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.
Goodreads | Book Website | Amazon | B&N

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.

Author Interview: Fiona Dodwell + Giveaway

The Book

10660843Title: The Banishing
Author: Fiona Dodwell
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Thriller
Publisher: Damnation Books
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours.
Goodreads | Author’s Website
Read my review for The Banishing!

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 Interview

1) The Banishing is a supernatural horror novel, that vaguely reminded me of classics in the genre, like The Exorcist and Poltergeist. Why did you decide to write a horror novel, and what inspired you to write The Banishing in particular?

Well, I have been in love with horror since I was a child; I grew up reading horror books and watching horror movies from a young age, so it made sense to me that my own creative writing would be quite dark in nature. I think The Banishing was inspired by my fascination with possession. I have always been drawn to this frightening idea that we could be, at any time, taken over by an evil entity. I read many fictional studies and my ideas for The Banishing blossomed from there.

2) When you start writing a book, what does your writing schedule look like? Do you write mostly at night, daytime, whenever you feel like it, or…?

I don’t have a writing schedule, I generally seem to write when I feel inspired and in the mood. Because I love writing, that means I usually sit down to write most days. I won’t force myself to write if I’m not in a good place for it though: I wouldn’t be able to create good work that way.

3) Did you do some research on so-called “real cases” of hauntings before writing this novel, or is it all purely fiction? If you did some research, can you tell us a bit about your findings?

Well, The Banishing is fictional, nothing in my novel resembles real life. I relied on my imagination. However, I have read a lot of books over the years, factual accounts of hauntings and demonic possession, so some ideas have bloomed from there. As for my findings when researching the subject of hauntings and possession… it’s tough. I am open minded, and I believe there is more to this world than meets the eye. If I have learned anything from the things I have read and studied about these paranormal subjects, it is that many people across the world swear to having experienced something weird and unexplainable. These people are happy, healthy normal people like you or I, but they have been touched by unseen foreces. Many people’s testimonies of hauntings and possession all appear to have common threads of events/symptoms, which definitely gave me food for thought.

4) The message at the end of the novel is quite dark. We venture into the darkest corners of the human mind, and wonder what exactly we are willing to give up for the people we love. Without trying to spoil anything, why did you decide to put this twist at the end?

The ending of The Banishing is something people seem to love or feel upset by. I have had people say it’s one of the most original endings they’ve ever read, and had others say it upset and disturbed them. However, I love reactions like this! It means my story has provoked an honest, emotional reaction in people’s minds. I decided to make the ending of The Banishing this way because it felt right for the character. In Melissa’s case (my main character), she loves her husband so much, knows so deeply that he is a good, kind, soul, that she will literally give up the world in order to restore him to the man she knows and loves. The endings captures something about human nature, I think. I like to leave it up to the reader to decide what that message means. Is Melissa right or wrong for what she does in those last pages of The Banishing? I’d love to hear from readers to know what they think!

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

My second novel, Obsessed, is currently being considered for publication. I am also writing my third novel, The Shift, which is about a young man who, while fighting off low self-esteem from a broken down marriage and unemployment, starts to be visited by a spirit. The story takes the reader on a journey.. Who is the ghost? What does it want? What lies in the shady and shadowy past of the main character that keeps the ghost at his side?
It’s early days yet – I am only half way through the first draught!

The Author

Fiona Dodwell lives in the UK with her husband. She has studied an unusual mixture over the years, from film studies, theology and drama to psychology.

She grew up with a deep passion for horror, both in film and literature, and greatly admires the works of Stephen King, Susan Hill, Adam Neville and Bill Hussey.

She began entering fiction contests at a young age, winning several, and had some of her poems published.

Her first novel to be published, The Banishing, is a dark story exploring demonic possession and domestic abuse. She is currently submitting her second novel, The Obsession, for possible publication and is enjoying writing her third. Visit her website!

The Giveaway

Fiona was kind enough to offer 1 print copy and 1 e-book copy of her novel The Banishing for giveaway. The giveaway is tour wide, meaning you can enter at every tour stop! From all the comments left during the tour, two random winners will be chosen. The contest is open internationally.

Participating is simple: just leave a comment on this post, or on my review for The Banishing, or on both, if you feel like it. Good luck with the contest!

Click on the banner below to see the other tour stops!