Cover Image: Mary

Mary

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I can’t fully believe that Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy is a debut novel! Most horror tends to either have children, teenagers, families, or old folks as the main character(s) – not a middle-age peri-menopausal single woman. That alone got my interest. The ghost, murders, brutality, and mystery kept me fully engaged. Mary, herself, was written beautifully and complex – snarky, always feeling alone or invisible, angry, meek, sad. Reading her thoughts on situations seemed realistic and not just one-tone (I feel like a lot of characters – especially women – get one emotion and then that is all you hear). 
I can’t wait to see what else Cassidy comes up with.
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First of let me start out by saying I don’t think this book was for me. I hate the movie Midsommar…..that’s it. That’s the review. 
Jk that’s not the full review but it kind of is. I absolutely LOVED the first half of the book. I loved getting to know Mary and her struggles and her family life and what was going on with her. I thought this would be a 5 star read. Then the second half happened. It seemed like this book was way too long with too many “possibilities” of what could happen but then the reveal was something random and ridiculous to me and I just didn’t vibe with it. I found myself skimming through the 50-80% mark because I was no longer intrigued by what was happening. I liked how it all ended but I just wish it all would have went in a different direction. I will definitely be picking up another book by this author in the future being that this was a debut novel because I feel like he has potential to write a real banger for me. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it. 

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I'm tempted to say: this book was amazing, you need to read it... and leave it at that.

But I won't.

There's a lot to unpack here.  Imagine a woman who has spent her entire life being a nobody, a near-invisible presence, a person who gets up and goes to work and speaks as little as possible and then goes home to sit alone and talk to her little figurines as if they're her friends.  That is Mary.

Now, imagine that same woman is actually a much more interesting person than even she knows, a person with a past that she has buried and blocked off in the "memory mansion" of her mind.  It's a dark past.  Dark, dark, dark.  Blood. Violence. That sort of thing.

Now imagine that in the months before this woman was born, a serial killer stalked the dusty streets of the small desert town where Mary's parents lived.  Imagine that on the bloody day when the killer was found and killed, his spirit found its way into the newly born form of little baby Mary.

That's right, Mary, plain little Mary, she of the unremarkable face and the forgettable personality, she of the hot flashes and night sweats, sweet Mary is carrying around inside her the spirit of a serial killer.

Oh, and imagine that the town she was born into is populated almost entirely by the members of a strange fringe cult who worship that serial killer.

And then imagine that Mary goes home.

Murder and mayhem and menopause all combine in a book that is so many glorious things it will make your head spin: a thriller, a supernatural horror, a cult horror, a psychological horror, all rolled into one.  Well-written and full of moments that are creepy-crawly and claustrophobic and sometimes truly horrific but sometimes kind of funny, this book serves up the story of a middle-aged woman finally letting loose and stepping into her own power in the most wonderfully awful and bloody way possible.
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Inspired by Stephen King's Carrie, Nat Cassidy's Mary initially seems to take more of its lead from Misery, with Cassidy's titular protagonist reminding one more of Annie Wilkes than King's tortured telekinetic. Inspiration only gets you so far, though. Blessedly, Cassidy has plenty of his own ideas, having shaped this story over the course of roughly a quarter-century since he was 13, and Mary stands as its own unique story.

I have to admit, my initial draw was seeing just how crazy Cassidy's protagonist could get. Mary is a quiet, lonely, 50-year-old, perimenopausal woman. She has blackouts while talking to her collection of porcelain figurines (don't worry, they talk back!) and daydreams of killing damn near everyone around her. She's summoned back home by her ailing, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed Aunt Nadine, where Mary's spiraling descent into madness only worsens. Fifty years ago, on the day of Mary's birth, in fact, the career of Arroyo's notorious serial killer Damon Cross ended, but his legacy lives on. Shortly after Mary's return, the killings begin again...

