logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: contemporary-gothic
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-12 22:18
Good Idea, Atrocious Execution
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe

 

The book has over 500 reviews on Amazon, with a 4.1 star average rating. The five-star ratings account for 41% of those, which is reasonably impressive.  My review isn't going to impact that very much, and that's not my intent.

 

This review will also be filled with spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

 

First major spoiler:  The dog is okay.  Nothing bad happens to him.  There's another spoiler about him later.

 

I finished the book, which is more than I do with many of the books I start.  Many of them don't hold me for two pages.  So there's that.

 

I liked the premise: Academic Connie Goodwin inherits her grandmother's old house in what was Salem Village, Massachusetts and goes on a search for a 300-year-old book with some connection to the Salem Witch Trials. 

 

The writing was competent, if a little heavy on the description.

 

That said, it wasn't long before I began to have problems even as I continued reading.

 

Connie is a young woman, in her early to mid 20s, and she has been in school virtually all her life.  The last few years in grad school have been by choice: she wants to continue to study and earn her PhD.  She doesn't come across, however, as a dedicated scholar.  Once she completes her oral exam and is cleared to begin her dissertation, she seems to forget all her academic training and lose all her scholarly motivation.  Is it because it's summer break?  It shouldn't be, because working on that dissertation should be her single primary focus now if she's truly dedicated to her scholarship.

 

However. . . .

 

She receives word from her mother Grace, a free spirit hippie type living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that the house that had belonged to Connie's grandmother, Sophia, needs to be prepared for sale after sitting vacant for 20 years since Sophia's death.  Since the house is in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Connie is at Harvard in Cambridge, she is delegated to the task for the summer.  She heads there with her roommate Liz and her dog Arlo.

 

There's no real explanation for why the place wasn't sold when Sophia died or why it's being sold now.

 

It was at their arrival at the house that I lost my willing suspension of disbelief (WSOD).

 

 

The rest of the very lengthy review is at

 

 

https://fearlesslyintelligent.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-physick-book-of-deliverance-dane-by.html

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-29 19:39
When the backstory IS the story. . . . . . . . .
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from my local public library.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter  I am an author.

 

Quick review, then spoilers and discussion.

 

I can't speak for other authors, but for me, the backstory -- everything that happens before the action in the book itself starts on page 1 -- is crucial.  Sometimes bits of this backstory enter the actual narrative and sometimes revelation of the backstory becomes the objective of the narrative.  The novel's journey, then, becomes the uncovering of the backstory.

 

The Thirteenth Tale is essentially the development of the backstory for the ending.  As a writer, I found this interesting, because I expected it to show how the character's history served as a catalyst.  In this I was monumentally disappointed.

 

Vida Winter is England's most successful novelist and one of its most mysterious personages.  No one has written an "authorized" biography of her, and no one really knows anything about her before she became a bestselling author.  Now all of a sudden out of the blue, Miss Winter contacts Margaret Lea, the daughter of the owner of an antiquarian bookshop, to write her life story.  Margaret travels from her home in Cambridge to Miss Winter's estate in Yorkshire, where she spends hours listening to the writer tell her history, beginning with the background of her parents and grandparents.

 

The objective is to finally, because she knows she is dying, tell the truth about who and/or what, she is.

 

My problem as a reader -- and I can never read without also being a writer and analyzing how the other writer constructed the story -- was that I could never get away from the image of the elderly woman, in her wheelchair, dictating to the younger woman who then went to her room to transcribe her notes.  I kept thinking, okay, okay, okay, get on with it:  How did all this prepare you to be a writer and give you material for your stories?  And what were your stories?

 

That part of it never happened.  Never. I had reached the point almost halfway through where all of this morbid detail about Vida Winter's supposed childhood became boring.  I disliked most of the characters and felt they were weak and spineless.  Too much of what I've been reading lately is about weak and spineless or stupid characters, and I just didn't want to slog through another 200+ pages of it.  I continued only because Obsidian-Something ;-) prevailed upon me to do so.

