Genre: Southern Gothic/Country Noir

Life’s Too Short – Barbed Wire Heart, Unbury Carol, Future Home of the Living God

April 6, 2018 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Life's Too Short, Read in 2018 2 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Barbed Wire Heart, Unbury Carol, Future Home of the Living GodBarbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe
Published by Grand Central Publishing on March 6th 2018
Pages: 416
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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dnf

Never cut the drugs--leave them pure.Guns are meant to be shot--keep them loaded.Family is everything--betray them and die.

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County's biggest criminal. Duke McKenna's run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley's been working for him since she was sixteen--collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he'd deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he's built.

Her time's run out. The Springfields, her family's biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother's death, and now they're coming for Duke's only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father's violent world will destroy her. Duke's raised her to be deadly--he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she's got to take out Duke's operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father's daughter. And McKennas always win.

DNF @ 16%

Southern Gothic is my jam and Barbed Wire Heart sounded right up my alley. Of course, when you compare anything to Winter’s Bone I’m even more on board. Harley McKenna’s character did in fact, read a lot like Ree Dolly with her badass nature and overall inability to sit on the sidelines letting someone else handle business. It’s an admirable quality and I’m quite fond of this characteristic in female characters. For some reason though, something about the characters, the atmosphere, and the story itself just never rang true for me. It felt like a combination of a lack of authenticity and simply trying too hard to fit in all the guns, the drugs, the bad men, and excessive violence that are characters in and of themselves in novels of this ilk. Whatever it was that ultimately turned me off from this story, I wish it wasn’t the case because I had high hopes for this one.

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Barbed Wire Heart, Unbury Carol, Future Home of the Living GodUnbury Carol by Josh Malerman
Published by Del Rey on April 10, 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Western
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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Also by this author: Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel

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Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.

Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.

And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.

DNF @ 15%

As you might have guessed from the title, Carol is dead. Or at least she dies a lot but she comes back, for some mysterious reason. When Carol was still alive and kicking, she married this pretty horrible dude named Dwight (horrible dude, horrible name… it fits) who only pretended to like her for her money, but now that she’s died again, he intends to keep it that way. Except for her ex, the outlaw James Moxie is coming to save her from a forever death. Yeah, outlaw. This is some bizarre blend of fantasy and the Wild West and there were absolutely no ‘horror’ bits about it. Except having to read characters constantly repeat the phrase “Hell’s heaven” ad nauseam was plenty horrific enough.

Honestly, this just sounds like a bad Lifetime movie, but Bird Box remains one of my all-time favorite horror novels and I keep trying his stories even though nothing has managed to come close.

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Life’s Too Short – Barbed Wire Heart, Unbury Carol, Future Home of the Living GodFuture Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Published by Harper on November 14, 2017
Pages: 288
Genres: Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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Also by this author: The Round House

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The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

DNF @ 20% (+ scan reading)

The concept of evolution reversing itself is a potentially fascinating story, but Erdrich didn’t exactly tackle the details of this idea. It’s merely a stated occurrence and the story instead focuses on women being rounded up for breeding stock because there are so few “original” babies being born. Which… just sounds a lot like The Handmaid’s Tale to me. Whether or not it’s the renewed interest in The Handmaid’s Tale what with the new show, but there have been a ridiculous amount of dystopian tales surrounding the degradation of women as of late. This is all well and good, I’m always on board for a good dystopian story, but with Future Home of the Living God, Erdrich’s attempts to hop on the bandwagon of dystopian lit results in nothing more than a lesser, imitative version.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

January 3, 2018 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 3 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – Barbed Wire Heart by Tess SharpeBarbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe
Published by Grand Central Publishing on March 6th 2018
Pages: 416
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover
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Also by this author: Barbed Wire Heart

Never cut the drugs--leave them pure.Guns are meant to be shot--keep them loaded.Family is everything--betray them and die.

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County's biggest criminal. Duke McKenna's run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley's been working for him since she was sixteen--collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he'd deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he's built.

Her time's run out. The Springfields, her family's biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother's death, and now they're coming for Duke's only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father's violent world will destroy her. Duke's raised her to be deadly--he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she's got to take out Duke's operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father's daughter. And McKennas always win.

About Tess Sharpe

Born in a mountain cabin to a punk-rocker mother, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural northern California. Living deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a herd of formerly feral cats, she is the author of Barbed Wire Heart and the critically acclaimed YA novel Far From You.


