Book Review—Twist of Faith

Twist of Faith Cover

Twist of Faith is a stunning story that turns on the eternal question, “Who Am I?” And it’s something that the heroes—if you think one of those exists in this novel—and the evildoers have in common as they go about their daily business. For me, the book reads like a madman’s dream where photographs can come alive, and the dead can speak. It’s a well-thought-out tale of intrigue and revenge—mostly revenge—that surprisingly leads to a high body count for a book that is not really a police procedural.

There’s a lot of anger in this tale, and I think the author was able to channel it in the lissome, paradoxical character of Ava. Though she defies reason, we want her. Bad. And maybe it’s the allure of danger that surrounds her. Or it could simply be that she was raised French and Catholic. Either way, watch out.

If you like the strange and mysterious, then grab this book. And you might want to crack open a nice Château Lafite Bourdeaux to put yourself in the mood.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…

After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.

Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.

When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.

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Book Review—Sticky Fingers

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Every once in a while, you come across a collection of short stories that are, well, magical. And I had the good fortune to experience a great deal of magic in Sticky Fingers by JT Lawrence. First of all, let me just say, I never knew South Africans could be so damn funny. Come to think of it, I’ve only ever met one South African, and she was sweet. And, okay, kind of funny. Moving on.

These stories range from the macabre to the flat-out hilarious. My favorite was “Off the Hinge.” I never realized it was so difficult to secure a pint of milk for your tea. Maybe that’s why I always take mine black. On the other hand, considering the narrator’s predicament, perhaps milk is the least of her worries.

If you like stories that disturb rather than horrify, then get this collection. Each one reminded me of a modern, well-made Twilight Zone episode featuring great actors. And if you’ve ever had a chance to catch the original television episodes, you’ll know I’m setting a high bar.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Diverse, dark-humoured, and deliciously bite-sized, this compelling collection of 12 short stories by JT Lawrence include:

ESCAPE

A suicidal baby knows he was born into the wrong life. He has to get creative to correct the mistake, much to his mother’s horror.

THE ITCH

An intense, uncontrollable, unexplainable itch lands the protagonist in a mental institution.

BRIDGE GATE

In this poignant and charming short story, a daughter yearns to connect with her absent father through the letters they exchange. She’s not put off by his pedantic corrections of her writing, despite the slow reveal that he is less than perfect himself.

THE UNSUSPECTING GOLD-DIGGER

A woman gradually poisons her husband so that she doesn’t have to break his heart.

***

“Each story is masterfully constructed … Humorous, touching, creepy, but most of all entertaining, this collection is superb.” — Tracy (Amazon review)

***

If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl or Gillian Flynn you’ll love these unsettling stories with a twist in the tale.

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Book Review—The Locksmith

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Peeling away the layers of anything is usually a mistake. Just ask someone who has had to use sharp tools to prise old wallpaper off the plaster walls of an ancient house. Sometimes, you’ll discover a kid’s crayon drawing of a scarecrow. But other times, you might find something sinister—like dead cockroaches.

The Locksmith reminded me of this nasty renovation business because the protagonist, Jude, is naturally curious and insists on getting to the bottom of things, especially in relationships and usually at her peril. Unfortunately, her children and new life partner must be pulled along to suffer the consequences. But it’s for their own good, you understand.

The writing is accomplished and the characters vivid, but I was disappointed by the ending. The author does such a beautiful job of building toward a natural—inevitable—denouement, then snatches it away in a sharp turn to the right. No spoilers here, but I think she would have done well to adhere to Chekhov’s gun principle. That said, the book is most certainly worth reading for fans of dark mysteries and slow-boil suspense.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Jude doesn’t like secrets, they breed poison, but she knows her husband is hiding something from her. To uncover the truth she flees with her three young children to stay with her mysterious mother-in-law, Audra. Through Audra, Jude believes she can uncover the truth that will heal them all. Only Audra has secrets of her own and will stop at nothing to keep them.

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Book Review—Pocketful of Bones

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Pocketful of Bones is a quiet story in the way Psycho and The Lottery are quiet. At least, that’s what I was thinking as I made my way through this marvelous and absorbing tale of villains, victims, and valentines. Maybe unsettling is a better description. One minute, someone is having a conversation, and the next, they are dead. And it’s hard to know where you stand with well-drawn characters like Tibba and Finny because, at times, someone can at a moment’s notice turn from victim to villain. And someone who you thought might be conniving turns out to be sweet and loyal.

For me, the best thing about the novel was, I really didn’t know what to expect. For the record, I’ve had my fill of serial killers. So, as the bodies piled up in Pocketful of Bones, I was surprised at the logic and—dare I suggest it?—the correctness of it. The story unfolds as though Fate itself were guiding mother and son to their inescapable destinies. And along the way, they planted the annuals. In short, they were born for this.

If you’re looking for a satisfying read that both perplexes and horrifies in a Canadian sort of way, I suggest you read this book. And remember: anyone is capable of murder; some see it as just another tool in the toolbox.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Finnegan MacGillivray, red-haired, freckle-faced social pariah, finds solace in his mother’s garden while she entertains “dates” in his home. When an accident takes the life of a friend, Finnegan buries the evidence amid the purple dead nettle and bougainvillea, and unearths a treasure trove of human remains. Did his house rest atop an ancient burial ground? Or was there a killer tucking him into bed at night?

His fascination with bones grows as fast as his obsession with his mother. She rejects his advances, and he escapes to the other side of the country. Years later, he returns to his childhood home, to the secrets and the guilt and the bones — and to fulfill his destiny.

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Book Review—Go

Go Cover

I’ve enjoyed Japanese food for decades. I adore Kurosawa and Miyazaki and consider Ringu to be one of my all-time favorite horror movies. That said, I know nothing about Japan. To me, it’s a distant, wondrous place filled with smart, hard-working people who like eating raw fish, smoking, and frequenting public baths.

Reading Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro was a revelation to me, cutting through the myth of an orderly society to reveal deep-seated racism not unlike what we find in this country. Specifically, it’s bigotry against people who are Zainichi, people of Korean descent who are living in Japan but treated differently than other Japanese citizens. As told through the eyes of a boy named Sugihara, this world is brutal and unforgiving. Every day is a fight for survival. And then, he meets the girl—Sakurai.

Some academic is probably going to roast me for saying this, but here goes. For me, Sugihara is Holden Caufield—only much more interesting. He’s violent and tortured, but only because he’s been bullied all his life. When he meets Sakurai, he discovers in himself a capacity for love. And she learns that creating a tolerant society can begin with one person. Go is a beautiful coming-of-age story that readers of great literary fiction shouldn’t miss.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.

One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate.

Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. Will Sakurai be able to confront her own bias and accompany him on his journey?

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Book Review-Only the Rain

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Some of my favorite stories revolve around people making wrong choices, then seeing the resulting mayhem play out. Perhaps one of the best examples is Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men—both the novel and the movie. Another is the iconic movie Fargo. And often, it’s greed that’s driving the hapless protagonist. That and a sense of entitlement.

Only the Rain is a thriller that falls into the category of sort-of-good-guy gets involved with the wrong people because he’s broke. And though the results aren’t as disastrous as McCarthy’s bloody novel, they certainly serve to teach a valuable lesson: When you see a drugged-out girl dancing in the rain, keep going.

I particularly loved the structure the author used to unravel this nail-biting tale—a series of emails from Russell to his former comrade-in-arms. I also appreciated the tender relationship between the protagonist and his aging father. All in all, this is a great read by an accomplished writer. If you like thrillers with a heart, you’ll love this book.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
When family man and war veteran Russell loses his job as a quarry worker, his life suddenly seems more like a waking nightmare than a chance to finally live the American dream. Facing bills, a new baby, and a bone-dry bank account, he’s got nothing left to lose. Russell comes to the rescue of a naked stranger dancing in the rain, and what was supposed to be a straightforward good deed turns into a spiral of danger. When Russell finds an enticing stash of money in the woman’s house, he knows the cash could be his only hope. Taking just a handful will save his family’s future.

His “victimless crime” seems to be anything but risky—until the criminals he robbed come looking for their dirty money. Russell’s ready to surrender it, but then his daughter gets sick…and he must choose between saving her or giving the devils their due. Someone’s going to pay. The question is, how much?

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Book Review-Marred

Marred Cover

As an author of horror thrillers, I’m no stranger to scenes of violence and mayhem. But—and I’m being honest here—the thought of writing a novel about a serial killer leaves me a little squeamish. I would imagine you would have to approach the subject with the same cold-bloodedness as your killer, unblinkingly laying out the carnage that both repulses and fascinates the reader. That kind of writing calls for a stiff drink, in my view.

But this is precisely what Sue Coletta has given us in Sage, a tortured survivor struggling with horrific memories while trying to be the loving wife to Niko, a homicide detective who has his own demons—not to mention a surly sidekick. And all of this set in a remote, beautiful town that, in any other universe, would seem tranquil.

What I like best about this author is, she knows she has a job to do and doesn’t shy away from everything that’s required to terrify the reader, at the same time creating a puzzle that requires some serious brain power. The writing is sharp, funny, and at times tender. Marred is a chilling read that will leave you wanting more, once you’ve caught your breath.

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Book Description
When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller begins tormenting Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

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Book Review-The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition

The Exorcist Cover

So much has been written about this book and subsequent movie. As the description says, The Exorcist is a part of our culture, not to mention it’s spawned hundreds—maybe even thousands—of imitations. I first read the novel while in school, then went to see the terrifying William Friedkin movie by myself. Like so many others at the time, I had nightmares for a week. Imagine having grown up with stories featuring vampires, zombies, and mutants. Then, this powerhouse of a tale comes along about a non-religious young girl who unwittingly invites a demon into her house courtesy of a Ouija board. Now, today that may seem tame, given that we’ve become inured to evil courtesy of television series like Supernatural. But back in the day, this was Grade-A horror, my friend.

What I loved most about the book when I first read it—and what I cherish now—is how real the characters seem. The author, William Peter Blatty, was a graduate of Georgetown University and knew well the world of Jesuit priests. For my money, he did a marvelous job of delving into their humor, their disappointments, and their loneliness. And when he takes a tortured soul like Damien Karras, a priest who is also a brilliant psychologist, and puts him in a room with Satan, well… Let’s just say things get really interesting.

One more thing. In rereading the novel and recalling Lee J. Cobb’s excellent screen portrayal of Kinderman, I was happily reminded that the author had quite a sense of humor. To me, his dogged cop is Columbo if he’d been Jewish. Seeing this weary flat-foot spar with the dour priest is nothing short of magical.

As bad as things get for the girl, Regan, and her mother, Chris, Blatty gives us hope that God will prevail in the end. Without that, this story would have been nihilistic and pointless. An exercise in demonic torture porn. So, whether you are a person of faith or not, if you enjoy horror that is smart, funny, and mind-numbingly scary, I heartily recommend this book. And if, like me, you’re Catholic, be sure to keep a Rosary on your nightstand.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
The Exorcist changed popular culture forever. Now, William Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking story of faith and supernatural suspense—the runaway #1 bestseller that started it all—is reincarnated in this spectacular newly polished and rewritten 40th Anniversary Edition of the novel that burst through society’s seven seals and paved the way for the entire genre that followed it: the unforgettable The Exorcist.

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Top Ten Posts for 2017

Wow, what a crazy year! What with everything going on in Washington, all the bad behavior being reported by the media, and the devastating wildfires in California, I for one am ready for this shit show to be over. And I’m pretty sure you are, too. Well, enough about that. Here’s to a better 2018! In the meantime, why not take a look at my top ten posts for this year. Peace and love.

[Jordan Dane] Guest Post: I Hear Voices in My Head and I Like It
[Player Piano Cover] PLAYER PIANO—Long Live the Ghost Shirt Society!
Ray Liotta How to Train Your Inner Critic
[Stillhouse Lake Cover] Book Review—Stillhouse Lake
[Mrs Saint and the Defectives Cover] Book Review—Mrs. Saint and the Defectives
[The Demonologist Cover] THE DEMONOLOGIST—Do Not Pull Back the Curtain!
[The Death Of Me Cover] Book Review—The Death Of Me
Trouble In Glamour Town Cover Book Review—Trouble In Glamour Town
[Schitt’s Creek Poster] How to Write Better Dialogue ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Style
[Sorrow’s Lie Cover] Book Review—Sorrow’s Lie

And after you finish reading, check out this Logan / X-men mashup. It will make you smile.

Book Review—Trouble In Glamour Town

Trouble In Glamour Town CoverAfter reading S. R. Mallery’s new novel, I am under the impression that nothing much has changed in Hollywood since the 1920s. Of course, movies are in color now. And people actually talk. But corrupt cops, substance abuse, and mistreatment of women are pretty much what you can get now. Which reminds me. How, with prohibition, is there so much freaking alcohol? Wow, I guess the politicians didn’t really think that one through.

One thing I love about this author’s work is her attention to period detail. For example, who knew that actors had to wear blue makeup and yellow lipstick in front of the camera? Fascinating! And she didn’t neglect details like having to crank your stupid car to get it to start—even when you were trying to catch a bad guy. I love that kind of world building.

This is an unusual Hollywood story. Sure, you’ve got the wannabe starlet through whose eyes we see the story evolve. And the hard-boiled detective, the earnest boyfriend, and a cast of crazy characters literally out of the movies—Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford! But you also have a sweet story about Rosie, who just wants to be happy. And despite the filth and corruption she seems to encounter at every turn, this girl just might have a shot.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Hollywood, 1926. Where actors’ and actresses’ dreams can come true. But do they? While silent screen movie stars reign supreme, a film producer is gunned down in cold blood. Enter Rosie, a pretty bit-player, Eddie, her current beau, and Beatrice, her bitter stage-mother. As real celebrities of the time, such as Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino float in and out, a chase to find the killer exposes the true underbelly of Los Angeles––with all its corruption.

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