Book Review: Digger Cartwright’s The House of Dark Shadows

darkshadowTitle: The House of Dark Shadows
Author: Digger Cartwright
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing

I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers because nothing turns out the way you thought it would. Digger Cartwright does a phenomenal job with The House of Dark Shadows. I thought I had everything figured out due to the clues he gave us along the way, but I was blown off course. The ending isn’t exactly what you expect nor is it your typical Hollywood ending, but it fits.

Alex Rommel has everything a bachelor could ask for. He’s successful at his job and quite the ladies man, but he’s missing the love of his life. Years ago Shannon left him and he’s been haunted with memories of her and desperately searches for her. He runs into an old university friend, Brad, at a café and Brad mentions how he’s met the love of his life. He introduces Lisa to Alex and when Alex inquires how they met, Brad tells him the internet. Alex is skeptical because you never know who is behind the screen, but needless to say he’s intrigued. As he prepares to leave the café he overhears Brad tell Lisa about the rumors surrounding Alex, he killed an ex-girlfriend; however, both of them disregard the rumors. Later that evening, Alex signs up for internet dating and meets the perfect woman, Hope. Little does he know he’s about to step into a tangled world of deception and the person he thought he could trust the most turns out to be his biggest enemy.

In terms of character development, it’s strong and the writing is engaging. Cartwright has a business background and he does a great job taking elements from the business world and incorporating them into the narrative. At times it was difficult to sympathize with Alex because he’s particular in his ways and yet when he first receives that phone call from Hope’s mother you can’t help but want to yell “run from the crazy Alex!” He has a trusted mentor, Thomas, but for the most part he was too closed off and only allowed a selected few into his inner circle of trust and ultimately this is where Alex went wrong. Alex also suffers from nightmares and in many ways foreshadows a lot of what happens to Alex and shows us what happened to Shannon. It’s Alex who refuses to look into it and it’s proof he’s a man running from his own demons.

In a day and age where you can virtually find any information about a person, I’m surprised Alex didn’t take the initiative to further look into Hope’s background. If the house on the street is the only one that doesn’t look right, search the house address and find out what you can. I remind myself had Alex done this, we wouldn’t have a story. I had all sorts of theories regarding Hope. At one point Alex is told Shannon was beaten to the point where she needed reconstructive surgery and a piece of me held out hope (no pun intended) that it was Hope. I’m not saying anymore about the plot, but I loved it.

There are some unanswered questions, but I just file them away as answered since the ending I believe confirms Alex’s suspicion when Thomas tells him, “you should have given them what they wanted.” Thomas calls this a mind-fuck when Alex asks him what everything around him is at that moment (I’m not saying what it is for fear of spoilers) and oh this book was definitely one.

If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers or looking to try a new genre, I highly recommend The House of Dark Shadows. I’ve never read Digger Cartwright before and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

Guest Post: The Destruction Of Innocence

I’m really excited about today’s very special guest! Today we have author Rebecca Reid and her psychological thriller, The Coop, is one of the best books I read in 2012. If you’re interested in knowing more about her, feel free to read her interview.

The Destruction Of Innocence

This may not come as a shock to you, but writing is so much more than hitting a few keys on your computer. It is so much more than creation. It is alive. To me at least, I can speak for no other authors when I say that. There is no plot line, no pre-planned chapters, just a cold cup of tea and burning fingers. I settle to write and it becomes me. The destination of my journey is unknown, as are the stops along the way where characters jump on and off. The story, and all that is in it, grows as the words hit the page. It would seem that my computer screen is not the razor thin aluminum I thought it was, but porous, absorbing every thought my subconscious chooses to drop onto the keyboard.

This is not a choice in writing style, I don’t believe one has that luxury; it is simply a fact. Each novel I write will start with a mere thought, or a fleeting vision and become whatever it chooses. That is why I was as shocked as any to discover the underlying themes within ‘The Coop’. There I was settling down to do a secondary edit when it jumped out at me that the pages were steeped in the destruction of innocence. Jodie Tiding becomes the embodiment of purity, both destroyed and encapsulated by it. She is unforgivably pursued by Mathew, whose own beliefs are an abuse of his naivety. Where there is innocence, a darkness lingers beneath. This realization shook me. Yes, I had written it, but I myself, had not foreseen it. Had my fear of disintegrating innocence within the world around us affected me this much? It would appear so.

Ask yourself this, innocence, do you fear for its existence? There was a time the word would tumble from our lips, continually associated with children, youths, the sublimely unaware. Is that still the case?

Rebecca Reid is the author of the psychological thriller The Coop. You can learn more about Rebecca by visiting her website.

Book Review: Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred

15995128Title: Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F)
Author: Aaron Cooley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via Melnore Press

Imagine for a moment Ian Fleming writing the opening scene of his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Do you ever wonder where he got the inspiration for the world’s most famous spy? Several candidates have been named, but in Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred, the spy who helps a young Fleming is none other than Dušan Popov. Names are changed, Popov becomes Dusan Petrović and Fleming is Ioan Phlegm. Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is a fictionalized account of Ian Fleming’s wartime work, but it’s easy to imagine it really happening.

In Shaken, Not Stirred, a young Ioan is working for the Naval Intelligence and he’s sent to the Congo to find and report back to MI6 the whereabouts of double agent Dusan Petrović. His naiveté is apparent and he stands out like a sore thumb. While Petrović could have easily looked the other way, he takes Ioan under his wing and teaches him how to be a spy. At first Ioan isn’t sure what to make of Petrović and even the reader isn’t sure. Does Petrović have a master plan or does he feel sorry for Ioan? Perhaps this is the nature of a double agent. Together Ioan and Petrović navigate the perils of being agents and Ioan gets a little more than he anticipated. Throughout the novel, we get glimpses of what would eventually become Fleming’s James Bond. Ioan gets a code name and is introduced to gadgets Bond would be happy to use. We’re also introduced to would be Bond Girl, Christine who has a preference for martinis. It’s through Christine, Ioan quickly learns how women play a role in espionage. Petrović tells him, “ ‘ If you take one lesson from me, Phlegm, never forget the number one rule of espionage: Women are a business expense. You allow yourself to expect anything more out of them, you lower your defenses. To a knife in the back.’ ” It’s at this exact moment, a reader can understand Fleming and why women are the “business expense,” in a Bond novel.

I really enjoyed Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred. It’s thoroughly researched and well written. It’s a different take on the life of Ian Fleming. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Fleming himself had experienced everything Cooley writes? Fiction mixes with reality and as I stated, Cooley does a superb job with the research. Several events included are based on true events such as the Heisenberg and Diebner rivalry and it goes hand in hand with Hitler’s pursuit of the bomb. Petrović and several other characters bring up the ‘what if’ Hitler gets the bomb, which is a question a lot of people asked themselves at the time. Cooley kept me on the edge of my seat and afterwards all I could think of was, “thank god Hitler didn’t get there first.” It’s something you’ll be thinking as you read. A note on the spelling used: it is British and might throw off the reader and mistake it for spelling mistakes. Keep in mind Cooley is writing as Fleming and hence the reason for the use of British spelling.

Readers will easily recognize aspects of the Bond novels and films. In fact, if you’ve read Casino Royale or seen the film version, the scene where Bond watches Le Chiffre at the card table is familiar in Shaken, Not Stirred. This time it’s with Ioan and Petrović and a set of cards with Skorzeny and a game of Baccarat. Prior to Ioan joining Petrović and Skorzeny, Petrović sends him a suit and Ioan asks why. Petrović says it’s to seduce Christine and here we can see the birth of the immaculate Bond in his tux. It works well enough for Ioan since Christine waits for him in his room and says, “ ‘Why Ioan. I thought spies were meant to be suave. Deboniar.’
‘I was ill that day at spy school.’ ”

Favorite quote:

‘If you fictionalized my character, I could live a bit longer.’

Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is without a doubt a must read for any James Bond fan. If you’ve wanted to try a spy thriller, this is a good starting point. I eagerly anticipate the next installment.

Spotlight: Author Rebecca Reid

Enter The Coop, a dark and misleading psychological thriller about the destruction of innocence.

A girl, apparently imprisoned in a room, is the thread of mystery running parallel to the tale of Thatchbury village.

Meet Howard and Lilly. They take you on a journey through Thatchbury where Mathew, the child from the coop, shoots Jodie Tiding, and so unravels the history of his loveless raising, her innocence and the dramatic events leading them to disaster.

The Coop is a darkly compelling vision of the layers of consciousness. Although conceived as the first novel in a trilogy, The Coop stands alone as a brilliant individual work of fiction

1a79fe3c65a8e25761ded8bb3df28ed6About Rebecca
Rebecca Reid was withdrawn from school due to illness at fourteen. Being limited in the things she was able to do, she wrote all the time − poetry, stories, feelings, thoughts. At 16 she had her own page in the local weekly newspaper, the Bangor Spectator, in which she covered anything and everything: fashion, beauty, film, teen issues etc. At 17 she became a model, doing catwalk, photographic work, and TV. In 2008 she graduated in English from Queens University, Belfast, and she was awarded an Arts Council writing grant in 2009. Married in 2007, she lives in N. Ireland with her husband and their three daughters. The Coop is her first novel, and part of the Thickets Wood Trilogy.

Connect with Rebecca
Facebook Page
Twitter: thicketswood

Book Review: G. Brailey’s Deathloop

15719024Title: Deathloop
Author: G. Brailey
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Series: No
Rating: 5 out 5
My Copy: Purchased

G. Brailey’s debut novel can be described in one word: brilliant. Deathloop captivates and through a series of twists and turns, it will keep you on the edge of your seat. Zack Fortune is successful, charismatic, and gorgeous. He’s also a bastard of the first order and makes no apologies for it. In fact, he’s the first to agree that he’s one. Sam, his best friend, once said he was a romantic bastard. You know the type, will wine and dine you and in many ways romance you the old fashioned way, then out of nowhere dump you. One night Zack reluctantly agrees to participate in a past life regression and is given clear instructions “no matter what you see do not come out.” His regression is terrifying and nothing goes as planned. Afterwards people begin to die and he has to shake off a persistent series of legal woes. What ensues is beautiful journey of self discovery and about life and death.

There are a lot of complex relationships in Deathloop. Zack’s friendship with Sam is thoroughly explored and the way Sam depends on Zack is heartbreaking. Although Brailey depicts the friendship as one sided, it’s Zack that gives meaning to Sam’s life; it’s clear that Zack needs Sam just as much. Sam is married to Clarissa and even she realizes early on that there’s no coming between Sam and Zack. Some people even suspect there’s more to Sam and Zack’s friendship, which would no doubt make Zack laugh in their faces if he knew what was said. Others believe there’s something between Zack and Clarissa. Then we have Susan, Zack’s ex-girlfriend who doesn’t understand their relationship is over. At times you feel for Susan because she’s the victim of Zack’s callous use and yet you wish someone would sit down with her and give her a good shaking. Brailey also introduces Zack’s new girlfriend, Veronica, and it’s interesting to see how different he is with her versus Susan. Finally we have to make sense of Jason and how he’s connected to Zack. Every person in Deathloop is broken in some way, but isn’t that true of our regular lives? Each and every one of us has a past that makes us who we are and affects our relationships in varying degrees. How often do we ignore the warnings others give us? When we do, do we it do it because it was suppose to be that way?

While we have a lot of characters and subplots, at times I felt didn’t need to know what each secondary character was thinking. In hindsight, I realize they are strategically placed. All characters play a central role and at the end, it all becomes clear. One of the criticisms of Deathloop is “a lot of things happen,” and indeed they do, however; everything Brailey sets up is for a reason. Our journey is to help Zack figure out how he got to this moment in time. It’s difficult to feel any empathy for Zack, and yet you can’t help feel sorry for him now and then. Here is a man use to being in command and when his life begins to spiral out of control, he struggles. Zack attempts on numerous occasions to decipher what is real and what’s imagined. Everyone he speaks to cannot offer any explanation as to why complete strangers are dying exclusively in front of him and most just assume his past drug use has caught up to him. When he does have the opportunity to meet with people who can provide the answers, they don’t. Here is where the plot picks up steam. Do these people fail to give him a way out because they don’t know how to help or are afraid to get involved and mess with what’s preordained?

If I could touch upon one small item to note: there are a lot of Britishisms and if you aren’t familiar with British culture or slang you might feel overwhelmed. Please don’t let this stop you from reading the book or giving up. Go and research the phrase that stumps you. Even if you think you are well versed, you might be caught by surprise.

I’m not going to touch upon the ending for fear of spoiling it, but it left me emotionally drained. It made me question my own beliefs regarding life, death, and even the idea of reincarnation. I also wondered about one’s predestined role (if you believe in that). If Clarissa had not dabbled in past life regression, what would Zack’s destiny be? Was Zack meant to see a past life in order to fulfill his purpose in the present? It’s clear that everyone has a role to play in Deathloop, even the Angel of Death cannot escape what’s predestined. It’s said the only thing we can be guaranteed in life is death and taxes. No matter how rich, famous, or beautiful a person is, we all the share the same ending: death.

Book Review: Rebecca Reid’s The Coop

the-coopTitle: The Coop
Author: Rebecca Reid
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

The Coop is the first book in the Thickets Wood Trilogy and Rebecca Reid’s debut novel is a dazzling array of intrigue. I finished The Coop a little over a week ago and since then have reread it twice. It’s rare that I reread a book shortly after completing it, but her book captivates. Some authors gradually feed us information and we can slowly piece together the threads, but Reid’s different. This book will keep you guessing and at the end, blow your suspicions right out of the water. Nothing is as it seems or is it?

There are six central characters in The Coop. We have Lilly and Howard who take us on journey through Thatchbury and in many ways provide the central storyline regarding Matthew and Jodie. It’s through them we uncover the events surrounding the episode leading up to and after the incident. We also have Thicket Woods; it’s the backdrop to the Coop incident and plays a central role in the lives of Thatchbury village. For in the woods, lies an important tree: a life / death tree where events of the villagers are commemorated. The most important character, however; is a mysterious girl who narrates her own story alongside. Our mysterious girl in is a room and has us questioning, “who is the girl in the room?” I had ideas and each time Reid fed us a little more, the more I realized I was wrong. By the time I got to the ending I was flabbergasted because although one of my original ideas was confirmed, I was also very much wrong. Her story leaves you wanting more and causes you heartache because at times you want Reid to focus on her and her alone, but I realized her story was equally important to that of the rest of the novel. Without her, our journey wouldn’t be complete and although we may question her identity, it’s not necessary to know who she is, but rather how and why.

At the center of the novel is Matthew Cauldwell. As a child he’s abandoned by his mother and left to live with his grandparents. Your heart breaks for him and for the emotional abuse (not to mention physical) he’s had to endure. As a boy growing up, he’s isolated from the village and forced to fend for himself. At one point his grandfather states he thought for sure he’d die of starvation, but our Mattie is fit for survival. His only companions are the chickens his grandparents raise and even the chickens are treated better than he is. Then we have Jodie Tiding, a fourteen year old and a bit mischievous for her age. She becomes friends with a local boy, Pauly, and the two become inseparable. Jodie unwillingly attracts Matthew’s attention. She has no concept of him and Matthew fights his personal demons regarding his interest in Jodie. Late one evening Matthew shoots Jodie and the aftermath is slowly revealed. We see Jodie struggle with the incident and Matthew’s isolation. An emotional roller coaster ensues making you want to reach out to both of them. In the village, gossip surrounds Matthew and the incident while Jodie tries to hide away. Everyone tries to tip toe around the subject, but there’s no going back.

