MINI-REVIEW: Karen White’s THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY

The_Guests_On_South_BatteryMiss Bates has followed the fortunes of Karen White’s heroine, Melanie Middleton, her on-again, off-again fraught relationship with writer Jack Trenholm, and her ghostly encounters, malevolent and benign, through four books. Though written in first-person narration and with a maddeningly slow-moving romance, MissB enjoyed every one, especially when they culminated in pleasing romantic conclusions. How could she pass up an opportunity to learn of Jack and Mellie’s further adventures? And how not to revisit beautiful Charleston and the vintage homes that feature in each mystery? Be warned, readers, if you haven’t read the first four books, MissB’s review of #5, The Guests On South Battery, contains spoilers. It’s inevitable when each book, while resolving the ghostly mystery at its heart, only moves Mellie and Jack’s relationship one smidgen forward. But there’s epilogue-satisfaction to The Guests On South Battery. When it opens, wife and husband, Mellie and Jack, their ten-month-old twins, JJ and Sarah, and Nola, Jack’s daughter from an earlier marriage, and now Melanie’s step-daughter, are living a good life. Continue reading

Wendy’s TBR Challenge: Simone St. James’ THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, Or The Great Yea

Haunting_Of_Maddy_ClareFinding a TBR challenge title for July’s theme, a RITA Award winner, was easy for Miss Bates. She loved Simone St. James’ Silence For the Dead and The Other Side Of Midnight; it was natural to choose St. James’ first hybrid gothic-romance-ghost-story-mystery novel to read, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, which won Best First Book and Novel With Strong Romantic Elements in RITA’s 2013 competition. Again Miss Bates had to read with the light on, again she read non-stop to reach the HEA, and again St. James delivered gothic romance’s promise: eerie atmosphere, a naïve, intelligent, diffident heroine, mysterious, dark hero, haunted places and unsettled spirits, and the heroine’s voice, growing in strength and understanding as she sets the world aright. The Haunting Of Maddy Clare opens in London in June 1922. Alistair Gellis, ghost hunter, seeks an assistant to help him investigate the ghostly presence of Maddy Clare in the village of Waringstoke. His request to a temp agency brings him solitary, lonely, poverty-stricken, sad Sarah Piper. While he already has an assistant in volatile Matthew Ryder, Maddy Clare’s ghost is particular in her hatred and violence towards men. With Sarah’s help in approaching and recording Maddy’s ghostly presence, Alistair and Matthew hope to rid Mrs. Clare, Maddy’s foster parent and employer, of the malevolent spirit residing and wreaking havoc in her barn. Continue reading

Simone St. James’ THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, Or The “Undiscovered Country …

Other_Side_Of_Midnightfrom whose bourn no traveler returns,” says Hamlet – except in a Simone St. James novel says Miss Bates. St. James’ latest, The Other Side of Midnight, is dedicated to Mary Stewart, one of the mothers of gothic romance. Stewart’s spirit permeates St. James’ novels. Stewart’s spirit lives in the diffident, ethical cores to her heroines, in the mysterious atmosphere, foreboding mood, impending danger, and unknown territories heroines enter. Stewart peeks through in heroes who are ominous, frightening, ambivalent, but prove caring, loving, and protective. Stewart’s influence hints in the strength to St. James’ rendering of time and place. Stewart is present in the heroine’s venture into uncharted places, her crossing into extraordinary places, meeting, conversing with, and discovering the secrets of the dead. Stewart is present in the young, coming-into-her-own voice of the first-person narrator. In Stewart and St. James, a seemingly insignificant young woman destroys the powers of evil; she is the one who brings justice to a world disjoint. The Other Side of Midnight may not be homage to Stewart in content, but St. James places herself within a beloved literary tradition. She belongs there: after four wonderfully atmospheric novels, she’s proven her mettle and Miss Bates hopes she’ll reign long. Miss B. loved St. James previous novel, Silence For the Dead. In The Other Side of Midnight, St. James offers another hybrid mystery-ghost-story-suspense-romance novel and weaves her narrative threads for our reader delectation. Continue reading

REVIEW: Donna Alward’s THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, Or “Loved I Not Honour More”

House_on_Blackberry_HillWhen Miss Bates saw the bucolic, small-town romance look of Donna Alward’s latest, The House On Blackberry Hill, she was afraid that one of her favourite category romance writers had gone the way of treacly-sweet-eat-pie-at-the-local-diner-to-be-cured-of-your-bright-lights-big-city ennui. Step right into a Thomas Kinkade world. In category romance, Alward’s canvas contains small towns, but they’re Albertan small towns (how MissB loved the Argentinian-set one) with grasslands, modern cowboys, and space demanding independence and solitude. In her latest effort, the town is small and picturesque, Jewell Cove on Penobscot Bay in Maine, but the canvas is broader, the narrative development expansive and involved. Alward is a romance writer of subtlety and complexity and House On Blackberry Hill, though its trappings have the feel of small-town contemporary romance and some of its elements are derivative, its characterization and narrative unfolding are signature Alward: thoughtful in its portrayal of love’s messiness, family, guilt, coming to terms with the past, growth, acceptance, redemption, and the road to happiness. Alward’s palette shows growth in this novel and growth, as we know, comes with growing pains. Alward’s Her Rancher Rescuer is one of Miss Bates favourite 2014 reads: it’s tight and zippy and interesting, with heroine and hero who have to grow up and extend their understanding to be together. We find no less in House On Blackberry Hill, but Alward also weaves family history, creates places and houses who are as much characters as heroine and hero (Abby Foster, school teacher and heiress of the “house on Blackberry Hill, and Tom Arsenault, contractor) an interweaving of three love stories, two of which are tragic, one of which is set in WWII, and a ghost story. It took Miss Bates much longer to “get into” this novel than the instantaneous love she feels when she opens one of Alward’s categories romances, but it won her over, surprised and moved her. It reminded her of Karen White’s Tradd Street series in mood and circumstance, but containing a more complete, more satisfying romance. Continue reading

REVIEW: Simone St. James’s SILENCE FOR THE DEAD, Or Crossing No Man’s Land

Silence_For_the_DeadWhen Miss Bates was in graduate school many years ago, she read Paul Fussell’s Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars.  She went on to read Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, (which she still counts among her favourite books) and all of Wilfred Owen’s poetry.  As she completed her graduate studies, Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy was published, Regeneration, The Eye In the Door, and The Ghost Road, and Miss Bates devoured them in singular sittings.  “The Great War” was a line in the sand in Western history and we experience its repercussions still.  Her reading and rereading of these great books and fascination with the era and its aftermath remain.  It follows that she was disposed to be interested in, if not to like, Simone St. James’s post-Great-War mystery-ghost-story-historical-romance Silence For the Dead.  She found that she loved it!  Its echo of history’s ghosts, their haunting of us, the experience of ordinary, working-class people, the crossing of the dividing-line between classes that the trenches entailed, the walking wounded that are its legacy … all of that and more is in St. James’s hybrid novel of romantic suspense, closed-room mystery, ghost story, and one gloriously rendered romance of friendship, respect, love, humour, and desire.  Like most thrillers, it lost some of these wonderful threads in the solving of the mystery as it lapsed into sensationalism, a niggling point in light of its wunder-HEA, however. 😉 If you read one mystery with really “strong romantic elements” this year, it should be this one. Continue reading, but there’ll be more lauding