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review 2018-12-17 03:47
The Orphan of Salt Winds - Elizabeth L. Brooks

I received an ARC of this book for free from the publisher (Tin House Books) in exchange for an honest review. 

 

 

This was an incredibly atmospheric read. The setting, particularly the marsh, had a life of its own. The author did a fabulous job describing the setting which helped set the tone and the mood for the novel. 

 

As for the story itself, I was into it, but I wasn’t thrilled by it. I think it was because I had such high expectations going in. On the cover, the book is described as being reminiscent of Jane Eyre, which is one of my all time favorite books. It’s really tough to top that book. As I was reading the book, it was hard not to compare it to Jane Eyre. The story just didn’t move me as much as I would have liked it to. I never felt that connected to Virginia. 

 

 

I did like the dual storylines of Virginia when she was adopted (which was the main storyline) and Virginia as an old woman. I think the alternation between the two were really well done. The author coordinated the unfolding of events between the two perfectly. The contemporary chapter would subtly reveal something that the next historical chapter would delve into in great detail. 

 

For me, the strongest part of the book was Mr. Deering. He was a fearsome villain. I never knew what he was going to do because he was so unpredictable and creepy. It was so unsettling every time he entered Salt Winds. He’s one of the best villains I’ve encountered in literature this year. 

 

Overall, this book has a fantastic setting and villain, but the story leaves more to be desired. 

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review 2018-12-16 16:50
IN THE NIGHT WOOD by Dale Bailey
In the Night Wood - Dale Bailey

 

IN THE NIGHT WOOD was my first novel by Dale Bailey but I'm sure it won't be my last!

 

Within the pages of this dark fiction narrative is a fairy-tale like story, but no "happily ever after" ending is promised. A couple inherits an old manor located in the countryside of England, on the edge of a large, dark wood. Amidst the grief and guilt they feel due to a recent family tragedy, Charles and Erin feel like a move might be the very thing they need. But of course, in true fairy tale fashion, things go horribly awry. Will they be able to start the new life they needed? You'll have to read this to find out.

 

I'm trying not to give too much away while attempting to impart to you how much I enjoyed this book. There's a mystery about an old tome, (IN THE NIGHT WOOD) and its author. There's a mystery regarding the caretaker, whose job contract binds him to the house itself, not to the people in it. Lastly, (of course!), there's a mystery regarding the deep, dark wood and the creatures that may or may not live there.

 

While hoping to unravel all of these mysteries, the threads of guilt and grief remain and are woven throughout the fabric of this narrative. At times, the level of grief is so deep it seems like it will drown the lives of Charles and Erin completely.

 

Lastly, I need to mention the language and beauty of the writing. There are all kinds of literary references, some I picked up on and some I did not. The best part of which is you don't need to be familiar with all of the literary allusions to enjoy this gorgeously written story.

 

IN THE NIGHT WOOD is a slow burn of a mysterious, Gothic, fairy tale and one I enjoyed immensely.

 

Recommended!

 

You can get your copy here: IN THE NIGHT WOOD

 

*I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-21 16:38
The Tulip Tree - Voices from the past, but little else
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

Spoilers throughout.  Trigger warnings for gruesome violence mentioned and one animal death.

 

Disclosure:  I'm not sure how I acquired this book, but the paperback edition as pictured was in a large box of gothic romances stored in my workshop.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of romantic fiction.

 

As I suspected from the beginning, this is a novel I first read probably a half century or more ago, either as a book club edition or a Reader's Digest Condensed version.  The more I read of it, the more I remembered from that initial reading, though I did not recall the ending at all.  That may have been what kept me reading through to the end.

 

I rated it only 1.5 stars for a number of reasons, and I can't say I would recommend it to other readers.  It's not a bad book, but neither is it a particularly good one. 

 

And it's definitely not a gothic romance.

 

Plot, such as it is: Thirty-year-old Kimball Watts is an editor for a New York publishing house.  He and his wife Josephine have two small daughters.  Jo's adoptive parents have recently died and she has inherited their estate, a small farm in upstate New York.  With the cash proceeds from the sale of the farm, Jo and Kim purchase an old house just over the state line in New Jersey.  Kim commutes to Manhattan; Jo stays at home with the two girls.

 

The house is huge -- they aren't even sure just how many rooms it has -- and consists of two smaller pre-Revolution houses joined by a later 19th century central structure.  There's also a barn and some acreage.  The house is in some disrepair but more or less livable.

 

There are few neighbors.  The Stauffers -- George, Helen, their son Bert, and George's parents -- struck me at first as being just too weird, but they're actually "normal," by whatever standards.  They have a live-in maid, Verna, who is about 16 and is an orphan from the local Catholic girls' home.

 

Clarissa Cutler lives next door to the Wattses with her husband and two young children.  Clarissa is an albino African American; both of the children are also albinos.  Her husband Vincent is a handsome black man.

 

A few miles away there are some other neighbors who live in a small cluster of old cabins, apparently without running water or electricity or . . . anything.  They are the descendants of servants and other retainers of the huge and vacant estate across the road from the Wattses.  Among them is Benji Potter, the elderly and somewhat mysterious black man who has attached himself to the Watts home as caretaker and guardian.

 

Though written in third person, this is almost entirely Kim Watts's story.  He likes the house and wants to stay there, but Jo is superstitious and wants out.  Legally, though I'm not sure why, the house belongs to her.  Kim goes through some financial negotiations to acquire the house as community property, but that doesn't seem to help Jo accept the house.

 

Eventually Kim learns about the house's history when a weird elderly lady -- I don't even remember her name now or her connection to the house -- stops by one night unannounced and tells him about it.  There are settler massacres by Native Americans, rapes and murders and mutilations of enslaved people, family murders, and so on.  Kim tells Jo none of this.

 

But Jo just can't deal with her superstitious fear of the house, so she packs up and leaves.  Kim doesn't know what to do.

 

And then they all lived happily ever after.

 

Say, what?

 

Well, that's how the ending felt to me.  There was no build up for the way everything was resolved.  It wasn't as though a whole bunch of puzzle pieces slowly, inexorably, and logically fell into place.  Instead, the various characters did things that as a reader I expected would have some significant impact and move the story along in a specific direction, but they really didn't.

 

Spoilers ahead.

 

Clarissa is beautiful, but weird.  She wears weird clothes, wanders around outdoors in the middle of the night in diaphanous gowns and a long blonde wig.  She drives her Pontiac convertible like a bat out of hell.  Her midnight rambles are described in such a way that you think they must have some significance.  They don't.  Is she spying on the Wattses?  Is she trying to seduce Kim?  Maybe yes to both, but neither is made clear.  Is she trying to scare them out of the house?  Maybe that, too, but again it's all vague and just weird.

 

What about George Stauffer's parents?  His mother is a harridan, complaining, dominating all conversation with her rants, just a horrible person.  The father is apparently an alcoholic, since he's restricted to ginger ale while everyone else has cocktails and wine.  Are her harangues supposed to illustrate how out of touch with the middle of the 20th century she is?  Is she supposed to provide a contrast to Kim's more contemporary view of life and the world?  I don't know, because Kim doesn't really react.

 

In fact, Kim never really grows through the whole story.  There's a hint of his having had to deal with his own experience of racism and some confrontation with his guilt over his inaction, but I never saw any change in him as a result. 

 

In fact, the only character who does change is Jo, and there's never any explanation for how or why she changed.  She just . . . does.  There's never any explanation for why she was so superstitious or why she took all these little omens so seriously.  I see omens in everything, too, but I don't take them seriously.  Why did she?  And why did she stop?

 

What I realized when I finished the book last night was that none of the characters had any depth.  They were almost caricatures, set on the stage of The Spooky Old House with a Tragic Past, and then once the story of the spooky house had been told, it was all over.  The millionaire who owned the property across the road sold out to a developer and the 20th century was being rudely imposed on all the history and spookiness.  The End.

 

The writing is fine, with a lot of description of the weather and the scenery and the moods, but the structure and characterization were flawed.  And it's too late to fix it.

 

 

 

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text 2018-11-11 19:15
Not a formal status report, but . . . . .
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

I knew I wouldn't be able to stay up and read very long because I was really, really tired when I went to bed.  I did, however, want to start this book.

 

There's no question that this is a gothic romance.  The publisher put it right on the cover!  It's compared to Du Maurier's classic Rebecca. The artwork is almost typical gothic, with the spooky house and single lighted window.  The young woman, however, is in close-up portrait rather than full-length with windblown hair and gown.

 

And the author is male.

 

There are also quotes from a number of reviews published in real newspapers.  Hmmmmmm.  Gothic romances did not get reviewed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the 1960s.

 

I only read 12 pages, not quite the first whole chapter, before I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, but that was enough to confirm my suspicions that I had read this book before, decades ago.  One small incident ticked my memory, something I would not have consciously remembered but that came back to me the instant I read it. 

 

There were only two ways I could have read this book in the 1960s.  It was either condensed by Reader's Digest, or it was a Doubleday Book Club selection.  My parents subscribed to both for a number of years at that time.  I read the condensed version of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop as well as his later novel, Ocean Front, though I don't know if that was book club or condensed.  I do remember the cover, however, so maybe it was a book club edition.  I also read two other book club offerings, The Daughter of the Pangaran and Summer Doctor.  I remember details of both those books, and they were published about the same time as The Tulip Tree, so I'm more comfortable guessing I read a book club edition.

 

So in 1963, a gothic romance written by a man would be published in hardcover by Doubleday and be reviewed numerous newspapers, be selected for their subscription book club, and later be republished in paperback.  No doubt Howard Rigsby earned a great deal more for his gothic romance novel than most of the women writing paperback gothics.

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text 2018-11-11 00:04
The Tulip Tree -- a voice from the past?? Maybe.
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

This is one of the books from the hoard of gothics in the workshop.  Though my (battered) paperback copy was published in 1970, the original Doubleday hardcover was published in 1963.  I think I may have read this, perhaps in a Reader's Digest Condensed version or possibly as a Doubleday Book Club selection my dad had.

 

So I may just keep this one out for a day or so and read it in bed at night, if I'm not too tired.

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