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Saturday, April 30, 2016

New Novel: Julie Myerson: "The Stopped Heart"

Author:  Julie Myerson
Title:  The Stopped Heart
Plot Type: Psychological Thriller with Ghosts  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Harper  Perennial (3/2016)

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     Internationally bestselling author Julie Myerson’s beautifully written, yet deeply chilling, novel of psychological suspense explores the tragedies—past and present—haunting a picturesque country cottage. 

     Mary Coles and her husband, Graham, have just moved to a cottage on the edge of a small village. The house hasn’t been lived in for years, but they are drawn to its original features and surprisingly large garden, which stretches down into a beautiful apple orchard. It’s idyllic, remote, picturesque: exactly what they need to put the horror of the past behind them.

     One hundred and fifty years earlier, a huge elm tree was felled in front of the cottage during a raging storm. Beneath it lies a young man with a shock of red hair, presumed dead—surely no one could survive such an accident. But the red-haired man is alive, and after a brief convalescence is taken in by the family living in the cottage and put to work in the fields. The children all love him, but the eldest daughter, Eliza, has her reservations. There’s something about the red-haired man that sits ill with her. A presence. An evil.


     Back in the present, weeks after moving to the cottage and still drowning beneath the weight of insurmountable grief, Mary Coles starts to sense there’s something in the house. Children’s whispers, footsteps from above, half-caught glimpses of figures in the garden. A young man with a shock of red hair wandering through the orchard.


     Has Mary’s grief turned to madness? Or have the events that took place so long ago finally come back to haunt her…? 

                    MY REVIEW                     
    From the very first paragraph, the reader realizes that something indescribably horrific has occurred as Myerson presents us with a sunny, blue-sky day that is immediately superseded by the appearance of a graphically portrayed womanblood-soaked and nearly speechlesswho brings news of a terrible tragedy. But that is just one of the awful occurrences that are at the heart of this novel, which interweaves two sets of characters and events: one from the present and one from a century and a half in the past.

     In the opening chapters, Laura and Graham Coles move in to a rickety old cottage in rural England, a house so authentic in detail that it still has its backyard water pump, overgrown garden and orchard, the rotting carcass of a long-fallen elm tree, and a rickety apple shed. The Coles are looking for peace and an escape from grief in the wake of the death of their two young daughters, the full details of which remain unexplained for several hundred pages (but with enough clues to alert the reader to the horror of their deaths). This story line is mostly delivered in the third person voice from Laura's perspective. They soon meet and become friends with a local couple, Eddie and Deborah.

    Intermingling with Laura's story is that of Eliza and her family: her parents and her seven younger siblings, who lived in the same cottage 150 years ago. Eliza narrates events in her 13-year-old first-person voice. Her story revolves around a new addition to their household: a red-haired, snake-tattooed young man named James H. Dix, who first appears in the middle of a terrible storm, only to be nearly crushed by a lightning-struck elm tree. James wriggles his way into the family, at once feared and loved by the younger children. Soon, he becomes an object of fascination, and then lust, for Eliza. Eliza and her sisters and brothers are wonderfully portrayed, with their innocence and humor heightening the sense of tragedy that awaits them.

     Myerson binds the two narratives closely, with no separation or clarifying symbols or punctuation between them. Each chapter contains multiple sub-chapters, each of which begins with an extra line space and an all-caps opening sentence, but those clues do not necessarily signal a change in the narrator. At first, this mash-up of time and voice is a bit confusing, but soon a rhythm establishes itself, and the two stories begin to overlap like waves, as if grief and horror experienced in the present can penetrate the past, and past events can seep into the present. When Laura starts hearing the ghostly voices of children and begins seeing a red-headed man flashing through the hedge, and when little Lottie (Eliza's sister) wants to name a kitten Merricoles (a futuristic reference to Mary Coles) and speaks of a “lady with the long black hair. The one that cries all the time…” I have to admit that shivers ran down my spine. Eventually, this intersection of stories graduates from ethereal to physical when Graham makes a gruesome discovery in the back garden.

