Mini-Reviews: The Door That Led to Where, Greythorne, Undertow

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Time for some mini-reviews! What are mini-reviews, you ask? As the title suggests, these are short reviews, consisting of one paragraph tops, about a book. It’s a way to catch up on the books I’ve read a while ago, but never got around to reviewing.

The Door That Led to Where

Tite: The Door That Led to Where

Author: Sally Gardner

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – but he could never have imagined by how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the country’s finest writers, THE DOOR THAT LED TO WHERE will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

Review: An enjoyable book that mixes a lot of different genres into a surprising, unique tale. The main downside is how slow the story is at the start. The writing just didn’t really impress me, and sometimes I even glanced past some of the plot developments because they happened so casually. While the book had a great concept (I love time travel in just about any shape or form), the writing needed some work and the plot wasn’t entirely believable. I don’t need the time travel to be believable, I just need the character’s reactions to be believable, and that was lacking here.

Greythorne

Title: Greythorne

Author: L.M Merrington

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Gothic

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

How did Lucy Greythorne die?

From the moment Nell Featherstone arrives at Greythorne Manor as a governess to eight-year-old Sophie, she finds herself haunted by the fate of the mistress of the house, and entranced by the child’s father, the enigmatic Professor Nathaniel Greythorne.

When a violent storm reveals Lucy’s body is not in her grave, Nell becomes suspicious about the Professor’s research. But what she discovers in his laboratory will turn all her ideas about life and death, morality and creation on their head.

Enthralled by a man walking a fine line between passion and madness, Nell must make an impossible choice between life, death, and life after death, where any mistake could be her last.

Perfect for fans of Daphne DuMaurier, Susan Hill and Kate Mosse.

Review: Despite the overused plot of a governess stuck in a haunted house, I did enjoy this book. I love gothic ficton, and “Greythorne” is an excellent addition to the genre. I saw most of the twists coming, but that didn’t take away from the plot, or how much I enjoyed the book.

Undertow

Title: Undertow

Author: K.R. Conway

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult

Rating: 4,5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Eila Walker knows luck is not a friend, so she is downright shocked to inherit a million-dollar Cape Cod home. And yeah, her new town isn’t perfect: the cheerleaders are heinous clones, the local undertow can kill ya, and her Great Grams was supposedly fried by lightning in the harbor square. Still, Eila is hopeful her luckless days are in the past . . . until history decides to repeat itself.

When Raef O’Reilly becomes her friendly, yet weirdly protective shadow, Eila thinks life is pretty darn perfect – until she is hauled beneath the waves by an unnatural undertow. Revealing coal-black eyes and iron-like strength as he rescues her, Raef can no longer hide what he is . . . or what she can do. Eila, last of her kind, can supposedly channel the power of human souls, while Raef is more adept at stealing them. Even worse, the legend about her ancestor isn’t such a myth, since Eila’s grandmother was one kick-butt warrior until her lightning-like power backfired. A power that is written all over Eila’s DNA.

Determined to stay one step ahead of a dangerous clan that is hunting her, Raef, along with three unlikely allies, will do all they can to protect her. But as hidden pieces of their brutal histories unravel, Eila begins to understand just what went down in the harbor square. She soon realizes that following in her grandmother’s fearless footsteps may be the only way to save those she loves . . . including Raef.

Review: Although I figured out early where this book was heading, I still loved it. The moment Eila moves into a million-dollar Cape Cod home, she starts having visions of sorts, and whenever she’s around local bad boy Raef, she feels fear, although she can’t explain why. Eila is an amazing character with a great personality. She acted like a real person, and her friendship with Ana and MJ seemed genuine too. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Book Review: Blood Red Roses by Russell James

21562717Title: Blood Red Roses

Author: Russell James

Genre: Ghost Stories, Horror, Dark Fiction, Historical Fiction

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The spirits of the dead cry for justice. ”
In the waning days of the Civil War, orphaned teen Jebediah Abernathy has been indentured to one of the most notorious plantations in Mississippi, Beechwood. Ramses, the sadistic overseer, rules completely, unchecked by owners driven mad by the loss of their only son. Cruelty and torture are commonplace. And slave boys are mysteriously vanishing. But Jebediah is not completely alone. The ghost of his father and an escaped slave sorceress will lead him to the horrific truth about the disappearances a knowledge that will probably cost him his life. “

Blood Red Roses is an entertaining ghost story set during the Civil War era. Jebediah Abernathy is left an orphan by the war, and then his family sells him to the owners of the Beechwood plantation, where he’s to work as a stable boy. Jebediah only knows little about horses, but he does the best he can. Treatment for slaves is tough, and even though he’s not a slave as such, that doesn’t seem to warrant a better treatment either. Ramses, the sadistic overseer, likes to crack the whip around at every chance he gets. And with the owners still blinded by the loss of their son during the war, Ramses’ rule is unchallenged.

