Book Review: Beneath The Shadows by Sara Foster

13100208Title: Beneath The Shadows
Author: Sara Foster
Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Gothic Horror
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: June 5th 2012
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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In this thrilling gothic suspense debut by Sara Foster in the tradition of Rosamund Lupton and Sophie Hannah, a young mother searches Yorkshire’s windswept moors for the truth behind her husband’s mysterious disappearance.
THE ANSWERS ARE HIDING BENEATH THE SHADOWS
When Grace’s husband, Adam, inherits an isolated North Yorkshire cottage, they leave the bustle of London behind to try a new life. A week later, Adam vanishes without a trace, leaving their baby daughter, Millie, in her stroller on the doorstep. The following year, Grace returns to the tiny village on the untamed heath. Everyone—the police, her parents, even her best friend and younger sister—is convinced that Adam left her. But Grace, unable to let go of her memories of their love and life together, cannot accept this explanation. She is desperate for answers, but the slumbering, deeply superstitious hamlet is unwilling to give up its secrets. As Grace hunts through forgotten corners of the cottage searching for clues, and digs deeper into the lives of the locals, strange dreams begin to haunt her. Are the villagers hiding something, or is she becoming increasingly paranoid? Only as snowfall threatens to cut her and Millie off from the rest of the world does Grace make a terrible discovery. She has been looking in the wrong place for answers all along, and she and her daughter will be in terrible danger if she cannot get them away in time.

If you’re as much of a fan of gothic horror as I am, then the synopsis of Beneath The Shadows probably intrigues you more than you’d like to admit. It was the synopsis that first drew me in for this story, but it definitely didn’t dissapoint. It’s a bit less gothic than I would’ve liked, but it does its best to be a gothic horror with a modern twist, and it succeeds in that department. The only problem? To me, it read more like women’s fiction meets mystery. Or even a cozy mystery of sorts. There were creepy, ghostly elements, but they were either quickly dismissed or offered little to nothing to the story. This could’ve been handled differently, better even, by living up to its genre and giving the reader true gothic horror.

Grace and Adam and their little daughter Millie return back to the place where Adam grew up in North Yorkshire. They move into a cottage left to them by Adam’s parents. Soon after their arrival in town, Adam takes Millie for a walk. Hours later, Grace finds Millie’s baby carriage at her doorstep, but no sign of Adam. As the police arrive and start to investigate, there’s no trace of Adam. Some people start to believe he just up and left them, but Grace refuses to believe that. Something bad happened to her husband, because he would never leave Millie out in the cold, or leave both of them behind. But the question remains: what? And who’s responsible?

A year later, Grace returns back to the cottage. But contradictory to the homey, comfortable feel she had in it at first, now it makes shivers run down her spine. The village is tiny, claustrophobically so, and we’re introduced to only a handful of the town’s characters. Meredith is Grace’s nextdoor neighbour, although they live a while apart, and she lives in one of the largest houses in town. Although Meredith is friendly enough, there’s something sinister about the woman Grace can’t quite place. Almost accidently, Grace ends up hiring a handyman to help fix the cottage, Ben. He’s nice enough, but he too seems to be hiding a dark secret.

With everyone enveloped in their own secrets, and her husband still missing, Grace has trouble deciding who she can trust…if anyone.

Beneath The Shadows is wrapped up in suspense like a butterfly in a cocoon. Suspense drips from the pages, starting on page one, and continuing until after the end. The characters are superb. Grace is an intriguing protagonist. She isn’t particularly brave or intelligent, but she believes firmly in that her husband wouldn’t just walk out on her, regardless of what others say, and she fiercely wants to protect her daughter Millie. She’s stronger than she appears at first sight, and braver than I gave her credit for as well.

The side characters make interesting additions to this story. Grace’s sister Annabel is fun, Ben is nice, and some of the villagers are creepy or strange. I liked the narrative. Some otehr reviewers mentioned they weren’t fond of it, but I quite enjoyed it.