 

And now for the spoiler.  It's long.

 

 

The story Vida tells Margaret is of growing up as a twin on a mouldering estate, Angelfield, not far from the Yorkshire estate where she now lives.  I was immediately reminded of Thomas Tryon's novel, The Other, which I read once back in the 1970s.  The good twin and the evil twin and not being able to tell them apart, and so on.  But where Tryon's twins were able to function more or less normally -- they could speak and interact with other people -- Adeline and Emmeline cannot.  They speak to each other in an invented language only they can understand.  They have virtually no supervision, no parenting.  Their mother married in haste and their father died somewhere around the time of their birth.  The mother is now in an asylum, and they are cared for, if you want to call it that, by an eccentric uncle and two loyal servants.

 

Emmeline is relatively docile, but Adeline is mean, cruel, destructive.  They are like animals.

 

They are about thirteen years of age when a governess is brought in.  Hester is appalled at the state of the house -- it is literally falling down around them and filthy dirty -- so she takes over the household and starts putting things to rights.  She also begins to work with the local doctor to find a way to train the twins to be, well, human.  Emmeline, the docile one, is sent off to live with the doctor and his wife, while Adeline is kept at Angelfield under Hester's supervision.

 

Here's the thing -- there's no time frame given for these events.  Given that Vida Winter is presumably in her 70s or 80s, were she and her twin children in the 1920s?  the 1940s?  We don't know.  And for me, this would have been crucial to understanding how this situation could have been allowed to exist.

 

Hester is caught kissing the doctor and leaves in disgrace.  The house falls back into disrepair and the twins, together again, continue to deteriorate as well.  Then the aged housekeeper dies, leaving only John the gardener to take care of the twins.

 

And suddenly the intelligence and capability of Adeline, the vicious and cruel twin, manifests itself so that she can partner with John to manage the household.

 

Although Setterfield had established a hint that Adeline might be hiding a normal intelligence behind her wild child behavior, the transformation was just too slick. As a reader, I was already one level removed from the story because I couldn't get away from that constant image of the old woman telling her story to the biographer.  Now my disbelief was being tested again.  If Adeline was so capable, why had she done nothing at all during the years of living in squalor, with unwashed dishes and poorly cooked food and a crazy uncle in the attic?

 

Then the crazy uncle dies, leaving the little "family" of Adeline, Emmeline, John the gardener and the boy he has hired for help.  Adeline connives with the family solicitor to keep the money flowing, at least for a while. 

 

But she never sets about fixing the house.  Although Hester, prior to her abrupt departure in disgrace, had hired workmen to repair the roof and fix other problems, the transformed Adeline never sets about to do this. 

 

One of the other things that put my suspicions on alert was that the "new" Adeline developed a taste and talent for topiary, which had been one of John the gardener's pastimes.  He had left it when the wild Adeline went on one of her rampages and destroyed all his work.  Now all of a sudden she wants to re-establish the topiary garden.  Hmmmmmm........

 

And then John dies, falling from a ladder under mysterious circumstances.

 

I had already been thinking about The Other.  Now another book came to mind -- it might have been a Phyllis A. Whitney novel, but I'm not sure -- in which twins had been used in some kind of deceptive scheme, but no one had counted on there being a triplet, a third girl/woman who looked exactly like the other two.  I have both Feather on the Moon and Rainbow in the Mist beside me, but I'm not going to read either of them right now to find out if it was one of those two books that contained that plot element.  It's enough to know that I remembered it.

 

So John is dead, and that leaves the twins -- the "new" Adeline and Emmeline, who may or may not be developmentally disabled -- on their own at the age of maybe fifteen.  Their only help comes from "the boy," the one hired by John to help with the gardening.

 

"The boy" has designs on Adeline, but she's not interested.  For whatever reason, he rapes Emmeline instead -- even if she consented, it's suggested that she wasn't capable of giving consent, so that makes it rape -- and she becomes pregnant.  The child is born, and Emmeline develops what appears to be a true maternal instinct for it.  And this enrages the "old" Adeline, who attempts to murder the infant by burning it in the library fireplace.

