#BookReview – THE FINAL SEVEN: The Lightkeepers #1 by Erica Spindler

The first Saturday in July. . .
A missing coed . . .
The number seven carved into her door . . .
The countdown has begun.
THE FINAL SEVEN

New Orleans Detective Micki Dee Dare is a seasoned, no-nonsense cop. She doesn’t need a partner, especially not Zach “Hollywood” Harris, an irreverent charmer, fresh out of an experimental FBI program. And her assignment — keep him alive while he fights crime using the special skills he brings to the table — is not what she signed up for. But the die has been cast and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Micki soon realizes there’s more to her partner than meets the eye—and more at stake than catching bad guys and closing cases. There’s a new kind of evil at work the Crescent City, more cunning, more powerful than any she’s ever encountered. And she and Zach may be the only ones who can stop it.

As another coed goes missing and the darkness closes in, Micki must face a terrifying truth: this time she might not make it. This time the evil they’re facing might destroy them all . . .

Full of surprise twists and unexpected turns, The Final Seven is a heart-pounding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Published: February 11, 2016

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

I love the kind of supernatural thriller that makes you believe it could happen, and Erica Spindler delivers that here in a spectacular way.

He looked dead serious – they all did – but no way this wasn’t a gag. Sixth sense? Specialized police academies? It had to be bullshit.

First, this book has Spindler’s trademark twists and turns. The action kept me involved and on edge from beginning to end.

Her fear crackled in the air between them, racing along his nerve endings.

The characters propel the story, so that I cared what happened to all of them. Some are normal humans, others are gifted, and all are complex people.

His hand on her arm burned, heat that went clear to her core. Her thoughts spun, like a merry-go-round on crack.

Then we have the good versus evil aspect, which might sound trite and overdone but definitely is not. We do live in a world of light and dark, good and evil, and that reality makes this story all the more compelling. Spindler uses this platform to launch a world of powerful possibilities.

A sound from the darkness. A howl or a roar. Or was that the screaming rush of blood to his head?

Yes, this book contains supernatural elements, so if you live in a black and white world, this book probably isn’t for you. But if you’re willing to stretch the limits of what you can see and ask, “What if?”, then this book is guaranteed to keep you turning pages. I can’t wait for book #2 in this series!

Swirling energy. Limitless. Dark. Roiling with power.

*I was provided with an advance review copy by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#FridayReads – Author Richard Thomas Brings Us GAMUT Online Magazine

Richard Thomas’s writing skill blew me away early last year when I read his novel Disintegration. Then, at the tail end of last year, I got my hands on an advance copy of his (now published) book Breaker, and I was firmly hooked as a rabid fan. I’m excited to share the news that Richard Thomas has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for an online magazine called Gamut that promises to be exceptional. Read on for details.

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American neo-noir author Richard Thomas launched a Kickstarter project on February 1st, 2016, to fund the launch of Gamut, an online magazine of neo-noir, speculative and literary fiction. The Kickstarter closes on March 1st, 2016.

To be successful, the Kickstarter will need to raise $51,000, which works out to 1,700 annual subscribers paying $30 per year for access to the magazine, which will focus on publishing genre-bending, hybrid fiction that utilizes the best of genre and literary voices. If successful, Gamut will launch online January 1st, 2017.

Speaking of his plans for Gamut, Thomas said: “I want to support the voices that aren’t getting enough recognition, I want to pay a great rate (twice the going professional rate) and I want to surround myself with talented authors and artists that inspire me.”

“We need more markets like this,” he continued, “publishing edgy fiction that straddles the fence between genre and literary fiction. I think we’re in a golden age of dark fiction and there is a real demand for it.”

Over the past eight years Thomas has written and published over 100 short stories, in magazines such as PANK and Cemetery Dance; three novels—including Disintegration and Breaker at Random House Alibi; and three short story collections.

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Thomas, also editor-in-chief of Dark House Press and co-editor with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer of the transgressive fiction anthology Burnt Tongues (a Bram Stoker finalist), has secured a wide range of contributors for the first planned year of Gamut, including Stephen Graham Jones (Mongrels, William Morrow), Benjamin Percy (The Dead Lands, Grand Central Publishing), Lucy A. Snyder (Soft Apocalypses, Raw Dog Screaming Press, Bram Stoker Award Winner, 2014) and Helen Marshall (Gifts For the One Who Comes After, ChiZine Publications, Shirley Jackson Award Winner, 2014).

