Posted in Reviews

Review: Blessed Be the Wicked by D.A. Bartley

Blessed Be the Wicked (Abish Taylor Mystery #1)Blessed Be the Wicked by D.A. Bartley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoy books that not only have interesting plot, but allow me to learn something as well. We don’t have a ton of Mormons where I live, so I loved that this book not only provided me with a great mystery, but taught me about how the Mormon Church is organized and some of the darker aspects of Mormon history.
Not only was I creeped out, I was intrigued as well.
The book follows Abish (Abbie), who returns to Utah to work as a police detective after the death of her husband. She comes from a devout family, but is no longer a believer, so not only is she adjusting to being a female detective in a “Good ol’ boys” atmosphere, she’s dealing with being an outsider. When a prominent church member is found dead from what appears to be the old, controversial practice of blood atonement, Abbie finds herself knee deep in church politics and, possibly, a killer’s path.
Abbie is a great character, who is dealing with a lot of issues, both professional and personal. I really liked how well she handled herself, especially in some tough situations when I was feeling frustrated for her.
The mystery itself is also very good. There’s a lot of moving parts and I did not guess the solution until the very end – I was even questioning thing along with the characters and wondering what was true and what was just an illusion. The writing and characters were really good and well developed.
I would recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy a good mystery as well as a good story. This looks to be the start of a new series starring Abbie and I look forward to seeing where these characters go in the future.

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Review: A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo

A Gathering of Secrets (Kate Burkholder, #10)A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of the Kate Burkholder series, and as someone from Pennsylvania, a lot of the references are very homey to me. I can’t believe this book is the tenth already!

The series remains nice and fresh in this latest installment, and honestly, I could read ten more. You can read it as a standalone if you’d like, but trust me, you’re going to want to read the others in the series, as well.

FYI: This book deals with themes of sexual assault. If that is triggering for you, I would recommend another book.

Kate is called to a barn fire, where they find the body of a teenage boy trapped inside. By all accounts, he was a poster-perfect Amish boy, so who would want him dead? As Kate digs into the mystery, she realizes that not everything is as it seems, and she begins to discover a much darker side to the wholesome image presented to her by the community.

This mystery was just a really good, straightforward mystery, with a little bit of darkness that begins to seep through as things develop. I really like that about this series: it may seem wholesome and “plain,” but then the dark, gritty details really slip in. Nothing is ever off limits or completely straightforward in this series.

The only thing I didn’t like about this one is that there were a couple connections that the reader is able to make way before Kate does. A couple times she finds a piece of information that you’re immediately like “Ooh! That’s …. !” And she doesn’t get to that point until several chapters later. That took a little edge off some of the reveals. But I wasn’t so disappointed in anything that it took away from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, if you’re not reading this series, you’re missing out. It’s great mysteries wrapped in this really interesting Amish exterior. And this tenth installment continues this amazing series.

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Review:The Cuckoo Wood by M.Sean Coleman

The Cuckoo WoodThe Cuckoo Wood by M.Sean Coleman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was another great atmospheric thriller – filled with the perfect elements to make your spine tingle and keep you begging for more. This is the first in a new series, featuring Alex Ripley and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Ripley is the so-called “Miracle Detective,” who specializes in debunking faith healings and other religious-based phenomenon (think crying statues and healing water wells). She’s called in to the northern Lake District by a good friend to investigate the suicides of local teenage girls – both of whom drowned and had talked of seeing an angel before their deaths. But the investigation is not only complicated by the normal highs and lows of investigations, but by the highly insular community of Kirkland, which is incredibly religious and has shunned the dead girls’ families in the wake of their “sins.” As Ripley makes progress, she finds that the key to discovering what’s happening in the present may be in the community’s past.

The village of Kirkland is really the star of this book, with the small town really being a mystery of its own. I really enjoyed the intensity that the townspeople brought to the story – it was like in horror movies where you know something is drastically wrong, but people keep acting like everything’s just fine.

The ending was pretty good, with most of the major questions being answered – I had some hints as to the ending, but it’s certainly not spoiled or obvious. However, there were a couple things that weren’t very clear; they were heavily implied, but not clearly resolved, and that kind of bothered me. But other than that, I was satisfied.

And there’s a good little twist at the end that made me smile.

This series has the makings to be really intense and I am excited to see where it goes from here. I will definitely be looking out for more from this author.

