A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel- Feature and Review


Set in the poorest part of the Missouri Ozarks, in a small town with big secrets, The Familiar Dark opens with a murder. Eve Taggert, desperate with grief over losing her daughter, takes it upon herself to find out the truth about what happened. Eve is no stranger to the dark side of life, having been raised by a hard-edged mother whose lessons Eve tried not to pass on to her own daughter. But Eve may need her mother's cruel brand of strength if she's going to face the reality about her daughter's death and about her own true nature. Her quest for justice takes her from the seedy underbelly of town to the quiet woods and, most frighteningly, back to her mother's trailer for a final lesson.



The Familiar DarkThe Familiar Dark by Amy Engel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel is a 2020 Dutton Books publication.

Best friends, twelve-year-old- Izzy and Junie are murdered at an abandoned playground. The crime rocks the small rural town of Missouri Oaks.

Although local law enforcement has opened a full-scale investigation- with her one ray of sunshine gone- Evie tosses away the veneer she’s been hiding behind for the sake of her daughter and goes full throttle in the search for her daughter’s killer. Even though her brother, Cal, is a member of law-enforcement, Evie doesn’t trust the police, for good reason.

As the urgency increases inside Evie’s mind, she becomes increasingly bold, giving herself over to the darker parts of her psyche she’s been trying to contain, as the shocking truth comes into sharper focus…

Wow. This book, which is hard to put down, is dark, really dark- gritty and intense. I’d say this is not just a mystery, but a character study as well. The rough environment Evie lives in and her less than nurturing upbringing is the exact opposite of what she wanted for her daughter-

Junie still met with a violent end, despite how desperately Evie tried to give her a better childhood than her own.

The story almost plays out like a Greek tragedy-

This book offers little in the way of redemption and justice is not in any way triumphant. By the time I turned the last page, I was nearly numb.

The choices made when women have limited options, is the primary theme of the book. This message might be inexorable and depressing, but it’s also powerful and sobering.



Amy Engel is the author of THE ROANOKE GIRLS and THE BOOK OF IVY series. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. Her next literary thriller, THE FAMILIAR DARK, will be published by Dutton in Spring 2020.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Brat: An 80s Story by Andrew McCarthy- Feature and Review


 Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire, Weekend at Bernie's, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood's Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture. 

In his memoir Brat: An '80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life. Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.



Brat: An '80s StoryBrat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brat: An Eighties Story by Andrew McCarthy is a 2021 Grand Central Publication.

Growin' up, you don't see the writing on the wall
Passin' by, movin' straight ahead, you knew it all
But maybe sometime if you feel the pain
You'll find you're all alone, everything has changed

I was just a little bit outside the targeted audience for some of McCarthy’s films in the 80s- but not by much- so I could still easily relate. Of all the ‘Brats’, McCarthy was my favorite. I thought he was so adorable. I never knew much about him personally, as he wasn’t quite as flamboyant as some of his peers, who knew how to work the system to keep themselves in the public eye as long as possible.

I confess, I haven’t thought of Andrew in a long while- although it does seem he keeps busy, directing, and writing, and works steadily as an actor. When I saw this book at the library, I put a hold on it immediately. I was dying to trip down memory lane, and hopefully, get a little glimpse of what McCarthy was like in his private life.

The first thing you might want to know is that this book is not a full-on memoir- it really does stick, almost exclusively, to the 80s decade. Andrew doesn’t get into his romantic entanglements, etc., but he does share some personal issues, including his complicated relationship with his father, and his struggles with alcohol and anxiety.

The book begins with a very brief outline of his early life and when and how he decided he wanted to be an actor. From there, McCarthy takes us on his journey through awkward auditions, excellent connections, and some pure luck that propelled him to stardom as well as a few odd reminisces, about one or two one-off chance encounters with famous people -Maybe a little 'slice of life' Hollywood style.

Andrew has real talent, but I get the impression that fame was uncomfortable for him- he seems reserved, maybe a little introverted, and didn’t seem to care for the politics, or the some of the sheer shallowness of being a celebrity- but of course, he enjoyed the attention paid him by beautiful women. Ha! (Though he knew his celebrity was a big part of that attention.)

