It’s one of the best times of the year to settle in with a book and relax. In North America the days are getting shorter and the evenings and nights are cooler. As the leaves fall, it’s time to curl up with a blanket and settle in with a book for a few hours. The crackle in the air might just be our anticipation for Halloween festivities. Or, if we use our imaginations—it might be the wisp of a breeze from a passing ghost.
Last weekend, my daughter Gwen went to Sweet Briar College for a meeting, which happened to fall during homecoming weekend. She was housed in the guest quarters next to the Presidents House, otherwise known as the original plantation house. You need this background to understand why I say that the campus if filled with other “things” besides people and horses and cows. There are ghosts. Most are friendly. In fact, most are of young girls who died while at the school—you know, the usual white lady, gray lady, girl with curls and others who wander the dorms and classrooms. Gwen assured me set boundaries so that she could get at least one good night’s sleep, she did but even so, she came back with tales of spirits and book ideas.
Which of course got me to thinking about my favorite ghost books, which I’ll say aren’t ones that keep me up ALL Night imagining bad things in closets and under the bed.
My favorite ghost story isn’t about a scary ghost. I read Tryst by Elswyth Thane when I was in middle school many years ago and it has remained my favorite romantic ghost story ever since. In fact, it’s the most romantic story I can remember reading over the years. When I met other readers who frequented libraries and discovered Elswyth Thane on the shelves, we all agree: Tryst is a classic romance.
Published in 1939 and not yet available as an e-book (please someone get the rights and publish it!), Tryst is set in a time between World Wars when the world was transitioning slowly from colonial empires to individual independent nations. Hilary Shenstone is a young Englishman working for the British home office in India. He is trapped after a plane accident and, since he desperately did not want to leave England and his life behind, he imagines himself back in the green fields of his childhood home of Nuns Farthing while he waits for rescue….
A lonely and bookish young lady, Sabrina Archer, moves with her father and aunt from their London flat to the lavish summer home Nuns Farthing. Exploring as all young people do, and perhaps some older ones as well, Sabrina finds a locked room at the top of the stairs. She’s forbidden to enter it, so of course the challenge just makes her more determined. Why is the door locked? What’s behind the door that is so secretive? One afternoon while everyone else is away, Sabrina picks the lock and discovers the room that once belonged to Hilary. Every afternoon that summer, Sabrina retreats to the room filled with his collections of books and bugs (all right, I skim over the bug collection details). She discovers the missing man’s personality detail by detail and she falls in love.
Tryst may sound like it could be a horror novel, but it’s truly a remarkable gem of a romance mixed with suspense. You never truly know if Hilary is really dead; perhaps he’s recovering in a hospital. The reader falls in love with Hilary as well as Sabrina who is remarkable in her own quiet way. With the help of the housekeeper, Sabrina is encouraged to find out more until the final scene which is heartbreaking as well as romantic and hopeful.
If you find a copy of Tryst, I highly recommend giving it a try, as you’ll probably become as addicted as I am. But in the meantime, if you want a ghost story in a romance, Nora Roberts has just come out the first in her Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy, Dark Witch (Berkley; October 29, 2013) hitting shelves this week. Seven hundred years after an evil sorcerer kills the Dark Witch Sorcha, her orphaned children are “reincarnated” as the O’Dwyer cousins and must each fight the rising evil and find love. Dark Witch is truly Roberts at her best and it’s set in Ireland no less. With horses and menace and magic. It’s a perfect Halloween read!
Speaking of magic, I’ll be in Birmingham this weekend at the Southern Magic Readers Luncheon. I hope to see some of you there. Or perhaps the following week you’ll join us in Texas for our Readers & ’Ritas Weekend, November 8th through 10th. Join Alexandra Allred, Mary Burton, Shannon K. Butcher, Connie Cox, Tracy Deebs, Nikki Duncan, C.J. Ellisson, Karen Erickson, Lorenz Font, Felice Fox, Morgan Fox, Winnie Griggs, Liliana Hart, Candace Havens, Sherri Hayes, Lorelei James, Missy Jane, Tonya Kappes, Diane Kelly, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jenn LeBlanc, Jade Lee, Roz Lee, Heather Long, Dianna Love, Sylvia McDaniel, Emily McKay, Nancy Naigle, Michael Schneider, Terry Spear, Sasha Summers, Liz Talley, Sherry Thomas, Kay Thomas, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and Jaye Wells. You can find more information at Readers-n-ritas.org. Day tickets for Friday and Saturday are available. And you can get double duty out of your Halloween costume at our Saturday night masquerade ball.
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.