Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Texas Gothic
by Rosemary Clement-Moore
July 12, 2011 
Borrowed from Friend
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher): Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face

Review: I'm all kinds of amused that just last week, I made a little complaint about how rare supportive – or present! - families are in YA lit and especially YA lit of the paranormal type. I know I'm not the first one to make that complaint, and maybe authors and publishers are starting to listen, because like Once a Witch, Texas Gothic features a heroine closely supported by her slightly esoteric – and magical – family, the Goodnights. From the sister who trips the breakers during her scientific magic experiments to the cousin who shows up to deliver a set of books to the mother who insistently calls (or sends support in the form of aforementioned cousin) when her 'heebie-jeebie' feelings about her youngest daughter act up, our protagonist, Amy, is surrounded by the family she loves but wishes they were just a little less weird. It would make her self-designated job of 'ambassador to the normal world' so much easier.

Since I read Rosemary Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls last spring, I've rushed through her other three books and really enjoyed all her work. So I was greatly looking forward to the release of Texas Gothic. She has a gift for spooky atmospheres and using legends and archeology to support her determined and interesting heroines. While The Splendor Falls is still my favourite book by this author, Texas Gothic lives up to its predecessors by being a well-written ghost story firmly rooted in its geographical location of eastern Texas (a few hours outside of Austin). Nowhere else on earth could Texas Gothic take place, and by setting the books so firmly into the land, Clement-Moore gives the plot – ghosts, conquistadors, magic families and all – a sense of reality.

The Goodnights are a fantastically interesting family made up of magic users who use their skills in herbalism, clairvoyance, tarot card readings, and everything in between to try (and not always succeed) to fit into normal society. A sixteen year old psychic cousin consults for the Austin police (who definitely don't admit they're looking to a teenager for help). Amy's mother and aunt run New Age-y shops selling teas and esoteric items. No one outside the family knows the teas or the goods sold at Amy's mother's shop or Aunt Hyacinth's herbal shampoos and cosmetics are magic. They just seem to work better than normal goods. Probably because all the ingredients are organic or something. As Amy says, “that was the thing about the Goodnight world. No matter what the label said, you could never assume anything only worked like magic.”

The major complaint I have about this book is how the love interest is handled. The neighboring ranch owner first meets Amy while she's trying to corral her aunt's escape artist goats. Amy's wearing only a bra, underwear, and gumboots, and Ben is less than impressed with the Goodnight family as a whole and Amy in particular. The antagonism grows on both sides as Amy and her sister, Phin, get involved in the archeology dig on Ben's land, and local legends about ghosts start to make difficulties in the town and on the ranch. Amy and Ben continue to snipe at each other, and while Amy's narrative always comments on how good-looking Ben is, when the two finally fall into each other's arms, it seems...a little false. I'll totally admit that I don't tend to enjoy love-hate relationships because I don't find them particularly true to life so maybe that's skewing my judgment, but still, the insulting – real insults not the flirty kind – and general putting down of each other continues right up until they kiss for the first time, and it didn't seem terribly realistic to me. I did really like how the relationship developed after the first kiss and once they started working together, but in order to make it fly completely, I have to at least believe the heroine and love interest LIKE each other before they get all liplocky.

My favourite character in the book was Phin (short for Delphinium), Amy's older sister. I almost wish we could've seen the book from her point of view because she's a hilarious and intriguing character. She's a flat out genius whose magic manifests in a scientific way so she's majoring in chemistry and physics at UT and developing scientific instruments to measure and manage paranormal phenomena. She's also sardonic, deadpan, and completely oblivious to anything beyond her interests (so I suppose maybe not so great a narrator though I'd still love to see a book with her at the center). Phin is a less typical character than Amy, and her slightly insane determination to figure out the whys of magic is all kinds of interesting.

I did like Amy (short for Amaryllis) as well, but I think my opinion of her suffered just because there have been so many books recently where the heroine is supposed to be the 'one girl without magic/a Talent/whatever.' But, of course, they always do have magic in the end, and while the wish-fulfillment aspect can be fun – and an instant draw for the (assumed) unmagical reader, I think there are probably other angles that could be taken.

One last bit that particularly amused me about Texas Gothic is the Goodnight family's names. Amy, Phin, their cousin, Daisy, their aunt Hyacinth, and every other named Goodnight are named after flowers – odd ones too, especially for Amaryllis and Delphinium, and there is absolutely no explanation for this. Not that there has to be, but most novels would throw in a “named according to family tradition blah blah...” I LOVED that it was just out there with no explanation or anything drawing attention to the names as something strange. I've no idea why but it cracks me up every time I think of it.

I'd definitely recommend Texas Gothic (which really isn't a traditional gothic novel at all) to others interested in a way above average paranormal read that really gets its grounding from its geography. I think I have more complaints about this book than most I really enjoy just because I love the author's work so much and so expect more from her than your average random writer. And I really, really want a book about Phin. Then maybe one about Daisy, one about Aunt Hyacinth and so on through the members of the Goodnight clan.

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