Book Review: The Secret of Lucianne Dove by Roberta L. Smith

4161425Title: The Secret of Lucianne Dove
Author: Roberta L. Smith
Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Ghosts, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lulu
Publication Date: January 26th 2008
Rating: 4 stars
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Review copy provided by the author.

Lucianne Dove came to Virginia City during its heyday, a bride with a past that would eventually destroy her. A century and a quarter later, crusty newspaper reporter Mickey McCoy comes to town. Officially he’s been sent by his boss to do a fluff piece. But Mickey has come for reasons of his own. Curious coincidences have convinced him that something important will take place; something that will free him from a painful past. So what happens when Lucianne’s spirit makes contact? Mickey begins a quest to find out who she is and what she wants. And when he succeeds, there are far-reaching consequences. Two souls from two different eras seeking to transform their legacies makes for a paranormal tale with a heart, a soul, and a message of forgiveness.

The Secret of Lucianne Dove starts with a flashback to Virginia City several centuries ago, and to the trial and hanging of a local woman named Lucianne Dove. As Lucianne faces her punishment, death, she leaves one last message for the crowd, which leaves most of the reporters puzzled. The message is for Janie to get in touch with her little sister. It’s a puzzling message that makes absolutely no sense, since the only Janie who Lucianne could be talking about had a little sister who died years ago. Although some of the local people including the sheriff have their doubts on whether or not Lucianne was guilty for the crime she was punished for, dead is dead and they leave it like that.

Back in the present day, sixty-something year old reporter Mickey McCoy is having strange dreams. It’s like these dreams want to bring a message across. But they make no sense whatsoever. One even involves Marjorie Main in Ma and Paw Kettle in Lake Tahoe, played for an entire night. And it’s not just dreams. His boss is acting weird, having weird dreams as well, and tiny things happen that lead Mickey to believe that he should really take this case he initially didn’t want, to visit the annual races in Virginia City and write a report about it. It’s like destiny, or some other supernatural force, is forcing him to go. Mickey is a grumpy old man with a nose for excellent news story, but the story he is going to come across in Virginia City is unlike anything he ever imagined.

In the next chapter we meet a woman named Marjorie whose daughter Luce is secretly visiting Virginia City dressed up like a woman from the 1800s and asking everyone who wants to hear where Janie is. Disturbing behavior to say the least, but what’s even stranger is that Luce is being ordered to do so by a visitor from beyond the grave, the same visitor who has tormented Luce’s dreams for over a year. By the time Mickey arrives in Virginia City, the legend of this ghostly apparition wandering around looking for a certain Janie has long since spread. Although he senses that his coming to Virgnia City, which was by no means an accident, has something to do with this ghostly appearance, he can’t figure out what exactly just yet.

Around that time Mickey meets with the owner of Comstock Children’s Home, who is struggling to make ends meet, especially since an angry social worker with two substantial degrees and an ill-will towards Comstock Children’s Home, has made it her life’s goal to put the orphanage down. Since he grew up in an orphanage himself, Mickey is eager to help the children of Comstock Children’s Home by writing a report about the orphanage and hopefully gathering some publicity and charity money by doing so. It’s there that he figures out that the mysterious ghostly woman has been bothering the orphans as well, continously asking about Janie. Records prove that Janie was once enlisted in Comstock Children’s Home, in the late 1800s. Now it’s up to Mickey to solve the mystery and figure out what the connection is between Janie and the mysterious ghost.

The Secret of Lucianne Dove is perhaps one of the most intriguing paranormal mystery novels I’ve ever read. I have to say that it isn’t exactly scary though, which was an entirely new experience for me. I’m used to ghosts being these malicious, threatening apparitions from the beyond seeking revenge or setting right past wrongs, but doing so in a very terrifying way. Not so with the ghosts Roberta L. Smith presents us with. Lucianne Dove is more of a tragic character than a menacing one, and she has absolutely no desire to hurt or kill the main characters. That’s why I don’t think this book should be classified as a horror novel, but more like a paranormal mystery. And what a fine mystery it is. Although I had a faint clue as to where the ending would lead, there were so many bits and pieces of information hidden throughout the novel and so many clever twists and turns that I couldn’t stop reading till the very end.

Mickey is an interesting protagonist. For one, he’s over sixty years old. I think this is probably the first time in a non-epic fantasy book that I’ve come across a main character of this age. Mickey’s age made me think of him a bit like the character of Anthony Hopkins in the in 2011 released movie The Rite, where he plays an old exorcist and eventually gets possessed by a demon himself. Every time when I imagine how Mickey looks like, I see Anthony Hopkins in that role. He gives off this sort of grandfatherly feel, although being grumpy and pensive most of the time. His age adds some troubles as well. For instance, I couldn’t imagine Mickey chasing down runaway ghosts down an appartment building while jumping off the stairs three at a time. He’s not of those overly active, sporty, muscled and trained detective characters. He’s more like detective Colombo as he tries to figure out this mystery. I was always a big fan of Colombo, and I’m a big fan of Mickey as well.

I have to hand it to Mickey though, he does take this paranormal gifts thing very lightly. Hell, even I would be more freaked out about having dreams that transport me back in time than Mickey is, and that at his age. Granted, he has a history in New Age spirituality stuff, but I still think he deals with this kind of stuff extraordinary well. I would like to know more about Mickey and his personal history. So far all we know is that he grew up in an orphanage himself, but I’m still eager to find out who his real parents were and whether or not they have something to do with him possessing some sort of sixth sense. Mickey is a mysterious character as well. Not only is a lot left in the dark as regards to his past, but he doesn’t hand out information about himself freely. He’s the typical old man who doesn’t talk a lot but seems to have a lot of secrets to spill regardless. I’m eagerly anticipating the day when Mickey is ready to spill those secrets.

With an original and intriguing protagonist, a chilling paranormal mystery ready to be solved, time travel and a little hint of romance, The Secret of Lucianne Dove makes a wonderful novel to read on a cold winter afternoon. If you’re a fan of ghosts, paranormal stuff or mysteries than this book is definately your kind of thing. Roberta L. Smith has a narrator’s voice that pulls you in from page one, and doesn’t let you catch a breathe until the very end. She writes fluent and doesn’t enter into long descriptions, although she does manage to transport the reader back in time in an almost effortless way. I could almost feel and taste the old wild west. Definately not for the faint of heart, but the focus of this book isn’t to portray ghosts as being terrifying either, more like tragic and misunderstood souls. For fans of the genre and people looking for something new, you shouldn’t miss out on this book.

This book counts towards the TBR Reading Challenge, the Mystery and Suspense Challenge and the Go Indie Challenge.

Book Review: Ghost Island by Bonnie Hearn Hill and Giveaway

51V9gCJ1RiLTitle: Ghost Island
Author: Bonnie Hearn Hill
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Horror, Ghosts, Young Adult
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: August 29th 2011
Rating: 4 stars
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Review copy provided by Bookish Snob Promotions. See the full tour schedule.

Is Aaron a dream or something much more deadly?
Livia Hinson has just begun a Seminar at Sea when a storm hits their yacht. Now, she is stranded with the other students on an island off the coast of California. Far away from her foster home and her heartbreak, Livia finds Aaron, the perfect love. But the only way they can be together is in her dreams.
The other students are having tempting dreams of their own, and Livia begins to realize that the storm has blown in more than rain. Is Aaron flesh or spirit? Can he come to her world, or will he pull her into his? Together, they explore the blurred territory between love and illusion on a dangerous journey that will force Livia to make the most important decision of her life.

Ghost Island is one of those books that grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Seriously, it doesn’t. I was supposed to be studying – I have that a lot, that I’m “supposed” to be studying – and I thought that I could read a chapter of this book during my break. Well, yes, that definitely didn’t happen. I didn’t read a chapter. I read the entire book. Result: study plans, gone entirely. Even from page one, I was intrigued by this book. I wanted to know what was going on, what it was all about, and more importantly, what secret our main character was supposedly hiding. And boy, was I in for a surprise.

Livia has a secret she desperately wants to hide from the other pupils who joined her on this trip. Ms. Gates, one of the chaperones, is the only ones who knows about her secret and still threats her the same. Mr. Freeman, the other chaperone however, behaves towards her like most people do: with caution, condescending and sometimes downright awful. When Livia manages to become friends with Grace, one of the rich girls whose parents sponsored this trip, she knows that if she wants their friendship to last, she’ll have to guard her secret with her life. But once they arrive on Avalon, everything turns out to be different than expected. With a storm brewing, they are trapped on the island for days. Ghostly spirits communicate with them in their dreams, and Livia doesn’t think these spirits are benign. In fact, they might be a threat to their very lives. But who will believe her, especially when the truth about her comes out?

