Menfreya

Menfreya close up (2)

“Love, lust and the Cornish sea pound through this saga of a 19th century family.” EVENING STANDARD.

For Harriet Delvaney, the great house of Menfreya, standing like a fortress on the Cornish coast, has always been a citadel of happiness and high spirits. Not until she herself comes to Menfreya as a bride does Harriet discover its legend of infidelity, jealousy and murder. And not until that legend comes dangerously to life does Harriet begin to believe the old story that when the tower clock of Menfreya stops, it means that someone is about to die…

“Sinister… a splendidly wild background.” BOOKS AND BOOKMEN.

Menfreya Fontana (2)Written by Victoria Holt. First published 1966. First issued in Fontana Books 1968. 

Our first encounter with Harriet Delvaney is as a thirteen year old runaway – fleeing the confining, hostile environment of her father’s grand London house to hide out in an abandoned old cottage on an island just off the Cornish coast.

From here she gazes across the dawn-lit sea towards Menfreya, an enchanting stately manor sprawled across the cliff top. Home to the Menfrey’s and more castle than house, Menfreya’s gothic turrets, machicolated towers and ancient flint walls symbolise for Harriet everything she has been longing for in her short, sad life – romance, intrigue, mystery and adventure.

Menfreya Fawcett Crest (2)

Fawcett Crest reprint. Cover art Harry Bennett

Fast forward a few years and Harriet’s adolescent dreams have come true. Now a wealthy heiress and married to the dashingly handsome Bevil Menfrey, she has become mistress of Menfreya. However, this being a gothic romance, the best of times very quickly sour into the worst of nightmares for our heroine, with madness, murder, treachery and rape being just a few of the ordeals she finds herself enduring. Worse still are the mercurial moods and roving eyes of husband Bevil, forcing Harriet to ask herself – did he marry her for love or for a reason much more sinister?

Menfreya Fontana banana

Fontana 19th Impression 1979

Menfreya is a great read full of all the usual ingredients beloved by fans of Victoria Holt’s novels – gorgeous settings oozing atmosphere, a likeable heroine who is feminine without being flighty partnered alongside a dangerously rakish leading man whose motives will keep you guessing right till the end. It’s a familiar formula yes, but in Holt’s hands never predictable and I love the way she weaves complex family histories and mythologies so effortlessly into her books, creating back-stories which are just as engrossing as the main plot of the novel itself. 

I have three copies of this book. My favourite by far being the older Fontana edition with its wild n’ wuthering crimson-stained sky. I got this from Healthy Planet, complete with a stamp on the inside cover asking me to pass this book on once I have read it… but I think I’ll be keeping this one for some time yet!

Menfreya Fontana (2)

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Shadow of Evil

Shadow of Evil close up

DRIVEN BY AN UNEARTHLY TERROR, PORTIA MUST PROTECT THE MAN SHE LOVES.

The beautiful widow Portia is an investigator into the occult.

She is aided by her fiancé, Owen Edwardes. Suddenly their future is threatened by the diabolical, lovely neighbour, Princess Tchernova – who pursues Owen like a beast of prey. She wants to see him dead. Portia uses every weapon at her disposal – including her love and her mastery of the occult – to keep Owen out of her rival’s clutches.

The duel between Portia and the princess will haunt the memories of addicts of the Gothic novel for many long, dark nights.

Shadow ov EvilOriginal title – Invaders from the Dark. Copyright 1960 by Greye La Spina. Copyright 1925 by the Popular Fiction Publishing Company, for Weird Tales, where an earlier version of this novel appeared in the issues for April, May and June 1925.

This Paperback Library edition is published by arrangement with Arkham House. First Printing September 1966.

Barely a year into her marriage to occult philanthropist Howard Differdale, Portia finds herself widowed when he is struck down dead in the midst of a particularly treacherous ritual. Undaunted by this cruel twist of fate, she makes the brave decision to carry on her husband’s work. But it’s a lonely existence, made all the more difficult by the ill-will and malicious rumour-mongering of her neighbours.

