Paranormal

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 2 (Spooky House stories)

Three of my favourite individual books from last year were “spooky house” stories. Two were straight up ghost stories — Spirit by John Inman and Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson. The third was a different kind of paranormal story, although had a similar spooky feel — Stygian by Santino Hassell.

Each of these three novels has lingered with me long past finishing, and I will definitely be re-reading them, probably in the very near future.

Interestingly and coincidentally (I think?), all three are published by Dreamspinner Press, where they’re available in all formats of e-book, paperback and audio — I’ve included buy links.

Spindrift – Amy Rae Durreson

spindriftOfficial Blurb:

When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.

But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.

Seriously, that blurb alone gives me chills of the very best kind. I adore stories set in English villages. I adore everyday people trying to solve mysteries from the past. The characters are distinctive and complex and endearing. The setting is gorgeous. The atmosphere is dark and brooding.

In short, I adore everything about this book. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press.

Spirit – John Inman

spiritThe cover caught my attention with this book — I am a complete sucker for two guys and a kid. And a spooky basement.

Right, so this one is about a guy, Jason, who agrees to babysit his four-year-old nephew, Timmy, for four weeks while his single mum has a holiday with her boyfriend. Turns out that there’s a ghost in his house and Timmy’s presence seems to activate it. Then Timmy’s uncle on his estranged father’s side comes to visit…

There’s a lot more light and humour in this book (compared to the dark and brooding Spindrift), but the mystery is no less intense and the romance between Timmy’s uncles is sweet.

It all blends into another fabulous ghost story / murder mystery that I can’t wait to experience again! Get it here from Dreamspinner Press

Stygian – Santino Hassell

stygianI pretty much love everything by Santino Hassell, but for some reason it took me a while to pick this one up. Why, I ask myself. WHY?!

Stygian is the name of an indie rock band that has rented out a formerly grand, now dilapidated, old mansion in a secluded Louisiana forest for six weeks to work on new music. Jeremy is the drummer and has a secret crush on guitarist Kennedy, who doesn’t seem to realise…

The creepy old house, half of which is blocked off (for good reason, it turns out), is a major character in this spooky story. Jeremy, who is also grieving the recent death of his brother, doesn’t seem to connect with the rest of the band. Instead, he starts hanging out with their enigmatic (and eerily beautiful) landlord, Hunter Carroway…

There are many weird goings on in the house and the forest around it, usually involving Hunter Carroway or his sex-crazy sister and one or other of the Stygian band members. Although it’s not a ghost story, there are paranormal elements and another spooky mystery to solve.

It’s beautifully written (as usual) and in such a way that it’s not always obvious what’s going on, or who Jeremy should be falling for. It’s deliciously ambiguous for a romance. Loved it. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press


The first post in the Annual Reading Highlights 2017 series looked at three authors I read (and loved) a lot last year:

And there will be more posts to come. Stay tuned!

What I read in November

Here’s my wrap up of books read in November…

One for the money – Janet Evanovich

oneformoneyThis is the mega best-selling first novel in Janet Evanovich’s widely acclaimed Stephanie Plum crime series, which is now up to book #21 or something… I’ve been intrigued to read it for a while, and was thrilled when one of my reading group friends selected it for us to read this year.

Pestered by her close New Jersey family, Stephanie Plum offers to catch high-school crush Joe Morelli, cop turned bail jumper, for her cousin Vinnie’s company. She questions “working girls” to find the missing girlfriend of vicious prizefighter Benito Ramirez while Joe secretly watches her back. Ranger mentors her and supplies vehicles when hers explode. – Goodreads

I enjoyed it some. It’s a fast-paced and snappy read about a young woman who loses her job and becomes a bounty hunter. She’s woefully under qualified, inept, headstrong, impulsive, dogged and (in my opinion) stupid. And since I’m not a huge fan of stupid protagonists, this did slightly mar my enjoyment.


Counterpoint and Crescendo – Rachel Haimowitz (Song of the Fallen)

counterpoint_origI came across this high-fantasy duet by accident, initially attracted by the covers and then curiosity and positive reviews. The series is set in a secondary world in which humans and elves have been mortal enemies for 300 years.

