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Fright and delight

This House is Haunted, gay news, Washington Blade

Book cover to ‘This House is Haunted.’ (Image courtesy of Other Press)

‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne

Other Press

$14.95

293 pages

Everything checked out fine.

You made a sweep of the house at bedtime, nothing amiss. Security, check. No problems, check, and you locked the door.

Didn’t you? When you jolted awake at 3 a.m., hearing something that wasn’t there, you wondered. Are you alone? Safe? Or, as in the new book “This House is Haunted” by John Boyne, do you have unseen company?

Charles Dickens killed her father.

That was where Eliza Caine squarely laid the blame. Father had had a cough for some time, but he insisted he was well enough to go listen to Mr. Dickens read from his latest novel. Unable to deny her father this pleasure, Eliza relented and they walked to the speaker’s hall on a chilly night — but between illness and the dreadful London weather, her father was dead within days.

Orphaned at age 21, Eliza had no friends and no suitors. Knowing she had inherited neither her mother’s beauty nor her father’s handsomeness, she accepted spinsterhood, though she did love children and had loved working as a teacher of small girls at a nearby school. Still, she had never felt so alone.

And then she saw the advert, and made a rash, impulsive decision.

One “H. Bennet” from Gaudlin Hall was looking for a governess for two young children, a position that needed to be filled immediately. Gaudlin Hall was in the county of Norfolk, and though Eliza had never been outside London, the job seemed to be just the change she needed.

She had scarcely gotten to the depot when odd things began to happen. Strong hands tried to push her in front of a train, but no one was standing nearby. Friendly townspeople turned away in fright when she told them where she’d be employed. And though the children, 8-year-old Eustace and 12-year-old Isabella, were little dears, Eliza thought it strange that adults were missing from Gaudlin Hall.

Never a shrinking violet, Eliza began to ask questions and, in answer, heard tales of madness and murder, things best left unspoken, and a mother with a deadly vow. That alone might’ve scared Eliza away, but then the ghostly hands returned — and with them, a fight for her life.

Set in Victorian England, “This House is Haunted” possesses the important ingredients for a classic ghost story. There’s a musty castle, gloomy weather, an evil presence, a proper governess and creepy little kids.

The twist is in the details that author John Boyne offers.

Pay careful attention, and you’ll see tiny dashes of modern-type scandal. There’s a strong female character who dares to go against the expectations of her day. Boyne even hides bits of humor inside this story, all of which make this novel one that Dickens himself might envy.

Readers who favor the classics will count this among their new favorites. Novel lovers will love it for its seasonal creepiness. If you crave both fright and delight this week, “This House is Haunted” is a book to check out.

31
Oct
2013

Year in review: Books by the bounty

From the Closet to the Altar, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

Drivel, dreck and what the heck?

That kind of sums up the books that were released this year. There were some good things, some downright awful things, and some things that, well, they weren’t bad but they weren’t the best books you’ve ever read, either.

And then there were the gems.

I read about 270 books this year, and (fortunate me!) it was hard to pick favorites, but nonetheless, here they are.

Adult fiction

For me, the world totally ceased to exist while I was reading “The Absolutist” by John Boyne. Set in the years after World War I, it’s the story of a former soldier who decides to return some letters to the sister of the friend who wrote them. Years ago, he knew the woman’s brother — had a crush on him, in fact — but the man is now dead, and when the sister asks what happened, the narrator tells her. What happens left me absolutely breathless.

If you plan on reading just one book this winter, this should be it. Really.

I have to admit: I’m not a major Eric Jerome Dickey reader. Some of his books leave me cold but “An Accidental Affair” chilled me with the action and double-crossing that happens to the book’s narrator, who catches his beloved wife sleeping with another man. What he has to do to get her out of trouble — and get himself out of danger — will make you turn the pages so fast, you’ll practically rip them.

What’s that word again for fiction based on fact? In the case of “October Mourning” by Lesleà Newman, the word is “powerful.”

Based on the Matthew Shepard murder, this book consists of a series of free-form poems from the POV of the things and creatures that witnessed his death: the fence, a doe that wandered by, the road, the truck. There are real quotes entwined amid the verses, which only serves to heighten the punch in the gut you’ll feel with this book.

I listened to it in audio. I bawled til I could barely breathe.

And if you’re thinking about starting a family, “The Paternity Test” by Michael Lowenthal may be one of the better books you’ll read about it.

Yes, this is fiction. It’s about a couple who have had a shaky relationship for years and then finally decide to settle down and have a baby through surrogacy. But it’s not that easy and I can’t tell you anything else.  Just read it — seriously.

Adult non-fiction

Hands-down, the LGBT memoir I loved most this year was “Gypsy Boy” by Mikey Walsh. Walsh was born a Romany Gypsy and lived as a child in Europe in a series of camps and compounds. His father was determined to make Walsh the latest of a lineage of fierce fighters and, to that end, he beat his son every day, sometimes multiple times. But what the elder Walsh didn’t know was that his son was gay.

Walsh gives this book a laissez faire tone, but don’t let that fool you — this book packs a wallop and can’t be missed.

I’m a sucker for a good scandal and “Dropped Names” by Frank Langella had its share. Langella  seemed to always be in the proverbial right place at the right time. That kind of luck put him in proximity of a lot of Hollywood stars and it started his career. This is a light-reading book with dozens of tiny chapters and big names. For any fan of movies, Broadway, or television, particularly from decades past, this is a great book.

As I started reading “From the Closet to the Altar” by Michael J. Klarman, I was afraid I was in for something dry. Not so much, as it turns out: this book isn’t just about gay marriage, it’s also about the history of gay rights and coming proudly out. Turns out that this book is a little like a good martini: a little dry, a little bitter and an interesting taste that leaves you wanting more.

And finally, I don’t think I’ll ever forget “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” by Kate Bornstein. It’s the story of a man who becomes a woman, a religion that almost derails that process and the aftermath of getting out of something very scary.

Bornstein is funny and self-depreciating, snarky and kind. You’ll find a lot of bravado in this book but read it — and read between the lines.

And there you have it: eight books on which you can use your gift certificate. Eight books to help you get through the winter. Books you just can’t miss.

27
Dec
2012