It’s obvious that this isn’t Bonnie Hearn Hill’s first book. It’s way too good for that. The writing is sublime, the way the characters talk is spot-on the way regular teenagers talk. The writing itself is fluent and it doesn’t linger too long on descriptions. The setting is amazing. The island, Avalon, is both atsmospheric and eerie at the same time. On the island of Avalon, the lines between the world of the living and the world of the dead – the spirit world, if you will – are blurring. With a storm racing around the island, our main character are trapped like animals in a cage. There’s no way to escape Avalon until the storm lies down. This reminded me a lot of another paranormal horror book I read recently, Dead Sky Morning by Karina Halle. It has the same setting – a haunted island – and the same tension and atmosphere – the main characters can’t possibly escape the island until the storm lies down. I’ve seen this same setting in a number of horror movies as well, and I’m surprised by how well it works every single time. The sense of dread and despair is instant, the feeling of terror continuous. In Ghost Island, this happens as well. Bonnie Hearn Hill takes the most out of the setting of the novel, and uses atmospheric elements to her utmost example. The result is stunning and terrifying and just the way I like it.

Livia is an intriguing character. She has a very defensive personality, because of the secret she’s hiding. She’s also very much on edge througout the entire story, stressed and leaning towards depression. You would think that these traits don’t make her a very likeable character, but that’s hardly the truth. There’s another side to Livia we meet later on as the novel progresses. She’s caring and protective over her new-found friends, Grace, Johnny and Charles, and she’s not afraid to rebel against the rules to protect them. She is brave and clever, and although I found her a bit naive when it comes to Aaron, the boy she sees in her dreams, I could understand why she’s attracted to him and the promise of real love, especially after what happened with her ex-boyfriend. However, I’m a much bigger fan of Johnny, the potential other love interest.

The side characters are great. I loved Johnny. He was funny and cute and smarter than I initially gave him credit for. Grace was a complicated, but intriguing character. It’s like on the one side she wants to be friends with Livia and she’s level-headed enough to understand what’s really going on, but on the other hand she has the potential to break easily. One of the most interesting things about these characters was that they each had a very distinct personality. On top of that, we also learn their greatest fears and passions, since that’s what the ghosts initially use to lure them into the haunted theater/casino. Talking about ghosts and passions, I find it very original that the ghosts have the ability to find out the character’s greatest desires and use those against them. I’ve never heard or read anything of the kind before, and I thought it was new, refreshing and scary.

The storyline evolved enough to keep me entertained till the very end and, as I already mentioned, the writing was flawless. The pacing is fast and the plot twists are unexpected and unpredictable. I loved the characters and I enjoyed the story. I would definitely recommend this to all fans of paranormal mystery and paranormal romance out there. Since the story ends on a cliffhanger, I can’t wait to read the next part in this series.

This book counts towards the Speculative Romance Challenge, Go Indie Challenge and the Horror and Urban Fantasy Challenge.

About the Author

Bonnie Hearn Hill worked as a newspaper editor for 22 years, a job that, along with her natural nosiness, increased her interest in contemporary culture. Prior to her new Star Crossed series from Running Press/Perseus Books, she wrote six thrillers for MIRA Books, as well as numerous short stories, nonfiction books and articles.

An interest in astrology along with her close friendship with Cosmo Magazine Astrologer Hazel Dixon-Cooper inspired the Star Crossed series: Aries Rising, Taurus Eyes, and Gemini Night.

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Book Review: Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3) by Karina Halle

12322385Title: Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3)
Author: Karina Halle
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Supernatural, Horror, Ghosts
Publisher: Metal Blonde Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2011
Rating: 5 stars
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Review copy provided by the author.

With the Experiment in Terror show finding some success, amateur ghost hunters Perry Palomino and Dex Foray embark on their most terrifying investigation yet. A tiny, fog-shrouded island in the rough strait between British Columbia and Washington State has held a dark secret for decades: It was a former leper colony where over forty souls were left to rot, die and bury each other. Now a functioning campground, Perry and Dex spend an isolated weekend there to investigate potential hauntings but as the duo quickly find out, there is more to fear on D’Arcy Island than just ghosts. The island quickly pits partner against partner, spiraling the pair into madness that serves to destroy their sanity, their relationship and their very lives…

I’ve previously reviewed the first two books in this series. You can read my review of Darkhouse or read my review of Red Fox, or take a look at my interview with author Karina Halle.

Do me a favor, and join me in this thought-experiment. Imagine you’re on your own in the dead of night in a haunted lighthouse with the ghost of the last resident, who was allegedly crazy, following your every move? Scared already? Good. Now, imagine that you’re on a remote farm in the Navajo desert where a couple is tormented by strange noises and animals going berserk. Some of the people you meet turn out to be Shaman shapeshifters ready to kill you at first sight. Shivers running down your spine? Excellent. Now…imagine that you’re sailing off to an abandoned island. Said island was previously used as a leper colony, and it was the sight of a lot of pain, despair and death. Sort of like Las Vegas for ghosts and troubled spirits. Additionally, you can’t go home whenever you want to, because the lake surrounding the island can be vicious and threacherous as well. Briefly put: you’re stuck on an abandoned island with god-knows how many spirits and there’s no way to escape. Meanwhile, the island tries to drive you crazy in a way that puts the producers of Lost to shame. There is no place you can run, because everything on the island is out to get you, from the ghosts of the lepers, to the mysterious specter of a young woman named Mary to the mischievous spirit of a little girl. Feeling ready to hide in your little corner and cry for your mommy? I know I certainly would.

And this is exactly what happens to Perry and Dex, ghost hunters extraordinaire, as they depart on their next mission in Dead Sky Morning. Like battling inhumanly strong shapeshifters isn’t quite dangerous enough, Dex manages to pick the one location that might very well destroy him and Perry both, and everything they ever shared. This island might just be able to turn them against each other, as loyalty is tested, the limits of their relationship are explored, and they must figure out whether or not they can truly trust each other. And on top of that, there is ghosts, blood, horror, coffins washing ashore, and a tension in the atmosphere that practically drives you crazy from page one, but doesn’t once let you relax until you’ve finished the entire book. The sense of foreboding is palpable from the very beginning, but Karina Halle takes her time to present us with the first real signs that something is terribly off on the island. The tension built-up is phenomenal and when the horrors are finally released…well let’s just say, it ain’t pretty.

Perry and Dex’s relationship is, once again, in the center of it all, reminding me – not for the first time – of Mulder and Scully’s strange relationship in the X-files, always on the borderline between just being friends and being something more. Whereas Mulder and Scully spent the majority of their time tracking down aliens, Perry and Dex battle ghosts in a way that would make even the Ghostbusters feel proud of them. I’m telling you, if it were me stuck on that freaking island of doom, I’d run for it. Dive into the water and make a swim to the other shore, rather than stay another night on a campground located directly above a graveyard. Especially if the things resting in said graveyard refuse to stay dead. But Perry and Dex, driven forward by a courage I cannot help but admire, and relying on each other for help and support, don’t make a run for it. They stay and fight in what is, without a doubt, the biggest challenge they’ve faced so far. Meanwhile, the tension between the two of them runs high, and their relationship is tested over and over again. Will they still be friends when all of this is over? Or will they be something more? I won’t tell you, because I’m not giving out spoilers freely. Go read the book to find out!

In all honesty, I thought I was done being amazed. I loved the first two books in the Experiment in Terror series, and I fully anticipated to enjoy Dead Sky Morning as well. But I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by the atmospheric descriptions, the palpable sense of foreboding and danger and the horrors that awaited Perry and Dex. Dead Sky Morning goes above and beyond what happened in Red Fox and Darkhouse, and it delivers a horror novel ready for the big screen. Without giving too much away, let me tell you that I had to look behind me every five to ten minutes as I was reading this book, and that I continously felt shivers running down my spine. I always tell people I don’t scare easily, and I’d like to uphold that statement, but Dead Sky Morning certainly had me frightened.

If you enjoyed Darkhouse and Red Fox, you simply can’t miss out on Dead Sky Morning. Karina Halle’s writing style gets better and better with each book, the characters Perry and Dex grow both as individuals and as partners and the events occuring in this book are even more terrifying than in the previous two. This series hasn’t ceased to amaze me, and I’m looking forward to book four, Lying Season.


This is your chance to win a complete set of all three books currently released in the Experiment in Terror series: Darkhouse, Red Fox and Dead Sky Morning. Two lucky winners will each receive a complete eBook set of all three these books. If you’re feeling lucky, you can participate by filling in the form below and leaving a comment on this post.

Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

10209997Title: The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller, Witches, Ghosts
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: October 4th 2011
Rating: 4,5 stars
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In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

Although The Night Strangers is the first book by Chris Bohjalian I’ve ever read, I did hear a lot about this author earlier on. Even after the first few chapters of this book, I understand why that’s no surprise. From all the authors I’ve read for the very first time this year, Chris Bohjalian is without a shadow of a doubt the most talented one. He has a writing style that is both gripping and enthralling, both mesmerizing and mysterious, and draws you in from page one. It’s a writing style I connect to the horror genre almost instantly, and which reminds me of certain masters in the genre like Poe, Faulkner and Stephen King. Chris Bohjalian fits right up that alley. I wonder if his writing style is similar in his other works, which aren’t situated in the horror genre, but in any case, it fits this genre perfectly. The narrative voice is both distant and eerily familiar, both disfigured and logical, and that all adds up to the twisted, demented feeling you get while reading The Night Strangers.

The most intriguing part about this novel is that it’s based partially on reality. Well of course the horror parts are imaginary, but some parts of this novel are actually based on things that really happened to the author. As he admits in this article on CNN, Chris Bohjalian got his inspiration from two random occurences. For starters, when he purchased a Victorian townhouse, he found a sealed door in his basement. Nailed shut, actually. Curiosity killed the cat, and it forced Chris Bohjalian to open up that door and enter what can only be described as a crypt or closet of some kind. Secondly, a plane crashed in The Hudson River nearby, adding him the second part of inspiration he needed to create this book. Eerie, especially that door. I wonder what it was really used for…well, in any case, Bohjalian offers a plausible although creepy solution in his book.

The Night Strangers tells the story of Chip and Emily Linton and their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. By moving to the small town of Brethel, they hope to escape the trauma that has ruled their lives after Chip was forced to land his airplane – he is an airplane pilot, or well, he was one – in Lake Champlain on August, 11. Thirty-nine passengers died that day, and although it isn’t Chip’s fault per sé, he does suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe case of survivor’s guilt. Convinced that they have to start over somewhere new, the family moves into a Victorian townhouse with quite the chilling history. As legend has it, a young boy killed himself in that very house when he was twelve years old. His mother went crazy afterwards and was convinced that someone – or something – was after her and her family. The depths of her madness are only discovered by the Lintons when they find three curious objects hidden in places all around the house: a crowbar, a knife and an ax. Why would someone hide these objects in their own house? And what are they so afraid of?

Like it’s not worse enough that the previous owner of their house was a raving lunatic, Chip also discovers a small door in their basement. This door is conveniently nailed shut with thirty-nine long nails. Thirty-nine. The exact same number as the passengers who died during the planecrash. In an attempt to discover what is hidden behind that door, Chip destroys it with the ax and discover a small cabinet of sorts. The room is so small that an adult probably couldn’t stand up straight in it. And it’s definately not a coal chute, like everyone wants to believe.

Moreover, the longer Chip spends in his new house, the stronger and more frequent his visions and hallucations become. At first, he only dreamt about the people who died in the planecrash and occassionally suffered from flashbacks. However, the longer he spends in Brethel, the more vivid these hallucations, until he can actually see three of the people who died in the crash: a young girl named Ashley, her father Ethan and a young woman named Sandra. It soon becomes clear to Chip – with a little help and encouragement from Ethan – that Ashley really deserves some friends in the afterlife. These thoughts only add to Chip’s insanity, as he spirals down into madness.

But wait, you thought that was it? The combination of survivor’s guilt, PTSD and some ghostly visions? Wrong. Chris Bohjalian clearly isn’t done yet. Because in the town of Brethel, not everything is at it seems. The local women, who are all conveniently called like herbs – Anise, Reseda, Sage, etc. – have a dark secret of their own. They call themselves herbalists, and each of them has a greenhouse much like the one standing in the Linton’s backyard, but somehow they don’t seem as harmless as they would like others to believe. When they develop an uncanny interest in Chip and Emily’s twin daughters for the sole reason that they’re twins, Emily is the only one who can still save them. And is there a connection between the town’s herbalists, the suicide of that twelve-year-old boy, her husband’s increasingly strange behavior and that door nailed shut with exactly thirty-nine nails?

As you can gather from this synopsis, The Night Strangers is a lot more than just a ghost story. Although that was definately my favorite part of the book, it focuses on a lot of other things too. It focuses a lot on how Chip deals with his PTSD and his increasing hallucinations, and how he slowly but definately descends into madness. It’s a psychological journey that is both mesmerizing and terrifying, and Chris Bohjalian’s excellent and engaging writing style makes it all the more real. The real question at the end of this book, is what’s more terrifying. A town where half of the population is driven by egoistic, animalistic reasoning? One man’s increasing insanity because he cannot deal with the guilt of what he did? Ghosts who are stuck in a world inbetween? It’s up to the reader to decide and I for one, have a hard time deciding what exactly scared me the most. Perhaps a combination of everything, because the way the author combines these different parts and turns them into one fluent, enthralling story is flawless.

The narrative switches between a third-person narrative from either Emily’s, Hallie’s or Garnet’s viewpoint, and a second-person narrative from Chip’s viewpoint. Let me say a thing or two about this second-person narrative. That’s the ‘you’ form, and it’s rarely used in literature, although it’s one of the easiest ways to compell a reader into a story, because as an author you’re continuously talking to the reader himself basically. It goes like this: “When your airplane hits the flock of birds, the passengers in the cabin behind you feel the jolting bangs and the aircraft rolls fifteen degrees to its starboard side.” (taken from page 3). Notice how that you-form simply draws you in, as if you’re really an aircraft pilot and your plane really is going to crash soon? Well, at least it did that for me. I enjoyed the you-form especially as it made it a lot easier for me as a reader to relate to Chip, and to follow him as he slowly descended into madness. I think it’s something psychological, because that ‘you’ points to the reader directly and immediately makes them part of the story, makes them become the character. Eerie, to say the least, but so is the rest of this book.

To classify The Night Strangers as a horror novel, seems a bit one-sided. This book just offers so much of everything. It’s a drama, in which the main characters need to deal with their traumas, it’s a story of coming-to-age for the two young twins Hallie and Garnet as they each develop from children into puberescent teenagers, it’s a ghost story, a psychological thriller when we view Chip’s side of things and there’s event hints of a mystery: what’s going on, and who is the real bad guy here? I personally think it’s nothing short but a masterpiece. I can already see this book being compared to other classics in the genre and not coming short at all. Bohjalian’s characters are rich and compelling and I especially liked Garnet. She just had this vibe around her that told me there was more to her than meets the eye. And guess what…I wasn’t mistaken. Another bonus is that from point one, you’re continuously wondering what’s going on, what’s the explanation for this and that, but you have to wait till the very last chapters to hear the entire story, which means you’re literally sitting on the edge of your seat for over three hours. As a bonus, scary things can happen all the time, and you have to be prepared for it from start to end, meaning that those shivers running down your spine never cease until you’ve turned the last page.

Additionally, it’s clear that Chris Bohjalian put a lot of time and effort in writing this book and investigating things like aircraft, botanica and New Age rituals. I always love it when an author takes the time to put genuinely interesting information in his books, and once again, Bohjalian doesn’t dissapoint. This author has got me completely hooked. This is the kind of horror movie that would make excellent film material, although the film would probably be well over two hours. The madness, the weird and distant but compelling writing style, the interesting characters, the countless secrets and the ghostly apparitions make The Night Strangers into the perfect Halloween novel. I, for one, am absolutely hooked.


One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of The Night Strangers, sponsored by yours truly. Please fill in the contest form below and leave a comment to participate.

Book Review: Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

10387018Title: Ghost on Black Mountain
Author: Ann Hite
Genre: Ghost, Supernatural, Horror, Thriller, Romance, Drama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 13th 2011
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.
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Nellie Clay married Hobbs Pritchard without even noticing he was a spell conjured into a man, a walking, talking ghost story. But her mama knew. She saw it in her tea leaves: death. Folks told Nellie to get off the mountain while she could, to go back home before it was too late. Hobbs wasn’t nothing but trouble. He’d even killed a man. No telling what else. That mountain was haunted, and soon enough, Nellie would feel it too. One way or another, Hobbs would get what was coming to him. The ghosts would see to that. . . .
Told in the stunning voices of five women whose lives are inextricably bound when a murder takes place in rural Depression-era North Carolina, Ann Hite’s unforgettable debut spans generations and conjures the best of Southern folk-lore—mystery, spirits, hoodoo, and the incomparable beauty of the Appalachian landscape.

