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The Toll Paperback – July 9, 2019
An Amazon Book with Buzz: "The Second Home" by Christina Clancy
"A sure-footed ode to the strength of family, the depth of loss, and the power of forgiveness." - J. Ryan Stradal Learn more
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Praise for The Toll
“A masterpiece of disquieted tension.”―New York Journal of Books
Praise for The Family Plot
“Priest has written an excellent modern house story from start to finish.” ―Publishers Weekly, stared & boxed review
“Highly recommended.” ―Booklist, starred review
Praise for Cherie Priest
“Cherie Priest is our new queen of darkness, folks. Time to kneel before her, lest she take our heads.” ―Chuck Wendig
“With Maplecroft, Cherie Priest delivers her most terrifying vision yet―a genuinely scary, deliciously claustrophobic, and dreadfully captivating historical thriller with both heart and cosmic horror. A mesmerizing absolute must-read.” ―Brian Keene
“One of the best Lovecraftian stories I’ve ever read.”―io9 on Maplecroft
“There are few writers I'd rather have keep me up half the night than Cherie Priest.” ―John Scalzi
About the Author
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The plot, loosely, is about a newly married couple on their way to a swamp for their honeymoon. Sounds romantic...Not!!!
Something happens, the husband wakes up on a two-lane road and his new wife is missing...
The rest of the story is about Titus, the husband, stuck in a small southern town trying to help police find his wife...and the one-lane bridge he saw before waking up on the road...
As I was reading the story, I was thinking "is this a YA novel?"....but no, it surely isn't...there's too much profanity and grandmother-aged guardians are encouraging their underaged godson to drink hard alcohol...but we, the readers, are supposed to believe that they are sweet, little old ladies...just eccentric...
I got the recommendation for this juvenile novel from an internet article that was trending "must read horror novels". I won't be making that mistake again.
If you really want a good southern gothic horror story try WICKED TEMPER by Randy Thornhorn.
(The facts I’m stating all occur very early on in the novel so no spoilers.)
This Southern Gothic novel takes place in present times in a small town in Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp. Near the start we are introduced to Titus and Melanie Bell, a feuding newly-married couple driving in their car. . They are going to honeymoon by the swamp when Titus seems to have trouble finding his way. They happen upon a mysterious and ominous one lane bridge that does not appear on their map/GPS. Titus drives his car over the bridge anyway.
When Titus awakes, he is on the ground near his car and Melanie is gone. He calls the police for help and is taken to the small town of Staywater.
The town of Staywater is a mysterious little town seemingly caught up in the past with few residents and even fewer places of business. As described by one of he characters, it is “both too warm and not warm enough.”
In Staywater, we meet two fabulous characters - 80 year old plus cousins Daisy and Claire. They are taking care of their godson Cameron, a boy left with them at a very young age.
We also meet a barkeeper named Dave and his girlfriend Jess who play an important part of the story as well as a seemingly crazy middle-aged woman named Netta who has mysteriously lost her young son Jimmy 13 years earlier.
So why the mixed bag for me? On the plus side, this town and the writing had a creepy and nice gothic feel to it; that’s not easily done but it’s done well here.
The biggest plus for me is that once I picked it up, I could hardly put it down. That’s high compliment from me and I read this book when I didn’t feel well and I still wanted to read more. So if you’re in a reading slump, I would give this the thumb’s up.
There’s also some nifty writing, such as, “Claire’s knitting flaked a rhythm on some new project that might’ve been another baby blanket or another scarf, neither one of which would ever see a baby or a neck.”
In critique, there were certain lapses in logic that drove threw me out of the book. Now I know this book deals with the supernatural, but the world still has to follow the rules it sets. Let’s just say when if a ghost is holding something corporeal....you shouldn’t be able to pass through it like you could the ghost. (I don’t want to sound petty but that’s just one example.)
There was also some dialogue that distracted me, such as your average guy suddenly talking about “a pinch in the fabric of space and time.”
I really don’t want to sound too critical of a book that was so much fun to read and very entertaining. I was just frustrated because it could’ve been so much better and the ending and explanations and the story itself felt half-baked to me. There was nice twist of sorts but the book still left me curiously unaffected. Still, I would like to read something else by this author because she has good writing chops.
The action starts pretty quickly with quarreling newlyweds Titus and Melanie Bell, headed into the Okefenokee for a camping honeymoon Melanie never agreed to. Of course, they get lost (they always get lost) and find the bridge, take the bridge and then, bam! Melanie is missing and Titus, for reasons which are never explained, is not. Titus is a fairly tragic figure in this story as Priest does very little to make him likable or laudable in any way. He wants to find his wife, but there's nothing really heroic about him. Thankfully, he's not the hero of our story.
In fact, if you define protagonist by how much time you spend with a character, that would be Cameron, the ward of the real heroes of the tale, septugenarian spinsters Daisy and Claire, who apparently killed the monster thirteen years earlier, just not enough to prevent it's ghost from somehow coming back to keep killing folks. As a protagonist, Cameron is fairly ineffectual. He's somehow in the only teenager in his small town, hopelessly in love with Jessie, the much-older local bartender, who has secrets that wind up making her a much less sympathetic character than she originally seems. Cameron is the audience's eyes into this story and when the time comes for explanations, he's the one they're given to, but he's a largely passive hero for the large amount of the word count that gets devoted to him. Cameron was somehow mysteriously delivered to Daisy and Claire's doorstep years earlier and briefly, you think his story might become part of the overall mystery of the piece, but no, not really. Cameron just reacts to the various reveals of the story and becomes involved in the third act climax, only once he's discovered how badly he's screwed up everything else.
Which leaves Daisy and Claire, who, as they themselves say on several occasions are "too old" to be saving the world, who thought they took care of this problem when they were thirteen years younger and slightly better equipped. Their work-around to the problems of their age and lack of stamina and mobility is one of the more truly original ideas in the story, but if you're not comfortable with the book's casual, matter-of-fact treatment of ghosts and the supernatural in every day life, this idea may seem a bit too "deus ex machina" for you and fall flat.
I liked this book, but I didn't love it. Too many things got set up and never delivered, Cameron is a character who never really got an arc or a chance to shine and Daisy and Claire seemed like they would have been more interesting if Priest had chosen to tell the story of their first encounter with the creature as opposed to this one. Supporting characters like Titus and Dave have beats that get teased, but never developed and Jessie, dear sweet Jessie, never gets the explanation for her actions that we deserve and as for what happens to her at the end, to quote the words of Deadpool himself, "That's just lazy writing."
I really wasn't trying to write a negative review when I started this, I swear. There's some really good stuff in The Toll and Priest, is without a doubt a talented writer. It's just that somewhere in all this, was a much better story and a much better book. I wish she'd written it.