    The two story lines have some commonalities: male figures (James and Eddie) who offer false hope, deceitful love, and phony comfort; children who suffer abuse and death; and parents who plunge into a deep well of anger and grief. Both Eliza and Laura fall under the spells of the duplicitous men, with wildly different outcomes. Eliza falls hard for James, even though her first impression of him is that, "He had the look of someone who'd just walked out of a room where bad things had happened." Mary finds herself being stalked by Eddie, but soon finds that she is able to talk to him about subjects she can't speak about to her husband. Myerson adds reality and suspense to the mix by introducing Graham's rebellious, Goth-girl daughter, Ruby, (by an earlier marriage) and her secretive, tight-lipped friend, Lisa, who also gets caught up in the false promise of love and escape.

     Myerson enhances the horror of her story by setting it in a comforting nest of elegant descriptions of normal, everyday life and the wonders of nature. A bee leaving a bloom, "falling backwards into the air, lifting off and away"; Lizzie's "wild, smashed feeling" when she gets her first look at the sea; Lizzie watching "the great black crows swooping up and down over the hazy, lilac-brown clods of muddy earth" at twilight; and a sunny day when "the hollyhocks unfurled their hairy buds and stood in their lemon and salmon rows."

     Some of the nature images foreshadow the violence that is just around the corner: "A wren started to build its nest under the eaves...and as usual the cat sat and watched, waiting to kill the fledglings just as soon as they hatched." And, on a warm, wet morning, "The earth on the grave was fresh and sad and brown." 

     This is the same technique that David Lynch uses so beautifully (and horribly) in the opening scene of his iconic film Blue Velvet (which moves from chirping birds and white picket fences to a tragic front-yard accident; then to a trip through the dark, murderous, bug-dominated underworld of the green grass; and eventually to a severed human ear—all in the first few moments). It's a perfect illustration of how evil can lurk under the surface of a seemingly "normal" human existence.

     This is a dark and suspense-filled novel that is hard to put down once you've read the first few pages because you get pulled immediately into the heart-breaking emotional drama and ever-tightening tension that build to nearly unbearable levels. Unfortunately, Myerson's resolution of Mary's grief is too abrupt, and it lacks a plausible catalyst. In the final pages, her sudden, baseless change of heart about the cottage, her grief, and her future comes out of nowhere, providing a convenient, but ultimately unsatisfying, conclusion to an otherwise well-told story. 

     Some reviewers have compared this novel to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, so if you enjoyed those books, you'll probably be intrigued with this one. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Stopped Heart on its page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon. Click HERE to read the first two chapters on the novel's HarperCollins page.

                    ABOUT THE AUTHOR                     
     Julie Myerson is an English author and critic. She also works as a journalist and contributes reviews and articles to newspapers, magazines and radio programs. Myerson writes both fiction and nonfiction books. She is also known for having written a long-running column in The Guardian entitled "Living with Teenagers" based on her own family experiences.

     Her first novel, Sleepwalking (1994), was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize. Something Might Happen was shortlisted for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and 2005 WH Smith Literary Award. Her other works include The Touch (1996), Laura Blundy (2000), The Story of You (2006), Out of Breath (2007) and The Quickening (2013). She has also authored a few nonfiction works including Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived In Our House, which was dramatized on BBC Radio 4, Not A Games Person (2005) and The Lost Child (2009). Click HERE to read a more detailed biography of Julie Myerson.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Novel: J. C. Nelson: "The Reburialists"

Author:  J. C. Nelson 
Title:  The Reburialists 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Ace (3/2016)

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    
     Burying the dead is easy.  Keeping them down is difficult. At the Bureau of Special Investigations, agents encounter all sorts of paranormal evils. So for Agent Brynner Carson, driving a stake through a rampaging three-week-old corpse is par for the course. Except this cadaver is different. It’s talking—and it has a message about his father, Heinrich. 

     The reanimated stiff delivers an ultimatum written in bloody hieroglyphics, and BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is called in to translate. It seems that Heinrich Carson stole the heart of Ra-Ame, the long-dead god of the Re-Animus. She wants it back. The only problem is that Heinrich took the secret of its location to his grave. 

