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Review: A Masquerade of Saints by Nicole Loughan

23160642Disease, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life. – Edvard Munch
Psychopaths know the technical difference between right and wrong – which is one of the reasons their insanity pleas in criminal cases so rarely succeed; they just fail to act on that knowledge. – Jeffrey Kluger
Life is filled with goodbyes, Eve, a million goodbyes, and it hurts every time. – Mozelle Batiste Delacroix
Back in August of 2013 I picked up a copy of To Murder A Saint. Honestly, what caught my eye about it was the cover – to murder a saintthe oaks dripping Spanish Moss, and the poignant angel, who you know is weeping the loss of what can only be a child within the tiny crypt. I knew it had to be set in the South, where else? And it was, in the bayous of Louisiana, a place the author, Nicole Loughan, had been drawn to after her brother moved to New Orleans after Katrina.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that kind in my first review, pointing out how the ‘journalistic’ feel of the book was rather off-putting, though the story did have good bones.  Honestly, I am spoiled to tell the truth. The south runs through my blood, and I lean heavily toward the slow cadence of James Lee Burke, hot southern nights, and the heartrending cadence of blues guitar blowing in over the water when reading anything set in the south.
allsaintsNicole was a dear, and we talked quite a few times after my review. I read her second book, and in my second review I wrote, “Nicole, being the sweetheart she is, took my in input like a true lady.” Her second book cover shares the same eloquent vision as her first, drawing you in and giving you full notice that what you will read between its pages is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Her second entry into the field of Southern Gothic writing far outstripped her first entry into the field in terms of language and characterization, leading me to the sure knowledge that her craft would only continue to grow.
Now, with her third entry into the Saints’ series, Nicole had fulfilled her promise. Oddly, she does it with the same tight, scholarly style that she offered in the first book, as well as the second. But this third novel pulls in a Southern warmth that pulled me into the story and caressed me with the warm winds and sometimes-sour, sometimes-sweet redolence of  the bayou, keeping me turning pages at a frantic rate as I continued to follow the Fanchon’s journey through the terror which continues to stalk her.
After losing her best friend to a sadistic serial killer, then her adoptive family to madness and death, à la the best of William Faulkner, Fanchon’s life is still a nightmare. Killers stalk her, she has been accused of murder, and the man she had thought was her boyfriend, the cop from New York, Banyan, may not be a boyfriend at all – in fact, he may be something a whole lot worse. Or is someone else the author of all of her troubles?
Betrayal and heartache, terror and hope, clairvoyants and sociopaths all come together into an explosive ending that fulfilled that promise I hoped for when first reading Nicole’s works. This is the wrap-up of the series, though it does leave some tiny threads hanging which give access to another Fanchon story in the future, which I look forward to. For now, Nicole will be writing The Divine Hotel, a novel set in her home of Philadelphia. From her description:
One woman watches over the children of Philadelphia, until she gets the biggest assignment of her life, to go back in time to save the entire city. Philadeplhia’s epic landmark, the Divine Hotel, is the setting for this high-stakes mystery that brings one woman back to a time when the city was teetering on the brink of greatness and gives her a chance to tip it one way or the other.
You can learn more about Nicole and her books at her website and you can purchase her books at Amazon or your favorite retailer. I received a copy of each of Nicole’s books in return for realistic reviews. All thoughts are my own.
About The Author:
 An image posted by the author.You may know her as the syndicated humor columnist “The Starter Mom.” Nicole is a graduate of Michigan State University and an award winning Journalist, recognized by the Michigan Press Association as a top feature writer. She writes for two daily newspapers in the greater Philadelphia area. “To Murder a Saint” is the first book in the Saint Series. “All Saints’ Secret” released in August. It is recommended that the books are read in order.

Nicole loves a mystery. Her favorite female sleuths were dreamed up by Charlaine Harris and Janet Evanovich. She draws inspiration from the classics too such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe. She said she has to mention her first experiences with New Orleans came from the venerable Anne Rice.

