Book Review—Stillhouse Lake

[Stillhouse Lake Cover]Let me start out by saying that Rachel Caine is an excellent writer. Her prose is concise, controlled, and chillingly violent when the occasion calls for it. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially liked her protagonist, Gina Royal, who is single-minded in her determination to protect her children and herself from the memory of her soulless ex-husband and the thousands of trolls now pursuing the family on social media. Quite a challenge for a former housewife whose main concerns used to be centered around seeing her children off to school and putting dinner on the table.

If you like tense thrillers, I can say with confidence that you will enjoy Stillhouse Lake—with one caveat. For me, when someone says “serial killer,” I expect a high body count. I mean, that’s kind of what they do, right? And though Gina’s ex-husband, Mel, does live up to his reputation, most of it is in backstory. In fact, Caine spends most of the first half of the book on Gina’s inner life. By the time we get to the new peril she finds herself in, we know her intimately—a good thing if you enjoy believable characters. I only wish the author had peppered the introspection with a bit more action, that’s all I’m saying.

All in all, a terrific read. Can’t wait for the next book in the series.

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Book Description
Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

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Book Review—In a Dark Place

I read the previous books in this series, and for me, In a Dark Place is the most disturbing by far. By all accounts, the Snedeker family did nothing purposeful to invite the evil that came into their lives and almost destroyed them. It was there lurking in that funeral home long before they showed up, waiting for a chance to assault the living.

In past books, Ed Warren talked about the three stages of demonic activity: infestation, oppression, and possession. Or did that come from ‘The Conjuring’? Now, we find that there are actually five stages: encroachment, or permission, infestation, oppression, possession, and death. Happy endings are never guaranteed, I guess—even after an exorcism.

Although the book makes it clear that no one in that family was trying to invite anything in by way of Ouija boards or Tarot cards, Stephen, the teenage son, was very susceptible to suggestion due to his illness and eventually agreed to let the demon “show him things.” So, in essence, he granted permission. From there, everything proceeded as expected, except that what the demon did to individual family members is both chilling and repugnant—especially for the women. And what made things worse was the fact that both parents continued to deny what was happening.

Several months ago, I saw the film ‘The Haunting in Connecticut,’ which is loosely based on the book. In that story, the boy—now named Kyle—is a hero who frees tortured souls. No such gloppy Hollywood ending happened to the Snedekers. I recommend reading In a Dark Place to anyone interested in better understanding the demonic. Then watch the movie as pure entertainment.

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Book Description

[In a Dark Place Cover]

The story of the most terrifying case of demonic possession in the United States. It became the basis for the hit film The Haunting in Connecticut starring Virginia Madsen.

Shortly after moving into their new home, the Snedeker family is assaulted by a sinister presence that preys one-by-one on their family. Exhausting all other resources, they call up the world-renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren—who have never encountered a case as frightening as this…

No one had warned the Snedekers their new house used to be an old funeral home. Their battle with an inexplicable and savage phenomena had only just begun. What started as a simple “poltergeist” escalated into a full-scale war, an average American family battling the deepest, darkest forces of evil—a war this family could not afford to lose.

Books by Ed & Lorraine Warren also include Graveyard, Ghost Hunters, The Haunted, Werewolf, and Satan’s Harvest.

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Book Review—Night of the Living Dead

I believe there were two events in the twentieth century that established the era of the post-apocalyptic zombie. The first was the publication of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in 1954; the second was the release of the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Now, purists might argue that Matheson’s creatures were actually vampires, not zombies. Correct. But what he envisioned was a monster born of some global catastrophe not unlike the events depicted in World War Z. In previous decades, zombies were mainly slaves of the Haitian voodoo variety. And there weren’t a lot of them. There is nothing more nightmarish than having the entire planet swarming with the infected.

I have only ever seen Night of the Living Dead on television, and still, it made a lasting impression. The line “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” is forever burned into my brain—a brain that those pesky ghouls probably want to munch on. I hadn’t realized that John Russo, one of the screenwriters, had turned this iconic film into a novel. Having read the book, I can certainly see why.

Where the movie shows us the horror of being devoured by flesh-hungry ghouls, the book delves into the inner life of a few characters trying to survive something they simply don’t understand. I’m pretty sure that if something like this happened today, we would be more prepared than those innocent folks, having been brought up on The Walking Dead and Z Nation. But in the book, these people are clueless. And they cannot fathom the idea that the dead are shuffling around, not to mention the fact that they are pretty damned hungry.

