Monday, February 23, 2009

Circle of Death by Helen Arvonen [1967]

10 Stars on a scale of 1 - 5! A *fabulous* story. It's a lovely and entertaining book, both inside and out:

One of the most rewarding Gothics I've yet read, and which I'll definitely read again in the future. It grabbed me from the start and held on. It never flags nor veers off; it clips along at a high-speed pace. One of the few novels I could *happily* tackle in one sitting; that's incredibly rare. My only criticism? It ended too soon! ;-)

It is not a typical Gothic by any stretch. The story opens in Treston, Ontario, Canada. Linda is alone in Meredith House, the ancestral family home. She is packing a loaded pistol, waiting for the murderer she knows is coming for her tonight: Someone, a friend or acquaintance, who has cold-bloodedly murdered three times already.

But why would anyone wish to kill Linda next?

The story is told in the 1st person by Linda Meredith: A thoughtful, conscientious, practical and immensely likeable heroine. It is a highly sociable story which centers first on Linda's family: Her well-to-do yet humble and humanitarian father, Arthur Meredith, who is already middle-aged when he falls in love with and marries the much younger buxom and gorgeous Lisa "Bitsy" Baker, who works as a hash-slinger at Miller's Dinner Date. Linda is their only child and "every inch a Meredith" -- much to Bitsy's chagrin.

Bitsy is a good-time girl who is restless with boring little Treston. She's always dreamed of bright lights/big city, is splashy and vivacious, and after years of pleading Arthur agrees to move the family to Toronto. Linda initially hates her selfish, vain mother [who insists her only child call her "Bitsy" instead of "mother"] for taking Linda away from her circle of friends: Joyce, Ian, Nell, Jere. Over the years all friends stay in contact via letters. Linda's highly conflicted relationship with Bitsy -- who alternately sulks and parties, is always self-centered and spoiled by the ever-patient and loving Arthur -- not to mention Linda's plainness and practicality sharply contrasting with her mother's intense vanity and frivolousness -- is a poignant highlight.

Linda's beloved father, Arthur, dies. After 14 years of living in Toronto and Bitsy suddenly thrust into the scandal sheets, Linda decides enough's enough; they are returning to Treston.

Linda is overjoyed to be home. Nell, Jere, Ian and Joyce all welcome Linda and Bitsy back with open hearts and arms. The friends dine, swim, chat, drink together. All the original circle [and a couple of extended friends besides] share a homespun and gorgeous Christmas with Linda and Bitsy.

Despite the warmth and gregariousness there are to-be-expected ripples and undercurrents of danger and trouble: Inklings of jealousy, old simmering resentments, intolerance and suspicion.

Linda's world soon comes crashing down. Three people, two of whom are beloved of her, are inexplicably strangled. All three victims have a handful of things in common...which Linda does *not* share with them.

I thought I knew who the culprit was. I was wrong.

A nice aspect of the story is the personal growth of Linda in it. She comes to realize just what everyone in her circle means to her, particularly Bitsy; at story's end she's come to terms with their differences and embraces them. It's a coming-of-age story in that sense.

The cover scan was obtained from I love the cover as much as the story; it *perfectly* captures the novel's essence. The girl is practically dressed in a coat, not some flowing filmy nightgown; that's in keeping with Linda's character. The scan is a bit dark and brash; in my copy, the lit circular window is evenly mellow orange with tiny flecks of yellow.

Trixie gives the story 0 Paws for no mention of a cat in any regard.

The cast of characters as I visualized them:

Linda Meredith: Helen Hunt [grown/age 24]
Arthur Meredith: William Schallert.
Lisa "Bitsy Baker" Meredith: Along the lines of Betty Grable.
The others: As described.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gothic Star Trek: Catspaw [1967] Part II

Upon Trixie's strong insistence, I did a more thorough Google search and indeed found a couple of photos of The Cat [among other things]:

"This is how you say 'Meow Mix' in Klingoni!"

"I've got a big wand, Captain. Ha ha ha."

"Well, Korob, MINE is bigger. And size DOES matter."

"I'm supposed to look like a gigantic black cat in a human-sized corridor, but instead I look like a kitten in a playhouse. How insulting! Hey...that corner over there would make a great spot for my litter box. If only Korob would clean it out more often, the fat lazy oaf."

"So you're going to kill my crew by a fire spell just because I mentioned your lousy interior decorating scheme, and suggested you get a life??"

