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review 2020-02-10 17:38
The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson
Boatman's Daughter, The - Andy Davidson

From the first harrowing scenes all the way until the bittersweet end, this book had me enthralled!

 

Set along the rivers and bayous of Arkansas, this tale is about Miranda, and how she manages keeps her life afloat. Running drugs for the bad guys to help her support the local "witch" and the special boy the witch hides and cares for. Discarded and left for dead, this boy is very special indeed-and so is Miranda. A bow-hunting woman of the bayou, she is not to be taken lightly.

 

The drug runners, featuring locals and bikers, a dwarf of a man as their main grower, and a mad preacher man who basically does whatever he wants. Among these men, there is nothing considered taboo, and I mean nothing. Will Miranda, the witch and the boy be able to continue to survive and live life as they have been? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

In addition to the characters I've already mentioned, I also need to highlight the hot and humid atmosphere. All the bug infested routes throughout the bayou, rivers and streams. The old homes near the river that aren't fully vacated, but are crumbling prey to the humidity, the mold, and the heat. The old mercantile that Miranda's father once owned, falling prey to dust and disuse after her father died. In my head I pictured all of this perfectly and as such, these locations became characters to me as well.

 

I remain impressed with Andy Davidson's style of writing and how effortlessly he combines things like small town life, witches, Russian fairy tales and so on. He does it so deftly that I never questioned any of it. It just WAS. Davidson created people I feel for because they feel real. Then he put them all in danger and I found it difficult to pull myself away.

 

I read his previous book IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN and I knew I was on to something special with this author. Now, with THE BOATMAN'S DAUGHTER I'm more sure than ever that Davidson is the real deal and I will sign up for anything he writes from here on out.

 

Highly Recommended!

 

Available everywhere tomorrow, but you can pre-order here: THE BOATMAN'S DAUGHTER 

 

*Thanks go out to the author who saw my desperate plea for an ARC and sent me one in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review 2019-09-24 18:45
A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL by John Hornor Jacobs
A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror - John Hornor Jacobs,Chuck Wendig

After reading THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY, I became an instant fan of John Hornor Jacobs. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reassured me that my respect and high esteem for the man was earned and well placed.

 

This book is comprised of two stories, the first a novella, (the aforementioned THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY), and the second, a short novel titled MY HEART STRUCK SORROW. This review is going to focus almost solely on the second tale. When I saw on Twitter that this book was coming out, I clicked the pre-order button right away. (There wasn't a description there yet, and I didn't know that THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY was going to be included. When I did discover that, I didn't care because...support.) You can find my review of THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY here:

 THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY

 

I went into MY HEART STRUCK SORROW almost totally blind. I was excited to find out that music was a central theme to this tale. I'm a lover of Blues music and I'm fascinated by many of the old artists who were the basis for a lot of the popular music of today. You cannot imagine how stoked I was to find a deep connection with music from the old south in this book.

 

Cromwell and Harriet are called in to the Parker estate to itemize and catalog Parker's extensive collection of old acetate recordings and journals. I loved this way of framing the story as we are then taken to Parker's point of view for much of the book. He was traveling the south interviewing and recording musicians as an ethnomusicologist, (like the real-life Alan Lomax), dedicated to capturing and preserving music. He traveled with a SoundScriber, the heavy, awkward machine with which he recorded said musicians.

 

These artists and the areas in which they lived were brought to vivid life in my mind's eye. I easily pictured them. I smelled them. I felt the humidity and heat of the south. I felt the humanity in their songs, and how they changed from one town to another, especially the songs about Stagger Lee. (Or Stacker Lee, or whatever title was used.)

 

"In Mississippi, in the delta of Arkansas and northern Louisiana, they speak in harsh tones, clipped syllables, as if their entire morphology of communication were angry and inflamed."

 

One of the men he interviews, Honeyboy, is actually in prison. Parker is able to obtain permission to interview and record him. During those scenes I came across this passage:

 

"Even the guards laughed at this, and for a while the barracks were full of the laughter of incarcerated men. They sounded like any group of men gathered together. Each full of his own particular sorrow, his mirth, his guilt, the comet's tail of his existence pulling wreckage after him."

 

This got me to thinking about my comet's tail and what kind of wreckage I carry around within it.

 

Jacobs deftly weaves the threads of the past and the present, most especially those of Parker and Cromwell. Turns out they had a few things in common. I didn't see what they were at first, but as this tale unraveled, I did. Grief, loss and most of all, guilt, come to each life-how we handle those things, or not handle them as the case may be, made for an engaging and stunning denouement.

