Window on the Square re-read

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts

 

I got about 3 pages into The Stone Bull, and suddenly needed to re-read this, imo, classic of romantic suspense.

Of all the Whitney books I’ve read so far, this one remains far and away the best; the romance is still silly insta-love in that way so popular in the 60’s, but the suspense story is fabulous.  The writing is much tighter than her later works and the action clips along.

Eventually I’ll read the rest of her works just because I really want to know if anything she wrote is better than this one.

The Stone Bull

The Stone BullThe Stone Bull
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1977
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Doubleday

 

Even when Whitney’s books aren’t great, her sense of setting and atmosphere never falter.  This is true of The Stone Bull.  The pacing is slow, but atmosphere abounds.  She plays with timelines in the narrative – as if someone was writing a diary retrospectively, jumping between present and just-past events, then skipping ahead another day and looking back.  It sounds like a disaster, but it worked and took me very little effort to get used to.

The characters are typical of Whitney; a bit shallow; capricious; prone to instant love and romance.  What’s different here from the other books of hers I’ve read so far, is that this one starts where the rest usually end – after the wedding and in the throes of honeymoon giddiness.  Of course the honeymoon isn’t going to last.   Let’s just say the story feels progressive for a romantic Suspense novel written in 1977, by a woman who was 74 years old at the time of publishing and had lived the bulk of her life under a different set of social norms.

Definitely not her best, but still readable, if a little tedious.

Thornyhold re-read

ThornyholdThornyhold
by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781444715064
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
Pages: 220
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

 

I originally read this back in 2016, and my review from back then pretty much stands up after the second read with one small caveat.  I said, in essence, that while a very enjoyable and atmospheric read, nothing really happened, that it lacked any discernible plot.

That’s not true; there is a plot, but it’s so … mild? half-hearted? And there is a climatic showdown, but until the very last bit I still couldn’t discern whether or not Agnes was trying to be friendly, or not.

The instant love is still there and geez, Gilly goes from meeting the guy once to planning her life based on being married with children.  To him.  She tries to remind herself this is silly and presumptuous, but really, it’s just for form.

Still it’s a very readable book somehow.  It sucks you in and draws you into this gently told tale and makes you (me) wish to move to a cottage and be an herbalist.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 for the Black Cat square.  Gilly has a black cat that could be called her familiar with very little effort, and he plays a part as protector and alarm bearer throughout the story.

Silverhill

SilverhillSilverhill
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: May 1, 1969
Pages: 192
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Fawcett Crest

From the day Malinda Rice first comes to Silverhill -- her mother's home -- her hope turns to fear. But she will not run. For the beauty of Silverhill's setting hides more than one family's secrets. And Malinda must fight for both her sanity and her life before she discovers the full, horrifying truth about the past evil and present terrors that may engulf her....


 

One of Whitney’s earlier publications, this one still has the intricate plotting and surprises that are missing in her later titles.  Conversely, it’s one of the less evocatively atmospheric of hers I’ve read so far.

The thing a reader has to accept about Whitney is that her whole raison d’être in writing was to thrust heroines into the most unwelcome home she could imagine and have her persevere in spite of all stumbling blocks.  It’s formulaic, definitely, but each of her earlier novels becomes unique in the setting, the secrets and the mystery.

Silverhill absolutely fits the Whitney formula, and it made me a bit impatient at the start as all the usual hurdles, cruelty and heartache were presented along with the future insta-love (these books were written in the 50’s and 60’s when apparently if it took you longer than 48 hours to decide you’d met your One True Love, you might as well not bother).

But one all of that was gotten through, the story was a surprise.  I thought I knew where it was going, and I was sort of right, but the salient detail of the whole thing blindsided me when it was revealed.  So much karma getting doled out to everyone.  And, of course, a happy ending for our heroine.

When a good Whitney comes along, they are a pure indulgence to a much more innocent, yet horrific, form of story telling for readers who like their suspense served in tandem with romance, and a touch of gothic for garnish.

The Turquoise Mask

The Turquoise MaskThe Turquoise Mask
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780385085144
Publication Date: January 1, 1974
Pages: 250
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

 

Wow, can Whitney be verbose.  Her earlier work has always been better, in my opinion, but this one was an in-between – first published in 1974.  Which makes the plotting excellent, and the abuse of the expository extreme.  Unfortunately the expository gauntlet must be run for many chapters before a hint of the rewarding plot can be found.

I’m undecided on whether it’s worth the effort.  The plotting was very well done.  I was absolutely certain I knew who the villain was right up until almost the end, when she convinced me I was wrong, that it was really …. and then she blindsided me with the solution that was just unexpected.  Whitney got huge bonus points for stunning me, but I’m not sure how I actually feel about it as a legitimate ending.  It works, but it feels like it shouldn’t.