Kirk: "A clever idea, Mr. Spock: That we make costumes to look like the clothing our Evil Parallel Universe counterparts wore, and pretend to be evil."

Spock: "Thank you, Captain. It's worth a try. However, I am experiencing ongoing difficulties with the false beard glue; it's failing to adhere properly to my skin."

Kirk: "Nevermind that now. Hopefully Korob won't notice. We've got to be EVIL now, Spock; out-evil the evil!"

Spock: "Affirmative, Captain. I shall endeavor to be evil."

"Bones, can you help me here?? Oh! What am I saying?"

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Demon Tower

Another Gothic I don't own, but would like to. The cover art is uniquely compelling, as her sable hair blends into the dark background which ominously overshadows the distant castle bathed in an eerie orange late-afternoon glow. Her deeply lined and mascared eyes are drawn to the castle in both dread and fascination. Pretty pink lipstick contrasts with the surrounding dominant colors. The single bright diamond-burst of light beckoning from the castle turret is an especially attractive touch.

There is a similar cover available at the local used bookstore. The model on that novel looks a lot like Elizabeth Taylor in the late '60s; I doubt it's a coincidence. Must be the same artist: Both faces loom very large in the foreground. The castle or mansion, vividly portrayed, is situated in the distance.

Absinthe would take the time to track down the artists of these covers. I'm sorry to say I don't have the time nor patience [nor inkling really] to do that. The identity of this artist is curious, and if anyone reading this knows, please post a reply; thank you.

Scan obtained from

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gothic Star Trek: Catspaw [1967]

This is Trixie's favorite episode. ;-) I'm a fan of the original [only] Star Trek and "Catspaw" came to mind today. Haven't seen it in years. William Shatner was my HEART-THROB from ages 11 to 40 [then along came Hayden Christensen as bad-boy Anakin Skywalker, Shatner got de-throned, and this is going off topic].

Anywho, here's the Plot Summary from IMDb:

"When Kirk and his landing party arrive on the planet below, they are met by eerie mists, a dark castle, witches, goblins and a black cat. They soon learn that they are under the influence of a wizard, Korob, who tries to bend them to his will. They also soon learn that the black cat they saw is more than she appears and is in fact a powerful witch in her right. It is left to Kirk and Spock to find a means to escape their grasp."

That IS Gothic, no? Yes.

Enjoy the following. Trixie is miffed that no photo of the black cat is available via Google [I've tried telling her life is not fair...]:

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.

Kirk: "I got an apple."

McCoy: "I got a pack of chewing gum!"

Spock: "It seems, gentlemen, that I got a rock. Illogical."

"Bones, meet -- bones."

"Dammit Jim, that's NOT funny."

"Vat?! You get me only this SHEEP junk jew-ell-ery?! I vill PUNISH EVERYONE for that!!"

"A-ha-HA! I cooks them - your lettle friends, like ze cocktail weiners!"

Susan!! Oh; wait -- no. That's not my sister. Sorry Susan.

Who Rides a Tiger || Sutter's Sands

I've recently purchased these two novels; the 1st arrived yesterday in the mail. Will read them, but will also admit I bought them primarily for the covers. They were listed near to each other at [who provided the cover scans]; the unique beauty of each and stark contrast to one another were indeed appealing.

I love the moody, somber blues broken by a large white foreground candle affixed to its solid metal holder, and the slashes of bright red. And note the shadowy figure of a woman in the background, also holding a candle. Candles, lanterns and Victorian gas lights are favorites.

As for "Sutter's Sands," the woman's complexion is not right but somehow it works with the bold blue eyeshadow and coral lipstick. The greens and golds in the background, and the shading of her brown hair with its reddish highlights, bring it all together.

These are my most favored style of cover art. I couldn't resist.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'Salem's Lot [1979]

Found a scan of an original promo (TV Guide no doubt) for this made-for-TV film:

Nice! And can it really be 30 years already? [No, no! Say it isn't so!] Somehow David Soul will be *just that old* always.

Far be it from me to "review" this film, except to say if you've not yet viewed it when DID you come out of that coma? ;-P For some reason I could never get into the novel [sorry Mr. King]; the film tells the story better than the novel. That's a switch.

Favorite scenes: The mysteriously moving packing crate in back of the truck. Mike Ryerson leaping down into Danny's grave, and soon confronted by the vampiric boy. The attempted exorcism in the kitchen. The softly squeaking rocking chair in a room above, in which sits Mike - now a vampire. The glowing eyes of vampires in the crawl space, stealthily advancing on Ben and Mark. The final sad and seductive scene in Mexico between Ben and Susan.