 

Her plan is thwarted by the "new" Adeline, who rescues the child but is unable to put out the fire, which consumes the mansion.  She is able, however, to save Emmeline, who is badly burned in the fire.

 

For in fact, the new Adeline is not the old Adeline at all, but a foundling who may or may not have been fathered on a village girl by the crazy uncle -- the crazy uncle who was also probably the father of the twins his sister bore.  ("Vice is nice, but incest is best.")  The old Adeline dies in the fire, no one being the wiser, and so the new Adeline goes on being the only Adeline.  Emmeline's infant is raised by a kindly neighbor -- apparently in the days when no one investigated things like that -- and so on and so forth.

 

And they all lived happily ever after?

 

That's just it.  That's where the story essentially ends.  A few loose ends are tied up -- such as Margaret's own lost twin, none of which made any sense to me and seemed contrived and melodramatic -- but the real story that held my interest was how Adeline became Vida the writer, and there wasn't a single word about it.  No clue as to how the new Adeline became Vida Winter.  Nothing about what happened in the years after the fire but before she wrote her first book of stories and became a best-selling author.  Nothing about how she managed to take care of Emmeline without anyone knowing where she was.  Setterfield tells us what happened to "the boy" who was the father of Emmeline's child, but not what happened to Emmeline in the interim.

 

And that's when I recalled the third book that this reminded me of -- my long-time favorite Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.  A long-lost twin, thought to be a suicide at age thirteen, returns eight years later to claim his inheritance.  He is eventually unmasked as not the twin, but a probable cousin who has nonetheless an uncanny identical resemblance to the real twin brothers.

 

After I had finished reading it, I felt a niggling in my brain beyond all this:  How did Hester not know there was a third child involved, and how did Adeline/Vida keep the real Adeline under control?  Hester had suspicions, but never acted upon them, which seemed odd.  And Vida never revealed how John and the housekeeper kept her -- "protected" her -- for ten years or more without anyone ever knowing.

 

(spoiler show)

 

The book is well written and the details are carefully crafted into the mystery, but I felt a horrible, horrible letdown at the end.  Most readers, however, will probably love it.

 

 

Depending on how the rest of my week-end goes, I may use this for a Bingo square.  Not sure which one, as it could fit in several.

 

 

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2016-09-23 06:20
I'm just reminding myself again that I don't believe in omens . . .

So the internet was out for about four hours this morning.  I used the time to hunt up my copy of "Somebody's trying to kill me. . .  " and a few other research materials.  And I put a few things away.

 

I also took the advice of that "omen" and did some more writing.  I had quit last night because I was at a minor block, but it worked itself out and I made progress while the internet was off.

 

Of course, there is also the TBR staring me in the face, and I have a whole bunch of reading I wanted to do before the week-end.  At the very top of the list was to finish Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road, because I was close to being done, because it's an electronic library book, and because it's a really fascinating book.  Even if it doesn't fill a Bingo square, it was a priority.

 

Being a multi-tasker -- and one of those people who if she's reading one book is probably reading six at a time -- I was flipping back and forth between Steinem and Joanna Russ and Kay Mussell, as well as working on my own book, which I briefly mentioned here in the Mansions, Moonlight, and Menace discussion group.  My own contemporary gothic romance, set on Whidbey Island, Washington.

 

Real life interrupted me frequently, as it always does, but as the day wore on, I made progress on all fronts.  I put up a couple of posts here on BookLikes.  I ran a few errands.  I demolished the gigantic cobweb on the corner of the big bookcase.  And I got within striking distance of the end of the Steinem book.

 

Then, on page 267 out of 285, this:

 

 

The very real Hedgebrook is located no more than two miles from the location on Whidbey Island where I had mapped my fictitious sites; the photos on their website could have been extracted from my own imagination.