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What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

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Rapid Fire Reviews – Lightwood, The Weight of This World, Wildfire, The Rules of Magic

December 28, 2017 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Rapid Fire Reviews, Read in 2017 7 Comments

Sometimes review writing is hard. Sometimes you don’t have a lot to say. Sometimes you’re just lazy as fuck. These are Rapid Fire Reviews.

Rapid Fire Reviews – Lightwood, The Weight of This World, Wildfire, The Rules of MagicLightwood by Steph Post
Published by Polis Books on January 24th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eBook
Source: the Author
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Short Summary: When Judah Cannon is released from prison and returns to his hometown of Silas, Florida, he finds himself swiftly wrapped up in the troublesome workings of his family once again except this time may not result in prison, but death.

Thoughts: Steph Post has written a riveting noir-style story about revenge and betrayal that switches up the typical Appalachian setting of most Southern Gothic novels and gives us a peek at the dynamic and dangerous world of Florida scrub country.

Verdict: Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, and Cormac McCarthy are all big names of the often lurid genre but Steph Post proves with Lightwood that her name is just as deserving to be listed amongst them.

four-stars

Rapid Fire Reviews – Lightwood, The Weight of This World, Wildfire, The Rules of MagicThe Weight of This World by David Joy
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 7th 2017
Pages: 260
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Goodreads

Short Summary: Aiden McCall and Thad Broom have been best friends since they were children, both trapped by the imaginary confines of their hometown even after a huge amount of money ends up in their possession after witnessing the violent death of their drug dealer.

Thoughts: Joy’s graceful prose is all the more evident when its backdrop is a brutal tale but the two pair perfectly by focusing on the powerful loyalty between two lifelong friends.

Verdict: There’s no sophomore slump to be had here; The Weight of the World is just as fantastic as Where All Light Tends to Go which makes the wait for The Line That Held Us all the more interminable.

four-stars

Waiting on Wednesday – Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Audible
Goodreads

Short Summary: Life is never quiet for Nevada Baylor who realizes she’s in love with Mad Rogan, has to contend with being hired for a job by his beautiful ex, but she’s also dealing with her evil grandmother trying to kidnap her solely because of the power she possessed.

Thoughts: The intricate world-building, passionate romance, and overall excitement of this series continue in this installment that just might not be the last in the trilogy as first presumed.

Verdict: This is the 19th Ilona Andrews story so clearly I’m a bit of a fangirl; however, it never ceases to amaze me the originality of their stories and how I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of them.

four-stars

Rapid Fire Reviews – Lightwood, The Weight of This World, Wildfire, The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #2
Published by Simon & Schuster on October 10th 2017
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical FictionMagical Realism
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Audible
Goodreads

Short Summary: In Practical Magic we learn about the Owens sisters in the present day and in this unexpected prequel, we learn about their ancestors and the curse on the family that dates back to the early 1600s.

Thoughts: The Rules of Magic is an enchanting story that flows softly, never with any sense of urgency or climax, but delineates on a family that we never quite knew we wanted (or needed) to know more of until this was released.

Verdict: I was worried that this prequel (released twenty-two years after Practical Magic would feel stale and wouldn’t possess the same magic as its predecessor: I was wrong.

four-stars

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Past Is Never by Tiffany Quay Tyson

December 13, 2017 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 4 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – The Past Is Never by Tiffany Quay TysonThe Past Is Never: A Novel by Tiffany Quay Tyson
Published by Skyhorse Publishing on March 6th 2018
Pages: 304
Genres: Magical Realism, Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover
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A compelling addition to contemporary Southern Gothic fiction, deftly weaving together local legends, magical realism, and the search for a missing child.

Siblings Bert, Willet, and Pansy know better than to go swimming at the old rock quarry. According to their father, it's the devil's place, a place that's been cursed and forgotten. But Mississippi Delta summer days are scorching hot and they can't resist cooling off in the dark, bottomless water. Until the day six-year-old Pansy disappears. Not drowned, not lost . . . simply gone.

After years with no sign, no hope of ever finding Pansy alive, Bert and Willet have tried to move on. But as surely as their mother died of a broken heart, they can't let go. So when clues surface drawing them to the remote tip of Florida, they drop everything and drive south. Deep in the murky depths of the Florida Everglades they may find the answer to Pansy's mysterious disappearance . . . but truth, like the past, is sometimes better left where it lies.

Perfect for fans of Flannery O'Connor and Dorothy Allison, The Past Is Never is an atmospheric, haunting story of myths, legends, and the good and evil we carry in our hearts.

