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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The Truth about Plotters and Pantsers

Stardust Memories
Photo Courtesy of IMDb

When I started writing fiction seriously, I pretty much began the process by staring down the blank page and typing words. I didn’t produce a complex outline or write detailed backstories about my principle characters. I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pantser. I knew this when I used to write screenplays. I was always taught to create the outline, define the characters—and only then, begin with FADE IN. I tried this once, and I got so frustrated, I gave up and banged out the damn thing. Take THAT, mother!

Defining the Terms
For those of you who might be new to the discussion, let’s first explain the terms. I am quoting the from a post I found over at “The Write Practice.” For my money, these comments work pretty well as definitions.

Plotters, having planned out their novel ahead of time, know what’s going to happen before they write it. This makes it easier to bust writer’s block. It’s harder to get stuck when you know what’s going to happen next. Plotters also tend to get their novels written faster, or at least more smoothly.

Pantsers have the freedom to take their novel in any direction they want. They have flexibility. They’re not stuck following an outline, so if they don’t like a character, they can simply kill him. If they don’t like the way their plot is going, they can change it.

I will say that if you read the article, you’ll notice the author is biased in favor of plotters. And I say, bully for her. Because, in the end, whether you are a plotter or a panster—if you’re a good writer—it doesn’t matter. Let me give you an example.

At the risk of bringing up Woody Allen, I would like to talk about that beautiful and funny opening scene in his 1980 film Stardust Memories. The whole thing was heavily influenced by the opening to Fellini’s 8-1/2, by the way. Even some of the shots are nearly identical. Never mind.

In this scene, the main character, Sandy Bates, finds himself on a train. He is surrounded by humorless passengers who look like they’re on their way to a mortician’s convention. He happens to look out the window and sees another train across the way, filled with well-dressed passengers drinking champagne and laughing gaily as they show each other their trophies. One woman blows him a kiss. Realizing he must be on the wrong train, he tries to get off, but it’s no use. At the end of the scene, Sandy’s train has arrived at a landfill. But so has the other train.

Now, I’m not saying plotters are humorless, and pantsers are happy-go-lucky folks who like to socialize with a drink in their hand (wink wink). It’s just that if you are a professional writer, you’re getting to your destination despite the How. By the way, that girl blowing the kiss? Sharon Stone.

The Problem with Labeling
I don’t like being labeled. No one does. So, whoever came up with these labels for writers must own a labeling machine company. My main problem is that calling someone a pantser vs. a plotter seems to imply that pantsers don’t care about the plot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We do care, but we just haven’t figured it out yet. With each new book, we are on a road of discovery. And trying to lay it all out in advance isn’t much fun. It’s like eating your vegetables. We want dessert!

Another problem with labeling is that it encourages people to take sides, which is never a good thing. Need proof? How about the HUAC hearings in the late 1940s which led to the Hollywood blacklist. Yeah, that went really well; it practically tore the country apart. Fun times, people.

Finally, what if you’re a writer who is somewhere in the middle? I’ve adjusted my writing process to accommodate a short synopsis and a timeline, so I don’t trip myself up by getting dates wrong and such. I still don’t consider myself a plotter, because I don’t follow an outline. So, what does that make me, a hybrid? Sounds kind of SciFi-ish, don’t you think? Folks, to deal with the hybrid problem, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ban these nutjobs from ever using Amazon KDP again.

Okay, so here it is. When I sit down to write a new novel or short story, I have a general idea of where I am going, and I let my characters tell me where they need to go next. If that sounds a little new-agey, I get it. But it’s true. I can’t tell you how many times a character has surprised me by disobeying me. Come on—I’M the writer! And guess what—the story was better for it. I’m not sure those kinds of discoveries would happen if I forced myself to outline. And as far as plot, I can assure you, there is one.

Wrap-Up
So, whether you like to write copious outlines with detailed scene descriptions—or you’d rather put on your shoes, go outside, and see where the road takes you—I applaud you. Over the years, I’ve read many wonderful books by plotters and panters. And to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference in terms of quality. They were both excellent. Why? Because the authors did the hard work.

Look, the point of writing is not to feel bad about yourself. Writers do that enough already. We should celebrate who we are and be professional writers. I don’t know, maybe out there somewhere there’s a plotter who wishes she were a pantser. Sure. And maybe unicorns are real.

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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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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Goodreads Giveaway—The Girl in the Mirror

Announcing a Goodreads Giveaway

The Girl In The Mirror Cover

Very exciting news. The Girl in the Mirror is published, and to celebrate, I am giving away copies of the Kindle version to 100 lucky winners. So, if you love supernatural suspense and want to get your hands on the first novel in the new Sarah Greene Mysteries series, then be sure to enter for a chance to win.

Sign Me Up!

Book Synopsis
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.

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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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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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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The Girl in the Mirror—Official Teaser Trailer

Teaser trailer for The Girl in the Mirror, a Sarah Greene Mystery.

Check out the teaser trailer for my new supernatural suspense novel, The Girl in the Mirror. This is the first book in my new Sarah Greene Mysteries series, and I couldn’t be more excited. Enjoy!

Book Description

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.

More information here. Coming summer 2019.

 

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