Garden of Shadows (Dollanganger #5), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

With all the drama of the Dollanganger saga done, it would seem that everything is as it should be. However, how did it all start and what led to such a fire and brimstone sentimentality that Bart ended up exuding upon reading his great-grandfather’s journals? V.C. Andrews answers this in this final instalment, a prequel of sorts, that takes that story far into the past, before things got out of hand. Olivia Winfield was a quiet girl, though her height and gangly nature made her more wholesome than attractive to many. The daughter of a successful businessman, Olivia was without a mother to guide her as she came of age. When Malcolm Foxworth came calling one day, Olivia was surprised that he would pay her any attention. Their whirlwind romance soon led to a wedding and Olivia’s move from Connecticut to Foxworth Hall in Virginia. When she arrived at this mansion, Olivia was in awe and it took her a while to absorb it all. She began to learn that all the servants and formal processes were only part of what she will have to learn, as Malcolm had a strong affinity for his departed mother, a woman who fled the family when he was all of five years of age. In time, Olivia and Malcolm welcomed two boys into the house, Mal and Joel, though both wished for a daughter. It is only when surprise houseguests arrive that the household got a great deal more interesting. With the arrival of Garland Foxworth, Malcolm is excited to see his father back, though he brought along a new bride of only eighteen. Alicia was young and quite clueless as to the ways of the world. She was also pregnant, meaning that Malcolm would soon have a half-sibling close to his children’s age. As Olivia tried to bond with Alicia, she discovered that there were some troubling aspects to the young woman’s life. It would seem Foxworth men have wiles that cannot be ignored, though their ability to win over the ladies was second to none. After Garland passed away, Malcolm reluctantly agreed to let Alicia stay in the house, now the mother to a little baby boy, Christopher. Given her own wing of the house, Alicia was left to wallow in the memory of her lost husband, all but incapable of caring for her son. When Olivia discovered that Alicia is being taken advantage of by Malcolm, she could not sit idly by, though there was little she could do to stop his antics. Locked away in the attic, Alicia became the first prisoner ever kept there, away from the eyes of others, at least until Olivia could put her plan into action. With a new child in the house, Corinne, the family expanded and Malcolm showed a troubling affinity towards her, favouring Corrine over the other children in the house. As Olivia grew older and watched her children mature, the family suffered other tragedies, hinted at in other books within the series. With this knowledge, Olivia became more jaded and heartless, transforming into the woman series fans came to know throughout the Dollanganger novels. A wonderfully written prequel that does lay the groundwork for much of the series, yet still full of wonderful twists that most readers would not have seen coming.

V.C. Andrews brings this highly controversial series to a close by opening the door to how it all began, if that makes any sense. The series is situated within the ‘young adult horror’ genre, but the plots have been able to hold my attention without getting too corny. In this book, the reader discovers much of the needed foundational information about the Foxworth family and how they came to hold such animosity. There are wonderful vignettes that put much of the concerns from the first two Dollanganger books into perspective here. OIivia finally gets her time in the limelight, giving the reader some time to get to know more about her. While the series fan knows her as The Grandmother, there is much more to her than the ruthless matriarch who wants nothing to do with the Dollangangers. Olivia enters life as a Foxworth with much hope, though it is dashed as soon as she discovers that Malcolm is highly duplicitous. Olivia shows some of her own conniving nature, which she justifies as protecting the family name. The attentive reader will be in for some wonderful and impactful surprises throughout, giving Olivia Foxworth new dimensions. Others who play key roles in the story help to create a wonderful narrative that fills the reader with wonder and confusion, particularly Malcolm Foxworth. His move to being highly religious and moralistic comes over time, though there are certainly some justified occurrences that push him in that direction. With a handful of other characters who reemerge throughout the series, this opening book proves to be highly intriguing. Set as an addendum to Olivia’s will, one can suppose that this novel is both a prequel and later revelation in the series, putting much in order that may not have been known beforehand. The surprises are plentiful and the story flows quite well, without much of the drama embedded in the rest of the series. The reader will be able to piece this all together and enjoy learning about some of the happenings that laid the groundwork for the banishment of the twins to the attic in the opening chapters of Flowers in the Attic. A great read that shows V.C. Andrews plotted this entire series out well before her death soon after this novel’s original publication.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for allowing me a chance to see how the entire Dollanganger/Foxworth drama began and developed. While I have even surprised myself with how enthused I was to read it, I cannot deny it was an intriguing ride and one I would recommend to the patient reader who can sift through some corny plots.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Seeds of Yesterday (Dollanganger #4), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