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Backers of the Kickstarter can buy a year’s subscription to Gamut for $30 and a guaranteed annual rate of $30 per year for as long as they choose to renew. The standard rate of subscription, if the Kickstarter is successful, will begin at $60 per year.

Gamut will include mostly original fiction and fiction reprints, but also columns, non-fiction, art, flash fiction, poetry and maybe even a serial memoir or novella,” said Thomas, expanding on what subscribers could expect.

“To begin with, I’ll be publishing solicited material but I open up Gamut to submissions later in 2016. When that happens, I’ll consider fantasy, science fiction, horror, neo-noir, crime, mystery, thrillers, magical realism, transgressive fiction, Southern gothic, literary fiction and poetry —I want to read anything done with innovation, heart and emotion.”

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“Everything I enjoy reading and writing,” he continued, “typically leans toward the dark side, but I have been known to embrace lighter work, and humor, now and then. It just has to move me. And I like to be surprised. Also, diversity is important to me—so whatever your sex, race, orientation, religion, country of origin, current location—send me work, I want to read it.”

Authors that have given verbal agreements to contribute original and reprint fiction to Gamut so far include: Stephen Graham Jones, Laird Barron, Brian Evenson, Usman T. Malik, Matt Bell, Damien Angelica Walters, Letitia Trent, Mercedes M. Yardley, Alyssa Wong, Benjamin Percy, Lindsay Hunter, Axel Taiari, Amanda Gowin, Laura Benedict, Nathan Ballingrud, Dino Parenti, Ted E. Grau, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Sarah Read, Paula Bomer, Kelly Luce, Livia Llewelyn, Josh Malerman, Carmen Machado, Peter Tieryas, Kevin Catalano, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Nina McConigley, Nik Korpon, Craig Wallwork, Steve Himmer, Antonia Crane, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kristi DeMeester, Tara Ison, David James Keaton, Cassandra Khaw, Nikki Guerlain, Lucy A. Snyder, JS Breukelaar, Helen Marshall, Amelia Gray, H. L. Nelson, Craig Davidson, Jacklyn Dre Marceau, and Lincoln Michel.

AllArtistsGamutContributing artists include Luke Spooner, George C. Cotronis, Daniele Serra and Bob Crum, as well as photographer Jennifer Moore.

Fiction editors at Gamut will be Dino Parenti, Mercedes M. Yardley and Casey Frechette, poetry editors will be Heather Foster and Whittney Jones, with Keith Rawson, Max Booth, and RK Arceneaux acting as regular columnists, in addition to freelance essayists covering everything from film and books to travel and food.

If Gamut reaches its $51,000 goal, stretch goals include a scholarship at the $52,000 mark to help low-res MFA students and other authors, publication of a memoir showcasing one woman’s fifteen-year experience as a professional exotic dancer, Stripped: A Memoir, at $55,500, and a print anthology of the best of Gamut’s first year of fiction at $82,660.

 

About Richard Thomas:

Richard ThomasRichard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books—Disintegration and Breaker (Random House Alibi), and Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections, Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (TBA); as well as one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 100 stories published, his credits include Cemetery Dance, PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad 2 & 3, and Shivers VI. He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, and has received five Pushcart Prize nominations to date. He is also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and the Bram Stoker-nominated Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer. In his spare time he is a columnist at LitReactor and Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.

 

The Kickstarter campaign is live and will run through March 1, 2016. You don’t have to pledge a lot to contribute. Every dollar counts. Richard has some fantastic pledge rewards on offer, including subscriptions to Gamut and signed copies of his books! Ready to join the fun? Click the link and choose your reward: http://kck.st/20BytmV

#BookReveiw – INCARCERATION NATIONS: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World

Baz Dreisinger travels behind bars in nine countries to rethink the state of justice in a global context

Beginning in Africa and ending in Europe, Incarceration Nations is a first-person odyssey through the prison systems of the world. Professor, journalist, and founder of the Prison-to-College-Pipeline, Dreisinger looks into the human stories of incarcerated men and women and those who imprison them, creating a jarring, poignant view of a world to which most are denied access, and a rethinking of one of America’s most far-reaching global exports: the modern prison complex.