Another pet peeve of mine was the constant referals to the novel Rebecca. I’ve read Rebecca, and loved it, and trust me, Beneath The Shadows is nothing like Rebecca. It’s a good, enjoyable read as it is, but it comes nowhere near that classic.

All in all, Beneath The Shadows is a great book for around Halloween if you’re not in a mood to get too scared, but you do want some mystery, or during summer when you want to spend a lazy afternoon reading.

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

584843Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Thriller, Ghosts
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: First publication in 1983
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Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.
Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

I read The Woman in Black late at night, with the lights out except my reading light. Thank God, I wasn’t home alone. This novel was one of the scariest books I’ve had the pleasure to read all year. It made shivers run down my spine, and occasionally I risked a glance behind me to see if some supernatural creature hadn’t crept up on me from behind.

The prose of this book is delicious. It reminds me of Edgar Poe, of Austen and Mary Shelley, a fluent narrative that is both entrancing and exciting. The story itself is both unique and familiar. A young lawyer named Kipps needs to handle an estate out in the country, after its owner, an old woman, passed away. When he travels there, he finds out that the old woman’s paperwork is in bad shape, and he needs to spend a few days in her mansion in the moors to make an index of everything she owned. Local villagers aren’t pleased to see Kipps go to the moors. At first, Kipps isn’t sure why, until he spends a day at the Eel Marsh House and finds out a thrilling but terrible secret that rocks the foundations of his very world. Eel Marsh House is haunted. Kipps has to find out by whom and why, before she extracts her terrible vengeance on him as well.

So this story has the basic shape of every gothic ghost story. An abandoned house in the moors, a young protagonist who does not believe in spirits until confronted with them, whose also brave and resourceful, and a tragic secret of the past that’s the source of all this ghostly activity. What The Woman in Black does with these predefined elements of horror literature, is reshape them and rebuild them, mold them into a story that is truly horrible and scary, eerie in its very nature, a sort of climax of everything the gothic horror genre stands for.

The characters are colorful and different. They’re standard prototypes and yet they’re not. The descriptions are amazing, and instantly transport the reader back in time. The setting is both tranquil and eerie, a perfect fit for the story unfolding in the background. The protagonist is both charming and endearing, both skeptic and a realist.

I’ve read the book, and then watched the movie. The movie doesn’t entirely follow the plot of the book, and that’s a shame. The movie ending felt flat, even a little lame, a stupid ending as opposed to the truly horrific ending of the novel, in true gothic horror style. Even if you’ve seen the film and were disappointed, give the book a try. The prose alone makes it worth reading, and the well-developed characters and multi-layered story only add to that.

The Woman in Black is one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it to all horror and ghost story fans. Ideal to read late at night or during a thunderstorm.

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: 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.

Author Interview: Michael Lee

The Book

10775739Title: My Frankenstein
Author: Michael Lee
Genre: Retelling Classics, Fantasy, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction, Dark Romance
Read my review for My Frankenstein.

In a small village in early 19th Century young Eva is enthralled by the new young baron, Viktor Frankenstein. Viktor promises to transform the traditional little town into a beacon of science and gives the book loving Eva access to his fantastic library. Eva becomes his student and assists him in a secret experiment, though she is kept in the dark about its ultimate aim. Soon after that Viktor introduces Eva to his “cousin” Adam. Adam is horribly disfigured with stitches running across his face. Viktor claims he is mute and simpleminded, but Eva takes pity on him and sets out to teach him to speak.…

What follows is a combination of tragic romance and classic horror as Eva is pulled between Viktor, who grows jealous and takes murderous steps to ensure his secret, and Adam, who possess tremendous strength and rage yet deep inside is innocent and vulnerable.

In his debut fantasy novel, Michael J. Lee retells the classic story by Mary Shelley as a dark romance with steampunk overtones.

Author Interview

1) As the title suggests, My Frankenstein is a retelling of the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. What inspired you to write about Frankenstein?

