Sabina Gabrielli Carrara’s thriller Black Soulswelcomes readers to both Ireland and Italy, but you don’t have to live there to enjoy her dark psychological tale of murder and family intrigue. In Black Souls we follow the charmed life of Lola Owen, a woman of Italian descent living peacefully with her husband and children in Ireland. She believes her mother to be a distant memory, following a traumatic suicide when she was young, and has sequestered her remaining Italian family members to the past as well – only they don’t want to stay forgotten. Lola’s cousin, Giulia, and her aunt, Mara, find themselves at odds with one another over the future of their property, the Kopfler Grand Hotel, a matter which is only compounded by unforeseen events, and both gel into a furious drama full of scorn, revelations, bloodshed, and murder. Lola finds herself knee deep in the family’s internal drama whether she wants it or not, especially when it brings violence to her very quiet Irish life, and resolves with her husband Fergus to travel to her childhood home in Ponte Alto, Italy, and settle matters once and for all.
Expertly paced and full of relatable characters that wouldn’t be out of place in any country, Black Souls puts us on a train ride of thrills, over bumps and twists, to a nail biting and surprising finish.
Washington D.C. happens to be where decisions are made that effect every one of us. It’s where our elected leaders hold court and its where our country first began official business after the Revolutionary War. As such, most Americans make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives to soak in the framework of our day-to-day existence and perhaps come away with a better knowledge of our home country than we had before.
It can also be a rough place if you don’t watch yourself, but hey, that’s any city. Below are five of my picks for the hottest spots in town, each with an array of pics, which you might want to visit on your American pilgrimage.
There are so many D.C. museums that it’s virtually impossible to visit them all in a week. It can take half a day to absorb each one. The National Gallery of Art is high on my list. They have a Leonardo da Vinci after all, and seeing the Genevra de Benci was simply unforgettable. The U.S. Botanic Garden is also a treasure to see, particularly the sinister Devil’s Tongue. But for the pulse of that American heart beat, visit the National Archives to drink in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and other documents that feed our country’s lifeblood. Beat feet to the Capitol Building and take a tour of democracy in action or trek along the outdoor museum that is the National Mall. To feel history tug at your mind and heart, always visit the Holocaust Museum and listen to the lesson it’s begging to teach.
One bummer was the Newseum. As a former reporter, it sat high on my list of places to visit, but it closed for good back in January, which is another scary indicator the war on the freedom of the press is not going the way of free speech. Another thing to remember is no pictures at the National Archives, so there’s only the gift shop to remember viewing those indelible documents.
People read like fiends on the right coast, not that they don’t on the left, but in D.C. people brought books with them into bars. That speaks volumes. I visited three of D.C.’s literary hubs on my trip: East City Book Shop, Solid State Books, and Capitol Hill Books. All cooler than Hell. While there I was sure to pick up books by George Pelecanos, D.C.’s staple crime writer, among other tomes to heft back as carry-on luggage. Capitol Hill also coughed up the Constitution for my library, not to mention a Declaration of Independence from the National Archives, since I’m a nerd and wanted them from the nexus.
Where to begin with the architecture? It’s a trip in and of itself to visit the famous homes, the institutions, the churches, and everything in between. What I found most interesting were the row homes, some of which are jammed between high rises. They’re all over, some nicer in appearance than others, but all insanely expensive said the cab drivers. Also, churches are everywhere. Every. Where. D.C. has its own Chinatown, which is worth a visit, though it is smaller than Los Angeles or San Francisco’s. For a touristy nerd who doesn’t get out much, visual stimulation in architecture literally called out to you from every street corner.
There’s some sexy eating to be had in Washington D.C. from the hot dog sellers on the corners to the finer, cattle cart dining found around the National Mall. I recommend a few places when you pay a visit. First off is Tortino Restaurant. They had the best Italian dishes around. Second, and within a leisurely stroll of Tortino, is Phillips Seafood and Steak. Great steak, great ambience, though it can get a bit noisy, so be ready for the din. For a real D.C. taste, also swing into Po Boy Jim. The joint had great hot sausage, an upstairs bar, and a good time.
There’s a famous scene in the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s book “The Exorcist” in which Father Damien Karras tumbles down seventy-some stairs to his death. Those steps where the scene was filmed can be found in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. For a fan of horror literature, director William Friedkin’s 1973 movie adaptation is a classic, which makes a visit to the Exorcist Steps a must on any vacation to the area. Just be sure to catch your breath since those stairs are steep mothers.
Oddly enough there were no copies of The Exorcist to be found at any of the local book sellers. Coincidence? Well, yeah, probably.
The roaring twenties are upon us. And I am already tired of the Gatsby references. Luckily there are plenty of books to take us away from those things. And there will be some awesome books in the New Year likely to make us forget all about Fitzgerald. Maybe. There were some damn good stories in 2019 and killer short reads that don’t necessarily count as books. This includes S.W. Lauden’s fantastic “Power Pop” novella. The memoir “Resurrections in the Dark” by Janice Blaze Rocke provided a living, breathing tale that’s hard to forget as well. I’d recommend checking both out, not to mention “All the Way Down” by Eric Beetner. I did a terrible job of tracking my reading over the last year. By my estimate I read about 21 books, down from last year’s count, but not bad for a slow page turner like me. Here’s the usual disclaimer – I read these books in 2019, but that doesn’t mean they came out this year. Some did, of course, but I choose my annual favorites from the stack and not by publication date.