Then Jebediah discovers that men have gone missing from the plantation. They’re slaves, so their disappearance goes mostly unnoticed except by the other slaves. Jebediah grows worried that one day he might be next, especially when he finds out a secret connected to the plantation. With the aid of an escape sorceress and the ghost of his father, Jebediah might stand a chance against the dark powers at work.

The author doesn’t shy away from making the characters go through horrible ordeals. A lot of emphasis is put on the harsh treatment of slaves, and on the way tragedy can cripple people and change them forever. The addition of ghosts and a sorceress was a nice though. Overall, the book is an enjoyable read, and the setting worked well. Jebediah is a solemn, grief-struck character, yet he’s also a fighter, and it’s easy to root for him.

 

Book Review: Devil in the Corner by Patricia Elliott

20728920Title: Devil in the Corner

Author: Patricia Elliott

Genre: Gothic, Historical Fiction, Romance

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A gorgeously gothic historical tale from the author of THE PIMPERNELLES

Penniless, and escaping the horrors of life as a governess to brutal households, Maud seeks refuge with the cousin-by-marriage she never knew. But Juliana quashes Maud’s emerging friendships with the staff and locals – especially John, the artist commissioned to restore the sinister Doom in the local church. John, however, is smitten with Maud and makes every effort to woo her.

Maud, isolated and thwarted at every turn, continues to take the laudanum which was her only solace in London. Soon she becomes dependent on the drug – so is this the cause of her fresh anxieties? Or is someone – or something – plotting her demise?

Is the devil in the corner of the Doom a reality, or a figment of her imagination?

Devil in the Corner has one major flaw: it’s painstakingly slow. I liked the story, plot and characters for the most part, but the narrative dragged on without end, like a nagging old lady who want stop talking.

Maud has been orphaned after her father’s death. She works as a governess, but has been sent from one household to the other, always followed by some sort of bad luck, or tormented by the ill will of her masters. When her niece, Juliana, sends her a letter and invites her over to her home in the counry, a sprawling mansion in a small town far away from Maud’s home, she takes the chance.

But when she arrives at Juliana’s house, she discovers her cousin is ill. How ill she is, and how much of it is faked or due to troubles in her mind, no one seems to know. Juliana relies on Maud as some sort of personal nurse, waking her up in the middle of the night to assist her or go to her aid. On the train to her new home, she meets John, an artist commissioned to restore the sinister portrait in the local church, called “Doom”.

The longer Maud spends at her new home, the more she feels unease. Someone is hiding a secret, and someone is out to hurt her. She goes back to depending heavily on laudanum, the only drug capable of making her rest a night. But as her fears grow worse, she wonders if what she’s seeing is induced by the laudanum, or if it may be the truth.

The story isn’t all that different from the gothic novels I’ve read so far. In fact, it’s strikingly similar. Now, all gothic novels seem to have common elements: the large, gorgeous and ancient mansion riddled with secrets, the recluse woman lying ill, or pretending to be ill. The struggling artist who falls for the damsell in distress. But whereas most gothic novels manage to add an original spin to the story, Devil in the Corner fails to do so.

The story is too familiar, the characters completely forgottable. Maud is boring and dull, and seems to have no real personality. John – what do we really know about him except he likes to paint, and gets obsessed with Maud? The secrets aren’t all that spectacular, the mystery is easy to solve, and there’s barely any suspense.

A mediocre read. If you absolutely love gothic novels, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give this one a shot, but don’t expect too much from it.

Book Review: The Poison of A Smile by Steven Jensen

9473237Title: The Poison of a Smile
Author: Steven Jensen
Genre: Supernatural, Gothic Horror, Romance
Publication Date: October 2nd 2010
Review copy provided by Night Publishing. Visit their website.
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Author’s Website

She will take her pleasure in your destruction ….

When Gabriel Holland and David Leigh are lured to the haunted town of Carliton in search of their beloved Helena, they find only mystery and malice. And Christian Salazar, connoisseur of torments, master of Alatiel, the creature that Helena has become, awaits their company…

The Poison of A Smile is a haunting, terrifying and breathtaking trip into the mausoleum of things rotten, undead and vicious; a journey through the asylum of the deranged and mentally disturbed; a one-way ticket to hell. The writing style is pretty disturbing on its own, like you just lost track of reality, like things are slowly falling out of your grip, and your mind is getting detached from your body – or is it the other way around? When I first started reading this novella, I vaguely wondered if I hadn’t somehow dozed asleep and stumbled into my worst nightmare, or if I had unconsciously taking some kind of narcotic that made my thoughts uncomprehensible, strange and deranged, and, since I hadn’t been feeling very well that day, I remember constantly checking my temperature to see if this wasn’t the result of some high fever. It wasn’t any of those three options, I can say. The Poison of A Smile is mesmerising, thrilling, but also gruesome, detached, insane, and uncomprehensible. Truly a masterpiece.

