It sort of kills me not to be able to give The Haunting a better grade. It’s a very well-written book, with a grace and flow to its prose that’s too seldom seen in series romances anymore. Hope Tarr also delivers a sexually explicit story that goes beyond mere sex, finding the deeper emotions in those physical acts and genuine romance in the love story that eludes most Blazes. And yet, while I appreciated many things about it, the book as a whole ultimately underwhelmed me.
Professor Maggie Holliday is just beginning to get her life together after a very rough year. Her parents and sister died in a plane crash a year ago. To deal with her grief, she began to see a therapist who soon took advantage of her. After a few short visits, he called an end to their professional relationship and bedded her on his couch. They’ve been dating ever since, and Maggie knows it’s long past time to end the affair. After being hired at a small college in Fredericksburg, Virginia, she buys her dream house, despite the sneers of her all-too-controlling boyfriend.
Her first day in the house, Maggie discovers the diary of a former resident named Isabel Earnshaw, who lived there during the Civil War. It isn’t long before she’s caught up in reading Isabel’s story. But that story becomes all-too real when she goes up to the attic one night and finds a man dressed in a Civil War-era uniform who makes love to her with the familiarity of an old lover. When she comes to her senses the next morning, Maggie tries to convince herself the man is some kind of war reenactor who broke into her house. But Captain Ethan O’Malley is no mere man. He’s a ghost who claims Maggie is the reincarnation of Isabel, the woman he loved back in the 1860s. Their love affair came to an unhappy end back then, and Ethan has been waiting for her all this time to finally resolve their love.
As I said, the book is very well-written, told in an engaging style with some lovely passages throughout. Based on the author’s notes, she knows the area well, and she gives a very nice sense of the place and its people that gives the story some authentic flavor. The pace is very leisurely and sometimes outright slow. This is definitely the kind of book where not much happens and for pages it drifts without much actual plot. Maggie slowly reads the diary, a process she drags out for no good reason. (Seriously, it seems like she’s constantly putting it down after reading an entry when you’d think she’d want to read more.) Maggie does some research on the past. Maggie and Ethan have sex. The fact that I didn’t find it boring (though I’m sure some readers will) is largely because of the author’s writing style. I enjoyed it enough that the lack of incident didn’t bother me at first. However, after a while I did wonder if anything was ever going to happen.
While I found it to be an pleasurable enough read for the most part, the love story between Ethan and Maggie wasn’t entirely involving. Some of the more emotional moments between them – the very real sense of long-lost love and the dreamy, romantic quality to some of the scenes – were gratifying, yet at the same time there wasn’t much in the way of actual relationship development. Ethan loves her because she’s the reincarnated Isabel, and all it takes is for Maggie to accept her past life to be in love with him too. Other than one spat (and of course the fact that he’s dead), there’s no real conflict. And they don’t really take much action toward dealing with the whole “he’s dead” issue. A brief mention of Ethan’s need to find resolution with the soul of the man who caused his death feels tacked on and underdeveloped (not to mention wholly predictable). So what we’re left with for much of the time are two people who are in love hanging around a house while she reads a diary. I enjoyed reading it while I was doing so, but when it was over, I was left with the impression I’d just spent several hours reading 240 pages of nothing.
Maggie’s relationship with her former therapist is gross, something the story at least acknowledges. But the fact that she continually fails to break up with him is horribly grating. She knows from the very beginning of the book she needs and wants to dump him. Yet the story just goes on and on with her not going through with it for one weak, wishy-washy reason after another. He definitely comes across as the kind of guy who won’t go away easily, so if the author felt it necessary to keep him around for the sake of plot, she could have done so after Maggie dumped him. Instead, Maggie comes across as ridiculously weak and I found myself repeatedly thinking, in the parlance of Dan Savage, DTMFA! Even worse, after a while he goes from a garden variety evil jerk to an absolutely disgusting eeeeeeeevil jerk. Eventually, I moved straight past hating him to resenting the author for inflicting this douchebag on me and wallowing in his grossness for no apparent reason than to make me queasy.
Then there’s the ending. I’m always a little leery when it comes to ghost romances, because sometimes the author resorts to a resolution I (and I know many other readers) find very unsatisfying. Tarr doesn’t do that here. Instead, it seems like she borrowed an ending from a completely different type of paranormal story that didn’t entirely seem to fit. It’s certainly a happy ending, but had me scratching my head and wondering what kind of sense it made, if any.
The Haunting is a very nicely told tale. If only the tale Hope Tarr told was stronger. For most of the first half, I was sure this was a book I was going to recommend. But the story’s weaknesses and my overall mixed feelings sadly make it one I cannot recommend wholeheartedly.