Try not to be jaded when you read this book. Remember, times were very different. The AIDS crisis hadn’t happened yet, or swine flu, or any of the other horrible outbreaks we’ve experienced in recent decades. The people in Night of the Living Dead were living small, ordinary lives. Then hell arrived.

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Book Description

[Night of the Living Dead Cover]

Newsweek calls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD a, “True Horror Classic.”

Why does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD hit with such chilling impact? Is it because everyday people in a commonplace house are suddenly the victims of a monstrous invasion? Or is it because the ghouls who surround the house with grasping claws were once ordinary people, too?

Decide for yourself as you read, and the horror grips you. All the cannibalism, suspense and frenzy of the smash-hit are here in the novel.

This is the ORIGINAL novel by John A. Russo based on the screenplay by John A. Russo and George A. Romero. 

Through scenes of political upheaval and protests in South Korea, spirited conversations in cramped dumpling houses, and the quiet moments that happen when two people fall in love, A Small Revolution is a moving narrative brimming with longing, love, fear, and—ultimately—hope.

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Book Review—Little White Lies

It’s not often I say this, but Little White Lies by Elizabeth McGregor blew me away. What starts out as a sad, curious mystery festers like sepsis, driving you to high fever and delirium until what you are left with is shock and a sickening truth that speaks to the worst human frailties. All through the book, the author is both careful and relentless. Her writing is unfailingly English, and she doesn’t brook impatience. You must wait for the revelation. And, dear Lord, when it comes you almost wish it hadn’t.

By nature, I am an impatient person. And, for better or worse, my writing reflects that. But in this brilliant novel, McGregor has taught me that sometimes it’s better to breathe and let the pain wash over you like a rinsing agent mixed with blood. Beth March never had a clue that a dead bird would lead to such misery—not just hers—and when she accepts the reality that has always surrounded her, it’s as if she is acknowledging not just one but many deaths.

Don’t go looking for heroes in Little White Lies—they don’t exist. Some, however, do act heroically at times, including Beth. There is no doubt I will read this book again. But I’ll have to wait until the fever subsides. In the meantime, I’m going in search of the 1998 TV movie version, which was produced by the BBC and co-written by the novel’s author.

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Book Description

[Little White Lies Cover]

Any other year, summer arrived with the swallows. But this year, the broken body of a bird, left on the porch, serves as an omen of deception, a shadow cast over the days to come…

Beth March’s life seems unexceptional: she and her husband, David, have a conventional, quiet marriage.

The opening morning of the nightmare seems like just another day, aside from the unexpected body of the bird…but while Beth showers and prepares for the day, David drives his car at full speed into the path of a lorry. He is killed instantly.

From the moment that Beth learns of his fate, her world begins to shatter around her. Nothing in her life can ever be the same again.

No one can be trusted. No one is telling her the truth.

Was David having an affair?

Why did he go behind her back to sell his shares and take out another mortgage — and where is that money now?

What dark secrets lie beneath the picture-perfect image of the family down the lane?

As she unravels the chain of tragic events that preceded her husband’s death, Beth finds herself tossed from side to side on a sea of continually shifting information, never sure what is true and what is not.

What seem like little white lies gradually begin to build and build until Beth truly begins to realise the horror of devastating betrayal experienced by everyone involved…

Little White Lies is an intriguing tale of suspicion, deceit and the quest for the truth.

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Book Review—A Small Revolution

For me, reading this novel was like experiencing a dream. I alternated between curiosity, frustration, and elation. Curiosity, because I am unfamiliar with Korean culture; frustration, because as the reader, I could do nothing but witness Lloyd’s descent into madness without ever actually understanding his mind; elation, because despite her troubled childhood, Yoona has a chance to be happy.

This is what good writing does—it stretches you until you can hear your muscles tearing. I’ll be honest. At first, I was a little put off by the short passages that seemed more like journal entries than chapters. But as I followed Yoona in her attempt to come to terms with her current predicament—being held hostage by a former friend—I discovered a history I had little knowledge of. And I also learned of the pain immigrants can feel when trying to assimilate in this purported land of opportunity.

A Small Revolution is powerful. And, like a dream, every reader is bound to experience it differently.

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Book Blurb

[A Small Revolution Cover]

In this powerful, page-turning debut, Jimin Han deftly shows that revolutions—whether big or small, in the world or of the heart—can have an impact that lasts through time and spans the oceans.

