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Review: Julia’s Chocolates by Cathy Lamb – 10-Star Review

julia
Highly Recommended!!!!

I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.

I don’t know why that particular tree appealed to me. Perhaps it was because it looked as if it had given up and died years ago and was still standing because it didn’t know what else to do.

That is, by far, one of my favorite opening lines to a Contemporary Women’s Literature book ever. And then I read the book. And it touched me, ripped my heart, soothed my mind and eased my soul in so many ways that one moment I was laughing hysterically at the antics of the four main female characters, the next sobbing uncontrollably over the pain and fear that women and children face – the innocent and the damned.

Growing up unloved and neglected is horrific. Not only because your parent doesn’t love you, but because you know your parent doesn’t want your love. You learn that your love is inferior. Unneeded. Worthless. You’re inferior, you’re unneeded, you’re worthless.

I grew up as the child of a sociopath. I know from growing up unloved, unneeded, being told every day I was worthless. How awful is it that Julia’s life make my own look like a walk in the park with ice cream and flowers? The daughter of an alcoholic meth head, Julia spent her early life beaten, neglected, starved and repeatedly raped and abused by her mother’s “boyfriends,” a collection of alcoholic, meth head pedophiles and violent criminals.

But Julia perseveres, gaining her degree in art and working in a gallery in Boston, pulling her life together and trying desperately to forget from whence she came. Desperate to feel ‘worthy’ she accepts the advances of the wealthy, entitled Robert Stanfield, the latest scion of a wealthy Boston family. At first thrilled to gain the attention of such a man, she soon learns the truth. Robert is a true psychopath – a vicious and abusive rapist who slowly comes to swallow up Julia’s life, pushing her into a cycle of fear and abuse that soon drains the very soul from her body. Blaming herself for what he does to her, as victims do, she takes his abuse, hoping that he will change, that things will get better, that she really can look forward to a good life with this monster. But finally, on her wedding day, with her face broken and eye swollen completely shut, she flees the monster that is her fiancé and takes off across country to her aunt in Golden, Oregon. Like Julia, the town itself is broken by the closing of the mills and factories, leaving the citizens who stay impoverished but still proud. Still rallying around one another. None so much as four very special friends.

Gaining the safety of her Aunt Lydia and her friends in Golden, Julia soon settles in. Though she still has violent, terrifying nightmares, and fears she suffers a “Dread Disease” that causes her to have attacks which leave her breathless and exhausted, she slowly begins to feel safe in the company of Lydia and Caroline, Lara and Katie, a diverse group of women with their own issues and agonies, laughter and pain. Caroline, tiny and poor, living off vegetable sales and psychic readings. Lara, wife of the town minister whom she adores, but who is over stressed and underappreciated, the daughter of a cruel and arrogant minister who preaches hellfire and damnation to all who don’t bow down before his wrath – including his own tormented children. And Katie, who runs her own cleaning business and raises her four children while her useless, abusive drunk of a husband steals her money, terrorizes her children and steps out with other women to her face. Together, they make up a band of some of the strongest, most eccentric, most lovable characters I have ever “met.” As others have said, you can certainly compare the book in many ways to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. However, in my mind this book is much more. These women have come together from diverse backgrounds, meeting at stages of their life where they are each fighting their own personal battles of the soul.

But don’t let me lead you to believe that this is a “Debbie Downer” of a book – not at all. As I mentioned earlier, I literally laughed till tears ran down my cheeks at the antics of these women and their friends. Who can’t get a kick out of “Breast Power Psychic Night?” And while as a whole they may not have any reason to hold any affection for men (well, except for Lydia, who has been courted by the same man for the last twenty years) there are some wonderful male characters to offset the true monsters of the tale. Yes, there is horror to be had by the boatloads. Sanctimonious ‘church ladies’ with spiteful, viperous tongues, filled with gossip and sanctimony. Cruel drunks. Child abusers, alcoholics, drug addicts and pedophiles. All make their appearances, and affect the lives of our beloved ladies. But Lamb uses a deft hand in her development of the friendships of this little band of women into something that brings not only joy and laughter, but also a bright light of hope into some very dark places. There are dark moments – but the bright soon overcomes the dark, pulling these wonderful characters together into a book that no one, even the testosterone powered, should miss.

I. Loved. This. Book. I really did. It hurt sometimes – I have a lot in common with these women, and truly felt their pain, down deep where I have packed away my own. I pulled these people into my heart, and though it did hurt in spots, it also made me feel wonderful to meet this rowdy, broken bunch of women. I was interesting to me that other reviewers “didn’t connect” with the characters. I suppose they should be happy that they didn’t – anyone who has no experience with how truly horrific life can be at times should thank their lucky stars that this is so I suppose. As I watched Julia, with her huge boobs, wild hair, and horrific background grow into her personal power I urged her on, watching with great happiness as she opened herself up to not only her own faults, but to her power as well. As for me, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. There is great love and joy to be found – the love of self, of friends, of children and of life itself. I came to Ms. Lamb’s work late (this book was originally published in 2007) but now that I have found her work, I will be looking forward to reading more!

