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Trip the Light Phantasmic by Judith Sterling is a Trick or Treat Bonanza pick #cozymystery #giveaway

Title: Trip the Light Phantasmic

Author: Judith Sterling

Genre: Gothic cozy mystery

Book Blurb:

Gwyneth Camm has just inherited her great-aunt’s house in Salem, Massachusetts, along with an extensive collection of gothic romance novels. As a PhD student who prefers “serious” books, Gwyn has always avoided pulp fiction. Now, in honor of her beloved Aunt Ethel, she gives one of the gothics a try…and promptly falls asleep.

When she wakes, she finds herself inside the story, thrust by forces unknown into the heroine’s role. There’s magic afoot, and the only way back to her own life is to play her part and solve the mystery.

When fiction becomes fact, anything can happen…


I held my breath and peeked into the library. The room appeared to be empty, apart from Aunt Ethel’s legion of books, her comfy chair, the large antique table she’d used as a desk, and…

A single paperback, lying in the center of the wide-plank floor.

“Where did you come from?” Obviously, from one of the built-in bookcases. But who placed it there?

I entered the room and approached the rogue book. Crouching, I picked it up. Then I stood and examined the cover. A scantily clad, windblown woman fled a dark, looming house. The title read Thornehaven.

A gothic, the genre Aunt Ethel preferred above all others. She had hundreds of them, from different periods, but the majority were published in the 1960s and ʼ70s.

My lips curled into a reminiscent smile. How many times had she sat snug in that chair, devouring one of these novels? Too many to count. I often kept her company, ensconcing myself at her desk to work on jigsaw puzzles.

Words I’d spoken as a teenager echoed in my mind. “But Aunt Ethel, you’re an English lit professor. Why are you reading gothic pulp fiction?”

She gave as good as she got. “You love gothic architecture and solving puzzles. Why aren’t you reading it?”

It was a fair question. I told her I preferred “serious” books and fitting together real-life clues: events which orchestrated key moments in history; the links between different languages, alive and dead; and the ultimate linguistic puzzle of how the human mind stored and computed all language. I joked with her about the tendency of gothic covers to feature a damsel in distress wearing a flowing gown of some sort. I was no doomed heroine, quivering with need for a man to come and rescue me. Not then and definitely not today.

I glanced down at my current attire. But I am running around in the middle of the night, wearing a nightgown. Grinning, I shook my head. She should see me now.

My right arm began to tingle. The sensation crept down to my fingers and up my neck to the right side of my face. Slowly, I turned my head in that direction. If I didn’t know better, I’d think…

“Aunt Ethel?”

I felt half-foolish, half-hopeful that she stood there beside me, vying with the material world for my attention. Had she slammed the door and moved the book?

I cleared my throat. “I don’t know if you’re actually here or I’m imagining things, but what’s the deal with this book?” A new thought hit me. “Don’t tell me you’re still trying to get me to read gothics, even in the afterlife.” Again, I shook my head. “Nah, that would be crazy.”

A delicate, floral scent filled my nostrils. Lavender! She’d always used lavender soap.

“Oh my God. Is it really you?” Hot tears pricked my eyes. “I miss you so much. I…” A lump formed in my throat, but I pushed through the emotion. “All right. Have it your way. If you’re so determined I read this, I’ll do it.”

I sniffled. The lavender scent was gone, as was the tingling sensation. She’d made her point, and I’d made a promise. Done and done. With book in hand, I settled onto the cushioned chair and heaved a weary sigh. “Only for you, Aunt Ethel.”

I inspected the back-cover copy. “Linda Brett had come to Thornehaven to do a job, but the old house harbored secrets…and murder.”

It had potential. More of the plot waited below, but I decided to ignore it and let said “secrets” unfold in their own time. A lion’s yawn escaped me as I flipped the book back over and opened it. According to the copyright page, Thornehaven was published in 1966. The musty smell and yellowed pages confirmed it.

Yawning again, I turned to the first page of the narrative. How much I read, I can’t recall, but no more than a few paragraphs. Fatigue set in fast, crossing my eyes and tempting me toward sleep.

The next thing I knew, I stood on a sloping lawn in front of a Gothic Revival mansion hewn from somber gray stone. The place was massive and imposing, with numerous turrets and classic Gothic tracery, and it perfectly matched the description I’d read moments before. According to the story, the expansive property sat on the Hudson River in upstate New York.

Is this a dream? If so, it was more vivid than any I’d ever experienced. The faint, smoky trace of a bonfire haunted the air. The trees flanking the property displayed the red, orange, and yellow leaves of fall. They flaunted their bright colors in seeming defiance of the leaden sky, rustling in the chill wind which grazed my cheeks and raised goose bumps on my legs.

My legs. Why are they colder than the rest of me? I looked down, and the answer was clear. Apart from two charcoal gray suitcases, one on either side, only pantyhose shielded my limbs, which were thinner than they should be.

Whose legs are those? And what the hell am I wearing? An open coat revealed a blue knit suit whose skirt fell just short of my knees, and I wore matching, low-heeled shoes. I was a walking—well, standing—tribute to the mid-1960s. Wait a minute. That’s what the protagonist wore in the book.

And what did she do next? She picked up her luggage and proceeded to the manor’s entrance. I might as well do the same.

The suitcases were heavy, more substantial than a dream should allow. What does she have in these things? Slabs of granite?

As I lumbered forward, the front door opened to reveal a tall, thin, thirty-something woman in a black dress. Her short, dark hair had petal-shaped layers, giving the overall “do” the semblance of an artichoke. She looked me up and down and attempted a smile, then abandoned the effort. “Miss Brett, I presume? Welcome to Thornehaven.”

Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):

If you could dress up as anything or anyone this Halloween, what or who would it be and why?

Maybe the Invisible Woman. I work at the seventeenth-century Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts, and every October, we’re slammed with tens of thousands of tourists. At the end of the day, I just want to slip through the crowds unnoticed and veg at home with my family.

Explain why your featured book is a treat to read:

My main character, Gwyn, gets to do what readers only dream about: entering books and playing the protagonist. It’s fun to go along for the ride!

Giveaway –

One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon gift card

Open internationally.

Runs October 1 – 31

Drawing will be held on November 1.

Author Biography:

Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Through gothic paranormal mystery (The Gothic Gwyn Mysteries), medieval/time travel romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) and young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), she loves to whisk readers away from their troubles and remind them of the hidden magic all around us.

Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.

Social Media Links:


N. N. Light
N. N. Light

Thank you, Judith, for sharing your book in our Trick or Treat Book Bonanza! I love this book and just reread it.

Judith Sterling
Judith Sterling

You reread it? That's the highest compliment! Thank you so much! It's always a pleasure to be here.

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