The Toll by Cherie Priest

Posted On 15 July 2019

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TheTollThe Toll is a tale of the supernatural full of gothic type goodness set in a swamp where more than alligators live.  This is a story of ghosts and hungry creatures waiting in the dark.  To be upfront about it – this didn’t scare me, which I think I was expecting after being chilled to the bone by The Family Plot, but, nonetheless it was a good read with an intriguing mystery at its core.

We start the story with an introduction to Titus and his wife Davinia.  They’re on their way to honeymoon on the Okenfenokee Swamp – and they’re arguing, chiefly about who had the big idea to go canoeing on a swamp in the first place, it certainly doesn’t sound romantic, then they come across a single lane bridge that looks a little bit menacing.  They’re reluctant to cross to say the least.  Visibility is poor and the aspect is ominous but eventually they set off, with misgivings.  Unfortunately their gut reactions, that were trying to get them to turn back and run, were only too right.  Titus wakes up in the middle of the road, the car stands vacant and his wife is missing.  Eventually he calls the police who, when they arrive, are adamant that there is no seventh bridge and seem to be taking Titus and his tale with a pinch of salt.  Although there is a good degree of eye avoidance suggesting that Titus and his disappearing bridge are already a known element.

So, welcome to Staywater, a place where people quite often become trapped.  They come for a holiday and stay for life – although it’s more out of necessity than love of the place.  This is a place where people are haunted by memories, by missing people and by the strange occurences that everyone just ignores.  Staywater is a dying place.  The number of residents has been in decline for years – of course persistent floods and whispers of a serial killer could explain some of the ways in which the population have been decimated but deep down everyone knows that something is fundamentally wrong in this place.

In terms of the characters.   Titus is the main character, he’s joined by a number of the residents, the local barkeep, a young man barely grown into his own moustache called Cameron and his aunts, Claire and Daisy.  Claire and Daisy are two old spinsters living out on the edge of the swamp.  Everyone fears them, even the ‘thing’ that can’t be named.  They have their own brand of magic and I confess that they were my favourite element to the story.  One thing about Cherie Priest.  She has a wonderful way of drawing a character and making them appear quite easily in your mind’s eye.  Alright, she doesn’t really try to avoid any tropes here but there is a lovely, almost tongue-in-cheek style that makes the familiarity seem fresh.

In terms of criticisms.   It’s difficult to pin down why The Toll didn’t completely blow me away.  There are so many elements to this story that are without doubt my cup of tea but there’s a vague feeling of things being incomplete.  I want to know more.  More about Cameron, about the two cunning aunts and more about Staywater.  I think in some respects this almost feels like a short story somehow and yet at over 300 pages that really isn’t the case although it does testify to the quickness of both the read and the pacing.  I can’t put my finger on anything specific to be honest.  I wouldn’t say this was a scary read and perhaps that was something that I felt the lack of – maybe because I went into the read expecting to be given a serious case of the heebie jeebies.  I loved the gothic feel and the whole mystery element but I think in a nutshell this lacked that certain something that would have really given me the chills.

On the whole though, well written and enjoyable and certainly a place that I would be curious to read more about.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 3.5 stars of 5


Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Toll by Cherie Priest #spooktasticreads


Image credit: Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

Today I’m combining Can’t Wait Wednesday with Wyrd and Wonders Spooktastic Reads – because it’s all about the creepiness at this time of year and this book is aimed at fans of the strange and macabre.  Colour me happy.

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Toll by Cherie Priest – I am so excited for this book’s release.  Still a tiny bit of a wait but in book terms – pah, this is nothing.  Due for publication July 2019.  I wants the precious.  Read the blurb and weep at the anticipation – and check out the cover – it’s ace.

ThetollFrom Cherie Priest, the author of The Family Plot and Maplecroft, comes The Toll, a tense, dark, and scary treat for modern fans of the traditionally strange and macabre.

State Road 177 runs along the Suwannee River, between Fargo, Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp. Drive that route from east to west, and you’ll cross six bridges. Take it from west to east, and you might find seven.

But you’d better hope not.

Titus and Davina Bell leave their hotel in Fargo for a second honeymoon canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp. But shortly before they reach their destination, they draw up to a halt at the edge of a rickety bridge with old stone pilings, with room for only one car . . .

When, much later, a tow-truck arrives, the driver finds Titus lying in the middle of the road, but Davina is nowhere to be found.

