Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance (Entangled: Flirt, September 30, 2013)
One area of romance I feel is horribly neglected is gothic romance. Because gothic is by its nature a subset of horror literature, not only does a reader experience chills similar to that of a mystery or thriller, but there is a looming sense of evil and death which pervades the story, often with the setting itself providing an additional character (and it’s usually the villain).
Sarah Ballance’s new novella, Ruby Hill, certainly fits the bill, with an estranged couple (both investigators in their own way) and a haunted insane asylum harboring a serial killer. Ballance gives us lovely, spooky writing – the kind where the sentences feel good in your mouth while they send shivers down your spine – making this novella the perfect way to launch a ghost-filled October. Since I read and re-read tons of paranormal to get me in the Halloween mood, I was elated to find Ruby Hill to be a great way to get me in the mood for the upcoming holiday. Move aside, Pinterest!
The story opens with the arrival of our hero, Corbin Malone, a cop whose boss, frustrated by a rash of unsolved murders centered on an abandoned Victorian lunatic asylum, has decided to let in a group of paranormal investigators to see what they could find out on the “ghost” front. The police want to prove that there isn’t a ghost killing the victims, and this seems like the best (and least confrontational) way to go about it. The two major problems for Corbin are that 1) his brother Cash died in this exact spot six months ago and 2) the lead investigator is none other than Ashley Pearce, the woman who he kicked out of his life when he lost his brother.
Ashley Pearce has built a reputation as a solid paranormal investigator who not only tracks ghosts but can speak to them as well. She knows she’s not to blame for Cash’s death, but that fact doesn’t make the rejection by the man who she loved any less. She has strong ties to Ruby Hill (her great-grandfather was one of the founders) and is dismayed that this place she loves has taken on an overtone of evil. With the death of not only Cash but two beautiful young women, the police are baffled since all victims died of cardiac arrest with not a mark on them…as if they were scared to death.
Corbin has never believed in the paranormal, a fact that was the only tension between him and Ashley while they were together. When he establishes the connection that each of the victims (including his brother) all were descended from people who worked at the asylum, Corbin knows he has to get himself and Ashley to safety as they both fall into the same category and are therefore a likely target for a serial killer. The only difference is that while he believes he’s dealing with a live person, Ashley is even more certain that they are going to confront a dead one.
Decaying, abandoned insane asylums are PERFECT locations for a gothic novella!
Ballance paints a vivid picture of the hospital as an entity out for revenge, with the characters experiencing waking nightmares and conditions that fill your nostrils with decay while you are reading. The dynamic between Ashley and Corbin is poignant and rife with the tension of the situation, particularly as he denies again and again what he sees because it doesn’t fit with his belief system. By not believing in ghosts, he shows no respect for Ashley and her work, possibly leading to a personal rift that could cost both of them their lives.
I noticed on Goodreads that there were some reviewers who believed that the story felt unfinished or that the romance wasn’t strong enough. Okay, it’s true there was nothing more than some hot reunion kissing, but quite honestly, the asylum was disgusting and I would have looked serious askance if they had gone further in such an unhygenic environment!
If it were any other subgenre but horror, I could understand the reviewer complaints better, but Ballance does a pitch perfect job of crafting a horror story in Ruby Hill. Yes, there is a romantic element between these two lovers who have really never let go of each other and Ballance’s choice was to play up the gothic piece, which she does beautifully. The author’s main goal in a gothic romance novel is to get the couple out alive and relatively unscathed so they can go off (into the sunrise, in this case) and craft a happily ever after. Done. Romance readers are all about expectations however, so it’s possible that some people expected more on the romance and less on the gothic. I’m really pleased with the gothic emphasis, personally!
Entangled’s Ever After imprint (designed to deliver short stories and novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words) is giving away some terrific prizes in honor of these debuts. I’ve put the links to the Rafflecopter giveaways at the bottom of the post, so be sure to enter them after you take a look at the descriptions. Lots of gift cards to your preferred bookstore to win as well as some cool jewelry and yummy gifts!
