Book Review—What Has Mother Done

What Has Mother Done Cover

I’m just going to come out and say it. Barbara Petty is a little sneaky. When I began reading What Has Mother Done, the author introduced a story that could easily have been a cozy mystery. Sure, right off the bat, there’s a body. But we’ve got a main character who is wicked-funny with her internal thoughts and asides pitted against the proverbial small town where everyone—and I mean everyone—has a secret.

Petty’s Thea Browne is no ingenue, either. She’s a hard-bitten investigative reporter who has been around the block a few times. When we meet her, she faces the bleak prospect of looking after her recently widowed mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. During the investigation, Thea is forced to put up with her best friend, Annie, who has gone a little wonky of late. And she must also deal with her sister, Beryl. Yeah, they don’t get along. As if all that wasn’t enough, let’s throw in some hot flashes.

Yes, the story could have been a perfectly respectable cozy mystery. That is until the body count goes up. What Has Mother Done is a first-rate mystery thriller. The characters are engaging—and often frustrating. As Thea goes about trying to solve the mystery of her stepfather’s untimely death, I found my pulse quickening. If you enjoy smartly written scenes of small-town intrigue, violence, and questionable loyalties, then I suggest you check out this excellent novel.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

In a small Midwestern town, on a cold, blustery March day, a man plunges to his death off a high, rocky cliff, setting in motion a string of events that lead to murders and rips open the long-hidden secrets of the town’s most prominent family…

The man is George Prentice, and the woman the police suspect of murdering him is his wife, Daphne. But Daphne has Alzheimer’s and, as she is likely to be incompetent to stand trial, has not been arrested.

Daphne’s daughter, Thea Browne, is a trained investigative reporter, who is furious that the police haven’t bothered to look any further for a culprit other than her mother. She suspects her stepfather made enemies when meddling in local politics and, according to one of his cronies, George wrote a memoir threatening to “blow the lid off this town.”

As Thea follows her own investigation, she discovers a widening circle of suspects, some much closer to home than she expected. Even her best friend from childhood, Annie Biggs, seems to be keeping a deep dark secret that she refuses to share with Thea.

More murders push Thea to the point where protecting her mother forces her to put her own life on the line to track down a diabolical killer.

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Book Review—Unspeakable Things

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Lilydale is the polar opposite of the idyllic paradise people usually think of when you mention a small town. In this place, there are secrets—lots of secrets. And they begin with the parents of a middle-school girl named Cassie. Though she and her sister appear to be fine, they know they need to keep silent about the goings-on in their own home, mostly centered around their father. A dark threat hangs over them like a poisonous cloud. And, to survive, they must hold their breath.

But then, things become worse. Inexplicably, young boys go missing for a time, then reappear, damaged and sullen. There’s a sexual predator loose in the town, and, although the police establish a curfew, they don’t seem to be doing enough to find the villain. Meanwhile, Cassie conducts an unofficial investigation, putting herself in danger and opening doors that are better left closed.

I enjoyed this novel, but I warn you, it is disturbing. Based on a real case, the author Jess Lourey has painted a picture of a slow-burning hell where children are at risk, and most of the adults are corrupt in one way or another. If you enjoy stories of mystery, suspense, and dark souls, then Unspeakable Things is for you. But don’t be surprised if, after reading it, you crave something—anything—to make you laugh.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.

Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

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Three Things I Learned from ‘The Rite’

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The Rite’ is a wonderfully produced movie from 2011 starring Anthony Hopkins, perhaps the only actor alive today who could drop you simply by leveling his trademarked death-stare. I saw the film a few years ago, then recently read the nonfiction book that has to do with real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas. In that work, the journalist Matt Baglio faithfully records what happens to the Northern California priest as he attends a series of exorcisms in Italy as part of his training. If you are interested in what happens during these rituals, I suggest you take a look at that book.

But I’m here to talk about the movie, which was suggested by the book. After watching it again, three things struck me that I’d like to share.