In the final novel that depicts the chronological progress of this most unique family unit, V.C. Andrews offers the reader even more insight into the ways the Dollangangers have become intertwined and how these connections create unforeseen offshoots that rattle the familial foundation. Chris and Cathy Sheffield (Dollanganger) are back in Virginia, still holding onto their secret, though its strength is slowly waning. Invited back to Foxworth Hall by Bart, who is about to celebrate his 25th birthday, they have come to see that he is still the religious pillar who judges others. Having been willed this mansion in his grandmother’s will, Bart has rebuilt it to reflect the days of old, not knowing some of the painful memories that it evokes. Jory and his wife, Melodie, are back as well, ready to help Bart celebrate, though always dodging his moralistic speeches. When Cindy arrives to celebrate with her brother, she is no longer the little girl the reader will remember, but a voluptuous teenage knockout who turns heads everywhere she goes. Bart has many surprises for the family, none more so than the revelation that one of Malcolm Foxworth’s sons, presumed dead, was actually alive and in hiding. Uncle Joel is as judgemental as Bart, with his past as a monk, and ready to keep the Sheffields in line. When Melodie admits that she is pregnant and will not be able to dance with Jory in a special ballet for the birthday celebrations, Cindy steps in. However, something goes tragically wrong and Jory is seriously hurt, leaving him unable to walk. As sly as he is judgmental, Bart hones in on Melodie’s ache, as Jory has lost his ability for intimacy, and he takes up with her. Shocked to discover them, Cathy can only wonder if the family curse is coming to pass yet again. Were that not enough, Cindy’s teenage brain has her wanting to give in to all the lustful thoughts that cross it, allowing the boys to dominate her curves and alluring body. When Melodie goes into labour, she cannot wait to rid herself of what is inside her, admitting that she never wanted to be a mother. Jory suffers not only with his paralysis, but upon hearing this must wonder if he chose the wrong woman to stand beside him. Melodie flees Foxworth Hall as soon as she can, leaving Jory and the rest of the Sheffields to raise the next generation. While Bart is still as critical as ever, he sets his sights on a new conquest, hoping that this will finally meet all the needs he has rummaging around inside him. However, Foxworth Hall and these Dollanganger offspring seem never to be able to take the easy road. Andrews brings some interesting finality to this series, spinning new and dastardly webs to a family that has seen so much over the past number of years. Series fans who have made it this far will likely enjoy this final piece, but there is no end to the odd storylines that have turned many readers away.

As V.C. Andrews brings this highly controversial series to a close, she does so with a bang for her fans. While the series remains part of the ‘young adult horror’ genre, the plots have held my attention and not been too corny. I know some have steered away from this series and tell me they are surprised that I have not left it to fade from my memory, but I wanted to say that I made it to the end, tying up all the loose ends left throughout. Bart plays a central role in this piece, if only because he is tapping into the religious and moralistic code left by his great-grandfather and Foxworth patriarch, Malcolm. This young man speaks of a world of sin and duplicity, then rushes off to act in such a way that the reader is left to scratch their head. With no one safe from his ‘fire and brimstone’ sentiments, characters must dodge his comments on most anything while living under the roof of his exceptional mansion. Jory’s debilitating accident offers new challenges and development for this other central character, as he learns to live without the use of his legs and is forced to watch his wife turn to another man—his brother, no less—to find sexual comfort. Jory is determined to make something of himself and be the father he has dreamed he could be, even if everyone is discounting him. Chris and Cathy, long the central characters in the series, have grown closer throughout, learning the pitfalls of their romantic decision as well as seeing the children they raised make choices of their own. With many struggles found in more traditional family units, V.C. Andrews tosses struggle and joy at this two, as she has done throughout the series. With plots and tangential storylines throughout, Andrews thickens the plot until the very end, leaving the reader to wonder what is around the corner for them in this unpredictable series. With many of the plot lines tied off—some in quite drastic ways—it would seem there is little else to know. However, Andrews is not quite done with this series, as she leaves the dedicated reader to wonder how things got started all those years ago. One final novel, a prequel, takes the story back to the beginning, long before there were children—or flowers—in any attic. I think we’ll head there to see what it is all about.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for keeping me entertained throughout. This has been quite the ride since I took the daring plunge into seeing what the series was all about. Now, I am hooked and must see how it ends…or all began!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