     With the arrival of Ra-Ame looming and her undead army wreaking havoc, Brynner and Grace must race to find the key to stopping her. It’s a race they can’t afford to lose, but then again, it’s just another day on the job. 

                  WORLD-BUILDING AND CHARACTER INTRODUCTION                    
    The novel is set in a world that is nearly identical to our real world, but with one important exception: the continuing existence of zombies, which are called by any number of names, depending upon who is doing the labeling. Scientists call them corpse organisms, or co-orgs. Field operatives (zombie hunters) call them meat-skins and other names, depending on the length of time they've been dead and on their behavioral characteristics. All of the co-orgs were once ordinary human corpses, but when they become the host of the Re-Animus, they regain their ability to move and to attack as directed. Although co-orgs can appear to be alive and sentient, they are not. Their intelligence and their ability to move come solely from the powers of the Re-Animus that is controlling them and speaking through them from afar.

     Scientists and field operatives disagree as to what exactly a Re-Animus is. The zombie hunters—all of whom carry and wear as many religious artifacts as possiblebelieve that a Re-Animus is an evil spirit, a demonic supernatural being. "The field teams carried iron crucifixes and wooden crosses, garlic and a million other herbs. Relics, they called them." The scientists are still researching the true nature of the Re-Animus, but they are certain that they can explain its powers through logic and scientific research. For example scientists believe that some of the field agents' relics work because "behind every one of these, a principal surely lurked. Herbs, for instance, might interfere with communication pathways in hosts. Iron impurities might disrupt communication. Wood could (and did) cause allergic reactions." 

     The Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI), which has offices all over the world, is in charge of keeping the co-orgs and the Re-Animus under control. In this world, when a person dies, he or she is either cremated (if the family can afford it) or buried with slit Achilles tendons and a pinned jaw to prevent the body from being able to walk or chomp down if it were ever raised and taken over by a Re-Animus.

     The hero of the novel is Brynner (rhymes with "grinner") Carson, the golden boy of BSI and its number one field operative. Brynner's father was the greatest field operative of them all, and his mother, who ran the BSI investigative laboratories, vanished under mysterious circumstances when Brynner was in his early teens. Brynner believes that he was always destined to be a killer of co-orgs. His father trained him hard, introducing Brynner to fighting the dead when he was just a child: "I thought about the first time I met a co-org. Dad brought it home in a box and locked me in the room with it and a hatchet until I took care of business. I didn't sleep for a week afterward." In the scene that opens the story, Brynner is attacked by the Re-Animus and thinks to himself, "Thank God my dad had homeschooled me in corpse-killing," Brynner has been a lone wolf even since he ran away from home several years after his mother's disappearance. By that time, he was living with his aunt and uncle, and his father was wandering the world trying to find his wife. Brynner has learned to dull the agony of his existence by overdosing on sex and fame. Everywhere he goes, people want his autograph and women want to sleep with him, and he's always ready for both. While he's indulging himself in hedonistic pursuits, he can temporarily forget the fact that he has to go back to his real lifedaily battles with a never-ending stream of vicious co-orgs. Like his fellow field agents, Brynner relies heavily on his religious faith. On the pure silver chest plate of his armor, he has "engraved every religious symbol on earth, including the McDonald's logo." Along with his collection of religious relics, Brynner also carries a pair of daggerssilver inlaid with amber and alabaster. Those daggers have particular family meaning and are quite important to the plot of this novel.

     The novel's heroine is Senior BSI Analyst Grace RobertsDana Skully to Brynner's Fox Mulder. Grace is a brilliant, no-nonsense scientist who matter-of-factly states that she is a "confirmed atheist and absolute skeptic." She doesn't believe in anything that cannot be proven through tangible evidence. For example, Grace believes that co-orgs exist because she has seen and examined them. She also believes in the existence of the Re-Animus, but, unlike Brynner, she views it as "a force at work. Probably viral, possibly some form of collective organism. Not an evil spirit or demon." Grace keeps the drama of her personal life hidden from everyone at BSI, especially the sad secrets from her past that keep her practically penniless and emotionally spent. 

