Author: Rosemary Clement-Moore
Genre: Contemporary/Urban Fantasy (Rural Fantasy?), Mystery, Young Adult
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books (US)/Corgi Children’s (UK)
Publication date: July 2011 (US & UK)
Hardcover: 416 pages
Amy Goodnight’s family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did we get this book: Review Copies from the Publisher (UK)
Why did we read this book: This one has been on Thea’s radar for a while now (she read and enjoyed The Splendor Falls by this author), and when Ana was greeted with two review copies in the post, we knew we had to get a joint review going.
Thea: There are a number of things that Texas Gothic has going for it. First, there’s the cool Nancy Drew homage/vibe (right down to the red-headed gumshoe sleuth heroine). Then, there’s the awesome setting of the novel on dusty ranches during a Texas summer. Add an old fashioned haunting and ghost mystery to the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic young adult novel. And you know what? I truly enjoyed Texas Gothic, and although there were a few facets of the characters that annoyed me (an at times frustrating heroine, a level of repetition to the plot), I zipped through the book and was thoroughly entertained.
Ana: I think that for a change, Thea and I are basically on the same wave length on this one. I too enjoyed Texas Gothic and had great fun with its characters especially with the Goodnight family. Despite some reservations (mostly when it came to the romantic storyline), it delivered what I was hoping for: a good few hours of good entertainment, afternoon-movie style.
On the Plot:
Ana: Amy Goodnight and her sister Phin are spending the summer tending to their Aunt’s ranch in Texas. Amy hopes that her summer will be non-eventful (with the odd Goat-rescuing mission) but eventful things do tend to happen to the members of the Goodnight family. You see, the Goodnights are all paranormally inclined and even though Amy strives to be simply the normal in the family, the truth is she is just as paranormally inclined as the rest of them, which is what she comes to realise when a ghost comes to her for help.
Texas Gothic is great fun – it actually has one of the funniest chapters I read in a long, long time. But it is not a funny book per se, although the characters are all very witty. At its core, this novel combines mystery with coming of age in a well-done balancing act.I will get back to the coming of age bit below but the mystery concerns a ghostly appearance that threatens not only the Goodnight family but also the neighboring ranch when bones are recovered on their land. The mystery-solving involves other members of Amy’s family (each possessing different skills) but also a team of university students and they all work together to discover the truth behind not only the supposed ghost but also of the unearthed bones. This combination of Magic (or paranormality) and Science was quite possibly one of my favourite things about the novel – and I loved how a lot of it had to do with local Texas history.
Thea mentioned Nancy Drew but this book reminded me a lot more of Scooby Doo. Do you know how it is always easy to guess who the culprit but it doesn’t matter because that is not the point? There is a certain level of predictability and contriving plot twists in Texas Gothic but because everything else was so much fun, I actually accepted that as being part of the deal and it didn’t bother me as much as it usually would.
Thea: Ms. Clement-Moore is a phenomenal storyteller, and Texas Gothic instantly draws you in and traps you quick, like flies to honey. This novel is an homage to the Texas ranch and to old school mystery a la Carolyn Keene, but it also expertly folds in genuine paranormal events. It’s kinda like one part modern western, one part Nancy Drew, and one part ghost hunters, with a little Practical Magic sprinkled on top for good measure. In short, Texas Gothic is an irresistible concoction of fun. Like Ana, I loved the setting of the book and the general backstory – Amy (short for Amyrillis) and her slightly older sister Phin (short for Delphinium) are spending the summer on their aunt’s ranch. In exchange for watching the livestock and taking care of the usual chores (Amy’s responsibility), they get their college summer break all to themselves so Phin can continue performing her madcap experiments (she’s something of a scientific genius, even if her interests mostly involve creating strange, unpronouncable devices that measure the spectra of paranormal activity).