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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 – Reading The Dead: The Sarah Milton Chronicles

Reading the Dead – the Sarah Milton Chronicles

51-nMCkC4lL
Ghost Story? Murder Mystery? Paranormal? All of the above?
Where ever you decide to shelve it, this is a great book, filled
with action and drama!

Sarah Milton is special. Oh, she wouldn’t agree that she was special – she is more inclined to believe that she is just an oddball who grew up with an invisible friend as a child. An invisible friend who disappeared when Sarah’s mother was murdered, when Sarah needed her the most. Lonely and heartbroken, Sarah disappears into her books, and her obsession over her mother’s murder.

Now grown, Sarah is a police officer in Los Angeles, assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit. Well educated and intelligent, Sarah is an up and coming star of the division, tracking and bringing down a psychopathic serial killer on her first case. Now, another killer is out there, and Sarah is right in the middle of it. But before she can truly get started, something happens that changes Sarah’s life forever.

Bosco, Sarah’s hyperactive Yorki best buddy is out of kibble, so she stops at the minimart – and walks straight into a robbery. A robbery that gains her a bullet in the chest, and a trip to the land of the dead. Brought back, the first ‘person’ she sees is Anna Nigma, her long lost invisible friend.

J.B. Cameron has written a seriously good story. This is a paranormal story, filled with ghosts and things that go bump in the night. It is exceptional as a paranormal, with solid writing and a well-written story line. But it is more than that. It is a great suspense story, with thrills, chills, and exceptional mystery and police procedure. With ghosts and invisible people leading the way, how does a detective explain how she knows what she knows? And how does she stop it when the story is more than ever expected?

This is exceptional writing for a “new” author. I will be purchasing the next books, and I have no doubt that I will greatly enjoy them.

I am acquainted with Cameron through Goodreads.com, however, I purchased the book on my own and have not received payment for the purchase in any manner. All opinions are my own.

Review: Redemption – C.J. Barry

redemption
SO not recommended.

Sigh. I simply can’t express how much I hated this book. Of course, as I will now enumerate many of the things that made me so intensely dislike the book, that is sort of a silly statement, but you get the point, right?

Let’s see, where do I start. The good. The cover is terrific. The art is beautifully done, and it makes you want to read the book. You are expecting to find a strong, paranormal female heroine inside, and in some ways that is what you get. The main character, Reya, is a Redeemer, basically the last entity you see before the Grim Reaper comes to sweep you away to where you are going.

While it sounded like a Paranormal/Urban Fantasy thriller, what you get instead is a mishmash of Christian mythos and crystals, New Age philosophy and lei lines as Angelic power points, Atlantis and six dimensional physics, all rolled into a snarled bundle of “let’s put in a little something for everyone” that was, well, absurd. The Christians will hate it for the new age philosophy; the New Agers will hate it for turning their beliefs into a joke; and the scientists will just laugh uproariously. Of course, I did run across a New Ager once that said that anything bad that happened to you (she was talking to a cancer patient at the time-a cancer patient with small children who would be without their mother soon) “brought it on herself because she must have been putting bad vibes out into the universe.” Yes, I did slap her silly.

I won’t go into the actual storyline, as it is a rather basic ‘good (sic) guys chase the bad guys’ mystery/action adventure plot. What I do want to talk about is the underlying thesis of the story which is, in short, no matter what atrocities you have committed in life, all you have to do when Reya shows up is bat your eyelashes and say something to the effect of “Aww! I wuz a baaad little boy, I am sooo sowweee, weally I am!” and you automatically get trotted off the Heaven to decide if you want to be a sadistic, baby-raping murderer all over again. Or maybe play the role of Hitler or Pol Pot all over again. But hey, that’s A-OK with God, cause it’s just a learning experience. And hey, you over there, you chose to be an infant who is sodomized to death, cause you just had to learn what that felt like. Can anyone say “Let’s Blame The Victim?”

The “let’s blame the victim” attitude of the book is what really made me find this book to be the worst kind of psychological abuse. The whole story arc takes the blame away from the worst dregs of society and dumps it right onto the victim, premising that the victim chose their own abuse, that they brought whatever happens to them into their own lives. It gives sanction to the worst that humanity has to offer, assuring them that, whatever they do, no matter how heinous, they just have to say the equivalent of “Oops, my bad” and they are off scott free.  There is no judge or jury in Heaven. So, does that mean when Jews get to heaven they get to share a meal and a giggle with Hitler and reminisce about the good old days?

As a Redeemer, she offers the soon-to-be-departed one last chance to atone for their sins. I didn’t really give that line all that much thought, and I apparently should have, because when I got into the book I came to a point of wanting to gouge my eyes out with a dull spoon. If this is the author’s concept of “God” I will take the courts any day. They may not always get it right, but at least they try.

All in all, the book mouthed platitudes about “loving one another” and still managed to make it perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want, no matter how depraved, with impunity. If you have ever been a victim, of physical, mental, emotional or even financial misconduct of others, I encourage you not to read this book unless you are into self-flagellation and blaming yourself for your treatment at the hands of others.

NOT recommended.

The Heaven’s Rise: Due out October 15

heavensrise
The Heaven’s Rise is out October 15.
If you love horror, suspense, Louisiana, you will LOVE this book.

It isn’t the big things that frighten me the most. Oh, they are frightening: the storms, the fires and floods and hurricanes like Katrina. Their devastation is horrific, tremendous, outside the realm of reality in their own way.

But those things can be shared, in all their pain and anger. What frightens me are the small things, the unseen things. The man who touches his three-year-old daughter, behind walls and in secret. The woman down the street, whose empty eyes have long given up hope for rescue from her abusive husband. The eyes of a starved and beaten animal, long past any understanding of why their loving nature has been so abused.

The Heaven’s Rise pushes those buttons, edges those boundaries, between madness and despair. Where evil is a scent or a sound, a chill running up the back of the neck. The sense of a shadow, just out of the reach of mind and eye. A memory, dropped deep within the well of the psyche, rising, groaning, into the subconscious at three in the morning.

In The Heaven’s Rise, all the evils, small and large, play a prominent role. The uncaring heartlessness of the political machine of New Orleans, the greed that played a role in the losses caused by Katrina and the tragedies that occurred before, during and after the storm. Greedy oil companies and exploding gas pipelines. The cruelty and hatred, the corruption of a body politic out of control.

But those are the large, the expected things. What shivers over my skin while reading this book are the small terrors, the 3AM night-sweats, the shadows in the corners of the room, moving and flowing, rising up. Superstition and hatred and death, and the spooky world of the Louisiana bayou jacked-up on the aftereffects of terror.

Sometimes, the nightmares that the rich can cause are worse than any dark creature, risen from the swamps. Especially given the powers of those shadows, those denizens of the darkest nights, and the fog shadowed edges of reality. It is the psychopath in his plain little house, living his plain little life, sharpening his blades in his plain little kitchen, before he walks out the door. The sociopath, passing through the crowd, innocuous and calm, quietly planning the collapse of the markets, or the deaths of thousands upon his whim.  Pol Pot. Ted Bundy. The quiet, unobtrusive fellow next door. The one you would never suspect.

The same. The same. They are all the same. The blankness in their eyes, the lack of a soul. Or a soul so blackened, so twisted, that the very act of having a soul is a torment, an automaton of evil, with lifeless, unblinking eyes. The primitive eyes of alligators, of lizards. Of blasted humans, drinking in the misery of others like a fine wine.

There is mystery and death and long hidden, deeply primitive secrets to this story, set both before and after the depredations of Katrina. Secrets and lies, and blasted human souls draw you into the book and keep you there, holding your breath while you skim the pages, drawn into the depths of greed, hatred, and pathology which would make Stephen King and M Night Shyamalan green with envy. For the horrors here are horrors of minds lost to the shadows, puppets with cut strings, dancing across the stage, deranged events in the midst of chaos. Monsters live in our minds. Our psyches. Only, sometimes? They get out.

And yet, at times, a small flame burns in the distance. The faint, small light of hope.

Read for Review: Casting Shadows Everywhere – L.T. Vargus

casting shadows
Click book cover to order book.

Casting Shadows Everywhere

L.T. Vargus
5 STAR Review

My best friend in college was a Dead Head. You know, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, tie-dye, cool music, and dope. Lots and lots of dope.

My friend was way into acid. Not me, I couldn’t give up control like that, and besides, someone had to drive, right? And grass just made me sick at my stomach, so no pain. However, my friend told me about her “trips.” It was “trippy” listening to her, to say the least.

“Why,” you ask, “are getting into this? Is this a book about the Grateful Dead and acid trips?”

Well, no. But this powerful, horrifying book took me to a place in my mind that must be very like those acid trips. Weird, lost, surreal . . . and deeply, deeply moved by the experience.

Through the journal of a 15-year-old, we take a weird journey through what it means to be 15, powerless and alone. How easy it is to be swayed, to be taught by a 24-year-old sociopath who happens to be your cousin, that “There ain’t no magic power that makes right and wrong have real meanin’ is all.” It is so easy, when you are a beta, to fall sway to the alpha, especially when the school bullies become involved. To stare down that dark path, the one that leads to “Isn’t that the natural urge here? To find a way to grind the sadistic kid’s head into the ground so he can see what it feels like?”

This book moved me, pained me, in so many ways. It brought up memories best forgotten, pain, heartbreak. But mostly, it opened me up with the wisdom and compassion shown by the author. Many issues were touched on. The aforementioned bullying, of course. But also expectations, loss, grief, and how easy is is to turn an inherently good person to the dark.

Looking back on my review, it seems that I didn’t like the book. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This book touched me, inspired me, and drew me in like nothing else I have read in a very long time. I highly recommend it for what it represented to me. A walk into the dark. And a view of the light at the end of the forest.

_____________________

This book was provided to me by the author in return for a realistic review. All opinions are my own and are not predicated on receipt of the book by the author.

 

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