     During the course of the novel, both Brynner and Grace undergo a gradual evolution in their beliefs about the religious and scientific forces related to the Re-Animus. 

The novel has a small core cast of key characters:
Margaret Bismuth, Director of the Seattle BSI: She is a manipulative manager who has known Brynner and his family for decades. She constantly berates Brynner for his sexually overactive life style and never misses a chance to belittle him with scornful sneers that he'll never measure up to his father's greatness.
Dale Hogman, field team commander of the BSI: He is Brynner's staunch supporter and his contact at Seattle headquarters.
Dr. Alvin Thomas: BSI Head of Analysis: He and Grace stubbornly share the same science-based view of the co-orgs and the Re-Animus.
Emelia and Bran Homer: Brynner's aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother vanished and his father went off to find her. They are salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense people who have adopted the symbols and ceremonies of multiple faiths to protect themselves against co-org attacks.
Amy Rust (aka Al-ibna Al-habeeba, aka Alifyahmeenyah): A member of the Grave Services, the renowned Egyptian field agents. She arrives just in time to assist in the transport of a captured Re-Animus and stays to befriend and support Brynner and Grace.
Heinrich and Lara Carson: Brynner's parents, whom we meet only in discussions and flashbacks about what ultimately happened to them all those years ago.
                         MY REVIEW                           
    The plot is based on a new development in the long battle between the BSI and the co-orgs. During a battle with a co-org in the hull of a ship in Greece, the corpse begins to speak to Brynner, calling him by name—something that has never ever happened before—not to anyone. It mentions a past encounter with Brynner, so he knows that this is actually a Re-Animus possessing this co-org. Then, the creature gives Brynner a cryptic message: "The old man's body molders, and now she stirs. Give back the heart, Carson. Carson's blood took it, she whispers in dreams. Carson's blood will pay if it isn't returned." After killing the Re-Animus, Brynner finds a blood-written message in hieroglyphics written on the inner hull—a message that Brynner suspects is a curse or a spell. Before long, Brynner and Dale are certain that the heart in question is that of Ra-Ame, an ancient Egyptian goddess who, according to legend, is source of all Re-Animus. But who is "the old man"? What is "she" whispering? And is it Brynner's blood that "will pay"?

     In an attempt to discover where the heart might be located, Bismuth sends Brynner and Grace to the home of his Aunt Emelia, who has sole custody of Heinrich Carson's journals, all written in his own eccentric style of hieroglyphics. Grace is to translate the journals while Brynner protects her from stray co-orgs. Naturally, things get complicated very quickly. Brynner and Grace fight hard against a burgeoning mutual attraction, deal with some co-org battles, and are stunned when the Re-Animus turns up in yet another host corpse—still threatening Brynner and demanding the heart. As the hieroglyphic messages and verbal threats keep coming, Brynner and Grace are forced to work together to defeat the evil that threatens the world.

     Nelson is a great story teller with a vivid imagination, and he tells a compelling tale here. Unfortunately, his plotting skills are not quite strong enough to keep the reader in suspense as to the identity of the ultimate villain. I spotted the Big Bad (as Buffy would say it) and a Minor Bad as soon as they entered the story, so the big twist in the final showdown scene held absolutely no surprises for me—what a disappointment. The lead characters—Brynner and Grace—are well developed, even though they definitely are mirror images of that famous X-Files couple. Their romance builds nicely, with plenty of angst-filled bumps along the way, and the payoff is terrific when they begin to face their personal demons and become stronger as a couple than they are as individuals. It's all about the power of love.