Wonton Terrorby Vivien Chien
“Wonton Terror” is the latest installment of Vivien Chien’s wonderful cozy mystery series and pits our series hero Lana Lee against a murderer who knows a thing or two about blowing things up. Lana is nearly killed by a bomb blast in Ohio’s Asian Night Market. While she makes it through with minor injuries, a family friend isn’t so lucky. Lana is determined to know why he was killed. Having discovered Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series just this year, I have endeavored to consume them all. Fun, fast reads, and she’s already got at least two more in the literary pipeline. Visit the Noodle Shop here.
101 by Tom Pitts
Thank God for friends. Young Jerry Bertram finds himself in deadly peril after snatching cash from a biker gang in northern California. When they come gunning for him, his mother steps in to help, enlisting the aid of a pot grower and all-around tough guy Vic. But even their aid may not be enough to kill what’s coming for them. Pitts takes the silencer off the barrel and comes in guns blazing with his latest book. It’s always a thrill to read this guy’s stuff. Take a trip on the 101 here.
Spine of the Dragonby Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson hits one out of the fantasy ball park in his latest book, “Spine of the Dragon.” We’re given some truly creative characters and fantastic fantasy elements, ones readers will be daydreaming about well after turning the last page. Here we meet King Adan Starfall, the disgraced Brava Elliel, King Kollanan, the ancient Wreths; we explore the Commonwealth, and of course wake the dragon! I totally enjoyed this read and look forward to book two in this new series. Grab your sword and read the book here.
Cold Girl by R.M. Greenaway
Talk about creeping dread. That’s what readers can expect when they enter the world of R.M. Greenaway’s “Cold Girl,” the first in her B.C. Blues Crime series. The novel centers on the disappearance of a local musician and the realization she may be in the hands of the notorious Pickup Killer. Called a police procedural, but damn hot for us readers who like chilling scenes and frozen climates in our killer crime fiction. Lay your cold hands on a copy here.
Call Down the Thunderby Dietrich Kalteis
Author Dietrich Kalteis brings reader into the thick of the 1930s Dust Bowl in his 2019 novel “Call Down the Thunder.” In it we meet the tough as leather Sonny Myers, who happens to be a bit down on his luck, and his vibrant wife Clara, who wants a little more than Sonny can offer. Not that anyone else was doing much better in Kansas at the time, anyone except the crooks. Sonny comes to realize this sad fact and decides to help himself to a bit of the loot the same way the crooks do. This is a fantastic historical crime thriller, which takes readers into a desperate chapter of American life, and adds a touch of sweetness only Kalteis can create. Get your thunder on here.
Haunted Monterey County got the star treatment on the latest edition of The ODD Entity Podcast. Thank you to Janine for having me on! I had a great time talking about haunted locales in Monterey, not to mention chatting up spiritual beliefs, Winchester Mystery House, and more.
Be sure to pick up the Holiday 2019 issue of Carmel Magazine, found everywhere along the California Central Coast and abroad. Writer Renee Brincks did a fantastic writeup for the book and it was awesome to be included once again in such an illustrious publication. Can’t find a print copy? Read it online here: https://www.e-digitaleditions.com/i/1182230-cm-sm-ho19-nov/66
There are times when you start reading a book without knowing what to expect. Such was the case with D.E. Night’s young adult (YA) fantasy book, The Crowns of Croswald. It was familiar yet wholly new at the same time – and it turned into an energetic, comfortable reading experience.
This review comes from a writer and reader who rarely dip his toes into the genre. When it comes to fantasy and YA fiction, my experiences primarily orbit Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the Harry Potter series.
It’s the latter I felt largely influenced The Crowns of Croswald and in the beginning those similarities were strong, even for someone who has not read the Harry Potter (HP) adventures for years. I found myself feeling as though I’d been transported back to those days of Hogwarts, to that memorable era when I read the first three HP books to my daughter. And this was not a bad feeling at all.
In fact, the more I read, the more I was engrossed in Night’s tale, told simply and elegantly, and found myself absorbed by it. This is not HP at all, but an original story told in that cozy YA style (imagine HP as a genre), and done quite well. The author’s world-building game is top notch.
The book’s chapters are dotted at the outset with charming illustrations also reminiscent of the small drawings seen at the top of each HP chapter. Only these illustrations are done to enhance the story of Ivy Lovely, a young woman who has no idea how exciting her life is about to become. When we first meet her she’s hidden under a magic-killing screen, little realizing her potential as she toils in Castle Plum’s kitchen ensuring each dragon-cooked meal is as tasty as possible. Her only real friend at this point is the woods dwarf, Rimbrick, who offers her hints to her own destiny, not to mention all the books she can handle. It’s when she’s kicked out of Castle Plum that her life begins to change, particularly when she lands in the magical Halls of Ivy, a school where anything can happen and usually does thanks to the scrivenists – sort of like wizards but here the wands are quills – sort of. At school she befriends the witty Fyn Greeley, gets into a bit of trouble, and more importantly seeks to unlock the mysteries of her past, why she was brought to the school, and deal with the nefarious Dark Queen. More happens, a lot more, but readers will have to discover those gems for themselves.
Another point I enjoyed was the use of the name D.E. Night, which readers of Croswald will discover is a name used in the book itself. Early on, in fact, Rimbrick hands off three books for Ivy to read. Each is written by Derwin Edgar Night. The subtle inclusion of the author into the work reminded me of Doyle’s inclusion of Watson into the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, a trick I can get behind with ease. It’s a great way to supercharge the imagination for readers.
Those looking for a well-paced read in the vein of authors
J.K. Rowling and Patrick Rothfuss (without the adult-level syllabus) look no
further than D.E. Night’s plucky Croswald series, now at two books and
Those looking for all things spooky during the Halloween 2019 season need look no further than the pages of Haunted Monterey County. Local NPR public radio 90.3 KAZU featured the book on Halloween day.