skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
Despite its incredibly bland title, Into the Darkness turned out to be one of the most interesting Barbara Michaels gothics I've yet read.

This is one of the ones where Barbara Michaels decides to break the "girl meets house" mold and go instead with "girl meets career." Our Heroine Meg Venturi, called back to her hometown for her grandfather's funeral, finds that he's left her half of the family jewelry business; the other half has (of course) been left to his dark and brooding protege, whom half the town is convinced murdered Meg's grandfather and the other half the town thinks was probably just blackmailing him.

Obviously, this is Bachelor A. Bachelor B is Meg's annoying fake cousin (there's always a cousin in there somewhere), Bachelor C is the boring lawyer who keeps trying to mansplain Meg's inheritance to her, and Bachelor D is the married businessman that Meg has been having an affair with but who rapidly becomes irrelevant to the plot.

Meanwhile, Meg's grandmother keeps cheerfully sharing conversations that she had overnight with the ghost of Meg's dead grandfather, the housekeeper will not stop pretending to be Mrs. Danvers, someone keeps mailing threatening antique jewelry to the house, there's another pile of probably-stolen and certainly-priceless antique jewelry hidden in the back of Meg's closet, and every so often there will be a murder attempt. Throughout it all, Meg comes to two realizations: a.) she really, genuinely loves the jewelry business and b.) she is really, genuinely sick of Various Bachelors treating her like a Gothic ingenue.

Spoilers under the cut )
skygiants: Jane Eyre from Paula Rego's illustrations, facing out into darkness (more than courage)
So in Barbara Michaels's Houses of Stone, Our Heroine Karen is an academic with a focus on early nineteenth-century Gothics (oh yes I see what you did there Barbara Michaels, we all saw what you did there) who is convinced she's had the break of her career when her dashing bookseller friend finds a handwritten manuscript of a genuine! female-authored! early American Gothic novel!!!

In order to prove the manuscript's authenticity, Karen promptly drops everything -- including bailing on a pre-planned trip with one of her theroetically best friends, which soured me kind of on Karen, as Karen is deeply offended by the notion that her friend might be a little put out by this -- to skedaddle down to the house in Virginia where the manuscript was found in the hopes she can find some details that will prove the manuscript is genuine and, ideally, autobiographical.

Given that the plot of the manuscript is "TRAGIC ORPHANS arrive at a MYSTERIOUS HOUSE! ft. a SINISTER MADWOMAN!!! and POSSIBLE SURPRISE INCEST!!!!!!!!' I'm not really sure why Karen is ever convinced she's going to prove the manuscript is autobiographical -- I mean, as far as I know there's no evidence that Ann Radcliffe was ever imprisoned in an Italian castle or abducted by banditti -- but sure, this seems like legitimate academic research, I guess.

But alas, Karen has difficulty pursuing her research, because sinister events are pursuing her! Her rented room catches on fire! Someone tries to run her over! The house where the manuscript was found may well be haunted! The local DAR chapter just will not stop asking her to give them a historical lecture on the Brontes!

As usual, the book features two eligible bachelors -- Bachelor A is the cranky owner of the house where the manuscript was found, who MIGHT have a sinister secret, or MIGHT just be sinisterly attractive; Bachelor B is Karen's academic rival who's EITHER pursuing her because he wants to steal the manuscript OR because he wants to steal her heart!! -- but honestly there's probably less than 30 pages in total spent on either of them and neither Barbara Michaels nor Karen really cares all that much.

And then there is PEGGY, Karen's sidekick, a sixty-something historian who is mysteriously independently wealthy and is super enjoying the opportunity to wade up to her knees in Gothic intrigue and flirt with Karen's dashing bookseller friend. (This is why Karen's dashing bookseller friend is not Bachelor C; he's busy.) Peggy is, to be honest, significantly more interesting and likable than Karen. Karen spends most of the book very cranky, which is fine, but also, Karen is mean about all her friends (except Peggy -- well, sometimes she's even mean about Peggy, in a 'I DON'T NEED YOU, MOM!' kind of way) and she's also mean about her other academic rival, the one who is not a love interest, because she's older and intense and wears too much makeup. Karen! The whole book is centered around your ardent feminism! BE LESS MEAN TO OTHER WOMEN.