Mary has a lot going on between the covers, and Cassidy's story is richly, deeply plotted and has a lot of thematic depth. The most striking, of course, is the invisibility of women, at least until they can be blamed for something. Cassidy tackles misogyny head-on, and the way it has shaped and formed Mary over the course of her life. When she visits doctors for treatment for her blackout spells and confesses to hearing voices, her complaints are brushed aside as symptoms of menopause. As the story progresses, one can't help but wonder how different a trajectory Mary's life and the small desert town of Arroyo would have charted if only she had been taken seriously and listened to in those opening chapters. Instead, she's ignored at best, or mocked and bullied at worst, oftentimes viewed as little more than an old, pathetic loser.

And then there's the fascination with true crime in general, serial killers specifically, and the way these brutal, psychologically damaged, demented murderers of women are turned into icons and stars. They become the subjects of books and podcasts and movies and have collectible baseball cards made bearing their image and stats. They become immortalized and worshipped. And in the desert of Arroyo is a cult, bearing killer Damon Cross as its prophet...

Like I said, there's a lot going on here, and I've only really scratched the surface with the above. What may be most surprising is how well Cassidy balances all of the various elements, characters, and relationships. That he does so as a cis man writing about a 50-year-old woman, no less, may be a conversation better left to voices other than mine, but I do sense an honest, introspective, and highly empathetic author who's done his homework and has made an impressive amount of effort at being true and loyal to both his characters and his readers.

Mary feels downright sprawling, despite its first-person narrative and limited locations (we spend most of our time in Nadine's house or the Cross House overlooking Arroyo), and it feels welcomingly outsized to its page-count. We inhabit Mary's head, occupying an ephemeral space inside her skull alongside all the other voices guiding her, chiding her, breaking her, and it's a wild ride that alternates between frightening and exhilarating and, at times, even empowering.
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This was such a trip! MARY is a brutal read on just about every level, but the reader has a good idea about that going into the book. The general premise and plot of the book, as well as the foreword at the beginning, had me instantly hooked and ready to experience it!

Some things of note off the top of my head that lured me in / kept me engaged:
-Mary's voice (and rage) seems as authentic as I can tell. I think the author did a great job with this narrative. Some of her thoughts and what she went through ranged from sad to sarcastic to unhinged and more. It was a roller coaster ride with Mary.
-Small town rich in history and holding secrets
-Societal views on women in general and women of a certain age
-Serial killer awareness/behavior

There's a part of me that does not think this needed to be quite as long as it ended up being, but then there is the side of me that does not know what scene(s) this book could have even removed. Everything had a purpose and place in the story, so it's difficult to imagine anything not being there the way it is. But it is a longer book than I usually read.

Definitely looking forward to more from Nat Cassidy!
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There’s something tactful about the author’s note coming at the close of a book, because if I’d known Mary was a horror novel about menopause first drafted by a 13-year old boy I think I would have hit pause on the audiobook from the start. As it stands, this is in fact a horror novel about menopause that saw it’s incpetion in the mind of a 13-year old boy, was eventually written by a full grown man, and apparently run through the gamut of sensitivity readers. It’s laden with gore, and cults, and analogies to real world issues of ageism - all great things in concept, for the genre. And while technically sound, there’s just something fundamentally wrong about this book that is completely separate from the inherent weirdness of the concept.

I just don’t think there’s any context I could enjoy, or even just fundamentally appreciate, a 400 page horror novel about menopause written by a cis man. And I’d think I’d say the same if this book had been written by a woman who hasn’t yet gone through menopause - there’s just something about it that rings incredibly hollow. I won’t fault this book for committing to the gruesome implications of a “horror” novel - it really does go there. There were moments I felt viscerally ill listening to the audiobook, but it feels a bit “just there for the shock factor” then truly necessary for the message. A message, mind you, that I fully thought was about the ageism women face relative to men as they progress in years in life. Menopause is tangnetinal to this, but still distinctly different enough that I’m not sure the author got the intended point across.

There’s also some very weird moments where the 50+ year old female narrator describes her young teenage co-worker in a way that was incredibly male-gazey. I understand a certain level of fixation on this kind of obvious youth when faced with the reality of growing older, but their interactions were implicitly sexualized in a way that I’ve never seen a woman write. Easily the most disturbing aspect of this horror novel, in a book where a women forces literal shards china down another person’s throat to murder them (spoiler?).