Ghost on Black Mountain is a powerful, eerie and haunting tale of real-life ghosts sometimes tormenting and sometimes aiding the inhabitants of Black Mountain, a gloomy and according to some, cursed place. Black Mountain got most of its rather creepy reputation from one of its most dangerous residents, Hobbs Pritchard. Who Hobbs Pritchard really is, a straight-out bad man, or a fellow struggling with himself and his own emotions, is revealed gradually through-out the story, but most of it is still up to the reader to decide. In this haunting debut novel, Ann Hite searches for what evil truly is, how different those we easily claim to be evil are to those who truly love them, and how one person’s evil acts can reflect on the lifes of others, even many years in the future.

I have to say that, several hours after finishing this book, I’m still perplexed and most of all, impressed. Ann Hite’s writing fits the voice of the narrators – five Southern women at the turn of the 20th century, all the way through the war, and beyond that – perfectly. She describes Black Mountain as an eerie, terrifying but also atmospheric and sometimes even inviting place, a beauty in daylight but a true menace in the dark. Our resident back guy, Hobbs Pritchard is a fellow with many layers, equally as many different faces and a whole lot of trouble written all over him. Although charming at first glance, he proves to be anything but. But is he really the villain we portray him to be, or is there more to him than meets the eye?

The first heroine who tells us her version of the tale is Nellie, soon-to-be Nellie Pritchard. Falling head over heels with Hobbs Pritchard, she goes against her mother’s advices and marries the man eight years her senior. Although he threats her decently enough at first, it doesn’t take long before even Nellie registers that Hobbs is a cruel, unsympathetic and mean man. He threats the people of Black Mountain like dirt, eagerly keeping them poor to gain wealth for himself. One of the families most tormented by Hobbs Pritchard is The Connors, and although Nellie at first tries to reconcile with the family, they end up warning her about Hobbs’ sadistic ways instead. Nellie, still foolish and eager to believe in her husband’s kindness, with the stubbornness of youth still following her around, ignores their pleas. But even she must one day realize who Hobbs truly is.

Nellie is by far the strongest voice that appears in the entire book. Although often scorned by Hobbs as being ‘stupid, ignorant and incapable of even cooking a decent meal’, the reader soon realizes that Nellie is neither of those things. She is headstrong and intelligent, her only flaw in the matter being her naivety when it comes to men, marriage and love. When Nellie feels herself falling for Jack, Hobbs’ half-brother instead, while Hobbs is on another unexpected, long business trip, she sees him as her possible rescuer from the terrible hold Hobbs has over her, threatening even her mother if she does not do his every bid. However, when the time is neigh and Jack fails to come to her rescue, Nellie, now reduced to an empty shell of her former self, must take matters in her own hands.

What follows is both eerie and gruesome, but haunting and compelling all the same. Aided by the ghosts of Black Mountain themselves, Nellie might just escape Hobbs’ deadly clutches. But secret sins are a hard burden to bear….

The next part of the story, is significantly less powerful than Nellie’s haunting tale. Whereas the ghosts, who we first encountered when Nellie told her story, do make some reappearance in the rest of the novel, their presence is much less threatening than they appeared at first.

We learn about Nellie’s childhood through the eyes of her mother, Josie Clay, who herself saw a ghost or two as well. Although this casts a light on why Nellie too is capable of seeing ghosts, this dropped the pace of the narrative significantly and I could have done well without. Later on, we also read the story from Shelly Parker, local pshycic and perhaps Nellie’s only true friend on those lonely mountains. Although this served as some sort of inbetween-story to glue Nellie’s and Rose’s story together, I did find it intriguing, but not necessarily to keep the story going.

Rose Gardner’s story on the other hand, is a lot more intriguing and interesting than the two previously mentioned. Rose was the other woman in Hobbs Pritchard’s life. Although she herself proclaims not to be as beautiful as Nellie nor as intelligent, she strikes the reader as being the opposite, at least at first glance. Rose is the woman Hobbs supposedly truly loved, or as truly as a man like Hobbs can love anyone. Although their relationship is mostly based upon the physical attraction between them, Rose is the only woman Hobbs ever said “I like you” to, which is as close to professing his love as he could get. Strangely, we don’t hear or know about Rose until at the very end of Nellie’s tale, but her presence in Hobbs’ life is just as notable. Rose occasionally wonders to herself is she really did love Hobbs throughout their love affair, a question she has a hard time answering.

As most murderers and mad men, Hobbs has two sides about him, which make him all the more interesting and multi-faceted. However, the question that rises is if these two parts of him are really too far apart. Did he really love Rose, as one might think when you imagine them spending days in bed or talking for hours, whereas it’s clear he would prefer it if Nellie kept her mouth shut all the time? Or is his love for Rose based solely on her hoodoo spell? I personally had trouble accepting the latter, not because I don’t believe in hoodoo – don’t know enough about the matter to form my opinion about it – but mostly because I didn’t want to. Part of me felt that this book would have been richer, more compelling, if Hobbs was capable of loving – or seemingly loving – another living being, instead of having that part of him based on some spell. I wish the author had left that out alltogether, and that Hobbs’ love for Rose could have been at least partly genuine. Instead, the author left the reader with an option, and since I chose to believe that he did care for Rose in his own, twisted way, that made me view Hobbs as more than a deranged, aggressive and violent man. Instead, I saw him as a troubled individual, with a lot of issues that made him into the monster most people believed he was.

As I already mentioned, I would have been content with the story only being told from Nellie’s and Rose’s point of view. I did not see the need for Shelly’s version of the events, or Josie Clay’s memoir, which totally messed up the chronological order as well. Nellie saw the good side of Hobbs, fell in love with him, and then met his bad side along the way. He threated her like a porcelain doll: he places her in a house, he lived with her, but he didn’t really talk to her or communicated in any other way. On his worst days, he threated her like garbage, or worse. With Rose on the other hand, we meet a rather passionate Hobbs Pritchard, a man struggling with his own feeilngs, who will never get beyond saying “I like you” no matter how hard he tries. In Rose Gardner he meets the woman he’s actually looking for, a woman more his equal, a person he can talk to. She knows he’s a bad man, and accepts it, mostly because she doesn’t know – nor wants to know – the full extent of his crimes. But he can be nice to her, and in fact, he is most of the time. He makes love to her, while he usually just has sex with Nellie (up till the point that I would call it rape). It’s another side of this multi-faced person, a side that makes him all the more intriguing. As is mentioned throughout the novel, not a lot of women can change a man’s ways, but Rose might just be the person to do that with Hobbs Pritchard.

However, what I found most notable is the way I as a reader changed my views of both Rose and Nellie as their story progressed. I first met Nellie when she was a rather shy, young and naïve child, with an innocent look upon marriage and the world in its whole. Protected from the bad stuff in life by her mother, Nellie is definately not ready for what it means to be married with a man like Hobbs Pritchard, however, blinded by love and the foolishness of youth, she decides to marry him anyway. But – and this is what I think Hobbs least expected – life on Black Mountain hardens Nellie. Seeing as both ghosts and living people warn her about her husband, faced with his erratic and compulsive behavior herself, she builds an almost impenetrable wall around her. She grows stronger, not only by chopping wood at the back of her house, but in her heart as well. Her heart turns black, as she herself indicates. Hobbs, by violating and malthreating her, is turning her into his worst possible enemy. And the thing is, he doesn’t even notice. He fails to see that the naïve, innocent young girl he took with him to Black Mountain, has become a little too much like him.

When we meet Rose, on the other hand, she is nor innocent nor naïve. With a mother who’s basically a prostitute, Rose knows a thing or two about life. Yet she too is foolish enough to fall for Hobbs Pritchard and even believing that he could care for, or love her like a proper man should. At first, she was obviously a lot stronger than Nellie, but whereas Nellie grows stronger throughout the novel, we see Rose growing weaker and more humble, until the point that she even admits that Nellie was stronger and more intelligent than she was all along. This shows a remarkable skill for characterization on Ann Hite’s behalf: turning the roles around, making us see the different kinds of strength and intelligence people can have, and making it all the more obvious how a person can change when they have no other options left or no one else to turn to.