About Tiffany Quay Tyson

Tiffany Quay Tyson was born and raised in Mississippi, where most of her fiction is set. Her debut novel, THREE RIVERS, was a Mississippi bestseller and a finalist for both the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Fiction Award and the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction. Her second novel, THE PAST IS NEVER, is forthcoming March 6, 2018. She currently lives and writes in Denver. Colorado, where she serves on the faculty of Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for anything Southern Gothic. Adding in Magical Realism? Now that’s a combination I haven’t come across before.


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What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

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Waiting on Wednesday – Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

October 5, 2016 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 8 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – Desperation Road by Michael Farris SmithDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
Published by Little Brown and Company on February 7th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover
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"An elegantly written, perfectly-paced novel about a man and woman indelibly marked by violence" (Ron Rash) set in a Mississippi town where drugs, whiskey, guns, and revenge explosively collide.

For eleven years the clock has been ticking for Russell Gaines as he sits in Parchman penitentiary. His sentence now up, Russell believes his debt has been paid. But when he returns home, he discovers that revenge lives and breathes all around him.

Meanwhile, a woman named Maben and her young daughter trudge along the side of the interstate. Desperate and exhausted, the pair spend their last dollar on a room for the night, a night that ends with Maben holding a pistol and a dead deputy sprawled in the middle of the road.

With the dawn, destinies collide, and Russell is forced to decide whose life he will save—his own or those of the woman and child.

About Michael Farris Smith

Michael Farris Smith's new novel, Desperation Road, will be available in February of 2017 from Lee Boudreaux Books. His debut novel Rivers was named to numerous Best Books of 2013 lists and garnered the Mississippi Author Award for Fiction. He lives in Mississippi with his wife and daughters.

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I have been eager to get a hold of Rivers, his post-apocalyptic debut novel, for I don’t even know how long. And now Smith is writing a book in my second favorite genre. And it’s blurbed by James Lee Burke AND  Ron Rash! I need no other reason to get excited.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Weight of This World by David Joy

September 14, 2016 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 3 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – The Weight of This World by David JoyThe Weight of This World by David Joy
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on March 7th 2017
Pages: 272
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover
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Also by this author: Where All Light Tends to Go, The Weight of This World

Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut Where All Light Tends to Go was hailed as “a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature” (Huffington Post), returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.

A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it.

About David Joy

David Joy is the author of the novels Where All Light Tends to Go (Putnam, 2015) and Waiting On The End Of The World (Putnam, 2016), as well as the memoir Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey (Bright Mountain Books, 2011), which was a finalist for the Reed Environmental Writing Award and the Ragan Old North State Award for Creative Nonfiction. His work is represented by Julia Kenny of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency.

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I was a big fan of Joy’s Where All Light Tends to Go and I’m looking forward to what is bound to be more crazy adventures in the mountains of North Carolina.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine

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Book Review – The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

July 22, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2016 4 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray PollockThe Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
Published by Doubleday on July 12th 2016
Pages: 384
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Also by this author: The Devil All the Time

two-half-stars

From Donald Ray Pollock, author of the highly acclaimed The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff, comes a dark, gritty, electrifying (and, disturbingly, weirdly funny) new novel that will solidify his place among the best contemporary American authors.

It is 1917, in that sliver of border land that divides Georgia from Alabama. Dispossessed farmer Pearl Jewett ekes out a hardscrabble existence with his three young sons: Cane (the eldest; handsome; intelligent); Cob (short; heavy set; a bit slow); and Chimney (the youngest; thin; ill-tempered). Several hundred miles away in southern Ohio, a farmer by the name of Ellsworth Fiddler lives with his son, Eddie, and his wife, Eula. After Ellsworth is swindled out of his family’s entire fortune, his life is put on a surprising, unforgettable, and violent trajectory that will directly lead him to cross paths with the Jewetts. No good can come of it. Or can it?

In the gothic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy with a healthy dose of cinematic violence reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, the Jewetts and the Fiddlers will find their lives colliding in increasingly dark and horrific ways, placing Donald Ray Pollock firmly in the company of the genre’s literary masters.

style-3 review

“That’s the one good thing about this here life. Nothin’ in it lasts for long.”

The Heavenly Table‘s cast of characters is extremely large and despite the extravagant and grandiose picture attempting to be painted, most characters were superfluous. There were two main stories, the first being the story of Pearl Jewett and his three sons, Cane, Chimney, and Cobb. Their father is something of a religious man and believed that the harder they lived here on Earth, the higher chance they would earn a seat at the heavenly table. They lived the hardest existence possible without succumbing to it. Until the day that Pearl did, and his boys decided to hell with the heavenly table, they wanted to live good now. They began with a  murder, followed it up with a bank robbery, and went on from there.

