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Cruel Sister by Deborah Grabien
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Fourth in a series. Folk musician and old house restorer Ringan Laine and his partner Penny, who heads a theatre company, keep coming across ghosts whose stories are connected with old ballads. They can't get rid of the ghosts until they find the nugget of truth at the heart of the ballad. In this book, Ringan does more than see and hear ghosts, with quite terrifying results. Excellent book especially for folk music aficionados. ( )
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes's brother returns unexpectedly to England with a bride Penny has never met, and queries whether her significant other (I do hate that phrase) Ringan Lane would be available to help in the building of the extravagant dream home the couple envisions for the plot of land they own on the Isle of Dogs. They plan a Tudor manor house accurate in every detail to that time period, except for certain details which will be thoroughly modern – the layout and appearance of a 15th century estate, with the windows and mod cons of a 21st century luxury home.

Ringan, of course, is delighted with the idea.

Until he visits the site. The ground feels swampy to him, though no one else notices anything, and then … voices and visions and dreams and unexplained circumstances ensue, and Penny and Ringan are once more over their heads into another ghost story.

This time the point in the past which is trying to ooze out into the present involves a girl, running; dogs, chasing; Henry VIII, being very much Henry VIII … The ballad is, as it says on the tin (I love that phrase), "Cruel Sister", also known as "The Twa Sisters" or "Binnorie":

A knight came riding to the ladies' door
He travelled far to be their wooer
He courted one with gloves and rings
But the other he loved above all things

… (from another version)

And when they came unto the sea-brym,
The elder did push the younger in.

There are reasons Ringan is the one under assault in this story, and they're slightly life-altering. And we get to meet his mother, which is much more enjoyable on the page than it would be in person.

There is a certain sameness inevitable in the books in this series … Whatever the physical setting, whatever the specifics of the case, the same basic set of circumstances shows up in all of the Haunted Ballads books: either Ringan or Penny or someone close to them has a harrowing experience, then another, lives are endangered, someone realizes the connection to another ballad, and some alchemy is performed with the music to lay the ghost, and all is well. While there is danger, the series seems to have proven that Deborah Grabien isn't going to let any of these lovely people be killed off by the ghoulies and ghaesties, nor even permanently scarred. (Auxiliary characters, spear-carriers, maybe; the main corps, never.) The danger they're in is akin to watching a truly horrific horror movie in 3-D – scary as hell, but in the end safe. And I'm fine with that, really; I like them all too much to want to see Penny or Ringan or any of her troupe or his band sacrificed on the altar of realism.

And this criticism is not to say I don't love these books. They're very well written – intelligent and humorous at times while at other times the threat is sharp and terrifying, or thick and panic-inducing – and the characters are people I wish I could go have lunch with and watch perform. Their reactions feel genuine – and even they have a tinge of "Not again!" But the danger to the characters feels real, and in each book the mode of attack is different, the nature of the haunting is different, the way the events tie in to the history and the song is different. But even if each ghost story were a carbon copy of the last I would still read it and enjoy it for Ringan and Penny. They and Ringan's band Broomfield Hill and Ringan's country squire neighbor are wonderful to spend time with. It's frustrating that the band is recording a new album here – I want it. ( )
1 vote Stewartry | Oct 10, 2011 |
Interesting story, interesting link. I liked that it was Ringan in the middle this time, and Penny worrying about him. And Stephen and Tamsin are great. The mystery itself wasn't bad (though I did groan about getting stuck in Henry VIII politics again!); the song applied quite strongly. Ringan's plight near the end and how he was saved was excellent. The final-chapter explanation of a loose end struck me as rather weak this time - the loose end wasn't particularly important, and I don't believe the bomb could have wiped it all out anyway - or rather, I don't believe they dug it all up. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Oct 18, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312357575, Hardcover)

Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes's brother has returned from Hong Kong with a comfortable fortune and a new bride and is planning to build a house on land he's inherited. Because they want a house as much like an Elizabethan mansion as its "mod cons" will allow, they ask Penny's lover, Ringan Laine, to work on it as a consultant. Ringan is not only a noted musician but also a designer and architect well versed in the first Elizabeth's colorful period.
The house is to be on the Isle of Dogs, and Penny's brother, his new wife, and Penny herself are delighted with the site. Ringan, however, comes away feeling very uncomfortable. A few weeks later, in London on business, he goes back alone, hoping to clear up any misgivings he has about the place. But this visit is even worse than the first. He hears women's voices, frightening and full of passion, coming from the air around him.
That evening, Ringan is sleeping in Penny's flat; she has taken her theater troupe to Italy. A late-night phone call from Penny reveals to them both that they had an identical dream. In it, two young women on the Isle of Dogs are fighting. One is begging the other not to drown her. Their speech and their clothes put them firmly in the reign of Henry VIII. Once more, Penny and Ringan are being visited by tragic spirits from their country's past.  
This is the fourth in Deborah Grabien's gripping and unusual Haunted Ballad series. Her stories pair two sophisticated and very likable people whose lives are invaded by tortured souls from England's history. With each encounter, Penny and Ringan are forced to find a way to lay a long-suffering ghost to rest.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:27 -0400)

"Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes's brother has returned from Hong Kong with a comfortable fortune and a new bride and is planning to build a house on land he's inherited. Because they want a house as much like an Elizabethan mansion as its "mod cons" will allow, they ask Penny's lover, Ringan Laine, to work on it as a consultant. Ringan is not only a noted musician but also a designer and architect well versed in the first Elizabeth's colorful period." "The house is to be on the Isle of Dogs, and Penny's brother, his new wife, and Penny herself are delighted with the site. Ringan, however, comes away feeling very uncomfortable. A few weeks later, in London on business, he goes back alone, hoping to clear up any misgivings he has about the place. But this visit is even worse than the first. He hears women's voices, frightening and full of passion, coming from the air around him.""That evening, Ringan is sleeping in Penny's flat; she has taken her theater troupe to Italy. A late-night phone call from Penny reveals to them both that they had an identical dream. In it, two young women on the Isle of Dogs are fighting. One is begging the other not to drown her. Their speech and their clothes put them firmly in the reign of Henry VIII. Once more, Penny and Ringan are being visited by tragic spirits from their country's past." "This is the fourth in Deborah Grabien's unusual Haunted Ballad series. Her stories pair two sophisticated and very likable people whose lives are invaded by tortured souls from England's history. With each encounter, Penny and Ringan are forced to find a way to lay a long-suffering ghost to rest."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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