If There Be Thorns (Dollanganger #3), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

No matter how chaotic one’s life can be, running away can sometimes only make things worse. Chris and Cathy have tried to do this, fleeing the horrors of South Carolina and Virginia for the wonders of California. With Bart and Jory alongside them, Cathy’s boys are ready to enjoy a quieter life. While both know their fathers have passed on, neither Bart nor Jory realise that Chris is not their true step-father—the story they have been told—and that their mother has been fostering numerous secrets from her past. When a wealthy woman moves in next door, both boys develop an interest in learning more about their neighbour. This veiled and elderly woman seems to have a full complement of staff, including a curt butler who keeps them away from the wall separating the properties. Never one to let a wall deter him, Bart develops a relationship with the woman, who asks that he call her ‘grandmother’, seeking gifts and promises at every turn. When Bart is not in the presence of the mistress of the house, the wily butler seeks to advise Bart that this woman is actually his mother’s mother and that the Foxworth family has many secrets about which the boys ought to know. Bart is presented with a journal from his great-grandfather, Malcolm Foxworth, the patriarch from the original novel in the series who started much of the chaos that has created issues for the past few decades. Bart begins to exhibit highly troubling behaviours, at times thinking himself Malcolm reincarnated. As Chris and Cathy become concerned about Bart’s behaviour, they welcome a new addition to the family, adopting young Cindy, creating a new and interesting dynamic in the household. When Jory and Bart are told the truth about Chris and Cathy’s connection, the understanding that the incestuous relationship has been building for years. Torn about how to feel about the revelations, Jory must help extract Bart from the clutches of their grandmother and keep the Foxworth past from tainting their bucolic life in California. However, as the series fan will know, when it comes to the Dollangangers and Foxworths, nothing is done smoothly or without dramatic flair. As the narrative builds and all secrets are revealed, someone will have to pay as both sides wrestle for control of Jory and Bart and the blood history coursing through their veins. Another interesting addition by V.C. Andrews that presents some interesting loose threads for the final novel chronological novel in the series. I’ll have to see how it ends, if only to quell my curiosity. Series fans may enjoy this one, though some may begin to wonder if things have stretched past their plausible limits.

As V.C. Andrews continues to spin the web that is this series, she seeks to add depth for her readers. While one must understand that the series remains part of the ‘young adult horror’ genre, the plots have not been too vapid, nor are they as sexually shocking as in the previous two novels. Still, Andrews seems to branch out and create storylines for two characters from the next generation of Dollanganger offspring. Jory and Bart take the reins of narrative control in this piece, permitting the reader to explore their lives as the struggles they both possess. Jory has some understanding of his past, but was duped into believing that his mother was mostly virtuous after his own father’s death years ago. He is also the moral compass as he tries to steer clear of the woman next door, who gives off a vibe of awkwardness and eerie darkness. His own life is that of a dancer, though he can see his younger brother becoming more and more troublesome. Bart, on the other hand, knows little about the torment that his own conception and birth brought to the family. Series fans will know that Bart’s birth was part of a complex tug-of-war between Cindy and her mother, trying to lure the same man into their own lives. Now, Bart seems highly susceptible to the wiles of both his maternal grandmother and her sadistic butler, who wants to create a new Malcolm Foxworth. As Chris and Cindy remain staples in the story, other than the revelation of their ongoing incestuous actions, they play a smaller part of the overall plot. Still, there are some struggles they face with their three children. Many others make appearances throughout to thicken the plot, though much of the story relates to learning more bout Malcolm’s past, which may shed a great deal of light on the highly religious and strict moral code that Chris and Cindy faced as children. Perhaps the least dramatic or shocking of the three books to date, Andrews still takes readers on a rollercoaster ride throughout and tries to plant new and interesting offshoots in the major plot of her series. With some of the drastic goings-on towards the end of the book, there is no doubt the final novel in the chronological aspect of the series will have much to solve, keeping curious readers enthralled and wondering. In a series that seems to spark much nostalgia for many readers, I am interested to let my adult sensibilities act as a literary sieve to offer some modern sentiments.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for keeping me wondering throughout this piece. I know some feel things have gone too far off the rails to be plausible, but some suspension of reality is surely expected by you to keep the plots fresh and surprising.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Petals on the Wind (Dollanganger #2), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