 

I find myself lacking the words and/or skills to properly communicate to you how this book made me feel and why I think you should read it. The tales within are distinctly different from each other, one more a tale of torture, politics and cosmic horror, the other- for me, being at heart a story of loss, guilt, and grief, well framed and partially hidden in a tale about blues and folk music. I'm not going to pretend that I "got" everything there is to get with this story, I already know I will read it again. I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about ethnomusicology, but I can say I want to learn more about it and about Alan Lomax in general.

 

Leaving behind my inadequacies in getting across how this tale made me feel, I'll wrap with saying that both stories here are extremely well written, unique, thought provoking and powerful. I'll leave you with this quote:

 

"We are sound waves crashing against the shore with no SoundScriber to take down our likeness, our facsimile. Words like these are just echoes of that original sound. We are but small vibrations on the face of the universe."

 

With that, my fellow small vibration on the face of the universe, I give A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL my HIGHEST recommendation!

 

Available everywhere October 8th, but you can pre-order here: A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL

 

*Thanks to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest feedback. I'm buying the book anyway, but I got to read it sooner this way!*

 

**Please forgive me for the quotes, but I felt they were necessary to help convey me feelings.**

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review 2019-09-18 21:59
Southern Gothic
Wickers Bog: A Tale of Southern Gothic Horror - Mike Duran

 

Sirens aren't just for sailors.

 

This made me think of The Legend Of Wooley Swamp by the Charlie Daniels Band.

 

Well, if you ever go back into Wooley Swamp, well, you better not go at night
There's things out there in the middle of them woods
That'd make a strong man die from fright
Things that crawl and things that fly
Things that creep around on the ground
And they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and he walks around

 

I always feel guilty reading short stories.

 

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review 2019-02-08 23:06
Dark, scary, and gripping.
The Nowhere Child - Christian White

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I’ve read quite a few books by Australian writers recently (Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, Liza Perrat), and although very different, I enjoyed all of them and could not resist when I saw this novel, especially as it had won an award Harper’s first novel The Dry also won.

Although part of this novel is set in Australia, it is not the largest or the most important part of it. This novel is set in two time frames and in two places, and the distance in time and space seems abysmal at times. The novel starts with a bang. Kim, the main protagonist, an Australian photographer in her late twenties, receives an unexpected visit and some even more unexpected news. This part of the story, the “now”, is narrated in the first person from Kim’s point of view, and that has the effect of putting the readers in her place and making them wonder what they would do and how they would feel if suddenly their lives were turned on their heads, and they discovered everything they thought they knew about themselves, their families, and their identities, was a lie. She is a quiet woman, and although she gets on well with her stepfather and her half-sister, and she badly misses her mother, who died a little while back, she’s always been quite different to the rest of the members of her family, and enjoys her own company more than socialising. There are also strange dreams that bother her from time to time. So, although she does not want to believe it when the stranger tells her she was abducted from a small town in Kentucky as a little girl, she is not as surprised as she should be. At this point, we seem to be in the presence of a domestic drama, one where family secrets are perhaps a bit darker than we are used to, but the plot seems in keeping with the genre. And most of the “now” section of the book is closer in tone and atmosphere to that genre.

But we have the other part. The “then”, written in the third person, from a variety of characters’ points of view. Readers who dislike head-hopping don’t need to worry, though, because each chapter in the “past” section is told from only one character’s point of view, and it is quite clear who that is, avoiding any possible confusion. The story of the background to the kidnapping, and the investigation that followed, is told from the point of view of members of little Sammy’s family, the sheriff (I really liked him), neighbours of the town, and other characters that at first we might not grasp how they are related to the story, but it all ends up making sense eventually. This part of the novel feels much more gripping and dynamic than the other, and although we don’t always follow the characters for very long, the author manages to create credible and sympathetic (or not so sympathetic) individuals, some that we get to feel for and care, and even when they do some pretty horrible things, most of them feel realistic and understandable. And the story of what happened in the past makes for a pretty dark combination of thriller and mystery, well-paced and gripping.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I must say the town of Manson of the novel is a place that seems right out of a dark fairy tale, and I kept thinking of the opening titles of the TV series True Blood (not because of any supernatural thing, but because of some of the images that appear there). While some of the scenes seem typical of a small town in the middle of nowhere, others reminded me of Southern Gothic novels, and, a word of warning: there is violence, and there are scenes that can be terrifying to some readers (although no, this is not a horror novel, the author is not lying when he says he admires and has learned a lot from Stephen King). The story is full of secrets, red-herrings and confusing information, clues that seem clear but are not, and Kim/Sammy is a woman who keeps her emotions to herself, understandably so considering the circumstances. I am not sure many readers will connect with Kim straight away because of her personality, but I understand the author’s choice. If she was an emotional wreck all the time, it would be impossible for her to do what she does and to learn the truth, and the novel would be unbearable to read, more of a melodrama than a thriller or a dark mystery. The part of the story that deals with the present helps reduce the tension somewhat while keeping the intrigue ticking, and although it feels slow and sedate compared to the other part, it does ramp up as they dig into the past and the two stories advance towards their resolution.

