The Séance

The Séance, by John Harwood, had been recommended to me a few months ago by a friend. I purchased the book, but just hadn’t gotten around to reading it. And as I mentioned in my last review, I’ve been traveling the past week, so after I finished a couple of books on the plane, I knew I would want something good to read on the return trip. Luckily, my friend also has a Nook and The Séance was available for lending! So, after he approved my request, I ended up reading in the evenings, and the book just didn’t last long enough for the return flight!

Set in England in the 1800s, this Victorian thriller had some great spooky elements, including a run-down mansion, an unexpected inheritance, thunder, lightening, and a questioned identity. The story is told through written “testaments” of several characters.

Constance Langton begins attending séances with the hope that maybe her depressed mother will be able to contact Constance’s sister, who died as a baby. However, her plan doesn’t quite work out the way she expects, and she finds herself without a father, (he had previously vacated their home), and without a mother. She goes to live with her mother’s brother, an uncle that she had never known existed.

Quite unexpectedly, Constance is informed that she has inherited Wraxford Hall, a derelict mansion with a sordid history, believed by many to be cursed. John Montague, the lawyer who delivers the news to Constance, advises her to sell the Hall, and “burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt,” and never to live there. Of course, this only makes Constance more curious, as does the packet of writings also delivered by Mr. Montague, which contains his own testament and that of an Eleanor Unwin.

Eleanor’s testament raises even more questions for Constance. It is not a happy tale. Estranged from her mother and sister, Eleanor finds a chance at happiness with an artist. Before they are to be married, he is studying Wraxford Hall as his next project when he is killed, presumably during the terrible thunder-storm. Dr. Magnus Wraxford tries to befriend Eleanor and proposes to her himself. Knowing he will never take the place of her first love, Eleanor agrees to marry him against her better judgement. After her marriage, she feels trapped for various reasons, and begins to see her husband for who he really is. At the end of reading Eleanor’s testament, Constance has much empathy for this woman and it becomes important to her to discover the truth of what actually happened at Wraxford Hall those many years ago.

So of course, Constance travels to the country, to visit her new estate along with a bunch of men from the Society for Psychical Research. She does manage, despite the best efforts of others, to come out of the visit alive, and with clues to solve the mysteries surrounding Wraxford Hall.

The true terror provided by this story was not necessarily in the events that occurred. Rather, it can be found in the Victorian society’s views of young women, especially those who feel trapped by no money and few prospects for their future. However, the two heroines of this story did survive, not unscathed, and were able to live without fear by the end of the story.

I enjoyed this book very much. It was full of twists and turns and the different view points kept the story interesting. The characters were developed well, as was the sinister Hall. I’m usually not much for ghost stories, but I loved the Victorian setting and the gothic and supernatural elements of the story. I’m definitely interested in reading more of this author’s work.

Unforgettable Embrace

I recently entered a giveaway on goodreads for the book Unforgettable Embrace, by Joanne Clancy. I did not win, but the author contacted me to see if I would be interested in a free e-book version in exchange for a review. I liked what I’d read about the book, so I accepted her offer and added it to my Nook book collection, (definitely nice to have since I was traveling last week).

Rachel Jenkins has become bored with her monotonous, predictable life with her boyfriend of 14 years. Even though it is a comfortable relationship, there is something missing. Rachel ends the relationship and embarks on her own path to self-discovery and happiness.

She sells her apartment, purchasing an RV, which she uses to travel to all parts of Ireland. Along the way, she meets some interesting people, one specifically. Batt immediately captures her attention and makes her rethink being single. A bit flustered by her mixed feelings, Rachel heads back home to Cork to spend time with her best friends, helping one of them plan her wedding.

Rachel keeps in touch with Batt, but is convinced that she doesn’t want to be more than friends, but when she sees him again on New Year’s, that changes, and she knows she loves him and wants to be with him.

Later on, the three friends, along with Rachel’s sister, fly to England for a weekend “hen party.” There, Rachel receives a text message from Batt that she misinterprets. Convinced he is seeing someone else, Rachel behaves badly, making out with Scott, a random man she meets in a restaurant/bar. When she is no longer intoxicated, she regrets her actions, but still responds to a few of Scott’s increasingly insistent text messages, hoping he will get the hint.

