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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Book Review—The Woman in Black

[The Woman in Black Cover]I am jaded. Having read great American horror such as Hell House, I always expect the worst when I pick up a new book about the paranormal—“the worst” being a good thing as it pertains to sheer, violent, depraved mayhem. Not that The Woman in Black is new. I saw the movie last year and finally decided to read the source material. And to be honest, the film’s director, James Watkins, did ratchet up the horror angle, doing some things that went beyond the book.

At the heart of it, this novel is a ghost story in the best sense—a good, old-fashioned fireside tale meant to chill rather than repulse. And the writing is splendid—something lacking in a lot of the horror fiction I’ve read by less-skilled writers. The author, Susan Hill, has a way of describing dark things that leaves the very walls dripping with dread. And her depiction of an older Arthur Kipps reflecting on his haughtier younger self is first-rate and absolutely rings true.

Don’t expect to be terrified by The Woman in Black. That’s just not how it’s done when you’re writing exceptional literary fiction. But if you enjoy a really well-written book that perfectly captures a time and place as dense and cloying as the fog surrounding Eel Marsh House, then you will enjoy this story immensely.

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Synopsis
The classic ghost story from the author of The Mist in the Mirror: a chilling tale about a menacing spectre haunting a small English town. Now a major motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black. Psychologically terrifying and deliciously eerie, The Woman in Black is a remarkable thriller of the first rate.

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Book Review—The Haunted

[The Haunted Cover]Sometimes, my wife asks how I can read scary books just before going to sleep. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and it’s never bothered me. Like most people, I read for pleasure. But as a writer, I also read for understanding. Usually, when I read books about the supernatural, I intellectualize everything down to the story, writing style, and authenticity of the characters. I may have to revisit that approach.

The Haunted is the true story of the Smurl family, devout Catholics living in Pennsylvania who find themselves being infested with a demon and other vengeful spirits. Based on everything I’ve read so far about demons, this situation can occur when someone invites the demonic into their home through the use of Ouija boards, spells, or cursed objects like the Annabelle doll. Not so with the Smurls. This family did none of those things, yet the demonic entered their lives and plagued them for years, terrorizing individual family members—and even the neighbors.

Despite everything that happens, the Smurl family remains rooted in their faith. It’s the main reason they were able to manage for so long, undergoing multiple exorcisms and hordes of tourists wanting a glimpse of “the dark side.” As for me, I am comfortable in my faith and have always believed the demonic will leave me alone so long as I don’t seek it out. After reading The Haunted, I’m not so sure anymore.

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Synopsis
The world’s most famous demonologists, Ed & Lorraine Warren, were called in to help an average American family who were assaulted by forces too awesome, too powerful, too dark, to be stopped. It’s a true story, supported by dozens of eyewitnesses neighbors, priests, police, journalists, and researchers. The grim slaughterhouse of odors. The deafening pounding. The hoofed half-man charging down the hall. The physical attacks, a vicious strangling, failed exorcisms, the succubus… and the final terror which continued to torment the Smurls. In this shocking, terrifying, deeply absorbing book rivaled only by The Amityville Horror—a case also investigated by the Warrens—journalist Robert Curran digs deep into the haunting of the Smurl home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, and the unshakeable family bonds that helped them survive.

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Book Review—CLOCKWISE

[Clockwise Cover]I love stories involving time travel. If I were writing one, it would probably take on a more dystopian tone—not unlike the television show ‘12 Monkeys’ on Syfy. But that’s me. Clockwise is different, though. Thanks to the talented author, Elle Strauss, it’s funny, girly, and inventive. Also, it feels historically accurate, which is always a good thing for the discerning reader.

Teens have enough going on in their lives without adding sudden, awkward trips to the past. And when you add a little danger and a series of escalating romantic complications, you end up with a fun, satisfying read. The protagonist, Casey Donovan, is very self-aware. She goes on endlessly about her height, her hair, and her perceived lack of personality. And like most teens, she’s not really sure where she fits in, though her best friend Lucinda is mostly supportive. The fact that Casey is smitten with a jock doesn’t help matters.

In less skilled hands, this story would have seemed trite. One thing I noticed is that Nate, the object of Casey’s endless fascination, is written with real heart. I mean, come on. Good-looking high school athletes have a reputation that precedes them in movies and television. Allowing him to mature along with Casey was absolutely the right move. Clockwise is socially relevant and charming. A genuine pleasure.

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Synopsis
A dance. A dare. An accidental tumble through time. Awkward.

Casey Donovan has issues: hair, height and uncontrollable trips to the 19th century! And now this –she’s accidentally taken Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.

Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother, and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just “brotherly” protectiveness?

When they return to the present, things go back to the way they were before: Casey parked on the bottom of the rung of the social ladder and Nate perched high on the very top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her younger brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.

Which of course, she does.

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