A Ghost of a Chance

The front cover of Ultimate Seven Sisters Collection by M. L. Bullock is minorly deceptive with a front cover announcement that there are “All Six Books Inside.” Some readers might not be happy with the claim that what is inside constitutes “books.” The Amazon site lists this collection as six ghost novels in one, a collection of 607 pages. I usually choose one “long” novel as part of the mix of five or six current reads. Free on Kindle Unlimited, the price is an eyebrow-raising USD 9.99 even though I purchased the collection from Amazon at USD 0.99. There is a possible typo for you.

The six novels are in fact chapters of a lengthy, convoluted, panoramic, multi-generational ghost story set in Mobile, Alabama. This is a story of the “old South” complete with nuanced stories of racial injustice and rigid social hierarchy. This last part, reaching into the present day, can be described as an attitude of “If you weren’t born in this town, why are you talking to me?” Although each book is not a stand-alone story due to cliffhangers, the first three could have been published as one novel and satisfied readers with a conclusion. The following chapters/books go back and forth in time and expand the core story from the perspective of different characters.

The central theme of the novel is “dream catching.” Carrie Jo, the central character is a dreamcatcher. She is self-aware that she can “live” in different times and even be different characters while in her dream state. During childhood, she discovered her power while on a sleepover with a childhood friend when she discovered her childhood friend’s horrible home experiences. This gave Carrie Jo a type of mental acuity that occasionally manifested itself as mind reading; she did not have to be fully asleep.  Readers first meet Carrie Jo as she assumes a contract to restore a mansion, one known as the Seven Sisters. This requires historical research, a job for which Carrie Jo is well qualified. This is an excellent set up for readers. Reading to discover historical fact, telling stories from a personal perspective attained through dreaming, and discovering all kinds of sleazy evidence to solve a mystery; this is a fun, immersive read.

What mystery (or mysteries)? The Seven Sisters is the mansion Carrie Joe will restore. Her investigations reveal that some members of the family, heirs to the Seven Sisters and an associated fortune, have disappeared. Whether kidnapping, running away or murder; the reason for the disappearances is not certain but all are accepted as possible reasons for the disappearance of Calpurnia Culpepper. She has gotten a raw deal in life. She watched her mother, Corrine, beaten frequently by drunken father Jeremiah, she witnessed the death of siblings, she was confined in her bedroom as if she were in prison by Jeremiah. Her cousin Isla was given free run of the mansion and was very close (!) to Jeremiah. Perhaps her father was just trying to protect Calpurnia from David Garrett, a rogue “Captain.” True, she felt herself in love with Garrett and would like to run away with him. Jeremiah perhaps didn’t really care about Calpurnia if she revealed the existence of a necklace that constituted the plantation fortune. Uncle Louis had withdrawn Corrine’s wealth and put all of it into jewelry and then hid the jewels. This maneuver was necessary to assure wealth would not be expropriated by a drunk, womanizing husband such as Jeremiah appeared to be. The jewelry, following the name of the mansion, would also be known as the Seven Sisters.

Carrie Jo has the power of a dream catcher, but she is not the only one. The reader will discover that the mansion, Seven Sisters, is a type of catalyst. Other characters in the story will manifest dream catching abilities as they are in or near the mansion. Characters in the present day are slipping into the lives of characters in the past. There are some very evil contentious characters in and from the past. They do not mind acting out their rivalries whether in the past or present.

After the first three chapters/books, by themselves a satisfying read, the pace picks up a lot. Books five and six depart from chapter titles such as “Chapter 1, Chapter 2 …” Subsequent chapters have a character name such as “Carrie Jo, Isla, Henri,” and, my favorite, “Deidre.” When chapter titles change to character names, the story is told in the first person and a reader not paying attention can get lost. The first character that confused me was Deidre. Her story made a lot of sense, but I had forgotten the time in which she lived until she left a house and got into her carriage. Carriage? OK, now I am caught up. The story Deidre was relating about her interactions with other characters made perfect sense but when she got into a carriage it was like someone jerked on a chain to get me back into the correct story track. Which is another way to say the author doesn’t tell the reader things, she allows the reader to discover things.

I will read more novels by Bullock. These stories remind me of the writing style of one of my favorite writers, Carol Ervin. The Boardinghouse by Ervin is equally rich in character development and complexity. But there are no active ghosts. Readers who appreciate the complexity of Seven Sisters will like several books by Ervin.

This is a five-star read in this genre. It is like reading the entire television series Dallas. There is no explicit sexual language or violence. Isla has some very strange relationships. Just when a reader thinks Isla can not shock more, she does, but everything is safe for work. Anyone trying to read this novel over the shoulder of another reader will be completely lost. Investing time to read this lengthy novel is worth it. The last two books/chapters are can’t-put-it-down page turners which I consider amazing given the complexity of the story.

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