     If it weren't for the too-easy identification of the villains, this would have been a five-star novel, but even with that weakness, Nelson has created a fascinating world with a new and interesting take on the zombie myth. Nelson has stated that he has an outline for a sequel novel, but whether that book ever sees the light of day depends on how well this one sells. So…give this novel a try so that we can find out what's next for our happy-for-now couple. Click HERE to go to the page for The Reburialists where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

                    THE AUTHOR                    
     JC Nelson is the author of the GRIMM AGENCY series from Penguin/Ace. (Click HERE to read my reviews of the GRIMM AGENCY novels.) A former bee keeper and a Texas transplant to the Pacific Northwest, JC works for a large software company building things you’ll never know about if they are working. He can be found by day drinking espresso and writing code, and by night writing books and playing online games badly. With his wife, four children and a flock of chickens, life is never dull. 

     Click HERE to go to Nelson's Facebook page. Click HERE and HERE to read two on-line interviews with J.C. Nelson about The Reburialists. The first interview includes details about Brynner's adoptive grandparents (the Van Helsings) that are not included in the novel.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Reburialists is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Katie MacAlister's DRAGON FALL SERIES with a review of Dragon Soul, the third and FINAL book in the trilogy. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Monday, April 25, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Robin D. Owens's GHOST SEER SERIES with a review of Ghost Talker, the fourth novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Saturday, April 23, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Allyson James's STORMWALKER SERIES with a review of Dreamwalker, the fourth novel in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mary Robinette Kowal: "Forest of Memory"

Author:  Mary Robinette Kowal
Title:  "Forest of Memory"
Plot Type:  Near-Future Science Fiction 
Ratings:  Violence2; Sensuality1; Humor—1  
Publisher and Titles:  Tor (3/2016)
Formats: e-book, paperback, audio

                 AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY                 
     Hugo-award winning author, Mary Robinette Kowal is a novelist and professional puppeteer. Her debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while three of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award: Evil Robot Monkey in 2009 and For Want of a Nail in 2011, which won the Hugo for short story that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press. 

     Kowal is also an award-winning puppeteer. With over twenty years of experience, she has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve.

     When she isn’t writing or puppeteering, Kowal brings her speech and theater background to her work as a voice actor. As the voice behind several audio books and short stories, she has recorded fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. 

    I discovered "Forest of Memory" though a four-star review in the March 2016 issue of RT Book Reviews, and it is the first work by this author that I have read—but definitely not the last. Kowal (pronounced Ko WALL, like the first two syllables in the surname Kowalski) is currently developing a new supernatural series that premiers in August 2016 with the novel entitled Ghost Talkers.

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     Katya Gould deals in Authenticities and Captures, trading on nostalgia for a past long gone. Her clients are rich and they demand items and experiences with only the finest verifiable provenance. Other people’s lives have value, after all. 

     But when her A.I. suddenly stops whispering in her ear she finds herself cut off from the grid and loses communication with the rest of the world. The man who stepped out of the trees while hunting deer cut her off from the cloud, took her A.I. and made her his unwilling guest. There are no Authenticities or Captures to prove Katya’s story of what happened in the forest. You’ll just have to believe her.

                    MY REVIEW                     
     In this near-future world, everyone relies completely on their artificial intelligence (AI) devices and connections all the time—24/7. They live their lives in constant contact with intelligent systems (i-Sys) that speak to them through custom-fitted ear buds that they never remove. No one depends on personal, unrecorded memories because one's own unaided memory cannot be authenticated and is, therefore, unreliable. So when Katya finds herself alone on a road in an isolated forest, she can hardly believe it when she can no longer communicate with Lizzieher i-Sys. (Katya explains that she named her i-Sys after a character in a book, and it's pretty easy to figure out which book she means.)

     Katya is a dealer in Authenticities and Captures. Authenticities are obsolete items once used by earlier generations but now consigned to the custody of wealthy private collectors who are fascinated by evidence of their long-ago everyday use. As Katya explains, "My clients are most excited by wabi-sabi…It's a Japanese term. Something that witnesses and records the graceful decay of life." Captures are videos of scenes that give people experiences they can't have on their own. For example, a herd of deer running across a road with hooves clicking on the pavement and background sounds of singing birds and a rushing stream. Katya explains that her two specialties sometimes become interconnected: She Captured a "farmhouse in southern Oregon, where I found a nest of kittens in an old clothes dryer. The audio of their purring and tiny mews still gets mixed into dance scores, even after all this time. You should see what I got for the dryer itself, since after the Capture it had a popularity provenance to boot." Katya has amassed an enviable client list, and she makes a good living in her chosen career. 