Here are a few of the stories they are releasing this week, covering a variety of genres, including the one I just reviewed:
Find Your Ever After in Under An Hour
Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance
From her earliest memories, Ashley Pearce has been drawn to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum, and she’s not the only one. Decades after the abandoned hospital ended its institutional reign of torture and neglect, something lurks in the shadows. Since she’s a paranormal investigator, it’s Ashley’s job to find out what.
Crime scene expert Corbin Malone doesn’t believe in ghosts. A born skeptic, he has no interest in entertaining the hype surrounding the mysterious deaths at Ruby Hill, but he won’t turn his back while more women die. He agrees to an overnight investigation, never expecting his first encounter would be with the woman he pushed away a year ago. But when he discovers Ashley is a target, he learns his greatest fear isn’t living with his own demons, but losing her for good.
One Thousand and One Nights by Ruth Browne
Sheri spends her days fighting zombies and her nights chained to a wall, earning her every breath by telling stories to her captor Aleksy—stories that make them both forget the ruined world. Sheri could put up with the conditions—at least she knows her sister is safe in the community Aleksy leads—until she realizes she’s falling for him…even though he wants her dead.
When Aleksy allowed Sheri and her sister into his compound, he didn’t know about the zombie bite on her back. It’s only a matter of time before she turns into one of the rising dead and threatens their existence, but Aleksy has a secret need for Sheri and her stories. For everyone’s safety, he chains her to his bedroom wall, hoping for just one more day. But how long will the community allow Aleksy to ignore his own rule: always kill the infected. Always.
Mercy by Jan Coffey
Julia Klein’s life has begun to unravel—her daughter Amy has been suspended from school, Julia is about to lose her job, and her boyfriend Garrett is being transferred thousands of miles away. Overwhelmed, she and Amy leave for a weekend at a rambling old colonial inn. Julia never suspects that Garrett, desperate to find a way to keep Julia in his life, has decided to surprise her by joining them. Nor does she expect her daughter to befriend a mischievous ghost…or that she herself would be possessed by the malevolent spirit of a long-dead mother.
As a dark secret emerges, Julia, Amy, and Garrett find themselves pitted in a fight for survival against a savage presence that intends to resurrect/repeat/relive a horrible crime committed two centuries ago. And this time, Amy and Julia will be the victims.
Haunted Chemisty by Lindsey Loucks
When bookish college co-ed Alexis heads to the laundry room in her new apartment, she runs into Ian Reese, the chem lab partner she crushed on all last semester. And the guy who stood her up on their first date. But she’s down for an awkward reunion, and no better place than her creepy laundry room.
Ian has every intention of making amends, but just when Alexis begins to trust him again, a new threat calls more than their future together into question. A ghost from the apartment’s past is hellbent on revenge, and if he wants to get his girl, he’ll have to get the ghost first.
Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean
Ceri McKinley never stopped wishing that her ex-fiancé Jason Crickett would come back into her life. But when he finally does, he comes with a request that puts them both—and all of humanity—into jeopardy.
Jason only wants two things: to bury his brother properly and to convince Ceri to trust him again after he jilted her. But when Ceri agrees to help him get his brother back, they end up fighting for their lives as a zombie uprising threatens them all.
Northern Light by E.J. Russell
Nothing gives art fraud investigator Luke Morganstern a bigger rush than busting forgers, the low-life criminals who dare victimize true artists. But when his latest job sends him to a remote cabin in the Oregon Coast Range, he’s stunned to discover the alleged forger is his former lover, Stefan Cobbe, the most gifted painter Luke has ever known.
Stefan, left homeless and destitute after the death of his wealthy partner, doesn’t exactly deny the forgery — he claims he doesn’t remember, an excuse Luke can’t accept.
But Luke’s elderly client suggests Stefan may be telling the truth and presents another possibility – a dark presence in the woods, a supernatural fury simmering for decades. Luke must face down his fear of the uncanny – and admit his feelings for Stefan – if either of them is to survive.
Not to Be Missed Giveaways!
A fantastic pottery handwarmer mug with Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate mix (yum!) a Rafflecopter giveaway
I definitely felt like Ruby Hill was a terrific addition to the world of gothic romance, one so good that I’m now jonesing for other spooky-poo books to get me into the mood of gusting autumn leaves and the start of crackling fires in my living room fireplace. Thanks, Sarah Ballance, for getting me off to such a great start for the season!