I also did not find the manuscript-within-a-manuscript particularly convincing, mostly because it's written in more close a third person than any contemporaneous Gothic novel I can remember reading, but, you know, pastiche is hard, I get it. Anyway, I can't complain too much given that a solid 2/3 of the plot is just Karen and Peggy standing around analyzing Gothic tropes and that is the sort of thing that I do love.
skygiants: Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena holding a red rose (i'm the witch)
I was on vacation this weekend, so, as is traditional, I kicked off with a Barbara Michaels Gothic, Vanish With the Rose.

The premise of this one is that our heroine Diana's baby brother vanished while working for an elderly woman at (of course) an enormous country house. The country house has since been sold to an enthusiastic pair of professors and history nerds who are very keen on remodeling and fixing up the gardens, so Diana -- for the record, an adult, high-powered lawyer -- turns up to investigate! in disguise! AS THEIR LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT!

Almost as soon as she begins the plan, Diana finds herself in MORAL AGONIES about it. Emily and Charles are so nice! They really BELIEVE she's going to turn in a solid diagram about where they can place the ha-ha!!

She would never be able to see a rose, much less one of the lovely old varieties, without being reminded of her perfidy toward people who had trusted her.

In between paroxysms of guilt about her landscaping perfidy, Diana rounds out her circle of acquaintances with some possible suspects/routes in the Gothic novel dating simulator, including

WALT - the sullen hot one, a contractor with a chip on his shoulder about being smart but under-educated, who is in on Diana's secret and Disapproves Of Her Taking In Those Nice People
ANTHONY - the funny weird one, Emily's wildly talkative son who can't hold down a job and collects useless old cars, giant dogs, and cacti
MARY JO - the ambitious nineteen-year-old cleaning lady with an even bigger chip on her shoulder than Walt, who is putting herself through college by holding down three jobs while resolutely ignoring her abusive ex-husband's occasional fits of murderous rage

Diana's judgmental asshole father, in town for a judgy visit, sums up the inevitable Romantic Choice: "On the whole, I think I'd prefer the strong silent sullen gentleman with the muscles to the loquacious youth with the garish taste in haberdashery."

That said, Diana actually spends much more time in the book making giant shiny eyes at Mary Jo than either of them, AS IS RIGHT AND JUST.

Mary Jo gave Diana's hand a brief squeeze before withdrawing hers; Diana felt as if she had won a prize.

After a few days of desperately trying to fake her way through landscape architecting, Emily and Charles take off on an antiques-buying trip and leave Diana house-sitting. Diana and Anthony start having visitations from what might be a ghost, while Mary Jo's asshole ex turns up with a gun and starts taking potshots at anyone who might be around, including all of Anthony's giant dogs. As a result, Walt, Anthony, and Mary Jo all move into the house with Diana!

The rest of the book goes pretty much as follows;

ANTHONY: I'm gonna tear this house apart trying to figure out what's going on with the ghost!
WALT: I really, really would like to solve the problem of the abusive ex with the gun!
DIANA: I still have to figure out what happened to my brother! Did the ghost get him? Did the abusive ex with the gun get him? DID ONE OF MY LOVE INTERESTS GET HIM?
MARY JO: You guys do what you need to do with the Gothic plot and all, I have an actual exam tomorrow and will be in the library with a math textbook.

In the end, I was genuinely surprised by the resolution! )
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
The other Barbara Michaels I read on vacation is The Master of Blacktower, which actually was Barbara Michaels' first Gothic, falling squarely into the proud genre known as 'Jane Eyre Lite.'

The heroine of this one is Damaris Gordon, a plucky Victorian (?) lass who decides to hire herself out as a personal secretary/librarian after her father's death rather than marry her boring cousin.

