Nat Cassidy’s Mary: An Awakening of Terror – After losing her job in New York, a chance call brings Mary back to her hometown to take care of her sick aunt Nadine. However, this is not a welcome change of pace as Mary has been suffering in silence from ghastly visions of her own body decaying and the town brings up painful memories from the past. It does not help that Mary soon finds herself surrounded by the ghosts of murdered women, thrusting her back into her past to discover why they are plaguing her and the mystery behind the mangled apparitions that are inexplicably drawn to her.
What makes Nat Cassidy’s Mary such an enticing read is the author’s ability to balance shocking material through a strong character.
The following book review contains mild spoilers for Mary’s character..
Certainly, the book has elements of body and supernatural horror with Mary having visions of her body decaying while haunted by the ghosts of past victims, yet these subjects become disturbing because of who Mary is as a person and not because of the sensational imagery Cassidy is so skilled at crafting. Instead, Mary’s life of extreme introversion, always trying to make herself as small as possible, transforms these visions into a personal reflection of suffering.
The result is a very approachable form of horror storytelling, where it is easy to get wrapped up in the mystery of Mary’s background and her internal struggles. These elements are equal to indulgences in macabre material in evoking a sense of dread from the reader. This broadens the appeal to not just the hardcore horror readership.
To touch on the more horror-heavy elements, Cassidy brilliantly taps into the paranoia of his character, and the description of bodily decay or mangled ghosts manages to both play on Mary’s own insecurities while being very graphic in detail. This is a case where psychological horror would fit the bill better in describing the horror elements, despite it being very focused on elements that may seem more apt in horror that is hyperfocused on the degradation of the body and mind.
This is further echoed in the relationships of those around Mary, as the visions, arguably, play a secondary role in her own internal strife. Monologue plays an integral role in the story, and Mary’s interactions with the townsfolk and her overbearing aunt, Nadine, create a sense of tragedy in the character that rivals the intensity of terror.
This approach also does lead to the one negative in the work. Mary is a difficult character to empathize with at times as her immensely introverted nature gives the character a slightly nihilistic edge (at points).
As the story progresses and more is revealed about her past these ruminations begin to make sense, yet Mary is a hard character to connect with on a personal level–even as an introvert myself. This may vary by reader, and as the book reaches its conclusion after a few meticulously constructed twists this becomes an afterthought.
Furthermore, Mary is a complex character, and even if there is a lack of connection on a level that evokes empathy/sympathy she is a fascinating persona that reflects the immense talent of Cassidy in bringing Mary to the pages.
This release certainly takes some intense twists in the story, and while I would love to explore how the elements of horror transform to even switch from the early genre of supernatural horror into something deeply sinister, the narrative is best left to be discovered by the reader. Regardless, the book will certainly draw in readers of both horror and mystery with how it develops–that experience is definitely best left as unspoiled as possible.
Coming away from “Mary: An Awakening of Terror“ the only critique I could muster was how Mary does not always feel like an empathetic character. Though, whether this was the point is moot when looking at the exceptional skill Cassidy has to weave a mystery with heavy macabre tones that keep the pages turning. A deeply disturbing read that works for both fans of horror and mystery, “Mary“ is a unique exercise in terror where social interactions hold as much weight as a bloodied apparition–a must-read!
Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering; told through an experimental narrative, a young mother on the verge of death is visited by the voice of a young boy asking to scan her memories, to find when the ‘worms’ first appeared.
Spoiler Warning* For The Fever Dream Book Review
This leads the woman, Amanda, to recount the last few days at a vacation home, her run-in with another mother with a dark story, and the reflections on her own role as a mother of the young Nina.
All the while, the reader is slipping in and out of the story between conversations with the young boy. Fever Dream is a surreal and deeply disturbing tale of sickness and the trials of motherhood.
The most terrifying thing in Samantha Schweblin’s debut novel is the complete breakdown of a mother’s ability to protect her child as she slowly begins to lose control of her body.
