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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Book Review—AN EXORCIST EXPLAINS THE DEMONIC

[An Exorcist Explains the Demonic Cover]As an author of horror, I am fascinated by demons—especially as portrayed in movies like ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Conjuring,’ ‘The Conjuring 2,’ and the more comic ‘Supernatural’ television series. But as a Catholic, I am in truth terrified of the demonic. I believe they not only exist but are striving every day to win over our souls. Strong words? Well, we’re talking about the ultimate battle between Good and Evil, after all.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who died in Rome this past September, was an exorcist and author. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic is the first book of his I have read, and I intend to read more. I found his words to be both direct and comforting. Direct, because he doesn’t mince words when it comes to Satan. And comforting because, in the end, he offers hope for those suffering from ailments such as Possession, Vexation, Obsession, and Infestation.

For authors interested in true stories of the paranormal, I can highly recommend this work. Movies and television may exaggerate some of what happens during an exorcism, but apparently, they get a lot of it right. And I believe that if you’re going to write about something unfamiliar, you should research the hell out of it. For believers, Fr. Amorth offers advice on how to keep yourself safe from the forces of Evil. And for nonbelievers, the book is a fascinating read.

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Synopsis
From Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the renowned exorcist in Rome, comes this powerful, eye-opening book on the deadly antics of Satan and his fallen angels, as well as spiritual remedies for each. 

These pages provide a basic orientation in the dark phenomenology, succinctly explaining Catholic doctrine on the fallen angels and the innumerable manifestations. Among the many questions Fr. Amorth answers in this book are:

Where does the Evil One dwell in the human body?
How does the Devil appear and what does he look like?
What are the powers that comes from Satan?
Do the sins of ancestors influence our life?
How are spiritual evils contracted?
What is the state of souls in purgatory?
What is the role of sacramentals in fighting off temptation?
When should exorcisms and prayers of healing be performed?
What happens during an exorcism?
What you should do when a family is being attacked by a demon?

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SORROW’S EDGE—Taking Horror on the Road

Sequels are tough—trust me, I know. As an author, you must delve deeper into the mystery that is your hero, looking for new weaknesses to exploit. That’s right, what you want is to put this guy through more hell and see if he’ll survive. In Jimmy Holiday’s case, you’ve got an embarrassment of riches. He’s a former priest and, though still a tortured Catholic, finds himself seriously questioning the path God has apparently chosen for him. You see, Jimmy is a reluctant exorcist—and a marker. To make matters worse, he’s in a complicated relationship with Tabby, a mercurial young woman of the witchy variety. And if that isn’t enough, he’s the guardian of a six-year-old girl named Lucy who is, um, not all there.

The thing I love most about Danielle DeVor’s work is that she never takes the easy road. Her imagination seems boundless. Sure, there’s horror, demons, ghosts, and a myriad of other spooky goings-on. But I’ve noticed that she likes to mess with her characters. A lot. And the reader is better for it. And speaking of roads, the entourage is now headed for Tombstone, Arizona, where more ungodly things are brewing. Good luck, Jimmy!

There’s a lot you can love about Sorrow’s Edge. And though the book is a great read, I suggest you start with Sorrow’s Point. Pairing up an ex-priest with a witch and a ghost girl? Wish I’d thought of it.

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Book Blurb
[Sorrow's Edge Cover]

Uncovering The Truth…Will Take An Exorcist

Jimmy Holiday, defrocked priest turned exorcist, is trying to get his life in order. With his on-again off-again witchy girlfriend moving in, the spirit of the little girl from his last exorcism hanging around, and a secret organization of exorcists hounding him, Jimmy equals stressed. 

When a stranger calls in the middle of the night asking for help with a possession, Jimmy is about to land in a mess of trouble. Especially since the man on the phone claims to have gotten his number from Jimmy’s old mentor. Too bad his mentor has been dead for years.

After a mysterious silver flask arrives at his doorstep, Jimmy is left with two options: either ignore the newest enigma the universe has tossed him, or listen to Lucy and travel to Arizona to solve the mystery before all hell breaks loose…again.

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Book Review—MORAL INFIDELITY

[Moral Infidelity Cover]For me, thrillers are the most satisfying when everything is at stake. Sometimes, authors concentrate on the mechanics of plot to carry the reader along a treacherous, dangerous path that may or may not lead to a new day. But what makes a story outstanding is when an author plumbs the depths of the characters involved—getting into their deepest, most troubling thoughts—and allowing the reader to understand better the motivations that drive them.

Moral Infidelity is such a book. Rebecca Warner has taken what could have been a routine thriller and turned it into something memorable. Her characters are smart, wealthy, and deeply flawed. And as they traverse down a road filled with hidden mines, they struggle toward the light. Some will make it. Others will lose their way forever. This book is an excellent, character-driven thriller—a great read.

Synopsis
POLITICS…LUST…LIES…BETRAYAL

What if an anti-abortion governor, who is determined to enact stricter abortion laws in his state, had an affair that resulted in an unintended pregnancy?

In this two-time award-winning thriller, Florida Governor Michael Romano becomes embroiled in an ethical dilemma that threatens to shatter his marriage and his political career. His mistress wants him and his baby, and she will publicly destroy him if he doesn’t leave his wife to marry her. He finds himself walking a moral tightrope, where a single misstep can irretrievably ruin his carefully-constructed personal and political life.

Choice takes on a whole new meaning for Romano as he attempts to untangle himself from his sticky web of deceit.

Suspense builds as Romano weighs his limited options while fighting to keep his political career viable as he pursues enactment of anti-abortion laws. Caught in the nightmarish consequences of his treachery and duplicity, Romano must make choices that will test the strength of his moral fiber to its limits…But will his choices lead to his salvation, or his ruin?

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SORROW’S POINT—Once a Priest, Always a Priest

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of The Exorcist—both the novel and the movie. Also, I am Catholic which, I suppose, is why stories about exorcism resonate so well with me. Now, I’ve read Danielle DeVor’s work before and, when I began Sorrow’s Point, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be telling me a story I already knew. While The Exorcist concerns a Catholic priest suffering serious doubts about his faith, her novel is about a priest who had been “laicized”—that is, he returned to the laity (“defrocked” has no meaning in the Catholic Church, by the way).

“Once a priest, always a priest” is a universal truth. In Jimmy Holiday’s case, it’s especially important, because a friend is pleading with him to help his young daughter, Lucy, who may be exhibiting signs of being possessed. I won’t provide any spoilers, but I will tell you that the house where Lucy lives is not nice. In fact, it is downright hellish. I mean, seriously. Would you live in a place called “Blackmoor”? Yeah, me neither.

Teaming up with an old girlfriend, Jimmy will be calling on supernatural powers other than those found in the Rite of Exorcism to help Lucy. And in doing so, he will discover a frightening, life-changing truth about himself. If you enjoy supernatural stories of the demonic variety, you will love this book.

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Book Blurb

[Sorrow's Point Cover]

Not All Exorcists are Equal….One is Marked

When defrocked ex-priest, Jimmy Holiday, agrees to help an old friend with his sick daughter, he doesn’t expect the horrors that await him. Blackmoor, his friend’s new residence, rests upon the outskirts of the town of Sorrow’s Point. The mansion’s history of magic, mayhem, and death makes it almost a living thing – a haunted mansion straight out of a Stephen King novel. Jimmy must decide if the young girl, Lucy, is only ill, or if the haunting of the house and her apparent possession are real.

After the house appears to affect him as well with colors of magic dancing before his eyes, rooms warded by a witch, and a ring of power in his voice, Jimmy is met by a transient who tells him he has “the Mark”. Whatever being “marked” means, Jimmy doesn’t care. All he wants to do is help Lucy. But, helping Lucy means performing an exorcism.

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