She confesses to Batt, and again, they become a bit estranged, but her friend invites him to the wedding anyway. And of all surprises, Scott shows up at the wedding too! When Rachel spurns Scott’s advances, things quickly become scary.

Of course, as predicted, everything turns out fine in the end. Rachel’s friend is happily married and Rachel gets the guy as well.

When I read this, I was looking for a mindless, enjoyable read, as I was on a plane for several hours, etc. For the most part, it hit the spot. However, while Rachel was traveling over Ireland, the descriptions and events described were quite excessive and boring, as was the discussion concerning Hawaii, (her friend’s honeymoon location). Definitely in need of some editing! However, I did enjoy the Irish slang and the way they spoke of certain things.

Maybe this was just with the e-book format, but it was hard to follow conversations when there were multiple people involved, as there were not paragraph breaks for each person’s dialogue, as there should have been. Instead, there were multiple people speaking within the same paragraph! Also, Rachel’s brother’s name was spelled different ways throughout the story, as “Jo” and “Joe.” This, and other similar errors, was very distracting.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, even though it meandered in parts. It was a light read, which was what I was looking for at this time as well. I just wish there had been more attention to detail and much more editing.

A Cure to Die For

I recently read A Cure to Die For, by Stephen G. Mitchell. I won this book in a goodreads giveaway, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read it. It’s just not the typical genre I usually choose to read.

Described as a medical thriller, this book definitely had some action. I enjoyed the story, but I definitely think that the novel could have used some editing. And if the star of the show, the Cannastar plant, could cure so many illnesses and diseases by ramping up the immune system, how were autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS, cured?

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed the story. I just wish the telling of it was of a higher quality.

This Burns My Heart

I won this book in a giveaway on Goodreads a few months ago.

This Burns My Heart, a debut novel by Samuel Park, is a heart-wrenching tale about how a single decision can so drastically affect the rest of your life. Set in Korea in the early 1960s, the war is coming to an end and the country is changing quickly. Soo-Ja Choi, a beautiful young woman with rich, loving parents, wants to move to Seoul to go to diplomat school. Her father refuses her, so Soo-Ja plans to marry Min, a young war protestor who is also looking to go to Seoul. She does not love him, but he seems nice enough, and she believes he is the ticket for her to get to Seoul.

The day before Soo-Ja’s wedding, she has another offer of marriage from Yul Kim, an attractive young man studying to be a doctor. She rejects him as so much time and energy has already been spent in her own marriage preparations. This is the moment that she will later relive a thousand times, hoping to change her answer and rewrite history.

After marrying Min, she moves in with his parents and is expected to play the role of the dutiful, obedient daughter-in-law. She realizes that she was tricked and that she will never reach Seoul. She later discovers that Min’s father has a substantial debt, and encouraged Min to pursue her just to be able to force her loving and rich father into helping out with his financial woes.

Soo-Ja and Min have a daughter, Hana, together, who is the light of Soo-Ja’s life. She wants to get away from Min, but the law says that the husband gets the children, a fact of which Min does not hesitate to remind her. So Soo-Ja is stuck with a poor, lazy husband, working herself to the bone, just to be near her daughter.

Yul does make a couple of unexpected appearances in her life. He has gotten married to another woman, but is still in love with Soo-Ja. But because of Hana, Soo-Ja must still reject him.

Min’s parents have moved to America, and when Soo-Ja has gone home to be with her own family after the death of her father, Min effectively kidnaps Hana, going to America. He has also taken the money that Soo-Ja worked so hard for, and the pay-off from her investing. There is nothing to do but to go to America to try to get Hana back. Once there, Hana does not want to leave, preferring to stay with her father and her grandparents. Again, Soo-Ja resigns herself to her miserable fate and decides to stay with them, working for her father-in-law.

Somehow, Min sees what he has done to her and decides that he wants to be able to like himself in a few years. So, he grants a divorce and sends Hana back to Korea with her mother.