Frankenstein is one of those stories that makes up part of my “writer’s DNA.” It’s a tale I grew up with. I was going to write about it sooner or later because I loved the story so much. And it’s a wonderful story that can find new applicability with the times. I felt the time had come to revisit the story with fresh eyes.

2) I liked the character of Eva. With her intelligence, fast learning skills and rather naive (at least at first) attitude, she seems a perfect fit for Viktor. Whereas the original “Frankenstein” novel barely even mentioned love or other emotions, why did you choose to bring a romantic twist to the story?

That’s what really made the story come alive, the emotions and deep feelings the characters have. What really kicked this story into high gear for me was remembering something an actor once told me, “You can’t hate someone you don’t give a damn about.” That element of love that Eva brings to the story is the real spark that brings the novel to life.

3) I have to admit that Viktor, despite his many flaws, was my favorite character. There is something darkly romantic and tragic about a scientist too advanced for his era. Who was your favorite character to write?

Viktor. Writing a hero can be fun but creating a dark character like Viktor and making him work, for me that is the heart of writing. In his own mind, he’s a hero not a villain. He has a reason for everything he does. That makes him an active character. He’s very much alive. And he just creates tension and drama. He doesn’t even have to do or say anything. Just having him enter the room makes the drama up a notch. A character like that is a joy to write.

4) Are you currently working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us something about it?

Yes I am. It’s called From Russia With Blood. This is also a tale close to my heart. Frankenstein is part of writer’s DNA, so is Dracula and so is James Bond. And I think the two genres are really tailor made for each other. The first drafts are done. I’m just working on fine tuning and editing the story.

Thanks for answering my interview questions!

Thanks for having me!

The Author

Michael Lee is a script consultant, judge and entertainment blogger for The Wrap.com and has lived in Detroit, Connecticut, Ohio and Los Angeles.
Visit his website.

Book Review: My Frankenstein by Michael Lee

10775739Title: My Frankenstein
Author: Michael Lee
Genre: Retelling Classics, Fantasy, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction, Dark Romance
Pages: 408
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours.

In a small village in early 19th Century young Eva is enthralled by the new young baron, Viktor Frankenstein. Viktor promises to transform the traditional little town into a beacon of science and gives the book loving Eva access to his fantastic library. Eva becomes his student and assists him in a secret experiment, though she is kept in the dark about its ultimate aim. Soon after that Viktor introduces Eva to his “cousin” Adam. Adam is horribly disfigured with stitches running across his face. Viktor claims he is mute and simpleminded, but Eva takes pity on him and sets out to teach him to speak.…

What follows is a combination of tragic romance and classic horror as Eva is pulled between Viktor, who grows jealous and takes murderous steps to ensure his secret, and Adam, who possess tremendous strength and rage yet deep inside is innocent and vulnerable.

In his debut fantasy novel, Michael J. Lee retells the classic story by Mary Shelley as a dark romance with steampunk overtones.

In a small village in 19th century England, a young and quite naive girl named Eva has an undeniable passion for science and progress, and she even managed to make a lightning rod. While she is trying to attach the latter to the roof of the inn she’s living in, she nearly falls down, because the scene that’s unfolding in front of her – her best friend kissing the boy she has loved all her life – makes her so upset that she loses her balance. Luckily, two strange men enquire about her well-being before entering the inn. Although she finds the first man to be quite attractive, and he seems like a true gentleman, it takes a while before Eva figures out that this man is Viktor, the new baron of their village.

Much like Eva herself, Viktor is a scientist. Amazed by the girl’s intelligence, he agrees to teach her the sciences, from electricity and mathematics to biology and chemistry, along with the help of his friend, a Russian called Igor. Viktor is a man of progression, and he is determined to bring their village into a new era. What Eva doesn’t know yet, is that her love for Viktor might be dangerous, not only for her, but for her friends and the entire village as well.