I have to admit that, although I found the parts about Nellie Pritchard and Rosie Gardner to be superb, in both writing style, authentic narrator’s voice and fast-paced suspense, the spin-off story about Iona Harbor was something better left out, in my opinion. It just dragged the story on, taking a masterpiece and expanding it for another good fifty-pages until its status changed from “it’s a good book, but stop dragging it out”. Beware though; here are some spoilers. Iona Harbor is Annie Harbor’s daughter, and Annie is no one else but Nellie, who changed her name to escape her past. She goes through some troubles as well – I’m not going to say what, because that might spoil things for you – which, as can be expected, bring her and Annie back to Black Mountain. Cliché, much? In any case, I totally saw this coming, and I didn’t even want to wait to see how things played out. As I said, instead of dragging this book out, Ann Hite could have called it quits a hundred or so pages earlier and she would have written what I would consider a masterpiece in gothic horror and Southern literature. Now, not so much. That’s not to say that I’m not mighty impressed – I am – but still, I feel a tad bit dissapointed with the ending. Not all loose ends have to be tied up.

The ghosts were a nice addition and they added to the haunting and eerie atmosphere of Black Mountain. Although not particularly scary when read in daylight, I can imagine that this novel might be terrifying when read at night. Ann Hite has a wonderful writing style, with a lot of authenticity in her character’s voices. It’s obvious that a lot of care and thought went into creating this novel, its backstory and its characters. Whereas I would have preferred to learn more about Hobbs’ history and what caused him to become such a cruel and mean man, and I wasn’t that interested in the story of Iona Harbor, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book. In fact, I read it in one reading session, and I didn’t even want to pause to grab myself a new cup of milk, so that’s saying something.

Dramatic, eerie and supsenseful at its best, Ghost on Black Mountain is a gripping debut novel that will make fans of Faulkner and Poe squeal from delight. With strong and authentic main characters, a multi-faceted bad guy and a haunting backstory, this book will appeal to everyone who enjoys a decent thriller or gothic horror story. Definately recommended, but beware: Once a person leaves Black Mountain, they never come back, not really. They’re lost forever.

Book Review: Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1)

11356211Title: Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1)
Author: Karina Halle
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Supernatural, Paranormal
Publisher: Metal Blonde Books
Publication Date: May 1st 2011
Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the author.
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There’s always been something a bit off about Perry Palomino. Though she’s been dealing with a quarter-life crisis and post-college syndrome like any other twenty-something, she’s still not what you would call “ordinary.” For one thing, there’s her past which she likes to pretend never happened, and then there’s the fact that she sees ghosts. Luckily for her, that all comes in handy when she stumbles across Dex Foray, an eccentric producer for an upcoming webcast on ghost hunters. Even though the show’s budget is non-existent and Dex himself is a maddening enigma, Perry is instantly drawn into a world that both threatens her life and seduces her with a sense of importance. Her uncle’s haunted lighthouse provides the perfect catalyst and backdrop for a mystery that unravels the threads of Perry’s fragile sanity and causes her to fall for a man, who, like the most dangerous of ghosts, may not be all that he seems.

If you’ve read my blog, then you know I’m always up for a good ghost story, an extraordinary supernatural thriller or just anything that’s scary enough to keep me up at night. When author Karina Halle contacted me asking if I wanted to review her debut novel, Darkhouse, I was especially thrilled. It had been quite a while since I’d read anything remotely scary, and the synopsis of the book seemed promising enough. But Darkhouse turned out unlike anything I’d expected. It drew me in from page one, with its easy-to-relate to, flawed but loveable characters, its fast pace, the unpredictable plot twists and its eerie, surreal atmosphere. If you’re searching for the scariest book of this season, then search no more. Darkhouse is exactly what you’re looking for.

Our protagonist, Perry, is a very interesting character. She has a great many flaws, which makes her all the more human. She isn’t fond of her job, which isn’t like she imagined it would be, although she’s in her twenties she doesn’t have a boyfriend and she isn’t confident with her appearance. Yes, ring the alarm bells, because we have an actual human heroine on our hands rather than a Mary Sue version of reality. Perry is very easy to relate to, mostly because she knows she has flaws, but tries to live with them. She’s worked on her appearance before, but like with all of us, it’s never enough. People used to tease her all through high school because she was overweight, and that never really goes away, no matter how much weight she lost. Especially not when, like in Perry’s case, her mom used to be a model and her kid sister has all the qualities to be one herself. When compared to these two, Perry thinks herself a bit dull, a bit ordinary, although she always hoped – like most, if not all of us – that there would be something extraordinary and special in her future. Well, Perry, it’s about to happen.

While on holiday at her uncle’s house, Perry and her sister Ada hang around with their cousins and a couple of their friends. Since hanging around with a bunch of teenagers is kind of boring her, Perry decides to check out the old and abandoned lighthouse near her uncle’s house. But she’s in for a surprise though. Not only is the lighthouse extremely terrifying, but there’s also somebody already in it. That, or the footsteps she hears on the first floor belong to a ghost.

Luckily for Perry, the person also investigating the lighthouse is anything but a ghost. In fact, he’s a rather handsome, charismatic and somewhat peculiar stranger. Although Perry’s first reaction is to be afraid of this Dex Foray guy, he sparks her interest when he tells her he went to the lighthouse to do some ghost-hunting. When the two of them hear more noises coming from above, they decide to check it out. While Perry is witness to something that can only be described as supernatural, Dex is nowhere insight. Feeling betrayed because he just ran off when things were getting dangerous, Perry decides to never think about this Dex-guy again. Although that’s not easy, considering the fact she found him quite attractive.

When Ada, Perry’s younger sister, falls ill and is unable to update her fashion blog, she asks Perry to write about something on her blog instead. Perry agrees reluctantly, but knowing nothing about fashion, she decides to write about her supernatural experience in the lighthouse instead. Luckily for her, she had her camera at hand, so she actually has some video/photo proof as well. When her post turns out to be the next internet hype , she suddenly receives a phonecall from aforementioned Dex Foray. Apparently he works for a youtube video company and the latest show he’s working on involves ghost-hunting. That, and he wants Perry and the haunted lighthouse on the show. Perry agrees, but she really has no clue what she’s getting into. The ghosts in the lighthouse might just be real, and they might have very special plans for Perry…

Since I already talked about how wonderful Perry is as a character because she has the same insecurities, problems and fears as more than half of the female population, which gives her this very humane and easy-to-relate to personality, let me talk about Dex now. You know how all those paranormal romance books feature a young, innocent girl and a more dominant vampire/demon/werewolf/other supernatural creature who has some typical bad boy charm, putting them in a peculiar relationship where one is always weak and the other always protective and strong? Yeh…well, not here. In fact, so far I’ve seen Dex portray zero supernatural abillities. He’s very much a human, and although he’s typically described as handsome by Perry, we also see a list of his many flaws indicating that perhaps not all of us would find him so handsome. He’s thin, with a bit of a moustache (personally, I’m not a fan of moustaches, but it seems to work for Dex!), and he leaves our heroine alone when in time of need. Granted, he apologises profusely about that, but still. Aforementioned Vampire/Demon/Werewolf would never do that. Unless they have to feed, or encounter another damsell in distress, or whatever. My point is: Dex has flaws at well, he isn’t the dominant male lead character some people look for when reading paranormal books. Instead, he’s human, he has a crappy low-paying job, he doesn’t look all that appealing when a night without sleep and he can get scared of ghosts as well. Which makes him one of my favorite male lead characters ever. Bonus points for Dex.

Perry and Dex’ relationship is really what drives this book. Sure, there’s the thrilling and suspenseful plot, the wonderful cast of supportive characters, the fast pace and unexpected plot twists, but in the heart of it, it’s all about Perry and Dex. It’s about two people who’ve made mistakes, who clearly aren’t perfect, and who are each desperately searching for love, who find each other. And they may not get there in this book, and maybe not even in the next, but eventually, they will. There’s a chemistry working for the two of them that they won’t be able to deny for long. The spark is there from the moment they meet, in the abandoned lighthouse, and it keeps on growing through this novel. Their interactions are at times hilarious, at other times sweet and always highly entertaining. I love them both, and I can’t wait to see what happens next to them.

As I already mentioned, the supportive characters are great as well. I especially liked Ada, Perry’s little sister, and her interactions with Perry. The two of them, albeit very different people, really do love each other.

The plot is not that original – I’ve read about abandoned lighthouses before, and protagonists dreaming about scary events about to happen to them before they actually happen…well, I’ve been there, done that. What’s original is the way the author deals with these things. She can take these clichés and turn them into something that doesn’t sound all that cliché anymore, simply because she adds the right amount of scaryness, and two of the best book characters ever created into the mix. The plot twists are unpredictable and suspensful, and kept me reading page after page after page until I’ve reached the end. Putting Darkhouse away was as impossible as travelling to the moon on foot. This is one of these books you just have to sit through to the end, or it’ll bug you forever. And even when I was done reading, I was still wondering: what’s going to happen next to Perry and Dex? Where will their next adventure take them? Will they finally get together? Yes, Darkhouse leaves you wanting more.

