Book Review—We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Cover

Like many school children, I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” when I was too young to understand it. Later in my twenties, I read The Haunting of Hill House, a mesmerizing experience. Of course, I was well acquainted with the outstanding Robert Wise film adaptation starring Julie Harris as the pitch-perfect Eleanor Vance. What I learned best from that story is that hauntings are best when the victim cooperates.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s last novel, and it is a masterwork of madness, deception, and envy. In words that are simple and well chosen, the author allows us to follow Mary Katherine Blackwood—also known as Merricat as she goes about her day in the house, the woods, and sometimes, the village. We come to learn early on that the other family members are long dead—poisoned. And we also discover the village’s hatred of the Blackwood family which, towards the end of the book, comes to a head in a way reminiscent of “The Lottery.”

Things are orderly and cloistered in the Blackwood house until Cousin Charles appears. It’s immediately apparent that he is hoping to cash in on the supposed hidden wealth of the sisters. And, being the imperious lout that he is, he underestimates the strength and protectiveness of Merricat as he bumbles his way through vague overtures toward Constance and threatening promises of things changing for the better.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a story that will chill you with characters who are sympathetic in their trapped existence. It is a brilliant novel that makes me wish Jackson were still alive to write more. After all, there are so many other castles yet to explore.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

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Avoiding Strangers on a Train to Write

Strangers on a Train
Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Like many indie authors, I work for a living. There are worse things, like plantar warts. Never mind. Because I live in LA, having a day job requires me to endure a long, daily commute. Several years ago, I decided to abandon my car and use public transportation. Though the combination of trains and ride services such as Uber and Lyft, my commute isn’t any shorter, it does free me up to do other things. For instance, I can read. And more importantly, I can write.

Stalling Our Way to Happiness
Most writers I know are born procrastinators. Netflix and Amazon Prime were made for us—not to mention mobile phones bursting with games and social media apps. And if like me, you are stuck on a train with a bunch of strangers, it’s easy to tell yourself there’s no way you can get any real writing done. For one thing, it’s too noisy, what with all the announcements and people watching funny cat videos without earbuds.

And then, there’s the problem of where to put the device. The light rail trains don’t have flat surfaces, other than the floor. And the seats are narrow, so other passengers are usually sitting very close. In short, there are plenty of reasons not to write on the train.

When You Wish Upon a Star
A few months ago, I decided I’d had enough. I was going to write every morning on the train, no matter what. So, I took myself on a journey of discovery. I already owned a MacBook Air, which is what I use to do most of my writing. Unfortunately, because of the problems mentioned above, I found that it was too large for me to work comfortably. I needed something I could balance on my lap—a device that runs Microsoft Word.

Surface Go

After spending time researching laptops, I decided on a Microsoft Surface Go. Though small, the device is responsive, and the screen is bright. And battery life is outstanding. As a rule, I don’t like touch screens, so I decided to purchase the optional keyboard, which I find to be comfortable, though compact.

My only complaint is the touchpad. It’s overly sensitive and often sends my cursor flying to unknown parts of the page, which I didn’t intend. But, trust me, that’s a small price to pay to avoid writing with paper and pen. Even on a full train, I can bang out anywhere from 750 to 1,000 words, which is plenty for a morning’s work.

Go Forth and Write
Now, I’m not trying to sell you on Microsoft products. I’m sure there are plenty of other choices out there. All I’m saying is, writing on a train—or a bus—is possible with the right device. If you’re the kind of person who can get work done on an iPad, then go for it. I’m just happy I found a solution that works for me.

Happy writing.

Book Review—From Away

From Away Cover

Those who experience the paranormal regularly aren’t like most people. Especially if they are, as the taciturn locals on Fox Island like to say, from away. This is the situation Sammy Kehoe faces when he convinces his sister Charlotte to flee to the scene of their many childhood family vacations rather than face the prospect of continuing as they have been, sad and numb from the long-ago death of their parents and brother. Not to mention suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous languor.

Others might have used the opportunity to refuel so they could return to “real life,” rested and ready to be productive. But Sammy has problems. For starters, he can’t stop seeing the dead and desperately wishes they would leave him the hell alone. Can that explain why at way past college age, he still works in a video rental store?

In lesser hands, the premise of this novel would have played out as maudlin and uninteresting. But the way this author describes Sammy’s state of mind as he tells the story—accompanied often by wry, even side-splitting observations—drew me into this strange family, wanting more than anything to learn how they would extricate themselves from their collective morass which, if left unchecked, could have a lasting adverse effect on Charlotte’s daughter, Maggie.

