The Legacy by Katherine Webb

legacy by katherine webb

I am a sucker for just about anything gothic. That word conjures different meanings for people and there are multiple genres that employ gothic tropes. There is Southern Gothic, Gothic Romance, and of course…. Straight-Up-Regular Gothic (?). Post-modern gothic? I don’t know. When you say gothic people might only think of the old 18th, 19th century genre, often written by English writers, the setting somewhere fabulous like the wilds of Italy or the depths of French forests and were often “historicals” when they were written. There are plenty of modern novels with touches of the gothic about them. Sometimes it’s all about mysterious houses, tragic heroines that need rescuing or has a paranormal element. Legacy by Katherine Webb is, to me, definitely gothic in nature, but it’s the past that does the haunting, not a ghoul or a goblin.

Here is the blurb and the link to Goodreads.

When they were children, Erica Calcott and her sister, Beth, spent their summer holidays at Storton Manor. Now, following the death of their grandmother, they have returned to the grand, imposing house in Wiltshire, England. Unable to stem the tide of childhood memories that arise as she sorts through her grandmother’s belongings, Erica thinks back to the summer her cousin Henry vanished mysteriously from the estate, an event that tore their family to pieces. It is time, she believes, to lay the past to rest, bring her sister some peace, and finally solve the mystery of her cousin’s disappearance.

But sifting through remnants of a bygone time is bringing a secret family history to light—one that stretches back over a century, to a beautiful society heiress in Oklahoma, a haunting, savage land across the ocean. And as past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two shocking acts of betrayal . . . and the heartbreaking legacy they left behind.

One thing all gothic novels must have is a rich setting. As they so often say in the movies, the setting is like a living, breathing character. Storton Manor is just such a place. Much of the house is in disrepair, its former glory beneath layers of dust and decay. The sisters spent much of their youth there and the place is thick with old memories and as Erica discovers, secrets. Their cousin Henry disappeared and neither of them seems to remember exactly what happened. The longer they stay, the more Erica wants to get to the bottom of the mystery, and the more Beth wants to leave. It helps  Erica’s cause when Beth’s son comes to stay for the summer holiday. It doesn’t help when their old friend Denny reappears. Here is our romantic element. But is he? Erica always had a thing for him, but when they were girls, it was Beth Denny loved. The closer they become, the more Erica is convinced that Denny holds the key to unlocking her memories around Henry’s disappearance.

The doings at Storton Manor in the present isn’t the only setting. We get our mysterious, creepy house that is decidedly English, and then the faded old history set in a mysterious land running as a subplot. While we watch Erica try to get to the bottom of her sister’s depression and her cousin’s  disappearance, we watch their great-grandmother in her youth. The reader is left wondering how on earth did this American woman end up in England, marrying a Lord and becoming great-grandmother to these women? And how did the sweet, gentle thing we know have such an empty-hearted bitch of a daughter?

I hate the old nugget of writer-rule that says not to use flashbacks. Most of my favorite novels heavily employ flashbacks. When the author does their job, ie: tells us a damn story and tells it well, the reader doesn’t care. I did get impatient to get back to one or other of the story lines, but that was the work of clever cliffhangers. It’s the same thing that happens when you have a multi-point-of-view novel carefully constructed by the author to keep you turning those pages. No one says don’t employ multiple points of view.

I’ve got a lot to recommend here. Good pacing, a good, twisty-turny plot, great characters, rich setting, a touch historical, a touch gothic, even a touch coming-of-age. I’m definitely going to check out some of Katherine Webb’s other books.

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The Darcy’s of Pemberly by Shannon Winslow

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

Again, I am late on my Pride and Prejudice post. In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested. The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. This month’s review is The Darcy’s of Pemberly by Shannon Winslow. Below is the blurb and here is the link to Goodreads.

darcys of pemberly

A sequel true to Jane Austen’s beloved masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have been married for almost a year, and their heated arguments are a thing of the past. All that passion is now directed into more satisfying pursuits. But how long can the honeymoon last? The couple’s idyllic life together at Pemberley is jeopardized by secrets they begin keeping from each other, the troubles of their closest friends, and the threat of a villain in their midst. 

Layers of seemingly innocent deception are building between Darcy and Elizabeth, threatening their relationship. He is conducting some covert business dealings that he’s unwilling to share with his wife, and she likewise begins keeping things from him against her own better judgment. The couple also becomes embroiled in the tribulations of Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, and his friend and cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. 

Fitzwilliam falls victim to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as the object of her latest scheme to make a noble match for her daughter. Georgiana runs the gamut of emotions as she comes of age and learns the pain of unrequited love. Meanwhile, the menacing shadow of Mr. Darcy’s life-long nemesis, Mr. Wickham, looms ever larger.

The Darcys of Pemberley is the tale of two romances: the continuation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story, and the courtship of Miss Georgiana. For those who didn’t want Pride and Prejudice to end, this novel gives the opportunity to learn what happens after the wedding, to revisit old friends and foes, and to share the next chapter of their lives.

Well. That blurb might have taken some of the wind out of my review sails, as it pretty much tells you the whole story. So I will give you my impressions.