From serving as a restorative justice facilitator in a notorious South African prison and working with genocide survivors in Rwanda, to launching a creative writing class in an overcrowded Ugandan prison and coordinating a drama workshop for women prisoners in Thailand, Dreisinger examines the world behind bars with equal parts empathy and intellect. She journeys to Jamaica to visit a prison music program, to Singapore to learn about approaches to prisoner reentry, to Australia to grapple with the bottom line of private prisons, to a federal supermax in Brazil to confront the horrors of solitary confinement, and finally to the so-called model prisons of Norway.

Incarceration Nations concludes with climactic lessons about the past, present, and future of justice.

Published: February 9, 2016

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

Not many of us would choose to spend our time away from work touring prisons around the world, but that’s just what Baz Dreisinger does. The result is a fascinating, often depressing, and sometimes hopeful look at various types of prisons, ways of treating people who have committed crimes, and programs that offer various levels of rehabilitation.

In 2005, Human Rights Watch counted more than two thousand Americans serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles; the entire rest of the world has only ever locked up twelve children without possibility of parole.

Most, if not all, of us here in the US have heard the “revolving door” term in connection with our prisons. Our methods of dealing with crime, and even how we define crime, clearly are not working. Here Dreisinger gives us insight and perspective into exactly how and why we’ve gone wrong. While she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, she does force us to, at the very least, acknowledge the monster we’ve created.

America is the world’s largest jailer, with 2.3 million people behind bars, or one in one hundred adults.

Some readers might accuse Dreisinger of wearing those proverbial rose-colored glasses, and over-reaching in her hope to eradicate most types of prison institutions. She might even agree with those people, to some extent, as she calls herself a “tenacious optimist”. I personally find it refreshing to read the words of someone who works hard to make this world a better place for all of humanity. We have such an extreme climate of hate politics, with news and politicians focusing on feeding fear, that we risk losing sight of the fact that we are all, every single one of us, equally human. The way we treat each other reflects back on and influences our own humanity. We can work toward a better image, or we can watch our image become the monster we fear.

Is revenge a triumph? To harm someone who has harmed you, is that not hypocrisy, perpetuating a wretched chain of wrongdoing? We justify legal violence with the word “deterrence,” but one would have a hard time arguing that it is effective, considering the fact that putting 2.3 million behind bars has hardly eradicated crime.

The problem I find with books such as this one is that the only people reading them are the people who already know that our prison system is a mess. This book is a well written, engaging, easy to read narrative. I hope it finds its way into the hands of the masses, so that we can finally snap out of our complacency.

*I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#FreeBook – THE CUTTING EDGE – Murderous Fantasies and Razor Sharp Shears

FREE – for the first and maybe only time!

My name is Skye Summers. I’m a hairstylist and I can’t stop fantasizing about killing my clients. Not all of them, of course. I only want to kill the ones who irritate me, which, if I’m being honest, is most of them. My occasional fantasies have turned into chronic daydreams. They’re bloody and vivid, like watching a slice-and-dice movie on IMAX.

I also want to kill my husband’s ex-girlfriend. She’s not a client but she tops my list. Eighteen years ago, she gave birth to his daughter and she has tormented him ever since. I should be troubled by this growing desire to use my surgically sharpened shears for more than a haircut. Instead, I wonder how I can get away with it.

 

What’s so funny about peace, love, and murder?

This is the only book I’ve written in which I’ve drawn heavily from my personal life. I worked as a hairstylist for 15 years, in a small salon based on Skye’s salon, within the exact same small town where Skye lives and works. While there were no killers running loose (that I’m aware of!), much of the content is thinly disguised fact. All of the salon’s clients are based on real clients, and most of the conversations and incidents actually took place. I changed names and minor details to protect the innocent and hide the guilty.

Don’t get me wrong; Skye is not an autobiographical character. But she is the closest to me that you’re ever likely to find.

I loved doing hair but, quite honestly, the people often made me a little crazy. I was incredibly fortunate to have worked with an amazing group of ladies, who kept me laughing. The spirit of our friendship lives within these pages, because those ladies – particularly Lorraine (the owner and my mother), Kelli, and Rene – were the heart and soul of our salon.

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FREE from February 3 thru 5!