Now you may be wondering what Lilly and Howard have to do with all of this. Howard in many ways becomes an anchor central to both Lilly and Jodie. We don’t know the extent of Howard’s influence on Lilly’s life, although we do see them together, interacting, and living under the same roof. What we have is Lilly surviving with Howard’s help. Howard, however; has his own secrets. As a reader we try to figure out Howard’s intentions and if he’s noble as he appears to be. In many ways he is as he is concerned with Jodie and equally concerned for how Lilly is taking it all (especially after the Coop incident). Reid mentions something about Howard that I’m sure will be addressed in book 2. I hope astute readers will catch it because I want to discuss it.

The Coop is hauntingly beautiful and a page turner. Once you start you won’t want to stop and you’re left speechless at the end. Reid dazzles and I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on book 2 and of course see how this trilogy concludes.

Book Review: Chelsea Cain’s Kill You Twice

12996425Title: Kill You Twice
Author: Chelsea Cain
Genre: Suspense / Thriller
Series: Yes / Book 5 of 5 (as of review posting)
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Chelsea Cain once again delivers! Kill You Twice is the fifth installment in the Sheridan/Lowell serial killer series and honestly I do believe this is the best of the series. If you haven’t read the books start with Heartsick as this really isn’t a stand alone. For that you’d have to read The Night Season (book 4).

Archie Sheridan, detective for the Portland, Oregon police department, is back and this time he has another murder to solve. When a body is found gagged, skinned and tied to a tree he knows this isn’t an ordinary killer he’s looking for. So when Gretchen Lowell, the “Beauty Killer,” calls him with information regarding the latest murder, Archie has to begin to distinguish what the truth is and it leaves us all a little bit shocked. Cain isn’t for the faint of heart and if readers thought book 3, Evil at Heart, was gruesome, Kill You Twice will have you wincing and wishing you hadn’t eaten that burrito before you began to read. Book 5 is perhaps the goriest of the series, however; it’s part of the plot as well as that of the psychopaths Archie has to deal with.

Cain isn’t one of those authors who feeds you character information right off the back. She makes you dig for it and in many ways we become the detectives. Just like Archie we readers aren’t sure what to make of Gretchen and her past. Should we believe what comes out her mouth? Most importantly does Archie believe it?

I won’t go into many details regarding the book for fear of spoilers, but you can read the book blurb here. Kill You Twice is well plotted with fully developed characters. The original gang is back including our favorite snoop / journalist Susan Ward and her hippie mother, Bliss. Cain does introduce a new character where Henry (Archie’s partner) states, “Susan’s going to hate her,” and it begs the question of who is this mysterious neighbor of Archie’s? Is she one of Gretchen’s pawns and if so where does that leave us with Archie?

One of the complaints I keep hearing about with regards to Gretchen is that this can’t be the only serial killer Archie has to deal with. Again I refer readers to Gretchen’s use of apprentices and remember she’s been attributed to many more murders than she took credit for (part of her cat chases mouse routine). It will be interesting to see how Cain develops her series outside Gretchen Lowell, however; I truly believe you can’t have Archie without Gretchen. One of the most important scenes in Kill You Twice is between Susan and Archie and he admits “he’s still not over her.” Readers of the series will know what he is referring to (book 3: Evil at Heart and his grand confession) and in many ways we begin to understand his torture. This is man who was cut open and left with horrible scars on his chest and for the rest of his life he’ll never be free of Gretchen.

Cain leaves us always wanting more, but also asking the question: How much more torture (emotionally and physically) can Archie handle?