 

I don't believe in omens.  I don't believe there's some cosmic entity that is dropping little personal hints to me that hey, Linda Ann, you need to write this book.  Nope, not even the scenes from Practical Magic are omenic enough.  I knew before I saw the film that it had been shot there, that the house had been built there just for filming.  So it was no surprise to see the scenes of Sandra Bullock walking the streets of Coupeville.

 

 

It's not an omen if you're expecting it, right?

 

But if you're not expecting it, does that make a difference?

 

 

 

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-05 18:58
Ammie, Come Home -- Spoiler Analysis
Ammie, Come Home - Barbara Michaels

If the spoiler function doesn't work, I will re-do this.

 

This post gives my detailed analysis of two of the major issues I had with this book.  I've locked most of it in "spoiler" mode.  Many of you may consider it unnecessary nit picking, and maybe it is.

 

I've given page numbers based on the 1987 Berkley paperback edition and tried to add chapter/section numbers as often as I could remember to do so, for those who are reading other editions.

 

One of the issues I had was with the house itself, the second was Ruth's relationship with Pat.  Again, this is very tight analysis, which some readers may not be comfortable with.

 

 

 The physical structure of the Georgetown house didn't immediately arouse any concern, but by the time I reached the end and the whole resolution, I was rolling my eyes with disbelief.  So I took the time to go back and document as much of Michaels's description of the house as I could, to see if I had made a gross error.

 

P. 2 -- The houses across the street from Ruth's are described as they "abutted directly on the street, with little or no yard area in front."  They had extensive gardens in the back.  Later, P. 51 (Ch. 3)  "The house had been built at the very edge of the long, narrow lot." 

 

P. 9 --  Ruth inherited the house "last year."  P. 52 -- "She had moved into the house the preceding spring."  P. 105 (Ch 5/IV) -- Cousin Hattie Campbell, from whom Ruth inherited the house "passed on in 1965."

 

P. 17-18 -- Ruth had the kitchen redone, completely modernized.  The story takes place in November of the same year Ruth acquired it.  Sara moved in at the beginning of the school year, so presumably late August or early September.  Ruth had already had the kitchen remodeled, because Sara knows nothing about what it looked like when Cousin Hattie owned the place.  Where Ruth got the money for this is never made clear.

 

P. 104 -- (Ch. 5/IV)  The house was built circa 1810.

P. 109 -- The group - Ruth, Sara, Pat, and Bruce -- are walking back to the house from dinner and mention is made of the front steps.

 

P. 125 - (Ch. 6)  Bruce produces the original deed showing Douglass Campbell owned the property ca. 1760.

 

P. 128 -- Basement described as "small, cement-lined chamber."  Ruth says it's "too damp for storage."  But it has a big furnace, which would not have been original to the house.  No mention is made of ductwork to take warm air from furnace to the upper reaches of the house.

 

At this point in the story two other minor but significant things have happened.  Sara has had the sleep-walking incident where she knocked Ruth down and gave her a black eye.  This happened Saturday night to Sunday morning.  Ruth conceals the black eye with make-up for Sunday, but no mention is made of it after that.

 

Similarly, Ruth calls in to her job somewhere about having the flu, but after that, it's as if she doesn't even remember she has a job.  She never goes back to work, no one calls from her office, nothing.

 

Pat no longer has classes to teach or other work to do, and Sara isn't going to classes either.  They don't even give these responsibilities a single thought, nor does anyone contact them about it.

 

P. 155 -- (Ch. 7/III) Douglass Campbell's house burns sometime between 1805 and 1810, with him in it.

 

P. 156 -- Bruce says, "The walls weren't burned, of course, but the whole inside was gutted and the roof collapsed.  When the heir, who was Campbell's sister's son, moved to Georgetown from Frederick, he leveled the walls and built a new house."

 

But back on page 8, the previous owner from whom Ruth inherited was Hattie Campbell.  If Douglass Campbell's heir was his sister's son, that son would not have been named Campbell, unless the sister married a man who was also named Campbell.

