by Cynthia Chow
& Juliet Blackwell
We are happy this week to have a review of Juliet Blackwell’s latest supernatural mystery, Home For The Haunting. We also have a fun guest post from Juliet where she talks about how her own background connects to that of her main character. Details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of this post.
Home for the Haunting: A Haunted Home Renovation Mystery By Juliet Blackwell
Review by Cythinia Chow
In the spirit of goodwill, and a less-than-sober New Year’s resolution to be more charitable, has contractor Mel Turner volunteering to be “House Captain” for Neighbors Together, a charitable organization that renovates homes for the disabled and elderly. What this means is that poor Mel is not just wielding a hammer on an occasional Saturday, but is instead answering the endless nonsensical questions of earnest but extremely unqualified and very inexperienced volunteers. A further ill-advised wager with her mostly retired former contractor father has them competing to see who can successfully complete their projects first, and the crafty Bill Turner has managed to assemble a team of dedicated workers, while Mel is sentenced with community service-ordered hungover frat boys and well-manicured sorority sisters.
Months of inspections and planning culminate in one weekend of volunteers swarming the homes, and this means that Mel finds herself hiding in Port-o-Potties for a few minutes of respite. Endless requests from Monty, the wheelchair-bound former motorcyclist whose home is being fitted for his disable status, have Mel at the end of the rope of her patience as she struggles to find sympathy. Much more disconcerting, though, is that once again Mel’s status as a “ghost whisperer” comes into play, when she witnesses neighboring spectral activity and the more earthly presence of a body stuffed into the neighboring shed.
The presence of local youths who chant songs around the neighboring home that is declared to be the “Murder House” due to the tragic deaths, definitely ensures that Mel’s special ghost communicating skills will come into play. This also allows the author to share her knowledge of San Francisco history and fascinating lore, from to the “wilderness” of Martinez just minutes from the city to the cutesy town of San Quentin, known more for its prison than its quaintness.
Mel’s reputation is well known enough to the point that the San Francisco Police Department requests that Mel aid in their investigation as a “ghost consultant.” This makes her boyfriend and Green Contractor, Graham, a little testy and his environmental renovations already often place him at odds with Mel’s more historically accurate concerns. The arrival of Mel’s perfect sister Cookie also disrupts Mel’s peace of mind, as watching her father dote upon Cookie drives Mel crazy. Mel may wear vintage dresses with construction boots to work sites, but she will never have a pristine manicure or wield flirtatious charm like a weapon to get what she wants as brilliantly as Cookie.
The author of the Witchcraft Mystery series, as well as one half of the Art Lover’s Mystery Series, Juliet Blackwell continues to craft enjoyable and fun novels with a woo-woo aspect that is surprisingly minimal. Ghosts appear, but they do not interact with Mel. The dialogue is witty and the relationship between Mel and her boyfriend is believable, as they negotiate miscommunications and uncertainty, mostly due to Mel’s inability to commit and her vague plans to move to Paris. Mel may not always behave in the most mature manner possible, but she can be forgiven by the family-induced insanity and the fact that ghosts now seem to pop in and out of her of her life all too frequently. The fourth in the series remains fresh, as the author expands on this very likable character, who somehow retains her overall mental health despite the chaos that surrounds her.
The Haunted Writing LIfe of Juliet Blackwell
I don’t watch TV. This is not a moral stance; I just never have enough time in the day, and I’m too cheap to pay a monthly fee. Maybe it’s because I grew up when television was free (and limited to about four channels), so I’m just not used to it. Also, I get confused with all the remotes. Me and technology? Not a great match.
But the other day I was in a hotel room. Me, alone in a hotel room with a TV and an easy-to-use remote? Dangerous! Especially when I discovered HGTV. There was this perky, lovely blonde woman who drove everyone crazy by insisting they keep all the old stuff in a house and revamp it, rather than tossing everything and replacing it with new stuff. When she asked a helper to hoist her into a dumpster so she could rummage through the cool stuff thrown out of an old house, I was hooked.
I have totally done that.
I felt a definite kinship. Except for the fact that she’s perky and blonde, we’re practically twins. Or perhaps I should say she’s practically twins with Mel Turner, protagonist in my Haunted Home Renovation series. Mel’s not blonde and she’s not particularly perky, but she certainly does share the love for old buildings. Of course, in Mel’s case, her fondness for antique architecture comes with an ability to see ghosts in the attics, the basements, behind the walls.
I worked for many years doing decorative painting (faux finishes, gold gilding, murals, borders, wood-graining, etc) on historic renovations. Later, my responsibilities grew and I found myself acting as project manager for several residential projects, and then worked with the Rebuilding Together organization for seven years as “house captain.” Through those experiences, I learned about the construction industry, how to build (and re-build) a house, issues with city permits and safety codes, how to deal with clients and employees, and how to oversee a crew.
I draw on all those experiences when I write about Mel Turner, General Contractor, in the Haunted Home Renovation series. As for the ghost sightings…well, that’s a tough one. I enjoy reading about old ghostly legends, and there are plenty of those to be found in San Francisco. I’ve never actually seen a ghost myself…but I do believe I’ve felt one or two. And in my experience, it’s hard to find a construction worker on old buildings who wouldn’t ‘fess up to the same, after a beer or two.
Are you surprised? After all, old buildings hold whispers of energy from all those who have gone before. The walls have seen lives being lived; the floors have carried people through their journeys here on earth; the ceilings have provided them with shelter. And all have stood silent witness to whatever happiness or tribulations, any love or violence that has taken place. We know humans emanate energies of all types–physical, psychological and perhaps also spiritual. So is it so hard to imagine these leave some sort of energy trace?
I have trailed along with ghost hunters and have spent time alone in a house where a murder occurred. I have been with others in an otherwise “empty” house when we all heard careful, methodical footsteps overhead. I have met so many otherwise perfectly normal, sane folks who have intricate stories to tell that I can’t not believe them.
Many people claim all these sensations are due to the creaks and moans of old timbers, the strange magnetic pulls under the earth, the “fear boxes” created by metal pipes and wires, or by gas leaks or the power of suggestion.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe the ghosts are all in our minds and the history of a building means nothing at all. But I believe that, at the very least, the fact that our minds are cast back to the lives that were led in a historic building, the grace or simplicity of the built-ins and moldings, the skill of stone masons and carpenters, and the all-too-human convoluted tales that took place therein…that’s proof enough of residual spirits for me.
So Mel Turner, that perky woman on HGTV, and I, will continue to understand that real old wood is almost always a better alternative to plastic or pressboard–that it will last and can be mended, the way vinyl and glued veneers cannot. We will carry on in salvage yards and, yes, even dumpsters to find just the right fixture or design element for a historic home. We will keep on fixing up buildings to find their hidden grace and design, and to relish in the spirits we find there, whether they’re all in our heads or not.
I hope you’ll join us! Or at least join Mel Turner in the Haunted Home Renovation series…or heck, watch that perky woman on TV, she’s a hoot!
You can learn more about Juliet on her website.
To enter to win a copy of Home For The Haunting, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Haunting,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 14, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.