Amber House: Terrific rainy-night reading

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsAmber House by Kelly Moore, Tucker & Larkin Reed

Do you like haunted old houses with tangled histories and lots of secret passages? If so, Amber House is the mother lode. This is the kind of book where the heroine figures out there’s a hidden staircase because, while it’s nowhere to be seen in the house itself, a dollhouse based on the real house does have a staircase in that spot. If this appeals to you — and it definitely appeals to me — you need to read Amber House.

Our heroine is Sarah Parsons, whose family inherits, and temporarily moves into, the eponymous Amber House after Sarah’s grandmother dies. Sarah has always had inexplicable abilities, and in her ancestral home, they’re turned up to eleven: she can see echoes of the past as she explores the estate. Meanwhile, her autistic little brother is acting strangely, her mother is cold and obsessed with social climbing, and everyone seems to know more about the house’s painful history than Sarah does.

For the romantic at heart, there’s plenty to swoon over here — a lavish Sweet Sixteen party, a sumptuous dress, and a love triangle. As for me, I was a little annoyed by the love triangle at first, both because love triangles are overdone and because, to my mind, one of Sarah’s suitors is so clearly a better choice than the other, and Sarah doesn’t always treat him well. However, the authors — mother-and-daughters team Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed — tie this plot element in nicely with the book’s other themes in the end, and I ended up pleasantly surprised and glad it was there.

And what Amber House is really about, deep down, is mothers and daughters. As Sarah delves into her family’s past, she finds a long chain of heartbreak — of mothers who failed their daughters, who then failed their own daughters in turn. What Sarah must figure out, before the ominous happenings at Amber House end in a fresh tragedy, is whether it’s possible to change the past and thereby change the present and future…

If you’re a fan of Gothic novels, Amber House is like a double fudge brownie a la mode. It has all the troubled history and spookiness your heart could desire, along with the aforementioned secret passages, and it’s so much fun to read. Fans of ghost stories and time-travel stories should also pick this one up, though it’s not technically about ghosts or time travel in the classic sense.

If I have any complaints, it’s that one favorite character gets no resolution to his problem, but there are strong hints that this is the plot of book two. Amber House is terrific rainy-night reading. Pass the ice cream.

“I was sixteen the first time my grandmother died. . . .” Sarah Parsons has never seen Amber House, the grand Maryland estate that’s been in her family for three centuries.  She’s never walked its hedge maze nor found its secret chambers; she’s never glimpsed the shades that haunt it, nor hunted for the lost diamonds in its walls. But after her grandmother passes away, Sarah and her friend Jackson decide to search for the diamonds–and the House comes alive.  She discovers that she can see visions of the House’s past, like the eighteenth-century sea captain who hid the jewels, or the glamorous great-grandmother driven mad by grief.  Sarah grows closer to both Jackson and a young man named Richard Hathaway, whose family histories are each deeply entwined with her own.  But when her ghostly visions start to threaten the person she holds most dear, Sarah must do everything she can to get to the bottom of the House’s secrets, and stop the course of history before it is cemented forever.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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