 

P. 196 -- (Ch. 9/II)  The door/barricade in the cellar makes no sense.  Why is it there?  Who built it?  Keep this thought in mind. 

 

P. 210 -- After the confrontation between Bruce/Doyle and Pat/Campbell, Ruth and Sara drag Pat to the windows and shove him outside.  Sara remarks that it's a 10-foot drop from the window ledge to the rose bushes below.

 

P. 236 -- (Ch. 11)  Now they've hacked through the barricade/door in the basement.  The walls behind the barricade are stone, but the other walls of the foundation are cement.  the floor of this hidden part is dirt and hard packed enough to have wet, oily spots on it, and mushrooms are growing.  The stones of the wall are wet and covered with lichens.

 

The whole basement/cellar thing is inconsistent.

 

IF the Campbell heir who built the house in 1810 leveled the existing walls but built it on the original foundation, there would be none of the original foundation showing above ground.  Assuming the floor in the hidden area was the same level as the open basement floor, it would have to be at least eight to ten feet below street level.  There would be no reason to build the foundation an additional eight to ten feet higher.  That means the window Ruth and Sara shove Pat out of can't be ten feet above the ground.

 

Regardless how the foundation was constructed for the new house in 1810, why would anyone just wall off half the basement?  Why have a concrete floor in half the cellar and block off the rest?

 

The section of cellar that's blocked off is the part under the long drawing/living room that extends the full length of the house; the accessible cellar is under the dining room, pantry, kitchen, and utility "annex" where Ruth keeps mops and brooms.  The big furnace had to have been installed sometime after 1810.  Why install a furnace without ducts going to the main living area of the house?  How are the upper floors heated?  If they aren't heated, what is the furnace's purpose?  Is it there just to heat the dining room and kitchen?  That makes no sense.

 

There's a subtle hint that the whole haunting didn't begin until Sara moved into the house with Ruth, but this is never explained.  There's nothing in Ruth's personal background that would connect her to the haunting.  She doesn't particularly like Bruce, but she has no philosophical or moral opposition to Sara's dating him, and she certainly doesn't have the incestuous attraction to Sara that Douglass Campbell had to his daughter Amanda.

 

Ruth's emotional baggage is much more indeterminate.  And there is nothing in her relationship with Pat that seems relevant to the main plot of the haunting.

 

P. 12 -- Pat spent "last year" in Africa, just got back to the U.S. "this fall."  So like Sara, he's only been around for a couple of months.

 

P. 44 -- Pat encounters the "cold spot" in the drawing room, collapses while they're planning the séance.  Ruth has already felt the cold spot, but whether she felt it during the warmer weather is unknown.  (No wonder it's cold, if the furnace has no duct work to take warm air to that part of the house!)

 

P. 47 -- Ruth sees the smoke thing in a dream, hears the voice in a subsequent dream, then wakes up.  Sara had already heard the voice calling "Sammie."

 

P. 61 -- Pat puts the make on Ruth during dinner preparations before the séance.  She doesn't really fight him, but she's not terribly enthusiastic either.  His response is "We'll pretend nothing happened."  At this point, he was completely unlikable as far as I was concerned.

 

P. 134-135 -- Pat assaults Ruth again.

P. 137 -- Ruth reveals her past sexual trauma but without any details.  Was her husband abusive?  Did he rape her?  Did he make her do things she didn't like or thought were "unnatural"?  Did she never talk to anyone at all about it?  Not a single word?  She claimed she read about it, but she still came to the conclusion sex and children and love were . . . wrong?  None of this is discussed.