There’s Plenty of Evil in the World
When the main character, Michael Kovak, first meets Father Lucas, the exorcist he is to observe, he encounters a young woman who has been suffering from demonic possession for a long time. It turns out her predicament is not her fault. She was raped by her father and is now carrying his child.

We read about stuff like this all the time, and what it demonstrates is, as humans, we don’t need demons making us do bad things; we are perfectly capable of being evil all by ourselves. Nevertheless, when a tragedy like this occurs, it can open the door to something even worse. As proof, you can check out the scene where the poor girl coughs up black oxide nails.

Demons Are Real—and They Have Names
In 1973, ‘The Exorcist’ showed us that demonic possession is real and that the entities doing the possessing have names. Apparently, they also have ranks. Now, as a reminder, these creatures are pure spirit; that is, they never walked the earth, and they are as old as time itself. They’re also smart, so good luck engaging in wordplay with them.

As a matter of fact, this is precisely what the young seminarian does against the priest’s orders—he tries parrying with the demon possessing the girl. Big mistake. As a result, the beast begins toying with him, getting under the young man’s skin.

Without Faith, You Are Lost
Here’s something interesting that was hinted at in the movie but is prominent in the book: many Catholic priests do not believe in the devil which, when you stop to think about it, is messed up. Have these people not read the New Testament? Anyway, just because these are modern times, that doesn’t mean the old truths don’t apply.

What’s interesting about Michael is, on the surface, it’s not so much about his lack of faith in God as it is about his refusal to believe in evil during these exorcisms. It’s almost as if it’s the demon’s mission is to prove to Michael that he exists. And of course, once the seminarian can accept that, he can then be confident in the belief that God exists.

Wrap-Up
I am a huge fan of this movie. I’ve said often that my all-time favorite horror movie is ‘The Exorcist.’ But this film is a close second. It’s intelligently written and beautifully acted and directed. And it doesn’t hurt that it was shot in Italy. If you enjoy horror that makes you think, watch ‘The Rite.’

Movie Details
American seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donaghue) travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.

Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Michael Petroni, Matt Baglio (book)
Stars: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds

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.

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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—The Thinnest Air

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Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction featuring female protagonists. And I was delighted to learn that The Thinnest Air by Minka Kent has two. Meredith and Greer couldn’t be more different. The former is beautiful and, to be truthful, a little ditzy. She’s not sure what she wants to do in life and, by some stroke of cosmic luck, has managed to marry a wealthy investment banker. Greer, on the other hand, is practical and focused—even hard. She’s looked after her sister since they were little and apparently has zero sense of humor, not to mention a talent for winding people up. Each, however, is strong in her way.

The book is organized into chapters that alternate between Meredith and Greer, which I found to be compelling as a storytelling device. By the midpoint, I actually found myself preferring Greer’s story to Meredith’s. Maybe it’s because the older sister is a no-nonsense kind of gal. Overall, this novel works as a fun, taut thriller. But I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, which I won’t reveal here. Suffice it to say that the author set up a path that needed to lead to its logical conclusion but retreated at the end. Nevertheless, fans of the genre will find the story entertaining and the characters appealing.

Now, If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy a nice glass of Merlot and contemplate whether to name my next kid Isabeau.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
A woman’s disappearance exposes a life of secrets in a twisting novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Memory Watcher.

Meredith Price is the luckiest woman alive. Her husband, Andrew, is a charming and successful financial broker. She has two lovely stepchildren and is living in affluence in a mountain resort town. After three years of marriage, Meredith’s life has become predictable. Until the day she disappears.

Her car has been discovered in a grocery store parking lot—purse and phone undisturbed on the passenger seat, keys in the ignition, no sign of struggle, and no evidence of foul play. It’s as if she vanished into thin air.

It’s not like Meredith to simply abandon her loved ones. And no one in this town would have reason to harm her. When her desperate sister, Greer, arrives, she must face a disturbing question: What if no one really knows Meredith at all? For Greer, finding her sister isn’t going to be easy…because where she’s looking is going to get very, very dark.

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Book Review—Twist of Faith

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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-Marred

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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.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

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—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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