The best of the best of the best 2016

As is my tradition I’m breaking in the New Year with a little look back at my favourite books from 2016.  Another good reading year with plenty to choose from and I admit that I struggled narrowing this down to 10, in fact I singled out at least 25 in my initial search.  I really did read some most excellent books this year in fact I was lucky enough to get through 120 books.  My list for the year is here.  Without further ado my favourites for 2016 with links to the reviews.

  1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  2. City of Blades by Robert J Bennett
  3. The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
  4. The Silver Tide by Jen William
  5. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  6. Company Town by Madeline Ashby
  7. Fix by Ferrett Steinmetz
  8. The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
  9. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  10. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

I feel like I should also make honorary mentions for Monstrous Little Voices by Jonathan Barnes, Emma Newman, Kate Heartfield, Fox Meadows, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, The Hike by Drew Magary, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J Birch





Waiting on Wednesday: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we get to highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  My book this week is : A dark historical fantasy!  You know you want this.  I’ve just read another of Cherie Priest’s books: The Family Plot – and loved it.  I have to have this book.  I have *all the wants* and *grabby hands*.

A new dark historical fantasy from the supremely gifted Cherie Priest, author ofMapelcroft and Boneshaker.

brimstone.jpgIn the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake….

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife s spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself….

Due out in April 2017.

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Posted On 3 October 2016

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familyThe Family Plot by Cherie Priest is a wonderfully atmospheric and chillingly gothic ghost story populated with well rounded characters, a particularly malevolent ghost and a house with a character all of its own. I loved this. It seriously gave me the goosebumps and, frankly (although I could be something of a wuss) scared me into not reading alone late at night.

I admit that this book just really worked for me. I probably can’t put my finger on exactly why but I just liked it as soon as I started to read.

We start the story with a deal being struck between a salvage operator and a property owner in the process of having her mansion demolished. Augusta Withrow inherited the family mansion. Not wishing to live there she is selling anything and everything that can be removed in order to benefit from the process. Chuck Dutton is the owner of a salvage company that has hit a crisis. The books are in the red and the promise of all the bounty sitting in the Withrow home is too good an offer to miss, even if it means going further into debt, this could be the golden egg that Chuck needs. With the promise of chestnut floors, beautiful banisters, original fireplaces and leaded windows this deal seems too good to be true but with his business on the line Chuck can’t afford to be picky when it comes to a few niggles at the back of his mind and so qualms aside he sends his daughter, Dahlia, in with a crew to bring home the goodies.

As soon as Dahlia and her team arrive something doesn’t feel quite right. The house is in a good condition, maybe a bit of a fixer upper, but certainly worth the effort for such an amazing property. So why demolish?  And then, slowly and insidiously, little things start to occur. Nothing too alarming at first but things that with enough frequency gradually build the tension. Doors that shut themselves, what appears to be recent footprints in the dusty floor, a handprint on an upstairs bannister as though somebody was watching their arrival from the upper floor. Things that can be reasonably explained away to the rational mind. That is until it seems all of the crew start to see things, glimpses of figures caught in the peripheral vision and then eventually ghosts that boldly stand looking up at the house. Then, to heighten the tension a graveyard is found in the grounds.

I won’t go further into the plot other than to say you can expect a dark and creepy ghost story to unfold when you pick this one up. I’m not sure whether this will bring anything startling new to the premise in one respect, particularly to hardened horror fans or people who regularly watch creepy movies, but for me it promised a dark and gothic story and it delivered exactly that.

Priest writes a story that reads so well. She delivers the right amount of detail to immerse you in the setting, her characters are well drawn, their back stories almost effortlessly develop as you progress and the story has excellent pace.

In terms of the characters Dahlia is very likeable. She has her work cut out for sure with this crew but she has such a straightforward, no nonsense attitude that really shows her experience. Her cousin Bobby makes up part of the team with his son Gabe. They might have known each other since being children but that doesn’t make them friends, too much history between these two and too much time spent by Bobby hitting the bottle hard ensure that they never really patch things up. The final member of the crew is a relative newbie called Brad. What really came across to me about Dahlia was this wonderful mix of realism mixed in with a more whimsical side to her nature that comes across in her love for old properties. She wants to restore them but failing that she treats them with care and respect.

I don’t have any criticisms. I thought this was a thoroughly entertaining story told by a talented author who rather expertly guided me from intrigue and curiosity to tension and fear. If you love a story that steadily ratchets up the tension until you’re sitting with the hairs standing up on the back of your neck then this could definitely be for you.

I received a copy of The Family Plot from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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