After she returns, she stays away from Yul, believing that by doing so, she can hope that he, at least, may have a good marriage. However, Yul’s wife pays Soo-Ja a visit with the intent to make her promise to spurn any advances that Yul may deliver in the future. When she learns that they are no longer together, she can make no such promises.

Finally, Soo-Ja and Yul can be together and she can look forward to the rest of her life being different.

While different than many novels about Asian women searching for love in an oppressive society, This Burns My Heart is really a romance novel. Even though the meetings between Soo-Ja and Yul are few and far between, they can each feel each other’s presence, or absence, in their lives every single day. Soo-Ja had suffered so much, so I was very glad to see her luck finally change while she still had time to enjoy life.

I’d definitely recommend this book.

Therapy, A Novel

Continuing with another win from Goodreads…

Therapy, A Novel, by Harrie Rose, is told by Barbara, a woman who is recounting her past, focusing mainly on therapy sessions she had when she was in her early 50s. The novel opens with Barbara’s husband, Joe, finally noticing that she doesn’t get out of bed at all, insisting she seek help. And find help she does, in the attractive form of Alex, her therapist.

Attracted to him from the beginning, Barbara recounts tales of her horrid childhood, her two failed marriages, (including her current one), and yet also shows Alex and the reader that she is a nice, caring person. She also plots how to seduce him, daydreaming about him constantly, including having imaginary conversations with him. Afraid she is misinterpreting the way he looks at her and the way compliments her, she is apprehensive about making the first move. But being in love with him, as she feels, is all the cure for her depression she needs. And her therapy sessions also make her reevaluate the way she views herself and the behavior of her parents, her husbands, and her sons, paving the way for her to heal and become a self-loving person, too.

Eventually, Alex and Barbara begin their affair. Barbara believes that this is the happiest time of her life. She actually has someone who loves her, who listens to her and actually cares about her feelings. Alex shows a bit of cowardice as he is constantly worried they will be found out and he will lose his license. But it isn’t really enough to deter him until they run into his business partner at a hotel where they had gone to spend the weekend. He ends things with Barbara then and there, never to be heard from again, regardless of her begging and pleading. But by that time, Barbara had already learned that she is worthy of love and life, and that she is not dependent on someone else.

Happily divorced, she renovates an old house and revels in the garden the plans. Her life is full of friends, her sons and their families, and even a few male friends. She occasionally wonders where Alex might be and who he is with, but is over him, having found contentment and happiness elsewhere.

I really enjoyed this story and learning how Barbara finally came into her own. My one complaint, and it’s a big one, was the massive amount of editing that was, apparently, never done. Typos, as well as wrong words or missing words, prevailed. There was literally something on almost every page that needed to be fixed. Originally, I easily overlooked this, believing that the copy I had was just an ARC, and an ARC of a self-published novel at that. However, upon further research, I believe I actually received a final draft. Very disappointing, as this book had much potential.

Love by the Book

I’m quite behind keeping up with reading the books I’ve won from giveaways on Goodreads. I still have a small stack to get through. Most recently, I read Love by the Book, by Cara Lynn James.

Set in the early 1900s among the upper class society in New England, this book is a Christian historical romance. The book begins with the reading of Melinda Hollister’s sister’s will. Melinda, along with her sister’s husband’s brother, Nick, are granted joint custody of their niece, Nell. Never a fan of the overly serious Nick, Melinda can’t imagine what her sister was thinking, but resolves to make the best of it for Nell.

Melinda has always been the belle of the ball, enjoyed shopping with no worries of the expense, and has never had to concern herself with much responsibility. Now, with Nell, and with the knowledge that she and her mother have burned through her father’s small fortune, leaving them destitute, she is forced to embrace responsibility and frugality. But, before news of this reaches the ears of society, Melinda must attempt to find a rich husband to rescue her from disgrace. Her invitation to Newport for the summer by Nick’s family provides the ideal setting to search for such a husband.

Highly predictable, Melinda and Nick end up married. But Melinda is disappointed that Nick married her only for Nell and out of pity for her situation. She has warmed to him over the few weeks she’s spent with him over the summer, and she wants more than anything for her husband to love her. Nick, not good at verbally expressing himself, also has feelings for Melinda, but misinterprets her quietness and preoccupation with sadness and disappointment at their marriage.

