Thursday, 27 October 2011

House of Echoes - Barbara Erskine

If you love books that are a bit scary, have a historical twist and throw in a bit of romance too, then Barbara Erskine is the writer for you. House of Echoes introduces us to Joss Grant, her husband Luke and their toddler son Tom.  Their lives have just been nearly destroyed by the dirty dealings of Luke's business partner, when fate throws them a curve ball as Joss discovers she has inherited a large, dilapidated house called Belheddon Hall from a mother that she had never met.  Joss had always known that she had been adopted, but knew nothing about her family history, or why her mother had given her away as an infant.

The Grants are forced to sell their London home, so inheriting Belheddon Hall is a lifeline for them, allowing Luke to start a car restoration business in the old stables and giving Joss the chance to start renovating the old building and start writing a novel.  But while all old buildings have their shadows and legends attached to them, Belheddon Hall seems to have more than its share of mysteries.  Almost as soon as they move in, Joss can sense someone watching her and sees shadowy forms out of the corner of her eye.  She also hears children laughing and calling to each other in the house and gardens, which at first she writes off as village children having a lark, but becomes more spooked when she discovers that the names being called are those of her two dead brothers that before she had never known existed.

The stress starts telling on Joss when baby Tom starts having nightmares and talks about being scared of the 'tin man' and then her fear builds when strange things start happening to Tom's cot in the night, and they start to find bruises on his body.  Joss also discovers that she is once pregnant once more and that she is carrying a baby boy.  But as she starts to research her family history with the help of a friend from London, she is dismayed to find that all the male children in her family seemed to die prematurely and the house has always been passed down through the female line.

As Joss's fears for her two young sons and husband mount, can she convince her sceptical family who are starting to think that she herself is causing the accidents to Tom and the new baby Ned, that there is really danger lurking in Belheddon Hall? And how does the Yorkist King Edward IV fit in to the legend?  Does Edward still haunt the Hall looking for his lost love the Lady Katherine; harming all male children out of revenge towards the boy baby that took his lover's life away when she gave birth? Or is there something infinitely more sinister at work, that threatens to drag them all down into the darkness?

This is a fascinating book, with lots of twists and turn, and quite a few scares.  As it is set in the very English countryside, have a nice hotpot or shepherd's pie for your lunch while reading and wash it down with a half of real ale. This is a good page-turning read, which will have you wondering if tragedy will finally overtake Joss's loved ones, or whether she can find a way to stem the tide of evil before it is too late.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Lost Souls - Lisa Jackson

Kristi Bentz is the daughter of a homicide cop in New Orleans and is a rather unfortunate young woman, as she has already survived vicious encounters with two serial killers.  You would think that this would have bred a bit of caution into the girl but no, after her convalescence from her last adventure she heads off to to study at All Saints College in Baton Rouge, a campus where four young girls has disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the past year.

Kristi wants to solve the case and write a book about it so, instead of being totally freaked out and heading for the hills like most of us, she happily settles into an apartment that was previously lived in by one of the missing girls.  Although she changes all the locks, she bizarrely leaves a window open day and night to allow a stray cat to come in and out, even though she feels 'watched' all the time.  She settles into life at College, determined to discover the fate of the missing students, and soon hears rumours of a mysterious cult on campus centred on vampires and blood letting.  All of the missing girls were signed up to the same English major courses, including one on 'Vampyrism' led by the mysterious Dr Grotto, so Kristi duly signs up for the same courses and tries to make friends with the other students.  She is soon confronted with mysteries to solve such as why do some of the girls wear vials of blood around their necks, what goes on in the creepy old Wagner House and why does she feel as though she is constantly being watched and followed.

One of the legacies of her traumatic experiences at the hands of psychopaths is that Kristi now sees colour leeching out of people as she is watching them, that she believes is predicting injury or death for them in the near future.  She tragically experienced this while saying goodbye to her father, and also while interacting with some of the other students on the All Saints campus, convincing her that they will be the next to disappear.

Another complication for Kristi is that her ex-boyfriend, Jay McKnight, is now one of her professors on a forensics course.  Will Kristi be able to face him again in class, or will she be plunged back once more into the maelstrom of her feelings for him?  Also what is the significance of the Morality plays staged at the College, how does the mysterious Dr Grotto fit in, and what are the other nervous students hiding?

As events start moving towards a climax, Kristi has to keep her wits about her or she too will become a victim, and suffer the same terrifying fate as the other missing girls.  Set in the atmospheric misty winter of historic Baton Rouge this should be a tense, fast moving thriller, but instead it is a ponderous, even tedious read, that I had trouble wading through to the end.

Lost Souls doesn't seem to know whether it is a thriller, a horror or a cheesy romance, and so tries to be all three, which doesn't really work. It is interesting that Lisa Jackson refers to herself as a romance writer on her website and that Lost Souls is under a category of 'romantic suspense' which might explain it. Kristi is one of those heroines who is supposedly ultra sexy, athletic, brave and very smart and yet does some incredibly stupid things to move the plot along.  I found it really hard to have any empathy for her and at the book's climax was not really bothered whether she survived the horrors inflicted on her or not. I like books with a supernatural theme and vampires, but this one just just came off as improbable and far fetched, especially when a couple of the characters have started calling themselves 'Vlad' and 'Elizabeth Bathory'.  There is also no building of tension or suspense in the writing, and it just plods on and on for way too many pages, so there is none of the sense of having to turn the next page or reading far into the night to see what happens that you get with the best books that you read.

If you do choose to read this book, I hope that you enjoy it, but you may need a very large bag of chocolate buttons to keep up your dopamine levels and a stiff gin or two to keep you going!