The second is the story of a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler, a farmer in Ohio, who also leads a hard existence but only because he got swindled out of his life savings. On top of that, his son, who was the only help he had with farm work, has up and disappeared. The year is 1917 and war is brewing and Ellsworth believes he joined up and hopes that he can finally make something of himself.

These stories were all well and good but we’re given full accounts of several other storylines that never really ended up amounting to much. The military officer that gets dumped, discovers he’s gay, decides to kill himself but decides at the last minute to enlist so he can die honorably in the war instead. The black man that uses and abuses women travels home to visit his family but finds himself mixed up with the Jewett’s. The bar keep in a small town that likes kidnapping and torturing people for the hell of it. And last but certainly not least, the sanitation inspector with a giant penis. I’m not kidding. At one point it’s referred to as a “long slab of meat.” I think that about covers everything but goddamn was it convoluted. The chapters, of which there are 72 in total, are short and to the point which didn’t exactly help when you’re trying to connect and under such an extensive cast of characters. All in all it made for quite the rocky read.

The Devil All the Time, Pollock’s debut novel, is one of my all time favorites and is the book that solidified my love of southern gothic fiction. It hosted a cast of perverse characters and was extremely violent brash, but damn was it brilliant. The Heavenly Table introduces a brand new cast of perverse characters but there was a distinctly vulgar quality to Pollock’s sophomore effort that I found fairly unpleasant. Here are just a few examples:

‘Even Esther, probably the least self-conscious person he’d ever met, occasionally got the jitters if too many voyeurs crowded into her tent to watch her play a tune on some john’s skin flute.’

and

‘Bovard had stumbled to his quarters so aroused from what Malone had said that he was still awake at reveille, his handkerchief stiff with ejaculate and his hand cramped so badly that he had a difficult time lacing up his boots.’

Pollock excels at portraying the backwoods down South mentality. He highlights just how poor the poor were and the lengths they would go just to climb out of the station assigned to them at birth. It’s sad and devastating when you really think about it, but Pollock’s delivery is done in such a way so as to not garner sympathy. He simply tells it like it is. The added facet of WWI seemed an unnecessary inclusion at first but it only aided in highlighting the small mindedness of these people and how unaware they are of the vastness of the world around them.

“And what’s this?” Eula said, pointing at the broad expanse of blue that separated America from Europe while waving gnats away from her face.
“That’s the Atlantic Ocean.”
Ellsworth leaned in for a closer look. “Why, that don’t look no bigger than Clancy’s pond,” he said.

Times were changing for these people, whether they liked it or not. Not just with the war either but with new technology and even evolving mindsets. It was a time of change and seeing these characters confronted with it was most fascinating.

I never thought to expect more novels from Pollock, I was sure that The Devil All the Time was destined to be his only one, and while this one was quite a disappointment overall it’s still fantastic to see southern gothic continue to grow in popularity.

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Early Review – Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

January 29, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Early Review, Read in 2016 3 Comments

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Early Review – Sweetgirl by Travis MulhauserSweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser
Published by Ecco on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 256
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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four-stars

With the heart, daring, and evocative atmosphere of Winter’s Bone and True Grit, and driven by the raw, whip-smart voice of Percy James, a blistering debut about a fearless sixteen-year old girl whose search for her missing mother leads to an unexpected discovery, and a life or death struggle in the harsh frozen landscape of the Upper Midwest.

As a blizzard bears down, Percy James sets off to find her troubled mother, Carletta. For years, Percy has had to take care of herself and Mama—a woman who’s been unraveling for as long as her daughter can remember. Fearing Carletta is strung out on meth and that she won’t survive the storm, Percy heads for Shelton Potter’s cabin, deep in the woods of Northern Michigan. A two-bit criminal, as incompetent as he his violent, Shelton has been smoking his own cook and grieving the death of his beloved Labrador, Old Bo.

But when Percy arrives, there is no sign of Carletta. Searching the house, she finds Shelton and his girlfriend drugged into oblivion—and a crying baby girl left alone in a freezing room upstairs. From the moment the baby wraps a tiny hand around her finger, Percy knows she must save her—a split-second decision that is the beginning of a dangerous odyssey in which she must battle the elements and evade Shelton and a small band of desperate criminals, hell-bent on getting that baby back.

