ROAD OF BONES by Christopher Golden

An American documentarian travels a haunted highway across the frozen tundra of Siberia in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden’s Road of Bones, a “tightly wound, atmospheric, and creepy as hell” (Stephen King) supernatural thriller.

Surrounded by barren trees in a snow-covered wilderness with a dim, dusky sky forever overhead, Siberia’s Kolyma Highway is 1200 miles of gravel packed permafrost within driving distance of the Arctic Circle. A narrow path where drivers face such challenging conditions as icy surfaces, limited visibility, and an average temperature of sixty degrees below zero, fatal car accidents are common.

But motorists are not the only victims of the highway. Known as the Road of Bones, it is a massive graveyard for the former Soviet Union’s gulag prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to death and left where their bodies fell, consumed by the frozen elements and plowed beneath the permafrost road.

Fascinated by the history, documentary producer Felix “Teig” Teigland is in Russia to drive the highway, envisioning a new series capturing Life and Death on the Road of Bones with a ride to the town of Akhust, “the coldest place on Earth”, collecting ghost stories and local legends along the way. Only, when Teig and his team reach their destination, they find an abandoned town, save one catatonic nine-year-old girl―and a pack of predatory wolves, faster and smarter than any wild animals should be.

Pursued by the otherworldly beasts, Teig’s companions confront even more uncanny and inexplicable phenomena along the Road of Bones, as if the ghosts of Stalin’s victims were haunting them. It is a harrowing journey that will push Teig beyond endurance and force him to confront the sins of his past.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: January 25, 2022
Source: Borrowed from the library

★★¾

ROAD OF BONES is a paranormal horror/thriller set during winter along the Kolyma Highway in Siberia. Until this book popped up on my radar, I had never heard of this road or its cruel, gruesome history. Possibly up to a million gulag prisoners died building this highway and their bodies were buried underneath, victims of Stalin’s cruelty.

A documentarian and his cameraman head out on this desolate highway looking for ghost stories on their way to Akhust, the coldest town on Earth. Once they get there, they find the town has been abandoned except for one little girl, and a pack of murderous wolves, that are now after them.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and I think it’s because I was expecting something different based on the synopsis. There was a fast-paced “chase” element, interesting Siberian folklore, and a few creepy moments. But where were the ghosts? Unfortunately the “road of  bones” and its tragic history were lost in the chase, except for a couple of odd disjointed parts.

ROAD OF BONES is heavy on the folktale, without a lot of whys, but I was enthralled with the descriptions of the bitter cold! (Again, where were the ghosts?)

MIGRATIONS by Charlotte McConaghy


Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★¾


For fans of Flight Behavior and Station Eleven, a novel set on the brink of catastrophe, as a young woman chases the world’s last birds―and her own final chance for redemption.

Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and track their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his eccentric crew with promises that the birds will lead them to fish.

As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s dark history begins to unspool. Battered by night terrors, accumulating a pile of unsent letters, and obsessed with pursuing the terns at any cost, Franny is full of secrets. When her quest threatens the safety of the entire crew, Franny must ask herself what she is really running toward―and running from.

Propelled by a narrator as fierce and fragile as the terns she is following, Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations is both an ode to our threatened world and a breathtaking page-turner about the lengths we will go for the people we love.


MIGRATIONS is set in the near-future, when climate change, habitat destruction, and unsustainable practices have wiped out most of the wild species on earth. Franny Stone’s mission is to track the final migration of the last Arctic terns from Greenland to Antarctica. Franny convinces the captain of the fishing boat Saghani to let her sail along with them and follow the birds, convincing him that the terns with lead them to fish, a rarity.

Franny is chasing the birds, but clearly she’s chasing or running away from something else. Unfortunately, I just did not like Franny and had a hard time sympathizing with her. Maybe it’s because it took so long for her secrets to be revealed? I got tired of the back and forth to numerous times in her past. Overall her character came across as flat. I found her husband and the crew of the fishing boat more interesting.

I enjoyed the author’s beautiful prose, and her world-building was convincing. The world she has created is terrifying, and it could easily be a reality if we let our current environmental practices continue. I’m going with 2.75 stars for MIGRATIONS. It’s a haunting, cautionary tale, for certain. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, though I’ve read many stellar reviews from others. Please read and decide for yourself.