     One day, Katya is on her way from a meeting with a seller from whom she purchased a typewriter and a well-worn paperback dictionary. The dictionary  is quite valuable because it has a solid provenance and is dripping with wabi-sabi: coffee stains, the names of former owners, underlinings, teeth marks from a pet dog, and worn page corners. Katya has examined both objects carefully to ensure that they are not reproductions and is satisfied with their all-important provenance. As she rides on her bicycle towards a public transportation connection, she passes through a forest where she is stopped by a herd of deer crossing the road. When a camouflaged, masked man shoots the deer with tranquilizers, she is surprised. But when she realizes that she has lost contact with Lizzie, she is shocked because she has never been without her i-Sys connection for more than a few moments. Then, the masked man kidnaps her, and things get very complicated.

     Katya tells her story in her first person voice, typing it out on the very same typewriter she purchased on that fateful day. If you have ever used a typewriter, you will recognize some of the frequent typing errorsthe transposed letters and cross-outs that were an ongoing problem back in the days before word processors made editing so much easier and cleaner. 

     This is a relatively short novella (85 pages), but Kowal packs it with a compelling plot and introduces us to two fascinating characters: Katya and her kidnapper. When he refuses to tell her his name, she calls him "Johnny" (and sometimeswhen he really annoys her"Bastard"). She is writing the account of her kidnapping for a client who is paying her well for the story. As she writes, she tries to figure out why that client would have any interest in her experience, which means that she asks herself questions and analyzes possible clues all the way through the story, adding depth and mystery to her account.

     The novella works well on two levels: the actual kidnapping experience, which provides in-the-moment suspense, and the underlying long-term reasons why Johnny is tranquilizing the deer and why his clients direct him to kidnap Katya. Just like Katya, the reader must make connections between the man's actions, Katya's loss of her i-Sys connection, the recent kill-off of deer in the area, and the possibility that her kidnapper and his clients may have set in motion a sinister plan. Or, perhaps, they might be the good guys. It's a wonderful mystery! 

     The underlying theme of the story involves this futuristic world's complete dependency on technology. Without technological back-up, a personal eyewitness account (like the one that Katya is writing) has no real value or authenticity because there is no technological data that proves the events really happened the way Katya claims they did. Early on, she poses a question to her client: "Have you ever tried to do this? Have you turned off your Lens, turned off your i-Sys, stepped away from the cloud, and just tried to REMEMBER something? It's hard, and the memories are mutable. The cloud is just there, all the time. You reach for it without thinking and assume it will be there." Through her story, Kowal is asking some hard questions: Is this where we are headedwith our ever-present smart phones glued to our ears, our Apple watchesour self-driving carsand the ever-hovering cloud? Does being alone mean being without technology rather than being without human contact? Because that's exactly what it means to Katya. "I was ALONE…Have you ever experienced that? Even in the middle of the night when I wake up there's always someone to talk to. There's always a witness." (And Katya's "someone"her "witness"is Lizzie.) Please note that Kowal is not heavy handed with this theme; it just hovers in the background awaiting recognition as Katya tells her story.

     If you have never read Kowal's writing, this is a fantastic introductionat least it was for me. She is a great story-teller and world-builder, and her development of fully realized characters is so masterfully and gracefully done that it's almost a surprise when you realize how well you know these two people by the end of one brief story. I'd love to read more stories about Katya and how this experience probably changes her life.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from "Forest of Memory" on its page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NEW NOVEL! M.R. Carey: "Fellside"

Author:  M. R. Carey (aka Mike Carey)
Title:  Fellside
Plot Type:  Supernatural Horror/Mystery
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Orbit (4/2016) 


Fellside is a maximum-security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life. It's a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

