Book Review: LeRoux Manor by Liz Butcher

I was drawn to LeRoux Manor by Liz Butcher with the promises of a spooky old house and possibly some ghosts. What I found was a spooky YA Thriller with so many different types of paranormal activity, I didn’t really know what was going on until the last moment and even now, I still have questions. Perhaps there will be a sequel. 

Camille is an Aussie teenager whose parents move her to their ancestral home in England during her most formative high school years. A bit of culture shock isn’t the biggest thing for her to deal with when it seems she’s moved into a haunted house. If not haunted, it does have some secrets to tell. 

LeRoux Manor is a legend in her new town, mostly known for a dinner party that went awry years ago. With the help of some new school friends and a crush named Lachlan, Camille pieces together parts of a puzzle in search of answers as to why her family wanted her parents to give her away and why she shares the birthday of an old ancestor who went missing and has never been found.

While reading, I did find myself wondering if Camille was crazy. Was she just imagining things, or was the house actually making her see things that weren’t there? Who is the woman in the woods she spies from her bedroom window? Why did Lachlan’s Uncle disappear after visiting the estate? What exactly is that weird being reaching out of the large wardrobe in her bedroom? Who’s the little kid skittering around the attic?

This book reads very YA, but for those of you who adore spooky houses like I do, you might not mind. For fans of The Haunting, The Woman in Black, and The Haunting of Bly Manor, you’ll be thrilled with spooky middle of the night snooping, phantom earthquakes, and creepy servants lurking about. With jump scares that would be more at home on film, I was only mildly caught off-guard in the beginning, but as the teen’s experience more and more strange occurrences on an all-night fear-fest, their fear becomes contagious like the scare you might have experienced at camp when someone told a ghost story around the campfire. 

Review: Witch House by Evangeline Walton

WitchHouseWitch House by Evangeline Walton is a creepy novel written in 1945.

A doctor travels to a large ominous house on an island separated from town by a lake. This house is inhabited by evil either imprinted there or from ghosts of past family members. The doctor’s task is to confront and cure a small girl who has either been seeing poltergeist activity or causing it. Also residing in the house are the girl’s mother, and her two male cousins. The three adults must live together for the terms of the will if they wish to retain ownership, but when the ghost activity gets physical and people start dying, even the ownership doesn’t seem like that big of a loss if they want to save their lives. Most of the ghostly legends center around Aunt Sarai, a woman who ruled the house with an iron fist and who may still rule from beyond the grave.

The house reminds me of the movie The Woman in Black although it is distinctly American, but the house is also separated from the town by water. The residents of the town could be plucked from one of Stephen King’s novels in that they embody the small New England townsfolk who tell stories about the folks that “live the house.” Yet, this book was written in 1945, long before King’s career.

What drew me to read Witch House was the intriguing cover. I wanted to see the scary witch painting come alive and attack the poor little girl. It never happens that way, but the woman called Aunt Sarai does seem to terrorize the child. Although the book is slow and much of it is about how the doctor tries to convince the girl that the objects and people tormenting her are harmless, there was a spookiness to the tale that I enjoyed. Because it’s slow, the payoffs take a long time to present themselves. Scary corridors with no end, strangely solid ghost figures, and a large black hare all add to the scare in this book. In the end, I felt the scare never was as scary as the build-up. However, passages like…

“Broken through the dark webs of her destiny…”

and

“The full moon should give that watching figure this semblance of flesh as well as shadow…”

…kept me reading. It’s evident the writing is from another time, but instead of irritating me, the style drew me in. Sure, the ending is not as scary as I would have liked and looking back nothing truly frightening happened that I’ve not read a hundred times before, but her language and description kept me in the world of Witch House and I’m not sad I gave it a try. If I were a child experiencing these things, I would truly be terrified. It’s just not up to our 2016 standards as far as fear. I’ll leave with you one last passage which is my favorite.

“The room was dark now, totally dark, too dark for the dangerous half-light that aids materializations…but at the windows there were touches of moon-silver twilight. Presently they enabled him to distinguish…something darker than the darkness—the skirted silhouette of a woman. He knew the shape and the folds in which the dress fell; he had seen them in Aunt Sarai’s portrait… Each detail appeared gradually now, thickening and blackening into perfection, out of the nebulous darkness…”

Tonight in bed don’t let Aunt Sarai’s silhouette in the window scare you. She’s not real. She’s a figment of your imagination…or is she?

Haunted House by Mitsukazu Mihara

Haunted_House_MiharaHaunted House is a great graphic novel about a “normal” boy who lives in a house with horror enthusiasts. Poor Sabato.  He just wants to fit in at school and have a girlfriend, but his family tortures him by scaring off girls and making him appear a freak to his classmates.  His mother is the reincarnation of Morticia Addams.  His father is the stereotypical Dracula figure with black slicked black hair and a full suit with cape.  His two sisters are goth-loli’s from hell.

“Your mother and I fell in love at first sight.  We met at a movie theater.  It was a beautiful movie.  Bloody Bayou: A Hoedown In Hell.”