If I had to describe Mary in one word it would be “gratuitous.” If I were given a second word, it would be “misplaced.” This is another kind of contentious story that I feel that author wrote with no ill intentions, but just didn’t quite hit the mark by nature of not having the necessary life experiences to get the point across. Maybe if you can set aside the metaphor here and just go in looking for a gorey, gruesome experience you may love it. But it’s a miss for me.

Thank you to the publisher Tor Nightfire for providing an e-ARC via NetGalley for an honest review.
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I struggled with Mary, and wound up deciding it's just not for me.  

The opening scene was fantastic: intriguing, creepy, and visceral.  A small town sheriff is investigating a mansion full of murdered women, and the killer is found to be in the walls.  I felt like the author put me in the sheriff's head and filled me with dread.  Similarly, the next scene six year later with the little girl (who I assume becomes Mary) eating bugs was intriguing and gross in the best way.

Unfortunately, after that the novel lost me. Once we come to focus on Mary, the protagonist, I really detached from the story.  Mary is 49 and female, and that seems to be most of her personality -- we spend a lot of time with her inner monologue about how old and useless she is.  I don't know if that's something intended to be specific to this character, or if that's how the author believes middle aged women in general think?  It really frustrated me, and I needed more to her character, beyond just her fantasies (and realities) of extreme violence.

I wound up deciding not to finish reading this one, I just wasn't enjoying it.  There are some strong elements so I think this was just a book-reader mismatch.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Nightfire for my review copy of this book.
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Ah, this one seemed so perfect for me. Unfortunately, it is not. 

I liked the writing, in general, and I know that not all horror works precisely for me, but my most significant stumbling block for this one was the immediate introduction of a horror element into an otherwise normal everyday life, one that I feel the author was trying to exemplify the mundane-ness of it, for later reversal. I'm okay with horror elements being introduced fairly early on, but for an over 400+ book, a bit of pacing would have helped tremendously. As it was, it felt laughable rather than horrific, and I found myself immediately skimming those parts (which also began happening frequently). Not great when you're not far in. I'm not sure whether it was this issue that also prevented me from relating to the protagonist, but that lack also didn't help.  

I love the cover, the synopsis, the concept. Just wasn't well executed for me. I DNF'd early on, so do not feel comfortable leaving a negative public review.
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Mary was a gruesome tale of cults, the desert, a serial killer, womanhood, and the voices inside our heads. Overall it was put together well and stayed engaging despite dragging a little at the very end.
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After finishing this book I wasn't really sure of WHAT I thought. After thinking about it for awhile, I have discerned that it has its ups and its downs, and that it probably isn't a book that is 'for me' when all is said and done. But I will start with the ups, as there were certainly things I did enjoy about this book. The first is that I thought that Nat Cassidy really captured Mary's voice in an authentic and believable way. He has a fairly lengthy author's note about the hesitation of writing the voice of a perimenopausal cis woman when he himself is a younger cis man, but it felt to me like he did his due diligence to make her as authentic and real and respectful as possible (at least within the context of this story at hand). I also did like some of the unique and creative themes that he brought together, like the unreliable narrator that is Mary, the history of the town and the secrets it is hiding, and the more mystical and spiritual elements of various belief systems (and how groupthink and cults are just a hair away from what we see as mainstream religion in some ways). But the downs were there, and they very well may have been due to personal taste, so take this with a grain of salt: this book is almost too brutal for me. There were a number of instances of violence or moments like that where I was deeply put off, and one moment where I almost put the book down for good because it was so gross and disturbing. Cassidy does put a content warning at the front of the book (yes! We love to see it!) so I could prepare myself a bit, but the splattergore moments were really, really a lot. Again, this may be a personal taste thing, though I do think that I can handle a lot in horror, so who knows if this may be too much for even the more seasoned horror reader. I can't say.