She is eventually employed as a personal librarian by Gavin Hamilton, a DARK, BROODING HIGHLANDER with a SINISTER SCAR, SINISTER BLACK-GLOVED HANDS, and a SINISTER KILT. He lives in a SINISTER SCOTTISH CASTLE with his INVALID DAUGHTER (whom he hates), SEVERAL SERVANTS (who all hate him), and a PERSONAL MINSTREL (degree of affection unclear, because the personal minstrel shows up for Damaris' first dinner at Blacktower, plays a Forbidden Song -- about Mary Queen of Scots! -- to trigger a Gavin Hamilton temper tantrum, and then pretty much immediately DIES. Sorry, personal minstrel!)

Damaris then spends a few chapters befriending Gavin Hamilton's sickly, neglected daughter, who has Unexplained Victorian Fake Paralysis (it's just ... never occurred to her to try to walk! UNTIL DAMARIS COMES ALONG). The book gets like halfway through a cute Secret Garden plotline with her before suddenly deciding that actually Annabelle is annoying and we don't care about her, what we REALLY care about is Damaris' helpless passion for the SINISTER KILT-WEARING TEMPER TANTRUM-THROWING GENTLEMAN who MIGHT BE TRYING TO MURDER HER.

The really remarkable thing about Gavin Hamilton is that he does not have even one single redeeming quality. He's a dick to his daughter, he's a dick to his servants, he's a dick to Damaris during the approximately three or four conversations they have onscreen before she falls madly, passionately, self-destructively in love with him; they don't even have common interests, since he never uses the library and he's not particularly interested in it! He's NOT EVEN HOT. Not unless you're one of Kate Beaton's Brontes, anyway. And even with Rochester, for all his flaws (and let's be clear, the dude has many, MANY flaws) you can absolutely understand why Jane is into him -- he is definitely an asshole, but he brings out the most interesting parts of her and makes her sparkle.

Damaris, on the other hand ... look, the heart wants what it wants and all, but personally I would rather have married the boring cousin, who turns up midway through the book and proceeds to be perplexed and dismayed by the entire situation, as well he should be. "Damaris, why is your boss fighting a duel to the death in the dining room with the next-door neighbor? I DON'T UNDERSTAND AND I THINK WE SHOULD LEAVE." Me too, Cousin Randall. Me, too.

...though on the other hand, big reveal spoiler )
skygiants: Na Yeo Kyeung, from Capital Scandal, giving a big thumbs-up (seal of approval)
I really committed to vacation-y reading on my vacation this year, and one of the most vacation-y of all was Barbara Michaels' Wait For What Will Come, which ...

....I don't think this book is intentional parody? I thought it was maybe just very early Barbara Michaels, but I just looked at her bibliography and actually it's pretty mid-career. So I don't know, all I know is that it's HILARIOUS.

Wait For What Will Come stars Carla Tregellas, a sensible young woman whose heritage is secretly so Celtic that she's BASICALLY an elf, thinks HER ELDERLY LAWYER: "there was something in her face that was alien [...] a hint of otherworldliness in the wide-spaced gray eyes and sharply cut features. Her ears, exposed by the short, tousled haircut, were small and delicate; [HER LAWYER] might have used the word 'pointed' if his vein of poetry had not been so deeply buried."

Anyway, Almost-An-Elf Carla inherits (of course) a big old Cornish country house under mysterious circumstances, and decides to visit it for herself before selling it off. There she promptly meets the sweet but ominous housekeeper, who warns her about the FAMILY MER-DEMON CURSE that carries off a young woman to the watery depths every two hundred years on Midsummer's Day. Fortunately, says the housekeeper, Carla will be long gone by then, which is a great relief to her mind!

Carla, of course, is immediately like "lol I've just decided to stay the whole summer, DEFINITELY want to be here on Curse Day, PROBABLY bathing in the water where the family mer-demon lives, sorry if that stresses you out!"

Carla also promptly meets not one, not two, but FIVE eligible but potentially sinister bachelors!

Bachelor A: Michael, the housekeeper's grandson, whom she finds weeding her plants and thus reasonably assumes is the gardener, but who in fact turns out to be a FAMOUS BALLET DANCER who has dropped out of performing shirtless ballet and is home performing shirtless gardening for MYSTERIOUS AND MAYBE EVIL REASONS! Michael, for the record, looks like a faun and has eyes that are "like river water with light slipping through it;"
Bachelor B: Alan, her lawyer -- not the same one who thinks she looks like an elf, but a different, hotter, more poetic lawyer with a fragile codependent sister, who looks like Laurence Olivier and sees no ethical problems with inviting his new client out on hot dates around the town;
Bachelor C: Simon, the local doctor, who is really into folklore and ALSO mentions multiple times how much Carla looks like an elf, with strong implications of how much this is a turn-on for him; has eyes "the shade of cornflowers, of Kashmir sapphires, of Siamese cats' eyes"
Bachelor D: Tim, Michael's fun-loving backpacking buddy who pops up to crash at the house a few chapters in and whose backstory does NOT check out; ugly-cute with charm so strong that Carla decides it's more like "subliminal hypnotism"
Bachelor E: the sweet white-haired vicar, who -- well, I'll just quote Carla herself on this one:

Really, she thought wryly, most women would sell their souls for a summer like this one: not one, not two, but four attractive men in close proximity--five, if you counted the vicar, and you certainly could count the vicar, if you liked the gentle aesthetic type. It was almost as if fate had presented her with a sampling of the best of the crop. Alan, handsome, sophisticated, masterful; Tim, deliciously homely, irresistibly friendly; Michael, dark and brooding, with a body like a Michelangelo sculpture; Simon, sweet and blond and dedicated ... it sounds like a soap opera, she thought irritably, and coughed.

(I spent the rest of the book desperately hoping the sweet white-haired vicar would turn out to be either the victorious love interest, or the most sinister villain of them all.)

Bachelor F: King Carter, the cat, who has eyes that are a "pale, clear green, like seawater," and is definitely "a male, and a functional male at that." Look, I quoted plenty of examples above, you tell me whether or not this is clear love interest descriptive language!

Carla proceeds to wander around the town with each eligible bachelor in turn (including the vicar and the cat), since she might as well give each their due. She also discovers the last disappeared girl's conveniently-located diary and judges it inane, poorly written, and boring. Meanwhile, various potentially-sinister potentially-supernatural events occur and people try to convince Carla that someone might be trying to chase her out of town with extreme prejudice; Carla, hilariously, responds by judging the plot's level of commitment ("But it's all so halfhearted!") and focusing on going through the attics looking for valuable teacups to sell on 1970s eBay.

Then the level of drama ramps up very abruptly, some extremely convoluted plots come into play (Carla: "It's the most complicated thing I ever heard!") and half the posse of eligible bachelors are involved in killing or attempting to kill the other half of them. Additionally, Carla, for reasons that do not EVEN seem good at the time, decides to try on the Ancestral Doomed Wedding Dress and wander down to the water for funsies on Family Mer-Demon Curse Day, which goes ABOUT as well as you'd expect.

My personal favorite reveal: the mystery of why dark, brooding, sinister Michael is lurking around the house instead of dancing ballet turns out to be spoiler! )

I LOVE GOTHICS.
skygiants: Jane Eyre from Paula Rego's illustrations, facing out into darkness (more than courage)
Catch-up backlog booklogging: once upon a time, I was a member of the NYPL, and I had access to an enormous and beautiful collection of Barbara Michaels gothics on e-book.

Then, tragically, the NYPL realized that I no longer lived in New York and kicked me off the system. BPL, I love you also, but your Barbara Michael's collection is PALTRY in comparison. GET ON THIS IMMEDIATELY.

Before I lost my privileges, though, I read Greygallows and Be Buried In the Rain.

Greygallows is a Regency Gothic in the ultimate classical sense: naive young girl marries seemingly charming man, goes away to a big creepy house in the country, spends the next two hundred pages REGRETTING ALL OF HER LIFE DECISIONS. Notable for the ongoing theme of Our Heroine develops a social conscience and the fact that the for-real love interest is a super progressive albeit kind of mansplainy young lawyer whose main function in the story is to explain that, legally speaking, Regency laws are terrible, especially for women. The worst!

Be Buried in the Rain is ... less traditional? Definitely less traditional. Med student Julie gets bribed by her family to come stay with her HIGHLY EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE grandmother over the summer after said grandmother has a stroke. She can't talk! How emotionally abusive can she be, amirite?

Meanwhile, Julie's jerk archaeologist ex is convinced that there's a secret Colonial-era village buried somewhere on the plantation and keeps turning up with grad students; meanwhile meanwhile Julie's jerk politician cousin, who's the one who talked her into coming in the first place, keeps promising to do things like get her a car so she can go grocery shopping! EVENTUALLY. MAYBE, SOMEDAY.

(Jerk Politician Cousin: You're heading out? Too bad, I was starting to get mildly incestuous feelings about you!
JULIE: .... WTF? WTF.
Jerk Politican Cousin: haha lol j/k, j/k! Anyway, our grandmother married her first cousin, right?
JULIE: AND WHAT A GREAT ROLE MODEL SHE IS.

I think the jerk politican cousin thinks he's the jerk arm of the love triangle, but honestly the archaeologist is the jerk arm, and the politician cousin is not even on the same geometrical plane, as far as Julie is concerned, and GOOD FOR HER.)

Anyway, 3/4 of the book is Julie, like, adopting a dog, and developing a friendship with her grandmother's nurse Shirley, and figuring out ways to GET OUT OF THE FREAKING HOUSE, seriously, where is Matt with that car? doesn't he know she needs to buy groceries? And, of course, trying to cope with her grandmother's still-terrifying influence. There might be a ghost, or possibly an entire load of corpses buried under the house, but this is not really anybody's primary concern (except for the archaeologists) until the big reveals start happening towards the end. I dunno. It's not a great book, and certainly not likely to be my favorite Michaels, but it's an interesting one.
skygiants: (wife of bath)
Last catch-up Gothic post! I forgot to write up Barbara Michaels' Shattered Silk when I read it because it got overshadowed by Someone in the House and the MYSTERY OF KEVIN'S INVISIBLE SEX, but Shattered Silk is ALSO great, even though it's like the least Gothic Gothic ever to Gothic.

It is however deeply relevant to my interests because the protagonist is a woman who decides to restart her life after an emotionally stifling marriage ... by teaming up with her love interest's sister to open a vintage clothes shop in DC!

I mean this is a plot I would read with or without the Gothic thriller elements, which is good because for the first 3/4 of the book is not so interested in the art of suspense and SIGNIFICANTLY MORE interested in the art of restoring and reselling historical fashions.

EMILY: This dress I found has some weird marks on it! Almost like it was ... ripped with a knife!
KAREN: Ah yes! Interesting factoid: that's just what happens to silk when it ages! No knives were involved at all, but here are some tips for how to prevent it happening again! :)

EMILY: I think this wedding dress has a bloodstain on it!
KAREN: Huh! Well I think I found some techniques for getting blood out of dresses, it'll be fun to experiment with them! We can still make a profit! :)

EMILY: Do we think that mysterious and cranky old woman might have murdered her husband in her youth?
KAREN: I'm more concerned about the fact that she keeps trying to sell us boxes of damaged items with no resale value. >:(

Eventually people start to sinisterly break into Karen's house, making Karen's love interest and his friend Tony the Hot Mustachioed Cop quite concerned, and Those Mean Girls From College turn up to be Mean to Karen in a way that ends up significant, and I think someone gets murdered? And one dress actually does turn out to have a significant bloodstain after all, OK, fine. But mostly: Vintage clothes! Auction sales! Growing self-esteem through productivity and competence in a chosen field! Sleepovers with your new bestie! HISTORICAL FASHIONS, AREN'T THEY AWESOME, LET'S JUST ALL NERD OUT, please don't let the dog put his muddy paws on the antique white nightgown, NO STOP.
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
Last weekend I was up in Maine, and I loaded up my Kindle with Barbara Michaels Gothics on e-book for the trip (since it turns out my library has a TREASURE TROVE'S WORTH.) But I wasn't necessarily expecting to read all that much on the trip.