In Counterpoint, Ayden (a ranger elf) becomes the prisoner of Prince Freyrik (human), who is struggling to protect his people from assault by rabid and magically altered animals (ferals or darkers). The book is a love story at heart, with the two men having to overcome a bunch of stuff… I confess I wasn’t too comfortable with the whole ‘Stockholm syndrome’ thing happening here — although by protecting and favouring Ayden, Freyrik jeopardises his own position with his king and does have to make difficult decisions. But while Freyrik’s choices are moral, poor Ayden undergoes a great deal more, both physical and psychological. Having said that, the author does do a fairly good job of establishing an almost equal relationship by the end of the book, and I felt it worked.

The two main characters are well drawn and the fantasy world feels solid — although it’s all fairly familiar and doesn’t span far beyond forest, castle and villages. It’s a character piece primarily, featuring an overall story arc about fighting off the ferals, in which Ayden plays a key role. It’s a good read, but rather long… although it probably needs to be long for the gradual growth of the relationship. Anyhow, it ends with a cliffhanger, so one does need to move on to book #2.

Crescendo is a very different book and, while still character driven, has a lot more plot. Freyrik is hauled to the capital city for an unofficial disciplining for his lenient treatment of Ayden, and Ayden has his magic silenced. The two spend a lot of time apart (despite the fact they share quarters) — neither has much control over his respective situation. Freyrik finds himself embroiled in political machinations and more moral dilemmas and bad choices. Ayden has to deal with his own plight and that of all the other enslaved elves. Their love and trust in each other is what keeps them going… Again, Ayden in captivity suffers a great deal at the hands of merciless humans, which makes the book somewhat harrowing (yeah, I’m pathetic like that). But by the end, they’ve figured out what is causing the ferals to keep attacking humanity and all ends well.

As a pair of fantasy novels they work rather well.


SPECTR series – Jordan L. Hawk

hunterThis is a series of six urban paranormal fantasy novellas about Caleb (barista, artist, vegetarian and TK) who manages to get himself possessed by a Drakul (who takes the name of Gray), an entity who devours the etheric energy of demons. And John, an agent and exorcist with a paranormal-FBI-like group called SPECTR.

The first novella (Hunter of Demons) sets everything up. Caleb needs John to exorcise Gray, but the Drakul is too strong; moreover, they only have so many days (I forget how many) to figure out how to do it before the possession becomes permanent. Meanwhile though, Gray doesn’t seem to be a threat to humans, so he and Caleb reach an accord, with Gray manifesting when required to slay ghouls and other demons. He also imparts greater strength and psychic abilities to Caleb as the two cohabit the one body. They can converse with each other, although Gray isn’t much of a conversationalist. It’s pretty cool.

EaterOfLives_200x300And then there’s John, who falls in love with Caleb and ultimately Gray as well. And vice versa. It’s an interesting love triangle, and I expected Caleb to feel jealous of Gray, but he says at one point that he could never be jealous of someone who loves him so unconditionally.

The novellas progress through several episodes of demon infestations in need of solving, and then arc into conspiracy, espionage and revolution. The ultimate climax is grand in scale indeed, and the outcome doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion — which in this type of series, heavily founded on the love story, is something of a feat.

I’m growing rather fond of the novella length, which I can read in a single evening, especially when I can line them up one after the other. Having said that, numbers 4-6 in this series do not really resolve individually and are more like parts of the same story; so I’m glad I wasn’t waiting for them to be published. You can purchase them in e-book omnibus (SPECTR 2), which I would recommend doing.

I do rather like the paranormal urban fantasy world Hawk has set up. Basically the demon spirits possess humans and make them do bad stuff — but if the SPECTR exorcists catch them in time, the humans can be saved. It’s a pretty simple concept, but works really well.


Fair Play – Josh Lanyon

This is the sequel to Fair Game (All’s Fair), which I read in September. Set in the Seattle area, Fair Play is about Elliot (former FBI agent, now college history professor) trying to solve the mystery of his father’s activist past (and voluntary disappearance) after someone burns down his father’s house. There’s a Cold Case involved. There is also a lover in the form of current FBI agent, Tucker, who alternately tries to persuade Elliot to stop investigating OR assists by providing resources, intel and backup. It’s a pretty good little family and political mystery, really.


And that’s it for another month. Finished listening to Persuasion (Jane Austen) in the car, a lovely driving experience. I’m now listening to The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton.

I’m not going to continue these monthly reading posts next year. They’re getting a bit long. I honestly did not expect to read so much. Instead I will try to write short, regular posts as I finish each book… One more month to go!

Why I write – 5 reasons from Liv Rancourt

Paranormal and/or Romance author Liv Rancourt is my guest today and I like her post so much I think I’ll follow up next week with one of my own on the same topic. She’s addressing a question I ask myself frequently… Why do I write?

She’s also included an excerpt at the bottom from her recently published short story, The Santa Drag. I hope you enjoy and consider checking out her story.

Take it away, Liv!

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First I want to say thanks, Ellen, for the chance to do a guest post for your blog, and for your patience with my somewhat flexible deadline…

Why I write

In a recent blog post, Veronica Sicoe articulates the five things she wants to do with her writing. (Jump HERE for her post.) It’s a very thoughtful piece, and as I read it I thought, “Wow, I’m not sure I could come up with a similar five things if I wanted to.”

So of course, I decided to try.

With just a hint of a drum-roll, here are the five things I want my writing to accomplish. Assuming I can come up with five, that is

1. I want to write smart…

…because I believe if you write smart, you’ll make people think. While I know not everyone wants to grapple with IDEAS when they read – some people watch reality TV, too – I’m talking about little thoughts, more of the, “Wow, that’s sort of interesting,” scope. IDEAS belong to angst-ridden twenty-somethings, anyway. If I can gently prod someone into looking at things in a slightly different way, then I’ve done my job.

2. I want to write funny…

…because a spoon full of sugar helps…well, you know. Laughter is the lubricant that keeps the grinding gears of life turning. Wow. Deep. Did I just say that? I laugh at myself and, affectionately, at my characters. Life is strange. Enjoy it.

3. I want a place for all my previous obsessions to hang out.

I’m a neonatal nurse and for awhile I compulsively searched eBay looking for the perfect mid-century china and I can design and execute some pretty esoteric needlework patterns and I love singing Gregorian chant. And some, if not all, of that has turned up in my fiction, and will likely continue to do so. It saves on research time if you’ve already lived it.

4. I want to tell the truth, as I see it.

And I’ve had fifty years to experience it, so in theory at least I should have a handle on it. I don’t care how crazy your plot line is, if there’s not a substrate of truth in how the characters respond, then your readers won’t have as much fun reading it, and you can write clever dialogue till the cows come home, but if your reader can’t imagine anyone actually SAYING it, then you’ve lost them. It’s like peeling an apple. I throw down a bunch of ideas, then try to peel the B.S. away until only the good stuff is left.

5. I want to entertain readers…

…to surprise them, and most importantly, to make them set the book down with a warmer heart, no matter how gritty the subject matter is. In my books, the good guys win. Just wish real life was more like that…

And that, my friends, is what I want to do with my writing. I can’t say I’m 100% successful, but these are worthy goals. What about you? What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

Thanks again, Ellen! Happy Holidays!!

Liv

Excerpt from The Santa Drag
by Liv Rancourt
The Santa Drag2

So the only paying gig Mackenzie can find is playing Santa in the Mall…

On a particularly busy Saturday, I was tired and thinking more about a double shot of espresso than I was about the pile of kids who wanted to sit in my lap. The weak winter sun was making its circle over the atrium where the Christmas Village was set up, and my roommate Shauna was buzzing by every so often to giggle at me from the sidelines. She was trying to get all of her Christmas shopping done in one day, which was a good trick for someone with as many fertile brothers and sisters as she had.

“Come sit on Santa’s lap.” Maya, the photographer and kid-wrangler, invited the next kid in line approach my golden throne. Well, it was fake gold, but the kids didn’t know that.