I would be curious to try Cassidy's works in the future. The creativity and creepiness is definitely there. I just may not have the resolve!
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Do you like a slow burn? 

Mary’s dream is to fade into the background. Work just enough to be comfortable and to keep to herself, and maybe not sweat through her sheets every night. But everything starts to fall apart on the cusp of her 50th birthday. 

She loses her job, her rent is about to double and she gets a call from her estranged and dying aunt begging her to come home to Arroyo. 

With no other options on the horizon she packs a bag and goes, because that’s what a good person would do.  

But being back to her hometown stirs up some uneasy emotions as well as unsettling nightmares. Blackouts and strange visions tied to a series of ritual murders that took place nearly 50 years prior. Murders that seem to be starting again. Are these the workings of a copycat killer or something more sinister? 

Mary is a difficult and unreliable protagonist. I definitely didn’t like her but she kinda grows on you. This book is thick and has a lot going on. A spooky mansion, an unsettling town, familial strife, possession, and I loved every new thread this book threw at me. I don’t even know how to mention much more without ruining some of the surprises packed in here. 

This is a book that requires patience but I promise you it’s worth the time. 

Thank you to TorNightfire and NetGalley for an ARC.
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At first, I was nervous to read a book written by a male author about the life of a middle aged women, especially one who has a lot of emotional baggage. Nat Cassidy did a wonderful job with coming up with the character of Mary. It is such a good gothic, horror novel that I will definitely reread during the Halloween season.
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WOW. I LOVED this book. The quality of writing was phenomenal. Horror is my favorite genre and not a lot gets under my skin but this book gave me nightmares. Mary was both a loveable and terrifying character. This is the type of book that for me, I thought I could see where it was going , yet it took me on so many chilling twists and turns. I cannot wait to hand sell this at my store and it is in contention for one of my --if not my favorite new horror release this year.
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Once I started this book I couldn't put it down. I loved the character of Mary, it was nice to see a middle aged woman as the protagonist in a horror book! Her development as the book progresses was excellently done and I never knew what to expect next.
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Review: Nat Cassidy’s Mary 

“It’s just, the owners think we need staff that’s a little more Zendaya and a little less Jane Eyre.” 

Synopsis: Along with the hot flashes and body aches, Mary can’t look in a mirror without fainting, and the voices in her head urge her to do unspeakable things. Fired from her job, she moves back to her hometown, hoping to reconnect with her past and inner self. Instead, visions of terrifying, mutilated specters overwhelm her. Then the killings begin again…

Thoughts: 

When I saw the comps for this book—Midsommar x American Psycho x I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—I knew I needed a copy. I’ll say it louder for those in the back: Horror writers create some of the most original stories out there. The creativity blows me away! Some of the underlying themes of this book are bullying, isolation, loneliness, and “being seen.” Exploring those heavy themes through horror feels right, especially in Mary. The creepy ghosts in this one will leave you feeling shook up and on edge. Unsettling imagery fills its pages. I haven't slept peacefully all week! 

I read this entire book thinking Nat Cassidy was a woman. Nat’s a man. Not that the sex of an author matters, but I think he does a beautiful job capturing the voice of a middle-aged menopausal female character. My heart went out to Mary, who was never entirely understood, accepted, and loved.  

Cassidy provides readers with a list of trigger warnings, so be aware. (I don’t need them.)
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Mary is a woman coming up on her 50th year. She has a mantra she says to herself "be good". Her life is a disappointment to her and it becomes increasingly more disappointing as time goes on. She doesn't remember much about her childhood just that it wasn't all that good. Now, she has to travel back home to care for her ailing aunt who raised her after her parents' deaths but, there's something weird about the town. Honestly, there's something weird about Mary. 
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Okay so Cassidy gives us a list of trigger warnings and I advise you to please take them seriously TW: sexual assault, abuse, mutilation, gore. The sexual assault and abuse in this book is intense so please keep that in mind before proceeding with reading the book. 
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For me, this was a true horror book. It was twisted, gory, scary, the works. I also found it to be very well written and interesting. I found myself curious to discover what would happen next. I truly enjoyed this book but, I will say it probably isn't for everyone. I would give it a 4.5/5 stars.
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Mary tries not to make waves. She is middle-aged, approaching menopause, and works in the basement of the same bookstore she has worked in for years. But with menopause on the horizon, her body - and other things - start to change. She can't look in the mirror or at other women her age without seeing horrible, upsetting things. She is having disturbing dreams and even more disturbing thoughts, and when she gets fired from her job she moves home to take care of her dying Aunt Nadine. But when Mary returns to Arroyo, things only get worse. Who - and what - is she becoming?