The couple make it through some hard situations and of course, finally profess their love for each other, and all is well. Very predictable, but no complaints.

I definitely consider this a light read. I enjoy a good romance now and then, and this one was very enjoyable. The characters are memorable, realistic, and likeable. I didn’t get annoyed at any of them, which has not been my previous experience with some Christian romance in the past. There was a lack of smut, which I enjoyed, and the references and innuendos were tastefully done, especially since the couple was actually married for the second half of the book. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Restless Spirits

I won a Kindle version of Restless Spirits, a novella by Jean Marie Bauhaus from a giveaway on a blog that I read. (More on that later, and no, I do not have a Kindle and a Nook. I just have the Kindle app on my MacBook.)

The book begins with the death of Veronica “Ronnie” Wilson. She and her sister are partners in a ghost hunting business, and they have finally received permission to investigate the old Baird house. This house is about 80 years with a history of tragic murders, suicides, and other deaths. Ronnie’s sister, Chris, is about two hours away at thee time they get the go ahead, and she begs Ronnie to wait for her. Obviously, Ronnie doesn’t listen, as when she wakes up, she is a ghost looking down on her body, twisted at a grotesque angle from falling down the stairs.

She meets other inhabitants of the house, including the Bairds themselves. Ruth Baird apparently went crazy and took an axe to her husband, then locked her daughter in the basement to starve to death before killing herself. Joe, a very quiet ghost, who is a mystery to Ronnie, and Ed, who keeps to himself in the attic, along with his ghost Jack Russell, are the other two occupants.

Well, there is one more… Sarah, a red-haired little girl in overalls seems sweet enough in appearance, but as Ronnie soon discovers, is the one that caused her death, among others. Sarah is strong, and she can transform into a demonic being with a gaping black maw that can apparently swallow up ghosts, seeming to kill them again. Sarah takes pleasure in keeping them all trapped inside the house, and making them relive their deaths over and over whenever she seems bored.

The others are used to this, trying to take sanctuary in the relatively safe kitchen, but Ronnie has had enough after a couple of days. She wants to fight back. Chris comes back to visit the house, and Ronnie is able to make sure that she knows she is there, but Sarah is angry enough that Ronnie tells Chris not to come back, afraid that Sarah will kill her, too.

Ronnie figures out that she can actually touch solid things, etc. when she is feeling an intense emotion. Originally, she thinks it is anger that allows her these abilities, but as she and Joe fall for each other, she discovers otherwise. This is when she finally figures out she can leave the house, and goes to visit her sister Chris.

Ronnie tells Chris everything she knows and Chris takes the information and uncovers as much as she can in her research. Ronnie hopes that she will find a way to defeat Sarah so that the ghosts can be free. But what Chris discovers only creates more questions for Ronnie. What kind of person is Joe? Did he play a role in Sarah’s death?

Ronnie returns to the house to find answers to these questions. She knows she must find out the truth in order to help herself, and all of them, be rid of Sarah and escape her prison.

I have very mixed feelings about this story. While the story was plotted out well, and I enjoyed it for the most part, I do have a few complaints.

Mainly, there were inconsistencies that should have corrected in the editing process. The main character’s last name is Wilson, but in one statement, she identifies herself with the last name of Parker. Also, Sarah was spelled as “Sara” in a few places, but was still referring to the same character. One statement read “If the look on Lilly’s face weren’t enough to…” “The look” is singular, so it should have read “wasn’t,” not “weren’t.” There were many grammar issues in dialogue, but that is accepted because it was the character’s speech that was incorrect, not the writing.

I also felt there were inconsistencies in Joe’s behavior. Initially, I was given the impression that he was honorable, and a gentleman from a past era, but then something happened that didn’t at all seem to fit with that description either.

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed the story, but the grammar issues and inconsistencies were very distracting. There just should have been more editing before being published.

I understand that this novella was self-published using smashwords. As a writer with aspirations of publication, this only reinforced that self-publishing, for me, is not the route to go. After all, I’ve written a novel. I could easily use smashwords myself and get it out there, but I don’t want that for my work, either.

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