“Stormfront” by Carolyn McCray

StormFront (Book 1 in 3rd Cycle of the Betrayed Series)StormFront by Carolyn McCray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stormfront by Carolyn McCray is the latest offering in the Betrayed series. Like the earlier novels featuring Brandt and his team this is a story with a zealous religious cult who want to gain control of an ancient religious artifact. This time it is history’s long sought Noah’s Ark. Added to this are encounters with Middle Eastern groups and even the Chinese.
Fraught with tension McCray once again weaves historical fact with present day politics and weapons holding the reader in a grip of suspense. Joined by Rebecca who has left hers and Brandt’s children at home with Brandt’s mother they follow a winding and dangerous trail in search of the Ark. Aided by a member of the religious group known as the Foremen they seek to solve the mystery of the Ark.
The personal relationships of the team play a larger part in this portion of the series and we see the tender side of Davidson. The sexual tension between Brandt and Rebecca is not as obvious as in earlier books and it fits well since they are parents now.
Traveling through several countries the group even reunites briefly with British agent Vanderwalt in Venice.
This is a creative exploration of the Ark, the search for it, and the secrets it might contain. Riveting and adventurous Stormfront will hold your attention from beginning through the climactic end. As with all of McCray’s Betrayed novels I was left with the question, what if…?

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“Monster of Florence” Douglas Preston

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Monster of Florence” is the first non-fiction book I’ve read by Douglas Preston and it is nothing like his works of fiction. This book covers not only the serial murders that took place in Florence and near by but also examines the political atmosphere that influenced the investigation. While the story is sometimes difficult to follow because of all the suspects involved. The investigation is as compelling as the crimes, the investigators and courts often as diabolical as the criminals. Offering insight into the judicial system of Italy and the corruption hidden within, Preston carries the reader along through dark and dangerous paths. When even Preston and his journalist friend become targets of the courts the tension rises.
While the details of the murders are revealed they are not as important to the plot as one might expect. The point of the tale does not seem to be whether or not the killer is ever apprehended and tried but rather the process used to track the killer or killers down.
This is not a book for readers who want a mystery with a neat solution nor is it a tale that examines the psychology of the murders in any depth. It is more an expose of the Italian, especially the Florentine, criminal justice system. If you can get past the multitude of criminals on both sides of the law it is an interesting read.

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“Bloodstains” by Jeff Mudgett

BloodstainsBloodstains by Jeff Mudgett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Bloodstains” by Jeff Mudgett is a disturbing account of the author’s discovery of his family history. After learning his great-great grandfather was America’s first acknowledged serial killer, H.H.Holmes, Mudgett begins to question what impact that relationship might have on his own life. Holmes, whose real name was Herman Webster Mudgett, confessed to the killings of 27 individuals primarily during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Eventually he was executed for the murders but as Mudgett delves deeper into history he comes to believe the killer may have actually done away with hundreds, some in other countries. At times he was suspected of being Jack the Ripper although this has been largely disproved by the research of other’s. Diaries left by the senior Mudgett tell tales of torture as well as murder drawing Jeff into a downward spiral of horror. He questions if he has inherited the madness that possessed his great-great grandfather.
As he delves more deeply into the mind of the monster he begins to experience epileptic seizures when he refuses to obey the voice in his head which he believes is the voice of H.H. Holmes. Struggling with resisting the orders of the Voice and following his own moral compass he is driven to the brink of disaster.
Although written as factual I experienced a degree of disbelief as I read Mudgett’s story. While the history of Holmes has been recorded in newspapers and other literature there are portions of the story which could only have come from the killer’s own pen. Whatever the truth is the story is compelling and terrifying. This is a fascinating if sometimes difficult story to follow but well worth the read for anyone interested in crime and history.