I would also like to congratulate Karina Halle on her excellent writing style. This book is self-published, but that really doesn’t show. It has the same high-quality writing as one would expect of a traditionally-published book, the editing is great and potential readers really shouldn’t scare away over the fact that this is self-published. There are some rare jewels in the self-publishing market as well, and the Experiment in Terror series definately is one of them.

I recommend this book to all readers who enjoy a mix of scary, creepy and supernatural occurences and romance. It reminded me a lot of the X-Files and the Scully/Mulder interactions, and of the television series Supernatural. If you’re a fan of either one of those shows, then you’ll most definately enjoy Darkhouse as well. This book can be read and enjoyed by both young adults and adults. Just don’t read it late at night when you’re home alone.

Darkhouse is the first book in a series of eight. The next book in the series is entitled Red Fox and takes Perry and Dex on an eerie and creepy adventure in New Mexico. My review for Red Fox is coming later this week. Karina Halle’s third book in the series, Dead Sky Morning will be released this fall. I can’t wait to read Dead Sky Morning and the other books in the series. I’m officially hooked.

Book Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

7795293Title: The Poisoned House
Author: Michael Ford
Genre: Gothic Horror, Victorian, Ghosts, Haunting, Young Adult
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Publishing Date: August 1st 2011
Pages: 328
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy provided by the pubilsher through Netgalley.

The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to Mrs Cotton, the tyrannical housekeeper. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.
So when a real ghost makes an appearance – that of her beloved mother – no one is more surprised than Abi. But the spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down.

The Poisoned House is your typical gothic horror story with the haunted house, the archetypical gothic villains, the Lord of the house on the verge of madness and our own tagic heroine. Combine all these elements with Michael Ford’s excellent writing, and the result is an enjoyable, entertaining and sometimes even downright scary read, excellent for during a thunder storm or late at night bedtime-reading.

Abigail Tamper, or Abi as we get to call her, is the youngest servant working in Greave Hall, an impressing but cold and empty house. The tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs. Cotton, is always out to get her and punish her, mostly for crimes she hardly even committed. Every little mistake she makes is punished severely. In her despair, Abigail even tries to run away – which eventually costs her dearly, as she is returned to the manor. With the Lord of the house gradually falling into madness, the servants afraid of the abusive housekeeper, there is only one more thing needed to turn this novel into a true Victorian ghost story. A ghost.

We meet the ghost in the form of Abigail’s mother, who passed away just about a year ago. While at first, Abi feels both terrified and rejoiced over having her mother’s ghost around to watch over her, she soon realises there must be a reason why her mother is back. That’s when Abi realises that she might be in danger. And she might not be the only one.

Although the story is predictable (I could predict the ending by page 30 or so), it is very enjoyable, and it does offer a few nice surprises along the way. I did like Abi as a character. She is a typical young adult in the Victorian era: not all that confident with herself, willing to settle for the role she has in the world, and a reluctant hero. Like a lot of people in that era, she immediately jumps to the conclusion of ghosts when weird things start to happen, which is downright awesome and saves us a lot of time we would otherwise spend reading about the protagonists’s debates whether or not their house is haunted, like we find all too often in nowadays ghost literature. She is a relatable charachter, well-portrayed through-out this novel, and I felt very sympathetic towards her, especially when I got to know her a little better.

The character of Mrs. Cotton offers an excellent portrayal of the archetypical Victorian villain. She is cruel, mean, and deadly afraid of the ghosts that have come to haunt Greave Hall. She is cold, self-righteous and a pleasure to read about. The fact that she might not be the only villain in this story, only adds to the suspense. Talking about suspense, The Poisoned House really got this spot-on. From the first page I read I was wondering why a young girl like Abi would want to escape from the only safe home she has, and as I turned page after page, more and more mysteries began to unfold in front of me and I felt the undeniable urge to continue reading. Putting this book away is simply not an option.

If you’re a fan of gothic novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, you will be delighted to read The Poisoned House, as it really follows in line with all the classics in the genre. It has all the elements to make an interesting and scary ghost story, and it does so in a most unique fashion. Aimed at young adults, it isn’t as frightening as it could have been, but it does make for a nice way to pass the time during a rainy afternoon or late at night. The mystery grows thicker with every page and for some, the revelation at the end, might be quite shocking. If you’re familiar with gothic novels, you might have it all figured out by then though, which isn’t always that pleasant (and which is the reason why I didn’t rate this book higher). On another note, the historical setting is anything but accurate, which often annoyed me. The characters don’t even speak the way they did in Victorian England…This might be because the novel was aimed at young adults and even younger children, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying for the somewhat older people under us who’d like to read things that are at least somewhat accurate.

The plot is, as I already said, decent, but it’s also predictable and not-all-that-surprising, especially when you’ve read gothic horror before. The ending is rushed, and I feel like they’re quite some loose ties the author should have wrapped up. It’s like he builds up the tension slowly, and keeps us all excited for more, and then ends it all in a page or ten. It isn’t all that believable and convincing either, which bothered me as well.

All in all, The Poisoned House is an entertaining read with interesting characters, some nice plot twists, and your typical Victorian haunted house setting. The atmosphere is gothic, creepy and tense. The suspense builds gradually, and keeps you turning page after page after page. The novel is aimed at teens, and that really shows. But all in all, if you’re a fan of the genre, or just love a nice ghost story, you shouldn’t leave this one out.

Book Review: Spirit by Graham Masterton

16916Title: Spirit
Author: Graham Masterton
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Adult, Ghosts, Supernatural
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by Dorchester Publishing.

Laura and Elizabeth Buchanan’s lives were changed forever when their little sister Peggy was found dead in the icy water of the family’s pool. But Peggy never left her sisters. As Laura and Elizabeth grow up, a string of inexplicable deaths threatens to shatter their lives. Each corpse shows signs of frostbite–and each victim’s dying moments are tortured by a merciless little girl in a white dress.

When I first read the blurb for Spirit, I knew that I needed to get my hands on this book, no matter what it cost. Even though I had to request it three times (due to my Netgalley profile not being completely filled in), I didn’t care in the slightest. I had this crazy, unexplainable, but very convincing feeling that this book was going to leave me scared, terrified and very, very impressed. I don’t know why I got this feeling, that turned out to be true, but I have my suspicions that it might be a supernatural thing of the kind we come across in Spirit, a part of me that instinctively knew, even by reading the smallest back cover blurb ever, that this novel was it. That this was the kind of scary story I had been waiting for since forever-and-a-day, that this was the story that would leave me paralyzed, hidden under my blankets at night, and unable to sleep. I was more than right.

Spirit reminded me of the first time I watched The Others, with Nicole Kidman as leading actress, and hid under my blanket because I was so damn terrified. It brought back memories of summoning spirits at band camp late at night, of shivers running down your spine when your friends tell you ghost stories around a camp fire, or hearing a weird sound and dismissing it as nothing, while you very well know it’s something. It reminded me of that time my friends and I broke into the local haunted mansion, and I saw what I firmly believe was a ghost. This novel is so haunting, so absolutely terrifying, that it reminded me of every single time I was scared by the supernatural, by the world beyond our own, by the possible existence of ghosts, and topped all of that. I don’t remember ever being so scared while reading a book before in my life. Now it leaves me still very much unsettled, but very much impressed at well. Wow, is all I can say, wow, and please hand me another one of those.

I cannot begin to describe how good it felt to actually be this scared again, right when I was starting to lose my faith in the horror genre alltogether. I mean, I’m one of those people who can’t be scared by watching Zombie flicks, or by reading about blood-sucking vampires (definately not after the whole Sparkly-vampires thing) or by insane serial killers following a group of stupid and ignorant teenagers. The only way to actually make me shiver in fear, is by involving ghosts. Why? Ghosts just have this whole sense of weirdness going on, one cannot be certain if they truly exist or not, and even if they do, it’s damn hard to get rid of them, since they are…you know, dead.

Spirit begins with the drowning of five-year-old Peggy, the little sister of Elizabeth and Laura Buchanan. While their parents suffer greatly from the loss of their beloved youngest daughter, the two sisters struggle with feelings of guilt. In an effort to put this past them, Elizabeth buries her copy of The Snow Queen, Peggy’s favorite fairytale, in the snow of their backyard, as a peace offering to God to let Peggy’s soul rest in heaven. Rest assured, that’s the last thing that happens.