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Review: Midnight Eyes – Sidney Williams and Narrated by A. C. Fellner

My consuming lust was to experience their bodies. I viewed them as objects, as strangers. It is hard for me to believe a human being could have done what I’ve done. – Jeffrey Dahmer

 We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow – Ted Bundy (Lady Killer)

11280748We live in isolation. The 1950’s really started the whole “Nuclear Family” phenomenon. Mother, father, children, living in isolation, grandparents and the rest of the extended family in their own little isolated pods as well. But, what happens when the Nuclear family itself goes nuclear? And what happens to the children… Nobody ever told the story of the kids, after…  Because sometimes, those families contain monsters.

The setting of Midnight Eyes is one that I truly enjoy. The swamps of southern Louisiana are the perfect setting for a serial murder mystery, with its slow, deliberate pace, brutal wet heat and the scents of swamp water and death, magnolia and rot. As you enter the swamps, it is through the past, as a serial killer strikes and then disappearing, leaving a town and its sheriff shell-shocked and the sheriff embittered for the remainder of his life.

Now, many years later the murders are happening again. Murders of such horror and brutal viciousness that the mutilation of the victims while still alive horrifies even a hardened FBI Criminal Profiler who specializes in serial killers.

I found the pace of the story somewhat uneven, but still compelling as everyone from reporters to private detectives reach for what one can only call a twisted sort of glory as they track the monster in their midst.

Midnight Eyes is available from Audible here:

http://www.audible.com/pd/Mysteries-Thrillers/Midnight-Eyes-Audiobook/B00B010V9I/ref=a_search_c4_1_3_srImg?qid=1409488732&sr=1-3

Readers of “true crime” might actually enjoy the story as the author utilizes his own experience as a journalist to make the setting and characters as realistic as possible.

I received this book from Audiobooks Monthly in return for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own.

The author Sidney Williams will be interviewed in the October issue of Audio Book Monthly Magazine.

Review: The Burning By Jane Casey

burning
Click to purchase!

First, to get this out there, I love British police procedurals. They are normally crisp, compelling and well written. The Burning is a premier example of the best the genre has to offer. Written from the viewpoint of Detective Constable (DC) Maeve Kerrigan, the story focuses on the hunt for “The Burning Man” a serial killer terrorizing London. His crimes are horrific, and no young woman is safe. There have been four murders committed which can obviously be credited to the killer – but now a fifth murder has been committed. And Maeve questions whether this particular killing shouldn’t be attributed to a copy-cat killer.

Maeve is an extremely likable heroine. She takes serious verbal abuse from her so-called colleagues as they make sexual and misogynist comments about her work style. Abuse that she handles with dignity – even when it comes from her own partner. As the story evolves Maeve becomes more and more involved with the fifth killing, following a trail of murder, drugs, deceit and violence that goes back several years to the victim’s college days. Maeve is smart without being omniscient, funny and serious by turns, and is willing to put herself on the line for what she knows is right and true.

Filled by turns with violence and heartbreak, deceit and deep sociopathy, The Burning is a must read for anyone interested in police procedurals, thrillers and suspense novels, with a very light dose of romance to round things out.

I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All comments and thoughts are my own.

Review: The Broken by Shelley Coriell – Highly Recommended

I’ve killed no one. I’ve ordered no one to be killed. These children who come to you with their knives, they’re your children. I didn’t teach them, you did. – Charles Manson

Meet No Sympathy. He’s cold, blunt, uncaring, unfeeling. You aren’t going to like him. A man without a conscience, he appears to be totally emotionless. He’s the person for whom most of our explicit swear words were coined – Ruth Minshull

 

broken
A wonderful book that will keep you on edge all the way through.
Very Highly Recommended.

In The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris describes it concisely. He lives down in a ribcage in the dry leaves of a heart. For within the serial killer, there is no true heart. Or is it that there is no “soul” – that part of us that discerns right from wrong, love from hate, compassion from brutality? What causes a person to become a serial killer, really?