David Soul is now a British citizen. He enjoys tea and Rugby [blows my mind; I figured "Hutch" would always be in Malibu]. Lance Kerwin is an Episcopal priest. Bonnie Bedalia [a favorite '70s actress!] is Macaulay Culkin's aunt. Geoffrey Lewis, a fine actor, is also Juliette Lewis' father. Mr. Lewis played his share of nitty-gritty outlaws and cowboys; his role in this film is especially cool. And I do love Barbara Babcock.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Shadow on Spanish Swamp by Genevieve St. John [1967]

I'm going to speed-read the remainder. A huge disappointment. Rates 1 Star on a scale of 1 - 5. It started off very well, including being set in a warm/subtropical environment [Louisiana]; I looked forward to this as an exception to my preference of north, overcast, gloomy, foggy, rainy, etc. The descriptives of the drive through the swamp were wonderfully eerie and quite unique; it hooked me...then let me down. I've read Ms. St. John before [most recent review was 08/01/2008]; that story was terrific all around -- quite UNlike this one.

The story opens with the heroine, June, and her husband driving to his family's estate called Spanish Swamp. I've noticed that Gothics which start out with a married heroine are usually disappointing; or maybe it's just me. It seems they've been married a while, yet after Gregory is killed we discover they're newlyweds of a mere 5 days' duration.

The story is VERY poorly paced and the characters are abruptly introduced, as if you're already to have a solid familiarity with them. Contrasted to that are superb descriptions of the swamp, the estate and house, furnishings, weather. The author was also inconsistent with character portrayal: Sometimes Aunt Millie seems a cultured and refined Southern lady; at other times she comes off as an Okie from Paskokie. And whereas Gregory Thoinot is sophisticated, his brothers are written as backwards and hickish. There is also a burdensome [wet blanket] focus on legal matters.

Included are two "Negro" characters: Morel and his daughter, Iva. This IS 1967 and we know the history of the racial tensions of the time. I've often uneasily wondered if some day these novels won't get branded as "racist" [despite their being woman-oriented] because 98% of those I've read contain only white characters. That having been said, I was glad to see the inclusion of Morel and Iva. But the writing for them is...awkward at best. Iva is lavished beyond reason with what smacks of "white guilt" praise and Morel is sometimes made to say cringe-worthy things like "but we black men knows things; we know's!" It's a combination of stereotyping and fighting against stereotypes, but ultimately the author seemed unable to relax and simply write believable human characters for Iva and Morel too; a pity.

The coup de grace was the family's reaction to Gregory's death. He's arrived home less than 24 hours when he's supposedly sucked into a mud boil while trying to rescue June. A few hours later Aunt Millie and brothers tell June there'll be NO funeral, and the next time the reverend comes around [is this 1892 and he's a circuit-riding preacher??] they'll have him "say a few words over the bog."

Despite that double outrage, Aunt Millie's rude comment in front of the just-rescued [by Raul] and grief-stricken June that she is "just a prissy little nobody with a pretty face" who should have died instead of Gregory, and snapping "I'm not your aunt!" at her, and Gregory's two cold-hearted and welcoming brothers, June decides she's going to stay and fight for Gregory's dream! Yes sir! Gregory wanted to rebuild Spanish Swamp and make it profitable again, and by golly with her [father's] money June is marching bravely onward to do just that! Riiiight.

Even the grief-stricken scenes are rushed and unbelievable. And June doesn't think to telephone her beloved antiques-dealer father in New York that she's now a widow; she simply will await word of what money he can wire to fulfill Gregory's dream.

*Enough.* If the ending does a 180, I'll amend this post. But I doubt that'll be the case. Cover scan from

The Veil of Silence \\ Matravers Hall

Two more Gothics I don't own. I especially like the cover of the first [even if her skin tone's a bit...gray/green??]. Both scans obtained from

Matravers? I'd likely misread that "Ratmavers," lol.

As for reading, I'm currently (like usual) on two Gothics. The one started out with a bang but it's quickly become a fizzle [a lot of non-logic in it]. The other is steadily and consistently good reading. Those reviews are soon forthcoming.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Secret of the Marshbanks // Whisper of Darkness

My apologies for the delay in posting. Life, work and briefly diving into non-fiction again [some seriously heavy reading] interfered.

Did everyone survive Friday the 13th? There's two more this year. I was going to post yesterday but didn't get around to it.