It was nice to revisit the eighties, to get an up-close look at how someone like Andrew, who didn’t grow up in the Hollywood circle, depending on his talent and determination, making an impression on some key people in the industry which helped to establish him as a respected, popular, and skilled young actor.

His stories are funny and witty- told in low-key, self-deprecating tone- at times. Sometimes I thought even Andrew was marveling at some of his unique experiences and by how things clicked into place.

The book also has a bittersweet quality to it, a poignancy that exposes McCarthy’s vulnerabilities, and at times a raw pain he stoically attempts to contain-even now.

This short book is hardly a definitive memoir of McCarthy’s life, but it centers on the area of his life people will be the most curious about- and it did bring back some nice memories, favorite movie quotes and scenes, while a stellar soundtrack runs in the back of my mind...

Overall, this is a very nice memoir-interesting, though a bit mild-mannered. If you liked McCarthy before, you’ll still like him after you read this book- and you might respect him even more.

I need you now like I need you then
You always said we'd meet again…



Andrew McCarthy is a director, an award winning travel writer, and—of course—an actor. He made his professional début at 19 in Class, and has appeared in dozens of films, including such iconic movies as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Then Zero, and cult favorites Weekend At Bernie’s and Mannequin. He chronicles these films and his time as a member of the Brat Pack in his upcoming memoir BRAT: An ‘80s Story .

Andrew has directed nearly a hundred hours of television, including some of today’s biggest hits, including The Blacklist, Grace and Frankie, New Amsterdam, Orange is the New Black, and many others.

For a dozen years Andrew served as an editor-at-large with National Geographic Traveler magazine. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Time, Travel+Leisure, Town & Country, Men’s Journal, Bon Appetit, and many others. He has been named Travel Journalist of the Year by The Society of American Travel Writers, as well as serving as guest editor of the prestigious BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING anthology.

Andrew is the author of a travel memoir, THE LONGEST WAY HOME and a Young Adult novel JUST FLY AWAY — both New York Times bestsellers.

He lives in New York.

Friday, August 27, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Nowhere Child by Christian White - Feature and Review


Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, The Nowhere Child is screenwriter Christian White’s internationally bestselling debut thriller of psychological suspense about a woman uncovering devastating secrets about her family—and her very identity…

Kimberly Leamy is a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-six years earlier, Sammy Went, a two-year old girl vanished from her home in Manson, Kentucky. An American accountant who contacts Kim is convinced she was that child, kidnapped just after her birthday. She cannot believe the woman who raised her, a loving social worker who died of cancer four years ago, crossed international lines to steal a toddler.

On April 3rd, 1990, Jack and Molly Went’s daughter Sammy disappeared from the inside their Kentucky home. Already estranged since the girl’s birth, the couple drifted further apart as time passed. Jack did his best to raise and protect his other daughter and son while Molly found solace in her faith. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal fundamentalist group who handle poisonous snakes as part of their worship, provided that faith. Without Sammy, the Wents eventually fell apart.

Now, with proof that she and Sammy are in fact the same person, Kim travels to America to reunite with a family she never knew she had. And to solve the mystery of her abduction—a mystery that will take her deep into the dark heart of religious fanaticism where she must fight for her life against those determined to save her soul…




The Nowhere ChildThe Nowhere Child by Christian White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Nowhere Child by Christian White is a 2019 Minotaur Books publication.

An unconventional spin on the child kidnapping thriller-

When Kimberly Leamy, a photographer living in Melbourne, Australia is approached by a total stranger claiming she is Sammy Went, the toddler who disappeared twenty-six years ago in Manson, Kentucky, she is highly skeptical. However, she still feels compelled to look through a few old family photos, where, to her dismay, she discovers her baby pictures bear a striking resemblance to Sammy Went. She is then shocked by her stepfather, Dean’s admission that Kim’s mother had secrets she took her grave, secrets he swore never to reveal.

Needing to discover the truth, Kim travels to Kentucky to meet with the family of Sammy Went, where one stunning revelation, or event, after another, leaves her head spinning. Is she really Sammy? Who was the woman who raised her and why did she kidnap Sammy? As Kim searches for answers about her true identity, she stirs up a den of snakes- quite literally-

As I have stated many times, the missing child ‘trope’ is one that has been written many times over, but for some reason, it is always a theme I find absorbing and compelling. I try to imagine what it must be like to live one’s life in that type of limbo, never knowing for sure what happened to your child.