Even though all you gloom cookies out there may love to live in such a house, poor Sabato hates it!  And with good reason.  His family is evil!

First they pretend they will play nice when his new girlfriend comes over, but when she walks in, his father has a bullet hole in his forehead that is dripping blood and his mother is butchering a live chicken.  Another day, Sabato wakes up late for school and rushes there, only to find everyone staring at him because he has blood on his face, zombie makeup, and a chilling message scrawled across his forehead: DEAD MAN WALKING!

My favorite part is when Sabato sleeps in one day.  His father says,

“Trying to become completely nocturnal are we?  At this rate you should just become a vampire.  That’d be nice.”  Sabato scowls.  “No! That would not be nice!”

This is a fun read for any horror enthusiast.  You will love the tricks the family play and the reactions Sabato gives.

When Terror Takes Hold – Laurel Anne Hill

Nothing squeezes my gut worse than facing big-time adversity beyond any hope of my control. I’ve dangled forty feet in the air from the broken cross-bar of a rotten clothes-line pole, and sixty feet up while clinging to a busted ladder on the side of a building. On one SCUBA diving adventure, my air supply malfunctioned thirty feet beneath the ocean’s surface. And white-water rapids once sucked me under and pinned me against a boulder. Yet in all of these situations, I focused on survival and took action. Terror never had a chance to catch me and take hold.

Photo by Amanda Norman

Thus, one of my scariest experiences occurred before my “take action” survival response had yet developed. I was young, perhaps only eight or nine years old.

My childhood home was a third floor rental flat in San Francisco, one of those units with a long hallway leading to the bedrooms and bath. Railroad flats, they’re sometimes called. An enclosed service porch, containing our wringer washer, laundry tubs, a work table and a closet full of home-canned fruits and vegetables stood adjacent to the kitchen. Mother kept the back door to the flat locked, but the business end of a skeleton key often resided in the keyhole. A fire safety measure. The door led to a wooden staircase, the staircase to an alleyway between buildings. One end of the alleyway opened into the back yard. At the opposite end was a door to Fourteenth Street.

The street-side alleyway door was never locked.

Three generations lived in our two-bedroom flat. You do the math. I had no room of my own for a haven. Sometimes I liked to stand on the porch at night and feel the darkness enfold me.

Even in those days, I “wrote” stories in my head or jotted them on paper. The ambiance of a lightless or shadowy room stirred my imagination. Still, I had not yet acquired the skills to translate emotions into sentences. The best stories lived inside of my mind.

One night, my mother and older sister were reading in the living room. My father was away on a business trip. Grandma and Grandpa had retired to bed. My baby brother slept. I stood on the porch by the washing machine, doors to both kitchen and outside stairs shut. Moonlight glowed through a side window.

An inner voice told me I shouldn’t be there.

But the voice was only my conscience, wasn’t it? I should return to the living room, lie on the rug in front of our little gas heater or curl up on the overstuffed rose sofa with a book. I should share time with my family.

I heard a noise from outside. A creaking of wood.

The first feeling to stir within me was not one of alarm, but the warmth of embarrassment. I was here, successfully becoming lost in imagination, and Mother wanted my company. We had no television and took pleasure in the presence of each other at day’s end.

Another creak followed, and another. Those were footsteps. Slow, heavy footsteps.

No one ever climbed our back stairs at night.

The footsteps now reached from beyond my imagination. I’d learned to separate reality from fantasy. Whoever approached my back door was real.

If the intruder heard me, he or she might break down the door and grab me. Maybe I should remain quiet. But Mother needed to know so she could call the police. No matter. Neither my arms nor legs would have obeyed any command to move. I could barely even breathe.

The doorknob rattled.

What if Mother had forgotten to lock the door? Or if the person at the door–surely a man–knew how to probe the keyhole with wire and make the skeleton key turn? I ought to get Mother. Why couldn’t I move?

The doorknob turned.

All warmth left me. My heart thudded faster and faster. Yet the terror provided a certain perverse pleasure, something to tuck away inside of my mind for future recollection.

The door didn’t open. A wooden board creaked. Footsteps receded. Whoever had stood on the other side of the barrier had retreated down the stairs.

I remained immobile for at least five minutes. The intruder did not return. My world was safe again.

How wonderful to open the door leading into the kitchen, to see Grandma’s stove with its big, black pipe in the shadowy room. I headed to the living room and told my mother and older sister what had happened. They laughed.

Neither one believed me, that is, until I repeated my story to them many years later.

As for the terror I experienced, I keep the memory tucked inside my brain. I draw upon the details when giving characters in my stories a frightful time. The memory also spurs me to be sure I’ve locked my doors and activated the alarm system before bedtime.

With or without a skeleton key, I prefer to stay in control.

LAUREL ANNE HILL grew up in San Francisco, with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. Her close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence her writing and her life. ForeWord Magazine selected Laurel�s debut parable, Heroes Arise, for a Book of the Year Award for 2007 (bronze, science fiction category). Laurel�s shorter works span the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and creative nonfiction. http://www.laurelannehill.com