A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Murder on Wall Street by Victoria Thompson- Feature and Review



Midwife Sarah Brandt Malloy and her detective husband, Frank, must discover who killed a prominent—but despised—society banker before an innocent family is destroyed in Murder on Wall Street, an all-new Gaslight Mystery in the USA Today bestselling series.

Reformed gangster Jack Robinson is working hard to bolster his image in Gilded Age New York City society as he prepares to become a new father. But when Hayden Norcross, the man who nearly ruined his wife, is shot in cold blood, Jack knows the police will soon come knocking on his door. Frank Malloy has to agree—things don’t look good for Jack. But surely a man as unlikeable as Hayden had more than a few enemies. And it’s soon clear that plenty of the upper echelon as well as the denizens of the most squalid areas of the city seem to have hated him.

Sarah and Frank have their work cut out for them. As the daughter of the elite Decker family, Sarah has access to the social circles Hayden frequented, and the more she learns about his horrific treatment of women, the more disturbed she becomes. And as Frank investigates, he finds that Hayden had a host of unsavory habits that may have hastened his demise. But who finally killed him? Sarah and Frank must put the pieces together quickly before time runs out and Jack’s hard-won new life and family are ripped apart.



Murder on Wall Street (Gaslight Mystery, #24)Murder on Wall Street by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Murder on Wall Street by Victoria Thompson is a 2021 Berkley publication.

The former gangster, Jack Robinson, makes an encore appearance in this 24th installment in the Gaslight Mystery series. After marrying Jocelyn, a woman who became pregnant after a sexual assault, Jack discovers that not only will he benefit from her social connections, but he might also really love her.

But, when Jocelyn’s attacker- Hayden Norcross- is murdered- Jack is worried that he could be a suspect, which prompts him to hire Frank to find the real killer….

A terrific installment in this long-running series!!

I was thrilled to see Jack and Jocelyn again and thought the plot highlighted the limited choices of women in this era, as well as delving into the underworld of opium dens and investment banking.

The mystery is solid and kept me guessing until I was deep into the book. I did have some suspicions but was still surprised by the way things turned out.

Naturally, I’ve become attached to the recurring characters and am always happy to touch base with them. The more time I spend with Gino and Maeve, the more I like them- especially Maeve. She’s a real hoot.

The historical elements are, as always, very interesting and well- researched. This book, with a little help from the author’s note, has prompted me to do some further research and reading about investment banking.

Overall, this was a strong addition to the series! I just wish the wait time between installments wasn’t so long! 😁



Edgar® Nominated author Victoria Thompson writes the Edgar and Agatha Award nominated Gaslight Mystery Series, set in turn-of-the-century New York City and featuring midwife Sarah Brandt, and the Sue Grafton Award nominated Counterfeit Lady Series set in early twentieth century New York City and featuring con artist Elizabeth Miles. She also contributed to the award winning writing textbook MANY GENRES/ONE CRAFT. A popular speaker, Victoria teaches in the Seton Hill University master's program in writing popular fiction. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.

"Thompson’s command of period detail and her insight into such issues as the era’s blatant sexism put her in the forefront of historical mystery writers." --Publishers Weekly

“Thompson’s fans have been able to witness her fine ensemble cast grow and mellow through time….The stories continue to be engrossing and rich in historical detail as each illuminates another corner of the metropolis.” – Booklist

"Don't miss City of Lies, an exciting story of intrigue, deception and love --" --Catherine Coulter, Author of Insidious

"Suffragists, socialites, grifters, and goons at the last gasp of the Gilded Age. This is how to start a series! Thompson brings an irresistible heroine onstage, backs her up with a terrific cast of sidekicks, and delivers a rattling good plot. There's rich thread of US history skillfully woven in too. I loved it." --Catriona McPherson, bestselling author of the multi-award-winning Dandy Gilver series.

"Completely captivating! Clever, engaging and romantic, this unlikely suffragette will have you cheering her courage--and eagerly awaiting her next adventure. Loved it."--Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award wining author

Friday, October 29, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Shirley Jackson- A Rather Haunted Life- By Ruth Franklin- Feature and Review

This "historically engaging and pressingly relevant" biography establishes Shirley Jackson as a towering figure in American literature and revives the life and work of a neglected master.

Still known to millions primarily as the author of the "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author of such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror." Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. Franklin’s portrait of Jackson gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman).

The increasingly prescient Jackson emerges as a ferociously talented, determined, and prodigiously creative writer in a time when it was unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession. A mother of four and the wife of the prominent New Yorker critic and academic Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson lived a seemingly bucolic life in the New England town of North Bennington, Vermont. Yet, much like her stories, which channeled the occult while exploring the claustrophobia of marriage and motherhood, Jackson’s creative ascent was haunted by a darker side. As her career progressed, her marriage became more tenuous, her anxiety mounted, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. In sobering detail, Franklin insightfully examines the effects of Jackson’s California upbringing, in the shadow of a hypercritical mother, on her relationship with her husband, juxtaposing Hyman’s infidelities, domineering behavior, and professional jealousy with his unerring admiration for Jackson’s fiction, which he was convinced was among the most brilliant he had ever encountered.

Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson—an exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriage—becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.


MY REVIEW: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a 2016 Liveright publication.

I wonder, when hearing the name Shirley Jackson, which book pops into your mind? ‘The Lottery’ or ‘We Have Always Lived in a Castle’ or ‘The Haunting of Hill House’?

I’d bet most people associate Jackson with Hill House, which is understandable. But, for me, ‘The Lottery’ is the first thing that pops into my mind. Mainly, this is because of a personal experience, that even after all these years, still sticks in my mind.

I was in the fifth grade, the day was cold and rainy, so the teachers kept us indoors, deciding to allow the class to watch a film to keep us occupied. The film we watched was ‘The Lottery’, which was based on Jackson’s short story. This would have been the 1969 version. (This version can be found on YouTube, if you want to see a bit of nostalgia)

I had never heard of it, and if my classmates were being honest, they would have to admit they hadn’t either. I suspect my two teachers, in the progressive school I attended were also rather ignorant of the film’s content, since I can’t, even with the enlightenment our children are apt to possess these days, would have shown that particular film if they had known what to expect. While the film was, and may still be, shown to high school and college students, I don’t know if it was intended for fifth graders. I remember the absolute silence in the classroom when the film ended…

I still remember the shock I felt after the movie ended and recall having a few nightmares too.

Years later, Jackson would grab headlines again with this opening to ‘The Haunting of Hill House’-

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks made neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

That line, is perhaps one of the most chilling opening sequences ever, at least in regards to stories about haunted houses, and the novel solidified Shirley’s reputation and popularity.

However, despite her undeniable and natural talent as a writer, and her ultimate success, both critical and commercial, her private life was by turns happy and content or unhappy and discontent, occasionally all at once.

Shirley and her mother had a rocky relationship, which most likely left her with a predisposition which allowed the same behavior and treatment from her husband, Stanley Hyman to go on from the beginning of their relationship and into their marriage pretty much unchecked.

Shirley’s writing often tackled in an allegorical way, the difficulties of balancing her homemaking role with her desire for a career in writing. The rock and a hard place she often found herself in, was expressed in her stories, which chronicled loneliness, depression, anxiety, fantasy, and longing, showcasing the conflicts and feelings of entrapment and boredom women coped with, especially those who were married.

Shirley’s struggled with her husband’s many infidelities, her strained relationship with her mother, the expectations placed on her, and with her appearance. Shirley had trouble with her weight and was not interested in becoming a fashion plate. Her life was her writing, her books, and her children.

She did try to control her weight, at least on a few occasions, and fought hard against anxiety, and hoped for relief for debilitating headaches. These battles led her doctors to prescribe a myriad of medications, which only added to her health problems and increased her anxiety.

One interesting subject, which was played up by Shirley on occasion, was her interest in witchcraft and the occult. She even learned to read Tarot cards. But, the author stops short of suggesting the interest went beyond that, although Shirley often joked about using witchcraft for one purpose or another.

Still, the author insists most of that was simply something Shirley did to tease and entice, hoping to add a little mystique to her personality… and sell more books, of course.

‘Jackson was interested in witchcraft, she writes, less as a “practical method for influencing the world” than as “a way of embracing and channeling female power at a time when women in America often had little control over their lives.”

In many ways, Shirley is an enigma, a woman ahead of her time, and full of inconsistencies. I could sympathize and relate to her on many points, felt outraged on her behalf, and was amazed by her talent.

This biography is very well researched, organized, and chock full of revealing details and interviews, never published, until now. The author wisely allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what Shirley’s work really meant, and gently points to the parallels between her personal life and the stories she wrote.

There were a few times when the author strayed off course and spent a little too much time with Shirley’s family members, especially with Stanley. Occasionally, I grew impatient with this, and Stanley personally was pretty hard to take, but thankfully, it only happened a couple of times.

There are also a few photographs and includes a comprehensive index at the end. It is obvious Ruth Franklin tackled Shirley’s biography with respect and awe, covering every aspect of her life, giving the reader one of the most intimate portraits of this beloved and often underestimated author. The care and time that went into this book is quite apparent.

While I have enjoyed a couple of pretty decent memoirs lately, this is one of the most fascinating biographies I’ve read in recent memory. Every single moment was interesting, absorbing, and provoked as many emotions as a novel might for its fictional main character.

I have not read all of Shirley Jackson’s novels, but I hope I can find copies of her work, other than the novels she is most famous for. She was a most prolific author and a great talent gone way too soon and it is sad she didn’t live to see her literary contributions gain the measure of respect she was mostly denied in her lifetime.




Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New YorkerHarper’sThe New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi, to which she contributes a regular film column. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix- Feature and Review


Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the '90s about a women's book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.



The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a 2020 Quirk Books publication.

Dark, gross, and creepy, but wildly entertaining and fun!

The book was set in the 1990s, and features Patricia Campbell, housewife, and mother extraordinaire. She’s raising two children, cares for her live- in mother-in-law, while her husband, Carter, tries to make a name for himself as a star psychiatrist.

She’s super busy, but decides to join a book club, only to find she doesn’t have the time to read through the heavy literature she’s assigned.

After a disastrous meeting, Patricia is drawn to a different book club- one that reads trashy true-crime stories. Patricia is far more invested in these dark, lurid tales and gobbles them up with relish, along with her friends, and fellow book club members, Kitty, Maryellen, Grace, and Slick.

But when Patricia becomes the victim of a bizarre incident, that leaves her with a severed earlobe, the circumstances brings a new resident into their midst named James Harris. James is a bit of a charmer, if a bit inept, and has a condition that keeps him indoors during the daylight hours.

But for some reason, the sight of James is quite upsetting to Patricia’s MIL. At first, Patricia is stunned by this reaction, but soon realizes her MIL is holding a dark secret in the dark recesses of her mind… and somehow James is the key that will unlock the mystery.

But when Patricia realizes what is going on with their new arrival, she is met with staunch resistance- especially from the men in the community. As she tries to move past all the trauma, she realizes her children may in danger, she steps up to the plate, ready to take drastic matters to save her kids and her community…

As I have stated in years past, the horror genre is a hard sell for me these days. Instead of making myself immensely unpopular amongst fans of the genre, I will just simply say that I prefer something creepy and atmospheric over disgusting blood and gore- and that seems far and few between these days.

So, usually, when the calendar roles around towards October, I’m relegated to old classics or Stephen King books I read years ago, that may have some gross out stuff in it-but also has a plot- and a little value to the story, and I know what to expect.

I’ve been fortunate this year, in finding a few newer horror novels that fit my criteria. This book got lots of press a year or so back, and I see some valued reviewers gave it positive ratings- so I decided to give it a try.

Well, I must say, this is one of the best newer horror novels I have read in ages!! Yes, it has some passages that made me want to cover my eyes and might give someone nightmares or make some readers feel a little queasy. But those parts are in context with the lore of vampires, and horror novels in general, and to be honest, the gory bits were not as graphic as one might expect, and not at all that gratuitous, in my opinion.

What makes this book so good, is in part due to the 1990s nostalgia, which was super fun, but mostly it’s a homage to the ladies- Patricia in particular, whose character develops in depth and grit as do some of her book club cohorts.

Purists will find a fair amount of traditional vampire lore- such as the vampire requiring an invitation, etc., but it is also a wholly unique set-up.

It could easily have gone into eye-rolling cheesy camp territory- 🧀🧛‍♀️- and its format seems predisposed for such a scenario, but I thought it was very clever, indeed!

Though, it is obvious that not everyone will appreciate his style, I think Grady Hendrix gets it, really. He’s raising the bar on the horror genre, giving a respectful nod to tradition, but avoiding clichĂ©s, which could mean a wider appeal, moving to a more mainstream audience, and a long overdue touch of class.

* I liked both Book Club lists at the end. Marjorie's list did have some good selections. But, of course, Grady's suggested true crime list was of great interest, as well!



New York Times bestselling author Grady Hendrix makes up lies and sells them to people. His novels include HORRORSTÖR about a haunted IKEA, MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM, which is basically "Beaches" meets "The Exorcist", WE SOLD OUR SOULS, a heavy metal horror epic, THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES, and THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP, coming on July 13, 2021. He's also the author of PAPERBACKS FROM HELL, an award-winning history of the horror paperback boom of the Seventies and Eighties. He wrote the screenplay for, MOHAWK, a horror flick about the War of 1812, and SATANIC PANIC about a pizza delivery woman fighting rich Satanists. You can discover more ridiculous facts about him at www.gradyhendrix.com.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Haunting of Ashburn House- by Darcy Coates- Feature and Review


There's something wrong with Ashburn House...
The ancient building has been the subject of rumours for close to a century. Its owner, Edith, refused to let guests inside and rarely visited the nearby town.

Following Edith's death, her sole surviving relative, Adrienne, inherits the property. Adrienne's only possessions are a suitcase of luggage, twenty dollars, and her pet cat. Ashburn House is a lifeline she can't afford to refuse.

Adrienne doesn't believe in ghosts, but it's hard to ignore the unease that grows as she explores her new home. Strange messages have been etched into the wallpaper, an old grave is hidden in the forest behind the house, and eerie portraits in the upstairs hall seem to watch her every movement.

As she uncovers more of the house's secrets, Adrienne begins to believe the whispered rumours about Ashburn may hold more truth than she ever suspected. The building has a bleak and grisly past, and as she chases the threads of a decades-old mystery, Adrienne realises she's become the prey to something deeply unnatural and intensely resentful.

Only one thing is certain: Ashburn's dead are not at rest.



The Haunting of Ashburn HouseThe Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates is a 2016 publication.

Effective and Entertaining

Ashburn House has enjoyed a sinister reputation for nearly a century. When the current owner of the old house dies, her sole heir, Adrienne, inherits the house.

Adrienne is in no position to turn down her inheritance. She has twenty dollars to her name, one suitcase, and her cat. But, holding on to the legendary house becomes a living nightmare when she learns about the Ashburn's horrifying history, and the puzzling mystery that haunts it.

Soon Adrienne is faced with a shocking dilemma as the ghosts of the past refuse to be silenced…

This is my first book by Darcy Coates. I have seen her books listed in the Kindle Unlimited program and noticed she was quite prolific and popular. But, when a relative read one of her books last fall for Halloween and enjoyed it, I decided I would give her a chance someday.

Normally, I reserve my traditional horror reading for Halloween, and even then, it is only to re-read favorites or to read classics I never got around to previously. Newer horror novels are a hard sell for me as so many of them lack atmosphere and rely too heavily on gore and gratuitous violence.

But, I am always a sucker for a good haunted house or ghost story, and due to all the lunacy of 2020, I have dabbled in any and all genres, hoping for something to keep my mind busy and entertained for a while

So, in the height of summer, when daylight lingers past 9 PM, at a time when I am normally engaged in lighter reading, I am instead reading a good old-fashioned horror novel- and what an entertaining ride it was!

The story has a great atmosphere, a terrific backstory and some superficial chills and thrills and suspense. No, this novel is not the in league with some of horror novel heavy weights I usually rely on and am accustomed to. In fact, it could be easily be labeled as ‘horror novel lite' but that suits me just fine- and happened to be what I needed to escape into at the moment.

It’s a quick, absorbing read, and works even without the mood setting chill of a dark, cold winter’s night curled up by the fire listening to what you hope is the wind howling… and not something else…



Darcy is the USA Today Bestselling author of Hunted, The Haunting of Ashburn House, Craven Manor, and more than a dozen horror and suspense titles.

She lives on the Central Coast of Australia with her family, cats, and a garden full of herbs and vegetables.

Darcy loves forests, especially old-growth forests where the trees dwarf anyone who steps between them. Wherever she lives, she tries to have a mountain range close by.

You can hear about her next book by joining her newsletter: www.darcycoates.com/subscribe

Friday, October 22, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Dracul - by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker - Feature and Review


The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula's true origins but Bram Stoker's -- and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here...

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents' Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen -- a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen -- and that the nightmare they've thought long ended is only beginning.



DraculDracul by Dacre Stoker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker is a 2018 Putman publication.

When the very first early reviews for this book started popping up on Goodreads and other book sites, I scrolled right on past it, not even giving it a cursory glance. Of all the genres to choose from, horror is at the bottom of my list, and has been for several decades, with the exceptions of ghost stories or the classics, like Dracula- an all -time favorite, and like many other people, I do have a weakness for Stephen King- although I rarely succumb to temptation.

The title of the book, however, did make me curious. Because if it’s not a ghost story, then I might consider a vampire novel- if the vampire doesn’t sparkle. However, I still wasn’t tempted enough to click on the title for more information. In the meantime, I discovered J.D. Barker and was very impressed by his writing. I mean really, really impressed.

After Dracul was officially published I noticed the book was generating a little buzz. It was nearing Halloween and I was on the hunt for a good creepy tale, so I after months of avoiding the book, I clicked on the title for more information. I could have kicked myself for letting it slip by me.

I only recently realized Dacre Stocker had written a sequel to Dracula. I have not read that one, but will have to check it out someday. If someone is going to write prequels or sequels to such an enduring classic, it is only fitting that the honor should go to a descendant of the author. I also felt relieved by that idea, since I felt that surely Dacre would do it more justice. But it was the second author’s name that popped out at me. J.D. Barker!! THE J.D. Barker? Yes, the author I had raved and ranted about to everyone who would listen, co-authored this book!!

But, still… A Prequel to one of the best horror novels ever? Well, the ratings very favorable, so I decided to throw caution to wind and take the plunge. Besides, who could resist buying a ticket for a J.D. Barker show?

However, because I didn’t bother with it sooner, I had to get into a long, long, long, long line at the library, and it was well past Halloween before I finally got my greedy little hands on a copy.
Was it worth the wait?


So, there are no vampires in Transylvania? No Count Dracula?

Fictions, my friend. The vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman.
– Daniel Malloy and Louis- Interview with the Vampire- by Anne Rice

Well, I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Louis-

Bram Stoker is the main protagonist in this story. It is really his tale to tell, but his siblings are also very involved and are an intricate part of the story. In Bram’s early life, he is confined to his room, weak and sickly and occasionally near death. He is administered to and care for by his beloved Nanna, who keeps him alive through questionable and unusual means. As Bram matures and grows out of his childhood maladies, he and his siblings begin to piece together a terribly troubling and sinister mystery, involving the puzzling deaths of people in a neighboring town, and the possibility they are more involved than they would like to admit. Their own family, perhaps grateful, but also complicit, lived with a certain amount of denial for a long time.

The siblings unravel a lurid and chilling tale, one that pits good against evil, with all those psychological shades of gray, that occasionally leaves the reader with a feeling of understanding in some places, and occasionally, sympathy, even where none should seep through. Yet, the reader is not the only one tempted in this way. The Stoker’s are also accepting of certain truths and make their own compromises.

However, there is still a force out there- a formidable opponent – one Bram must eventually face-

And so, it begins…

Wow, the eerie suggestion that Bram’s masterpiece was not all the ‘vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman’ is enough to leave one sleeping with a cross under your pillow, and maybe a little garlic over your door for good measure.

Just in case…

This book is very creepy and atmospheric. However, it is mostly a historical mystery, albeit a paranormal one. It is the solving of a series of crimes, and the personal ramifications the truth reveals. It does lose much of its initial momentum, however, settling down into a seemingly less eventful, and much slower rhythm. But, upon reflection, this was most likely by design, and was perhaps necessary.

But overall, this is a fascinating piece of fiction. The authors did a very good job with the material they were given exclusive access to, and in weaving such a believable, and quite unsettling, precursor to ‘Dracula’.

The book was worth the wait- most definitely. Although, I didn’t get to read it during October, it is a perfect book to read on any long, dark winter night.

Sweet dreams…





Dacre Stoker, a Canadian citizen and resident of the U.S., is the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker. He is also the godson of H.G. Dacre Stoker, the commander of the AE2 submarine, whose tactics were instrumental in Gallipoli in World War I.

Dacre, who now calls Aiken, South Carolina home, was a member of the Canadian Men's Modern Pentathlon Team, Senior World Championships in 1979 and coach of the Canadian Men's Modern Pentathlon Olympic Team, Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Dacre is married to Jenne Stoker and is the father of two children. He is the Executive Director of the Aiken Land Conservancy.

J.D. BARKER is the internationally best-selling author of Forsaken, a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, and winner of the New Apple Medalist Award. His work has been compared to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris. His 4MK Thrillers, The Fourth Monkey and The Fifth to Die, were released in June 2017 and June 2018 respectively. He has been asked by the Stoker family to coauthor the forthcoming prequel to Dracula due out in fall 2018. His novels have been translated into numerous languages and optioned for both film and television. Barker currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife, Dayna, daughter, Ember, and their two dogs, both of whom sit outside his office door daily, eagerly awaiting his next novel.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Creatures of Passage- by Morowa Yejide - Feature and Review



With echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, YejidĂ©’s novel explores a forgotten quadrant of Washington, DC, and the ghosts that haunt it.

Nephthys Kinwell is a taxi driver of sorts in Washington, DC, ferrying ill-fated passengers in a haunted car: a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk. Endless rides and alcohol help her manage her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris, who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River.

Unknown to Nephthys when the novel opens in 1977, her estranged great-nephew, ten-year-old Dash, is finding himself drawn to the banks of that very same river. It is there that Dash--reeling from having witnessed an act of molestation at his school, but still questioning what and who he saw--has charmed conversations with a mysterious figure he calls the "River Man," who somehow appears each time he goes there.

When Dash arrives unexpectedly at Nephthys's door one day bearing a cryptic note about his unusual conversations with the River Man, Nephthys must face both the family she abandoned and what frightens her most when she looks in the mirror.

Creatures of Passage beautifully threads together the stories of Nephthys, Dash, and others both living and dead. Morowa YejidĂ©'s deeply captivating novel shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans, and reluctant ghosts, and brings together a community intent on saving one young boy in order to reclaim themselves.



Creatures of PassageCreatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide is a 2021 Akashic Books publication.

Nephthys Kinwell drives a haunted 1967 Plymouth. As she sits behind the wheel, the car will be enveloped in fog that allows Nephthys to taxi certain passengers to unique destinations.

Nephthys battles her own alcoholic demons, brought on by the death of her twin, and is recently made worse by her worries for her young grand- nephew, Dash, who talks to a ‘River Man’ no one else can see…

This book arrived in my mailbox just as I was lining up my lighter summer ‘beach’ reads. I tried reading the book twice during the summer, but both times I was unable to give the book the undivided attention it required.

As the temps cooled down, my mood changed accordingly, and I found this book calling to me again- and as they say- the third time was the charm.

The novel is not all that long- but it is a densely plotted novel with multiple threads, timeframe shifts, and a large cast of characters, which can be a little confusing if one isn’t paying close enough attention.

The writing doesn't appear at all cohesive, in the beginning, which added to my initial struggle- but once I grasped the connections, and the pieces began to click into place, I began to fall under the spell of the lush prose, and the building tension, which was mingled with an underlying melancholy.

The story is set in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood during the 70s - but in a re-imagined- world building manner. Those familiar with this area will certainly understand the author’s view- but for those unfamiliar with the neighborhood’s history, the imagery might not have the same impact.

This is a story centered around both the living and the dead. The novel visits, grief and anger, fear and pain, as well as criminal intent and dread.

The story strives for peace, healing, and understanding amid danger and the unknown. The language and various locations, worldly or otherwise, are mythical and entrancing. The atmosphere is often heavy and moody, but there’s a ray of hope for the characters I found myself quite concerned about, and for some there was long awaited peace.

I am still struggling with how to define this book. While surely, due to the supernatural nature of the story, it could be- and has been- categorized as horror- but while the story is scary, tense, and unsettling- this is not horror in the traditional sense-

Unless we put horror in the same frame as magic realism- which is where this book truly lands, in my opinion. It leans towards the spiritual and could fit right into the fantasy genre- but with a crime fiction element.

It's also technically a novel of historical fiction- but with the various shades of symbolism and allegory involved, the story has literary value, as well.

The book portrays America through both a realistic and fantastical lens, with spiritual battles leading the way to physical ones, taking the reader along for an epic, almost heart-stopping climax.

This small book packs a big punch. The author has a huge imagination. The writing, though very unconventional, is well-done. This novel is certainly different from anything else I’ve read in a good long while. I will be keeping my eye on this an author!!



MOROWA YEJIDÉ, a native of Washington, DC, is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Time of the Locust, which was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize, long-listed for the 2015 PEN/Bingham Prize, and a 2015 NAACP Image Award nominee. She lives in the DC area with her husband and three sons. Creatures of Passage is her second novel.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Mary Jane by by Jessica Anya Blau - Feature and Review


"Almost Famous" meets Daisy Jones and the Six in this funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in 1970s Baltimore, caught between her strait-laced family and the progressive family she nannies for—who happen to be secretly hiding a famous rock star and his movie star wife for the summer.

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be. 




Mary JaneMary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau is a 2021 Custom House publication.

Mary Jane, a fourteen-year-old from Baltimore accepts a summer job babysitting five-year old Izzy Cone. Izzy’s father is a psychiatrist who takes on a famous rock star with a serious drug problem.

The famous musician and his actress wife, moves into the home for the entire summer, a home that is already chaotic. Despite the respectable outward appearance, the Cone’s do not keep house, cook healthy meals, or live any sort of conventional life- a far cry from Mary Jane’s home life, where everything is prim and proper, neat and orderly.

If her mother had even the slightest clue how Mary Jane was spending her summer, and with whom, she would never allow her to continue babysitting. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is having the time of her life. She takes care of Izzy, and the entire household. She shops, cooks, straightens the house, and listens to everyone’s problems… some very adult problems- and comes to realize how important it is to have some structure in one's life.

But, as the summer progresses, she also realizes that love, expressing your feelings, and spending time for your loved ones- is equally important- which is something that is missing from her own home.

Her education, and awakening promises a break in the chain from her super conservative… and racist parents, and a future where Mary Jane steps outside the sheltered confines of her current life, and into the world, with a better understanding of how to blend the best of both environments she lived through during the summer of 1975.

Mary Jane takes her usual stability and expands it- coming to a better understanding of others around her, but most importantly an understanding of who she is, deep down, what kind of person she wants to become- learning to think independently, while learning from her own personal experiences.

This is such a quirky, offbeat tale, but I would imagine that most people will turn the last page feeling utterly delighted with our wonderful, wonderful, wonderful protagonist- Mary Jane.

This young woman was such a pleasure and her character, along with little Izzy, is what makes this story work.

I do have one slightly preachy concern- due to the attitudes of Mary Jane’s parents, it is easier to judge them more harshly than the Cone’s.

But, before you pick on side over the other- remember the Cone’s were neglectful parents, lived in filth, and had frank sexual conversations in front of the fourteen-year-old babysitter, for heaven's sake!

Yes, I know, what you are thinking, and no, I didn’t miss the point of the story. I just felt that, as ugly as the racism is, two wrongs don't make a right, it doesn’t justify or redeem the Cone’s lifestyle or behavior.

I also don't think we should give the celebrities a pass either- just because they are famous.

Neither side was ideal- but one side was presented as being a better situation for Mary Jane and the reader is expected to embrace that concept as well. Both sides were unhealthy, in my opinion, and that’s part of the lesson Mary Jane learned, and it’s a lesson that will serve her well.

I couldn’t have been prouder of Mary Jane- she handles herself beautifully. If only the adults in her life had a small portion of her intelligence and grace, and could open their hearts half as wide…

Overall, a super wacky coming of age story geared toward adults- (beware the YA label)- that captures the odd juxtapositions of the seventies.

Despite some uncomfortable topics, Izzy and Mary Jane will charm your socks off!!



THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER, Jessica Anya Blau's third novel, was featured on NPR's All Things Considered as a Thrilling Summer Read. Oprah.com's book club picked THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER as a Thrilling Beach Read. CNN featured THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER as a Best Beach Read.

Jessica Anya Blau's second novel, DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME, was featured in Target stores Breakout Author series. Novelist Irina Reyn calls it, "Unrelentingly, sidesplittingly funny." The Austin Chronicle says that, "The domestic relationships in the book are brilliantly rendered, a contemporary California version of Philip Roth." Author Dylan Landis says the book is, "So raw and funny I wanted to read parts aloud to strangers."

Thursday, October 14, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - by Robert Louis Stevenson- Feature and Review



"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" Stevenson's famous exploration of humanity's basest capacity for evil, has become synonymous with the idea of a split personality. More than a moral tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives. Also in this volume are "The Body Snatcher," which charts the murky underside of Victorian medical practice, and "Olalla," a tale of vampirism and "The Beast Within" which features a beautiful woman at its center.

This new edition features a critical introduction, chronology, suggestions for further reading, explanatory notes, and appendixes, including an abridged extract from "A Chapter on Dreams" and an essay on the scientific context of Jekyll and Hyde.



The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of TerrorThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is an 1886 publication.

What a strange case, indeed!

This classic tale of horror is one that, of all the old movies, like Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein and all their various incarnations, I watched repeatedly growing up, I just didn’t really care for all that much. I did, later in life, watch a movie version of this tale starring Spencer Tracey, and an all- star cast, which was petty good.

Still, when it came to reading the book, unless it was a classroom assignment, I don’t think I ever volunteered read it, and if I did read it somewhere back there, I honestly couldn’t recall it, which is why I decided to select it for my classic horror Halloween read, this year.

Everyone knows the setup for this short story. A scientist, Dr. Jekyll, is resentful of having to repress the darker side of his nature and happens across a solution- one that allows him to express this side of himself by becoming, through the aid of ‘medication’, Mr. Hyde.

People who encounter this Mr. Hyde is put off by him, and do not understand his hold over the respectable and well-liked, Dr. Jekyll.

As the good doctor proceeds with his experiments, he discovers he is almost addicted to his alter ego- who is gradually becoming the dominant personality and becoming more and more dangerous with each passing day.

This is one horror/sci-fi story, one could find all manner of allegory, making it one of the more thought-provoking tales of this genre.

My mind went to the duality of people who often present one face in public, hiding their baser inclinations, exposing false morality, and hypocrisy.

Other themes are centered around the Victorian era itself, and some of the current political climate- a less obvious theme, in my opinion, but not to be dismissed.

Naturally, one could also go with the classic good vs evil trope-or even a more profound nod at spiritual warfare- as the good side of ourselves continually does battle with the dark side, and the fear that our darker impulses will win out in the end.

Bottom line- All these possible themes make sense, and they each give readers a great deal to chew on, so that the book is not just a horror novel, but a classic in many other ways as well.

Overall, I’m pleased I chose this novella to read this year. I’d considered it many times in the past, but always vowed to read it ‘next’ year. Now, I wish I had not waited so long!!



Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh.

Raised in the bosom of a wealthy family, his father was an engineer, he studied at the university in his hometown. From his childhood he had a penchant for literature. Influenced by Sir Walter Scott's narrative, many of his stories are set in the Middle Ages, although perhaps the Pacific is the literary space that he most successfully explored. Suffering from tuberculosis, he was forced to travel continuously in search of climates appropriate to his delicate state of health. His first published writings are descriptions of some of these trips. Thus, "Inland Trip" (1878) tells of a canoe trip through France and Belgium that he had made in 1876, and "Donkey trips through the Cevannes" (1879) the vicissitudes of a trip on foot through the mountains of the south of France, in 1878. One of his later trips took him, on an emigrant ship, to California (1879-1880), where, in 1880, he married the American divorcee Fanny Osbourne. Another of them consisted of a pleasure cruise through the South Pacific (1889) to the Samoa Islands,

where he and his wife remained until 1894, in a last effort to regain the writer's health. The natives gave him the name Tusitala ('the one who tells stories'). There he died at the end of that same year, died at the age of 44 of a brain hemorrhage on December 3, and was buried on top of a mountain, near Valima, his Samoan home. He wrote at least three masterpieces: "Treasure Island," "The Black Arrow," and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." In two of them he created two characters that have passed into the gallery of archetypes of European literature: Long John Silver, the cunning pirate in whose dark plans there is always a drop of humanity that ends up winning the hearts of readers; and Dr. Jekyll,

His novels include "David Balfour and Weirde" (1886), "The Black Arrow" (1888) and "The Lord of Ballantree" (1889). The unfinished "Weir of Herminston" (1896) is considered his masterpiece, as the fragments that are preserved contain some of the most beautiful passages he wrote.