In some novels, centered around kidnappings, a person will come forward claiming they are a long- lost kidnap victim, and sometimes the victim is found years and years later, living under an assumed identity. However, the story usually ends on what is presumed to be a happy ending, with the family reunited and finally receiving long overdue closure.

However, in this case, the story is centered around Kim, the alleged victim, as she copes with the shock of discovering her entire life, up to this point has been a lie. She has another family, in another country. Not only that, Sammy’s disappearance revealed a few shocking family secrets, changing the dynamics of the Went family forever.

While all of this sounds like a heavy family drama, there is a strong undercurrent of suspense, as the specifics of Sammy’s disappearance remain shadowy, with several viable suspects still at large. It would seem everyone involved has a secret, or a hidden resentment, or are under the influence of a strange religious order, one which practices dangerous rituals, including snake handling. It is impossible for Kim/ Sammy to let her guard down, to trust anyone, until the bitter end, when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

Once more the kidnapped child theme held me captive, unable to wrap my head around Sammy’s family dynamic, marveling at Kim’s ability to absorb the unreal circumstances and revelations thrown at her at breakneck speed. The author did a great job of building the suspense at just the right pace and keeping the reader off balance.

This is a unique story, featuring quirky, eccentric characters, and a few truly shivery moments that may make some readers uncomfortable, especially if you have a thing about snakes. I had a few mixed feelings about the way things wrapped up, but overall, I found this to be a very satisfying thriller!






Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He co-created the television series Carnivores, currently in development with Matchbox Pictures and Heyday TV, and co-wrote Relic, a psychological horror feature film to be produced by Carver Films (The Snowtown Murders, Partisan).

Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write full-time, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from his home in Melbourne where he lives with his wife, the filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot. The Nowhere Child is his first book. Christian’s currently working on his second novel, due for publication by Affirm Press in 2019.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY- The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands by Jon Billman- Feature and Review


These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors.

Through Jacob Gray's disappearance in Olympic National Park, and his father Randy Gray who left his life to search for him, we will learn about what happens when someone goes missing. Braided around the core will be the stories of the characters who fill the vacuum created by a vanished human being. We'll meet eccentric bloodhound-handler Duff and R.C., his flagship purebred, who began trailing with the family dog after his brother vanished in the San Gabriel Mountains. And there's Michael Neiger North America's foremost backcountry Search & Rescue expert and self-described "bushman" obsessed with missing persons. And top researcher of persons missing on public wildlands Ex-San Jose, California detective David Paulides who is also one of the world's foremost Bigfoot researchers.

It's a tricky thing to write about missing persons because the story is the absence of someone. A void. The person at the heart of the story is thinner than a smoke ring, invisible as someone else's memory. The bones you dig up are most often metaphorical. While much of the book will embrace memory and faulty memory -- history -- The Cold Vanish is at its core a story of now and tomorrow. Someone will vanish in the wild tomorrow. These are the people who will go looking.



The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's WildlandsThe Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands by Jon Billman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman is a 2020 Grand Central Publication.

It boggles the mind how many people are reported missing on any given day. The stories behind each one is tragic and frustrating.

In this book, the author narrows the group of missing persons down to those who have vanished in wilderness areas- specifically national forest and parks.

These cases are most perplexing. Sure, one could logically presume that someone who disappeared in such an environment got lost, suffered from hypothermia, drowned, or met up with a mountain lion or bear.

But, when search parties, helicopters, and endless attempts to locate the missing fail to find the person- one way or the other- the mystery is not so cut and dried.

While watching an old episode of ‘Disappeared’ on Discovery plus recently, an anguished mother described her life as living somewhere between hell and hope. I think that may be the most apt description of being caged in the relentless trap of 'not knowing'.

The primary focus of this book is the story of Jacob Gray, who disappeared in Olympic National Park and the sheer determination of his father to find out what happened to his son.

Interspersed throughout are shorter stories of other missing persons who vanished in a wilderness location- highlighting once again the sheer volume of people who vanish, seemingly into thin air, and for those who do eventually get answers, it’s seldom a happy ending.