The novel speaks often of this concept of an invisible tether that binds the mother to her child to always keep a safe distance in case anything happens. The way that Schweblin explains the way Amanda keeps this in mind, releasing it or drawing it tighter depending on the scenario gives a constant sense of pervasive unease as she longs to draw her child close but lacks the ability.
As someone who has not experienced motherhood, it is an effective way to convey the invisible bond that you experience with your own family or friends who have kids.
Fever Dream cuts to the most intense fear any parent can have, not just losing one’s own kid but losing the ability to protect the one you cherish most.
Adding to the sense of dread is a story steeped in obscure folklore, soul transference, and an idea of an incompatible disease defining a small town controlling the way it runs. There are certain scenes introduced that show the area that Amanda chose to stumble on has built their town around acceptance of the death of mind and body due to some disease that afflicts their children.
The way the prose tackles the story, flowing in and out, allows quick glances into key moments in Amanda’s nightmare.
For a short novel, Samanta Schweblin manages to convey suffering on a large scale, both personal and cultural suffering.
The land is poisoned to its core and Amanda gets involved in an inescapable nightmare of a lifetime of others feeding into superstition.
After a car crash, Ogi awakens to find himself barely alive, caught in a vegetative state unable to communicate or move. After learning from the doctors that his wife did not survive the crash his sole surviving family member, his mother-in-law, begins to take care of his every need. However, when she discovers her daughter’s notes that point to past transgressions of Ogi. The mother-in-law begins odd obsessive behavior which aims to push Ogi to the brink of insanity — left to slowly rot with minimal care.
Being judged for one’s own actions can be a horrifying experience in itself, let alone adding in the nightmare of being trapped in a broken body unable to defend oneself against the onslaught. Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a horror/thriller existing in this realm of perverse uncomfortableness, having a caregiver slowly transform into a menacing force with full control over the life of another.
The book has been compared to books like Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery.
And one can push even so far as to say it challenged the depressing body horror of titles like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.
While the book does capitalize on the unease and horrors that come with captivity, both in one’s own body and by an exterior force, The Hole is unlikely to reach the same level of accolades heaped upon the previously mentioned titles. However, that does not mean the book is without merit or that it pales in comparison of a familiar formula.
*Slight spoilers ahead
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole, undeniably, excels at capturing the waking nightmare of slow, meticulous abuse at the hands of another. Ogi’s internal struggles, a mix of reflecting on the past and trying to rationalize the current scenario he is in, paints a really tragic portrait. This is also heightened by the character’s humanity, as a man who is aware of the mistakes he made and is still trying to do well. As his mother-in-law learns of his marital problems the reader is aware of the narrative, as she understands it, is very one-sided.
Furthermore, Ogi is aware that his actions were wrong but also that his wife was not without blame. This is approached in a very mature practical manner, as Ogi explores the harsh reality that sometimes people just drift apart. Notably, the image he had of his wife when they first fell in love faded as they changed, him finding her dull and uninspiring is not so much born out of cruelty but two people drifting apart. Ultimately, The highlight of the novel has to be Hye-Young Pyun’s exploration of Ogi as a character through internal dialogue, painting the portrait of a man who does not deserve punishment, yet can also be seen as deserved from a third party.
However, where The Hole begins to slightly falter is in the development of other characters and dialogue, the change from self-reflection to being present in the room with others never holds the same profundity of Ogi stuck in dark ruminations. The mother-in-law, though intimidating feels more like the embodiment of justice over being a character unto herself.
There are also moments of narrative convenience, and even the set-up of the mother-in-law finding the notes of her daughter seems a bit contrived, in the sense she meticulously collected and recorded any argument, action, or negative word that she felt reflected her husband poorly. His status among peers and not having any family of his own also feels shoehorned in to capture that sense of isolation in an immediate fashion. It does make the situation grave and more tragic, yet Ogi can feel very one-dimensional at points due to the ambiguity of the situation and his lack of personal life beyond his wife.
