House of Dreams
I don’t read scary books. Why? Well, it’s simple, really: I’m scared of my own shadow. No, really – I slept with a nightlight for years. In college. So when I tell you that Brenda Joyce’s latest novel House of Dreams is really scary, you might want to take it with a grain of salt. But then again, you might not.
Cassandra de Warren is the boring one in the family. Never as pretty or as charming as her beautiful socialite sister Tracey, she’s content to live with their aunt Catherine in their family’s ancestral home in Sussex, raising her niece Alyssa, and writing historical novels. That is, until Antonio de la Barca walks into their lives, and everything changes. She knows she could never compete with her beautiful sister, but when Tracey takes Alyssa away from Cass in a last-ditch attempt to please Antonio, Cass realizes that she stands to lose everything she cares about. And she can’t let that happen.
Tracey Tennant is strikingly beautiful, and a princess of the jet-setting crowd. Everywhere she goes, men follow, unable to help themselves. But for the first time since her short-lived marriage to Alyssa’s father, she realizes she’s in love with her new boyfriend. Unfortunately for her, he sees right through her, and she knows he’s going to leave her. He’s realized that she’s spoiled, self-centered, insecure, an alcoholic – and even worse, a bad mother. He’s going to leave her because she’s never been as good as her plain sister Cass – the one who’s raised Alyssa, the one who sides with their aunt, the one who’s always right. She would do anything to stop that from happening. Anything.
Catherine de Warenne, Lady Belford, has been a mother to her nieces Cass and Tracey since their parents died many years before. But she’s more than a dignified hostess and caring mother. She’s a woman with secrets, secrets that concern the de Warrens and the de la Barcas, and the tragedies that occur whenever the two families come together – as they have, over and over, since the 16th century, when a woman named Isabel de Warren married Alvarado de la Barca, and was horribly wronged by the men she trusted. Ever since her betrayal, Isabel has awaited the time when she will exact her revenge on the families who condemned her to death. The time has come.
This book is terrifically scary, but there were almost too many characters to make it work. Most of the action revolves around the ancestral home of the de la Barcas, near Pedraza, Spain – the house where Isabel lived with Alvarado. Antonio and his son Eduardo are vacationing there when Tracey arrives unannounced, with Alyssa and Cass in tow. Shortly thereafter, a very ill Catherine arrives with her maid Celia, and Antonio’s brother Gregory shows up, claiming to have been summoned by Antonio’s secretary. Isabel’s spirit pervades every inch of the house, bringing the scent of violets and a sudden drop in temperature – and violent urges and emotions within all the adult characters when she manifests herself. The book is extremely violent, but not gratuitously so; the violence and violent nature of the interactions lend strength to the plot and ambiance.
This is not really a romance (but it’s marketed as one), although there are threads of romance in the story. The romance needed more focus to really be well-drawn, particularly during the slightly rushed climax and the following few pages. Still, that would have made it a different book, and perhaps detracted from the chilling suspense so well described in this novel. It is an exciting form of mystery, one of past and present colliding, and it is well-executed; it kept me turning pages into the wee hours.
Overall, this is a fascinating and frightening book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to be intrigued and just a bit chilled at the same time. An excellent novel, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Joyce’s work.