Then I started Someone in the House.

THE SCENE: *a companionable cottage in Maine filled with companionable silence*
SUDDENLY: *WILD LAUGHTER*

BECCA: OMG, so the grad student protagonist and her research partner and his nice old aunt are all living together in the house the research partner's parents just inherited, and the plot is that the aunt heard her nephew having invisible sex and is REALLY WEIRDED OUT and I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING

[HALF AN HOUR LATER]

BECCA: now they're all having an argument over what the invisible sex might be! The aunt's boyfriend thinks it's psychic energy but the aunt thinks it's a medieval ghost!

[HALF AN HOUR LATER]

BECCA: THEY'VE CALLED IN THE PRIEST TO CONSULT ON KEVIN'S INVISIBLE SEX ISSUE

A LONG-SUFFERING COMPANION: Has anybody asked Kevin what he's having invisible sex with?

BECCA: NOPE. Every so often someone suggests that they could, like, just ask the dude, and then they're like "....we have a vague sense that something terrible would happen if he did!" LIKE MAYBE THAT HE'D BE CREEPED OUT THAT EVERYONE IS STANDING AROUND HIS DOOR LISTENING TO HIS INVISIBLE SEX MARATHONS.

[HALF AN HOUR LATER]

BECCA: I'm pretty sure the whole plot of this book is just various characters running around trying to prove their pet theory about the invisible sex.

So: Someone in the House! It's an amazing Gothic about a bunch of people running hilariously around trying to prove their pet theory about why Kevin is having noisy invisible sex and making everyone else feel really awkward in the middle of the night.

....but then the ending got, like, really legitimately creepy and I was impressed, so I stopped verbally liveblogging for my long-suffering companions on the chance any of them were going to read it, because it's actually worth not being spoiled for. Say thank you to Barbara Michaels, long-suffering companions! By virtue of her talent, you were spared. THIS TIME.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (teach me to hear mermaids)
Barbara Michaels' The Sea King's Daughter was my test-run of the Brooklyn Public Library's digital e-book download system! (Which works AMAZINGLY, for the record.)

When I started reading this book, I thought it was a Gothic. I still . . . maybe think it's a Gothic? But I'm not one hundred percent sure, because, as we all know, the standard ingredients of a Gothic novel are:

- a Young Lady in Peril
- an Epic Ton of Atmosphere
- some Vaguely Supernatural Stuff (That Is Probably Not Actually All That Supernatural)
- a BIG OLD IMPORTANT HOUSE WITH LOTS OF ARCHITECTURE

The Sea King's Daughter is aces on the first three, but instead of a BIG OLD IMPORTANT HOUSE it has . . . the ocean . . .?

It also includes some ARCHAEOLOGY and DEEP SEA DIVING and ROMANCE and NAZI SPIES and EARTHQUAKES and WACKY SEX CULTS, which are not required ingredients for a Gothic novel, but, you know, they don't hurt either. And, I mean, given that hefty dose of plotting, I enjoyed it exactly the same way I enjoy Gothics, so I guess the formal classification doesn't really matter all that much.

Our heroine is Sandy, a cheerful, ordinary jock teenager who enjoys soccer, swimming, and occasional recreational diving. One day, her father -- a weird obsessive archaeologist whom she's never actually met -- drops in and is like, "hey! I hear you grew up to be good at sport and are looking for a summer job! How about I hire you to do some highly unsafe and illegal diving for me on a Greek island while I try to discover the lost ruins of Atlantis?"

Sandy's like, "Well, on the one hand, dude seems like kind of an asshole. On the other hand, it beats retail."

Sinister hijinks ensue, dramatic backstory is revealed, Sandy's father resolutely fails to reveal a heart of gold, Sandy herself might or might not be the reincarnation of Ariadne, and a good time is had by all, except the people who die. Or turn out to be former Nazis. Or are set upon by sex cults. So actually by no one mostly, except the reader, but that's all that really matters!

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