Crew Member Involved: SuzJay
In the sleepy mountain town of Moon Hollow, Virginia, there is a church with a crooked steeple. No one will say for sure how it got that way, but it’s the reason the whole town gathers every Decoration Day to honor the dead.
But this year, there are two fresh graves up on Cemetery Hill, a stranger’s come to town, and the mountain’s song is filled with dark warnings.
The good people of Moon Hollow are about to learn that some secrets are too painful to bear, and some spirits are too restless to stay buried.
Title: High Lonesome Sound | Author: Jaye Wells | Publisher: Jaye Wells | Pub. Date: February 13, 2018 | Pages: 466 | ISBN13: 9781983777790 | Genre: Horror/Southern Gothic | Language: English | Starred Review: YES | Source: Self-Purchased
High Lonesome Sound Review
I was super excited to read this book because I am in awe of the strong female leads Wells created in Sabina Kane and Kate Prospero (Prospero’s War series.) In HIGH LONESOME SOUND, Wells serves up a whole family line of powerful women who have been saving Moon Hollow for generations. These women are the heart and soul and song of this novel, which is chock full of spooky Southern Gothic goodness. Wells makes writing in multiple genres look easy, by creating the perfect atmosphere and worlds that challenge her story people and make them shine. Her beautiful prose illuminates the story.
Eighteen-year-old Ruby longs to escape Moon Hollow and forge a life, somewhere, anywhere else. Since her mama died, Ruby’s abusive father has become more volatile. She’s haunted by the sad sounds of the cub her sadistic neighbor keeps caged, waiting for the bear to become big enough to use as bait for his bloodthirsty hunting dogs. Ruby identifies with that poor, trapped, motherless creature. As much as she wants to save the cub, she doubts she can protect her two little sisters, let alone herself. But when Peter, a famous horror author, arrives in town to soak up the local culture and pen a career-reviving epic novel, Ruby sees him as a ticket out of Moon Hollow. Meanwhile, trouble brews stronger than the coffee served in the local diner in the form of a long overdue reckoning that possesses the power to destroy Moon Hollow and every single one of its residents.
While the novel is told in multiple points of view, Ruby and Peter serve as the key characters, who anchor the story. The local deacon has banished Ruby’s grandmother, Maypearl, who is known as a mountain magic practitioner, and forced his own rigid beliefs on the town. The conflict between the deacon’s iron-handed edicts and Maypearl’s pagan practices escalates when local spirits become restless. Maypearl and the town storyteller, Bunk, were my favorite secondary characters due to their kind hearts and quirks, but each story person from waitress Edna to mean girl Sarah Jane stand out. Even Ruby’s young sisters, who get relatively little page time, have unique personalities. Each character’s motivations are strong and power the story forward.
As a writer myself, I found Peter’s character and his views on his craft an Easter egg: “Untapped creative energy was like that. It collected inside the body like yellow bile that turned a person restless and edgy. If the energy didn’t find release, it would turn against its host and transform into the necrotic black bile of melancholy.” Having reached his rock bottom, his need to salvage his career and prove his writing prowess is relatable. He doesn’t expect to become invested in Moon Hollow, but his friendship with Bunk and Ruby pull his attention away from the page and into the real world. His character arc is one of the many high points of this excellent novel.
Moon Hollow with its secrets, sorrows, and weird rituals, such as celebrating Decoration Day with a cemetery picnic, is a full-fledged character in its own right. Visitors must cross a bridge and navigate a gravel road to reach the isolated town. Until the townsfolk’s sweet tea Southern hospitality is earned, strangers are considered suspect, especially ones who write the kind of novels that the ultra-conservative local library would rather burn than allow anyone to borrow.
HIGH LONESOME SOUND is a well-crafted gothic horror tale with universal appeal. I saw myself, the good and unsavory parts, mirrored in the cast of characters, as well as the despair and hope that colors our world. This novel showcases Wells’ brilliance as a storyteller.
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, alcoholism
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.