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a deeply engaging read, that will draw fans of thrillers in with its frightening scenario and dread-inducing prose in exploring internal dialogue. It does feel a bit rough around the edges and some of the scenarios feel contrived and underdeveloped, but the overall experience is one of extreme discomfort that is certain to make the right reader squirm in all the right ways.
Jean-Luc & Anna Lise by A.G. Cullen Book Review Written By Lisa Lebel
Jean Luc & Anna Lise : A Novel of The Napoleonic Wars, by A.G. Cullen is a harrowing tale following three main characters through the harsh realities of the French Revolution.
The following Book Review of Jean-Luc & Anna Lise has Spoilers*
The novel opens with Jean-Luc and his dearest friend Adrien, on the day that enemy soldiers come to Colmar to execute their village priest. Shortly after this shocking event, Adrien’s sister, Anna Lise, is born. After only a short glimpse of their joyful beginnings, Jean-Luc and Adrien vow to join the emperor’s army once they are old enough – and thereafter embark on a journey that is all the more heart wrenching in its reality of the times.
Despite this book weighing in at a shocking 668 pages – at first glance one may assume this to be a ponderous tome of a novel. However, A.G. Cullen manages to have this tale be fast-paced and compelling throughout the entirety of the novel. The gut-wrenching horrors of the Napoleonic War seen through the eyes of one solider, brings to life the shocking reality of the times. While it is so easy to distance ourselves from what we read in the history books, this tale delivers an unflinching account of the life of a solider in 19th century Europe. Through the eyes of Jean-Luc Calliet, A.G. Cullen shows readers what it was like to be young and in love, while your country and comrades are falling to pieces all around you.
One of the more poignant takeaways from this novel was living with the horror and moral conflict of being ordered by your captain to commit unspeakable acts or be killed as a traitor yourself. Experiencing the shock of realizing your comrades in arms are sometimes more of a danger than the actual enemy, and seeing your fellow soldiers commit unspeakable brutalities is something that reading a historical account of the war simply cannot provide. Attempting to travel through a war-ridden country without being molested is nearly impossible, and there is equal danger no matter who you’re fighting for.
This novel is outside of this reviewer’s wheelhouse and likely not one I would have picked up on my own randomly, but I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Readers may find this similar to the Outlander series, with none of the time travel aspects or ridiculously sappy romance elements. But, in the respect of following individual persons through historical events – it definitely shines in that aspect. While Outlander is geared mostly towards women in the overly romantic setting as well as time travel – most of the action and intrigue of seeing actual historical events play out through the eyes of individuals is drowned out by these aspects. Jean-Luc has none of these distractions and gives an actual historical depiction of the life of the solider during these distressing times. Interspersed between chapters are also illustrations and maps of where the wars or battles are taking place, which is certain to remind readers that the events depicted in this novel did indeed occur, adding gravity to the tale.
In closing, Jean-Luc & Anna Lise is an excellently written novel that is both compelling and heart wrenching, and certainly worth checking out!
Bird Box by Josh Malerman shatters minds with SST brilliance, as the author’s 2014 debut novel rattles all senses with the riveting tale like no other, so too, does SST Publications craft a signed limited numbered edition that is reminiscent of the book’s world, sharp and wonderfully haunting.
Civilization falls to chaos, as those who see something, some creature, go insanely violent on themselves and/or others: welcome to Bird Box.
There are few tales so poignant that you root for the characters so strongly you feel their utter incessant terror so strongly.
The following book review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman will contain *SPOILERS up until the fine press edition of the S/L book from SST is reviewed in detail.
Is Malorie insane?
Clearly the world she resides in has gone insane.
The mother of two debates taking a dangerous winter trip on a river toward a possible sanctuary.
They will be in a rowboat for twenty miles.
The boy and the girl are four, and they will have to risk going outside and traversing the river up to a section of rapids blindfolded the entire way.
The mother’s words are rough with the two children, stern, and candid: they must not take off their ‘folds’ no matter what happens.
Outside, unknown creatures cause madness upon sight of them.