— 𝓓𝓲𝓪𝓷𝓪

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: SHIRLEY: A NOVEL by Susan Scarf Merrell

Shirley
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Released: June 12, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★¾


Two imposing literary figures are at the center of this captivating novel: the celebrated Shirley Jackson, best known for her short story “The Lottery,” and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic and professor at Bennington College. When a young graduate student and his pregnant wife – Fred and Rose Nemser – move into Shirley and Stanley’s home in the fall of 1964, they are quickly cast under the magnetic spell of their brilliant and proudly unconventional hosts.

While Fred becomes preoccupied with his teaching schedule, Rose forms an unlikely, turbulent friendship with the troubled and unpredictable Shirley. Fascinated by the Hymans’ volatile marriage and inexplicably drawn to the darkly enigmatic author, Rose nonetheless senses something amiss – something to do with nightly unanswered phone calls and inscrutable accounts of a long-missing female student. Chillingly atmospheric and evocative of Jackson’s own classic stories, Shirley is an elegant thriller with one of America’s greatest horror writers at its heart.


SHIRLEY was a strange novel, probably because it wasn’t what I was expecting. Billed as a psychological thriller, this book ended up being more of a fictionalized biography of author Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House) told from the point of view of Rose Nemser. Young Rose and Fred Nemser are the house guests of Shirley and her husband Prof. Stanley Hymam beginning in the fall of 1964. Fred works for Stanley at Bennington College in Vermont, while Rose spends time with Shirley in the Hymans’ weird and wonderful home.

Rose is a naive 19-year old who quickly falls under Shirley’s spell. Rose becomes a part of the Hymans’ literary circle, though she struggles to fit in. As the months pass, the women form a close friendship, and Rose learns that all is not as it seems with Shirley and Stanley. The disappearance of a coed several years earlier makes Rose suspicious of her hosts, even though they claim not to have known her.

This book presented a compelling look at Shirley Jackson’s troubled personal life and how she was treated by townspeople and the literary world at the time. The part that fell flat for me was the mystery surrounding the missing student. Unfortunately, it didn’t amount to much. There was no jaw-dropping revelation that brought all the pieces together. The ending left me feeling ambivalent. I also thought that some scenes dragged on too long or were confusing, and I would lose interest. Though this book didn’t grab me, it did pique my interest in Shirley Jackson’s work.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Audiobook Review: BELLMAN AND BLACK by Diane Setterfield

bellmanblack
Format: Audio; 9 hrs, 40 mins
Narrator: Jack Davenport
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Released: November 5, 2013
Source: Review copy from the Publisher

One moment in time can haunt you forever.

Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

———

BELLMAN & BLACK was a curious book, and not at all what I was expecting. It was a haunting tale, but not scary, and not a ghost story in the traditional sense.

This book follows the life of William Bellman, beginning when he kills a rook with his slingshot as a child. Even though he blocks out the memory of that day in his mind, his killing of the bird follows him throughout his life and shapes who he becomes, yet he doesn’t realize it. The book is packed with minute details of Bellman’s life as a successful businessman, and the plot dragged from time to time. What kept me going was the mystery surrounding “Black,” a stranger who continually pops up at the funerals of Bellman’s friends and family.

I thought the author missed a great opportunity with Bellman’s daughter Dora to create a strong female character in the book. I was so intrigued by Dora and her situation that I wished she had a bigger presence. Though, after reading the ending, I can understand why Bellman took center stage.

What did I like? BELLMAN & BLACK contained stunning Gothic imagery. Black. Rook. Cold. Death. Funeral. Mourning. Dark. (This was not a happy tale!) The author’s vivid descriptions of rooks were amazing.

While I enjoyed the first part of the book, in the end I felt like I missed the point. The story was weak, and it lacked the spookiness and suspense that I anticipated. I did enjoy the gorgeous imagery and prose.

I listened to the audiobook performed by Jack Davenport. The narration was well done, and I enjoyed the voices of the secondary characters as well as Bellman.

Rating: 2.75 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.