The House of a Thousand Lanterns

THE HOUSE she had dreamed of since childhood…

THE HOUSE where her worst nightmares were about to come true…

THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS… the spellbinding new novel by Victoria Holt.

Jane Lindsay never dreamed she would be wealthy. Nor that she would fall in love with a man she could not trust. Against the background of 19th century England and Hong Kong, Victoria Holt unfolds the story of a young English woman who finds a strange new world in the HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS…

Copyright Victoria Holt 1974. First Fawcett Crest printing July 1975. Cover art Harry Bennett.

I’ve had an email from Jess, who is trying to re-find a favourite gothic romance. She has a vague recollection of the plot but the title eludes her. From her description below, I thought it shared similarities with Victoria Holt’s House of a Thousand Lanterns but I don’t think this is the one.

Here’s what she can remember:

It involved a young girl coming to stay at OR getting involved with a wealthy household in San Francisco. I think I remember specifically either bothers or close cousins and while she originally was attracted to one, she ends up with the other. There is a costume party at one point where she goes as Qwan-Yin, the Chinese goddess, even wearing a wig of blue yarn. I also remember there being some sort of disaster, but cannot recall if it was the great fire or an earthquake. There was definitely an element of horror/mystery though.

Did think I had found it in “The Trembling Hills” by Whitney and ordered an old used copy, but while it had been a book I’d read previously, it was not the one I was looking for.

Any ideas anyone?

 

Witch

‘That house isn’t healthy for the likes of you. You better get out before it’s too late’

As soon as Ellen March saw the house she wanted to buy it. It was her dream home. Even the rumours that it was haunted didn’t discourage her.

The dream home was to be the setting for a whole new happiness… until the dream turned into a nightmare.

The shadow of a woman in the bedroom… the weird white cat… the vicious gossip… was it her imagination, some hideous joke?

Or had the old witch returned from the dead to take possession of the house and of Ellen herself?

Copyright Barbara Michaels 1973.

First British edition published 1975 by Souvenir Press Ltd. This edition published 1977 by Pan Books Ltd.

Since the death of her sister nearly ten years ago, Ellen and her daughter Penny have been living with Ellen’s widowed brother-in-law Jack and his son Phil. But teenager Penny is now flying the nest and Jack is starting a new job somewhere far, far away so Ellen needs to find a home of her own too.  

Enter real estate agent Rose, who tells Ellen of a property new to the market – a cottage built in 1720, set in thirty acres of woodland right on the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, currently owned by irascible loner Ed Salling, who recently inherited it from his aunt and who is ready to sell at a reasonable price.

The little house is old, isolated and falling apart but for Ellen it is love at first sight. Ed tries to warn her off, with stories of witches, ghosts and small town skulduggery, but nothing he says can dissuade her. So it’s not long before the title deeds are signed and Ellen moves in with her trusty companion – her beloved, very vocal Siamese cat Ishtar.

For now Ellen is in seventh heaven; the cottage is everything she could have wished for. She has peace and quiet, with a long hot summer of learning guitar and watching the birds to look forward to. But when the sun sets on her first day in her brand new home and the dark of the forest settles around her, well that’s when the fun really begins…

She decided to read until the flames died down. The room couldn’t have been more peaceful. Her reading lamp shed a bright circle of light on the book without disturbing the soft gloom of the far corners, and the purring of Ishtar, curled up on the foot of the bed, blended with the sound of the rain. Involved with the adventures of Becky Sharp, Ellen read on.

Then it happened. She dropped the book with a harsh gasp, her hands flying to her throat. Ishtar groaned irritably and turned over, but did not wake. Gradually the thud of Ellen’s heart quieted but she still sat twisted about, staring into the dim corner by the door…

When she turned out the light, there were shadows to spare. They moved and twisted as the flames created them. Ellen lay awake watching them for some time. But none was even remotely like the sharp-edged shape she had seen. It had resembled the figure of a woman, with long, full skirts and flowing hair…

Harper reprint 2008

I reviewed Barbara Michael’s Greygallows a while back on this blog and out of the two, Witch worked far better for me. Set in the here and now (of the 1970’s) with an older, more engaging heroine, this was a fun book with lots of gothic goings on. In addition to the haunting shadow of a dead witch done wrong, there were ghostly cats, evil dogs, a (little) bit of possession and a neighbourhood full of weird witch burning villagers.

Personally I would have preferred to have heard more from Mary – the gypsy witch haunting the cottage who was found hanged in the upstairs bedroom. In fact, the supernatural elements of this story were terrific but became increasingly overshadowed by other, more mundane storylines as the novel progressed. It was also obvious from the get-go who the bad guy was (those slavering, glittery-eyed hounds and that chronic cat allergy were a bit of a clue) and it was a little difficult to take him seriously as a villain since he spent a large portion of the novel in a fit of red-eyed, wheezing fear of felines. Nevertheless, ailurophobic anti-heroes aside, I had a lot of fun with this book. Four out of five stars.


Monks’ Court

Margaret Collier, a young, attractive, recently widowed American girl, stands at her hotel window looking out over London on a sultry night and is inadvertently caught up in the intricacies of a murder that involves distinguished looking, coldly remote Englishman Hugh Vane.

Giving way reluctantly to a compulsive urge to discover the facts of the murder, she seeks out Sir Hugh at his ancestral estate, Monks’ Court, deep in the Shropshire countryside, and once the site of an ancient monastery.

The spell cast by the enigmatic Sir Hugh and by his beautiful and fateful house are Margaret’s undoing. She is enmeshed in events that take a terrifying turn when the threat of a second murder arises. This time, it is her own life that is menaced, and it is seemingly only the ardent devotion and determination of an American newspaperman, Richard Page, that offer her any hope of escape from the net that is tightening around her.

Once again, Katherine Wigmore Eyre has proved herself expert in creating the atmosphere for a plot charged with excitement. Glimpses of London and the English springtime countryside provide an authentic background for her story. In this splendid, fast-moving tale she demonstrates her mastery of the novel of suspense.

Katherine Eyre lives in San Francisco but knows England well. She loves the English countryside, and of London says, “It fascinates me. I can’t stay away.”

Copyright Katherine Wigmore Eyre 1966. Published by Appleton – Century Meredith Press. Jacket painting by Charles Geer.

I bought this lovely first edition hardcover for £1 at the street market yesterday. I’ve reviewed another of Katherine Wigmore Eyre’s gothics, The Sandalwood Fan, last year and I struggled to finish that book due to its slow pace and lack of gothic mood.  Monks’ Court, with its ancestral, ‘fateful’ house and rural setting, certainly sounds a little more promising so maybe I’ll get round to it one day.

Though I’m not such a huge fan of hardcover books, I love it when I find one adorned with a cover sleeve in such good condition. The artist, Charles Geer, has illustrated a number of gothic dust jackets and he has a very distinctive style – especially his gorgeously ruinous and rambling houses. Check out more of his amazing artwork HERE and HERE and HERE.

Another bonus is this lovely photograph of the authoress on the back – that dramatic lighting combined with such a classy pose makes her look every inch the quintessential gothic romance writer!

Stranger in the House

The Sedgwick mansion was hidden in the shadows by ancient elms and maples. And long ago its inhabitants had retreated into secret lives of their own.

But Letty Gaynor was unaware of the family’s mysterious past. And so, innocently, she agreed to visit the dark, foreboding house and to play the part of Chris Sedgwick’s fiancée. But when she began to suspect too much about the living and learned too much about the dead, her role took on new and terrifying dimensions.

Written by Serena Mayfield. Pocket Book edition published December 1972. Cover art Gene Szafran.

Letty Gaynor ‘star of tomorrow’ is a struggling actress living in midtown Manhattan whose life changes dramatically when she is asked a favour by handsome television agent, Chris Sedgwick. He wants her to accompany him on a visit to his family mansion and pretend to be his fiancée. All this in order to appease his rich, dying grandmother, who apparently worries too much about his philandering ways.

Against her better instincts Letty agrees and soon finds herself a houseguest amongst the usual cast of eccentric ne’er-do-well relatives – best of the bunch for me being ‘perky’ Uncle Harry, a pernicious gossip who knows all the Sedgwick’s dirty secrets and has a fondness for long walks in the family cemetery.

It is during one of these walks that Letty discovers there is more to this family – and the marriage-shy agent – than meets the eye, but of course by then, as far as her own life is concerned, it may already be too late…

Stranger in the House is a short, fun, engagingly written gothic. The cover art is by Gene Szafran (11 April 1941 – 8 January 2011), a well known American artist and sculptor who created a lot of striking science fiction covers in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not sure if he illustrated many gothics but I’d like to see more; I love his bold colour sense and those spooky-effect tombstones.

I do have one slight quibble about this cover – although the heroine in the foreground looks suitably glamorous, I am not so sure about her pursuer. Is he meant to be scary? Or just scared? Bewitched, bothered or bewildered? Maybe all three. Looks to me as if he has just stumbled into the graveyard by accident and is asking for directions to the nearest exit. My other half says he is most likely practising his Morcambe & Wise dance moves. Hmmm. Gothic or gormless? You decide.

Thinking about it, I guess most of the male cover stars on this blog are a little less than magnificent in the scary or sexy stakes and it’s no wonder they’ve been eclipsed by those bare-chested Fabioesque hunks beloved by today’s romance readers. Three out of four stars.

A Stranger in my Grave

What happened to Daisy Harker on Decemeber 2,1955? That was the date she had seen on the tombstone and yet she was still alive. The name on the grave was hers but whose was the body? Regardless of the lives that would be shattered by the truth, her implacable search for a single day in her past leads back through a maelstrom of hatred and remorse to the single catastrophic fact that underlies a lifetime of deception.

Written by Margaret Millar. First published 1960 by Victor Gollancz. Hodder paperback edition 1967.

Cover design Tom Simmonds. Photography Thomas Simmons.

My beloved Daisy: It has been so many years since I have last seen you…

We meet Daisy Harker one bright sunny morning in February as she sits down to breakfast with her husband Jim. At first glance they seem the perfect couple – young, affluent and good looking, enjoying bacon and eggs in their nice house, situated in a nice part of town. But something is wrong. Behind her brittle smiles and perfunctorily answers to her husband’s questions, Daisy’s peace of mind is becoming increasingly disturbed – she is suffering from panic attacks leaving her feeling out of control and helpless, triggered by a vivid dream in which she visited her own grave, the date on the tombstone marking her death as December 2nd 1955.

This letter may never reach you, Daisy. If it doesn’t, I will know why.

The good news is Daisy is still alive and, since it is now 1959, this dream cannot be a presentiment of her death. Even so, she intuitively knows someone or something close to her died that day and this is what holds the key to her increasing anxiety and unhappiness with her life. So, with the help of sceptical bail bondsman / private detective Pinata, she sets out on a journey to rediscover exactly what happened that fateful day in December over four years ago.

Memories are crowding in on me so hard and fast that I can hardly breathe.

I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil a cracking story beautifully written by an author with an amazing talent for bringing to life the little things – those seemingly offhand gestures and turns of speech that give away a character’s innermost thoughts and motivations. Suffice to say, this was a compelling mystery right from the start which I was very quickly drawn into.

Shame? – It’s my daily bread. No wonder the flesh is falling off my bones.

Another great thing about the structure of this novel – each chapter is headed by a couple of lines of prose which we gradually learn are extracts from a letter written, but never delivered to, Daisy herself. Who wrote it and why isn’t revealed until the final pages when she at last reads the entire letter- with the reader learning the whole truth behind her disturbing dream at the same time she does.

It’s powerful stuff and though some of the themes in this novel struck me as a little out-moded, the impact and skill of Margaret Millar’s storytelling more than makes up for this. I also love the eerie cover art; not sure if it’s a co-incidence or a typo but the names of the designer and photographer are strikingly similar, which made me wonder if this isn’t in fact the same person?

Anyway, a better review of this novel, along with some great cover scans, can be found over at the Pretty Sinister Books blog HERE.

Gothic Romance Lending Library

She came to a place of mist and menace – where even kisses tasted of terror… Haunted by a love that could not die but now could kill… Mystery lured her to the old castle, Death would show her the way out…

Foreboding mansions, misty moonlight and the moaning wind… There’s not much better than a night in with your favourite gothic romance is there? Well, imagine having a whole library full of them at your fingertips, delivered right to your door, without any of the hassle of having to find that precious extra shelf space!

Sounds like one of my favourite fantasies, but for those of you living in the good ol’ U.S.of A, this dream is a reality. Kristi Lyn Glass, founder of The Gothic Journal, has sent me some great news regarding the Gothic Romance Lending Library – it has now been re-housed and is looking bigger and better than ever.

Gothic Heaven!

Started in August 1996, the Gothic Romance Lending Library (GRLL) is a not for profit service that now contains over 3,400 volumes. That’s right, 3,400 gothics! I’m lucky (or insane) enough to own a few hundred of these books and the thought of owning a whole library full of them sounds like heaven. Even better, you can order up to eight books at one time and can keep them for approximately three months.

Kristi Lyn Glass is the founder of the Gothic Journal, which she started in 1991. The magazine’s purpose was to connect readers with gothic romance novels and their authors and publishers during a period in which publishers were disguising these books as titles in a variety of other genres.

Throughout the 90’s the Gothic Journal was the news and review magazine for readers, writers, and publishers of romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and gothic, supernatural, and woman-in-jeopardy romance novels. Though the final issue was published October / November 1998 the journal has an online presence, with a recently updated website, and continues to remain a great resource for anyone interested in gothic romance. Back issues of the Journal can also be ordered from here.

So for more information, just follow the links below:

Gothic Romance Lending Library

Gothic Journal Newsletter

Kristi is looking for others who share her passion to sign up as ambassadors and spread the word about the library, journal and all things gloriously gothic romantic. Just visit the link above and add your name to the list! And THANK YOU Kristi for all your suspenseful endeavours in keeping the Gothic Romance genre flag flying! Fans like me really appreciate it!

Do Evil in Return

“Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.”  

W.H. Auden

A dark chain of evil inexorably strangles the lives of those involved: the spirited heroine, Charlotte Keating, a woman doctor; Violet O’Gorman, the innocent victim: Lewis Ballard, who loved himself more than he loved the women in his life; Gwen Ballard, who still lived in the memory of the days when she was belle of the town… the sinister theme is subtly contrived and cleverly executed… a psychological thriller, highly recommended.” The Globe and Mail.

Originally published in hard cover by Random House. Copyright Margaret Millar 1950. Lancer Books 1966.

Another lucky charity shop find. I love this cover; it’s classy (my photo doesn’t do it justice so you’ll have to take my word for it, but her matching coral lipstick and nail polish combo is gorgeous) and it’s spooky too. Look at that sinister silhouette of someone or something lurking in the darkened window behind her – no wonder she’s running away before giving herself time to put her coat on properly!

Margaret Millar (February 5, 1915 – March 26, 1994) was an American-Canadian mystery and suspense writer. She has been credited with being a screenwriter for Warner Brothers Hollywood and was a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1956. I think her writing is wonderful; I’m reading another one of her books at the moment and hope to review it soon.

As for Do Evil, a cursory flick through the internet reveals this has been reprinted a number of times. Here’s the back blurb from 1974 Avon Books:

“Girls like Violet often came into Dr. Charlotte Keating’s office. Violet wore a wedding ring, but then, they all did. They bought them at the dime store just before the appointment. And Charlotte’s response was the same each time: firm but sympathetic refusal. But there was something different about Violet…”

And an alternative Dell cover (with Map back) can be viewed on Swallace99’s Flickr page here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/56781833@N06/6371129973/

The Possession of Elizabeth Calder

Spirit of Vengeance

After only a few hours in the old mansion on lonely Randall’s Island, Elizabeth Calder realized that some eerie force was watching over her. Fifty years before, the peace of that house had been shattered by murder and suicide – could it be that a revenge-hungry spirit still walked the halls?

Elizabeth was determined to find the truth – and someone was equally determined to kill her before she did. As danger piled on danger and terror on terror, Elizabeth little suspected that, in her moment of greatest need, help would come from the spirit of a woman who had been dead for fifty years!

A Ravenswood Gothic. Written by Melissa Napier. Published by Pocket Books October 1973.

Elizabeth Calder has been having a tough time of it lately. Her fiancé, Jeffrey, has broken off their engagement and run away with her best friend. To make matters worse, all her other so-called friends find the situation hilariously funny and aren’t sympathetic at all. Poor Elizabeth finds herself traumatised and friendless (perhaps that’s for the best though…) retreating ever deeper into her own imaginary world, wistfully dreaming of far off lands from times past and future…

Luckily, before her self -imposed exile drives her completely bonkers, she receives an invitation from her Aunt and Uncle inviting her over to their place. They are park rangers who live and work on the beautiful but isolated Randall’s Island, just off the Jersey coast and Elizabeth decides some time away in such a wondrous place will be just what she needs to get well again.

However, no sooner does she arrive than her imagination starts playing tricks on her again. Or does it? Locals start looking at her funny, muttering darkly about her resemblance to another Elizabeth – an Elizabeth Conway – who died over fifty years ago. Then, on her first night at the island, our Elizabeth is visited by a host of ghostly apparitions –  some good, some bad – doing the dance of death in the middle of her bedroom.

Confused? I was. But it transpires that Elizabeth Calder is being haunted by an evil force that wants to kill her as well as the spirit of Elizabeth Conway – a girl whose own lover had jilted her too. Over fifty years ago. And when that Elizabeth’s sweetheart disappeared she was falsely accused of his murder. So she killed herself.

Or did she? For there is more going on at Randall Island than mere hauntings. Woken up during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night, Elizabeth spots some suspicious looking characters lurking outside of the house. Following them into the cellar she narrowly escapes death by a caved in tunnel before stumbling right into the middle of an illegal smuggling operation, led by evil old crone Emily Baxter, a woman who has more than one reason for wanting to kill our heroine…

Some books read like a perfect summertime romance – there’s no point analysing it too deeply (you won’t find much worth looking for anyway) so best to just pour yourself another drink, relax, lie back and enjoy the ride. The Possession of Elizabeth Calder was like this for me – I had no idea of what was going on (still don’t actually) but our time together was short, sweet and great fun while it lasted. And with a cover this groovytastic, who cares what’s on the inside? Three stars out of five.

The Caldwell Shadow

“My daughter has not uttered a word for four years. Someone, somehow, has to break whatever spell possesses her.”

Mr. Caldwell looked thin and drawn as he confided his desperation to Janelle Farrington, R.N. The beautiful young psychiatric nurse was his last hope. She must try to save his daughter Nadine from the strange silence that had overcome her that dreadful day of her mother’s death.

Janelle looked gently at the distraught father. “Tell me,” she asked, “what is her attitude toward you, sir?”

“I would think,” said Mr Caldwell, “that if the proper opportunity arose, my daughter would kill me…”

Warner Paperback Library Edition. First Printing September 1973. Second Printing August 1975. Cover illustration by Vic Prezio.

Thought I’d share this lovely cover by Vic Prezio. There is something wonderfully eerie about that single gravestone, poised by the edge of the forest, as if quietly waiting for something – or someone. I’ve not read this novel yet so I don’t know whether the ghostly figure next to it is a phantom, mysterious stranger or some awful future vision of the heroine herself. Could be, as with many of my gothics, the cover art has nothing whatsoever to do with the story!


Wuthering Heights

Dominated by the wild, terrible figure of Heathcliff and infused with much of the bleak beauty of its setting, the Yorkshire Moors, Wuthering Heights is one of the most highly imaginative novels in the English language. Such is the intense power of the atmosphere which Emily Bronte builds up that even the incredible Heathcliff seems real and every detail of the fantastic story of his love for Catherine Earnshaw remains clearly remembered long after one has finished the book. It is a strange story, with something of the vividness of a nightmare and something of the beauty of an old ballad, and it contrasts strongly with Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre, the novels which were written at the same time by Anne and Charlotte Bronte.

Written by Emily Bronte, first published 1847. Published in Penguin Books 1946. This reprint, 1965. Cover art Paul Hogarth.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again – there’s too much running and not enough kissing going on in this blog and so of course I had to share this gorgeously smoochalicious cover of Wuthering Heights the minute I saw it.

According to Wikipedia, Paul Hogarth OBE was an English artist and illustrator best known for the cover drawings that he did in the 1980s for Penguin’s Graham Greene’s books. And yes, his artwork is worth looking out for – search for his book covers online and there is an amazing array of his work out there, it’s great.

And it’s been a good week for ferreting out some of my favourite books and writers – in addition to the Penguin edition of Wuthering Heights above, I also found this:

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. Written by Daphne du Maurier. Doubleday edtion published March 1961. Giant Cardinal edition published December 1962. 1st printing October 1962.

Of all the Brontes, Branwell, as a child, showed the most promise. He was worshipped by his sisters and his widowed father; it was to him they all looked for literary success. Yet he alone was unable to bridge the gap between childhood fantasy and adulthood, and produce a mature, finished book.

There is, however, no question of his influence upon the writings of his sisters, and certainly Emily drew heavily on him for her memorable portrait of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Conscious to the end of his sisters’ success and his own monumental failure, he turned to a life of dissipation and withdrew to live in the wild, fantastic imagination of his mythical, self-invented kingdom of Angria.

He died at thirty one, from alcohol and excessive laudanum – an ‘eloquent unpublished poet.’

It’s an amazing biography – Daphne du Marier’s skill as a novelist and storyteller bringing the life and times of the Bronte family alive. Anyone interested in the writings of the Bronte sisters can’t help but be drawn in by this beautifully written and wonderfully observed portrait of their incredibly talented but deeply troubled brother, Branwell.

I bought both these books for £1 at the wonderful Colin Page Books in Brighton, an amazing bookshop known and loved by bibliophiles far and wide. This is the kind of place that sells proper old books – gilt edged, leather bound, dusted in antiquity – rows upon rows of them, stacked floor to ceiling in that wonderful  ‘there must be some sort of order to this chaos’ way that real bookstores have.

And fear not all you cheap’n’cheerful paperback pulp fans – this place has something for everyone! For outside the shop are a couple of trestle tables where the paperbacks are sold and there is always a great selection, most priced at a very reasonable £1. I’m lucky enough to live and work nearby so this is one of my favourite lunchtime stops for a browse and a bargain!

For more info on this wonderful place, check out the antiquarian Booksellers’ Association page HERE.

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