Last week I introduced my new novel (out later this month). Today I am sharing a pre-publication review from BookLife. BookLife is the Indie books arm of Publisher’s Weekly.
Every author would love a review filled with phrases like, “Best book I ever read,” “Life-changing,” or “Most influential book of its time.” This review includes none of those phrases. That’s probably a good thing, because if it did contain those phrases, you’d likely wonder which of my aunts writes reviews for BookLife.
Nonetheless, I think it’s a fairly positive review. It has a couple of minor factual errors in the first paragraph, which my aunt would never have made (e.g. substitute “early twentieth century” for “late nineteenth century”), but I don’t think those types of gaffes are rare for the first paragraphs of reviews. Anyhow, I believe the assessment piece is more valuable to readers than the plot summary in any review.
Enough reviewing the review. Here it is.
This fascinating supernatural tale from Nagele (A Housefly in Autumn), told in an offhanded style that keeps readers off balance, opens with five-year-old Emma’s asking, at a family dinner, about “The Other Place.” She has recurring dreams of a mysterious being, The Gatekeeper, who takes her from present-day Pennsylvania to a late nineteenth century farm where she sees an older girl, Mary Ellen, who looks very much like Emma. For mysterious reasons, the Gatekeeper repeatedly forces Emma to get the other girl in trouble by setting fires—and he threatens to harm Emma’s parents, Rob and Marcia, if she disobeys. Rob and Marcia alternate between dismissing Emma’s dreams to fearing that she might be losing her grip on reality, echoing the thinking of Alex and Janet, Mary Ellen’s parents. That couple frequently beats Mary Ellen, as punishment for the fires, and The Gatekeeper urges her to take murderous revenge.
Quick paced and unsettling, The Other Place offers readers teasing mysteries to work through along with Emma’s parents. One surprising thread: what is the connection between The Gatekeeper and the song version of William Hughes Mearns’s poem “Antigonish”? As Emma’s dreams increasingly seem like they might be real, she finds herself inside Mary Ellen’s mind, fighting to keep Mary Ellen from being driven to murder, while Rob and Marcia eventually accept that their daughter is not delusional, they struggle to save both girls from The Gatekeeper.
Nagele weaves an intriguing story about families, childhood, the supernatural, self-sacrifice, and innocence both lost and saved, though the pace and pared-down language come at the expense of fleshing out the characters, especially Emma and her family. Scenes of abuse and terrorized children will put off some readers, but Emma’s fight to save Mary Ellen from evil is admirable, her determination and kindness shining through. The Other Place is rich in detail of the places past and present, and readers of horror-tinged historical mysteries will be intrigued to learn more about Glenn Miller and William Hughes Mearns.