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Posted in Author Q&As

Author Q&A: Anne Montgomery

9780996390149_p0_v2_s192x300Yesterday, I shared my review of the fabulous book, The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery. Now, we get to hear more details about the book and Anne’s own true experience with the people of Colorado City as well as what she has coming up next!


What inspired you to take on this subject?

The ideas for all of my books come from current events. I am an admitted news junkie and have been reading the newspaper front to back daily for about 40 years. I’ve learned that truth is often far stranger than fiction. Stories about the polygamists in Colorado City are often in the news here in Arizona. I had never heard about the cult until I moved here and was shocked that such a group could exist today in the US. In regard to Rose, the 16-year-old protagonist, I am a teacher in a Title I high school in Phoenix. Many of my students come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds. I am also a foster mom. I have seen what abuse and neglect can do to children first hand.

Many of the non-FLDS characters describe the hostility they face from the residents of Colorado City and at the end of the book, you said you traveled to Colorado City for inspiration and experienced similar treatment. What was that like?

I find it impossible to write stories without actually visiting the locations where my characters live, so I recruited a friend and we drove to Colorado, City. We concocted a story about looking for a place to retire. As we studied the community, children stared at us as if we were monsters. They are told that outsiders are devils. We drove around town, stopping at the the local market, the shuttered public school, the grave yard, and the leader’s palatial estate. I’m pretty sure we were being followed, at times. It was very disconcerting. I’m not afraid of many things, but I have to admit I was uncomfortable while doing research on site and have no desire to go back.

What other research did you do for the book?

As a former reporter, I greatly enjoy digging for a story. I read articles about Colorado City and conducted interviews with people who had lived or worked in the community, including Flora Jessop, who escaped twice from the cult and today works with the Child Protection Project: an anti-child abuse group that helps women and girls escape from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The stories Flora told me were so harrowing that to this day I have not listened to the three-hour recording of our interview session. The images were burned into my brain. I also interviewed Dr. Theodore Tarby who bravely confronted the cult members, asking them to refrain from marrying and reproducing with their close relatives, after he discovered that the cause of the awful birth defects in the community were the result of incest. Unfortunately, Dr. Tarby was ignored.

Many scenes in the book are very emotional and are based on real-life FLDS decrees and beliefs. How did you decide what to include in the book? 

I took into account the stories that Flora Jessop relayed and, when possible, I gave those experiences to Rose. I find it interesting that some readers have been put off by certain scenes and have suggested that I have overplayed the situation. But the vast majority of the information I wrote about came directly from my interviews with Flora and Dr. Tarby. I also included information gleaned from newspaper articles and TV reports.

What do you hope people take away from the book?

Be aware of what’s happening around you and speak up when warranted. Some characters in “The Scent of Rain” are kind, well-meaning people, but they don’t acknowledge what’s happening right under their noses. Mistreatment of people, especially children, is something no one should tolerate, and no belief or religion should be a mask for abuse.

What are you working on next?

Two of my books that were previously published are to be soon to be reissued. “A Light in the Desert” is a soft-thriller involving a Vietnam veteran who is succumbing to a strange form of mental illness called the Jerusalem Syndrome, a pregnant teenager, and the deadly, real-life, cold-case sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert. “Nothing But Echoes” is historical fiction that deals with the discovery of a fabulous tomb in Northern Arizona that reveals a man interred 900 years ago who doesn’t look like the pueblo people who buried him, and which leads to questions about archeological looting, the black market sale of antiquities, and when Europeans first arrived in the Americas. “The Castle,” which tells the story of a female National Park ranger who is a rape survivor and the serial rapist who is stalking her, is currently being offered to publishers.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

First, don’t quit your day job. It’s extremely difficult in the ever-changing of world of publishing to make a living as an author. And remember that authors are not just story tellers. In order to be successful, they must be marketers and bloggers and speakers. Also, an author will not survive without extremely thick skin. Rejections can wear you down, but they are part of the process. When someone says no, politely ask why. Respect the person’s opinion and see what you can do better. Obviously, writers must write. When you finish that perfect novel, take a few breaths then write another one. Publishers are not looking for a one-hit wonder. They want to sign people who produce lots of books. Finally, try not to take the ups and downs of publishing too seriously. If you have a sense of humor and appreciate those baby steps forward, you will be a much happier author.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

Today, I am pleased to share my review for The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery. Tomorrow, I’ll have a Q&A with Ms. Montgomery! Make sure you don’t miss it! 