The subject of missing persons is one that bothers me immensely. I can’t imagine someone in my life vanishing, being left in some tortuous limbo, not knowing what happened to them- knowing in some part your brain the truth of the situation, yet unable to give up hope- getting up every single day unable to fully move on with one’s life until the truth is finally known-either way.

This book, without needing to put too fine a point on it, shows just how agonizing that limbo is. People in these situations will grab onto anything- and do mean- ANYTHING- that will give them some peace. People who, before their friend or loved one vanished, weren't given to fancy or conspiracies, will grasp at the ridiculous rather than face the truth.

In reality, several of these cases can be linked back to criminal activities- maybe even a serial killer, or drug deals gone bad, while in other cases, suicide was a possibility, and of course, falling prey to the elements, wild animals, starving or drowning are the most likely and plausible explanations.

I was familiar with one of these cases, having seen it featured on a true crime show several times. While the author seems to have made up his mind about that case- I’m still on the fence about it.

But overall, this is a harrowing, heart wrenching journey for all involved. The terrain is magnificent, brutal, and unforgiving- but beautiful- despite the circumstances.

This compelling read does showcase some criminal elements, but, doesn’t fall into the true crime category, exclusively.

It is more of a portrait of a family’s unrelenting search for a missing loved one once traditional search and rescue missions have ceased. It’s also a story of survival in the elements, man against nature, in a way.

It was also nice to see people willing to give of their time and lend their expertise- or specialized- talents to help find missing persons- especially when the family has opted to continue searching on their own.

This book touches on all the aspects of such an untenable situation- juxtaposing it against the awe and beauty of nature.

It’s a haunting, unsettling book, but at least some families were able to find those elusive answers and are now able to move forward, and hopefully find peace.



Jon Billman is a former wildland firefighter and high school teacher. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Eastern Washington University. He's the author of the story collection When We Were Wolves (Random House, 1999). Billman is a regular contributor to Outside and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope: All-Story. He teaches fiction and journalism at Northern Michigan University in the Upper Peninsula, where he lives with his family in a log cabin along the Chocolay River.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Murder with Orange Pekoe Tea- by Karen Rose Smith - Feature and Review


In Pennsylvania's Amish country, Daisy Swanson is serving hot tea at a fundraiser for a homeless shelter--but tempers are getting heated too...
Daisy's orange pekoe is flowing at a fundraiser--and she's also made a new friend, Piper, a young woman whose hopes for motherhood were dashed by a foul-up at a fertility clinic. But before they can settle into a long conversation, the event is disupted by masked protestors who object to building a shelter in Willow Creek. Among the angry crowd is Eli--who left his Amish community some time ago, with help from a lawyer named Hiram.

It just so happens that Hiram is also representing the fertility clinic in a class-action suit--and soon afterward, he turns up dead, felled by an insulin injection. Daisy can't help but get drawn in, especially since Piper's husband had been pretty steamed at the victim and didn't hide it. She'd love to spend some time with the dog she and her boyfriend have just adopted--but first she 'll be straining to find a killer...


Murder with Orange Pekoe Tea (A Daisy's Tea Garden Mystery #7)Murder with Orange Pekoe Tea by Karen Rose Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Murder with Orange Pekoe Tea by Karen Rose Smith is a 2021 Kensington publication.

While providing refreshments for a Willow Creek homeless shelter fundraiser, Daisy learns of a fertility clinic disaster, which dashed the hopes a young couple hoping depending on it to start a family.

Before she can learn more, masked protesters, who oppose opening the shelter arrive on the scene. One of those involved is Eli, a young man who left his Amish community, with some advice from Hiram, his attorney.

It comes to light that Hiram also represents the fertility clinic in question. When Hiram is found dead, Eli becomes a suspect, as do those hurt by the fertility clinic. Despite Daisy’s reluctance to get involved, she is slowly drawn into the investigation.

Meanwhile, Daisy’s family life is as busy as ever, but at a most satisfying stage- as her relationships seem to have stabilized a little- giving her more time to help others, and apply her detecting skills.

This is one of my favorite cozy mystery series. It is always nice to drop in and see what my old friends have up to, and see how everyone is doing. Often times, I would get more caught up in the family saga than in the mystery, but in this installment the mystery was more front and center- and what a mystery it was!!

Briskly paced, fraught with emotion and tension, the dual threads of Eli, and the fertility clinic, kept me engaged and on my toes at the same time.

