Book Review: Ghosts of Manor House by Matt Powers

“Old houses are never truly quiet.”

Ghosts of Manor House is Powers’ debut thriller and horror novel, about Edmund and Mary Wilder, a married couple shattered by the loss of their young son. Mary receives an invitation for the family to become guests at Manor House, an apparently quaint hotel, but Edmund soon realises all is not as it seems.

My Photo [Ghosts of Manor House]

In his author’s note, Powers explains he “wanted a story that fits with my memories of watching The Haunting, The Changeling and The Shining.

This horror genre is definitely conveyed; the opening of Ghosts of Manor House was enjoyable and suitably unsettling – I won’t give any spoilers away – but it peaked my interest in the story.

I really like haunted house stories; this book delivered all the conventions that you may expect from one – mysterious voices, creaky floorboards, and an ominous housekeeper.

Mary and Edmund’s grief at the tragic death of their son, and their desire to bring him back, to me, echoed Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, a horror novel about a burial site that holds the power of life, even after death. Admittedly, I read Ghosts of Manor House not long after finishing Pet Sematary, so King’s story was still fresh in my mind. This this may not have been an intentional echo, it may have been my own interpretation.

Although a fictional story, Powers does his best to keep his characters and situations realistic. For the most part, this is effective. However, I don’t think Edmund or Mary were developed as well as they could have been, though this may be the constraint of writing a shorter book.

The use of the present tense to narrate the story throughout was an… interesting choice. To me, this made some of the writing feel clunky and amateurish because I didn’t know what purpose this served. The use of flashbacks to reveal what truly happened to the family was a good technique, but until these started, I at times got lost in the various narrative strands – it was very difficult to place where the characters were, though this may have been Powers’ intention.

Edmund’s over-personifying of Manor House frustrated me as well; I liked the concept of a haunted house coming to life, but if every description of the house is personified, it loses the subtlety great horror has.

On the whole, Ghosts of Manor House is a quick read and a reasonably enjoyable haunted house story.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Ghosts of Manor House is available to buy as an e-book, paperback, or audiobook from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

– Judith

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An Interview With Cathy Ryan

This week, I interviewed Cathy Ryan, a blogger living in North Wales.

Her hobbies include reading, listening to audio books, blogging, walking her dog, theatre, music and travel. “I spent most of my working life doing voluntary work at schools for children with special needs, cataloguing the library and reading with the younger ones. Now, my time is my own.”

Cathy began blogging in late 2013, and would describe her blogging style as informative. “I wanted to catalogue the books I’d read. I kept getting caught out, buying books with different covers or changed titles, only realising after the purchase I’d already read it.” she explained.

“Initially it was intended to be private, for my own records, but I found I was restricted as to what I could do with a private site. I decided to go live, not thinking anyone would take an interest. I was very surprised when I began to get visits and it went from there.”

Cathy has many favourite genres to read, such as thrillers, mysteries, crime, drama, and historical fiction. However, she isn’t keen on romance novels. “It’s generally not exciting!” Cathy said, “It’s not tense enough to keep me engaged.”

Fantasy is also a genre Cathy avoids. “I’ve never been able to get into most fantasy novels. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or anything along those lines does nothing for me.”

I asked Cathy which author she’d most like to meet. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, “If I can only choose one, I think it would be Emily Bronte. I love Wuthering Heights, it’s a huge favourite of mine.”

Cathy joined Rosie’s Book Review Team in 2014, and writes book reviews for the Team. She believes negative reviews have their place, but shouldn’t trash an author’s work and must be constructive. “I think a reviewer has to be honest with their opinions – about what they like, or don’t like, about a book. For me, if a book rates below 3 stars, I don’t think it’s for me, and I avoid submitting a review.” she said.

You can find Cathy Ryan on Twitter at @CathyRy and her website is betweenthelinesbookblog.com.

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Thanks for reading!

– Judith

Book Review: Painted by Kirsten McKenzie

Painted is a paranormal horror and thriller.

‘If art can capture a soul, what happens when one of those souls escapes?

My Photo [Painted]

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalog the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t only the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver, it’s the silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall watching her, including those of the unfinished portrait on the artist’s easel. A portrait with an eerie familiarity.’ (Amazon)

Painted is the first book I’ve reviewed for Rosie’s Book Review Team since May – this seems like an age ago – and it was a brilliant book for getting back into RBRT reviews.

It was well-written, and I was engaged in the story throughout.

McKenzie’s creation of build-up and tension was subtle but well-done, creating a consistent tone of uneasiness, which made the climax of the book even more exciting.

There are strong parallels to Susan Hill’s horror novel The Woman In Black*, so much so that I imagined the house in a similar way to Eel Marsh House. This comparison is a good thing however, because I enjoyed both the novel and its film adaptation a lot.

*A lonely protagonist moves into an isolated house in order to complete work commissioned by their employer, but gradual ghostly occurrences unnerve them.

However, unlike The Woman In Black, the protagonist doesn’t remain completely isolated in the house; introduction of her co-workers adds new characters and allows McKenzie to develop a good cat-and-mouse style of horror, in addition to the paranormal activity.

My criticisms are small.

I think Painted occasionally relies too heavily on informing the reader of what the protagonist hasn’t seen. This is an understandable technique – its horror film equivalent would be zooming or panning to reveal a detail within the frame the audience can see clearly but the protagonist hasn’t. If Painted were a horror film (which I wish it was), I’ve no doubt this would be incredibly effective. However, translating this into written prose often within the story doesn’t have quite the same effect.

Furthermore, I would have preferred a more malignant ghostly presence – the ghosts were a little sympathetically written for my liking! For example, in The Woman In Black, although the reader learns the sad back-story behind the woman in black’s haunting, the reader also sees her as a ruthless and malignant ghost, which adds to the horror of the book.

These are nit-picky problems because all in all I really enjoyed this book, and I will most likely try to grab a paperback version at some point, in addition to my free e-book copy!

If you’d like to read a well-written horror story that doesn’t rely on cheap scares but genuine thrills, I strongly recommend Painted.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Painted is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith