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.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

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—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.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

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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Multi-Genre Mega Giveaway—May 2017

Wow, check out this offer! Enter the giveaway and win free eBooks in multiple genres! Offer ends Wednesday, May 31st, 2017.

Enter here: https://AuthorsXP.com/mega

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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.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

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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Movie Review—‘Arrival’

[Arrival Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Arrival’ (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Paramount Pictures
PG-13
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.

I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.

The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.

Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.

In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.

You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.

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Free Fiction—Something to Hold

[Rotting Peach] Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo via Creative Commons

Free fiction has an expiration date—and this one has definitely come and gone. Please feel free to explore this site for more great stories.

Movie Review—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

[The Keeper of Lost Causes Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Denmark-Germany-Sweden
Not Rated
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.

Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.

Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.

This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!

I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.

TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD—Stumbling into Hell

[Steven Ramirez Portrait 2016]Hey, I wanted to let you know that I had the privilege of doing a guest post at Horror Made, a site run by the amazing and charming artist Jeanette Andromeda. You can read an excerpt below, and when you’re finished be sure to check out some of Jeanette’s art here. In fact, take a look at what she did with my boring old headshot—wow! This girl has a real gift, and I am thrilled to have made her acquaintance! Okay, here we go…

In 2013, I published what I thought would be a single novel about a regular guy fending off zombies in the fictional Northern California town of Tres Marias. Though I’m a pantser by trade, I had the whole thing figured out in my head. I would take the recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski on a soul-bending journey of sorrow that would cause him to inadvertently put his wife, Holly, at risk while he struggled to stay sober, even as the body count was going up. But when I finished the book, something happened.

“Dave’s not done,” I said.

And so began the long, hard road to the Tell Me When I’m Dead trilogy. In 2014, I published Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. And in 2015, I brought Dave to the end of his trials with Book Three, Even The Dead Will Bleed.

Pantsers and Plotters
I mentioned earlier that I’m a pantser—as opposed to a plotter, who carefully outlines their book the way a draftsman creates a blueprint. I tried doing that a few times with other stories. But the same thing always happened. Fifty pages into the outline, I would get fed up and start writing the damn novel. Want to know another thing about outlines? You don’t always end up going where you thought you would, once you actually begin writing. Plotters will tell you they love being surprised. Well, in my defense, I am surprised every moment I write.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against plotters. In fact, some of my best friends… Okay, never mind. The point is, both types of writers turn out brilliant fiction. How you get there is more a function of how your brain is wired. Moving on…

You can read the rest of this post over at HorrorMade.com.

TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD Box Set Sale—Last Day!

[TMWID Box Set Ad]LAST DAY!
Sometimes you can find a truly surprising deal—like the one I am offering this month. This is the last day to purchase TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD: The Complete Trilogy at Amazon for a cool ninety-nine cents!

So, if you haven’t gotten into the dark, twisted world of Dave Pulaski yet, I suggest you skip the Cinnamon Spice Tic Tacs and buy this book instead.

Oh, and one last thing—when you’ve completed the journey, please leave a review. Good or bad—doesn’t matter. Reviews count.

Happy Halloween and happy reading!

Yes, I Am Ready to Buy!

Interview with Rebecca Warner, Author of MORAL INFIDELITY

[Rebecca Warner]Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing Moral Infidelity, a complex political thriller by talented author Rebecca Warner. Today, I am pleased to present my interview with her. In the words of Michael Romano, lucky son of a bitch!

Rebecca, welcome. It’s my understanding that you’ve read an extraordinary number of books in your lifetime. Can you talk about some of your favorite genres and how they have influenced you as a writer?

I began reading at a very early age, which allowed me to read so many books over my lifetime. My mother couldn’t punish me by sending me to my room, because I was perfectly happy just to be left alone to read. Throughout elementary school, junior high and high school, I would check out a new book every day from the library.  I would do my homework, then read the book and return it the next day for another. My earliest real influence, discovered in junior high, was Victoria Holt, who wrote gothic novels. That led me to the classics authors, like the Bronte sisters, Daphne Du Maurier, Jane Austin and Oscar Wilde, to name a few. Though I didn’t read as much in college because I was a business major and had very little leisure time, I always had a book going. After college, as a young single woman in Miami, I went through the Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins phase. Then I revisited John Steinbeck, and was sort of reborn in terms of seeking out the classics, but this time more of the 20th century classics. Stephen King got my attention in the 1970s, and has kept it, and then James Patterson made me appreciate suspense/thrillers/mysteries, which became—and still is—my favorite genre. So I was especially pleased that Moral Infidelity, my first book, won the Bronze Medal for the category of Fiction: Thriller in the Readers’ Favorite 2015 International Book Contest.

Have you always written, or did you wake up one day after reading another great book and say, “I can do this too!”?

If I may tell a story about a specific incident in my life that influenced me to be a writer…

In the fourth grade, I was in a class that was classified as “accelerated,” though I never stood out in any way among the many truly smart children in my class. One day the teacher put up a picture of a little boy in red pajamas, sitting in front of a fireplace, holding a golden dog in his arms. We were supposed to write something about it—tell the story. I remember very clearly going to another place in my mind (I didn’t yet understand that “zone”) and writing words that seemed to come from outside of me. The teacher then had us read our papers, and as others got up and read theirs, I realized how different mine was, and I felt I had failed in the assignment. When the teacher pointed to me to get up in front of the class to read mine, I was terribly embarrassed. I tried to get someone else to read it for me, but she shook her head ‘no.’ So I had no choice but to read it, and when I finished, the room was very quiet. I looked over at my teacher, expecting a disapproving look, but instead she was looking at me with admiration and astonishment, and then she said, “We have a genius in our class.” Powerful words that kept me writing short stories and poetry and winning awards for them throughout my school years.

In reading your work, I’ve noticed that you like to dig deep into your characters. After reading Moral Infidelity, I feel I know Michael intimately. Is there a particular author who influenced you in this regard?

I mentioned John Steinbeck earlier. In my opinion, he delved into the human heart and mind like no authors before or since, though I must laud Dostoyevsky in that regard as well. Think Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.  Think Rodya in Crime and Punishment. Stephen King is also brilliant in that regard. The mental and emotional dissection of Andy and Red in TheShawshank Redemption is unparalleled in literature. With all of these authors, I was fascinated with the depth and the complexity they plumbed from their characters.  All subconsciously influenced me in my writing in terms of wanting to write more complex and conscience-driven characters.

You know, this is a great question, because before now, I never really analyzed why it was so critical that I so thoroughly develop Michael Romano’s character in Moral Infidelity—his descent into darkness and depravity even as he functioned on a higher plane in a privileged world. Your question has caused me to do so! Thanks, Steven.

Are you interested in movies and television? If so, do they influence your writing?

I love movies and television, and am fascinated that writers can conceive of such great ideas and then execute them so perfectly through dialogue and action. But I can’t honestly say that any movie or TV show has influenced my writing.

I apologize in advance for the obligatory question, but what are you working on now?

The book I am writing now is a thriller based on a true-life event, though it is fiction. For decades, I had a Russian ballet teacher in Miami, Madam Renee, whom I loved and kept in touch with even after I moved to North Carolina. Every time I was in Miami, I would take her to a lovely restaurant, so befitting her appreciation of fine things which she could no longer afford. One day, I was picking her up to take her to the Biltmore Hotel for an elegant pool-side lunch. When I got to her home and she came outside, I was shocked and horrified by her appearance. Normally so stylishly turned out, she was disheveled, wore virtual rags, was emaciated, and had a big gash on her leg.

The patio attached to her home was encased in roof-to-ground iron bars, for security reasons. She had always come and gone through the keyed iron gate set within the bars, but that day she told me she couldn’t find the key. I knew that a man who had married and divorced her niece had moved in with her, which I always thought a bit odd, but she was glad to have the company and added protection. But because she had obviously declined to such a great degree since he moved in, I became suspicious and alarmed. She was literally like a prisoner, and when—at my urging—she called him at work to ask where the key was, he gaslighted her into thinking she was demented and had misplaced it. Something just was not right, and I immediately alerted my former ballet classmates, including one who is a lawyer, to find out more about this man, and Renee’s circumstances. It became evident through our inquiries and also public records that he had taken over her property and her life, and we all felt she was in danger.

And so the idea of the book I am writing now, Ballet Barres, was born, with the objective of Renee’s devoted students of twenty-plus years coming together these many years later to save her from whatever evil intent this man has. And yes, I delve into his darker side!

Book Blurb

[Moral Infidelity Cover]

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?

Where to Buy

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About the Author
Rebecca Warner’s educational and professional background was in finance and banking in Miami, Florida. After she and her husband moved to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, Rebecca began writing articles for several local periodicals. Drawing upon her many years of advising the lovelorn and successful matchmaking, she also wrote a romance-and-relationship advice column. In 2014, she published her first book, Moral Infidelity, which won the Bronze Medal in the Readers’ Favorite 2015 International Book Awards’ thriller category, and Top 10 Honorable Mention in the 2015 Great Southeast Book Festival. Her second novel, Doubling Back To Love, was solicited for inclusion in a ten-novel romantic anthology, and her third book, He’s Just A Man, is a non-fiction self-help book for women seeking a mate.

Rebecca is a convivial feminist who blogs on her own sites and for The Huffington Post about topics of interest to women. She enjoys participating in podcasts and forums about women’s social, economic and political issues.

You can find Rebecca on Twitter, on Facebook, and at her website.