RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James


Title: The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Author: Simone St. James
Publication Info: Berkley NAL 2012
ISBN: 9780451235688
Genre: Paranormal

Book The Haunting of Maddy Clare This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Deanna. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements and the Best First Book category.

The summary:     

Sarah Piper's lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis-rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts- has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide.

Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah's task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a deperate struggle. For Maddy's ghost is real, she's angry, and she has powers that defy all reason.

Can Sarah and Alistair's assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, whereshe came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance-before she destroys them all?

And here is Deanna's review:

I have never read this author before but chose this book to review because, well, it was one of the few titles left and it was available at the library. I was a bit nervous when I saw a library sticker on the spine labeling it horror. I love paranormal romance and urban fantasy yet I am a complete wimp when it comes to anything truly scary, so I was nervous. Well, I think the library got this one wrong, because this book was creepy and had some tense moments, but was not scary at all. If you really want to be terrified, then this book will be disappointing.

Sarah is a lonely temp living in London between the wars. Her parents died and she doesn’t seem to have any friends or family. She is offered a temporary assignment as an assistant to Alistair, a rich, handsome ghost hunter. He has been asked to investigate a haunting in a barn where a maid named Maddy Clare committed suicide.

At first, Sarah assumes she’ll be doing the usual secretarial duties, but soon finds out that because Maddy hated men in life and continues to hate them after death, her main purpose is to go into the barn to connect with Maddy. Ultimately, the woman who owns the barn, and who took Maddy in when she showed up on her doorstep covered in mud, violated and barely dressed, desires peace and would like them to get Maddy to leave.

Sarah, not a believer in ghosts and uncomfortable with the subject of death, has a hard time at first and is terrified. However, she sees a way out of her dreary life, if only for a short time, and really starts to come alive. Alistair’s usual assistant, Matthew, can’t resist the allure of this unusual case and cuts his vacation short and shows up unexpectedly. He and Alistair met during WWI and although they are from different social classes and very different in temperament, they have a close bond.

Together, Alistair, Sarah and Matthew work to learn more about who Maddy was in life, what the circumstances were that led her seek help on a stranger’s doorstep, why she took her life and on whom is she seeking revenge.

I really enjoyed the three main [living] characters in this book. I found them complex, interesting, and most importantly for me, likeable. I cared what happened to them. I liked that the romance and the ghost story were both equally important and I didn’t find myself skimming passages about one aspect in order to hurry on the part of the story that had captured my attention. I really enjoyed Matthew and Sarah’s interactions and the author was so good at revealing their emotions. The love scenes revealed more about their characters and deepened their relationship. It was definitely not just mindless sex. Matthew is gruff and dismissive of Sarah at first and she is rather meek and washed-out, but later on he tells her:

“I thought you timid and soft. I thought you wouldn’t be able to stand hardship.”

I thought of the life I had been living in London, the life that was not really a life. “Yes,” I said softly. “I thought so too.” I took his handkerchief and dried my tears.

Matthew and Alistair each have their own reason for their fascination with ghosts and both are dealing with the aftermath of the war in their lives. I thought the author’s handling of the war was insightful.

“The war and the ghosts,” I [Sarah] said softly. “They are connected.”

“I think the war annihilates ghosts,” said Matthew. “If we have mechanized death—and we have; I have seen it—then where do the ghosts go? I find the most frightening at all. That the ghosts disappear with our humanity.”

Now, Maddy was a cipher. At first, I felt she was a sympathetic, pitiful character, and then a spiteful, malicious one. I still wanted to see good in her because the author made me feel sorry for her first. The author carried me along through all the twists and turns to reveal who Maddy was and why she acts so contrary to expectation, but not entirely satisfactorily. There were still some question marks over my head about some of the things Maddy said and did, but I have to admire an author who can make me feel so many conflicting emotions about a character.

Where this book falls down is in the ending. I was able to guess earlier in the book most of what had happened, but that was alright because I still enjoyed reading our heroine and hero figure it out. The final conflict, though, was so anticlimactic, leaving the hero and heroine on the sidelines, finding out what happened after the fact.

Another question that the main character asks as part of the story is “Do they deserve the revenge she wants to give them? Can we say that anyone deserves it?” I questioned how she could feel any sympathy or even ask that question. Fortunately, she falls in love with a grumpy guy who pretty succinctly tells her yep, they deserve everything they have coming. Well, thank goodness someone said it! Is there a “writing a heroine 101” course out there that says heroines must have sympathy for evil people, no matter how depraved and unrepentant?

Another thing that had me shaking my head was that Sarah is portrayed as being utterly alone in the world, although there is no real reason why she should be. Even though her parents died, did they not have friends who took it upon themselves to take her under their wing? She mentions friends of her parents and friends who invited her to parties and introduced her to men during the war, but all of a sudden she seems completely alone. I just don’t see someone as inoffensive and good-hearted being that alone unless she wanted to be, and that is never fully explained.

Once again, we have a heroine who is sexually experienced, but has never enjoyed it. I’m so used to that in romantic fiction, that I just kind of roll my eyes and read on, but still….

All that said, I did enjoy this book and I’m happy to discover a new author.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

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