November Highlights

Gather by Duchess Flux
Photo courtesy of Duchess Flux

Well, we’re in holidays. Are you looking forward to eating some fabulous holiday food as much as me? I’ve already lost ten pounds so I can gain it all back—and more. Yeah, the holidays.

Writing

Currently, I am doing rewrites on Book Two in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series per notes from my editor. I hope to send the manuscript to the copyeditor by Thanksgiving. I had planned on having the book out by Christmas, but I think January is more likely.

In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of the cover for House of the Shrieking Woman. Let me know what you think.

HSW Sneak Peek

Events

The book signing in Burbank went pretty well. I am in the middle of trying to schedule future ones, and I am now expanding to Vroman’s Bookstore. Be sure to check out my Facebook page for news on future events.

Recommended Reading and Viewing

The Little Stranger Cover

If you’re looking for something creepy that isn’t exactly a ghost story, be sure to check out The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It’s a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to. You can read my review here.

Ringu Cover

And if, like me, you are a fan of J-horror, check out the Ringu collection on Blu-ray, available now at Amazon. I’ve been waiting for these movies to be available again, and now they are. Each is presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Prepare to be terrified.

Until next time…

Book Review—Reprobation

Book Review—Reprobation Twitter Post

There are a lot of crime thrillers out there about cops and serial killers. The ones I find the most fascinating are those that take place in worlds I am unfamiliar with. In the case of Reprobation by Catherine Fearns, the setting is present-day Liverpool, England. And to shake things up even more, the author has added a Calvinist nun into the mix.

Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Calvinism when I cracked open this book. The substance of this Protestant faith, which began in the sixteenth century, is centered on the idea of predestination; that is, some of us are born to go to heaven and others to the eternal fires of hell. No matter how you choose to live your life, God has already decided. Taken to the extreme, you could rob banks for a living but, if you are one of “the elect,” you are still going to heaven, no questions asked. But there’s a problem.

No one actually knows who will and who won’t be saved.

Someone out there, though, might be trying to find the answer. Unfortunately, their quest requires murdering people. And it’s up to DI Darren Swift, nun and lecturer Dr. Helen Hope, and a troubled Norwegian death metal musician to discover the truth, possibly at their peril. For Helen, what she finds along the way will test her already tenuous faith. Reprobation is a gripping thriller, one that may cause you to question your own beliefs in God, destiny, and what it means to be human.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Are you one of the elect?

Dr. Helen Hope is a lecturer in eschatology – the study of death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind. She is also a Calvinist nun, her life devoted to atoning for a secret crime.

When a body is found crucified on a Liverpool beach, she forms an unlikely alliance with suspect Mikko Kristensen, lead guitarist in death metal band Total Depravity. Together, they go on the trail of a rogue geneticist who they believe holds the key – not just to the murder, but to something much darker.

Also on the trail is cynical Scouse detective Darren Swift. In his first murder case, he must confront his own lack of faith as a series of horrific crimes drag the city of two cathedrals to the gates of hell.

Science meets religious belief in this gripping murder mystery.

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Three Things I Learned from The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger Cover

The first thing I’ll say about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is, if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this isn’t the book for you. If on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to, then, by all means, grab the book.

As readers, we come in with expectations. And I’m no different. I was expecting a ghost story. But making my way through Dr. Faraday’s narrative as he told of a house taking a terrible toll on the family living there, I came to appreciate the author’s approach. There are three things in particular I admire.

There Are Many Sources of Evil

Usually, stories of the paranormal have at their heart a ghostly presence that is typically vengeful, or they involve a demonic entity. What Sarah Waters has done is to introduce another kind of evil—something unnamed and possibly born from a person’s emotions—hate and envy, for example.

Make no mistake, though. Such a thing comes into being just as deadly. And those emotions embodied in an invisible entity can kill or, at best, drive a person mad. Unfortunately, at least one of the family suffers the latter fate.

Medicine Can’t Cure Everything

When Faraday decides to help the Ayres family, he applies everything he knows about medicine and science. He is diligent and caring. And he’s lonely. Just as there are things in Hundreds Hall he cannot cure—as much as he wants to—there are things in himself he cannot confront. And perhaps, the melding of these two poignant truths bring together the greatest tragedy.

In the End, It All Comes Down to Class

The Little Stranger is very much about post-war England and about how the well-to-do families of the former empire are no longer able to sustain themselves. Collectively, their wealth had been chipped away for a long time, much as their land was, with, as in the case of the Ayres family, vast tracts being converted to affordable housing for the masses.

Faraday is keenly aware of his station. His mother was a maid in Hundreds Hall and, even though he carries the title of Doctor, he doesn’t feel he commands the respect he deserves. Added to that, the National Health Service is coming, potentially eroding his income and position even further.

Everything in England is changing. And perhaps, Hundreds Hall is meant to disintegrate, along with a privileged way of life. Don’t expect answers from this book. In the end, there are only more questions. And you may be mulling them over for a long time after.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

Where to Buy

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October Highlights

Waiting - London Session 2010 by Davide Gabino
Photo courtesy of Davide Gabino.

Well, Halloween is almost here. Whew! Hard to believe the year is almost over. I genuinely hope you’ve had a happy and productive year so far. Here’s what happening with me…

Writing

I published The Girl in the Mirror on June 1st, and it has been selected as a quarter finalist in the Booklife Prize competition. This is the first book in a new supernatural suspense series called Sarah Greene Mysteries. If you’re a horror fan who likes ghost stories, you might want to check it out. You can read a free sample here.

Speaking of which, I just turned in my draft for Book Two in the series, House of the Shrieking Woman. It should be out in the next few months—I’ll keep you posted.

Events

I’m doing another book signing at Barnes & Noble in Burbank CA on Sunday, October 20th from 2—4 pm. The address is 731 N San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502. So, if you happen to be in the area, please stop by and pick up a free zombie button. And yes, there will be candy. Sign up on Facebook here.

Recommended Reading and Viewing

Forgotten Bones Cover

I love reading, and I also love recommending books, movies, and TV shows. If you enjoy police procedurals with ghosts, pick up a copy of Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz. It’s a story you won’t soon forget. You can read my review here.

Marianne Poster

And if you like horror with witches, check out ‘Marianne’ on Netflix. It is seriously scary and perfect for Halloween. Not suitable for kids, though.

Happy Halloween!

Book Review—Forgotten Bones

Forgotten Bones Cover 

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.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

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

Daemon Voices Cover

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

The Weight of Ink Cover

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

Ghost Story Cover

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

Ellie & The War On Powder Creek Cover

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.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

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

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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