If you like ghost stories that are fresh and modern and feature plenty of humor, then I highly recommend From Away. You won’t be disappointed.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Sammy Kehoe, his sister, Charlotte, and her four-year-old daughter, Maggie, are all each other have left since the car accident that killed the rest of their family. When they visit their beloved old family home on remote Fox Island, Maine, Sammy and Charlotte each have relationship sparks with island locals. But the budding idyll is shattered when Sammy and Maggie’s unexplained abilities to “see things” are put to the test when dangerous ghosts from the past resurface. At first, this novel about an unusual and loving family draws readers in with warmth and intrigue—and then it builds with suspense that makes it impossible to put down.

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The Girl in the Mirror—Cover Reveal and Preorder

The Girl In The Mirror Cover

Click here to preorder now!

It’s finally here—the cover of my new supernatural suspense novel, The Girl in the Mirror. And that’s not all. This books kicks off a new series, Sarah Greene Mysteries. Okay, so this whole thing is a bit of a departure for me. As many of you know, I’ve written an entertaining horror trilogy featuring lots of zombies and a flawed—such a flawed—male hero. But now, I have created a new world in which a contemporary woman in her mid-thirties, who is by no means a professional ghost hunter, decides she must confront the evil in the town where she lives.

Preorder Information
And now for the best news. You can preorder the Kindle version of The Girl in the Mirror at Amazon for 99 cents. At publication, the price goes up to $5.99. So, make sure to reserve your copy now.

Book Giveaway
I plan to give away copies of the paperback when it becomes available. If you would like to be notified, sign up for my newsletter here and choose “Supernatural Suspense” as your interest.

Book Description
When you look in the mirror and see a ghost, that’s a bad day.

While renovating an old house with her ex-husband, Sarah Greene finds a mirror that holds the spirit of a dead girl. As she learns more about the people who built Casa Abrigo—and about their demon-worshiping son—Sarah comes to believe the girl did not die a natural death, and she sets out to discover the truth. But prying into someone’s sketchy past can be risky, especially when it awakens dangerous dark forces.

Sarah Greene has been communicating with ghosts since her best friend died when they were both fifteen. At thirty-three, she still doesn’t know why God gave her this “gift,” but with each new paranormal mystery, she feels she has no choice but to investigate, even when the underlying supernatural forces threaten to harm her.

Teaser Trailer

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And just for fun, here is the teaser trailer I created.

What I Learned from Creating My First Audiobook

Chainsaw Honeymoon Audiobook Cover
Here is an article I wrote for BookWorks about creating my first audiobook. I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to look for a special offer.

Last year, I decided to take the plunge and create an audiobook of my romantic comedy, Chainsaw Honeymoon. Like many of you reading this article, I was new to this market and quickly realized I had a lot to learn. In thinking about the novel, I felt there were two main challenges. First, the story is told mostly by a precocious thirteen-year-old named Ruby. From a narration perspective, this creates a problem because, as far as I know, there are not a lot of teenage narrators out there. Secondly, the tone of the book is satirical. That meant the narrator had to be very good at smart comedy. Fortunately, I found someone who fit the bill nicely—Valerie Mirarchi (www.valerievoiceover.com).

You’re probably wondering why I chose a romantic comedy, considering I’ve published a horror trilogy. Simple. It was because the idea of jumping into the production of a trilogy seemed daunting for two reasons. First, I had never done this before. Second, if I were to do it, I would have to ensure the same narrator was available for all three books since I wrote them in the first person. What I needed was a one-off novel, and Chainsaw Honeymoon seemed like a good choice.

Here are some things I learned along the way. If you’ve decided you want to create an audiobook, feel free to use these notes as research. There are many ways to get the job done, and you might very well discover a better way. Also, keep in mind that I chose to go with ACX and cannot speak to other audiobook marketplaces.

To read the rest of this article, please visit BookWorks.

Book Review—Tender Enemies

Tender Enemies Cover

One of the things I love about an S.R. Mallery novel is how well researched it is. Years ago, I became interested in Germany during WWII and read extensively about the rise of the Nazi party. I also learned about the German American Bund, which in 1936 began openly supporting Hitler and his merry band of henchmen. It’s astonishing to me that such a thing could occur in this country, but there you have it. Not only were grown men and women engaging publicly in a giant PR campaign to convince Americans that the Nazis were a great bunch of people, the Bund also established camps for kids so that they could be indoctrinated—much like the Hitler Youth.

In Tender Enemies,  we get a chance to see all of this firsthand through the eyes of a beautiful and good-hearted amateur spy. Thanks to Lily, we are presented with an exciting story that brings this dark period of our history to life in glorious Technicolor. We meet the good, the bad, and the really bad. And much of the time, we’re not sure who we can trust, which is not good when you’re an operative who finds herself falling in love with the very person you are supposed to be spying on.

If you enjoy riveting historical fiction featuring characters who are realized wonderfully, I urge you to pick up this novel. After reading it, you may come away asking yourself—as I did—how in the world could something like this have happened in America?

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
A USA Today Best Selling author and two-time Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner, S. R. Mallery—as her fans say—”brings history to life.” Here is her newest, a romantic suspense thriller.

It’s 1941 in New York City, a time before Pearl Harbor, when Nazi spies are everywhere in the U.S. and no one knows who’s working for whom. In comes beautiful Lily, paid to gather intelligence by setting up a “honey trap” for Joe Stiles, a supposed German infiltrator. Problem is, she soon faces a danger she isn’t prepared for—falling in love.

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Three Things I Learned from ‘100 Bloody Acres’

100 Bloody Acres Poster

I finally got a chance to catch ‘100 Bloody Acres,’ a hilarious horror movie from Australia that was released in 2012. As of this writing, it’s free for Amazon Prime members. If, like me, you are a fan of ‘Motel Hell’ and ‘Delicatessen,’ then you might enjoy this madcap take on the hitchhiker horror trope that features three millennials headed to a music festival and two sketchy brothers who manufacture a special blend, organic fertilizer. Pardon the reference, but here’s some food for thought.

Never Accept a Ride When the Back of the Truck Smells Funny
This is a given. Yet, three hapless travelers, whose car has broken down, decide to accept a ride from Reg Morgan, who is “making a delivery.” That’s right, air quotes. As in most horror movies, Sophie, James, and Wes ignore all the signs and merrily plod on. Usually, this is a hallmark of a plot-driven story. On the other hand, if they didn’t just go with it, the movie would have ended right after the opening credits, and we’d miss all the fun.

Nevertheless, know this: if you should find yourself on a lonely, backwoods road, and a guy offers you a ride in his truck that happens to have a dead animal (and possibly something else) in the back, take a pass. No good ever comes from roadkill. And for crying out loud, if you do decide to brave it out, do not for the love of all that is good and holy take acid to enhance the experience.

Knocking the Bad Guy Out Never Works
One of the oldest movie tropes—and this doesn’t just go for horror—features the hero knocking out the bad guy with a gun or a club, then gleefully running away. Repeat after me: this never works. If you don’t have the stomach to finish off the villain, then at least tie him up so he can’t wake up and come after you again.

And as long as you’re being thorough, take his weapon away. The characters who do not follow this advice once again betray a plot-driven movie, but in this case, the story is so comical, I didn’t mind. I suppose you could argue that when in a situation like this, you’re not thinking straight. Well, of course, you aren’t—you just took acid, you moron!

Surprise! Love Conquers All
To add to the hilarity, ‘100 Bloody Acres’ features a love triangle between Sophie, James, and Wes. Apparently, the girl is searching for something more in a relationship and, though she is technically “with” James, she’s been carrying on with Wes on the sly. But even that dalliance isn’t enough for her.

I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say that love—or lust—really does conquer all. And speaking of endings, the interplay between all the characters sets this movie apart. Now, go watch. Hey, does anybody notice a weird smell in here?

Logline
Reg and Lindsay run an organic fertiliser business. They need a fresh supply of their “secret ingredient” to process through the meat grinder. Reg comes across two guys and a girl with a broken-down vehicle on their way to a music festival.

Book Sale—Tender Enemies Now 99 Cents at Amazon

Tender Enemies Cover

Just a quick note to let you know that Tender Enemies by S.R. Mallery is now 99 cents at Amazon. If you are a fan of historical fiction that’s fun, then grab your copy here.

Book Description
A USA Today Best Selling author and two-time Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner, S. R. Mallery—as her fans say—”brings history to life.” Here is her newest, a romantic suspense thriller.
It’s 1941 in New York City, a time before Pearl Harbor, when Nazi spies are everywhere in the U.S. and no one knows who’s working for whom. In comes beautiful Lily, paid to gather intelligence by setting up a “honey trap” for Joe Stiles, a supposed German infiltrator. Problem is, she soon faces a danger she isn’t prepared for—falling in love.

Excerpt

Joe grabbed her hand. “Let’s go!” he yelled, and together, they took off, the men’s moans coupled with low curses behind them, growing fainter by the second. He led her over to one of the small alcoves he had hesitated in front of before.

“This has to be the one,” he said. “Hold onto my belt.”

What seemed at first to be a dim little inlet, turned out to be a long, dark passageway, where the temperature chilled and a slightly foul odor emerged. She followed him blindly, until he suddenly stopped short, and she rammed up against him.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“We’ve run into a wall. But if it’s what they told me about, it’s good,” he said in a low voice.

She inched up beside him and realized he was running his fingers over the plaster, scouring for something.

“It’s gotta be here somewhere,” he whispered.

“What’s gotta be here?” she whispered back, but he didn’t answer.

She heard another sound.

He, too, had obviously heard the several footsteps at the mouth of their little “cave.” Fear spiked through her. She didn’t dare move. As the footsteps grew even closer, she heard some words.

“Ich denke ich höre sie.”

Suddenly her high school German came back to her. “I think I hear them,” they had said.

How close are those guys? Still holding onto his belt, she waited for Joe to do something lifesaving, but all he did was move them sideways, as the speed of his hand movements on the wall in front of them grew more frenetic. What in the world was he looking for? She wanted to ask him but didn’t dare utter a sound.

The creaky sounds of cheap shoes, one careful step after another, kept on advancing and still, no solution from Joe.

“Ich kenne deine beiden hier,” one of them snarled out loud.

She clapped one hand over her mouth. They had said, “I know you’re both here.”

Closer the Gestapo shoes squeaked. Closer and closer. It’d be over soon. It’d—

Book Review—Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine Cover

The very first thought that entered my head after finishing Rise and Shine by Simon Lewis was, thank God this didn’t happen to me. Selfish, right? Well, you might think the sentiment understandable when you’ve read this story of one man’s harrowing journey from hopeless near-death to physical and spiritual recovery over a heartbreaking span of fifteen years. By the time I reached the end of the book, I realized the author had been truly transformed. And so had I.

There are many stories—both real and imagined—of people who undertake the hero’s journey—often not willingly. I’ve read my fair share of novels and watched countless movies, and what the creators sometimes get wrong is the last part, where the hero returns to share what he has learned. Well, Mr. Lewis does this in spades. As we follow him along the “hidden path,” we come to learn that science and medicine aren’t the answer to everything and, sometimes, are at odds with each other. Not a very comforting thought, when we’ve always been taught to trust our doctors. We also learn, though, that science can be a benefit when applied appropriately.

If you love reading true stories of loss and redemption, I suggest you grab this book. The research alone is worth the price. And when you are finished, you may come to the same realization the author did—that life is precious and very much worth living.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
An impassioned tale of survival and recovery, this inspirational story recounts the author’s horrific car accident, his subsequent coma, and the more than 15 years of cutting-edge treatments and therapies endured during convalescence. With specific details of the rigorous rehabilitation process that ensued, including numerous breakthrough and experimental surgeries, the book also provides practical insight into navigating the treacherous world of insurance and how to differentiate between the often conflicting medical opinions offered. In addition to describing the numerous procedures undergone, the author tells not only of his pain, frustration, and despair, but also of his childlike wonder at the beauty and miracle of creation. A first-person account of sudden, unexpected tragedy and life-affirming courage, this remarkable tale of regeneration imparts lessons both medical and spiritual.

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Book Review—Dust

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen.

Dust Cover

When I first began reading Dust by Arthur Slade, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel. To me, the writing was cold and hypnotic, and it unfolded the way that darker, more severe, stories about serial killers and children do. Nevertheless, this is most assuredly a young adult dark fantasy.

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen. Unaware of the danger, the local farmers and the town’s banker fall under his spell and buy into his scheme to save them from the drought. Good luck with that.

As we follow an eleven-year-old boy named Robert, who is desperately searching for his younger brother, Matthew, we come to learn that not only has Matthew disappeared but many other children have as well. And the grownups don’t seem to notice—or care. When we come to know Robert, we can see why he believes it is up to him to find his brother.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the world-building. It takes place in Horshoe, a small town in Saskatchewan during a terrible drought. In the US, the drought occurred in the early 1930s and led to the Dust Bowl. Farmers are barely able to grow any crops due to a lack of rain. It’s always hot, and there’s dust everywhere—grit that blows into peoples’ homes, clings to their clothes, and invades their food. It’s this kind of detail that makes Dust such a compelling read.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
The children were disappearing.
And the worst thing about it?
No one noticed

A rainmaker brings rain to a drought-stricken town. The stranger amazes the townspeople with magic mirrors and bewitches the children with his beautiful butterfly.

First, one child vanishes. Then another. And another.

Only one young man sees through the lies and decides to act.

You’ll love this dark, mysterious young adult novel. Winner of the Governor General’s Award.

Get it now.

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