Of course, everyone knows how the Goodnights are witches, and when a “ghost” starts terrorizing their neighbors, the McCullough ranch, people start pointing fingers. Amy has to contend with being responsible for the ghost (which she inherited with responsibility of the ranch), and figure out exactly what is going on with all the injuries on McCullough land, or if the so called “Mad Monk” is really responsible for these events. In true Nancy Drew (or, ok, Scooby Doo if you prefer) fashion, of course you know that there is probably some other very human culprit behind the rumors and attacks – and as Ana says, the mystery really isn’t very hard to figure out. But then again, it’s not supposed to be. It’s a throwback, right down to the greedy, scheming villains and Amy getting banged on the head and kidnapped (hey, at least it’s not chloroform, right?). Anyone that’s spent a childhood devouring those lovely yellow hardbound books or has sat in front of a Saturday morning cartoon gleefully awaiting the villain unmasking and the “I would have got away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!” will surely take delight in Texas Gothic.
It’s fun. ‘Nuff said.
On the Characters:
Ana: I loved the majority of the characters in Texas Gothic. Actually, scrap that, I adored the Goodnight family. They were fun, entertaining, had great dynamics between them. Phin, the older sister who loves to explain their powers scientifically was an absolute hoot and I would totally love to read more books about this family. And I really like Amy as well and her narrative voice was engaging and interesting to read – as interesting was the role she played in the family. Because she tried so much to be normal and not to dwell a lot on what the family does with their gifts, she’s been acting as the responsible one, as a buffer between her family and the rest of the world. I mentioned before that this was a coming-of-age story and it is: because here, finally Amy accepts how much of a Goodnight she truly is. However, this happens very slowly over the course of the book and although I truly appreciate when change doesn’t happen over night, there was a degree of repetitiveness in the story that made me really frustrated. Amy had a really annoying tendency to go over the same excuses for not wanting to be another-Goodnight-with-a-gift over and over again that was tiresome and well, expendable.
My biggest gripe though came with the romantic developments between Amy and the next door neighbor, Ben. It is the sort of story between two people that don’t get along well to start with, then they bicker and then they fight their attraction until eventually they get together and I usually love that but only when it’s well done. And this one started off really well as the two bickered and clashed and the dialogue was snappy and witty. But then, as the story progressed every single one of their interactions, for the majority of the novel, consisted of Ben being an absolute jerk, Amy trying to get smart comebacks to his snide comments and failing miserably. And what made me more angry was that she lost all of their verbal sparring because she couldn’t focus because he was…hot. I mean, I get that it could happen but did it have to be every single one of them? It bothers me that instead of just enjoying their interactions, I kept keeping tabs of how many times would Amy lose it and not be able to get back to him with a cool reply. It bothered me because that was a clear winner on what should not be about winning at all. I could never get over how much of a jerk Ben could be (regardless of the reasoning/explanation behind it) and was not a fan of the romance at all. It is probably the only real downer on an otherwise fun read. Your mileage may vary though.
Thea: I completely agree with the utter adoration of the Goodnight family clan and their awesome badassness and simultaneous chaos-inducing kookiness. Phin is freaking hilarious, and I love her complete frankness when it comes to her beliefs, studies, mad experiments, and inventions. I loved that these girls have grown up their lives in a loving family that lives with the paranormal and their own unique gifts – Phin with her affinity for gadgetry, cousin Daisy with her psychic powers, Aunt Hyacinth and her magical toiletries and farm products, and so on and so forth. Of course, then there’s Amy with her own very special abilities, much as she tries to deny them. Amy, you see, has an ability to communicate with ghosts. I really liked Amy, and can understand the battle and tension within as she tries to reconcile her family’s kookiness with reality. She’s the one that thinks it’s on her shoulders to make sure that people don’t see the Goodnights as loony new age hippies, and she denies any magical abilities (and tries to preempt and prevent Phin from talking about this sort of thing), tooth and nail. My main problem with Amy, like Ana, was the LEVEL of denial and for how freaking long it took her to just suck it up and realize who she is, what her abilities are, and get her head out of her ass long enough to solve the freaking mystery.