I have such conflicted feelings about this book! The body horror involved is extremely gruesome, animals are killed, people mutilated... though the author provides a content warning for this (and more) at the beginning, so I sort of knew what I was getting into, even if I didn't know the extent of it at the beginning. But even with the violence, gore, and insanity, Mary is still somehow relatable. And even as things get increasingly dire, I kept reading, wanting to know how Mary would react to the things going on around her and what she was learning about herself. None of the reveals are that surprising - things are telegraphed to the reader in ways that lets us know what is coming well before Mary gets there - but what kept me reading was Mary's journey in discovering just what was actually going on. And once Mary figures it out and starts using the powers she has? Oh well damn, I'm there for it. For other readers, I would say to pay close attention to those content warnings - Cassidy means them. For storytelling, I would give this one a four, but the gore and violence pushes the rating down a bit for me.

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for the ARC and a chance to read early in exchange for an honest review.
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Mary: An Awakening of Terror. Wow what a book. I loved the whole premise and the thought behind this book. A Carrie who never lit the town on fire? Sign me up! There’s some great spooky and downright gruesome moments in this one. I will says whoever, animal cruelty and death will almost surely knock a star off everytime.
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Mary by Nat Cassidy is a provocative, peri-menopausal horror novel that coexists alongside the great Carrie by Stephen King. It's brutal, gory, and keeps you guessing until the twist towards the end, that I did not see coming! 'Mary' is a woman in her 40s who has come to the realization of her new supernatural power. There are moments where it feels like there are unnecessarily long portions in the text that could have been removed without changing the story, but overall, it's still enjoyable for the thrill! Trigger Warning: There is a large amount of violence, as well as animal abuse. I highly suggest this for fans of Carrie with doses of Hereditary moments inside.
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I just finished Mary by Nat Cassidy and these are my thoughts on it, 

Mary was so used to being an invisible woman to the world around her. The life suited her, a job in a bookstore, her porcelain dolls, then all that changes after she loses her job. What can a middle aged woman do in the world now? 

Then a call comes in from her aunt, the woman who raised her after a house fire killed her parents. A woman who bullied and belittled her, all the while she was being bullied at school. But her aunt is begging her to come home to help her, she is dying. To sweeten the deal she offers to pay for her help. What choice does Mary have anyway. Things are happening to her that she doesn’t understand. Voices in her head, avoiding mirrors and nightmares….  

She thinks going home might be for the best but the town seems to still be gripped by a serial killer who was gunned down and killed by police on the day she was born…. 

This book gave me chills so bad. The writing was beyond gruesome! It was exactly what I was looking for in a horror book! I loved the build up of who Mary was and what was going on with her but the book was really long for a horror and I feel it really could have been condensed down without losing the magic. 

Mary, to begin with, feels like a lonely middle aged woman with no real family. Unloved and broken by a world that didn’t seem to understand her. As the book progresses you will find that this wasn’t the case at all as Mary begins to learn and remember what it was like living with her aunt before leaving the small town in Arizona. 

The town has a dark edge to it and I loved watching that all unfold and aunt Nadine, being a conspiracy theorist… Loved it. She’s my kind of lady! This book pulled out all the stops to give you the kind of nightmares you haven’t had since you were a child! I was thoroughly creeped out! I loved the serial killer elements too!

The only downside was I felt it was too long. If you really enjoy long books then this one will knock your socks off!

4 stars! Thank you netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge, for my ARC in exchange for you honest review.
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