While my work at UC during my Masters training balanced the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ controversy, Coriell has done brilliant job writing about the ‘nurture’ philosophy of psychopathy and serial killers. Her research is beautifully done, concise, and realistic as is her character development. The Broken draws you in and leaves you breathless, turning page after page, engrossed in the story, drawing you along into a world of pain and brutality – and yet doing so with such a deft hand that, rather than being stomach churning, it is instead deeply affecting, reaching into your heart and soul and raising questions which will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Referencing one of my favorite short articles on child abuse and psychopathy, Lylah M. Alphonse1, states: The groundbreaking HBO documentary “Child of Rage” years ago showed how horrific abuse and neglect could leave a child unable to bond with other people, turning them into children “without conscience, who can hurt or even kill without remorse.” In other words: the child becomes a psychopath. Extreme physical and sexual abuse and neglect can certainly cause the detached, calculating demeanor and lack of a sense of conscience shared by the serial killer. For the layman, this is one of the easiest articles on the syndrome to read and understand, and it points out quite elegantly how simple it is to take that small step to becoming a monster. And yet, the conversion of a brutalized child to a serial killer isn’t a given, and in Shelly Coriell’s brilliant The Broken, the brutality suffered by three very different children results in three very different outcomes. Outcomes that are horrifying, sad, and deeply, deeply disturbing.

Katrina Erikson had a rough start. Abandoned by her father, she and her younger brother, Jason are raised by a mentally ill mother. Jason is the child whom the mother obsessively dotes upon while alternately neglecting and torturing Katrina. Jason, who slept in his mother’s bed for much too long, and to unknown consequence, while Katrina is locked away in the attic, to be neither heard nor seen.

At a young age Katrina runs away from home, working herself to exhaustion, attending college, then becoming a well-known broadcast journalist. Her life is running smoothly, she is even able to set aside for long periods the memories of her youth. Until, that is, she is attacked, stabbed twenty-four times, and left for dead on her bedroom floor. And the thing is – she knows who did it. She knows – and yet no one will believe her.

When we first meet Katrina, she is “Kate” a loner who has traveled the back roads on her motorcycle for the last three years, rarely speaking to anyone, running from the butcher who searches for her in order to finish what he has begun. But there is someone else looking for her too . . .

Hayden Reed is looking for Katrina – because Hayden Reed believes. And he believes for a horrific reason. You see, Hayden Reed is an FBI agent – an FBI agent who is on the trail of the Broadcast Butcher, a serial killer who slaughters beautiful broadcast journalists by stabbing them many, many times. And Hayden knows that Katrina was his first victim. He knows, even though the police didn’t believe her, didn’t believe she knew who attacked her, didn’t believe that the attacker would return. When Hayden finally tracks Kate down, he attempts to bring her in as a material witness, to drag her into witness protection – to force her to relive her own personal hell on earth.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Hayden first tells Kate he is “sorry” for what he is going to put her through. She responds, “You’re sorry? . . . For what? For the scars that disfigure my face and body? For the ineptitude of your law enforcement brothers? For believing in a system that doesn’t work?” When his only response is, “It works.” Her reply was a gut wrenching, and oh so true statement. “Like hell it does! It’s a broken system, a broken world, Agent Reed, shattered and ugly and full of evil.” It is so easy for a man like Hayden, a true believer in the perfection of the system of “justice” to overlook all of the failures of society and the legal system – and so easy for a broken Kate to have no belief in the system that failed her so brutally.

What happens in The Broken is a breathtaking race against time, as the body count rises and the Butcher gets closer and closer to his goal of finding Katrina. Finding her, and killing her – “the one who got away.” The writing is tight, leading you from one moment to the next, never giving away too much, never going overboard with the violence, which is mostly ‘off screen’ and yet holds your attention and drags you further into the story. You become a part of the darkness, of the heinous acts of a true “Butcher” – and of the huge disconnect between what one would wish justice to be – and what it truly is.