Amazon / Amazon UK

Thanks for reading. :)

#BookReview – GETTING SCREWED: Sex Workers and the Law by Alison Bass

Alison Bass weaves the true stories of sex workers with the latest research on prostitution into a gripping journalistic account of how women (and some men) navigate a culture that routinely accepts the implicit exchange of sex for money, status, or even a good meal, but imposes heavy penalties on those who make such bargains explicit. Along the way, Bass examines why an increasing number of middle-class white women choose to become sex workers and explores how prostitution has become a thriving industry in the twenty-first-century global economy. Situating her book in American history more broadly, she also discusses the impact of the sexual revolution, the rise of the Nevada brothels, and the growing war on sex trafficking after 9/11.

Drawing on recent studies that show lower rates of violence and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, in regions where adult prostitution is legal and regulated, Bass makes a powerful case for decriminalizing sex work. Through comparisons of the impact of criminalization vs. decriminalization in other countries, her book offers strategies for making prostitution safer for American sex workers and the communities in which they dwell.

This riveting assessment of how U.S. anti-prostitution laws harm the public health and safety of sex workers and other citizens—and affect larger societal attitudes toward women—will interest feminists, sociologists, lawyers, health-care professionals, and policy makers. The book also will appeal to anyone with an interest in American history and our society’s evolving attitudes toward sexuality and marriage.

Published: October 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

Our war on sex is a lot like our war on drugs – long, expensive, and pointless. Let’s face it: Sex sells. We, as a society, are never going to win this war, so maybe it’s time we took a different approach.

Federal authorities, fearful that American soldiers would be laid low by disease-carrying prostitutes, began pressuring state officials to close down red-light districts throughout the country. By 1915, most red-light districts in the United States, including the famous Barbary Coast in San Francisco, the Levee district in Chicago, and Storyville in New Orleans, had been shuttered.

This book, whether intentionally or not, offers a compelling narrative for legalizing and regulating sex work. Alison Bass makes the argument that adult, consensual prostitution should be treated as a social problem, and perhaps a bit of a public health issue. By criminalizing the act, we are actually creating far more detrimental circumstances for the women involved. Here, I think, is where this book excels. You can’t read this book with an open mind, and then honestly say that our current system makes sense.

Indeed, researchers have found that countries with the most restrictive laws against prostitution (such as the United States and many countries in Southeast Asia) have the greatest violence against sex workers and other women, while countries with the least restrictive legal systems (such as the Netherlands and Germany) have the least violence.

The author is careful to consistently point out that under-aged and forced prostitution, such as with human trafficking, is an entirely different entity. Trafficking is a vile and violent act that is more akin to slavery, and should be treated as such. Sadly, these victims, when caught in the act of prostitution, are often treated as criminals, pushing them further underground and into the hands of abusers.

In some states, the men in blue are the biggest customers of commercial sex. In Ohio, for instance, law enforcement topped the charts of the listed occupations when it came to buying sex (indoors or outdoors), according to a 2012 report on domestic sex trafficking by Ohio’s Human Trafficking Commission. Police even beat out politicians for that distinction, and it didn’t matter whether or not the women were selling sex voluntarily. According to the Ohio report, law enforcement officials were the number one customers even when the women they frequented were found to have been trafficked into the trade.

The content does occasionally become repetitive. Still, it’s well written, engaging, and certainly thought-provoking.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#FridayReads – MOTOR CITY by Sherri Jefferson – Examining the War on Drugs

Friday Reads Featured Book

 

What happens when four U.S. presidents wage a war on drugs, and Americans become prisoners of war and part of the poverty-to-prison pipeline? What happens when two of America’s Most Wanted are victims of ineffective assistance of counsel?

Attorney Sherri Jefferson answers these questions and more in Motor City: The Odyssey of the War on Drugs, Scales of Injustice and Two of Americas’ Most Wanted. Motor City stirs debate with its brutally honest depiction of the war on drugs in America. Human and personal in its characterizations and attention to detail, Motor City plunges the reader into the decades of the struggles endemic to people of color and the poor. The book journeys the lives of the Motor City Brothers that led to an investigation by the DEA, FBI, CIA, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task forces.

Sherri Jefferson lays the foundation for criminal justice reform and an end to the war on drugs by building upon evidence-based and scholarly research to produce an honest critique of the war on drugs that has created prisoners of war and a prison industrial complex.