I enjoyed how the Amish was prominently featured in the story, and as always, the wonderful teas and food. Once more, my affection for the characters have deepened, which is one of the main draws to this series.

I think the mysteries are becoming more complex as the series progresses, and are as deeply compelling as the lives of the recurring characters.

This is another stellar chapter in this beloved series! Can’t wait for the next one!




Award-winning author Karen Rose Smith was born in Pennsylvania. Although she was an only child, she remembers the bonds of an extended family. Family is a strong theme in her books and she suspects her childhood memories are the reason.

Friday, August 20, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Elmet by Fiona Mozley- Feature and Review


"Mozley is the breakout star of this year's Man Booker Prize longlist. And with good reason: Elmet, with its rugged landscape, violence and high emotion, recalls Wuthering Heightswritten with a wholly new voice.This debut is the start of something big." —Stylist

In this atmospheric and profoundly moving debut, Cathy and Daniel live with their father, John, in the remote woods of Yorkshire, in a house the three of them built themselves. John is a gentle brute of a man, a former enforcer who fights for money when he has to, but who otherwise just wants to be left alone to raise his children. When a local landowner shows up on their doorstep, their precarious existence is threatened, and a series of actions is set in motion that can only end in violence. Steeped in the natural world of northern England, this is a lyrical commentary on the bonds of siblings and fatherhood, and on the meaning of community in the modern world. Elmet marks the launch of a major new voice in literary fiction.




Elmet by Fiona Mozley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elmet by Fiona Mozley is a 2017 Algonquin Books publication.

This debut novel, shortlisted for the coveted Booker Prize, is an absorbing, intense novel of suspense, which draws from the mini-trend of highlighting the lives of those living ‘off grid’, hand to mouth, shunning the traditional life embraced by most people.

Cathy and Daniel live with their father, a prize fighter, in the rural woods of Yorkshire. Cathy is practical, smart, and insightful, while Daniel is a sensitive child who enjoys domestic chores, and art over physical activities and has a more optimistic outlook on life, ignoring harsher realities, if he can. He loves his father, accepts his occasional moodiness, and depends on his sister emotionally.

But, as the story opens, the reader knows that something has happened to upset the family dynamic. As the story progresses, we know that whatever happened, it was catastrophic because this family is close, loyal, and definitely a firm unit, despite their unconventional lifestyle.

This story surprised me. I was mainly curious about it because of its award nominations, and because it was a debut novel on top of that, and because the description of it reminded me of several books I read last year that featured alpha male fathers keeping their children out of school, teaching them to survive in the wilderness, and how to hunt and live off the land, but in those books, the sinister quality comes from within the family unit. However, in this case, the alpha father is making the decision to live away from society to protect his children. So, knowing the threat is coming from outside forces, it won’t take long to figure out where the danger lies, which will give anyone a queasy feeling of unease. I was constantly preparing myself for that crescendo, but I never anticipated the hairpin curve the story would take.

The prose is stunning with strong gothic tones which had me constantly reminding myself I was not reading a historical novel and wondering how the author captured that atmosphere within a setting I wouldn’t have associated with it. There are many themes explored with such a stinging reality, stated harshly and emphatically and unapologetically. Gender roles, class distinctions, and the struggle against poverty is brutally forced onto the pages while the vividly drawn characters spiral towards their unstoppable destinies.

Award nominees and winners often leave me feeling bewildered. I don’t understand, sometimes, what caused a book to stand out within the staid world of literary critics. I end up scratching my head, wondering why the book left me feeling so underwhelmed after it received such high honors. But, in this case, the author and her style of writing made quite an impression on me, and for once, I understood why the book garnered such lavish praise.

Again, this is a book that may not appeal to a broad audience. It is not necessarily the most upbeat novel, but while there is a form of retribution, you don’t want to show up expecting everything all tied up in a nice neat little bow or expecting a warm and fuzzy happily ever after. Despite that, this journey is one I am glad I took. I’d go so far as to say it as powerful as it is unsettling and stayed with me long after I turned the final page. I will certainly keep an eye on this amazing writer!!