“Why didn’t you report the second attack?”

 “What would the police say? ‘Ooops! Sorry we screwed up. We’ll do better next time’? I didn’t report the attack, Agent Reed, because it wouldn’t make a difference.”

This is a Very Highly Recommended Read for the lover of suspense, mystery, thrills and chills. I received this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review. And, honestly? It is going on my “Keepers” shelf!

1 http://tinyurl.com/nasakt4 Lylah M. Alphonse – Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Parenting – Mon, May 14, 2012 6:14 PM EDT

Review: The Red Rose Reaper by Kristi Loucks

“We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” – Jim Morrison

 “Probably the toughest time in anyone’s life is when you have to murder a loved one because they’re the devil.” – Emo Philips

 I love a really good mystery. A story that keeps me enthralled, wondering, guessing and staying awake into the wee small hours; “Just one more page, just one more page….” – Me

red rose reaper
Click photo for the GoodReads page.
This is a great mystery, the first of a series!

The Rose Red Reaper meets all of these contingencies and more. The mystery itself is extremely well done. Too often I find myself figuring out the “Who dunnit’” shortly into the book. In this case, there was one small hint, well into a double-digit chapter that gives a clue – but it doesn’t give it away, and I actually didn’t start to get suspicious until well into the book. Score. A mystery that makes me think!

And think I did, not only about the story itself, but also about the characters. Loucks’ characters are some of the more interesting that I have come across in mystery novels recently. The lead characters are Lieutenant Commander Mason Cole, previously a Navy SEAL, and his brother Detective Devon Cole. Lt. Commander Cole joins his brother with the Chicago Serial Crimes Unit after the savage murder of Mason’s girlfriend. For a year, Mason obsesses over Jill’s death, desperately attempting to find any clue to her murderer. Sleepless and lost, he walks the streets at night, fleeing the nightmares that torment him. His only solace is his seat at a table in a little diner close to his home, where the coffee is always fresh, and the wait staff are a small group of women who are always kind, and always leave him in peace.

Now, the killer has struck again, and what slowly becomes obvious is that this isn’t just any serial killer. At first, there seems to be no connection between the deaths, no ties between the victims. However, as the number of grisly deaths climb, a picture slowly begins to form, an image of abuse, of torture and depravity of the worst sort, and of massive failures of a system that is purportedly designed to help the most helpless among us. A system that allows unspeakable horrors to be committed with impunity. As Mason, Devon and their small group of specialists begin to unravel the convoluted path into the mind of a killer, Mason grows closer to Dakota, the owner of the tiny diner where he feels so at home. A closeness that now places Dakota in the sights of a killer who has no mercy, and whose final goal is to destroy Mason’s life.

One of the things I like the most about the book is that none of the characters are “cookie cutter cardboard cutouts”. Their personalities are well developed and realistic, allowing you to actually come to know them as people. No one is written as an over-the-top super hero, nor are the women in the story either weaklings or superwomen – they are simply very real and likable characters. Dakota herself is blind, and yet she owns the diner and bakes the wonderful pastries, including cinnamon rolls that had my tummy rumbling whenever the characters moaned in ecstasy as they enjoyed them. Though she might be blind, she comes across as a person who truly enjoys her life and doesn’t see herself as being any different from anyone else, or as lacking or crippled in any way. I deeply admired her. Even the killer, for all his depravity, is in a way a sympathetic character. What he does is horrific, but at the end of the story one can’t help but feel a spark of sadness at what happened to drive him to the degree of hatred that he suffers – a hatred that has destroyed his soul beyond any hope of salvation.

All in all, I can highly recommend this book to any mystery lover. Well-written, well thought out, and absolutely captivating The Rose Red Reaper is a worthy addition to any aficionado’s bookshelf.