The cover art on these is especially beautiful, and I couldn't resist owning "Whisper of Darkness" - that is THE scan for the book I now have. :-D Both cover scans from

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Hello blog...are you here??

I can only download the latest entry.

Upon signing in all appears normal, but once "in" it's back to only the latest post showing up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Moon in Shadow by Aynn Westminster [1974]

Couldn't obtain a scan. Think turquoise, hot pink, teal and gray. Upper 1/2 of book is turquoise with title in hot pink [I kid you not]. Midsection is an uneven line of grayish pine trees and glimpses of jagged snowy mountain peaks. Lower right-hand [to viewer] corner is small grayish impression of a mansion. Mid- to lower-left hand corner is dominated by Claudia, who looks a bit like Nancy Barrett of "Dark Shadows" fame: Her long blonde hair is flowing in the full-moon light; wearing a teal-colored dress and plucking at the petals of a black orchid while gazing at the mansion.

*Sigh.* I sped-read/jumped to the story's end. I would bash this book five ways to Friday, but out of respect for the author who WAS published I'll opt for some hopefully constructive criticism. This story DID have a ton of potential.

Claudia, a 21 year old popular model [in the days before Super Models], has learned her mother has just died. This is a huge shock, as Claudia's "known" her mother died 20 years ago; she was raised by her aunt. That was all a lie; her mother had "issues" and gave Claudia up, led a selfish life. Moonhall was her mother's estate, willed by her husband. Claudia is accompanied by Bob, her "mentor" and photographer [so far they've avoided an actual affair], to claim her inheritance and perform a graveside ritual which Claudia's mother insisted upon.

Upon her arrival at Moonhall, Claudia hopes to discover some very real facts about her mother -- photos, momentos, keepsakes, possessions. Unfortunately all was disposed of/burned upon mother's request immediately after death. Only Ann -- personal maid and confidant -- can fill in the blanks.

Enter Philip. He's Claudia's stepbrother, who should be the rightful heir of Moonhall except his father willed the estate to Philip's stepmother; theirs was a mutual hatred, and Philip is understandably sore that Claudia is heir to Moonhall.

1. Claudia. She's a terrific character. Instead of turning her into a flightly floozy who flits into the arms of 3 different men in turnstile fashion, why not make her brave and independent?

2. Moonhall. It seemed to be fabulous. But we're only briefly introduced to the mansion and nearly ALL the action takes place in "the great outdoors."

3. Ann. She knew Claudia's mother intimately. Claudia has been curious about her mother, yet all interaction between Claudia and Ann is superficial and cursory. Ann could have been a terrific character and helped to drive the plot; but nope. She's relegated to the backburner and we only see Ann when it's suddenly convenient.

4. Same for Philip. He's a bit menacing, bitter, perhaps even warped. He was the other potentially "excellent" character who could have (should have) lent a lot to the story; but alas he too is relegated to the wings, and only called onto the story's stage when immediately needed.

A pity!!

5. The sexual/romantic scenes are bizarre. Dick and Ann are getting hot for each other when they've been maliciously locked into an earthen cellar in the middle of the forest [they could go UNdiscovered there and die], with the carcass of a dead dog in a nearby trunk and the stench of rotten potatoes permeating the air?? Later, after being attacked by a psycho wearing a bear suit, Gavin and Claudia start "getting it on" despite her having just been attacked and nearly killed [and deep cuts on back/arms], her fear/mistrust of Gavin, and after putting on Gavin's deceased wife's dress (her other clothing is ruined from the attack). I don't even want to try and psychoanalyze the author's sexual...notions. >:-\

6. Bob. Claudia's "mentor" and photographer of years' duration, who fondly calls her his "Gold Chameleon" because she makes him a lot of $$$ and also because her features and expressions are so changeable. He suddenly and inexplicably packs up and abandons Claudia to Moonhall. HUH? No reason nor explanation is given; he simply tells others to tell Claudia "Don't call me, I'll call you." If anything, Bob wouldn't simply give up a huge CASH COW like that.

The overall story is seriously disjointed. The author writes absurd things in a feeble attempt to build atmosphere and tension, like "Claudia began to feel that the people she knew and trusted weren't the people she had known." ??? Um...except for Bob, EVERYONE referred to are still strangers she's known for 24 hours.

Either the author didn't know what to do with story elements or took the easy way out.

Trixie gives the story 2 Paws for mentioning a cat who leaps out of a closet and hisses at Claudia. I guess the cat was hissing at the story itself.