The Scent of RainThe Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been fascinated by fringe religious groups, including the FLDS, or Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. So when I got the chance to read this book, I was very excited to get started.

This book was hard to read – very hard to read, at points. The subject matter is intense and based on real-life events and people.

But it is so, so important to read and digest. It makes some great points about what people believe, want to believe, and what they’ll do in the name of faith and love. This book has some heroes and some villains, some both. That creates, I think, a really true-to-life dynamic of the working of these communities. Some people are just really, really bad. Some people do bad things and get away with them. And we have to navigate that.

The book follows both the stories of Rose, a young FLDS girl, who feels that something is not right in her community, and Adan, a foster child who runs away from his group home and is discovered by a local man who works closely with the FLDS community. When their journeys intersect, it will change the community forever, if they can stay alive.

I loved the dynamic between Rose and Adan. It wasn’t sappy, overly romantic nonsense. It was really true-to-life for the characters; with her never having seen a boy outside her community and him also fascinated and attracted.

The revelations Trak and Chase had about why they (the community, including themselves) allow the FLDS to operate without interference we’re really good too. I think they made some really important points that we could learn from.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. I think it was believable and really made some amazing points about faith, love and what we can tolerate as a community. If you’re interested in this subject at all, you’ll want to read this book.

Highly recommended.

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Review: Girl on a Wire by Libby Phelps

tGirl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist ChurchGirl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church by Libby Phelps

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always been fascinated by the Westboro Baptist Church – any extreme religious movement, really – and while I read “Banished” by Lauren Drain, we really hadn’t heard too much from members of the Phelps family themselves. The people who were born and bred to build the church.

But that’s changed now with this great memoir by Libby Phelps Alvarez, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, a prominent figure in just about every documentary major protest by the WBC prior to her defection in 2009. She left after being bullied by her fellow church members who were “concerned” about an innocent picture of her and her sister wearing a bikini in a vacation photo. In the book, she shares her memories and analysis of events from before the WBC began its picketing routine up through its protests of major, national tragedies. It’s really a fascinating book.

I think this novel is the best glimpse we have yet into the inner-workings of the church and it’s members. Libby answers pretty much all the burning questions spectators have about the group: Do they really believe what they’re saying? What was Fred Phelps like around the people who were closest to him?

The journal-like writing style is a great way to convey the story, which shows not only Libby’s growth, but the radicalization of the church itself and the brewing storm that continues to this day within it.

There are also so many insights, I think, into other fundamentalist movements out there (I’m looking at you, Duggars!) Phelps describes in plain language how these extreme churches and movements keep control over their adherents. It’s really a very good analysis.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the WBC and it’s inner-workings. It was very brace of Libby to write this book, and I applaud her for everything she’s done to make amends for her years of picketing.

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The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

The Magdalen GirlsThe Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’ve never heard of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, I would suggest googling them before reading this book. The subject is difficult and rage-inducing (to think people could treat each other like that!) but these were indeed true places.

I first heard about the laundries through the movie “The Magdalene Sisters,” which would be a good companion to this book for those who want to learn more. The laundries were places for “fallen women” to go in very Catholic Ireland, where they were treated as prisoners, doing heavy manual labor under the Watch of often cruel nuns, and they could not be released until, generally, a male family member came to retrieve them. Many were only released through death.

“The Magdelen Girls” depicts one of these places, The Sisters of Divine Redemption, in a very real and powerful way. Set in the 1960s, the book follows three girls who find themselves given over to the nuns by their families for various offenses, including “seduction,” and just generally not being useful around the house. Seriously.

The book is a bit depressing because – as in the movie I mentioned – even when the women are rescued – they often feel empty, betrayed, hopeless, etc. Happy endings are few and far between here. And this book is also light on them.

In specific terms, the book also doesn’t add much to the understanding of the places, so I would recommend it mostly for people new to the subject. It’s also pretty unresolved in the end. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but things aren’t completed in the end. As was the case in real life, some of the girls are “out” but some aren’t, and the nuns go unpunished. It just, is.

So, if this is a subject which interests you, I would pick this book up. But if you’re well-versed in the subject, and are looking for more of a detailed account, I would recommend some of the memoirs that are out there.

Either way, I’m glad that the memory of what these women went through isn’t forgotten.

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