Knowing she and the child cannot make it alone, Percy seeks help from Carletta’s ex, Portis Dale, who is the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. As the storm breaks and violence erupts, Percy will be forced to confront the haunting nature of her mother’s affliction and finds her own fate tied more and more inextricably to the baby she is determined to save.

Filled with the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of its setting—the hills of fictional Cutler County in northern Michigan—and told in Percy’s unflinching style, Sweetgirl is an affecting exploration of courage, sacrifice, and the ties that bind—a taut and darkly humorous tour-de-force that is horrifying, tender, and hopeful.

style-3 review

Percy James is used to her mother disappearing, but something unspoken urges her to go off in search for her, despite the approaching blizzard. Shelton Potter is the maker and dealer of the local methamphetamine trade and his house is her first stop. She doesn’t find her mother but she does find a baby, laying in front of an open window as the snow begins to pile on top of her. Not knowing what to do but knowing she can’t leave the baby, she bundles her up and begins a tragic excursion through a blizzard in Northern Michigan.

This story seems like one that has been done time and time again, but it’s one that continues to work for me. Sweetgirl is being compared to Winter’s Bone, and it isn’t wrong, but there’s a wonderful touch of humor amidst the bleakness that also reminds me of Justified. Shelton Potter is a drug-addled character that sets off in the blizzard to find baby Jenna in a misguided attempt at being a hero. At one point he’s sucking on helium balloons and whiskey when he runs out of gas in his snowmobile in the middle of nowhere while pondering the complexities of our existence.

‘His head was throbbing. He wondered if he got worse headaches on account of how big his head was. It stood to reason that he would.’

Deep thoughts, right? He reminded me greatly of Dewey Crowe (Justified) for obvious reasons.

Percy James was a headstrong girl that was clearly used to taking care of herself. Despite moments where she appeared far too articulate for a sixteen-year-old girl, she was still written genuinely and made the sort of decisions one would expect from a teenager. Like instead of hiking into town to find help for the baby, she sets off deeper into the hills to enlist the help of her mother’s ex, Portis Dale, a kind but troubled man. Together, they traverse the snow-covered hills attempting to survive nature and survive Shelton Potter’s men. Portis Dale was a welcome addition and added another level of wittiness to the story.

“Am I being testy? I’m sorry, Percy. As your cruise director I deeply regret any momentary discomfort my tone may have caused you.”

Sweetgirl impressed me most with its striking descriptiveness and how vividly the scenery was brought to life. There may have been some slight issues in general, but it triumphed in terms of Percy’s personal evolution. For such a short novel, she manages to overcome adversity while learning how to know when to do the right thing and realizing her potential for a brighter future outside of the hills of Cutler County Michigan.

‘Mama loved me. I knew that she did. She loved me in a way not even Starr could, but it had been a long time, maybe as far back as that day at Spring Lake, that her love had not felt confused and undercut with sadness. This had always been the torment of Mama’s love and it remained so now – it was both the sun that had borne me and the endless orbit I tread around its burning.’

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Audiobook Review – Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

January 21, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Read in 2016 2 Comments

Audiobook Review – Where All Light Tends to Go by David JoyWhere All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
Published by Books on Tape on March 4th 2015
Length: 7 hours and 30 minutes
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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Also by this author: The Weight of This World

three-half-stars

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

style-3 (3) review

‘It was a silly thought to think that the life I was born into was something that could be so easily left behind. Some were destined for bigger things, far-off places, and such. But some of us were glued to this place and would live out what little bit of life we were given until we were just another body buried on uneven ground.’

Jacob McNeely is eighteen years old and has little to no hope for his future; he’s a McNeely after all. His mother is a meth addict and his father is the leader of the Cashiers, North Carolina meth ring with Jacob stuck between the middle of them. His daddy sends him and two others on a task to dispose of a snitch before he does further damage but everything goes wrong and sets in motion inescapable trouble. When Jacob’s only love Maggie asks him to leave with her, to finally leave that place behind, he has a brief moment of hope where he can almost see himself surviving outside of Cashiers. Actually making it happen is another matter entirely.

