“Emery cut in impatiently, ‘For crying out loud. Who do you think you are, Nancy Drew?’
‘Hey,’ I snapped, because no one sniped at my sister but me, and Mark echoed with a stern ‘Chill, dude.’
Phin was unperturbed. ‘Those books were highly unrealistic. Do you have any idea how much brain damage a person would have if she were hit on the head and drugged with chloroform that often?’”
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Texas Gothic is the first book in the Goodnight Family Series. However, each book in the Goodnight Family Series can be read as a stand-alone book as each book features a different member of the Goodnight family and a separate mystery/adventure. The Goodnight family is not your average family. Every Goodnight has an affinity towards the supernatural (e.g., magic, clairvoyance, or mediumism). In Texas Gothic, Amy Goodnight is looking after her aunt Hyacinth’s ranch while she is away. When a ghost pops up in Amy’s bedroom in the middle of the night, the wall she has kept between her “normal” life and the “paranormal” comes crashing down. The ghost wants something from Amy, but can she stop denying who she truly is–a Goodnight–and help the ghost before it is too late?
Texas Gothic has a really strong Nancy Drew vibe, particularly The Secret of Shadow Ranch. The mystery itself reads like Nancy Drew 101; Amy and her sister Phin are staying on a ranch in Texas, human bones are uncovered on their neighbour’s land; the town expects Amy to solve the mystery of the “Mad Monk” ghost whose been haunting the town for years and whose bones are believed to have been found; Good old detective work in the middle of the night; sexy cowboys; greedy villains; and actual ghosts which is a nice twist on the classic Nancy Drew stories where Nancy disproves the existence of ghosts in favour of a more logical explanation. Of course, the mystery in Texas Gothic is easy to solve, but that’s part of what makes the feel of the book so nostalgic. I didn’t mind that the mystery was a no-brainer because I was enjoying the Nancy Drew feel to the book too much, right down to the classic knock-out and kidnap of the girl detective!
I liked Amy as a main protagonist. She was sassy and witty, although not quite as entertaining as Daisyin Spirit and Dust (Goodnight Family #2). I love Clement-Moore’s ability to write characters with such strong voices. Amy’s personality comes through every sentence in the book. I loved that because I really came to know Amy well. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the book that had me laughing aloud.
“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 liked the interactions between Amy and Phin. Phin is a witch who is fanatical about scientific gadgets for measuring the paranormal. She is always working on one experiment or another. Amy desperately denies her Goodnight genes, and has self-appointed herself as protector of the Goodnight family’s witchery ways. To be honest, I’m usually not keen on characters that act older than their age because this is usually the result of authors writing characters that are too wise for their age. I did regularly forget that Amy is only seventeen. However, the older voice actually suited Amy’s character well because she’s the responsible one who does her best to protect her family from being ridiculed by others. Amy is constantly jumping in to protect her sister from blurting out information about ghosts and magic without thinking about how other people might react.
At first, I enjoyed the chemistry between Amy and Ben McCullough, the neighbour who owns the land where the human remains were found. The instant physical attraction coupled with the instant dislike of each other’s personality was entertaining. The witty exchanges often had me smiling. As the book progressed though, I became somewhat irritated with their relationship. Ben didn’t really grow as a character. Although, the reader did catch some glimpses into a lighter and more pleasant side to Ben, overall he remained grumpy and rather mean during his exchanges with Amy. Amy was pretty witty, but she often became distracted by Ben’s hotness which brought the witty banter to an end. I think the back and forth would have worked better if Amy hadn’t been so distracted by Ben. Also, this type of back and forth relationship where the characters start off disliking each other but their attraction wins out is also used in Spirit and Dust. Out of the two books,Texas Gothic and Spirit and Dust, I think the chemistry between Daisy and Carson in Spirit and Dust was better. Also, as a general gripe about both books: at some point, the male characters (Ben in Texas Gothic and Carson in Spirit and Dust) both act like real jackasses during a poignant argument with the female characters (Amy in Texas Gothic and Daisy in Spirit and Dust). I don’t mind the arguments at all because the female characters give the male characters what for and, on the whole, have the last word. However, afterwards the female characters simply forgive the male characters and act as though nothing happened. This didn’t sit too well with me. I wanted the female characters to keep their resolve a little longer.
Overall, I think that the pace of the book is consistent, but slow. There wasn’t really any point in the book where I was racing through the pages, but I did enjoy what I was reading. I do think that people that don’t find the Nancy Drew style of the book nostalgic might become a little bored in places. I believe that the slow pace is primarily because there’s more detective work than there are ghosts and witches. Yes, Phin uses gadgets to measure the ghostly activity, but these only results in something interesting once or twice. And, yes, Amy does see the ghost several times, but she often clams up because she’s so cold and doesn’t actually do anything. The herbal products that contain spells are interesting, but they purely create a sense of how different the Goodnight family is. One particular spell towards the end of the book was interesting, but nothing that hasn’t been done before. Overall, I found the paranormal content to be lacking and that was frustrating because there was so much potential for a stronger paranormal themes. For example, Amy could have accepted her true Goodnight nature much sooner in the plot and actively used her ability to communicate with ghosts, but she didn’t. She really only manages to help the ghost out in the end because she happens to be in the right place. Amy doesn’t actively do anything, in my opinion. I also think there was a lot of jargon in the book about different types of ghosts, which could have been interesting to expand on. I knew what some types of ghosts were because I had read Spirit and Dust first, but other people might be frustrated by this. I think in terms of the paranormal content, I much prefer Spirit and Dust, although the mystery itself is more believable in Texas Gothic.
Final Verdict: If you like the Nancy Drew, you’ll enjoy Texas Gothic. Think of Amy as the modern day Nancy Drew, but where the mysteries include actual ghosts!