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review 2018-09-19 11:46
Woman Without a Past
Woman Without a Past - Phyllis A. Whitney

Even though I find Phyllis A. Whitney's books to be a little bit hit and miss, she's still my favorite author of old-school romantic suspense.  Where Victoria Holt's romances feel instantaneous and contrived, and Mary Stewart's plotting is often (sorry mom) ludicrous, Whitney's stories have so far offered much more consistently crafted plots, vivid settings, and haunting atmosphere.  Her romances don't always work for me (romances seldom do), but the characters do, at least, work up to HEA at a slower, sometimes more smouldering, pace.


Woman Without a Past almost got a pass from me at the bookstore because, geez, the title.  And then there's the cover.  Actually, it was mostly the cover, but the title screamed Amnesia story! and that's just a no from me on principle.  But the back cover rescued the book; a woman is recognised at her editor's office as being the long lost identical twin, kidnapped as a baby, from an old and prominent Charleston (South Carolina) family.  Strictly speaking, the title is not at all accurate. 


This book drips Southern Gothic.  From the prescient cat, to the rocking horse that rocks itself; from the old plantation house, to the slightly mad mother the family tries to keep locked away as much as possible and the cousin that believes she communes with the dead, this book honestly has it all.  Except romance; there's a hint of it here and there and there's certainly talk of it, but no actual romance until the very, very end.


In general, the story is well-written, and it's a good story.  But a couple of things worked against it; one is probably just a twist of timing, as I started it on the plane, and then struggled to finish it while jet-lag kicked my butt, leaving me with the feeling that it took forever to finish it; the second was my exasperation with the main character.  Everyone thinks she's strong and independent, yet at no point in the book did she actually act strong or independent.  She mostly just allowed everyone to roll over her.  It wasn't enough to make me actively dislike her, but it was enough that I was often impatient with her.  


As I said, not her best, but certainly not her worst.  Fans of true gothic romance will recognise shades of certain classics in this book; definitely worth a look if you see it in your library or on the bargain rack.


I read this for the Southern Gothic square of Halloween Bingo 2018.


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review 2018-09-19 07:11
Review: Slade House
Slade House: A Novel - David Mitchell

Wow!  This was a pretty creepy and twisted tale.  This book was beautifully written and very interesting.  The whole time I read it, Hotel California was playing on a loop inside my head.


But what to say about it?  It's kinda of the age-old tale of a man being too stupid or stubborn--or both-- to listen to the woman in his life.  If Jonah had just listened to his sister Nora, things could have turned out so, so differently for both of them.


This is basically a Hotel California type situation.  A person with the right type of...psychic energy I guess, is lured into Slade House by the Grayer siblings, where they are treated to all sorts of fantasies--or hallucinations--and once they succumb, they are never seen again.  But each victim is warned by the previous victim until finally one of them is strong enough to fight back, which is the beginning of the end for the Slade House.


It was pretty spooky and kind of sad.  Enough of he victims' backgrounds were revealed that you felt real sympathy for most of them.  Anger, even, at siblings for what they were doing to innocent people.  It was a very good series of interconnected vignettes and while it wasn't completely an 'open ending', I feel like there is a door left open for a sequel.  I'd be very interested in reading.



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review 2018-09-19 00:58
I Am Justice
I Am Justice - Diana Munoz Stewart

I picked this for the cover. I liked it. Justice is an assassin. She is part of a family (all adopted children rescued from various situations) that is rich and has influence. Oh, and they take down human traffickers. Permanently. Sandesh is an ex soldier who runs a humanitarian group (all ex soldiers). Sandesh's group needs money and contracts with Parish Industries (Justice's family).
Based on the description, I shouldn't have been surprised at how dark this went. But I was. I also didn't like how fast Justice and Sandesh's relationship progressed. A slow burn would have worked better IMO because of Justice's background and dislike of most men. I could have done without Walid's (the bad guy) POV. I did like getting Justice's and Sandesh's.
While Justice is kick ass, I thought she had many stupid moments. Like being told to wait and not doing that. She didn't grow on me as the book progressed. I did like the end with Sandesh's question and what he gave her; it showed thoughtfulness and caring. On the other side, the end was a bit abrupt I thought.
When it's all said and done, this was okay and I doubt I will pick up the next one about Grace (which is supposed to be out and it isn't).

For Booklikes Halloween Bingo I read this for the New Release square (came out May 2018).