The same applies for the romantic relationship between Ben and Amy. I actually loved the pair of them, like oil and water, completely different and unable to agree on anything. The attraction is obvious from the outset of the book, and I loved the way it played out – even by the end, they’re still going at it, fighting each other on everything, but in a good way. You know what I mean? I disagree with Ana regarding the arguments and Amy always losing, because that’s not true – once Amy comes to terms with who she is and accepts her crazy awesome Goodnight status, she’s able to turn the arguments around and shut Ben up. Instead of letting him walk all over her or berate her family (which she never does, I should point out), she tells him he’s an ass for not believing in her and walks away. And that’s cool. I actually loved that Ben isn’t some insta-trustful super sensitive perfect boyfriend hunk type. He’s very flawed, stubborn as hell, and won’t take anyone’s word at face value – even Amy. He has reasons for his distrust, and I liked that he’s not a dreamy typical YA hero. He’s not meant to be every girl’s dream boy – but he’s the perfect fit for a girl like Amy (who needs someone infuriating around, I think). The romance worked for me.
On one last note, I loved that the characters in this book are in college. How often do you see that in YA fiction (or really…any fiction)? I sense a change coming, and hopefully we’ll see some YA or “New Adult” titles that focus on this under-represented part of the population.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Despite my misgivings, I truly enjoyed Texas Gothic in a non-life changing kind of reading. It was fun. And sometimes that is more than enough.
Thea: I concur. Texas Gothic is the perfect summer poolside read. It’s fast, it’s entertaining and it’s fun. Totally recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From chapter 1:
The goat was in the tree again.
I hadn’t even known goats could climb trees. I had been livestock-sitting for three days before I’d figured out how the darned things kept getting out of their pen. Then one day I’d glanced out an upstairs window and seen Taco and Gordita, the ringleaders of the herd, trip-trip-tripping onto one of the low branches extending over the fence that separated their enclosure from the yard around Aunt Hyacinth’s century-old farmhouse.
“Don’t even think about it,” I told Gordita now, facing her across that same fence. I’d just bathed four dogs and then shoveled out the barn. I stank like dirty wet fur and donkey crap, and I was not in the mood to be trifled with.
She stared back at me with a placid, long-lashed eye and bleated, “Mba-a-a-a-a.” Which must translate as “You’re not the boss of me,” because she certainly didn’t trouble herself to get out of the tree.
“Suit yourself,” I said. As long as she was still technically in–or above–her pen, I didn’t have much of an argument. When dealing with nanny goats, you pick your battles.
I suppose Aunt Hyacinth could be forgiven for trusting me to figure out the finer points of goat management for myself. And “for myself” was no exaggeration. Except when my sister, Phin, and I had run into town to get groceries, we hadn’t seen a soul all week. Well, besides Uncle Burt. But you didn’t so much see Aunt Hyacinth’s late husband as sense his presence now and then.
This was Aunt Hyacinth’s first vacation in ten years. The herb farm and the line of organic bath products she produced here had finally reached a point where she could take time off. And she was going to be gone for a month, halfway around the world on a cruise through the Orient, so she’d had a lot of instructions to cover. Even after she’d given Phin and me an exhaustive briefing on the care and feeding of the flora and fauna, even while my mom had waited in the luggage-stuffed van to take her to the airport in San Antonio, Aunt Hy had stood on the porch, hands on her hips, lips pursed in concentration.
“I’m sure I’m forgetting something,” she’d said, scanning the yard for some reminder. Then she laughed and patted my cheek. “Oh, why am I worried? You’re a Goodnight. And if any of us can handle a crisis, Amy, it’s you.”
That was too true. I was the designated grown-up in a family that operated in a different reality than the rest of the world. But if the worst I had to deal with was a herd of goat Houdinis, I’d call myself lucky.
Ana: 6 – Good solid fun
Thea: 7 – Ditto
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