P. 138 -- After the assault, Pat just says, "I don't know what came over me."

 

P. 143 -- (Ch. 7/II)  Pat eyes the dog Lady "with disgust."

 

P. 215 -- (Ch. 10/II) Bruce addresses Pat regarding his being "already half-shadowed" and the scene where Pat is assaulting Ruth and Bruce walked in.  Bruce references "the women you seduce and the women you rape."  This was just so icky, and given the era the book was written, I could almost gloss over it, but not in the context of Ruth's sexual trauma.  Michaels was enough aware of this issue to make it part of Ruth's character, and I found her putting those words into Bruce's mouth with no qualification to be lazy at best.

 

I've already detailed my problems with other details -- Pat's car, Ruth's lack of a car, the treatment of the dog, and so on. 

 

(spoiler show)

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2016-09-04 20:10
Ammie and Friends
Ammie, Come Home - Barbara Michaels

Full disclosure:  I purchased this paperback edition new in the early 1990s.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical and contemporary romances, including a contemporary gothic romance.

 

Further disclosure:  I first read Ammie, Come Home in the very early 1970s, shortly after its publication.  I read it again approximately six months ago and may have also read it during the intervening 45 years.  Most recently, however, I read it in the past couple of days, much more closely and with input from other Booklikes members.

 

On reading the book six months ago, I was disappointed in the structure because I found what seemed to be some plot holes and character inconsistencies.  I set those concerns aside for this most recent read, in part to see if other readers caught some/any the same problems.  They did.  And while the blame often falls on the characters themselves, the plot holes don't, and so I went back to my usual technique of analyzing how the writer put the story together.

 

The good points first, because they contain fewer spoilers.

 

The writing is clean, of course.  Being familiar with the historical (!) setting of the 1960s, I had no difficulty imagining the fashions and scenes that Michaels described.

 

The ultimate resolution carried some interesting details, including the relationship between some of the entities:  While part of it was kind of conventional, part of it wasn't.  I really liked that.  Overall, it's a fine story, creepy and entertaining.

 

As with the Barbara Michaels gothic I read last week, Wait for What Will Come, I had difficulty connecting with the characters in Ammie.  Ruth Bennett seems to be the main character, but the book isn't about her; it's more about her niece Sara.  Unfortunately, not much of the story is told through Sara's point of view.

 

Ruth isn't a very dramatic character.  She's a 44-year-old widow who works for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.  The story takes place in about 1966, and Ruth has been a widow since her young husband was killed in WW2 over twenty years before; she never remarried, never had children.  She has recently -- within the last year or so -- inherited a distant cousin's Georgetown house, complete with antiques.  (When Ruth made the upgrades to the kitchen and how she found the money to do it, I'm not sure.  But she did.)

 

The story starts in November, when Ruth's niece Sara has been living there for a couple of months.  She is a student, aged 20.  She is described as very pretty, with long, straight, black hair, and given to wearing mini-skirts and high boots.  Sara's boyfriend Bruce is also tall and slim, bearded, with a penchant for ostentatious vests and tight pants.

 

Through Sara, Ruth meets Patrick MacDougal, a professor of psychology/anthropology who is also the son of the very wealthy and very popular Washington hostess, Mrs. Jackson MacDougal.  Pat is a tall, muscular, red-haired Irishman with a flamboyant (loud, arrogant, sometimes frequently obnoxious) personality.  Bruce is one of his students (?) and they clash philosophically.  Both are lapsed Catholics, though that last bit doesn't come out until toward the end.

 

So those are the main characters, and I just never had any connection to any of them.  Ruth was, frankly, boring.

 

Sara and Bruce were all right.  They made a believable couple and were reasonably consistent.

 

Pat MacDougal, on the other hand, just didn't appeal to me.  Even after the "revelation" at the end, I couldn't reconcile myself to him at all.

 

And part of the reason was the car.

 

In 1966, when I was a senior in high school, there was no car sexier than the Jaguar XK-E.  In fact, fifty years later, there is still no car sexier, in my humble opinion, than the Jaguar XK-E.  I'm not alone in that opinion. That's why I knew immediately when the vehicle was described in Ruth's POV that it was a E-type.  She may have described it as insect-like with the implication that it was a VW Beetle, but Ruth -- via Michaels the author -- references a Volkswagen in the same scene.  Ruth knew what a Bug was, but she wasn't familiar with Jaguars.