Some years pass by and the Buchanan family is getting things together again, with their mother returning from the asylum (she suffered a mental breakdown after Peggy’s funeral) and their father getting back to work as a publisher. However, strange things are starting to happen. Elizabeth runs into a girl she swears is Peggy, although the girl looks nothing like her drowned sister. When people are starting to die in peculiar circumstances as well – from frostbite, for instance – Elizabeth suspects that somehow Peggy returned back from the dead. She finds encouragement for her thoughts when her parents start seeing Peggy as well, and when a local author and friend of hers tells her that he’s been seeing his dead brother, Billy, frequently during hte last couple of years. Although the boy he sees looks nothing like Billy, and isn’t even of the same age.

Elizabeth and Laura must stop their younger sister from walking this earth anymore, and must do whatever it takes to put her soul to rest. Before it’s too late…

The entire atmosphere, dialogue and descriptions of Spirit is eerie and haunted. From the first few sentences until the very last, Graham Masterton proves that he is a true master of the horror genre, as he pulls his readers in from his very first chapter, and doesn’t let them go. He describes his characters in a lot of detail, and I felt like I got to know them as real people, with real hopes and expectations, and real, substantial fears. Elizabeth was a gripping character with a moving and touching personality, who gained a lot of my sympathy as she struggled with the ghost of her undead sister. Sorrow, regret, guilt and raw, honest fear are all woven together in what I believe is one of the scariest novels currently existing. As the years pass by and the secrets unfold, I felt myself getting pulled more and more into the novel. When the ghost of Peggy appeared, first not much more than a vision, and later on a person you could actually touch, a murderous and over-protective, evil spirit, I looked behind my back occasionally, as shivers were running down my spine and I felt the temperature in the room had dropped several degrees. Although mostly only in my head, it was great to be experience so many emotions when reading a novel.

There were parts in the book that felt sloppy and not up-to-par as well. For instance, when they try to unravel the mystery of who exactly the spirit is, and why they feel like it’s Peggy although she looks nothing at all like their deceased sister. “Human imagination”, “Fairy Tales Come To Life”, that dropped the scare-level to halfway, in my opinion. Maybe it’s the science and logic behind it, although I did think this was interesting and an original perspective, or maybe it was that this wasn’t just some dead person’s ghost lingering about, but actually only a little girl’s imagination gone wild. Quite dissapointing in the scary-department but unmistakingly original nevertheless. I also felt like somehow these parts dragged a bit, and that some of the kills were rather random. I didn’t like the scene with Laura and the two TV producers, and I wasn’t sure if it was an essential part of the story – to show what exactly the spirit is capable of (but if it was, why did she not appear sooner then, and why wait till after Laura gets hurt?) – or if it was just to fill some pages. I am inclined to believe the latter, and wasn’t all that touched by it. The epic battle at the end left me dissapointed as well (I had a continuous feeling of: oh really?, and add a sarcastic tone to that), but all in all, I could live with that, considering how unnaturally frightened I had been with the first part of the novel.

What would have made Spirit stood out for me so much that I would rate it a 5 rather than a 4.5? Had the ghostly incidents started off more slowly, rather than immediately with the apparition of an actual ghost-like figure. I like the tiny little horror parts in novels, like when the protagonist leaves their keys on the counter, and then finds them on the table when he returns. Or when they hear strange noises at night, that can not be explained. Or when they see shapes out of the corner of their eyes, but dismiss it as being nothing. Lights suddenly shutting off, things going missing, those sort of things. And then, bring in the ghost. And then, a hundred-or-so-pages further down the line, make the ghost go totally murderous. I also would have liked to see more of Margaret, Elizabeth’s mother, and how she might have been effected by the supernatural events. She was an intriguing character, with her severe doubts about her life, her depression over giving up her acting career and her frequent visits to the asylum. There was a small part of the novel in which Margaret saw Peggy first, but no one believed her, and then Elizabeth saw her as well. I would have liked it if this had lasted longer, and they had announced Margaret crazy for seeing things that were actually real, and then have Elizabeth question her own sanity as she starts seeing the ghost as well. Alas, we cannot have it all.

I also liked the fact that this novel read like a mystery novel. There’s the case of the murderous ghost, and then our cast of characters has to find out who she is, where she comes from, and how to stop her, in a race against time – or against the next murder. I also loved the fact that not only our protagonists were seeing ghosts, but that other people throughout the story confessed to having seen dead relatives as well. A more thorough description of the house the Buchanans live in, would have been great as well, or if the ghost was somehow connected to the house as well.

Nevertheless, as I already mentioned, the first part of the novel was a whole new level of scary for me, and if the second part was a tad bit dissapointing, then so be it. I enjoyed reading Spirit, and I would definately read another novel by Graham Masterton in a heartbeat. Some parts of this book were actually beyond brilliant, and left me very impressed, and a tremendously happy reader. If you can get past some of the minor flaws, you will realise, just as I have, that this novel is a masterpiece of horror literature, a true symphony for all things horrifying and supernatural, and a statement on its own: that not all things dead, stay dead, and that ghosts might very well exist. Magnificent.

Book Review: The Banishing by Fiona Dodwell

10660843Title: The Banishing
Author: Fiona Dodwell
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Thriller
Publisher: Damnation Books
Published: February 27th 2011
Pages: 182
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours.
Goodreads | Author’s Website

When Melissa first notices the change in her husband – subtle at first – she thinks it may be the stress of moving into their new home. Or working long hours. But soon he turns into something far darker, far more sinister.Who or what is the dark shadow living beneath her husband? What is haunting him?
Melissa must quickly find the answer to these questions, because Mark is changing, and fast. Soon her fight will be for her life, as well as for her marriage.
The Banishing is a dark, disturbing novel exploring the world of demonic possession, spiritual oppression and domestic abuse.

The Banishing tells the dark and disturbing story of housewife and nurse Melissa, and her husband Mark. Although at first he turned out to be everything she desired, and was nothing if not a Prince Charming by the time they married, he is slowly changing into a person she hardly recognizes. This started happening from the moment they started living in their new house, and has grown worse over the passing months. Although at first Melissa is convinced this is just an unknown side of her husband turning up after ‘the honeymoon is over’, she grows suspicious when she sees him whispering to strange entities. When she herself encounters a strange figure in the middle of her living room, she is both puzzled and more and more convinced that whatever is happening to her and her husband, it has something to do with a presence from the beyond. In her search for the truth, she discovers some things about the history of her house that help explain what is currently happening, but are horrifying as well. Now Melissa is forced to make a choice: what exactly is she willing to give up for the man she loves?

The Banishing reminded me a lot of classics in the horror genre, like The Exorcist and Poltergeist, and it also has a lot of simmilarities with Paranormal Activity, a more recently released scary movie. Granted, the idea of a man being haunted/posessed by an evil ghost or demon isn’t all that original. A house in which the owners over the years all end up in the same pattern, that’s been done before as well. What makes The Banishing such a thrilling and exciting read however, is the way Fiona Dodwell handles her scary story, the way she builds up the tension, and how she makes her characters seem both admirable and loathesome at once and manages to turn them into realistic people with their own fears and emotions. We don’t get thrown right into one big mess of scary, but the volume of frightening things we are encountering, increases gradually, building up the fear slowly but most definately. Horror the way it should be, and I had a marvellous time reading.

Melissa is a very complex character. She is loving and caring towards the people she loves, and she has a profound love for her husband that doesn’t dissapear, no matter how many times he hits her, or how ridiculous he behaves. She keeps holding on to the memories of the life they shared before, and draws her strength from the fact she wants her husband back. Although I personally was rather fond of the idea of Melissa leaving her abusive husband, and although she herself knew it was the best decision logically-speaking, she had an instinct that this wasn’t entirely her husbands fault. Melissa’s strength and courage shows when she decides she would rather follow her feelings and instinct, than do what everyone tells her to do, namely leave Mark. I really liked Melissa’s personality, her determination to set things right, and her courage when facing the evil things that are hidden in her very own home. Although, I have question marks with her choices towards the end – I don’t know if I could have gone with that myself – but more about that later.

We don’t get to see a lot of the other character’s personality. We see one side of Mark, namely the abusive, twisted, disturbed and mentally unstable side. We see him talking to dark spirits, doing whatever he can to pain his wife, but it isn’t really him. When taken away from their little house of horrors, he changes, although only a little. I loved that when he took Melissa on a date, he seemed like a different man already, if only slightly. The rest of his personality, the normal, non-abusive, non-insane side, the reader can only gather from Melissa’s trips down memory lane, in which she recalls the loving and caring man he used to be. This left me with a double feeling towards Mark: on the one hand, I hated the guy, especially when he tried to hurt Melissa once again, and I was raging at her not to put up with his crap. On the other hand, I understood that the things that happened weren’t his fault, and I somehow felt sympathetic towards him for being mistreated and practically abused himself by the creature inhabiting their home. I love it when characters give me mixed feelings – that often means they have a certain depth to their personality – and I was very impressed by the way author Fiona Dodwell managed to make me feel about ‘bad guy’ Mark, both angry and sympathetic.

