For some reason, when the year closes out and I am done with Christmas reads and reading challenges I like to read about ghosts and spiritual matters. Maybe I belong in a Dickens novel and I use the time to consider the larger picture as I get a new chance at a new year. I don’t know. But at the end of 2017 it was Victorian ghost stories and this is the first of two posts discussing Victorian and Regency times, supernatural or not.
Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology
I snagged this beauty right at the end of 2016 secondhand because I want to write more ghost stories and horror, etc. It definitely did not disappoint.
I don’t know why I had to read so many stories to realize that I probably love ghost stories not just because I find the other side of the veil fascinating but also because they are ultimately about passion. Like, you really gotta care about something to bother coming back from the dead for it. This could be patently obvious to everyone else. Because of this, many of the stories are love stories, but there is a decent showing of revenge or guilt stories as well. The scariest story in here is the last story, one of the first I read of the collection, because it was by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood is adept at creating something scary with subtlety. I don’t know if I ever posted on The Willows, but I found it disturbing without there being a single ghost. Similarly, his story in this collection, The Kit Bag, was creepy and left a significant impression on me. It creeped me out just by suggestion.
The rest of the collection was good too, not just the showing from Blackwood. It has Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and JS Le Fanu. So many hidden passions in proper Victorian times make for much fodder for passionate stories. Never makes me want to live in that era, as I would never have fit in unless I was rich enough to get away with eccentricity and clandestine scrawling inside a closet.
I picked this up sometimes when I wanted something short, but as the year was closing out and I was trying to be better about consuming shorts this definitely came off the nightstand for longer periods of time.
Nocturne for a Widow, Amanda DeWees
This is ultimately a Gothic romance and exactly what I wanted in my post holiday changeup of routine week.
The heroine, Sybil, spends most the book in the precarious circumstances common to women in the Victorian era. She tries her best for independence, but at the cost of her family and security. Any good Gothic heroine needs to have some modicum of independence to be interesting enough as a protagonist, as well behaved Victorian women have a hard time being interesting until they break or bend the rules. Often they have to be star crossed to do this, but Sybil does not need to be blinded by love to bend the rules, and I like that about her.
I also thought the hero was pretty well done, being a passionate bad boy who is difficult to read. Bad boys are not my favorite usually but I found myself trying to read his emotions as he made the heroine in the book crazy throughout most of it. I also liked that their ending up together (I don’t think this is a spoiler because the book is marketed as a romance and he is clearly the love interest the minute he rolls onto the scene) actually resulted in her being able to return to her creative life and living some of her dreams, rather than giving them up, like she thought she had to to survive in the beginning. I have read other historical books where a couple get together but then she is clearly headed toward children and domesticity after a life of being on the road, performing, or independence, and I don’t like that. When I was pregnant my clients told me I might not want to come back to work and I knew before that baby came I would want to come back to work…I did after 11 weeks and I never looked back. I love the boy who is jumping in front of the TV right now but I am not a stay at home parent.
This story is ultimately a mystery, with a big old house, a ghost with a story to tell, dramatic revenge, and a wicked female villain under the guise of utmost propriety and decorum. The story ties up neatly and sets the nice stable stage for a new round of mystery. This has a sequel mystery to it, and it looks like Ms. DeWees is looking to make it into a series, as she has other Victorian romances published on Amazon as well. I would pick up another Sybil Ingram mystery if it suited my ever changing reading mood.
Next week I am posting on another pair of historical fiction books (I have not finished the second one and that is looking like there is paranormal involved, although the first one does not have any) in the Victorian/Regency era. Just seems to be my reading mood lately, before the first snow read hits. January is a long long freakin month.