Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Restorer (Book Review)

"Because what the dead want more than anything is to be a part of our world again, They're like parasites, drawn to our energy, feeding off our warmth. If they know you can see them, they'll cling to you like blight. You'll never be rid of them. And your life will never again be your own."

Generally, I don't write reviews about the vast number of books I read.  I have no idea why. Maybe because this is not specifically a book blog, and if I were to write about all the tomes in my library, I'd never get time to write about anything else. But once in awhile, a book impresses me enough to make it here, when I can't help myself but to announce it's greatness.

I tend to read a lot of paranormals, and sometimes people balk at the sub-genre as if a book within this category is not worthy of discussion.  As if a book that includes some romance and/or sex isn't a quality read. Well I'm here to tell you that not only is that general assumption wrong (because I've read plenty of paranormal/fantasy books that run rings around much of the dreck in the generic fiction aisles) but it is also a shallow opinion.
What would our favorite books - and the classics, no less - be without a bit of longing and passionate inclinations?  What would Jane Eyre have been without Mr. Rochester?  Dracula without Mina?  Sookie without Bill? And Eric? And Alcide? And... well, you get the picture.

The Restorer, by Amanda Stevens, is categorized as a paranormal romance, but I'm not entirely buying that description.  Yes, there are some elements of romance within it, but at its heart it's a ghost story, pure and simple. And it is done well.  Very well.  Some truly chilling moments lie within this novel, and I seriously couldn't put it down.  I'm not saying it's The Woman in Black - but for a modern tale, it succeeds thoroughly.

Amelia Gray has an unusual occupation. She is a cemetery restorer, which is exactly what it sounds like. She is paid to restore graveyards to their formal glory.  She also sees ghosts.  The daughter of a cemetery caretaker, she has been seeing spirits from the time she was nine years old.  Her father too, sees ghosts, and once he finds out his daughter does as well, he lays down some rules that are imperative when dealing with specters.

1) Never acknowledge the dead.
2) Never stray from hallowed ground.

3) Never get close to the haunted.
4) Never, ever tempt fate.

It is his belief that if you let the ghosts know you see them, they will attach themselves to you and never leave.
A frightening thought.  And for many years, Amelia did fine following those rules.  But when a gruesome murder victim turns up in the cemetery she is restoring, the lines between the rules get a little blurry.

Because of her particular skill, she is called upon by local law enforcement, Detective John Devlin to be exact, to help distinguish clues left behind. Epitaphs and headstone symbols & markings are all they have to go on, and no one knows tombstones better than Amelia.  Thankfully, Devlin is one hot property, so working together would be all wine and roses - if he wasn't haunted himself. The ghosts of his dead wife and young daughter surround him, even though he isn't remotely aware of it.  Amelia feels them suck the energy out of the living, herself included, and tries to convince herself getting too close to Devlin is a mistake.

But as we all know, that is never the case.  She gets so wrapped up in the investigation that the more clues that pile up and the more murders that are discovered, the more bound to Devlin she becomes.

Romance is truly not top priority here.  Chills and thrills come through regularly, instead.  There is always the thought that the two leads will get together though, which makes the danger more exciting and the various plot points much more interesting.  Tragic accidents, wandering spirits, secret societies, backwoods witchcraft - along with morbid crypts, dank mausoleums, cryptic warnings, and ghostly really has it all.

Amelia is a first-rate heroine and easy to like.  She has her own little idiosyncrasies that flourish within the story, sometimes getting her in over her head.  She's very realistic and down to earth despite believing in ghosts and the supernatural.  John Devlin is written as an afflicted man, somewhat despondent - with heartbreaking tragedy in his past and no real intention of getting over it.  Amelia realizes she is tempting fate by getting hooked up with him, but somehow is drawn to his enigmatic and tattered soul like a moth to the flame.
She's opening doors that are best left closed, which is indicative of the unsettling scares you're in store for.

