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Side by Side Book Review: TOME by Ross Jeffery


TOME by Ross Jeffery


If the eyes are the window to the soul, then what happens when they observe evil?
TOME by Ross Jeffery has readers returning to the strange haggard town of Juniper. This time around though we trade the dusty scorching heat for the dreary gloom of an unceasing and unrelenting downpour. Juniper Correctional, where the majority of the narrative takes place, is saturated not only with rain but also deplorable men and a corruptible evil seeping into its very foundations. Prison stories are hit or miss with me but TOME hit all the right beats. From the savage opening to the shocking conclusion Jeffery's prose and narrative prowess had my attention imprisoned within its clutches. I think what made this really work for me was that the focus wasn't on the prison itself. Now that's not to say that Jeffery didn't bring Juniper Correctional to life because he surely did. From the crumbling brick to the filthy halls to the unsanitary infirmary to the worn carpets of the library. It felt like a living breathing facility. But the characters, the characters are the ones that bring the story to life, that gives this story a soul.
Those who find themselves confined within the walls of this prison whether by incarnation, greed, power, pride, duty, or loyalty. TOME is not a book for the faint of heart for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost is the overt racism. How this ideology has manifested itself within prison culture as well as how it has been deeply ingrained in the upbringing, passed down from one generation to the next, of a great many people. It is a fictional reflection of the real life systemic racism that is such a prevalent social issue in our current climate. Second is the sheer brutality and depictions of grisly violence on display. Jeffery doesn't hold anything back in the blood and gore department. This isn't extreme Splatterpunk style violence but the gruesomely detailed horrors of reading a homicide crime scene report.
Jeffery might have succeeded in writing one of the most revolting, stomach churning scenes that I have ever read. It involved Warden Fleming while at his home and that's all I'll say about it. If you have read the book you'll know which scene I am talking about, if not you'll have to just read and endure it for yourself. You don't need to read JUNIPER before diving into TOME but I would highly suggest that you do so. This is a prequel to Juniper but we have some characters make another appearance here. As the final events of TOME unfolded it made me see what happened in JUNIPER through a completely different lens. I can see a definite growth in Jeffery as an author when comparing JUNIPER to TOME, and I enjoyed the former. His writing is more detailed, nuanced, and streamlined which for me made for an overall cleaner and more enjoyable reading experience. Back to the question I posed at the beginning. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then what happens when they observe evil? When that evil is hidden within the power of the written word. Does it lead to the corruption and desolation of the reader's soul? An insatiable, festering evil that swells to bursting within you. Do you give in and allow yourself to be swallowed up by the abyss? Or do you dig down searching deep within yourself for that sliver of goodness, that one bright shining light to hold the darkness at bay?
This is the story of TOME. A tale much grander in scope than that of a prison in a forgotten little town. A story as old as time itself. The story of good versus evil. Electrifyingly powerful. Pulsing with fear, grief, lust, and the vile intentions of man. TOME by Ross Jeffery weaves an eerie, grim and gritty narrative populated by greasy, loathsome, yet entirely compelling characters. Expert pacing, mounting dread, and an unsettling atmosphere culminate in a uniquely scary experience that will give you chills. Ross Jeffery is an author to watch and I look forward to reading whatever dark and twisted story leaks from his mind next. I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.


Sadie's Review:
I wrote up a review of TOME for SCREAM Magazine so I can't unload too much of my reading experiences here until after the review has been published but I can talk about Ross Jeffery's book JUNIPER and then circle back for some thoughts on TOME.
JUNIPER by Ross Jeffery
In the deep south of America is a rural town called Juniper. This story finds us in the midst of an apocalyptic-style heatwave. The author, Ross Jeffery, makes sure readers understand the utter isolation and disparity of Juniper's situation. It's bad. Jeffery's descriptive language is both immersive and unsettling.
Following dual narratives, that of Janet and her abusive husband Klein who run a farm on the outskirts of town where the locals come to replenish their unusual food source and Betty, a woman who scavenges roadkill for her own sustainability.
One day, Betty finds something large and half-dead on the side of the road and decides to bring it home and nurse it back to health while Janet and Klein's domestic drama is coming to a boiling point.

Man, the stories of these two women are provocative and weird, I couldn't stop reading. Jeffery's storytelling voice is dynamic and compelling; drawing the reader in with strange, disturbing details that are both alluring and intoxicating.

As tantalizing as all of this sounds, this is not an easy book to recommend. There are some pretty serious triggers for sensitive readers and usually, I will tap out of books for less but there is something wholly and powerfully genuine about the way all of these unsavory actions are necessary to the stories of Janet and Betty. None of this for shock value or to be overly grotesque--everything serves the characters and their development; the furthering of the plot. The more I think about it, the more affection I have for this book. When I first finished, I was recovering from the ending and a sense of "what did I just read?"
But after marinating in my experience and sharing my thoughts with another reviewer (Brad Proctor, actually)
the more respect I have for what was accomplished here. The only reason I didn't rate this 5 stars were for some minor things that pulled me out of the story.
Now, thoughts on TOME. It's not necessary that readers take on JUNIPER first, but it is recommended. I feel JUNIPER sets the stage for readers to get a good feel of the small town and its citizens. I like that JUNIPER takes place during this unprecedented heat wave and TOME is set during a flood-like rainy season. The mood that these two extreme weather conditions have on the story punches through on several occasions. 
A few characters from JUNIPER crossover into TOME so having some background information on who they are and how their story connects to the characters and situations in TOME is worth knowing. 
Both of these books are amazing. TOME actually blows my mind a little and I'm excited to see how it resonates with other horror buffs. I am beyond thrilled that this is a trilogy and we can expect a third book soon. I can't wait. I am a sold out Ross Jeffery, Juniper lover. 
All the stars.

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