    Jess Moulson awakens in a hospital room with no memories of her recent past only to learn that she is under arrest for (and soon convicted of) setting a fire in her apartment that killed a young boy named Alex Beech and injured her boyfriend, John. Jess is a long-time substance abuser, and she was high on heroin at the time of the fire. With no memory of the fire, Jess comes to believe the accusations against her and is wracked with guilt over being the cause of Alex's death. Days before entering Fellside, Jess begins a hunger strike, sentencing herself to death through starvation. But then Alex's ghost saves Jess's life after a malevolent prison nurse nearly kills her. Alex tells Jess that she is not the person who killed him and that he will not allow her to die until she helps him find his real murderer. While Jess tries to sort out her memories of the fire and her feelings about Alex, she ends her hunger strike and is placed in the general population (aka gen pop) of the prison.

     Alex begins to make frequent visits to Jess's cell, mostly at night. "He approached Jess through dimensions that she could dimly see because they clung to him for a while after he arrived: the spoor of the night world…The moment that he came would always fill Jess with an unreasoning fear, a sense that the lid had momentarily opened on a box that was better kept shut." At this point, the plot splits into two related story lines: a gritty, realistic horror story of sociopathic prisoners and corrupt guards and a supernatural tale in which Jess periodically enters the Other World, a mystical realm in which "she felt her tiny cell dissolve away, leaving her lying out in the open in a place that was vast and endless. An unseen multitude moved in front of her closed eyelids, shadows so faint you could barely see them, but so many that they coalesced into an endless darkness. At the limits of her vision, everything broke up into turbulence and chaos. And still there were the voices…They were fragments of wishes, regrets, laments." In between visits to the Other World, Alex tells Jess his life/death story and protects her from the dangers of prison life. 

     Meanwhile, in the real world, Jess soon finds herself dragged into the lucrative drug ring run by the sociopathic Harriet Grace with the assistance of a treacherous prison guard, Dennis Devlin (aka the Devil), and Grace's two tough and bloodthirsty lieutenants. The prison doctor and one of the nurses are also involved with Grace's nefarious operation. Carey does a fine job of creating the nuanced characters who populate the prison: the guards, the medical staff, and the prisoners themselves. Carey's character development is masterly—particularly the layered portraits of the prisoners and guards. Sal, the male doctor in the prison infirmary, is the most complex of the supporting characters as well as being the most “normal.” His development from a terrified bystander to a still-scared, but defiant, participant is fascinating to watch. Also strong are the early scenes of Jess's hunger strike.

     As Grace explores Alex's Other World, she discovers how her nighttime walks with him involve the memories of the other prisoners. "Fellside at night, through the eyes of the dead, was like the first day of creation. The waters had been divided but darkness still lay on then...But this wasn't water she was walking through. It was lives…She was circumnavigating the dreams of the women of Goodall wing. She saw what they saw on the inside of their closed eyelids, except that each of them only saw their own dreams, while Jess saw them all, was drenched and deluged by them." Eventually, Jess begins to realize that Alex is not who she thought he was, and she is forced to rethink her all of her memories—from her childhood all the way up to the events of her recent past.

     Carey has created a realistic and horrifying prison world that is the setting for an engrossing story of violence, greed, and amorality. The twisting, turning pathway to the truth about the fire is gritty and compelling. Weaving a fantastical ghost story through the prison plot adds mystery and suspense to the story. The problem, though, lies in the huge leaps the reader must constantly make between the sadistic reality of the prison and the mystical spookiness of the Other World in which Jess and Alex walk through other people's dreams. Moving back and forth between grim realism and ghostly astral projection requires a supreme suspension of disbelief.  

     For me, the weakest part of the novel comes towards the end, when things get very woo-woo as the author resolves the story line involving Grace's bodyguard, Liz Earnshaw, and takes Jess to her ultimate fate. (Disappointingly, Liz's motives for her long-ago crime are never made entirely clear.)

     If you are a ghost story fan who has no problem navigating quick leaps between scenes of brutal reality and dark fantasy, you'll probably enjoy this novel tremendously.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt that can be accessed on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Audible Narration" icon. Click HERE to read my review of Carey's earlier novel, The Girl with All the Gifts.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Fellside is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.