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 Jamarleo. 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 Jamarleo's review:

I signed up to review this book last week, knowing that it was going to take a marathon stretch of reading during the July 4th weekend if I was to actually send in a review that made any kind of sense.  I’m glad I did, because The Haunting of Maddy Clare is the perfect antidote to a couple of days of sun blasted heat radiating from your chlorine soaked brain.

This is a cuddle-up-and-shiver sort of romantic mystery with a pretty simple premise: three ghost hunters- two recent veterans of WWI, and the ‘girl temp’ they hire for the week- attempt to exorcise the spirit of a suicidal servant girl.  The bulk of the story takes place in the rural countryside of early 20th century England, which practically guarantees the prospect of lashing cold rain, hot kettles of tea and cozy flannel nighties that may still be removed quite quickly if need be. (Romantic elements and all that.)

As this is primarily a mystery I’m not going to be able to tell you too much of what parts of the novel work so well.  Suffice to say that, even if half way through the book you think you know the answers (and you probably do- the primary story line is basically straight forward) there are any number of small revelations that will continue to surprise.  The scares, paranormal and otherwise, come organically to the plot.  There is less of the ‘boo!’ aspect and far more of a growing dread for the fate of the characters and their ghost.  The story tells you that haunting of the past can take many forms, and that makes the book as a whole a far more moving work than you might initially suspect.

So why the B and not an A?   I almost want to say it’s because of the romantic elements, but that’s not quite accurate.  I liked the characters of Sarah and Matthew, and their awkward attempts to understand their feelings for one another work nicely with the rest of the narrative. Unfortunately, there were too many instances in the story where I can only imagine the author (or maybe the heavy hand of an editor/ publisher?) worried that Sarah and Matthew’s journey from fumbling fits of physical attraction to genuine love wasn’t enough.

What became truly annoying was when it seemed as if an unseen hand placed an old skool map over the characters, forcing them to march through a series of clichés a to b that had little to do with their established personas. A love triangle of sorts is introduced but then quickly abandoned.  The story’s narrator, Sarah-who, judging from other character’s admiring  asides, looks like a goddess in a 20’s bob-believes that no one will ever truly love her because of her shabby clothes and ample bosom (seriously- this is something she considers a problem.) Plus, there are ever so many ‘misunderstandings’ that you want to give all the lovers a firm shake and urge them to put their listening ears on.

What makes this dance of romance tropes particularly distracting is that it really puts a reader in a bind when certain choices are made by Matthew. Matthew suffers from PTSD and bears hideous burn scars over much of his torso, thanks to a heinous bout of friendly fire.  He believes that the scars makes him monstrous in the eyes of others and, as a result, he abstains from most human companionship save for his one friend Alastair and now Sarah.  But with his genuine interest for his friends’ safety, he emerges as the quiet conscience of the group.

  And yet, every so often, the damaged Matthew is made to give a “mocking” aside or “cocky” grin while playing mind games with Sarah to trip her up.  While that puts him safely into the alpha male trope 101, it never really jells with the rest of his character. This makes it kind of problematic for the reader when SPOILER With only the preamble of a few smoulder-ish looks, Matthew comes uninvited to Sarah’s room in the middle of the night and quickly partakes in the physical act o’ love, before hastily leaving her with a towel to clean up the mess. “If he was unsure of his welcome, he gave no sign.” Sarah narrates, and although she was quietly willing, there was no way that Matthew could have known except that she puts up no fight.

Although Matthew redeems himself later (in many heated ways), you’re left with the uncomfortable feeling that Sarah and Matthews’s first encounter was haunted by the ghost of a rapey 80’s hero, sans mullet.

It’s almost as if the writer (or publisher) didn’t trust the romance as it was, so there had to be a hand holding of sorts for the reader to remind them of the romantic elements- which are sometimes not the same thing.  I don’t think I’m spoiling anything in saying that, like any good romance, there is a satisfying HEA.  It’s one that (I’m paraphrasing here) ‘was never easy, but was worth it in the end.’ It’s too bad that the story, as it was written, didn’t seem to always believe that.

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

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    EC Spurlock says:

    Thanks for the review. Sounds like an interesting book, although it does sound like the “romantic elements” may have been shoehorned in by an editor or agent to get it on firmer genre footing for marketing purposes.

    FWIW, having an “ample bosom” was in fact a detriment in the 20’s, when the ideal figure was boy-flat and stick-thin (much like Twiggy in the 60’s). My Aunt Lizzie, who was also blessed with an “ample bosom”, used to wrap rags around her chest to flatten it out so her dresses would hang right and she wouldn’t have to be self-conscious about how “sexual” she looked.

  2. 2
    Psychbucket says:

    Okay, from reading the three reviews, I have seriously mixed feelings about this book, even all the reviews have decent grades.  I guess I will wait to read this one.

  3. 3
    Jamarleo says:

    EC Spurlock- That’s so interesting- the character Sarah binds herself as well!

    I kind it wrote it off as a St. James’ creative demonstration of self loathing/gothic hyperbole, so I didn’t think to mention it.

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