This book is an examination of how the issues of drugs, race, and class became intertwined in the lives of the Motor City Brothers as they became two of America’s Most Wanted. This material contributes to the ongoing problems of the so-called War on Drugs by highlighting anti-drug policies, social reform, and the criminal defense of the Motor City Brothers

In her honest depiction, Jefferson declares in Motor City, that if the war on drugs is the equivalent to an actual war, then it is the longest war ever fought by the United States of America. For the last 44 years, the U.S. has engaged in warfare that has resulted in more causalities and fatalities than any other war in its history.

The Johnson brothers journeyed through unchartered waters, forging alliances, acquiring wealth, possessing celebrity status, and becoming successful businessmen. Most interesting about their journey is that ten years after their arrest and conviction, they remain a topic of discussion. Understanding the journey means recognizing institutional racism and being willing to stand against it. American prisons are full of men like the Johnson brothers who could have reigned over Fortune 500 companies, but instead are living in bondage. Understand the journey.

Urban legend; the odyssey of two of America’s most wanted and their family transcends drugs, music, money, and material possessions. Their journey gives proponents and opponents of the war on drugs a lesson to learn. To the press, the Johnson brothers were hard core men who kept their mind on their riches. The press and public labeled these men as those who had a taste for Louis Roederer Cristal champagne and Perrier Jouet Rosé, traveled in style in Rolls-Royce Phantoms, Lamborghinis Murcielago, and Aston Martins Vanquish, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on entertainment. The journey continues.

To their friends and family, the Johnson brothers were God fearing, loving providers and men of fortitude. To law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, the Johnson men were two of America’s most wanted who deserve to die beyond the wall for violating criminal laws, no matter how vague, ambiguous, and arbitrarily or discriminatorily enforced. Understanding the journey means acknowledging the existence of injustice and working toward criminal justice reform.

Published: January 15, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

About the Author:

Sherri Jefferson Sherri Jefferson is an author, independent book publisher, attorney, advocate, and lecturer. She is also the founder of the Family Law Center, African American Juvenile Justice Project, Jefferson Publishing, and the Law Mobile. Through #FemaleNOTFeemale, she advocates against child sexual exploitation and sex slavery, and the collateral consequences associated with criminalizing the acts of the victims of human trafficking and prostitution.

www.SherriJefferson.com

 

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Thanks for reading. :)

#BookReview: FRACTURED by Clar Ni Chonghaile

Peter Maguire has been kidnapped in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. He does not know where he is or what is going to happen to him. The journalist is filled with fear and, as the days go by, this dread of the unknown is shot through with remorse for the mistakes of his past. Peter’s mother Nina comes to Somalia to wait for her son’s release. His plight forces her to relive another trauma—the fatal shooting in Liberia of Shaun Ridge, a young photographer she once loved, and Peter’s real father. Abdi, a Somali teenager working with Peter’s captors strikes a tenuous friendship with the prisoner based on a shared feeling of captivity. He decides to help Peter escape. Together they set off into the barren vastness of a land filled with danger. Three people must journey into one of the world’s most dangerous places, the human mind, to answer the question: are we ever truly free?

Published: February 1, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

Fractured has aspects of mystery, suspense, and thriller, but as a whole I think the book fits best within the genre of literary fiction. We have a lot of character introspection throughout the narration, which slows the pace. At the same time, this gives depth to the characters and the content, allowing us time to explore the humanity within the madness. This story, at its heart, is mostly about the people and how circumstances have and will change them.

My blanket is woven poverty, a brown-grey nothingness that says even colour is a luxury.

Some of the references here might be lost on readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of various wars and in-fighting within Africa, though I think the author does an excellent job of maintaining focus on the characters within their specific circumstances. The African setting adds a unique kind of complexity to the story.

The memory is fractured like a Picasso painting: an out-of-place eye, a snarling mouth in a bearded face, a fist, the butt of a gun, blood on my T-shirt, a perfect drop falling and breaking.

Chonghaile writes with simplistic beauty. Every word counts. She puts us in the moment, shows us this unfamiliar world, makes us feel the fear, the anger, and the confusion. The beauty and ease of her words stand in stark contrast to the crumbling world she shows us.

We always think there is time enough for everything, even when we are complaining about the days being too short. We believe tomorrow will always come. Even people like me, who should know better.

My one quibble is that I thought the three narrating characters shared too many similarities in their style of thought. Their behavior certainly marks them as individuals, but their introspective parts, with long passages of thought, seem to inhabit the same space. I wanted something to mark them as different during these parts; perhaps less beauty in the prose or an inability to see themselves and their world so clearly.