On a beautiful Pennsylvania fall morning, a gunman holds college freshman Yoona Lee and three of her classmates hostage in the claustrophobic confines of their dorm room. The desperate man with his finger on the trigger—Yoona’s onetime friend, Lloyd Kang—is unraveling after a mysterious accident in Korea killed his closest friend, Jaesung, who was also the love of Yoona’s life.

As the tense standoff unfolds, Yoona is forced to revisit her past, from growing up in an abusive household to the upheaval in her ancestral homeland to unwittingly falling in love. She must also confront the truth about what happened to Jaesung on that tragic day, even as her own fate hangs in the balance.

Through scenes of political upheaval and protests in South Korea, spirited conversations in cramped dumpling houses, and the quiet moments that happen when two people fall in love, A Small Revolution is a moving narrative brimming with longing, love, fear, and—ultimately—hope.

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Book Review—Sorrow’s Turn

I read the first two books in this series, and this one is my favorite. Mainly, I love the way the author has developed the relationship between Jimmy Holiday and his old-now-new girlfriend, Tabby who, as it happens is also his exorcism buddy. Yeah, you read that right. A former Catholic priest has teamed up with a witch to save the world from bad things. Quite a unique concept, if you ask me.

The central conflict in the series is within Jimmy himself. He has learned to his never-ending bewilderment that he is a “marker,” which means he possesses the power to save souls from eternal damnation by marking them. And if that isn’t bad enough, he’s learned there exists an Order of Markers. And these boys don’t really have much of a sense of humor. Though he continues to do the right thing by confronting demons as they possess people, he’s not too happy about it and, sometimes, wishes he could simply hide and eat chocolate. What, no rotgut whiskey?

Sorrow’s Turn is a very entertaining read. If you like paranormal stories with some pretty crazy twists, I suggest you start with the first book. I wouldn’t call Jimmy’s life a roller coaster exactly. It’s more like the funhouse in an abandoned amusement park. You really don’t want to continue forward, but you’re too scared to go back the way you came.

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Book Blurb

[Sorrow’s Turn Cover]

Some Things are Worse Than Demons.

Jimmy Holiday, reluctant exorcist, is finally getting the help he needs from the higher-ups. The Order of Markers is sending him to the Vatican’s exorcism school. Now, he’ll receive the training he should have gotten at the beginning. One problem, someone wants to sabotage him.

When his time at the school is cut short, Jimmy receives an interesting new case. It is the assignment that no one wants—a corpse has come back to life. And it isn’t a zombie.

Too bad nothing goes as expected. Armed with his usual bag of tricks, Jimmy thinks everything will eventually be all right. Well, that is until his betrayer turns out to be the person he trusts most.

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Book Review—Before You Leap

[Before You Leap Cover]In many ways, Before You Leap is a book I admire. I’ll mention two. The author has a way of describing things that, frankly, is bound to make me work harder as a writer. And indeed, he has taken to heart the notion that it’s better to start in the middle of things, leaving the reader in a dizzying confusion of places and events that—ever so slowly—become more apparent as you wend your way through a pulse-pounding maze of violent emotion. It’s a technique I’ve used myself, and it’s very effective in the mystery thriller genre. The other thing is, the characters ring true to me—especially Greg. Although after finishing this book, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that he is more than a little disturbed.

Regarding the plot, I felt the story was a little convoluted and could have benefited from some simplification. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem dealing with characters whose motives are mysterious and who consistently act in ways that deceive. But there were a few times when I found myself wishing for more of a straight line as Greg is forced to confront his painful past.

Overall, I liked Before You Leap and recommend it to fans of the genre. It’s a solid piece of work and definitely worth exploring.

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Synopsis
Peace of mind is all Greg Cole has wanted since the murder of his twin sister, Scarlett. 

In his new sun-soaked Florida life, he thought he had found it. But when Scarlett’s killer is released early from prison with a cast-iron alibi, Greg realizes that his past is about to explode into his present, with terrifying consequences.

To expose the truth he must open up old wounds. As a talk therapist, Greg knows all about dark secrets, but when a childhood friendship comes to the fore and the police turn their spotlight on him, the thought of analyzing his own psyche is a disturbing prospect. How far can he trust his own memories?

With his life coming apart at the seams, and his grip on reality beginning to unravel, Greg must face the ghosts of his past if he hopes to prove his innocence and live to see another day.

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