Book Review—Forgotten Bones

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Forgotten Bones is a ghost thriller with heart. Vivian Barz has created characters that resonate wonderfully and, like any accomplished author, puts them in the center of hell in the guise of a remote farming community in California.

The double protagonist is comprised of Susan, the ambitious young cop, and Eric, an emotionally broken academic. Of the two, I found Eric to be more interesting. He is newly arrived after a painful separation and also happens to be schizophrenic. Together, these two give the reader something new and fresh as they attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the decades-old death of a boy found buried in a shallow grave.

Of course, in stories like this, there is never just one body. And as the count rises and the FBI becomes more involved, Susan finds herself getting frustrated since it appears she is being shut out. And Eric. He would be thrilled to leave everything to the police if it weren’t for the fact that the ghost of that strange boy is plaguing him. Or is it that he’s going crazy?

For those who enjoy police procedurals, ghosts, fear, and surprise, this book is for you.

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Book Description
An unlikely pair teams up to investigate a brutal murder in a haunting thriller that walks the line between reality and impossibility.

When small-town police officers discover the grave of a young boy, they’re quick to pin the crime on a convicted criminal who lives nearby. But when it comes to murder, Officer Susan Marlan never trusts a simple explanation, so she’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, college professor Eric Evans hallucinates a young boy in overalls: a symptom of his schizophrenia—or so he thinks. But when more bodies turn up, Eric has more visions, and they mirror details of the murder case. As the investigation continues, the police stick with their original conclusion, but Susan’s instincts tell her something is off. The higher-ups keep stonewalling her, and the FBI’s closing in.

Desperate for answers, Susan goes rogue and turns to Eric for help. Together they take an unorthodox approach to the case as the evidence keeps getting stranger. With Eric’s hallucinations intensifying and the body count rising, can the pair separate truth from illusion long enough to catch a monster?

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Book Review—Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling

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So, I’ll start by saying that I have not read His Dark Materials, though the trilogy is now sitting on my ever-expanding reading pile. Nor have I read anything else of Philip Pullman’s. I decided to purchase Daemon Voices because, like any good writer, I am trying to get better at my craft. And I thought Mr. Pullman might be able to help. Well, he has—and brilliantly.

This collection of essays is rich with storytelling examples taken from literature, art, and science. A former teacher, the author knows how to engage the reader without talking down. My only criticism is that he tends to go off on a tangent from time to time about his lack of belief in God or Satan, as though that has anything to do with the task at hand.

That said, I consider this book a must-read for any author who wishes to better understand the difference between story and plot, fantasy and reality in fiction, and why anything beginning with “once upon a time” immediately captures our imagination. Well done, Mr. Pullman.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
From the internationally best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a spellbinding journey into the secrets of his art—the narratives that have shaped his vision, his experience of writing, and the keys to mastering the art of storytelling.

One of the most highly acclaimed and best-selling authors of our time now gives us a book that charts the history of his own enchantment with story—from his own books to those of Blake, Milton, Dickens, and the Brothers Grimm, among others—and delves into the role of story in education, religion, and science. At once personal and wide-ranging, Daemon Voices is both a revelation of the writing mind and the methods of a great contemporary master, and a fascinating exploration of storytelling itself.

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Book Review—The Weight of Ink

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Let the truth be ash. This is one of several themes that run through The Weight of Ink, a magnificent work of historical fiction. Though I would like to write pages and pages about this compelling story, they wouldn’t suffice. Let me just say that I fell in love with Ester Velasquez and her struggle to develop her mind and spirit in a world that demanded “decent” women only marry and raise families. Likewise, my heart broke for Helen Watt, whose life had become a perpetual plague of silent mourning over love lost, the yawning void to be filled with Jewish history.

The Weight of Ink is brimming with theology, philosophy, and matters of the heart. It demands of the reader that, like Ester, you question, even when the wisdom of the ages in the form of a learned blind rabbi is ever present to teach you the meaning of God and suffering. This magnificent book didn’t shake my faith but made it stronger. Because I can see in these tortured characters the spirit of love that drenches the book’s pages in indelible ink and laughs at Ester’s bitter refrain, let the truth be ash.