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“The Girl on the Stairs: The Search for a Missing Witness to the JFK Assassination”

The Girl on the Stairs: The Search for a Missing Witness to the JFK AssassinationThe Girl on the Stairs: The Search for a Missing Witness to the JFK Assassination by Barry Ernest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you were anywhere in the world on November 22, 1963 you were undoubtedly aware of the assassination of President John Kennedy. There have been questions surrounding the event since that day. Was there a single assassin? Where did the shots come from? Were there any witnesses to support the theories that have been presented? Author Barry Ernest offers some answers to these questions in the riveting book “The Girl on the Stairs: The Search for a Missing Witness to the JFK Assassination”.
Ernest himself begins with his acceptance of the official verdict of the Warren Commission; a single shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, fired the 3 shots that killed Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Over a 35 year search for a “missing witness” and intensive research into the event his opinion changed.
Victoria Adams was an employee of the book depository and was on the fourth floor on that fateful day. In fact she was on the stairs where Oswald would have made his escape had he in fact been on the sixth floor. Treated poorly by the Warren Commission she faded into obscurity except for those who actively sought the truth.
Whatever you believe about the assassination of the 35th president of the United States this is an exhaustive search for the truth. His pursuit of Adams and other witnesses as well as his in depth research provides a riveting examination of the assassination and the events surrounding it.

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Mr. Mercedes- Stephen King

Mr. MercedesMr. Mercedes by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes is a frightening trip into the mind of madness. With a taste of Robert Bloch’s Psycho and picking up on the current trend of mass murder King tells a tale that is all too close to reality. The characters are so fully developed you could pass them on the street and nod hello because they are familiar. As the bad guy plots his murderous adventures the good guys team up to discover his identity and stop him before he can kill again. A rather unlikely but easy to like group I found myself rooting for them all the way.
As a crowd of desperate job seekers line up before daylight for a chance at employment a lone Mercedes races across the parking lot flinging bodies out of its path, grinding others beneath its powerful wheels. In moments the dead and injured are sprawled about, their cries and moans filling the air. Who would commit such a horrible crime and why?
Brady Hartfield is his mother’s “honeyboy”. But he is also a very disturbed young man, albeit a very intelligent young man. After stealing the gray Mercedes of a wealthy Olivia Trelawney, Brady drives the heavy vehicle into the crowd of unsuspecting job seekers killing eight people and injuring fifteen more. He then disappears into the pre-dawn light leaving to torn bodies in his wake.
Months later retired police detective Bill Hodges cannot let go of his failure to solve the case. Depressed by his divorce and the emptiness of retirement Hodges spends his days watching TV and contemplating suicide. However a taunting letter from Mr. Mercedes captures his attention and before long he is drawn back into the investigation unofficially and off the grid. As Brady continues to taunt him Bill struggles to put together clues using skills he’d used as a detective. Soon he is joined by others who are also pulled into the search for the killer before more blood is spilled.
King has pulled off a real gritty detective novel with only a few weaknesses. A somewhat unbelievable romance pops up mid-story but in the end it plays out effectively. Mr. Mercedes is well worth reading and King even gets in a nod to son and fellow writer Joe Hill with the mention of one of his characters. Curiously enough even though it is not a “horror” story I did have a sleepless night. Sometimes the real monsters are the ones you just might meet at Best Buy. And that is really scary.

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Godzilla 2014 – Hero or Villain