A few weeks ago, I was so free I didn’t even feel it. Now freedom feels awkward, like a new shirt, scratchy and clingy in all the wrong places.

This is a thoughtful, poignant story that leaves us with much to think about.

*I was provided with an advance review copy by the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#BookReview – HARMONY BLACK by Craig Schaefer – A Witch With A Badge

Harmony Black is much more than your average FBI special agent. In addition to being a practicing witch, she’s also an operative for Vigilant Lock, an off-the-books program created to battle occult threats—by any means necessary. Despite her dedication to fighting the monsters threatening society, Harmony has become deeply conflicted about her job. Her last investigation resulted in a pile of dead bodies, and she suspects the wrong people are being punished for it.

While on a much-needed vacation, Harmony gets pulled back into action. This time, though, she’s gone from solo work to being part of a team. Their target: the Bogeyman, a vicious and elusive figure…and the creature that destroyed Harmony’s childhood.

Surrounded by quirky, fascinating characters as dedicated to one another as they are to their new partner, Harmony must learn to trust her team—and a new romantic interest—on a dangerous and deadly mission that conjures up memories she’d much rather forget.

Published: February 1, 2016

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

Harmony Black is a strong, female heroine who kicks monster butt and also happens to be a witch. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with her? Well, at least within the pages of a book. I’m not so sure I’d want to spend any real time in her presence, given the type of company she attracts.

He ticked off his points on his fingertips. “Magic is real. You’re a witch. I carry a demon in my pocket. See? Now we’re on the same page, and you don’t have to lie to me. Saves so much time. I’m here to make you an offer.”

This book certainly falls within the supernatural realm, but also has elements of mystery, suspense, a little romance, and a twinge of horror. Craig Schaefer made me believe in monsters. His creations were so realistic that I was hesitant to open my closet doors.

I smelled the blood before I saw it. The odor clung to every surface, metallic and pungent, so strong it pushed fingers down my throat and challenged me not to choke.

I enjoyed the interplay between the characters, particularly with Harmony and her new partner, Jessie. The dialogue feels genuine, and each character has a unique personality. I also appreciated that the budding romance did not turn Harmony into a weak-kneed ball of mush. She’s strong and independent, and does not immediately fall at the feet of the good looking guy who turns her way.

I ran for the edge of the nightmare, and jumped.

The plot moves at a quick pace. There is no lagging or unnecessarily long passages of narration. We’re taken right to the case at hand, and we follow the characters as they uncover all the secrets of the bogeyman.

“Slow down,” Jessie said. “Are you telling us hell is organized? They have a functional government, and they’re claiming actual territory in the United States?”

I did not realize that this book, and Harmony’s character, is a spin-off of Schaefer’s Daniel Faust Series, which I have not read. This one reads perfectly as a stand-alone, so you don’t have to read that series first. However, if you are reading the other series, you might want to be sure you’re caught up before reading this one, as there might be some spoilers about Harmony’s character and past cases.

Something flashed in his eyes, just for a heartbeat. Fear. He tried to put his smile back on, but it didn’t fit his face anymore.

While this is a fun, light read, it might leave you quivering when the lights go out.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#FridayReads – BLOOD ON THE BANANA LEAF – Four Young Women and Modern Day Slavery

Friday Reads Featured Book

Banana Leaf

Expected Publication: April 2016

Behind the Scenes with the Author:

My book, Blood On The Banana Leaf, is a fictional account of four women living in modern day Singapore, a harsh city for the immigrant and expat alike. Singapore has a very unflattering history of human rights abuses and without a human rights charter – modern day slavery is still very much in evidence. I lived there for four years and the abuse of the women and older girls who arrived from very poor countries, such as the Philippines, Myanmar and Sri Lanka wormed its way into my heart like a hookworm and wouldn’t leave. So with the help of my lovely housekeeper and heart sister, Clarie, I wrote a book about it despite opposition.

Many of the stories are not fictional, rapes and sexual assaults do happen and physical abuse is rife. Passports are taken away by employers, wages withheld, food rationed and the mandatory weekly day off is frequently ignored because many of the maids have little English.

The following extract is from the life of Shammi, a young woman from Myanmar who suffers dreadfully in her job and spends her wretched life trying to understand why this is happening and reminiscing about her village back home. Her only solace is her profound faith and Ebony Ma’am, a kind Sri Lankan neighbour who tries to help with extra food and vitamins.

Thank you for reading.

Charlotte Stirling

 

Excerpt:

SHAMMI
20 Sabre Green

When I come here it was with big happiness in my heart. I knew I was doing a good thing, making my parents proud. The girls that go to Singapore and Arabia are spoken of with reverence and as good, dutiful girls.

Sawtoh, the skinny girl from my village, she married a Western man and now they live in Singapore in a palace with beautiful children and swans. I hear her bed is made from gold and she has many servants. I wish her luck but I never like her much. She was cruel to animals and the younger children. Would pull pigtails and tear clothes and kick the dogs around the village when the mood took her. My Ebu says the devil is inside her.

I don’t disagree with Ebu but I think that she is just very selfish. Most of the girls who marry Western men are cunning but until they have ring on their finger – they play it very sweet like Bubur Candil. Sawtoh must have been kicking many puppies in private to be able to mask her real self. I feel sorry for that Western Man. He went to the market and bought a duck but it turned out to be a fire ant.

It is very dark here at my Madame’s house. I am expected to wash the car before the family wake up. As I stumble out with sleep still in my eyes and weary bones that sigh I see the other black shapes washing other cars. We might smile and nod but we never call out. The maids that wash cars know better than that. We are divided between the maids that speak and the maids that do not.

I see the happy girls wander down the road carrying shopping and chat chat on their cell phone and I think how good do you have to be in the eyes of the Lord to deserve an employer like that? One that gives you freedom and maybe one day off a month like Ebony Ma’am? And I steal a glance next door to reassure myself that she is still there.

The sun is rising and I think I am lucky to see such glory everyday.

I haven’t been to church for a long time. I think God must be very angry with me. But Madame does not believe in Church and she say that I’m a heathen and no better than a dog. I ask for a few hours off to attend service but Madame says that is selfish of me. Selfish! Selfish! Selfish! And I get a slap with her hand each time she shouts the word.

The children watch and their faces are full of bitter leaves.

If the dog barks after a certain time at night then I have dollars taken from my wages. How am I to keep the dog quiet? Bind its mouth? Speak softly to it like I do with the piglets back home? The dog is excitable and hot tempered. It does not get enough exercise. I tell Madame at the beginning that I would walk the dog for hours. I would run the dog and laugh with the dog and we would take off with Happiness and fly back on a cloud to my village. But Madame says No! Sometimes I think she say ‘No’ so much that a ‘Yes’, might kill her.

Madame gets angry very quick and I learn not to speak, not to ask and not to be. I am forbidden to speak to anybody outside of the household and am only ever allowed to talk to them if I bow first or they ask me a question. My Madame is very particular and old fashioned about such things.

She is from a province in China but my Sir, he is from Singapore. Madame is very pale and she refuses to go out in the sun. I am expected to hold a parasol over her head when we go out in the day. But I am also expected to walk slightly behind her. It is difficult and when I first arrived I would trip and stumble. But when we are out I can look at the world around me. I see the big houses and the even bigger buildings. So much glass and light.

Only sometimes does Madame take me into the city but when she does I study everything so I can’t forget. I watch the sky the most and remember that my Ebu and I share the same sky every day to make me feel less lonely.

The kind woman next door is also brown-skinned and her skin is like honey roses and she has green eyes like a watermelon rind that glow with health and sweetness. She is full of love and smiles at me when she sees my tired spirit.

I call her Ebony Ma’am because she shines like the polished roots of the wood tree that grow near our village.

 

About the Author:

Stirling Tabatha Stirling divides her time between Germany and Scotland with her husband, two children and a depressed Beagle.

It has been a pleasing year for her flash fiction and various pieces have been published in Literary Orphans, Camroc Press Review and Spelk Fiction.

When Tabatha isn’t writing or baking cupcakes, she is thinking about writing, reading, designing book covers, gaming or watching dark, blood-splattered dramas like the Walking Dead, Ray Donavon and Sons of Anarchy.