Without going into detail, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and although I suspected what was coming, I only realised what was likely to happen very late in the story. Despite this being the author’s first novel, his screenwriting experience is evident, and he has a knack for creating unforgettable scenes. This is a novel destined to become a movie, for sure, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

This is not a typical mystery or thriller, and although it has elements of the domestic noir, it is perhaps more extreme and darker than others I have read in that genre. We have a very young child being kidnapped; we have murder, extreme religious beliefs, prejudice, postnatal depression, a dysfunctional family, snakes, secrets, lies, child abuse, and more. If you are looking for an intriguing read, don’t mind different timelines and narrators, and are not put off by difficult subjects and scary scenes, you must read this one.

 

 

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review 2018-10-08 14:25
Endless Book With no Payoff
The Little Friend - Donna Tartt

This book is not worth reading. If you are considering it, just know that after reading 640 pages, you still don't find out who murdered Robin Cleve Dufresnes. You are stuck jumping around to a myriad of characters with no real ending in sight. When you do get to the end you are going to want to throw this book across the room and ask was that it? There is no character development. The flow is non-existent. We jump back and forth among different times in this book and between characters so it's really hard to even recall who is who and who did what to who after a while. 

 

"The Little Friend" is supposed to be about the aftermath of the Cleve family trying to put themselves back together after Robin Cleve Dufresnes is found murdered in the front yard. The book starts off on his last day and we get to see why so many in the family loved Robin. When he is found murdered, there is an initial investigation that turned up no suspects. The death left Robin's mother, Charlotte, devastated and the woman for all intents has turned into a living ghost. Robin's father, Dixon, who didn't really care about his family at all prior to Robin's death, disappears to another state entirely and only returns home for the holidays. It really is Charlotte's mother and her aunts that take over raising her two daughters, Alison and Harriet. After the prologue we get into the here and now and find out that Alison is 16 and Harriet is 12. 

 

If you have to call someone the main character of the book, it would be Robin's younger sister Harriet. Harriet decides that she is going to solve the mystery of who killed her brother. When her family's maid, Ida Rhew talks about how Robin was always fighting with a local boy named Daniel Ratliff. Ida and others have looked down their noses at the Ratliff family and there are hints that he was jealous of Robin. Harriet through no evidence at all decides that Daniel murdered her brother so she is going to kill him. No this makes zero sense and since Harriet barely seems to like anyone in this book, it's odd she decided she is going to avenge her brother who has been dead for 12 years. 


Harriet is annoying. Tartt shows her nastiness throughout this book. And then something changes and we are supposed to feel for her when the family's maid quits. Eventually this turns into a coming of age story for Harriet, but then we go back to the ridiculous subplot with her trying to kill Daniel. Tartt does foreshadow that Harriet's life gets worse after this summer and she can pinpoint the exact time when things started to go badly for her. Her side kick in arms to this mess is a boy named Hely. Hely sucks and is focused on either making Harriet take notice of him and or annoying her throughout this book. Hely agrees to help Harriet with the killing of Daniel because he has zero sense too.

 

Besides following Harriet and her misadventures, we also follow Harriet's grandmother, Edie, and the aunts, Libby, Adelaide, and Tat. The book jumps around between them and also Daniel and his family too. If this has just been a book focused on a southern family in the 1970s it maybe would have worked, instead we have the murder mystery plot with a hundred other things going on. 

 

The book setting is the 1970s in Alexandria, Mississippi. There is some instances where I thought I was reading "The Help" when we get into the dynamics of white children and their black maids. Harriet doesn't seem to pay any attention to her family's maid, until through a series of misunderstandings, Harriet causes Ida Rhew to get dismissed. Her great aunts don't really get why she's upset, except for one, and Harriet refuses to say goodbye to Ida Rhew and we find out regrets it for the rest of her life.


The ending was just a mess. Things happen. There are red herrings. And then the book clunks to a close. 

 

 

 

 

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