Sometimes with ghost stories, you are unable to really connect with the characters or the tale they are trying to tell.  But with The Restorer, you never feel like the story is heading in a ridiculous direction, nor does it seem trite or prosaic. It's a realistic novel even though being about the supernatural, and there are some truly spooky moments within it.  It's set in Charleston, South Carolina - known to be one of the most haunted cities in America, so it already had that going for it.  The fact that Amelia is a cemetery restorer, well that was way too enticing for me.  I've always loved cemeteries, have spent a lot of time in them in fact, so to read more about them - and have a ghost story to boot - well, it made the book purchase a no-brainer.  It is also the first book in a trilogy, and I love a good series.  A greater portion of the books I read are series. I love knowing that there is more coming after the end.  Future story lines are hinted at in The Restorer, and the end of this book kind of leaves you hanging...and salivating for more.

In a sea swimming with paranormal romance after urban fantasy after romantic thriller, Stevens writing stands out and cannot be ignored.  Lush descriptions of bleak, shadowy graveyards and encounters with vengeful spirits whose cold fingers slither through your hair and whose breath chills your neck will certainly keep the lights on while you're reading.
With a quality of writing far above most of her peers lining the shelves at the bookstores, this author knows how to tell an atmospheric tale and keep you thoroughly enthralled.  I really could find no fault with this book.
{Wait!  One fault! Three-fourths of the way through, I was on page 272, and the next page was 305! There were over thirty pages missing from my copy. I was furious. But also utterly anxious. So anxious that I downloaded the book to my Kindle just so I could keep reading.  And yep, it was worth it.  I would have missed out on some very pertinent information.  Damn publishers.}

The Restorer is book one in 'The Graveyard Queen' series.  Book two, The Kingdom, is also available now and the third book, The Prophet, is right on its coattails, releasing April 24. 

"Drawn by the surge of energy, the woman drifted to my side. She placed her hand on my arm, mimicking Devlin. The heat of the day still lingered on my skin, and she slid her fingers up my arm, savoring the warmth, as she floated around me. I could feel her hands in my hair, her breath in my ear. Her lips against my neck. Her touch was like the coldest of whispers, and it came to me that she wasn't just drawn to my warmth. She was taunting me."

*Photo at right by James Gracey. For more like it, do visit his blog - Behind the Couch - for more fantastic cemetery pics.


Ashley Ketterling- Miller said...

My mom shared this with me since she lives in Arizona but I thought you might like it...

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks for the link, Ashley. Why the hell can't I live closer to Mesa?!

Marie Robinson said...

Hi Christine! I just found your blog and I am obsessed! I have been passionatley obsessed with horror ever since my older siblings subjected me to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street as a wee girl. I am an aspiring horror fiction writer (unpublished so far) and I saw that you are seeking guest contributions. I would love any information you could give me on that! My name is Marie Robinson you can contact me at Thanks!!

Clereece Deerhart said...

I totally agree this is NOT a romance -- it should never have been labeled as one!! I was not happy with the overall tone of the book. Amelia came across as almost afraid of her own shadow, not to mention the many "shadows" that continuously plagued her! The ending was too open and unresolved for my tastes ... even with the knowledge of knowing she will build on the storyline with two more future books!

Christine Hadden said...

Clereece: Thanks for reading! Though we differ quite a bit on our opinions I'm afraid. I think it is a well written book, and feel sufficient explanation was given as to why Amelia was "afraid of her own shadow". If I truly was able to see ghosts and had to fear them attaching themselves to me, I think I'd be more than just a bit wary as well.
This was a ghost story, after all.

And as for the open ending, I'm all for cliffhangers, as I love book series and having something to look forward to. I have to admit I thought they tied things up fairly well in the first book, with mere hints of what's to come.

I just finished the second book and felt it was maybe even better than the first. Quite spooky

Marie: Thanks for the kind words! I know what it's like to find a new blog that I like, so I appreciate the sentiment.
As for the contributions, I'm sending you off an email...