Ahh, another one of my “back woods” books. Appalachians. Trailers. Meth rings. And let’s not forget the typical abundance of bloodshed. There is something about these stories that manage to completely captivate me, don’t ask me why or how. Light has been on my TBR for ages but it wasn’t until Audible called this audio narration one of the best of 2015 did I finally pick it up. MacLeod Andrews narration is fantastic and I completely agree with Audible (listen below to a clip.) While I’m definitely impressed that this is the authors debut novel, there was something slightly absent from this and I’ve determined that it was ultimately the characterizations. Jacob was a well-written complex character that hovered on the fence that separated good and evil the entire story. His “daddy” was straight up violent with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, which isn’t always a bad thing, but I would have appreciated some complexity with him as well. Maggie’s purpose was to be the shining beacon of hope, the good girl that turns Jacob away from a life of crime, but that’s all she really was… a purpose. Her character wasn’t built up at all, relying on her and Jacob’s past which we were never even shown in walks down memory lane. If it had gone on for too much longer I would be tempted to say it took the path of cliché, however, Joy pulled out the punches with an explosive ending that was bold and audacious and left me most impressed.

“Looks like there might be a little of that McNeely blood in you after all.”
That’s what I was scared of.

Where All Light Tends to Go is about being born into a situation, a lifestyle, and the realization that circumstance is one difficult obstacle to surmount. Jacob McNeely may be a McNeely, but his strength and determination to earn a life beyond his family legacy is admirable. David Joy is one to add to the list of Southern Gothic authors to read when you’re looking for a wild time in the Appalachians.

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Book Review – Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

January 14, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Early Review, Read in 2016 2 Comments

I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – Fallen Land by Taylor BrownFallen Land by Taylor Brown
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 12th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: ARC
Source: the Publisher
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three-stars

Fallen Land is Taylor Brown's debut novel set in the final year of the Civil War, as a young couple on horseback flees a dangerous band of marauders who seek a bounty reward.

Callum, a seasoned horse thief at fifteen years old, came to America from his native Ireland as an orphan. Ava, her father and brother lost to the war, hides in her crumbling home until Callum determines to rescue her from the bands of hungry soldiers pillaging the land, leaving destruction in their wake. Ava and Callum have only each other in the world and their remarkable horse, Reiver, who carries them through the destruction that is the South.

Pursued relentlessly by a murderous slave hunter, tracking dogs, and ruthless ex-partisan rangers, the couple race through a beautiful but ruined land, surviving on food they glean from abandoned farms and the occasional kindness of strangers.

In the end, as they intersect with the scorching destruction of Sherman's March, the couple seek a safe haven where they can make a home and begin to rebuild their lives.

Dramatic and thrillingly written with an uncanny eye for glimpses of beauty in a ravaged landscape, Fallen Land is a love story at its core, and an unusually assured first novel by award-winning young author Taylor Brown.

style-3 (3) review

‘Outside the door, the world was taking shape out of the high-country mist. Blued timbers sprung of the fugitive reality of dawn, ghostlike, perfect hidings for ambushing men.’

Fallen Land tells the harrowing tale about two young people that manage to fall in love in the midst of the Civil War. Callum is riding in the company of a band of Confederates being led by a dangerous man; the Colonel. He is a man both loved and feared; described as “a man of great cruelty who nevertheless protected them, led them, eclipsed any guilt of theirs with his own. At his behest they had razed and butchered, no reason but hunger and the Colonel’s orders.” When they reach a house and Callum is the first to find a woman inside, his immediate instinct is to protect her and he kills a man to do just that. While wounded in the process, he wakes to find that while he protected her from the first man, he wasn’t there to protect her from the second. This knowledge spurs him to leave his troop and set off to find her again and ensure she’s okay. Callum is subsequently accused of murder and a bounty is put on him, forcing him and now Ava to flee from certain death.

‘…the bounty of the boy’s head was only of greater import, for men such as them have little place int he world that stood scorched and remnant before them.’

The story is told primarily through Callum’s point of view, however, we are shown snippets through the eyes of the bounty hunters and their devotion to Callum’s death is ruthless. Fierce and relentless, these men have no qualms about tracking him down for the purposes of obtaining the money promised to them; even if it involves killing or maiming innocents that stand in their way of discovery. The duo are forced to endure tremendous hardship and any hope that they have of making out of this alive is seemingly improbable.

While I found the writing to be positively sumptuous, the story itself did follow a meandering pace and took me quite some time to finish. The violence is extreme, but fitting. The romance is lacking with no spark between the two to be seen, which you wouldn’t expect since Callum made some pretty life-changing decisions in order to protect this woman of mystery. I can understand his intentions to protect a woman, I just never quite understood exactly why he went to such extreme lengths to do so. Setting all that aside, this is still a notable debut that leaves me anticipating future works to come from this author. I will also be checking out his short story collection, In the Season of Blood and Gold, which is more Southern Gothic/Country Noir.

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