite was ALAN AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, about a boy who doesn't tell anyone that his last remaining relative has died, because he thinks they'll put all his pets to sleep, which is what happened when his next-to-last relative died. It ends on the signature glum YA novel note of a teeny ray of hope in the midst of inevitable misery and despair. Holland also wrote some adult suspense novels, which I remember enjoying but have never been able to find.

She's probably best-known for THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, in which a boy apparently has a sexual moment with a man-- something which blew right over my head when I read it. I hope this review at amazon is a joke:

"For the same reason that the historical novels of Mary Reynolds are failures - a trilogy which purports to depict the relationships between Alexander the Great and his boy, but suppurates with honey and marshmallows until no self respecting male can continue reading them - Holland's book becomes absurd rather than tragic. Women should not try to write about relationships between men and men, or between men and boys. They possess neither the physiological instruments nor the erotic imagination for the task. Women see the male sex drive as something superficial, anatomical and standing in the way of romance. How little they understand! Sex between men turns on shared understandings of how muscles flex, organs pulse and juices flow; and we make from our animal excitement something playful which opens the door to a testosterone driven romance more powerful than any fairy-tales that giggling girls may tell each other. Don't read the book."

The front cover of HEADS reads "Melissa lost weight steadily, but her days were spent as unknowing 'highs.'" Yep, copyright 1973. Melissa is supposedly a compulsive eater, though we don't ever see her compulsively eating. We do see her being depressed because her monstrous parents keep verbally abusing her for being fat, ugly, and unworthy. She starts popping her mother's diet pills, with predictably bad consequences. There's a vague feminist undercurrent, in which feminism keeps getting mentioned and seems to be a fad, but Holland never quite seems to connect the social pressure on women to conform to an ideal of appearance to feminism. Still, Melissa's adolescent pain comes across vividly, which is no doubt what attracted me the first time I read it.

The bit where Melissa "freaks out" reminded me to look up the ads for other books in the back of Jay Williams' wonderful middle-grade fantasy, THE HERO FROM OTHERWHERE:

TUNED OUT, by Maia Wojciechowska. Winner of the 1965 Newbery Medal.

"Summer turns into a nightmare for sixteen-year-old Jim when his brother Kevin comes home from college. Kevin, whom Jim idolizes, has changed drastically during his year away. He has become a person full of doubts, with urgent needs-- one of which is drugs.

We share the experience of that terrible summer in this moving book-- the LSD, the marijuana, the hippies, the disillusionment, the helpless confusion and fear. It is all recorded frankly, to the final horror of Kevin's freaking out and the shaky beginnings of his redemption."

Yep, the teeny ray of hope in the midst of inevitable misery and despair.

It goes on to quote "Horn Book's" review: "No recent novel or factual treatment succeeds as well in showing the self-deception, the sense of alienation, the bitterness against the established order today..."

The picture shows a silhouetted man freaking out in the middle of a psychedelic swirl.
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags