Foxlowe by Ellen Wasserberg

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, book jacket
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

This atmospheric, creepy novel uses a superb narrative technique. The story is told through the eyes of Green, a young girl who has grown up in an artists commune at Foxlowe.

She has no parents and all is shared equally in the family in a pile called the Jumble.  Green thinks, however,  she belongs to Freya Marsh. Freya, the de facto leader, is an affectionate tormentor who loves and tortures Green.

The family’s actions are compared to a shoal of fish; none of them wants to be “edged” or ostracized. Green feels being “Edged” is worst than taking the Spike Walk–a horrid punishment that Freya invented.

Though the family think they have retreated into safety, real danger lurks through the halls of the ancestral home. Freya takes a baby away from her mother. The Family seems unable to sense the growing moral uncertainty. 

Instead of checking her authority, the family goes along with whatever Freya decides. Thus, when Freya arrives with an infant, the family never questions her origins. They simply welcomes the infant as a new family member. Curiously, Green names the infant Blue.

In order to feel safe from the outside world, the family performs numerous rituals. During the Winter Solstice  they perform the Scattering–a line of salt is poured around the house to protect the house from outsiders. Green, in a fit of jealous, puts the infant outside the salt line, an action that will have serious repercussions . 

Green, Blue, and Toby grow close in the years that follow. The grown believe that they have provided the children with the most magical childhood. They don’t go to school and are not subjected to society’s rules.

The ungrown are not given access to the most basic things e.g. mirrors and cannot leave the grounds or talk to strangers. Green in never given a chance to leave Foxlowe until a tragedy occurs.

Psychologically damaged, Green may never be able to integrate into society.  One of the growns who became a Leaver is determined to give her a chance. Can he help her or will he only make things worst? 

Green is a fascinating yet unreliable narrator in this novel that is both complex and frightening.

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Fellside

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Fellside is another terrifying, yet gripping story by M.R. Carey, the author of The Girl With All The Gifts. 

Jess Moulson goes on a hunger strike shortly before entering a maximum security prison, Fellside.

Though Jess nearly dies, a young boy gives her a reason to live. Alex, the ghost of the boy whom everyone believes she killed, asks her to do the one thing she cannot refuse.

Fellside is a ghost story that reads like a riveting psychological thriller and suspenseful mystery.

Jess’s relationship with Alex is complicated. She wants to protect him from everything but he is also powerful. He saved her when a nurse punctured her artery instead of her vein:

“He’d brought her back from the abyss, from the mouth of the grave. She owed him everything and he owed her nothing except arguably a life for a life and a tooth for a tooth.”

Alex knows, however, that the fire Jess started while she was high hadn’t killed him.

The fire she set hadn’t killed him because he was already dead. So who hurt him and how did he die?

As a favor to Alex who brought her back from the blackness, Jess agrees to appeal her case and investigate what truly happened to him.

The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Years after a horrific crime, Tessie, the only survivor in the “Black-eyed Susan” murders steps forward. She is beginning to doubt that the right person has been convicted for the heinous crime.

Tessie was nearly killed and blinded by a “monster.” After the  horrific attack, Tessie suffers memory loss and psychological blindess–a conversion disorder.

Heaberlin unveils the chilling story in back and forth chapters that contrasts events near the time of the crime with its aftershock seventeen years later.

If Tessie does not change her testimony, an innocent man could face the death penalty. Tessie, however, is reluctant to delve into her past. After all, she has her own daughter to protect from the media’s harsh glare.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Tessie thinks she is going insane.

Immediately after the crime she begins to hear the voices of the other Susans in her head. The grown-up Tessie thinks her monster has been planting batches of blacked-eyed susans to traumatize her.

The twist at the end packs a wallop. Heaberlin’s latest is for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Brunonia Barry.

Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

The fact that Ree says, “Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered,” tells a lot about her character. Hungry, her two brothers has just said they would ask a relative for meat. Kin are supposed to help each other.

Ree knows otherwise. She’s had a hard life and is used to bitter disappointments. Yet she also exploits the fact that she’s kin to many of the Ozark crank dealers.

Since her mother is disabled, Ree knows it’s “all on her.” She goes on an perilous pursuit to find the man that owes her family something–her own father.

Woodrell invented the term country noir. Though it initially seems gritty and dark, this novel draws you into Ree’s world. Though its not a pretty world, it’s a taut, compelling narrative.

Transactional Magic

Transactional Magic

“I need you to owe me something,” Patricia said, “or this won’t work. I’m really sorry. I tried to do it every other way, and none of them succeeded. In the end, the most powerful magic is oftentransactional
in some way.”

Patricia to Laurence in All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

Other adult books that feature magic:

Barker, Emily Croy. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic.
Flyte, Magnus. City of Dark Magic.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians.
McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway.
Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic.
Walton, Jo. Among Others.  

Young adult books that feature magic:
Marillier, Juliet. Wildwood Dancing.
Bow, Erin. Plain Kate.

If I Fall, I Die

If I Fall, If Die by Michael Christie

In this high-octane novel, a boy learns to abolish his fears and live his life fully.

Will has lived an extremely sheltered life–he’s lived indoors from age 7 to 11 because his mother is fearful. Her phobias were too numerous to count. She is afraid of, “lightning, fire, electricity, water, accidents, vehicles, animals, the Outside, people.”

After someone pipe bombs their house, Will surprises her one day by deciding to take a walk in the terrifying Outside. For the first time, he meets other kids and begins doing what he calls “destructivity” experiments.

As Will explores the outside world, he begins to discern the racial tensions in Thunder Bay–the disconnect between whites and Natives. Because of his isolation, Will can identify with the nearly silent, Jonah, and enter his world.

Will finds himself becoming addicted to dangerous activities like skateboarding and investigating a native boy’s disappearance. Fearful that she is losing control of her son, Diane tells Will he has a medical condition–an inexcusable lie.

While searching for clues about the disappearance, Will is starting to unravel the secret of his own family’s tragic past. He questions the “wheezing man” aka Titus about Marcus. Oddly, Will finds Titus’ fingerprints in his own house.

Michael Christie describes a woman’s mental illness and her claustrophobic hold on her son perfectly. Will knows his mother’s problems as the Black Lagoon:

“When the Black Lagoon came, when its bear trap was sprung upon her heart, her eyes went swimmy and blotted with white nose like channel zero on TV.”

He also describes Titus’ mental illness in a way that feels genuine. Titus’ dialog, which is indecipherable at first, gradually begins to make sense in its own twisted way.

Though readers know the relationship between the Cardiels and Titus fairly early, the novel’s central mystery is still compelling. This novel is wonderful for adults and may possibly interest mature young adults.

Firebird

Firebird by Susana Kearsley

Though she wants to hide her supernatural gifts, Nicola finds that increasingly difficult to do. When a woman tries to sell a Russian relic in the art and antiquities gallery where she works, Nicola feels motivated to use her psychometric abilities.

Holding the relic in her hands, Nicola knows the woman’s story is true; the relic has been a gift from the Empress Catherine of Russia handed down through generations of the woman’s family.

Proving the provenance of the wooden object, however, is much more of a challenge. Nicola contacts an old boyfriend, Rob, who has even more sophisticated psychic abilities. He can see past events in his mind merely by visiting a place.

Working together, Rob and Nicola learn Anna’s story, the woman who had originally been gifted with the firebird.

What they witness is startling and heart-breaking. When the English force the Jacobites to flee Scotland, Anna’s relatives send her to a convent in Ypres for safekeeping. Betrayed by a girl she befriended a the convent, Anna flees to Calais where she faces even more spies.

In St. Petersburg, Anna is adopted by a kind man to whom she has never revealed her true identity. She becomes Anna Niktovna (“Nobody”)  to protect her Scottish relatives.

After Anna takes a job in St. Petersburg, as a lady’s companion. At this new household, Anna becomes intrigued by rakish Mr. Edmund O’Leary, a relative of her employer.

Kearsley relates an epic, powerful love story about the courage to assert one’s own identity in the midst of political turmoil.

This novel is well-researched and employs fully developed characters.

If you enjoy The Firebird, you may also enjoy Paullina Simon’s The Bronze Horseman.