To combat her isolation and curtail the town’s gossips, Portia invites her Aunt Sophie to come live with her and it’s through Sophie’s eyes, presented in the form of a manuscript recovered by Greye La Spina herself, that the story unfolds.

Sophie is initially concerned for her niece but her fears are allayed somewhat by Portia’s new found maturity and unceasing resolve to continue with her late husband’s work.  Even better, there is an handsome young man on the horizon  – the eligible Owen Edwardes – whose interest in Portia appears to be reciprocated, and hopeless romantic Aunt Sophie is determined to bring them together.

But there’s a rival for Owen’s affections – the mysterious, the sensuous, the carnivorous Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova. Swathed in furs, her eyes glowing garnet in the gloom, she has a manner that many find alluring, coupled with a sleight of hand as fast as she is fair – linger just a little too long in her presence and you may find yourself the unwary recipient of a strange looking flower pinned to your buttonhole – a foul smelling, fleshy bloom that serves a deadly purpose.

No man can escape her fast-fingered charms and it’s Owen in particular she has set her glittery-eyed sights on. Though many find her pointy-toothed smile irresistible, it only serves to sap the sunlight from Aunt Sophie’s day and her heart sinks each time she sees the hapless Owen falling ever deeper under the princess’s spell.

Sophie isn’t the only one who is heartsick as Portia has long held suspicions of her own. To those with the occult know-how, the signs are obvious; Princess Tchernova keeps wolves for pets and eats nothing but meat; her fingers are unnaturally long, her eyebrows unnaturally low. Moreover, those hideous Orchids she keeps throwing around have a use far more sinister than the townsfolk could ever imagine.

2010 Ramble House reprint

2010 Ramble House reprint

One stormy night Portia confides in her Aunt, simultaneously revealing her suspicions while educating Sophie into the reality of the loup-garou or werewolf. Using her extensive occult library and powers of persuasion she convinces her Aunt that, not only do these monstrous beings exist but that the Princess herself is a shape-changing werewolf, intent on turning Owen into her life-long mate.

Using powers of astral projection along with some good old-fashioned peeping through other people’s windows, Portia and Sophie’s worse fears are confirmed when they witness the princess performing a strange ritual of her own – plying Owen with a liquor extracted from some lycanthropous stream that brings with it the curse of becoming werewolf.

Uh-oh. Time is running out for our intrepid duo if they are to save Owen from the clutches of Princess Tchernova. Preparing for his rescue, disaster strikes in the form of an enormous explosion that rocks through the town, destroying the princess’s mansion. Sophie and Portia watch helplessly from their window as the mansion burns to the ground, dismayed in the knowledge that Owen could not possibly survive such a catastrophe.

The shock has barely worn off when there’s a knock on the door. Portia answers it to find the princess’s mute servant standing on the threshold, accompanied by a large grey wolf….

Shadow of Evil backcover

Shadow of Evil is a fabulous read where romance, intrigue and supernatural thrills ‘n’ spills all combine to create a story as weird as it is wonderful. And as far as anti-heroines go, the Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova is a villainess as exotically gothic as her name implies.

Greye La Spina has written a few werewolf stories and it is obvious she has a more than passing interest in her subject matter – I particularly enjoyed Portia’s account detailing lycanthropy in terms of the use and abuse of faith and how those sworn to evil are just as capable of performing miracles as those sworn to good – an explanation which made perfectly spooky sense while I was reading it late at night over a glass of wine or two!

Born in 1880 in Wakefield Massachusetts, Greye La Spina lived a life as unconventional as her gothic heroines. More about her and her contribution to early pulp horror can be found over at The Innsmouth Free Press HERE. There is also an informative thread on her works over at the ever-fabulous Vault of Evil. 

Four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for use of the word decoction

Shadow of Evil

Climb The Dark Mountain

Climb the dark mountain close up

Dream… Or Nightmare?

Paris! Anita could not believe it. Her every dream had been of the glories of the City of Light, and now, thanks to aunt Emily’s legacy, she was really here.

Anita had one goal: becoming a successful artist. And what better place to study art than in the world capital of art? When Alexis Binaud agreed to accept her as a student, she was ecstatic… but her idol soon proved himself nothing more than a man. And Anita found she had opened the door to a dark secret… and that door was closing, locking her prisoner in a private hell!

Climb the dark mountainCopyright Press Editorial Services.

This edition published by Zenith Publications, London. (No date). 

It’s been awhile since my last post, I know… so thanks to everyone who has stopped by and left comments & emails – I promise to start replying soon! Bear with me as my beleaguered brain relearns its way around WordPress – I have been doing things the old fashioned way these past few months and am slowly refamiliarising myself with the internet.

Having reviewed a couple of Julie Wellsley novels on this site before – House Malign and Chateau of Secrets – I thought Climb the Dark Mountain would be a good book to start the summer off with since it’s been lurking on my to-read pile for ages.

The story starts when Anita Morris inherits some money and uses it to fulfil her long time ambition of becoming an artist. Thanks to a small legacy left to her in her aunt’s will, she now has enough cash to fly to Paris and study under the tutelage of renowned painter Alexis Binaud.

Lancer Edition

Lancer Edition

Montmartre is a long, long way from Maida Vale and everything Anita imagined it would be – all cutting edge glamour crossed with bohemian insouciance. As for Alexis, well, if drinking Pernod and chain-smoking Gitanes didn’t single him out as a genius, his moody charm and ruggedly handsome good looks sure do – so it’s no wonder Anita has fallen helplessly in love by the end of chapter 3.

When Alexis offers her a part time job illustrating a cartoon strip he is creating for a local paper, she jumps at the chance of spending more time with him. There is one slight catch however – for a mysterious fire at the art school means Anita will now be living and working from the artist’s home.

And it’s not just any old house. Alexis lives with his mother in an old French chateau with a dark past. Occupied by the Gestapo during the war, it is a place impregnated with evil, haunted by the ghosts of prisoners of war who were tortured and buried in its dungeons.

As soon as she moves in, Anita knows something is terribly wrong – strange accidents, a sense of being followed, shadowy figures creeping into her bedroom at night… someone wants her dead… and though she can not know for sure, the sinister, skeletal finger of gothic romance is pointing very much in the direction of one troubled artist with mad glittery eyes…

Climb the DM insert

Fast-paced, action-packed, Climb the Dark Mountain was a lot of fun crammed with whole heaps of gothicness – including eerily painted murals with eyes that follow you in the dark, an artist’s incestuous love for his dead sister, Nazis, secret rooms, madness, murder and much, much, more – I really sensed Julie Wellsley must have had a lot of fun writing this one.

But with so much going on, I found the story did get a little convoluted at times – with a confusing subplot about a spy ring or criminal gang that did not make sense to me at all – although that could be because I was far too engrossed with Alexis’ tortured love for his embalmed sibling to take much notice of other such minor fripperies.

Three out of four stars, with bonus points for this lovely cover which could have been painted by Alexis Binaud himself!

Climb the dark mountain

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?

 

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.

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!

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.

Widow in White

The Defenceless Target Of A Mysterious Intruder

It began on a rainy Saturday afternoon as Margo was entertaining her new neighbours at a small housewarming party. A car ran into one of the trees on her property, and an injured man was soon installed in her guestroom.

But the smashup, Margo soon learned, was no accident. The handsome, ruthless stranger was after something in the house, and nothing – not even Margo herself – was going to stand in his way of getting it.

Copyright 1973 by Morris Hershman. First Avon printing, January 1973. Cover art Walter Popp. (Thanks Ruben!)

The goddess of all gifts second-hand has been very good to me recently, with at least one lovely gothic a day picked up at the local charity shops this week. Monday’s acquisition was the very fair of face Widow in White and oh, how I love this cover!

One thing I’ve noticed about my Avon gothics though – the cover art is usually stunning but the covers are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear. Quite often the artwork is almost completely scuffed off. This one is in very good condition for an Avon gothic – well, for one found on this side of the Atlantic anyway.

Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

Morris Hershman (born 1926) wrote under several pseudonyms, including Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Lionel Webb and Jessica Wilcox. And it’s his Evelyn Bond persona that looks to be the most prolific, with at least twenty gothics published in the 60’s and 70’s.

Here’s a short biog on the author, taken from the Browne Popular Culture Library page:

Morris Hershman was born on January 31, 1926. He attended New York University. On September 6, 1969, he married Florence Verbell, a writer and editor, though they are now divorced.

Hershman writes under the pseudonyms: Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Sam Victor, Lionel Webb, and Jess Wilcox. He also writes under various other private pseudonyms. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Morris Hershman resides in New York City.

And some more information, with scans of all his lovely gothics, can be found over at Fantastic Fiction HERE.

The Rest is Silence

 DEAF, DUMB…AND DEAD?

Nona O’Carty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was her first visit to England, and it should have been a festive vacation. She was looking forward with delighted anticipation to the royal wedding procession, and then…

She witnessed a brutal and seemingly senseless murder. At the same time, she was struck by a bullet which left her alive – but totally deaf.

She was completely unable to communicate what she knew – and she was not even sure how much she had actually seen and how much she had imagined. She was terribly, dreadfully alone. And there was no place to run – because now the murderer was stalking her, to ensure her silence… forever.

Written by Virginia Coffman.

Lancer Books 1968. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Just when I thought I’d seen most of what Virginia Coffman has to offer gothic-wise, along comes another one! Of course Deaf, Mute and Dead would be the more politically appropriate, though far less alliterative, by-line for today’s back blurb, but I guess this was 1968.

I’ve had a quick flick through the first couple of chapters – the heroine, Nona, has a golden ticket for a royal wedding and she has travelled to England on a once in a lifetime trip from her hometown in Ireland. She is staying at the ‘little’ Richmond Hill Hotel, and this made me smile, for when my family first moved to the UK, we actually lived in this hotel for a few months – and I remember it as being very, very big! (Though I was quite little myself at the time and buildings do have a habit of shrinking as you get older).

Anyway, along with Behind Locked Shutters and The Twilight Web, this cover gets filed in the ‘shady-looking men wearing shades’ section of my bookcase.

Rosevean

SOMETHING SINISTER PURSUED ANN FORRESTER AT ROSEVEAN-

SOMETHING THAT MADE HER SLEEP IN FEAR AND WAKE IN TERROR!

Ann Forrester came to Rosevean, a gloomy gothic mansion, as the personal assistant to its iron-willed mistress, Mrs. Pendine.

At first Ann’s duties were routine. Suddenly she realized that Rosevean was a house riddled with jealousy, secrets and menace.

But it wasn’t until Mrs. Pendine’s strange death that the tentacles of Rosevean reached out to Ann herself, strangling her slowly and surely in its fatal grip…

Written by Iris Bromige. First Paperback Library printing September 1965.

I’m going through a bit of a John Fowles phase at the moment, which means I’m falling a bit behind on my gothic romance reading. I’ve just finished the French Lieutenant’s Woman  (a review of which might possibly be squeezed on to these pages, the leading lady was nicknamed Tragedy after all…) and I’ve now started on The Collector, so it might be a while before I have any reviews to post here.

In the meantime I thought I’d show off another lovely Paperback Library Gothic. This looks like a Lou Marchetti cover to me, though I can’t see a signature. The lady in the foreground looks a little awkward but I love the wintry palette of blues used for that dark bruised sky – a trademark of many of these Paperback Library covers.  

According to my (out of date) reference book on Gothic and Romance writers, Iris Bromige is a British writer born in London 1910, educated at Clapham County Secondary School and married to Alan Frank Bromige. She lived local to me on the Sussex Downs and was one of Women’s Weekly’s most popular contributors.

Best known for her ‘gentle, quiet, English’ romances rather than her gothic novels, she has had over forty titles published on both sides of the Atlantic since the 1940’s.

There’s not much about Iris Bromige on the web, though there is a site dedicated to her books with some photos, here: http://www.thirzajane.com/ib/welcome.html. Seems like they’re looking for more information on the life and works of this author, so if you have anything to share, please get in touch.

Happy reading!