You can find her @volequeen and Volequeen.com

*Tabatha is Charlotte Stirling’s alternate ego. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, you can find the majority of her writing under the name Tabatha Stirling.*

 

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#BookReview – WHILE THE CITY SLEPT by Eli Sanders

A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter’s gripping account of one young man’s path to murder—and a wake-up call for mental health care in America

On a summer night in 2009, three lives intersected in one American neighborhood. Two people newly in love—Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, who spent many years trying to find themselves and who eventually found each other—and a young man on a dangerous psychological descent: Isaiah Kalebu, age twenty-three, the son of a distant, authoritarian father and a mother with a family history of mental illness. All three paths forever altered by a violent crime, all three stories a wake-up call to the system that failed to see the signs.

In this riveting, probing, compassionate account of a murder in Seattle, Eli Sanders, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper coverage of the crime, offers a deeply reported portrait in microcosm of the state of mental health care in this country—as well as an inspiring story of love and forgiveness. Culminating in Kalebu’s dangerous slide toward violence—observed by family members, police, mental health workers, lawyers, and judges, but stopped by no one—While the City Slept is the story of a crime of opportunity and of the string of missed opportunities that made it possible. It shows what can happen when a disturbed member of society repeatedly falls through the cracks, and in the tradition of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, is an indelible, human-level story, brilliantly told, with the potential to inspire social change.

Published: February 2, 2016

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

In reading this book, it’s easy to see why Eli Sanders won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on this case. His writing style is engaging, compelling, and honest. The content has a seamless flow from beginning to end.

By 2008, when Isaiah found himself in crisis, multiple presidents had been warned that the system put in place by President Kennedy was failing because of neglect and was riddled with disparities and limitations.

Sanders’ approach in writing this book works exceptionally well. We start by getting to know each of the two victims. We learn their gifts and their flaws and their challenges. Sanders doesn’t simply tell us who these women are; he plants us right in the mist of their lives and lets us meet them ourselves. I felt like I understood them and I rejoiced in the happiness they’d found, making what was to come all the more devastating. In first focusing on Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, in truly humanizing them for us, Sanders gives us a gift that is often lost in news reports and true crime books that focus mostly on the bad guy and the evil deed.

The two of them sit on the couch and watch movies and eat kettle corn with Milk Duds melted into it by the microwave, Teresa’s favorite.

Then we next meet the so-called bad guy, the killer we want to hate. But Sanders doesn’t make that so easy or comfortable for us. We get to know Isaiah Kalebu as a person. We see how he loved and was loved by others. We also see the abuse he endured, the building psychological problems, and the warning signs of a young man on the edge.

By fifth grade, a teacher wrote – “quite prophetically,” Dr. Lymberis noted – that Isaiah’s challenges urgently needed to be addressed before it was too late.

We then move on to the trial. We see the explosive culmination of Isaiah’s messy life, not just on Teresa’s family and on Jennifer, but also on Isaiah’s family. Perhaps most profound here is how, despite countless attempts at intervention, the system catastrophically failed Isaiah, his family, and his victims. Though, rivaling that sense of outrage is the hope, love, and genuine kindness of those left behind in his wake.

Jennifer offered a new vow. “I promise to live,” she said, and people stood, cried, cheered. “I promise to love. I promise to give. I promise to laugh. I promise to sing. I promise to dream. And I promise to forgive. Teresa Butz, you were the best thing that ever, ever happened to me. And you once told me that you were lovable but you were leavable. And so I want you to look around this room right now. We will never leave you. None of us.”

I want to comment on the details of Isaiah’s attack on Teresa and Jennifer. Sanders handles this aspect beautifully by giving us just enough. He doesn’t sensationalize this crime. We don’t need to know all the horrible details. He gives us what we need to understand, and then offers us the reactions of those in the courtroom as they hear the detailed testimony Jennifer gives them. This is a poignant moment and has profound impact.

The horror of what happened next made the court reporter’s eyes well up, made the bailiff cry.

We, as a society, need far better methods of caring for the mentally ill, and of intervention, so that people like Isaiah are not destroyed by their own minds, and do not destroy others along the way. It’s easy to hold Isaiah Kalebu up as an example of evil, when really our broken justice system and abysmal mental health options are also complicit in the outcome of his life.

At the time when Isaiah found himself in need of help, the vast majority of Americans facing psychological distress were, as always, nonviolent, far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators, far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. But whether they were among the vast, nonviolent majority or in the small minority with violent tendencies, if they were poor, like Isaiah, they found themselves encountering a public mental healthy system that was in a state of collapse.

*I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

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