The characters, and the romance, were, as is typical with both Whitney’s writing and the time she wrote in, dramatic and overly simplified.  Insta-love has nothing on romantic suspense from the 70’s; and characters’ personalities are never subtle or nuanced.  If you accept this as the style of its time, it’s not an insurmountable problem.

The one thing Whitney never lost, no matter how many books she wrote, was her sense of place.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read anybody better at putting the reader in whatever setting she wants them, and making them feel like they were there.  Here the deserts of New Mexico are the backdrop, and though I’ve never in my life seen an adobe house, I feel like I’ve lived in one the last couple of days.

I’d neither recommend it nor deter anyone from this one; the exposition is a challenge, but if that slow build isn’t a deterrent, the story is one of her more complicated and compelling ones.

I read this for the Romantic Suspense square (which is on my card is the Psych square that’s been flipped), for Halloween Bingo 2020.

Airs Above the Ground

Airs Above the GroundAirs Above the Ground
by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: August 11, 1965
Pages: 238
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Colorgravure for Reader's Book Club Australia

Vanessa March never thought to look for her missing husband in Vienna -- until she saw him in a newsreel shot there at the scene of a deadly fire. But her hunt for answers only leads to more sinister questions in a mysterious world of beautiful horses.

And what waits for Vanessa in the shadows is more terrifying than anything she has ever encountered.


Not her best work, but a fun read nonetheless.  More a straight up mystery than romantic suspense, and while the plot villain was obvious, Stewart at least had some fun misleading the reader about the plot itself.

Aside:  I bought this years ago at a FOTL sale for a dollar; when I finished reading it, I saw that it was published and printed 3 blocks from where I live now.  On its site now sits a ‘home improvement store’ – Bunnings, the Aussie answer to Home Depot.  A place I spit and swear about every time I have to visit.  Now, it seems, I have even more reason to dislike it – I’d rather the book publishers were still there.

 

Content retrieved from: http://jenn.booklikes.com/post/2800296/airs-above-the-ground.

Amethyst Dreams

Amethyst DreamsAmethyst Dreams
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: July 11, 1997
Pages: 276
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishers

For several years, time and circumstance have managed to separate Hallie Knight and her old friend Susan Trench, but when Susan disappears from her grandfather's seaside home on historic Topsail Island, it is Hallie whom Nicholas Trench calls for help.

When Hallie arrives from California, she finds the old man surrounded by an odd collection of friends and relatives, all of whom seem to know a little more than they're willing to tell about Susan Trench and her last days on Topsail. Underlying Hallie's anxiety about Susan as well as her growing concern for Nicholas Trench is the personal problem of her estrangement from a husband she loves. Threads intertwine and questions build to the pitch of what may be a fearful answer.


Like a lot of other authors who write romantic suspense, Whitney was very hit and miss.  Most of the misses I’ve read are the ones she wrote in her later years, and this isn’t an exception.  The woman could still write well – her island setting came alive – but the plot was soft and sentimental, and the resolution was not a resolution at all.  In fact it was completely unrealistic, unless the poor dead woman meant less than nothing to her family.

 

Content retrieved from: http://jenn.booklikes.com/post/2634250/amethyst-dreams.

Thornyhold

ThornyholdThornyhold
by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781444715064
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
Pages: 220
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books
 

Interesting… unexpected in a lot of ways.  Not sure what to really say about it beyond I enjoyed it and found it an easy story to fall into.

Gilly has a lonely childhood, punctuated by rare visits from her mother’s lively, magical cousin and namesake.  After the death of Gilly’s parents, she gets a letter informing her she’s inherited her cousin’s house, Thornyhold, as well as her reputation for being a witch.

This story would never survive today: people would complain that nothing happens, there isn’t any plot.  I suppose at its heart it’s a romance, but the romance is so subtle as to be non-existent; the leap Gilly makes from acquaintance to love is startling even by today’s insta-love standards.  But boy, can Stewart write some atmosphere; and the characters are alive and compelling.  I got 75% of the way through before it occurred to me that nothing was really happening: no building tension, no climatic showdown approaching.  The ending was comic, which was totally unexpected and charming.

I think I’ll buy myself a copy of this one; I finished it feeling like I’d read a good comfort read – perfect for a rainy afternoon.

Window on the Square

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts

 

This was one of the first ‘adult’ books I’d ever read, one of my mothers favorites. I love the story, even though it’s not my usual fare.

Ms. Whitney does a brilliant job of writing characters that come alive – from the prim and proper Megan, to the mercurial Brandon, and the dark and forbidding Garth. I’ve read this story again and again over the years, wearing out the paperback until it is in pieces and held together with a rubber band. I upgraded to the hardcover version so I can keep on re-reading this book – it stands up very well over time.

If you like a ‘dark’ (kind of gothic) cozy, I think you’ll enjoy reading this oldie but goodie.