godzilla poster
I waited until most of the hype had ended and the crowds had thinned before venturing to see the new “Godzilla” film. With the multitude of films coming out this summer the theater was virtually empty this weekend.
There’s a great deal to like about this movie and very little to complain about. While the story bogs down in some spots, it was nice to have a story line to follow. By creatively inserting government secret cover-ups that extend back to the development of the atomic bomb gives the tale a present day conspiracy twist. Following advances in nuclear power there is some propaganda that surreptitiously criticizes the government oversight of facilities and their activities. The understory of the power play between government officials and their financial demands and the sense of responsibility for the safety of the populations is almost subliminal in its application.
Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is in charge of the Janjira nuclear plant outside of Tokyo in Japan. When a disaster strikes the plant despite Brody’s attempt to prevent it the stage is set for the entrance of the M.U.T.O.’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects). Fast forward fifteen years and Brody investigates not only the events of the past but indications there may be a repeat of the earlier catastrophe. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now grown and a soldier who has just returned to his wife and son in San Francisco, is soon drawn into the search for the truth. When they return to the now restricted site in Japan they find there is, in fact, a government cover-up. As the senior Brody searches for his long lost computer discs they are surrounded by soldiers and taken to the secret headquarters where a strange research project is being undertaken. In a dramatic and cataclysmic entrance the first of the M.U.T.O.’s is revealed.
Seismic activity and EMP’s (electromagnetic impulses) warn of more dangers to come. The horrifying creature that has emerged from its cocoon is a cross between a giant flying roach and a chittering metallic prehistoric bug. As M.U.T.O. number one flies off Ford is left to deal both with the death of his father and his desperate attempt to get back to his family in San Francisco. Meanwhile in the city by the bay Mrs. Ford (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde) await his return.
The ensuing action as the armed forces hatch a plan to destroy the M.U.T.O.’s before they can procreate and Godzilla finally rises from the ocean’s depths is sometimes confusing and is the only weak point in the story. The armed forces decide to use the M.U.T.O.’s hunger for radiation to lure them into a trap despite warnings from the scientists who started this in the first place.
It is here where we learn that Godzilla has come from the depths to restore balance by saving the earth from the monsters. Yes, Godzilla is a GOOD monster. This Godzilla is the best looking I’ve seen since the original Godzilla from years ago. Huge, horrible, scaly, and powerful he swims to San Francisco Bay following the male M.U.T.O. as he seeks out his bride to be tracking her via EMP’s she emits to lure him in. In a touching scene we watch as the male courts the female by giving her a radioactive bomb which she lovingly rubs over the glowing red egg sack inside her scaly body.
Enter Godzilla, rising from the bay and ready for battle. As the battle ensues between the M.U.T.O.’s and Godzilla the film shows incredible cgi action, the streets and buildings of San Francisco are reduced to rubble as the monsters fight tooth and nail. The film builds to a climax and suddenly we are rooting for Godzilla. Will Ford Brody be reunited with his family? Will the M.U.T.O.’s be defeated? Will Godzilla destroy San Francisco or will he return to the depths? Director Gareth Edwards has certainly left room for a sequel and that’s something to look forward to.

“Wallflower” by Carolyn McCray

Wallflower (Harbinger Mystery, #2)Wallflower by Carolyn McCray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Wallflower” by Carolyn McCray is definitely not for the squeamish! Once again Kent Harbinger is on the trail of a serial killer accompanied by his detective lover Nicole.
As with the other Harbinger tales, Wallflower tracks the escalating horrors of a serial killer honing his craft. The plot for this story is great but unlike” Plain Jane”, the previous Harbinger thriller, I found the dialogue in this book a little stilted. While I must admit Kent still sounds like the delightfully pretentious guy we expect, Nicole has been somewhat reduced to a teenage minded girlfriend. Admittedly this change fits well with some of the action in the latter part of the story but it is still a little disconcerting to have the once stable Nicole become erratic.
It is nice to see the return of Ruben, Joshua, and the ever annoying medical examiner. The addition of Yvent, the observant Jewish profiler in training, is an interesting touch and I can’t help but wonder if we will see more of him in future books.
Overall this is a good story albeit with some unbelievable plot twists. But it is worth reading especially if you like Harbinger from earlier reads. The story still carries the gritty edge of “Plain Jane” and the end will once again catch you by surprise. At the end I found I was already hoping there would be a follow up so I can see where Kent and Nicole end up next and what other psychos they will come up against.

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Lighting the Way

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Do you know someone who everyone goes to with their problems? Is there a person you know who is always sought out to discuss problems and ask advice of? Are you that person in your circle of family and friends?
I have noticed over the years there are some people, and very few really, who attract others that need advice, help, comfort, or even just reassurance that things are okay. It seems the thing these “helpers” have in common is the ability to listen and intuit exactly what is needed. It isn’t all about hearing what is being said but extends to discerning what isn’t being said. It’s almost as though they have antennae that can pick up signals not knowingly sent. Then they offer comfort, reassurance, advice, and the recipient feels calmer and often reassured enough to make decisions.
I guess the ironic thing about this is these “angels” don’t even realize what they do. It’s as natural to them as breathing. They don’t consciously set out to change the world or make some amazing impact on people. Compassion and empathy are part of their nature as much as the color of their eyes or their gift for music. When I mentioned this amazing “power” to one of these sensitive advisors I was told, “I don’t do anything. I just listen. That’s what I would want if I was in the same situation.” Suggestions, and there are usually more than one or two, are offered quietly. Alternative solutions are delivered in a manner which allows the questioner to make his or her own decision and there are never recriminations if ideas presented are rejected.
Often these listeners are not specifically trained or educated in any field of counseling or therapy but seem to come by the skill naturally. When I suggested to one that he would do well to study one of the mental health fields I was answered with a laugh and the reply, “Oh I could never do anything like that!” Unaware of their special gift they are simply available when approached and seem to shine a light on issues as well as paths to resolving problems. There are no general solutions, identifying names for issues presented, or cookie cutter answers to individual concerns. It’s as though they can see the unique characteristics of every person and respond to that uniqueness.
If you have one of these “angels” in your life you’re lucky. If you are one of these angels, thank you. Of course if you are one you will likely deny it vehemently and say you are just being a good friend, or brush it off as that’s what families do for one another.

Soho Slasher-Jack is Back by McCray & Hopkin

Soho Slasher: Jack Is Back: A Harbinger Crossover Novel to International Hunters, Inc.Soho Slasher: Jack Is Back: A Harbinger Crossover Novel to International Hunters, Inc. by Carolyn McCray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Soho Slasher- Jack is Back by: Carolyn McCray and Ben Hopkin
As an amateur Ripperologist and a fan of the Harbinger series I was thrilled to see this new offering by Carolyn McCray and Ben Hopkin. Kent Harbinger is a world renowned profiler who has been responsible for catching numerous serial killers. While on his honeymoon in London he joins with Kyra Karela head of International Hunters, Inc and New Scotland Yard to solve copycat Jack the Ripper crimes. Determined that the solution lies with solving the original Ripper murders from 1888 and discovering the true identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper, Harbinger sets out to solve the crimes by 11:00 PM. As his new bride, Nicole, explores London Harbinger goes about investigating connections between the past and present. Combining history with fiction McCray and Hopkin weave a tale that will keep the reader up all night in order to learn the conclusion. As Kent and Kyra face challenges and roadblocks Nicole enjoys the sights and sounds of London. Even as the story moves forward the reader is drawn back to the horrors of Victorian England and the gruesome murders of prostitutes on the streets of Whitechapel. Filled with suspense and terror the story builds to a surprising and unique conclusion as Kent, Kyra, and even Nicole face the realization that things are not always what they seem to be. Be prepared for a sleepless night when you read this crossover novel.

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“Plain Jane” – Carolyn McCray

Plain JanePlain Jane by Caroly McCray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn McCray has hit another one out of the park with her Harbinger series. “Plain Jane” is a combination of Sherlock Holmes meets Hannibal Lecter. Beginning with the short story “Anatomy”, the prequel to “Plain Jane” is a must read to truly appreciate the relationships of the characters. The characters are well developed and the interaction between them is so believable it is sometimes hard to accept they aren’t real people.
FBI consultant Kent Harbinger is so sexy and oddly disturbed that I was torn between lusting after him and wanting to run away as fast as I could. McCray has managed to make him dangerously desirable while leaving enough of his physical appearance out of the mix. As for Nicole Usher I alternated feelings of envy and sympathy. While I developed a soft spot for Ruben Torres I just couldn’t muster up the same passion for him that I had for Harbinger. Yet throughout the book part of me rooted for him to solve the crime and get the girl.
The story has more twists and turns than a dark country road and I wanted to keep riding along all night. Each chapter brought a new shock and each shock made me hungry for more. McCray delivered. I was awake until 4:00 AM and even after I finished reading I lay in the dark going over the story in my head.
“Plain Jane” is a brilliant and frightening story that will keep even the most dedicated mystery reader on his toes. It has an amazing surprise ending that left me with my mouth hanging open. While definitely not a tale for the squeamish it is not so gory it grossed me out. Still I don’t think I’ll look at a needle and thread quite the same way. I hope Ms McCray continues the adventures of this group of detectives or I’ll have to re-read “Plain Jane” at least once a month.

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