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  • Writer's pictureTantra Bensko

Better than The Ivy Tree

I adore Michele Jaffe's books and this one is particularly of interest to Romance readers because it takes an old Gothic Romance classic and reworks it into something fresh and modern, funny, and with memorable, lovable characters I want to be friends with even though they would probably not accept me into their clique.

Every sentence is potent. It's highly suspenseful; it made me squiggly to imagine being an imposter having all those close calls. The book shows rather than tells, runs at a pleasing pace, breaks ground with the number of men a woman in a novel can be attracted to at once, and the presence of Jaffe's authorial voice creates a fictional reality that is a joy to exist in moment by moment. It kept me guessing, and the ghostly situation was fascinating, with a resolution that rang true.

This is listed as YA; I'm a mature woman and my youth was quite different than these characters, but I still resonate and I read it as a book for adults just as much as young people. It seems like YA books often assume readers are not sophisticated, but this one treats them with respect.

I spent a lot of time with this book. I read it, read the reviews, read Gothic The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart. It has the tropes of crumbling castles, mistaken identity, shadows, the potential of ghosts, and old family secrets and frightening love. I enjoyed this book other than one glaring issue. I can't directly explain what it is without plot spoilers, but if I were Stewart's editor, I would never let her get away with this deception of the reader. The protagonist could have misdirected us without lying to us, pretended to us and then told us why she did that, could have had amnesia, could have done any number of things to keep the mysterious secret. But the way Stewart did it is just nonsensical to me, so that troubles me.

But otherwise, it's powerful, with a wonderful motif of the ivy tree that becomes symbolic, dramatic, and romantic. I like the characters and their plight, was in suspense, found visualizing the scenes to be cinematic and vivid.

I skimmed Ghost Flower again. I don't know why the unreliable narrator claims at the beginning to be telling the us truth at all times, but maybe that's a sign of protesting too much. Even by the end I don't understand Eve's relationship to the reader or why she has said the things she did to us; the changes she goes through in presenting her life story could have used a little more explanation to the readers. I liked except for that one major flaw. Though that's also a serious flaw in Ghost Flower, I LOVE it anyway.

Though this may be blasphemous, I think it's better than Ivy Tree. Mentioning that she was riffing off that novel would have been a good idea within the book description, but I feel that modernizing and morphing that story is a gift to Gothic Romantic Suspense readers.

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