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review 2018-03-11 22:57
Gothic architecture, gothic archetypes
The Old English Baron: a Gothic Story - Clara Reeve

Books don't beget other books.  One of the things that bothers me about literary analysis of modern (1970 to present) romance novels is that it tends to assume that one novel gives rise to another without human intervention.


In her own preface to The Old English Baron, Clara Reeve clearly states that she wrote it because she wanted a story that fulfilled the promise Horace Walpole had made with The Castle of Otranto.


This Story is the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel . . .

Reeve, Clara. The Old English Baron: a Gothic Story (p. 1). Kindle Edition.


In the course of my observations upon this singular book, it seemed to me that it was possible to compose a work upon the same plan, wherein these defects might be avoided; and the keeping, as in painting, might be preserved.

Reeve, Clara. The Old English Baron: a Gothic Story (p. 3). Kindle Edition.


Instead of the silliness of the giant helmet and other absurdities in Walpole, Reeve concocted a story in which the ghosts are real and believable and neither explained away nor dismissed.  This is the true evolution of both the gothic romance and the modern (ca. 1970 to present) romance novel: that one writer writes, and a reader reads to become another writer who synthesizes and develops.


Published in 1777, The Old English Baron is a bit awkward for the 21st century reader.  The prose is stilted; even the punctuation is sufficiently different from our own to cause mild disorientation.  The characters are emotional beyond even melodramatic standards, and the plot affords little in the way of suspense or surprises.


The story is set in the early 15th century.  Sir Philip Harclay returns to England from the continental wars and sets out to visit a friend, Lord Lovel.  Lovel has died, and his heir Water has sold the estate to a brother in law, Lord Fitz-Owen.  Fitz-Owen has three sons and a daughter, as well as a couple of nephews as foster sons, and another sort of adopted son in the person of Edmund Twyford, son of a peasant family on the estate.


Edmund is beloved by the Fitz-Owen clan, until he proves to be better at just about everything than they are.  Machinations fail to dislodge him from the affections of the middle brother William, who is Edmund's devoted friend.  But the family takes a bit of an insult when military bravery leads to the almost-knighting of Edmund: protests are lodged that he dare not be knighted for he is only a peasant by birth.


Rather than be humiliated by this turn of events, the saintly Edmund accepts his fate, but that's not enough for those who now despise him.  He is set to the ordeal of spending three nights in the long-abandoned wing of Castle Lovel, where of course he is visited by the ghosts.


Ultimately this leads to Edmund learning more of his true background -- which is no surprise to modern readers but was probably highly entertaining 240 years ago -- and then being exiled from Castle Lovel.  He takes refuge with Sir Philip Harclay, who then embarks on a mission of revenge and restitution.  There are more ghostly happenings, Edmund is restored to the good graces and affection of Lord Fitz-Owen, the malefactor is punished, true love rules the day, and they all lived happily ever after (which was not how The Castle of Otranto ended).


As a story, it's not all that entertaining to the 21st century reader, but as a literary artifact, it was highly informative.  All through the reading, I kept applying Christopher Vogler's story analysis.  Sure enough, all the elements were there, from the Ordinary World to the Mentor and Shapeshifter and the Inmost Cave and Returning with the Elixir.  More than two centuries before Vogler defined his mythic structure, Clara Reeve was already using it.


Pamela Regis references Reeve in The Natural History of the Romance Novel, which is the main reason why I read it.  I haven't yet found a convenient edition of the other work by Reeve that I want, her 1785 foray into literary criticism The Progress of Romance.  There is a PDF available online, but not downloadable.  At least I haven't figure it out yet.  But I will.  One way or another, I will.


I can't really say I recommend The Old English Baron except as one of the (many) foundational texts for the modern romance novel.  The writing takes some getting used to, but the story was at least decent, which is actually a lot more than can be said for some of the dreck being published today!

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review 2018-02-03 04:59
Not a Real Book
The Dilemma of Prejudice - Nancy Allen

This was apparently a fake book assembled to defraud the Kindle Unlimited program.


Story portion is less than 10% of the file; the rest is recipes and various non-fiction, self-help articles. 


No longer listed on Amazon.

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text 2018-01-26 03:55
You get what you pay for
Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries - Roger Hayden

Kindle freebie today via Free Booksy.


Within the next few days I will have more of a review, but I am right now so angry I'm ready to scream.



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review 2017-12-20 16:11
Not my usual fare
The Butterflies - Kimberley Waldron

To tell the truth, I don't know why I downloaded this.  It was on Booksy's free list this morning.  Psychological thrillers aren't usually my cup of tea.


A 1994 Buick Regal with one broken headlight and a half-rusted chassis rocketed between the concrete barricades to the side entrance of Garrett County Hospital, slipped into a space near the door, and screeched to a halt.

Waldron, Kimberley. The Butterflies (p. 1). Vellichor Press. Kindle Edition.



Let's start with that publisher.  Vellichor Press has no website, no internet presence.  That tends to diminish credibility.


This opening sentence is all screwy.  First of all, the chassis is the frame, the underlying structure, not the body.  It's unlikely, therefore, that an ordinary observer would be able to tell if that part of the vehicle was half-rusted.  So here I am with not even a full sentence read and I'm questioning the writer's ability to use the right words.


Before the end of that sentence, this vehicle rockets (fast) between concrete barricades, slips (slower) into a parking space, then screeches (fast) to a stop.  Nope, it doesn't make sense.  Where are the barricades relative to the door? Does the vehicle have to turn at all?


I'm tired of bad writing.  When the very first sentence is fucked up, why should I read any further?

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review 2017-12-20 14:43
Disspiriting (edited to add . . . things)
Ghost of a Chance (Maggie Mulgrew Mysteries Book 1) - Cate Dean



The second Maggie Mulgrew stepped out her front door, she knew it would be a wild hair day.


Wind blew off the English Channel, cold and crisp—and it played havoc with her already unmanageable red waves. Like everything else in her adopted village of Holmestead, she had learned to adapt to the almost constant wind by wearing her hair up when she ventured outside.


She had already tucked her hair in a messy bun, and resigned herself to having stray waves floating around her by the time she reached her shop in the high street.


“Good morning, England.” She smiled as she looked up at the clouds racing across the achingly blue sky. “It’s good to be here.”


She slung her oversized leather bag over her shoulder and danced down the porch steps, eager to start the day.

Dean, Cate. Ghost of a Chance (Maggie Mulgrew Mysteries Book 1) (Kindle Locations 40-48). Pentam Press. Kindle Edition.


In three short paragraphs: three "hair" and two "waves."


Then there's the awkward syntax of "Like everything else in her adopted village of Holmestead, she had learned to adapt to the almost constant wind by wearing her hair up when she ventured outside."  Is this supposed to mean that everything else in the village has adapted to the wind by wearing its air up, or that Maggie has adapted to everything else in this manner?


The sentence structure is no less ambiguous in the next paragraph: Has Maggie resigned herself to the fact that by the time she reaches her destination her hair will be floating, or is said resignation a result of arriving at her destination and discovering her hair is floating?


Very few readers will notice any of this.  I'm now convinced that too many readers are too accustomed to too much poorly written crap to notice anything.  But reading an opening like this sets me on edge, to the point that I expect plot holes and flat characterization and errors of fact.  This is bad writing that desperately needs either a competent editor or a writer willing to learn the nuances of good writing.


One page.  That's all it takes to ruin what might conceivably be a decent story.

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