As I already mentioned, the tension builds slowly and gradually, which is always a bonus. It has no use bombarding your readers with one-hundred ghosts or ghastly occurances at once. Fiona Dodwell takes things slowly, and by doing so she managed to make me genuinely scared. Considering I’m not easily scared – although I must admit ghosts do manage to frighten me more often than any other supernatural creature – this is a considerable accomplishment. I also enjoyed the general atmosphere of the novel. The tension, the fear, it didn’t stop when Melissa left the house and went to work. It kept on going for the entire novel, from page one till the very end, and it was both nerve-wrecking and thrilling. Event after event unfolded, the secrets were slowly exposed, and I found myself neglecting my own promise to myself (to only read one chapter, then stdy a bit, then read another chapter). I had to finish this one in one single reading session – that’s how good it is.

Without trying to spoil anything, I must say that Fiona Dodwell adds one giant twist to the end of the story, that is both highly fascinating, and unmistakebly disturbing. I had mixed feelings about the choice Melissa makes at the end. On the one hand, I can understand why she made the choice. On the other hand, I find it rather cowardly, and not totally like the character I got to know. It did leave me wondering for a long while after reading this novel, whether or not I myself would have been able to make such a choice. I guess we’ll never know (unless I end up living in a house inhabited by ghost-like figures and my husband turns out to be possessed….but lets hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon!) but the fact that Melissa was able to make that particular choice, casts a spotlight on what humans are capable of when they venture into the darkest corners of their mind. We are, in essence, egocentric and egotistic creatures, but that some of us are able to make such choices, only proves that the real darkness, the real demons of the world, are hidden within our own minds, and in the things we are capable of when we choose to. The ending was nothing short but brilliant.

If I had to mention one thing I wasn’t all that fond of while reading The Banishing, it would be the relationship between Melissa and her psychiatrist Josh. I get the fact that she’s looking for a way out, and that every form of affection is welcome by now, especially considering the fact how she is treated by her own husband. What I don’t get, is Josh’s behavior. He’s supposed to be the profesional, the psychiatrist, not some twenty-something boy who instantly crushes on his new patient, albeit it’s obvious she has some serious trouble with her abusive husband, and looks more like a corpse than an actual human. I had a hard time believing the attraction between these two characters, and the fact that Josh would be willing to put his career in jeapordy simply to have an affair with a married woman.

The Banishing tells a dark and twisted tale, that will probably reminds its readers of the classics in the horror genre, back when horror was actually still scary and everyone could be possessed by a demon or every house in the neighborhood could be inhabited by vengeful spirits from the beyond. The cast of characters Fiona Dodwell introduces us to, is varied and interesting. The tension builds up slowly and gradually, but it never fails for one single moment during the entire reading experience. The written is excellent, the storyline full of unexpected twists and turns. The ending is nothing if not brilliant, and it will leave you thinking about this novel for a long time after reading it. If you enjoy horror, especially the classic horror involving ghosts and demons, then The Banishing is an excellent choice.

Author Interview: Kris Sedersten

The Book

9976979Title: Mojo
Author: Kris Sedersten
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Supernatural, Horror
Review copy provided by the author. Visit the author’s website.
Read my review for Mojo.

When Scottie Brown, a New Orleans college student, is aggressively haunted by vivid nightmares and daytime apparitions, he begins a search for answers; unwittingly putting himself and those closest to him in a confrontation with evil. To defeat the energy that torments him, he recruits a team of paranormal investigators, friends from high school, and a psychic medium. Together, they pursue the ghosts of Scottie’s ancestors in a haunted plantation deep in the Louisiana countryside. They uncover dark family secrets and the spiritual energy of a malevolent patriarch who projects an unholy prophecy that has deadly consequenes for all mankind. The power of an elusive mojo amulet becomes central to fighting Scottie’s demons as the journey through the haunted mansion, filled with twists and turns, takes on a life of its own against time. Mojo is a fast-paced paranormal mystery-thriller. Edgy and fun, this book will show the reader how having faith in a power greater than ourselves will lift us through even the most unforseeable obstacles in life.

Author Interview

1) Hello Kris! I really enjoyed reading your novel Mojo. I’ve heard that you’ve written one other novel prior to writing Mojo. Can you tell us something about that novel?

I wrote my first novel, The Spirit Seekers, in 2008. It is the story of Scottie Brown’s first encounter with the paranormal; a prequel to Mojo. It was sort of a goof and I put the story together without ever intending to publish it. But, one thing led to another and I did decide to publish. The Spirit Seekers is a good story but the text is pretty rough and it I now believe I published it too soon. I did not work with an editor then and the manuscript could have used more editing and rewriting throughout. Through the experience of writing that first novel I realized how much I love to write and I decided to take the whole process much more seriously. Over the past three years I have worked toward improving my writing skills and developing a creative style while learning everything I can about the publishing business. I am now working with an editor who constantly challenges me and I think that was a good step for me.

2) Mojo is all about ghosts, haunted mansions, ancient family secrets, devil worshipping, and other scary things that go bump in the night. Why did you choose to write a horror novel, and why focus on these subjects?

I’ve always loved horror stories and I have a passion for the paranormal so I can’t even imagine writing about anything else. Much of the paranormal fiction today focuses on vampires and werewolves. There aren’t too many good old fashioned ghost stories out there and I wanted to write something original that would appeal to those who appreciate a good scare.

3) Now, I really have to ask this question because it’s been haunting me ever since I read Mojo, and fell in love with the description of the haunted mansion that plays a large part in the novel. Is the Bennet family mansion based on an actual house, or just a result of your imagination?

It isn’t based on one specific house but it is a combination of “haunted houses” I have explored at one time or another. Much of the “mojo” in the mansion is how I imagine a haunted southern plantation would look like and feel to a visitor.

4.) What was your favorite scary movie/book/story back when you were a child?

I always love watching The Wizard Of OZ as a child. My sister and I would cuddle together and watch the movie. Then, we’d be too afraid to go to bed. Our Dad would get so disgusted with us! There was a soap opera called Dark Shadows that came on every afternoon when I was in grade school. The main characters were vampires, witches, ghosts, and any combination of paranormal creations. We loved that show too.

5) To stay in the spirit of ghosts, haunting, and other scary things: have you ever seen a ghost? Or just had the feeling that a place was haunted?

I am the founder of Synergy Paranormal Investigations. We are a new group of paranormal investigators from central Nebraska. I have been in places that I absolutely believe are haunted locations but I have never seen a ghost—so far! It’s on my list though! I have experienced “cold spots”, electrical appliances turning on by themselves, and other unexplained phenomena that help to inspire my writing and motivate me! Exploring the unexplained is so fun!

6) Are you currently working on another novel? If so, can you tell us something about it?

I am in the process of rewriting The Spirit Seekers. As I mentioned earlier, it is a good story but it needed some work. I decided to polish the story and later this year I will publish it under the title, Lost Mojo. It is in the editing process at this time. I am also working on the third installment of the Mojo series. The first draft of that story is finished, now comes the tedious task of tweaking the craftsmanship, deciding what to leave in and what to take out! I plan to publish a non-fiction collection of ghost stories I am compiling from my website, the case files of Synergy Paranormal Investigations, and stories from other teams in the area who are willing to share their experiences.

So, yeah, I am crazy busy! I want to thank you so much for inviting me to join you. I’d love to hear from anyone who has read Mojo. All comments are appreciated. Mojo is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (also in Kindle version) Please feel free to visit my website <a href=””></a> and leave a comment or share a story.

Thank you so much for the interview, Kris!

The Author

Kris Sedersten is a Registered Nurse with a degree in Human and Social Service Administration. She has held credentialing in both Gerontological and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing. She is currently employed as a Nursing Home Administrator and RN Consultant in her home town of Harvard NE. where she lives with her husband, Paul and their mini-doxies, Chloe and Bailey.
Kris has three adult daughters, Lyndsi, Ashley, and Sara who continually enlighten her with their inspiration and unconditional love. Her eight grandchildren bring delight and imagination to the empty nest whenever possible to remind her that the world is always more fun when viewed with childlike wonder.
Kris has a passion for the paranormal, writing fiction, and sharing her faith in innovative forums so combining the three has led to a series of books she is working on. If you’ve got Mojo; look for upcoming releases in 2011. . Visit her website.