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review 2018-09-18 20:53
The Hysteria of Salem
The Witchcraft of Salem Village - Shirley Jackson

I took my time with this one since I found the whole thing so fascinating and also Jackson did a great job of including new information that I have not heard about before. She ends the book with a theory about the girls who started it all being afflicted by a fungus on a bread, but she doesn't seem to put much weight behind it and neither do I.


I think most Americans are familiar with the Puritans and also the witchcraft hysteria that gripped Salem Village in 1692. Jackson begins at the beginning with how the Puritans were fleeing religious persecution in England, but really were about conformity and insisting that there fellow brethren were not as religious as they were. She also touches upon the poverty in the village and how there was very few things for young girls and boys to do besides attend church meetings. Any schooling they received was only about religious texts. So Jackson sets a very nice stage for what happens next. 

A group of young girls starts accusing the women around them of witchcraft after one of them starts to have fits. Is it irony that the one girl and cousin who started accusing women were the daughter and niece of the local reverend? 


Betty Parris was 9, and her cousin Abigail Williams was 11. Betty's father Reverend Samuel Parris was all too ready to believe that his flock contained witches. Jackson goes on a bit that he was a fan of Cotton Mather. To me that's like being a fan of Stephen Miller. 


Eventually these girls were joined by Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth Hubbard. The girls went around falling into fits when examined, saying that they were being pinched and or burned and would howl when coming across people. The scenes that Jackson describes boggle the mind. I would have been calling bullshit left and right. Then again, I would have totally been burned at the stake. 


Eventually the girls accused Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba (Reverend Parris's housekeeper). Jackson touches upon how the first three women accused were seen as outsiders by the villagers. Jackson is slightly damning of Tituba who confessed and went on to accuse other women.  Eventually other women were named such as Martha Corey and Sarah Good's young daughter (she was 5) Dorcas Good, and Rebecca Nurse.  


"Mary Walcott and Elizabeth Hubbard stood up in their places. One of them swore solemnly that Goodwife Nurse had come to her at night and sat upon her chest to suffocate her. The other pointed out that a black man stood, even now, whispering in Goodwife Nurse’s ear and that yellow birds were flying about her head."


I think what got me as a reader is that the girls accusations become more and more unbelievable and no one except a few people tried to push back on it. Some people flat out fled to other colonies than deal with the cries of witchcraft that went on. 


It is interesting to note that the afflicted girls in Salem Village cried out upon Robert Calef shortly after Mather’s visit. Calef’s answer, which reached them with all possible speed, was an announcement of a slander suit for a thousand pounds. The accusation against Calef was immediately withdrawn, and his name was not mentioned again in Salem Village.


There is some new information here about how the accusations spread to Andover and how the girls even eventually were brought there to identify witches. They ended up finding mostly everyone there to be witches. You think that would have caused everyone to go these girls are full of it.


In the end, things do not start to wind down until after the execution of 19 people on Gallows Hill and one person being pressed to death. Giles Corey's pressing seemed to be finally the end of the witchcraft accusations. His death shamed the community as a whole and they all finally woke up to the fact that they got played by young girls and some women who were out to cast aspersions onto their more well to do neighbors. The hysteria spread from Salem to Andover and they had jails full of people accused of witchcraft. I think Jackson mentions 150 people were jailed. 


Jackson cannot find out that much about what happened to some of the accused. We find out that Parris died in poverty (good riddance) after being chased out of the village. Many blamed him and his relatives for what happened. Jackson mentions that his house no longer stands and it's barren ground now. What started cause ripples through the whole community with Salem sliding more into poverty since many people gave up farming or seeing to their homes due to watching the newest accusation or trial. Many who were accused came out of prison and found their homes and belongings lost to them forever. 


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts did not formally clear everyone accused of witchcraft until 1957. 


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review 2018-09-18 14:12
Rose Cottage
Rose Cottage - Mary Stewart

by Mary Stewart


This one starts out without as much description as previous Mary Stewart books I've read, but by the end of the first chapter exactly what Rose Cottage is has been explained. Much of the first half of the book feels like ordinary things going on, but a mystery presents itself when a hidden cupboard in Rose Cottage is discovered to have been uncovered.


The time period is after the war in the UK when rationing was still in force. A lot of Stewart's use of language fits into the era and creates that dreamy sort of old movie atmosphere.


Mary Stewart has an engaging style and despite waiting for a long time for anything really significant to happen, the story kept my attention. It isn't what you would call high action and it skirts the Women's Fiction category, but a mystery gets solved in the end and there is that touch of romance that Stewart's Mysteries always have.


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