This story, whatever it proves to be, belongs to all of us. If you choose to read this book, then the story can belong to you, too.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, The Weight of Ink is about women separated by centuries—and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

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Three Things I Learned from Ghost Story

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I first read Peter Straub’s terrifying Ghost Story decades ago, and I recently decided to pick it up again to see if my impressions had changed. They hadn’t. The work is mesmerizing. The author has created in the fictional town of Millburn a waystation steeped in snow where people live their separate lives, oblivious to the horrid things lurking in the forest waiting to strike. Eventually, these corrupt creatures come for the hapless residents, and they are caught unawares.

In many ways, this tale of ghostly revenge is instructive in how it shows us the consequences of mistreatment people visit on one another. The town itself is filled with characters surviving in escalating degrees of guilt, and it is precisely these stains on their souls that mark the victims for the marauders intent on feeding on them.

I admire this book so much, and I wanted to share three things I learned.

Turn It Up to Eleven
If you’re going to get revenge, it’s better if, instead of concentrating on a few elderly townsfolk, you turn it up to eleven and destroy the whole town. The chief villain who is known by many names—all of them with the initials AM—is going to do just that. And, like the author, she proceeds to instruct her victims in the ways of the occult and the reasons why they must die. Fortunately, because of the combined bravery of Ricky Hawthorne, Peter Barnes, and Don Wanderly, the monster’s coup de grâce cannot be delivered. Good effort, though.

Make Sure There’s Plenty of Guilt to Go Around
Stories in which the innocent are slaughtered like sheep are not fun, in my view. But take a town full of characters who have done everything from the despicable to the merely annoying and go after them—now you’ve got something. Of course, the Chowder Society members are the worst, because they caused a young woman’s death (well, she looked like a young woman, Officer) and literally buried the evidence. Then add a crazed farmer who is forever suing people and seeing Martians, a drunken shell of a sheriff, and a wife who would rather have sex with just about every other man in town than stay home. Plenty of ammunition for a vengeful, murderous, supernatural being, wouldn’t you agree?

Make the Ghost Something Else
This last point speaks to Straub’s brilliance. He could’ve done as Henry James did in The Turn of the Screw and delivered a good old-fashioned vengeful spirit. But he went one better—he created a being—or, God help us, a race of beings—that have occupied the planet for thousands of years, and enjoy feeding not only on people’s flesh but on their fears. For me, that’s what sends this novel over the top. Because you can’t just cower inside a circle of salt, holding up a crucifix. These things are real, my friend.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Ghost Story, I suggest you grab a copy and prepare not to sleep. And while you’re at it, check out the movie, which was released in 1981 and features the esteemed Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
#1 New York Times bestselling author Peter Straub’s classic tale of horror, secrets, and the dangerous ghosts of the past…

What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?

In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.

But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury the past forever…

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Book Review—Ellie & The War On Powder Creek

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It’s been a while since I read The Dolan Girls, the first book in this entertaining series by the talented S. R. Mallery. And I was excited to see that she had recently released a sequel. Like the first book, Ellie & The War On Powder Creek is filled with memorable characters, some who make you angry—even shock you—and others who demonstrate the power of women holding together against all odds in a violent old west.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about this author is her devotion to history. She always surprises me, portraying things—incredible things—that I cannot at first fathom, yet know somewhere in me that they actually happened. And don’t get me wrong, there’s also humor in the way these earthy people make it through another day. And there’s also love, which makes the trials Ellie, her family, and friends go through worth it all.

If you love colorful stories about the old west that come to life like a movie in your head, then pick up a copy of Ellie & The War On Powder Creek.

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Book Description
Another Rip Roaring, Heart Warming Story of Love, Fear, and Redemption in the Wild West

It’s 1891 and The DOLAN GIRLS western romance saga continues. This time it stars the feisty Ellie Dolan Parker, who finds herself caught up in the middle of the Wyoming Cattle Wars. Filled with rich, greedy cattle barons thirsty for prime land, crooked politicians, a major kidnapping, local ranchers in life-threatening danger, Butch Cassidy’s Hole In The Wall hideout, hired ‘guns’ from Texas, a troubled marriage, and a blossoming romance, this story is a colorful portrayal of a forgotten time. A time when these well-known events and their players filled the newspapers.

Will Ellie make her mark? Or will she simply become one of the victims?

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Book Review—We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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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.

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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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Book Review—From Away

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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.

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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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Book Review—Tender Enemies

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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?

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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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Book Review—Rise and Shine

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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.

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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.

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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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