I really enjoyed this – and like most of the people I would recommend it to, I’m a HUGE fan of the original book and others of its time. Ms. Winslow successfully mimics that pace – slow, gentle, lots of visiting, dinners, letter writing and polite greetings. Ah, politeness. Decorum must be maintained at all times – even when you would prefer to take the nearest silver turreen from the sideboard and bash the visitor in the head with it. This is something I love, and wish was more common in historicals, which so often take on the modern pace rather than following the real-and-for-true Regency romance as it was written back in th’ day. Old school, if you will. The author seems to know her stuff where social behavior is concerned – which is refreshing The only place I think it strays is when a gentleman visits a woman in a sick room, which I do not believe would ever happen. But let us not pick nits.

Where it strays from the formula of the old novel, and in a good way, is the obvious affection and good-sex vibes from our main characters. Elizabeth and Darcy are an affectionate and passionate couple – behind closed doors as is proper (ie: not in front of the servants), and just as we would have them be. Please note, there are no sex scenes, just obvious randiness is clearly taking place between the principles “off page”. The author avoids excess of sap, which I appreciate, and the Darcy’s do have little spats, as two people of such different character should be prone to.

All our old friends are here and behave just as they should – even the odious Mr. Wickham and his dipstick wife. Lady Catherine resides over her court and ever gives advice that is not wanted. Mrs. Bennet is in full flutter at all times and Mr. Bennet is as droll as ever.

Please don’t think that things don’t happen. There is plenty of diversion on hand: Georgianna’s coming out, babies being born and as we approach the end (where all the good stuff always happened in those good old novels) larceny, kidnap, revenge! It’s great! If you didn’t want Pride and Prejudice to end, I would strongly recommend this one.

Billy and the Gargoyles by Heather Gregson

billy

I am sorry it’s been quiet on the review front – I have been experiencing Henri-Le-Chat-Noir levels of ennui lately. (If you don’t get that reference, get thee  to Youtube and get educated.) Rest assured, I have been reading like crazy and I will be posting several reviews this week. Again, my Pride and Prejudice related book review is late – I have yet to even read it – but this is a long weekend and I got nothin’ planned. On to today’s review.

I want to talk about this book. I often feel that way when about to do a review but this time I thought I would, rather than just get right into the review. I do not usually review kids books, I believe this one is classified “mid-grade”, but I read a lot as a child, probably for the same reason I do as an adult. Part of it is “to get away from it all” (imagine your reviewer with the back of one hand dramatically applied to her forehead)  and partly (ok, mostly) to have adventures in my head. To go to new places. To revel in the fantasy that “real life” sadly lacks. I just loved it. There was nothing like alone time with a book…. there still is nothing like a book, but I believe that feeling was planted in my head as a kid.

I strongly connected with the kid in this book. I liked that he wasn’t your typical hero (if there really is a typical kid-hero.) Let me give you the blurb, and the link to Goodreads.

Angry over his parents’ divorce, and moving to New York City, ten-year-old Billy looks around his new room in despair. His mother’s only concern is her dream job and he has lost contact with his absent father. Outside his bedroom windows are two stone gargoyles. At first Billy doesn’t like the silent sentries, but in his loneliness he confides in the gargoyles, waking them from their stone sleep. With members of their own family missing, they understand Billy’s loss and together the three form a new “family”. When they discover the missing gargoyles were not destroyed but moved, the trio set off to find their lost family and Billy learns there are times when letting go is best.

Billy isn’t exactly your shiny-happy kid. He slams doors. Sasses his mom and her boyfriend. As a matter of fact, mom isn’t such a treat, either. She’s more wrapped up in her job and work than her kid and the stress he is going through. Think about it. Moving to a new city, leaving your friends and your jerk dad behind (yeah, he’s a jerk, too, but he’s Billy’s dad). Billy feels like he doesn’t have a friend in the world, and I’m sorry to say, he really  doesn’t. This isn’t like much of the mid-grade I read as a kid. The parents were usually great, the kids were kind of sassy sometimes, but there was always that  judgemental tone behind the author’s words as he sat wearing a monocle and a smoking jacket, probably, that suggested “Maybe if you weren’t such a  sassbox, your life with your awesome parents would be better.” That kind of thing doesn’t ring true anymore. Kids of today are much more sophisticated what with the internet and the video games. If we want kids to continue to read, I think you have to give them stories that ring true to today’s world. I think this one does.

Oh, and did I mention THERE ARE GARGOYLES? And they come alive and Billy goes on adventures with them?! I almost wish I was a kid so I could have read this and have it to look back on. The ones your memory winks at you with – the ones that come up in conversations about childhood books like “Remember that one with the bunny who was a vampire?” That kind of thing. Billy has no friends and a crap family life (luckily for him, his mom’s boyfriend is actually a nice guy) but he makes friends with the gargoyles outside his window. I read a book when I was a kid about gargoyles, but it had a terrible ending. The gargoyles came to life, but in the end, they tried to make their heroine their queen – which sounds great, except for the whole “being locked for all time into a stone shape” part. The heroine wasn’t so hot on that. It was almost as if that be-monacled author was saying “See, if you just were satisfied with your normal life, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Now get a job and pay your taxes.”

If you have a kid that likes to read and has a fantastical turn of mind, get them this one. I do not believe their time in this imaginary world will have been wasted.