Then, one day, Viktor does the unthinkable. He introduces Eva to his cousin Adam, who got horribly deformed in an accident. Whereas Eva is capable of looking past the horrific appearance of Adam, and even manages to teach him something, Viktor could not care less about the young and horribly looking man. But Eva feels like something is up, and Viktor isn’t telling her the whole truth. To protect not only herself, but Adam as well, she is determined to find out what the truth is.

I loved Eva as a character. She is intelligent, but hardly realises she is. She is charming, intuitive and caring, but no one seems to recognise these qualities in her, aside from Viktor then. Viktor is a progressive scientist, too advanced for his era, too innovative, modern and evolved for his century. He is the tragic scientist, the misunderstood genius, the evil mastermind who does evil in the name of progress and evolution. I was secretly hoping that, even when she discovered some of his more evil personality traits, Eva would still be able to love him. To see whether or not she did, you will have to read the book though. I can only say that I still did, that he and Eva are one of the most fitting, tragically romantic couples I’ve come across in literature, and that they really touched my heart. They are both very interesting, relatable and well-described characters. I can understand that not everyone will like Viktor’s personality, but I believe he truly intended to do good, but did everything wrong, and thus was more of a tragic hero than of an evil villain.

I loved the fact that the author takes the original Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley, and adds this darkly romantic twist to it. The idea is both original and interesting, and when pulled off successfully – as Michael Lee absolutely did in this novel – it can change your view on the original Frankenstein story forever. Now I can no longer imagine Frankenstein without thinking about Viktor and Eva and their mutual bond.

I also loved the fact that Viktor Frankenstein isn’t just interested in creating a human being out of corpses and bringing it to life. He brings progression and modernization to Eva’s village, from a coal mine to a hospital, and practically brings the 19th century, filled with scientific research, machinery and evolution, to this village that still seems to be stuck in the dark Middle Ages. I also enjoyed reading about the villager’s reaction to all that, about their rebellion against progress, about their battle for the old and familiar against the new and unknown.

My Frankenstein reads very easily. It’s a fast-paced novel, with a decent story behind it, excellent characterization and it also explores several interesting topics. Michael Lee’s writing style is very fluent, and the story is gripping from the beginning to the end. I would advise My Frankenstein to anyone who enjoys a good classic retold, or to anyone who liked reading the original Frankenstein story.

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.

Book Review: Evangeline by Gwen Williams

17436884Title: Evangeline
Author: Gwen Williams
Genre: Adult Romance, Retold Fairytale, Gothic Romance
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy was provided by Red Sage Publishing.

Paul Rumsfeld, a lonely, rich, widower, seeks Evangeline’s hand in marriage. He is her first real marital prospect, as the entire village considers her damaged goods. Rumors abound about the way Evangeline and her sister Rose Red, serviced the Black Bear who resided at their hearth during one particularly hard, bitter winter. Evangeline did no such thing, but no man pays her court. She accepts Paul’s offer to marry him, while trying to ignore the vile gossipmongers’ talk in the village that Paul’s last four wives died under bizarre-and troubling-circumstances. Is Paul a Bluebeard, or is he an innocent man? Evangeline trusts her husband implicitly, but the rumors are hard to ignore.

They marry and she travels with him to his marvelous villa on the sea. Once there, she is introduced to the household servants, including the grim and reproving Mathilda. Mathilda is a formidable opponent, and it takes all of Evangeline’s guile and resources to outmaneuver the imperious maidservant. Evangeline soon finds herself with child, and with the support of the midwife, she begins to exert her will. Out with the restricting corsets and stays! Evangeline has no desire to confine her body to the dictates of fashion. She wants her baby to be healthy and strong, and the only way to do that is to ensure her own comfort. Mathilda is horrified, but cannot bend Evangeline to her will.

At the same time, Evangeline is attempting to breach the citadel that is her husband’s broken heart. Paul honestly cannot say how it has come to pass that he is the widower of four deceased wives, each one expiring under odd and distressing circumstances. As a result, he has locked down his heart to any further intimacy. He is half-convinced that Evangeline shall also die, and it would be unbearable if he were to allow her into his heart.