“No,” said a little girl with a stubborn crease between her brows. She was dressed in Seattle’s version of Christmas formal, a stiff, red velvet dress, likely made from organic fabric dyed with beets and rose hips. On her feet were two-toned leather MaryJanes that probably cost sixty-five dollars. At least the green corkscrew ribbons tied around her blond pigtails looked like they belonged on a child. I made myself as approachable as possible, getting down to her level and producing a big smile.

“Come on, Thula,” her mother said, tapping one French manicured nail on her cell phone. “Go sit up there with Santa so we can take your picture.” She sounded as if this was just one more thing to knock off the list.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” Maya put on her encouraging smile. Maya was a tiny thing, barely bigger than most of the kids we saw, with long dark hair, a tiny gold hoop pierced through one nostril, and bugged-out eyes that looked like they’d been molded out of chocolate. She was non-threatening as an adult could possibly be. The kid stared at her and bit down on her bottom lip. At least she wasn’t crying. Yet.

“You want to come tell Santa what to bring you for Christmas?” I kept my voice pitched down somewhere under my sternum. It helped that I had one of those raspy lady voices that earned me a permanent spot in the tenor section whenever I sang in choir.

“No.”

Sometimes less is more when you’re dealing with preschoolers. We went back and forth for several minutes until the kid went from biting her bottom lip to letting it pooch out and tremble. Never a good sign. Finally, after a ton of coaxing, she was more-or-less close to me, squatting down on the other side of one of the big pretend presents that ringed my throne. That was good enough for her mom, and Maya snapped a picture.

When she was done, the little girl glared at me from behind the big, glossy red ribbon that topped the present. “Bring me a baby brother,” she bellowed and took off running.

Mom’s glare was meaner than the kid’s had been. Hey, it’s not like I made any promises.

The kid ran full tilt past the pseudo-Tyrolean houses that made the Village, and out through the crowds of shoppers. She stopped in the middle of an open space and cut loose, her sobs echoing around the smoky glass dome that covered us. We could hear her carrying on until she and her mom got swallowed up by the Ross store at the end of the north hallway. The whole place fell into a bit of a hush when she was gone, as everyone exhaled in relief. This close to Christmas, none of us needed a crying child to ratchet up the stress level.

A young mother was next in line. She came into the Christmas Village and positioned a slightly damp baby on my lap, moving as if something hurt. The baby was so young that Mom still looked a little pregnant under her loose denim-blue shirt. Or maybe she was already pregnant with number two. I’m not so good with the principles of baby production. Well, I understand the basic concepts, but haven’t had that many opportunities to put them into practice.

The brief quiet was interrupted by a yodeling squeal that I recognized. I stared into the crowd until I caught Maya looking at me funny. I stuck on a smile as close to my normal, jolly-Santa shtick as I could get, and she settled back down behind her camera. The reason for my roommate Shauna’s squeal had me completely rattled. In the two or three beats I’d looked out from behind my wire-rimmed glasses as Mack-the-girl, I’d seen Shauna giving someone a big hug. A really handsome someone. Joe McBride. Joseph Timothy McBride. The actor. The real-life, got a soap opera gig and several commercials and you saw him in Scream 2 actor. The only guy I ever really loved.

Ooh, now she’s got a problem! Will Mack turn all Creepy-Kringle? Will Joe recognize her? What’s a Santa to do? 😉

The Santa Drag is available from Still Moments Publishing, Smashwords, and Amazon.

About Liv Rancourt

Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Liv can be found on-line at her website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

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Thanks for hanging out here, Liv, and sharing with us your deepest thoughts and an excerpt from The Santa Drag.

foreverandeveramen_LRIs it also OK to mention your forthcoming publication under the Crimson Romance label — Forever and Ever, Amen — ?? Can we get excited for you??

To reiterate Liv’s questions (to writers) at the end of her post: What about you? What do you want to accomplish with your writing? Please do leave us a comment!

As mentioned, I intend to follow up with a similar post on ‘Why I write’ next week, and I hope other writers reading this will feel inspired to do likewise!