You see it and you lose it and go mortally violent; unless, of course, you are already mad yourself, and then you will welcome the embrace of the savior or cleanser or xenocidal force that has been unleashed on earth.
I had a feeling early into the novel that I had no idea what the creatures were and I might end the book without knowing what they were.
That idea is a tricky writer to reader relationship, to say the least (more on this later).
Aspects of the creatures accumulate: they could be small or enormous, they could be frequently stalking all humans, or sporadically invading city streets, row by row, they could be trying to touch, or scare blindfolded people into looking at them.
The unnerving loss of sight and the unknown haunting menace gives far more weight to the thrilling Bird Box than many of the great suspense novels out there.
The story flashes back and forth, from when Malorie first finds out she was pregnant and the subsequent unraveling of society and back to the dangerous river voyage.
As the world collapses, she escapes to a house that is a sanctuary, of sorts.
It has a well, electricity from a hydroelectric dam and a lot of stores for the half a dozen or so trying to live out the horror in a home with all the windows covered; for safety, no one sees the sky anymore.
The dynamics of the semi-democratic household full of realistic characters with great personalities and their own unnerving anxieties – that decide when or when not to take in someone like Malorie, a showing pregnant woman that will be two mouths to feed before long – are enthralling.
Malorie’s love for another grows, as the housemates struggle to adapt and get along and progress.
Can the landline, not powered by electricity but by a weak electrical signal in a phone cord, let them reach others who have survived with their sanity intact.
For a long time, I thought the birds would be the monsters in the book.
But it is the finding of a cardboard box full of birds at an abandoned home that brings a real-time alarm, a chirping warning system, for when the creatures get close that is essential to surviving.
Only Malorie and her children survive the house, and the birds, and together they march on to a place that someone on the phone says is a real sanctuary for any who can make it up the river to them.
The place is protected and full of good people.
And so Malorie waits until she deems the kids can understand enough to take the trip in the rowboat and she risks it all.
Getting to her destination by route of that damn river is so nerve shredding!
Sure, there are creatures, but there are also animals living in the wooded region that you forget about in the apocalyptic times, like wolves that attack and badly injure Malorie.
She even passes out and wakes to find her kids have learned to each row a paddle, in tandem.
Nothing was more creepy or intense than actually getting to the sanctuary and seeing through Malorie’s eyes as she risks it and takes off the fold and assesses whether or not the place is a trap or a real safe zone for her and the kids.
Your stomach will tighten and spasm with fear, as the worst seems inevitable.
But that is Malorie’s view, of fear, and not the reality, and when she realizes they are all safe it is one of the most beautiful moments in literature – I got choked up.
She had never named the boy or girl, her kids, and the entire novel they are called ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ so that Malorie upon getting them to safety names them, finally, for the girl’s mother who died in the house giving birth at the same time Malorie birthed her son, and she names him after her love that she met in the house.
And after all of the non-stop page turning full of realism, blood, tension, terror, and time that goes by in the grim world, the reader does not get to find out what the creature is.
And it works brilliantly.
*SPOILERS END here.
The SST Publications limited edition of Bird Box by Josh Malerman is marvelous and the fine press production is reviewed here.
The book is signed by the author, Malerman, and artist Ben Baldwin and has a limitation of 400 copies.
And this book is stunning to behold.
The SST Bird Box cover art and dust jacket is one of the wildest designs I have ever seen!
The child is wearing the blindfold and hearing the world shown: their trip on the river, the flying birds, the forest and the rickety speaker setup – the lone semblance of society – and of course blue tone for the cold and the water, and lots of darkness wherein the mysterious creature could be anywhere.
And that is just the dust jacket art. The design wraps around and even goes all the way to the folded in parts at the boards – it looks amazing and would make a great poster.
The six illustrations by Baldwin are remarkable and visceral, and my favorite, by far, is of the screams as the poor home owner goes mad, tied to his chair; it gives me the shivers.
SST’s Bird Box edition is a perfect emanation of Josh Malerman’s story within.
The clothbound book is sturdy and a gorgeous light blue with blue foil stamping.
This is one for the ages.
As my first voyage into SST Publications, I could not be more impressed with the UK fine press publisher.
Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In is horrifyingly real and frightening enough to make readers avoid rural Oregon, or woods in general, for that matter.
I jest about the woods as I look at my own patch of dark trees in the yard at twilight and cannot help but worry what might be lurking in there; thanks, Ania.
The Devil Crept In centers around Stevie, one of the best protagonists you could ever have the pleasure to meet.
The following Book Review Of The Devil Crept In Contains **Spoilers** But Not Of The Ending
Stevie is a young boy of around eight or nine, who is likely on the spectrum, has no friends, but one – his cousin, Jude – because of speech difficulties and the missing the bulk of the fingers on his right hand a la Roland Deschain.
Despite his father’s abandoning Stevie, his mother, and his older brother, because of Stevie’s Mom refusing to treat the panic attacks and breakdowns, and despite the physically abusive step-father that is only present to pay the bills and torment his wife and youngest step-child, Stevie remains a good kid.
Sure, he goofs off, he disobeys his parent’s requests, and he goes off on unsanctioned adventures with Jude, but all that is normal kid stuff, and at his core he is very empathetic toward others and genuinely worries over animals and people alike.
The setting in Oregon, from the lush trails and old overgrown paths to the mossy-roof of what is seemingly an abandoned house on the edge of the forest is enveloping.
The characters, from the shop keeper trying to warn Stevie of the danger out in those woods, to Stevie’s horrible older brother – who makes him swear to not have seen the hand job his girlfriend was giving him at the movie theater – are too familiar.
They are too real.
The thought of Stevie’s step-father Terry, a real monster in human form, and the sound of his belt being unbuckled to whip Stevie makes me squirm.
This tale is based on a reality so solid you feel as though you could move there and lose your dog in no time as well.
Stevie worries over people being okay and seems to care for those around him with a golden ability that many young people possess, even if they hide it.
Stevie’s older cousin Jude, on the other hand, is two years Stevie’s senior, and is the small Oregon town of Deer Valley’s brash malcontent.
And for all of Jude’s harsh words, like making fun of Stevie’s speech impediment, he is the only one that has showed any desire to spend time with the boy who lost much of his right hand in a garbage disposal.
When Jude goes missing, Stevie’s world is decimated.
He feels utterly alone.
He seeks frantically to find out what has happened to his only friend, not knowing what his investigations into the long-abandoned trails in the wooded town might bring.
Around this time, he sees an animal-like creature around this time, that he describes as a yeti, for lack of any other comparable being.
But the adults in his life do not listen to him.
His are the ravings of a madman in a child’s body; a clearly disturbed boy.
Stevie learns of the missing pets in the town.
What kind of town has virtually no pets among them?
The kind of town, surrounded by woods, that is hungry.
The yeti, it turns out, was born out of a night terror rape with what may have been Satan.
A soon-to-be single mother sought refuge from a biker-run crash house, and an old Dead-head one percenter named Rasputin was too kind to grant her wishes.
One night under his care, and nine months later, the white hairy ape-like human is the result.
He is very real. He eats flesh from whatever he can chew. He is not quite human.
The lesson: listen to kids, not the town’s communal rumor mill.
The sad truth is that small towns often look away from the truth as easily as adults ignore what children say.
And children, like the truth, should be heeded.
Ania Ahlborn brings one of my new favorite protagonists, Stevie, and the reader through an agonizing range of emotions, from desperation and exasperation to fear and the internal debate over the compulsion to need to act violently to save one’s self and others.
My only critique is that I would have loved to see a little more of the bearded Rasputin, who appears a couple of times in the book, briefly.
But the imagination certainly spins, like a possessed head, with the thoughts of the possibilities that lurk in and around the character Rasputin.
In Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In, the reality is set before the reader, as if it is perched on a stone, and when it shakes or falls, the story jars us heavily.