4 stars





Fiona Mozley grew up in York and went to King's College, Cambridge, after which she lived in Buenos Aires and London. She is studying for a PhD in medieval history. Elmet is her first novel and it has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

True Crime Thursday- In a Child's Name by Peter Maas- Feature and Review


Tracing events from the Midwestern states of Indiana and Kentucky to the East Coast, the author of such major bestsellers as Serpico and King of the Gypsies has written a dramatic and terrifying book about a charming and successful psychopath and the woman who loved him--and whom he murdered. The custody battle over the couple's infant son makes this true story all the more tragic. 16 pages of photographs.

In a Child's Name: The Legacy of a Mother's MurderIn a Child's Name: The Legacy of a Mother's Murder by Peter Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a Child’s Name by Peter Maas is a 1990 Simon & Schuster publication.

This old true crime case has stuck with me for years. Folks of a certain age might remember a made for TV movie based on this case. The cast was incredible, and while the movie stuck to the facts for the most part, there were some embellishments the book didn’t have, most notably that shocking scene with glowing Luminal.

The book, though, is equally dramatic due to the ghastly details and the riveting courtroom scenes, which detailed Ken’s relationships with his former wives, and the shenanigans he got up to once he was imprisoned.

In some ways, Ken reminded me of Ted Bundy- having some of the same psychopathic tendencies.

For those completely unfamiliar with the case-

Theresa Benigno and Ken Taylor marry, and go off to Acapulco on their honeymoon, where Theresa would be attacked and horribly beaten. The Mexican authorities didn’t buy Ken’s story of intruders in their hotel room. They suspected Ken- and relayed those suspicions to Theresa’s family. Theresa couldn’t remember what happened, but was convinced her new husband would never do such a thing to her.

They returned home, Theresa eventually healed, and soon became pregnant. Five months after the birth of her son, Theresa vanished, although Ken tried to convince people that Theresa had a drug problem and had entered a rehab facility.

Theresa’s sister, Celeste was sure something had happened to Theresa and that Ken knew more than he was telling. When Theresa’s body was found, dumped in a rural area, she has been brutally beaten, with a crushed skull.

Ken, though, had a bombshell of his own- he claimed he caught Theresa sexually abusing their son while high on drugs and confessed to hitting her over the head with a barbell.

The trial was riveting, eventually leading to a thirty- year prison sentence- but what happened next involved the custody of Theresa and Ken’s son. Ken’s parents believed they should get custody, but Celeste, was determined to keep that from happening.

The stunts the grandparents pulled were shocking- but they didn’t count on the spunky, determined, Celeste, a woman Ken dismissed as being scatterbrained, and his intellectual inferior, to hang in there for the long haul, enduring countless disappointments and setbacks before the courts finally made their decision.

The book is hard to read due to the intense, emotional subject matter, but the case is just as riveting and shocking now as it was back in 90s, and when the TV movie aired.

For the record- the Luminol scene in the movie was for dramatic effect only, as Luminol doesn’t really work that way. Still, I remember that scene to this day!!

Overall, I’m glad I found a copy of this book. It is very hard to find. I don’t think it has ever been formatted digitally- so if you happen across it on eBay or at a used bookstore- grab it!!
Also, if interested, YouTube still has some movie clips and actual news footage about this case.


Unfortunately, this book is not available in digital format. It's a hard to find book- but can be found at various prices on eBay, or the Amazon marketplace.  The publisher holding the rights currently is Simon & Schuster- perhaps if there is enough interest they will reissue the book or format it digitally. 


Peter Maas was an American journalist and author. He was born in New York City and attended Duke University.

He was the biographer of Frank Serpico, a New York City Police officer who testified against police corruption. He is also the author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Underboss, about the life and times of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano.

His other notable bestsellers include The Valachi Papers, Manhunt, and In a Child's Name, recipient of the 1991 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime book. The Valachi Papers, which told the story of Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi, is widely considered to be a seminal work, as it spawned an entire genre of books written by or about former Mafiosi.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs - Feature and Review


#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs returns with her twentieth gripping novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, whose examinations, fifteen years apart, of unidentified bodies washed up from the sea may be connected to a deadly new pestilence.

A storm has hit South Carolina, dredging up crimes of the past.