After a memorable first novel in the series, I found myself wanting to know more about these Dollangangers, particularly after they escaped their prison-like situation in the attic. Fuelled with anger, determination, and hopes of rectifying all the wrongs done to them by a sadistic grandmother and a greedy mother, the children flee for safer environs as they plot their revenge. After escaping from the attic, Chris, Cathy, and Carrie find themselves heading South, in hopes of making it to Florida. However, a medical emergency stops their progress, as Carrie is showing signs of something. Locating Dr. Paul Sheffield, they soon learn the extent to the remaining twin’s illness, which can be directly traced back to their captors. With nowhere to go, the children tell their story to Paul, who takes them in and shares his own truths. He is a widower and lost a son years ago, but would gladly help support and protect these three. As the story progresses, all three have their lives changed with proper education and strive for their dreams. Chris speeds through school and attends college before entering medical school, Cathy is able to study ballet at one of the great schools in the region before moving to New York to pursue her passion full-time, while Carrie stays close to home and develops a strong connection with her new father. However, the problems that wove their way into the children’s lives during their imprisonment cannot be completely forgotten or rectified. Chris and Cathy still have that connection to one another, seeing themselves not only as the two older siblings, but passionately involved as they came to understand love on a deeper level, which led to exploring it with each other. Cathy now finds herself also drawn to Paul, who offers her the world and himself, if only she will submit to his sexual advances. Cathy’s love life is also hampered when her dance partner—Julian, a regular Casanova—explains that they ought to be together to enable the best chemistry possible. In a fit of confusion, Cathy chooses Julian and enters into a dictatorial relationship, all while still trying to be a dancer. Carrie, on the other hand, is trying to fit in, having been incapacitated by a small stature and poor development. She is mocked at school, finding solace only in the loving arms of Paul, who again blurs some of the parent/adult lines. While Carrie is determined that she will love only him forever more, their relationship does not enter the sexual realm. As Chris continues his studies, he is determined that he and his closest sister belong together, particularly when he can protect her from the evils of the world. Even as Cathy admits that she is pregnant, Chris seeks to forget the abusive husband she left in her past and will make the most of ensuring this baby has all it needs to survive. With revenge still on their minds, Chris, Cathy, and Carrie plot to find their beloved mother and grandmother, vowing to bring them what they have coming, no matter what it takes. As V.C. Andrews pushes the envelope even further, it becomes clear that scandal and non-traditional love will be a major theme as the series continues. While I am not sure I can recommend the series to any particular group, those readers with an open mind may find something interesting in the layers of scandal that occur throughout.

While the opening novel in the series, Flowers in the Attic, was one I recently read for a reading challenge (see below), I found myself curious to see how the story would continue. Able to justify my curiosity by also being able to use this book for another topic in the same challenge, I thought I might as well dip my toe into the water just a little more to see what those Dollangangers were doing and how revenge might be accomplished. I will admit that with Cathy in the spot of narrator, she presents as the primary protagonist in this piece. Her character development is ongoing and quite thorough, particularly as the reader receives insights into her thoughts and feelings. I will be the first to admit that even with an open mind, it is hard to sit idly by while reading and learn of her lust for a brother (Chris), a surrogate father (Paul), and a lover/eventual husband (Julian) without cringing. Andrews weaves many of these sexual relationships together and Cathy justifies them all as having been emotionally and physically starved while locked in the attic. What might shock readers most is that there is but minuscule hesitation when entering these sexual encounters, as if life in the attic allows one to ignore the red flags. A deny this, as it has become clear that Cathy uses sex and allure as a weapon, even if she seeks it as a crutch. Chris and Carrie receive decent storylines as well, as they age throughout the book, though they seem more focussed on personal and professional progress throughout (save Chris’ ongoing flirtation and physical encounters with his sister). Andrews will surely have to toss some more controversy around amongst these other children, as well as with the new children who emerge in the latter portion of the story, to ‘spread the soil’, if I may borrow a loose metaphor from the first two books. The plot is surely not stellar, but one cannot expect miracles in something labelled ‘young adult horror’. Still, like a car wreck, it is sometimes hard to turn away as I wonder what the hell V.C. Andrews will do next. I am no Freud, so I choose not to analyse her writing for signs of anything buried in her psyche, but this is surely not a normal series, which has caused a great deal of controversy over the years. Thankfully, the sex is not too gratuitous and the narrative seems to flow well, though I won’t be putting it forward for any literary awards, even all these years later. Books like this show how far authors can go while still garnering the interest of the reader. I will admit to being curious about where things will go, like a bad guilty pleasure. I will be the first to admit that I am not sticking around simply to read about salacious sibling sexual seduction! How’s that for alliteration?

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for an ever-intriguing story that has me scratching my head. I can see where the buzz came from and can only imagine what teenagers would say nowadays if they got their hands on this series.

This book fulfils Topic #4:Made You Blush in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger #1), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

With the novel that put V.C. Andrews on the map—and set the book-reading world aflutter—this piece seeks to explore the darkest and most seedy side of familial interactions and the extend to which blood can blind when placed in front of an extreme moral code. The Dollanganger family are living a wonderful life, two loving parents and four well-behaved children—Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie. When news comes that the patriarch has died in a fiery crash, changes must be made. A slew of letters go out, seeking assistance, though the replies are slow. When Mother receives word from her own parents that she and the children may come to Virginia, the entire Dollanganger brood are overjoyed. However, there are certain stipulations. As Mother was tossed out of her childhood home and disinherited, she must hide the children away until she can convince her father to write her back into the will. And, he knows nothing of the children and can never be made aware. With all four children baffled about these strict rules, they are forced to accept that their mother knows best. Upon arriving at this old mansion, the children are introduced to their grandmother, who is as steely as she was made out to be. The children are locked in a room on the upper floor, forced to remain quiet, so as not to make their presence known to anyone. Receiving food once a day, these children must follow a regimen that includes highly moralistic rules and strong biblical teachings. The one night they are to be stashed away becomes a week, a month, and then more than a year. Chris and Cathy mature into young adulthood and become the surrogate parents to their younger twins. Trying to find a way out, they discover that this prison is one worse than they could have imagined. With the wickedness only increasing and their mother beginning to plot out her own life, winning her parents over after a scandalous union that saw her banished fifteen years ago, these children learn that they will have to fend for themselves. Hormones coursing through them and blood boiling at the deception they faced, it is time to take action, or remain wilting flowers in this gloomy attic forever. Chilling and graphic at times, Andrews has me hooked and wanting to know more. Recommended to the reader who has heard all about these pieces or remembers them from when they were released, but likely not a good book for readers who cannot stomach some odd inter-familial behaviours.

I knew little of the book before I began reading it, save that V.C. Andrews presented a high-impact incestuous storyline throughout. However, as scandalous as it sounds, the reader may better understand this underlying thread once they are able to explore the novel and series a little deeper. The characters come to life on the page, particularly the narration through the eyes of Cathy. As the surrogate mother, the reader is able to see her enter a forced maturity, from the apple of her father’s eye to fending for herself while protecting her younger siblings. Chris has the same maturation, though he presents as a little more standoffish before an intoxication with power, which some readers may justify while others condemn strongly. Other strong and supporting characters help fuel the cruel undertone of the piece, including The Grandmother and the children’s mother herself, giving the reader a sobering look at the extent to which some will exact their own moralistic code in order to keep some in line. Other readers may see an ongoing vapidity in these two, out of touch with what children need to foster strong and healthy characters. The story was surely disturbing on many levels, though I cannot see the extreme scandal in today’s more open-mined society as would have been present in the late 1970s and early 80s. Surely, as the book is deemed “Young Adult Horror”, those who read the book at the time have grown, as I have, to better understand some of the literary and societal nuances not grasped at the time. Not to say that this is condoned behaviour, taken out of context. I would like to read the rest of the series to see what is to come… but must wrestle with my TBR pile in order to give it the time it deserves.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for a fabulous and surely memorable opening novel in this series. I will return to see how these flowers grow and what blossoms emerge.

This book fulfils Topic #2:Remember… in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons