Review: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Book: Haunting Violet
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: June 21, 2011
Source: ARC received from I Read Banned Books Tour
Summary: (from Goodreads) Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother’s elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother’s scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she’s known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

First impressions: We first meet Violet as a 9 year old child in the opening chapter, and she quickly drew me in to her hard London life of poverty and cons. Her mother swindles the rich society ladies with fake Spiritualist readings and seances, while Violet follows the script and occasionally picks pockets. It was a fascinating setting for a ghost story.

Lasting impressions: One of my favorite reads so far in 2011. A historical gothic YA book that was equal parts frightening, delightful, and heartfelt.

Conflicting impressions: It seemed like there were a couple of inconsistencies, though I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I read an advance copy. A few times while reading I was scratching my head and flipping back through the pages, trying to figure out if we’d ever received that information before. At two different points, the color of Violet’s eyes becomes important, but I couldn’t find a mention of them at any time prior to these points. Odd.

Overall impressions: Quite simply, I wanted to hug this book when I was done with it. I wanted to climb under the covers and put it under my pillow, whispering “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” And of course, when it comes to explaining why exactly I loved it so much, I find myself coming up short.

Violet Willoughby has spent her entire life at the whim of her con artist mother’s moods and lies. Forced to help her mother with the various tricks and preparations for the then-uber-popular psychic readings and seances, Violet has never believed in spirits. Her mother, Celeste, has filled her head with lies about her father, and Celeste’s ego and beauty drive her to pursue a life of deceit (rather than honest work) in order to raise her young daughter.

Celeste is an awful person, and a worse mother. Unsatisfied with her poor station in life, and desperate to win her way into the society life of the peerage, she conducts herself as a medium – though she is a complete fraud. In order to pull off the various parlor tricks required for the seances and readings, she takes on a young boy named Colin, who also helps Violet pick pockets when they’re short on food money. It’s a hard life with few certainties save for the fact that Celeste will always be critical of Violet.

After a short chapter where we get a snapshot of this life when Violet is 9 and Colin is 11, we fast forward seven years to 1872. Violet, her mother, Colin, and a young maid are traveling to a country estate for a weeklong party held by an avid Spiritualist. It’s a big week for the family, and if they pull it off, it could mean the end of destitution and a real chance at a better life. Violet is being courted by a wealthy, handsome boy named Xavier, who can persuade his family to allow him to marry her (without a dowry!) based on her beauty and the fame of her mother. Violet seems ambivalent at best toward Xavier, but recognizes that without him she likely will face a life as a seamstress or cook.

I loved how well Alyxandra Harvey manages Violet’s feelings in this difficult historical time. She is play-acting the part of a lady while at this function, but she knows deep down that she doesn’t belong. The beautiful part is that she’s not sure she wants to. There is a certain freedom to being poor, without the expectations and rules and stifling conversations. Yet no one wants to stare a life of hard labor in the face and embrace it full on. Would she rather sew all day long until her fingers bleed or sit in a parlor drinking tea and reading books to her heart’s content? Not much of a question really, but she also struggles with whether being married to a dreadful bore is a price worth paying.

Shortly after arriving, and during the first of several readings by Celeste, Violet has a startling encounter with a ghost. Having never believed in them, it takes her a while to accept that she truly has developed the ability to speak to the dead. This is when the spooky kicks in. There are ouija boards, brushes with death, and various attempts to communicate before Violet, with the help of her friend Elizabeth, decides she must find out what happened to the ghost Rowena. Most of the book revolves around this murder mystery, and Violet was like our very own 19th century Nancy Drew. She bumbles around, trying to nose her way into everyone’s business to determine who killed Rowena, because if she doesn’t she’s afraid that either Rowena (and the other pesky spirits who are on to her new medium status) will never leave her alone, or the killer will strike again.

The mystery contains lots of red herrings and lots of action. I thought it was well paced and had appropriate amounts of clues thrown at us from time to time. Interspersed throughout the story are further complications to Violet’s well being and her relationship with her mother. There is a dramatic turn of events around the two-thirds point, and it serves as an important catalyst for Violet to decide what she wants out of life. She also starts to develop feelings for Colin, which only makes it more difficult to decide whether to marry Xavier.

Ultimately, this is a story about a girl who grew up never believing in the Spiritualist movement, only to wind up being a true medium herself. Violet must decide what to do with her gift – ignore it and whatever is bothering Rowena, or accept that she can choose to help people instead of exploit their grief like her mother did. Violet is such a likable character, with a quick wit and a heart of gold despite the hardships she endured under her controlling and wicked mother. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially if you at all enjoy historical or gothic tales.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system 


Thank you to I Read Banned Books Tour for lending me this copy!

Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review

11 thoughts on “Review: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

  1. I don't think I've seen many historical YA books. This one sounds interesting, though! I've added it to my TBR list. 🙂

  2. I don't think I've seen many historical YA books. This one sounds interesting, though! I've added it to my TBR list. 🙂

  3. "I wanted to climb under the covers and put it under my pillow, whispering 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…'"That is hilarious. I can picture it clearly 😛 I have a copy of this book and I can't wait to read it now!

  4. Wow, one of your favorite reads huh? Sounds like I need to pick this on up asap! I always have the hardest time writing the reviews for the books I love the most, it just never seems like I can put my thoughts into words correctly:) Lovely review!

  5. I LOVE Alyxandra Harvey's Drake Chronicles series. I am glad to hear this newest venture is awesome. It's on my list. I hope to get to it soon. I am taking a quick break from YA to read Gone With a Handsomer Man.

  6. Despite the confusion you ended up loving it? Okay, I must know. I've been wanting this for a bit now. You have me wanting it more. Ah… how many books have I hugged like that? Glad to know I'm not the only one. 😉

  7. I have yet to find a ghost story that works for me, but this one sounds promising. Of course being married to a bore is bearable if you get to read all day. 🙂

  8. I'm a fan of the Drake Chronicles, but Haunting Violet didn't really do it for me. It might because I'm not a ghosts fan, but I also know that the characters fell flat for me. The mother had no depth as a villain and I found Violet herself kind of blah. I also thought there were far too many people at the house-party, which is bad form for the kind of mystery Harvey was going for.

  9. For some reason, this one has passed under my radar. I can't recall any significant reviews for it. But I really love what you have to say about it. For whatever reason, I'm not usually into reading ghost stories in a modern day setting but I love them when combined with the gothic Victorian setting.

  10. @Amanda – I love historical YA. Sometimes adult historicals feel overly bogged down in details and smartypantsishness. The YA stuff has the nice period feel without it feeling like someone just adapted their dissertation into fiction.@Smalls – This is soooo your type of book. I hope you love it.@Jenny – Right? It's so hard for me to articulate exactly why I love my favorite books.@rockyriverteenlibrarian – I haven't heard of the Drake Chronicles before, so thank you! Off to look it up now. :)@Melissa – Definitely not the only one!@Elizabeth – Thanks! I'll check yours out too!@Missie – I think you could like this one. Give it a whirl!!@Ruby – How have I not heard of the Drake Chronicles? So out of the loop. I thought the characters were great, but I do agree that there were too many people at the party. I kept getting people confused and it would have been sharper with more of a Clue-the-movie amount of people.@Aylee – I haven't seen a lot of reviews either. I signed up for the tour just because of the summary and man am I glad I did!

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