On the way to Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan receives a call from the Charleston coroner. During the storm, a medical waste container has washed up on the beach. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Chillingly, Tempe recognizes many details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec fifteen years earlier. With a growing sense of foreboding, she flies to Montreal to gather evidence and convince her boss Pierre LaManch to reopen the cold case. She also seeks the advice—and comfort—of her longtime beau Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, a storm of a different type gathers force in South Carolina. The citizens of Charleston are struck by a bacterium that, at its worst, can eat human flesh. Thousands panic and test themselves for a rare genetic mutation that may have rendered them vulnerable.

Shockingly, Tempe eventually discovers that not only are the victims in both grisly murder cases related, but that the murders and the disease outbreak also have a common cause…



The Bone Code (Temperance Brennan, #20)The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs is a 2021 Scribner publication.

After a South Carolina hurricane washed up a medical waste container bearing two bodies- Tempe is immediately reminded of a similar case she worked in Quebec.

She and Ryan team up again to discover who the two women were in the container, and the possible connection between the old cases and this new discovery.

This 20th installment in the series is set a little way into the future, where Covid-19 has been contained- although it is still very much in everyone's consciousness. (Don't worry, this story is not about Covid- it is only mentioned in passing a couple of times.)

As a new virus begins to circulate in the Charleston area, though, it looks as though history may be about to repeat itself.

DNA has become an obsession with us- as we rely on it more and more to tell us about health predispositions, use it to solve decade's old crimes, finding long-lost relatives, and so on.

Therefore, it only seems fitting that a series that deals so heavily in forensics would eventually explore the darker side of these advancements, examining the possible dangers of so much knowledge.

At the same time, I found myself cringing a little, because while the story is certainly timely, I have to say, the timing might not have been the best considering our current climate- where tinfoil hats have replaced good old-fashioned common sense.

Despite those concerns, I was happy to play along with Tempe and her hunky fiancé Ryan. I love their banter, and the well -timed humor- and I enjoyed the ironical nature of the story.

The mystery is interesting, and well-paced, perhaps a bit too detailed with the science sometimes- and poor old Birdie the cat really got a workout in this story.

At the end of the day, though, despite the unusual circumstances, and the timely topics, it always seems to boil down to the usual catalyst when it comes to the evil that dwells in the hearts of humanity.

Overall, this installment is thought-provoking, but was a little too 'mad scientist' for me sometimes. It’s a solid mystery, though, and I hope to see another installment in the series soon.



Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte, NC and Montreal, Québec.

Friday, August 13, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews- Feature and Review


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Weekenders comes a delightful new novel about new love, old secrets, and the kind of friendship that transcends generations.When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons Brooke Trappnell to Talisa Island, her 20,000 acre remote barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke, who is an attorney, but Brooke knows that Mrs. Warrick has long been a client of a prestigious Atlanta law firm.

Over a few meetings, the ailing Josephine spins a tale of old friendships, secrets, betrayal and a long-unsolved murder. She tells Brooke she is hiring her for two reasons: to protect her island and legacy from those who would despoil her land, and secondly, to help her make amends with the heirs of the long dead women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club—so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades—Millie, Ruth and Varina. When Josephine dies with her secrets intact, Brooke is charged with contacting Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met.

The High Tide Club is Mary Kay Andrews at her Queen of the Beach Reads best, a compelling and witty tale of romance thwarted, friendships renewed, justice delivered, and true love found.


                                                                      MY REVIEW:

 The High Tide ClubThe High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews is a 2018 St. Martin’s Press publication.

A Southern style beach read-

When ninety-nine- year old Josephine Bettendorf Warrick commissions Brooke Trappnell to gather her old friends from the ‘High Tide Club’ together before she passes away, Brooke is taken aback by her request. Josephine wants to make amends with her old friends and intends to bequeath them her estate on Talisa Island. Brooke is stunned to discover her own grandmother had once been a charter member of Josephine’s club, which could also present a conflict of interest on her part. However, she immediately begins to search for the ladies who will inherit the island, bringing together an eclectic group of women all harboring an explosive secret.

Meanwhile, Brooke asks an old colleague to help with the Josephine’s estate, bringing up a few unrequited feelings, while she also struggles to raise her three- year old son on her own.

Once all the ladies are gathered on the island, mostly descendants of the original High Tide Club, Josephine loosens up enough to begin weaving tale of intrigue and mystery directly involving Brooke’s grandmother.