 

For most readers, this sort of detail is unimportant.  Many would have some idea that this is a low-slung, curvy sportscar, and that's about it.

 

But that low-slung sportscar is not the kind of vehicle I imagined a big, gruff anthropology professor to be driving.  It just didn't fit with his personality.  An old Ford Bronco maybe, or a Jeep?  A Land Rover?  He has issues with his socialite mother, so why a sexy little car?  It just doesn't make sense.

 

It makes even less sense when more than two people try to fit in it, and at one point Pat has all three of the other characters in the car plus his German shepherd.  Uh, no.  The only way that works is if Pat piles them all into the XK-E 2+2, which in fact was only introduced in 1966.  Michaels may or may not have known all this; I as a reader did.

 

This concern with Pat's car also made me wonder about Ruth not seeming to have a vehicle.  I could understand that she may have walked to work or taken public transportation, but as a woman living alone for over twenty years, did she never have a vehicle to venture outside the metro D.C. area?  Did she not have a garage?  Did she never go anywhere after public transportation hours, or did she always rely on taxis?  The 1960s were the height of American auto culture, the muscle cars and so on, and it seemed odd to me that Ruth didn't have a car.  Everyone used Pat's.

 

Other readers brought up the issue with Pat's dog being left alone for a day and a half while Pat was cavorting with Ruth and the others, and with his rude treatment of the dog.  I wondered why he even had her; he doesn't come across as a dog person and shows Lady no affection at all.  Even if he expressed some sentiment such as she'd been given to him by a fellow faculty member or something, it would have made Lady's presence in the story more believable.  She serves a purpose, but she comes across almost more of a canis ex machina than a pet.

 

Pat's house is too lived in to be believable.  Messy is as messy does, and Ruth was too obsessively neat to even tolerate Pat's lax housekeeping.  He makes light of the cleaning lady not showing up, but the place seems too messy, too dirty, to even have seen the ministrations of a cleaning person in the past two or three months.  (And it doesn't match the owner of a E-type.)

 

In other words, there is nothing whatsoever to explain Pat's attraction to Ruth or Ruth's attraction to Pat.  And Michaels never offers any substantive explanation.  Nor does she integrate Ruth's marital background in such a way as to make it a part of the rest of the story.  The relationship between these two never felt natural; it was almost, to me at least, as though Michaels was trying to put two mature people together romantically to balance the relationship between Sara and Bruce so she didn't have to tell the story from Sara's POV, but it never worked for me.

 

(That relationship worked even less in Michaels's second Georgetown book, Shattered Silk.)

 

In the climactic scene where the spirits of the past recreate the confrontation that led to the haunting, there were two details that left me stepping back and out of the willing suspension of disbelief.  And since I don't yet know how to shield spoilers, I can only warn you that they are on their way.

 

The first is that Bruce breaks a window, inflicting severe injuries to his hand and letting rain into the house.  After the scene is over, everyone leaves the house, but this broken window is not repaired and there is no mention the next day when they return of damage done by the incoming rain overnight.

 

The second is that Pat is dragged to the open French doors and shoved outside, to fall ten feet into the rose bushes.  I never got the impression that the ground floor of Ruth's house was ten feet above the ground.  If there was a raised foundation and steps from the street, I never got a mental image that this was the height of another story to the building.  When the basement is explored, it's described as dark and damp, so surely it was more than a few feet below ground level?  And a fall of ten feet into a bed of thorny winter roses would have been more than a little dangerous, potentially causing severe injuries, broken bones, or worse.

 

Many of Barbara Michaels's books treat these same issues much better -- everything from dogs and other pets to characters' past romantic entanglements to what vehicles they drive.  Ammie, Come Home just wasn't one of them.

 

So it gets three stars as an okay read, better maybe for some people but not one of Barbara Michaels's best for me.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?