Alatiel, a woman of great beauty but with hideous secrets, becomes the new muse of a group of self-acclaimed artists, who struggle to make a living in the city of Paris in the 19th century. The sister of one of these artists, Helena, soon becomes the new subject of interest for Alatiel. In a desperate search to get their beloved back, Gabriel Holland and David Leigh make a trip to the haunted mansion of all haunted mansions, to the palace of sins and destruction, to a mausoleum of unspeakable crimes and to the home of creatures so vicious and rotten they cannot be anything other than Satan’s spawn. And in that place of sheer darkness, in that house of torture, blood and murder; they must face the master of all evils, the instructor of pain himself: Christian Salazar.

Its sheer beauty lies in the fact that it’s so abstract, macabre, terrifying and at the same time, utterly fascinating. From page one, i had the feeling that The Poison Of A Smile was devouring my own soul to feed its own unholy pages, because each sentence transported me further and further away from my safe and well-known home, to unfamiliar, dreadful and nightmarish surroundings. The descriptions are beautiful, haunting and written in that gorgeous, crafty style that was so popular at the turn of the 19th century. This novel vaguely reminded me of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Woman In Black and Dracula, as the settings are very much the same, and I got the same dreadful feeling with those novels as well. Looking back upon this, I sometimes wonder if nowadays hack and slash horror hasn’t forgotten about the most important aspect, namely the horror that is within oneself. The horror that is one’s soul, when it’s as deranged and bestial by nature like the soul of this story’s antagonist, Christian Salazar.

Although some of the scenes in this novel are particularely gruesome, this isn’t just your average horror story. The scenes may cause you to feel like vomiting, but that isn’t the real horror Steven Jensen is trying to describe. By creating this feeling of otherworldliness, disentachment, confusion, his novel is constantly feeding of your own basic worries, indulging in human’s own wicked nature, and gettings its very own inspiration from the things that haunt the corners of our own minds. I was suffering from the ‘haunted mansion’ disease that is common in older fictional works like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre from the very start of this novel, as the eerie atmosphere and creepy characters introduced themselves to me. This feeling of uncomfortableness, sometimes even downright fear, continued throughout the entire novel. The words escape me to explain to you how surprised and impressed I was by this masterfully-crafted tale of horrors, this unmistakable piece of art.

What can I compare it with? I have never read any scary novel before that managed to frighten me as much as The Poison of A Smile did, and never before have I been so close to the distortions and monstrosities that hide in human nature. It was an experience both terrifying and enjoyable, as it was truly an entertaining read, even if it was fear rather than good tension that glued me to my chair. If I had to compare this novel with another fictional work, I would choose The Picture of Dorian Gray, for that is the only novel that comes close in comparison, and has the same haunted and disturbing atmosphere.

There is no characterization, or character development. The characters are loose words on paper, as estranged from the reader as they are from themselves and the world they are living in. They have no actual personalities, and the only emotions often portrayed are nothing more than bestial. The need for vengeance, bloodlust, sexual lust…But that is all. Humans are reduced to animals, the good only slightly better than the wicked because they do often fall to prey of the same bestial desires. The story is difficult to follow at times, a plot practically non-existing, and the entire tale seems to be made out of seperate, equally macabre scenes, that work together and form one long, breathtaking, mesmerising and ghastly story of terror.

If you ask me if there’s anything about this novella that I didn’t like, then the answer is yes. In my opinion, it shouldn’t have ended. At about 80 pages long, I wish the author had just continued till the end (write maybe a 20 or 50 pages more or so) and then put a hold to it. I don’t know what it’s with people and sequels or even trilogies nowadays, but they seem to have forgotten that the best novels ever written are all stand-alone novels. As a stand-alone novel, The Poison of A Smile is as good as horror can possibly get; but I fear that it might not retain this statute in the sequels. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to write an equally haunting story without diving more into characterization and plot building – and by doing so, sacrificing the deranged, insane and going-out-of-your-mind feeling that I got when reading this novel.

I’m completely overwhelmed by The Poison of A Smile, and even now I’m still haunted by the writing style, the detached narrator’s voice, the characters’ primate natures, and the eerie, shivers-running-down-your-back atmosphere. In all fairness, I believe I have discovered a masterpiece of gothic horror literature; a work of art that very well might succeed to redefining the horror genre all together. After reading The Poison of A Smile, you’ll never think about gothic stories in the same way again.