The revelations continue to pile up, one on top of another as more people come forward claiming to be relatives of Josephine, all wanting a piece of the pie. Is it possible for Brooke to determine who the rightful heirs are? Could a long- ago mystery have any bearing on the case?

Believe it or not, this is my first Mary Kay Andrews novel. I’ve been dying to sample her work for a long time and am so glad I finally took the plunge. I see why this author is so popular and will certainly be adding more of her books to my TBR pile.

I love southern fiction and beach reads and find the two often make a terrific combo. I also love old secrets and mysteries, and especially love it when a group of ladies all work in tandem to get something accomplished.

There is a large cast of characters, which usually causes problems for me, but I didn’t have a bit of trouble keeping up with who was who, and never got confused at any time along the way. The pacing is just a tiny bit slow at times, but I never got bored or tempted to skip ahead. There are some reveals I saw coming, while others completely blindsided me.

While the mystery is quite compelling, it is the friendship and bonding of strong female characters, some quirky, some hard to like, some difficult to figure out, but all united in a common cause, that is what makes this story special. The last few chapters, which wrapped up some personal issues Brooke was dealing with was a little bit rushed through, but the epilogue was simply outstanding!
This is my last ‘beach read’ of the summer. I don’t think I could have chosen a better story than this one to close out my summer reading season.

                                                   GET YOUR COPY HERE:



                                                    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mary Kay Andrews is the pen name of American writer Kathy Hogan Trocheck, based in Atlanta, who has authored a number of best-selling books under the Andrews pen name since 2002.

Trochek graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1976. She worked as a reporter at a number of papers, and spent 11 years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before leaving to write fiction full-time in 1991. She published ten mystery novels under her own name between 1992 and 2000, and switched to the Andrews pen name in 2002 to author Savannah Blues, which marked a change in her style to more Southern-flavored themes.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Family Plot by Megan Collins- Feature and Review


At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse has a lot to learn when it comes to the real world. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has spent the last several years living on her own, but unable to move beyond her past—especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were sixteen.

With her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house she has avoided for years. But as the rest of the Lighthouse family arrives for the memorial, a gruesome discovery is made: buried in the reserved plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Each member of the family handles the revelation in unusual ways. Her brother Charlie pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister Tate forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic façade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.


The Family PlotThe Family Plot by Megan Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Family Plot by Megan Collins is a 2021 Atria Books publication.

The only way out is to never come back….

To say Dahlia Lighthouse had an unconventional childhood is a massive understatement. She and her siblings, including her twin, Andy, were homeschooled by parents obsessed with true crime. Along with geography they were taught about famous serial killers and their victims.

On Dahlia and Andy’s sixteenth birthday, Andy disappeared, leaving behind a cryptic note which implied he had left home… possibly for good. For years Dahlia has stuck close to home while her remaining siblings spread out, just in case Andy ever returned home.

When her father died, Dahlia and her siblings once more gather with their mother in the house they grew up in- only to make a horrifying discovery- one that answers some of their questions about Andy- but raises a plethora of other questions, about the Lighthouse family, their neighbors, local law enforcement, and the infamous serial killer dubbed ‘The Blackburn Killer’….

It is rare that a book leaves me speechless. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. This is an odd- but imaginative thriller- certainly not what one normally encounters when reading mystery/thrillers. Despite that, I thought the story, insane as it was, was curiously addictive. I did pause to wonder if the set up was somewhat tongue in cheek due to the popularity of true crime right now- some of which is fairly extreme- as with True Crime conventions, etc. Still, the Lighthouse family takes it to an all new level of obsession.

I thought the atmosphere was very creepy, and edgy and had a tiny bit of a Gothic tone to it, as well. I’m not sure this one will work for everyone, as it is a little bit out there- but I thought was a unique and when one reads as much crime fiction as I do, that’s always a big selling point for me.

Overall, this turned out to be a surprising page turner for me. It was an easy, quick read for me- in part because it was dark, lurid, and creepy, and hypnotically engrossing. I just couldn’t bring myself to look away…


Megan Collins holds an MFA from Boston University. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University. She is also the managing editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many journals, including Compose, Spillway, Rattle, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Find her online at www.megancollins.com, on Twitter @ImMeganCollins, and on Facebook @megancollinswriter.