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Houses of Stone Mass Market Paperback – January 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The bestselling romantic suspense author ( Vanish with the Rose ) falters here with a novel that lacks both romantic intrigue and suspenseful plotting. The story begins well, with vivid descriptive writing and convincing dialogue briskly setting up the premise. Karen Holloway, an ambitious assistant professor at an unnamed women's college in the Northeast, learns of a previously unpublished novel by a 19th-century author known only as Ismene. Since she herself made Ismene famous in the academic world by publishing a volume of her verse, Karen knows her reputation will skyrocket if she can buy the manuscript from the bookseller who found it and issue it with her commentary. She and her colleague Peggy Finneyfrock (a well-drawn character) travel to a dilapidated estate in Virginia's Tidewater region in search of clues to Ismene's identity. But other academics are also in hot pursuit, and Karen finds herself haunted by nightmares brought on by the claustrophobic themes in Ismene's work ("houses of stone" is a phrase from one of the pseudonymous author's poems). Michaels's attempt to bring feminist critical ideas into the mainstream results in conversations that sound like lectures, and her plot's initial momentum bogs down in extraneous details, overly intricate narrative twists and the sporadic appearances of Karen's prospective lovers, who seem decidedly secondary to the main story.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Michaels sets her heroine, Professor Karen Holloway, to the task of discovering the provenance of a remnant from an old manuscript. Holloway is convinced that it is a thinly disguised autobiographical novel by an obscure feminist poet whose verses have already helped Holloway carve a niche in the cutthroat business of academia. The professor's archenemies, two fellow literature experts, are equally convinced of the work's value and attempt desperate measures to gain access to the manuscript. Michaels has composed a mystery that is brimming with suspense yet revolves around authorial research rather than money and multiple murders. One of her best. Denise Perry Donavin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061582999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061582998
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "serracus" on February 11, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What a delight! This is a Gothic romance on at least three levels. It's like being invited to an intimate tea party with Ms Mertz (Ms Michaels' real name) together with a select group of literary types who love Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters and enjoy Ms Michaels' work, at which tea party she shares her trade secrets, explains her love for the genre and plays a clever parlour game with her guests.
At the most basic level, in the book the heroine is an English literature academic who discovers an unpublished manuscript of a Gothic romance written round about the beginning of the 18th century. Chunks of painfully but authentically purple prose are conjured up by Ms Michaels for our delectation, in the approved Gothic romance style, complete with a decrepit ancestral mansion, heroine in psychological distress and physical danger, a Deadly Family Secret, and two male protagonists either of whom could be the hero or the villain. More than a story, there is a real mystery as to who the writer is and how her novel related to real events.
Meanwhile, the heroine, while demonstrating the art of researching a gothic novel and expounding on the genre (e.g. as representing women's oppression and powerlessness in a male dominated world), is herself trapped in one. She is in physical danger, she has just escaped a suffocating marriage and is still ensure of precisely how she wishes to operate in a male dominated world, and she has to work out which of two men is the hero and which is the villain. There's even a Family Secret lurking. This is the level which usually constitutes a Barbara M, and this is handled with above average dexterity - snappy scenes, real characters and good pace.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 22, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I've reread this book at least half a dozen times, and the ending still gives me chills. It's writing like this that keeps me a faithful fan of Barbara Michaels', despite the occasional loser novel she comes up with.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 31, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I love this book. I enjoyed every minute with the lead character and thought her friends were the perfect foils to bring out her character quirks. The plot is fantastic--gothic horror, modern romance, feminist ideas, dueling lovers, best girlfriends--it's all here! I was in suspense to the very end, and I liked the ending. I've read this book twice so far and have recommended it to friends. Also, each chapter is headed by a pithy saying that you'll want to quote to certain men in your life. I wish Barbara Michaels would write a sequel (hint hint).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Min on June 7, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I love the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters, but I'm finding it hard to believe this book was written by the same person. The dialogue is lame, the characters are cliches, the humor falls flat, there is a lot of filler, the characters are constantly explaining things to each other (for the reader's benefit) that all of them should know already, and the plot goes nowhere fast. To be fair, the Amelia Peabody novels aren't terribly plot-focused either, but they are funny. This one just doesn't work.

On the positive side, I continue to be astonished by the virtuosity of the audiobook reader, Barbara Rosenblatt. I'd listen to just about anything if she was reading it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mara on May 18, 2005
Format: Audio Cassette
Others have already gone over the plot, so I'll only add that while this was a creepy novel (especially when as I listened, a real thunderstorm coincided with the one in the book!), it was also spiced with enough moments of humor and interesting plot twists to keep me riveted.

The characters - aided by Barbara Rosenblat's expert narration - were rich and diverse, and I'd even enjoy meeting a few of them - like Peggy, the acerbic yet fiesty older friend - in real life.

This is only the second book by Barbara Michaels I've listened to, but it encourages me to check out more of her work!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. K. Leggate on January 10, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Professor Karen Halloway has been given the rare oppurtunity to own an obscure literary work of signifcant value to the literary community. With the help of a few of her closest collegues she struggles to discover all she can before her compitition does. Two fellow literature experts, are equally convinced of the work's value and attempt desperate measures to gain access to the manuscript. This novel is full of twists and turns that keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Subtle romance is also a big plus. I couldn't wait to discover what the ending held in store.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 9, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Barbara Michaels (Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz) pens two kinds of thrillers: plodding, humorless and unsympathetic, or sparkling with wit and liveliness. This is one of the latter, and displays that Ms. Michaels is also an intelligent literary person (and that Nate Hawthorne was a nauseating chauvinist)
English professor Karen Holloway once found a privately printed book of poetry from the eighteenth/nineteenth century, by "Ismene." After the poetry becomes a roaring success, she is summoned by a friend named Simon, who shows her a battered old manuscript -- also by Ismene. Karen is desperate to have the Gothic thriller, which follows the beautiful Ismene and her empty-headed sister Clara as they arrive at their cousin's enormous mansion. A brooding doctor, stormy weather, hidden house and a ghastly figure complete the Gothic sense.
Karen encounters a little drama of her own -- due to the success of Ismene's poetry, a bunch of other writers are trying to get their hands on the manuscript. The locals are acting more than a little odd also, either unhelpful or deliberately searching...
And as Karen deciphers the old story, she begins to wonder about it. Is it just a story that the talented Ismene created, or is it a memoir of terror and deception from long ago? Ismene's unfinished manuscript and a haunting line of poetry may hold the key.
Though the label "feminist" on Karen may turn off some readers, she's not really a feminazi -- rather, she has to deal with the very real sexism of her male colleagues, who scorn such authors as Jane Austen and George Eliot.
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