Thursday, September 20, 2012

My favorite ghost stories by Barbara Michaels and vegan pumpkin pudding

The weather is finally getting cooler out. I've been able to wear my obligatory sweater vests and long sleeve shirts without sweltering. Pumpkin flavored everything is hitting stores and I love it since pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors. My writings has also been taking on a spookier edge. I've been plotting out a gothic horror/Lovecraftian inspired story, while working an another dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Plus I have been looking forward to rereading something by one of my favorite authors of all time.
Back when I was growing up the only romance author my mother let in the house was  Barbara Mertz who writes as both Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters (and also received a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago when she was only twenty three. Not that it is important to her life as a writer but the academic in my is mad jealous). As a Elizabeth Peters she writes murder mysteries with academic female characters and more then a splash of romance. As Barbara Michaels she write ghost stories, gothic horror and suspense also with a romantic subplot. I adore Elizabeth Peters' mystery stories but I really fell in love with the ghost stories she wrote as Barbara Michaels. 

My favorites are: 

 From the moment she arrived on King's Island, Joanne McMullen knew that her sister's grief over losing her child had driven her dangerously close to madness. But when Joanne heard the same child's voice that her sister had heard wailing in the woods, she knew something terrible was happening!

The Crying Child is just down right creepy. Barbara Michaels takes the classic set up of a ghostly child's cry and builds the suspense up and up and up. As always I enjoy how she combines a whole lot of historical detail even into one of her books with a modern setting. Always a creepy read.

 It is a find of inestimable value for Karen Holloway. The battered manuscript she holds in her hand—written in the nineteenth century and bearing the mysterious attribution "Ismene"—could prove a boon to the eager young English professor's career. But Karen's search for the author's true identity is carrying her into the gray shadows of the past, to places fraught with danger and terror. For the deeper she delves into Ismene's strange tale of gothic horror, the more she is haunted by the suspicion that the long-dead author was writing the truth . . . and that even now she is guiding Karen's investigation, leading her to terrible secrets hidden behind the cold walls of houses of stone. 

One of the things that I love about Barbara Mertz, no matter what name she write under, is that she often writes about women academics and when she does they always come across as real academics. Thus I've always enjoyed this book, Karen Holloway has the passion and the drive of any young up and coming academic and as an up and coming academic myself I can relate. I also found the suspense to be riveting and then the conclusion incredibly creepy. I actually just recently found out that many fans consider this one of her weaker books which I think is a shame because this is definitely one of my favorites.  

 For the guests at Ruth Bennet's fashionable Georgetwon home, the seance was just a playful diversion . . . until Ruth's niece Sara spoke in a deep guttural voice not her own . . . and the game became frighteningly real.. 

This is an old-fashioned ghost story with everything you could want, possession, seance, creepy old house. The book is set in the nineteen sixties which can make it a little hard to connect with if you go into it expecting it to be contemporary but definitely one of my favorites. The mystery is solid, the ghosts scary, plus there are some hilarious scenes to boot. Put in the same position I only hope I could handle a haunting as well as Ruth does.   


There are terrible secrets from generations past buried at Maidenwood. Medical student Julie Newcomb has returned to her family's decaying plantation—the site of so many painful childhood memories—to tend to her tyrannical grandmother, felled by a stroke. The fire of malevolence still burns in the cruel, despotic matriarch's eyes—yet, for Julie, a faint spark of redemption and second chances flickers in this hated, haunted place. But her hope—and her life—are seriously threatened by a nightmare reborn . . . and by the grim discovery on the lonely road to Maidenwood of the earth-browned skeletons of a mother and child.

This is a ghost story that deals with some darker real life subject matter as well. Set in a crumbling old plantation house, this is again one of my favorite Barbara Michaels books because it scares the hell out of me. The only reason this book isn't a favorite, favorite of my is because I felt the ending was a little rushed but delivered no less of an impact.

The house next door to Pat Robbins—eerily identical to the home Pat shares with her college-aged son, Mark—has been empty for years, the darkness within seeming to warn all to stay away. Now new tenants are moving in: affable Josef Friedrichs and his lovely daughter, Kathy, who has stolen Mark's heart on first glance. But something is not right—something old and secret lurking in the shadows that fresh paint and new furnishings cannot mask or exorcise. There is evil alive in the heart of the house next door—and it means to feed on the fears of two families . . . and drag Kathy Friedrichs with it into peril. 

This is another great and creepy ghost story, with a historical mystery that kept me at least guessing until the end. There are certain images from this book that have stuck with me the longest simply because of there understated scare factor. Gothic horror at it's best as far as I am concerned.

It should be noted for the record that the most recent of these books was written in the mid-nineties with Ammie, Come Home originally published in 1968 and all the rest falling somewhere in between. While I don't feel like that takes away from how good the ghost story is or how relatable the characters are don't expect these books to be contemporary to us any more. 

Finally, speaking of autumn treats here is a picture of the vegan pumpkin pudding I made this afternoon the recipe for which can be found here.

  I also topped it with coconut cream which I got by sticking a can of full fat coconut milk into the freezer for a hour or two and then in the refrigerator until I was ready to serve it. I then skimmed a couple good spoonfuls of cream off the top and sprinkled the whole thing with sugar and nutmeg.

It is delicious in case you were wondering.


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