Who still remembers the story of Rose Red, Black Bear and her sister – Snow White, in the original fairytale? Well I don’t, at least not completely. I think I was born right after the Rose Red and Snow White fairytale-hype, and I only heard it once or twice and forgot most of the details. I mean, I’m probably born in the generation who thinks of Snow White as the girl who bit in the apple and fell asleep, not the girl who took a big black bear into her house and took care of said animal, who later turned out to be some cursed prince. Evangeline is actually a spin-off of the original fairytale, now featuring Evangeline in the role of Snow White, and focuses on the events that happened after Black Bear left the sisters’ cottage. No man in the entire village wants to marry Evangeline – but that’s alright, because she doesn’t really want the village boys’ interest either. She’d much rather get the attention of Mr. Rumsfeld, an older and lone widower who is wealthier than she could even imagine. However, the town folk know a lot of gossip about dear ol’ Mr. Rumsfeld: turns out he has been married three times, and every time his wife died under peculiar circumstances. Determined not to let old wives tales’ stand in her way of getting the man she desires, Evangeline persues Paul Rumsfeld anyway. But as soon as they are married, the young girl starts to notice strange things: not only about the man she loves, but also about the house they inhabit and the strange creatures that lurk in the darkness.

I love retold fairytales, or spin-offs of original fairytales. I adore gothic horror. But although I found Evangeline an enjoyable read, entertaining and with rather interesting characters; it didn’t really awe me the way I expected it to. Several reasons. First off, I figured out the mystery surrounding the suspicious deaths of Paul’s former wives right away, and to be brutally honest; Paul is quite the idiot for not thinking about this sooner. In fact, his unawareness of the people around him practically blindfolds him, and makes him unable to realise even what’s right in front of his nose. Evangeline isn’t all that much smarter; and I’m pretty sure any self-respecting heroine with some basic intelligence level could have figured out the malicious person in the picture a lot earlier. I think this novel would have been significantly more interesting had the author introduced more characters who could have been responsible for the other wives’ gruesome murders, thus atleast adding some more suspense to the story. It’s no fun reading a gothic horror novel when you know right away who’s responsible for all the bad stuff that keeps happening.

Apart from that, there were parts about the book that I really enjoyed. For instance, the scenery and the decor. An enormous villa by the sea, with gardens you can get lost in and marble statues that seem to move in the sunlight for no apparent reason. Enough to get anyone who loves gothic novels to start drooling. Add an evil presence in the house, murdered wives and a bunch of nightmares, and you have the perfect set up for an impressive gothic horror tale. However, the setting is there as are the characters and the basic plot – it just doesn’t get executed very well. There is no actual tension, there aren’t enough suspects for the murder schemes on Paul’s previous wives, and Paul basically has the IQ of a carrot. I would have liked this novel to go more in the style of Jane Eyre – where you actually get to wonder who or what is behind all the wicked things that keep happening – or more along the lines of Wuthering Heights.

The see-through plot put aside, Evangeline does make for a very enjoyable read. The main characters have very different, rich personalities with their own fears and anxieties. They could have been a bit brighter, and perhaps a bit more courageous – this definately counts for Paul – but maybe their lack of these traits makes them more human and less like the fairytale-heroes they originally were. Gwen Williams does an excellent job of describing the haunting, eerie atmosphere and the dread and terror of her characters. However, this novel didn’t scare me at all – not in the way Jane Eyre does when the girl with the same name is trapped in the Red Room. I don’t even know if it’s meant to be scary, but I would have liked if it managed to atleast make me feel a bit uncomfortable while reading. The author does get the romance point straight on though, and the growing relationship between Evangeline and Mr. Rumsfeld feels real, honest and very loving. All in all, Evangeline is a nice read and if you’re a fan of the genre, I would definately recommend it.