Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Return to Foxworth Hall - A Review Of Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth

It has been nearly 37 years since the Gothic horror novel Flowers in the Attic written by the late V.C. Andrews was published. While the book was considered "trash" by critics and librarians, readers, especially teenagers, were entranced by the Dollanganger children. The incest storyline between an adolescent brother and sister is still taboo by many libraries, which is why the book and its sequels are still banned in some places around the world.

Three sequels, Petals on the Wind (1980), If There Be Thorns (1981) and Seeds of Yesterday (1984), were released before V.C. Andrews' death in 1986. The prequel novel, Garden of Shadows, was unfinished before her death, resulting in a ghostwriter (Andrew Neiderman) being hired to finish writing it, as well as writing each and every new V.C. Andrews title that followed.

Due to the popularity of the original book, Hollywood soon took notice. In 1987, the film adaptation of Flowers in the Attic was released to negative reviews from critics and fans, mostly due to the incest storyline not being used, as well as other changes, especially the film's ending. The only interesting factor from the movie is V.C. Andrews cameo that was filmed before her death.

The Dollanganger franchise seemed to be dead until a made-for-television version of Flowers in the Attic aired on Lifetime earlier this year. Despite being a watered-down adaptation, the film did use the incest storyline and stayed more faithful than the 1987 version. Though it received mixed-reviews from critics, the TV-movie received high ratings for Lifetime, resulting in a Petals on the Wind going into production within a few weeks. The sequel was also a watered-down-version of the book, but it did well-enough in ratings that Lifetime ordered the adaptations of If There Be Thorn and Seeds of Yesterday, both set to air sometime in 2015.

Being released today is the semi-sequel to the Dollanganger series, titled Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth written by the ghost author (Andrew Neiderman) under the name V.C. Andrews. The original series is beloved by fans, so entering back into the Dollanganger world is a little risky, especially since the last batch of ghostwritten books have received mixed to negative reaction from fans, mostly due to the way the books are now written, which is aimed towards a teenage audience instead of adults. Plus, the books have been lacking that Gothic feeling that V.C. Andrews was known for.

That being said, I was still interested in reading Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, which I
received an advanced galley copy back in late August.

Warning: There are spoilers!

Shortly after the events in Seeds of Yesterday, Bart Sheffield (at this point of time he is using the Foxworth last name) is now the sole owner of the new Foxworth Hall. Being haunted by the memories of his family (or ghosts), he has abandoned the mansion, letting the bank take ownership. Sometime in 2003, the mansion burned down to the ground for the second time.

Jump to the present day, where teenager, Kristin Masterwood, tags along with her father, who is supervising the demolition of what is left of Foxworth Hall. Kristin had always wanted to visit the Foxworth Hall, as her late mother was a third cousin to Malcolm Foxworth. She has heard wild tales about the four Foxworth children that were hidden in the mansion’s attic. But its just a legend right?

Her father finds a small locked box in the debris and inside the locked box was a diary, which of course Kristin takes claim of diary despite her father's objections. She thinks the book may give her insight on her Foxworth relatives, but as soon as she opens the journal she learns that the author is Christopher Dollanganger. Kristin is a typical teenage girl, dealing with her best friend’s problems and her developing relationship with Kane, but now she has an obsession - reading Christoper's diary and learning about the secrets of the Dollanganger siblings.

As you can see by the descriptions, this a loose-sequel, with not much of an actual plot except for Kristen reading the diary. The diary was given to Christopher by his father way before the events of Flowers in the Attic, so we do get to see how life was for Christopher and Cathy was before the twins, Cory and Carrie, were born and what was going on in Christopher's mind during the Flowers in the Attic events.

While Secrets of Foxworth is written slightly better than the recent ghostwriter books, it is still a far cry from V.C. Andrews' Gothic style. As I already said, the plot is pretty thin with the main character, Kristin, becoming obsessed with Christopher, almost to the point that she is actually seeing him. The other characters, especially Kane, are one dimensional and are poorly written. The last chapter and the silly epilogue both feel forced with Kristin and Kane pretending to be Cathy and Christopher.

After reading the book, I still have mixed-feeling about it. I mean in one way I like seeing the Flowers in the Attics events through Christopher's eyes, but then again the Kristin storyline goes absolutely nowhere, which left me wondering what was the point of the book being written in the first place. If you're going to write a spinoff or sequel, at least continue with Bart's storyline. Seeds of Yesterday is set in 2001, so he is mostly likely still alive. There is also Cathy and Chris's adopted daughter, Cynthia "Cindy" Sheffield, their son Jory and his wife Toni and Jory's kids, Deirdre and Darren that are still alive and can appear in potential sequels, but instead we get a half-baked premise with a long-distant cousin. Also, why didn't the ghostwriter use Cathy's manuscript (Seeds of Yesterday) that was locked in a vault for Kristin to find instead of a diary? There was no mention of the manuscript throughout the novel and considering the Foxwoth (Dollanganger) children are just a legend until Kristin found the book, you would think the obvious and most believable way to go would be to use Cathy's writings instead of inventing the idea that Christopher kept a diary.

There is already a sequel, titled Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger, scheduled to be released in January 2015. There is a sneak peek of the novel in the back of this book, which oddly looks to be better written than this book. There is also another sequel, titled Secret Brother (it drops the Christopher's Diaries title), scheduled to be released in May 2015!
I would love to hear your opinions about my review or your thoughts on the novel.

*Disclaimer - I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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