Glacial Eyes (Salt Lake After Dark, #1)

glacial eyes   A Hugely Promising New Series Beginning – Four Stars

To get this out of the way, I was asked to read and review this book. However, just because I am asked to review a book,that doesn’t always mean my review will be fawning, sometimes far from it. So, how did “Glacial Eyes” do in this reviewers eyes?

In a word, there is true potential here for an exceptional series. Jazz, the main character, hasn’t had it easy in the last few years. Her parents were killed and she is trying hard to pay her own way through college. She hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to study yet, but she has time, so it’s all good. Then, one horrible night during a rave in the woods, everything about Jazz’s life changes.

Waking up naked in the woods is no laughing matter. Neither is finding out that everything you thought you knew about reality suddenly needs to be swept out the door with the dust bunnies. Suddenly witches and warlocks and were (oh, my!) are no longer the creatures of fantasy. Waking up to discover you are the newest member of the furry set is a bit more than Jazz can handle at first. Well, that and the fact that she now has boobs. Nice boobs. Way bigger boobs. And what is this thing with the six-pack abs all of a sudden? Yep, things are changing for Jazz.

What follows is one of the better new urban fantasies I have had the pleasure of reading. The characters are well written, and the paranormal community that she enters is realistic. They want to stay hidden in a world where DNA analysis and medical tests are ubiquitous. In order to stay hidden, their rules are tough and not always fair.

The story itself is as much a serial killer mystery as it is an urban fantasy. Being two of my favorite genres, I was thrilled to find that the author does an exceptional job in carrying the story through both styles. The weres are believable as they try to live their lives in a world that would lock them away and dissect and murder them should they be found out. The serial killer storyline itself was believable and kept me guessing. Oh, and Loki the cat? The real hero of the book!

Jazz herself is my kind of girl. She took auto shop while in high school and this girl knows her cars. She drives an old 510 (five-and-dime in “Jazz speak”) but throw in a 180SX engine and my girl has turbo power! As Jazz says “There may be no replacement for displacement, but a turbo sure is fun!” Jazz is no Mercedes Thompson, Volkswagen Mechanic Extraordinaire, but there is enough ‘car-talk’ going on through the book that I got a huge kick out of it. Jazz is tough enough to handle what is going on in this new life without too much freaking out, but she doesn’t fall into the UF trap of being suddenly Superwoman with more tricks in her toolbox than The Tomb Raider. Grand Theft Auto? Well, she can do a bit of that when needed . . . She also doesn’t fall into the UF stupidity of falling into bed within the first five minutes with the love interest. Come on, do real people really do that? Instead, the relationship grows through the book. Oh, and she totally saves his ass instead of the other way around, which ROCKS . . . hey, all you women writers out there?

Why is it only the guy writers like Mark Henwick Sleight of Hand (Bite Back 1) and my newly discovered favorite here doing the “girl kicks ass and saves the guy” scenario? Hello? Anyone listening? Girl saving guy is totally HOT. Speaking of Hot – Jazz’s love interest, Logan, is totally Cajun. Walker even gets the speech patterns right, making me wonder if he, like me, spent time in the bayou country. The rest of the cast of characters are very well written and believable and make you love (or hate) them in a way that makes them believable. You could see these people as your friends. There is death in the book (I lost one of my favorite characters and nearly cried) but nothing is overdone.

All in all? A solid four and a half – simply because I want to hang onto that extra half point to see how well Mr. Walker continues the story from here. There were some glitches in the writing, but for a first book I found Mr. Walker to be quite mature in his style. Amazingly so compared to many published authors. I am going to download Mr. Walker’s next book in the series, “Hollow Eyes” and start reading that one soon. Even with the mountain of books I have on my TBR list, I quite look forward to moving “Hollow Eyes (Salt Lake After Dark)” to the top of the pile. I am sure I won’t be sorry I did so! Some violence but not uber-bloody, a bedroom scene later in the book, a kick-butt heroine, some naughty and nice weres, witches and vampires and probably the best depiction of a dhampyr I have read. Overall, pick it up and read it. You won’t be sorry!

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