My Review of The Amityville Horror…Sort of

I don’t even know where to begin. I fear this may be a long, chaotic mess of thoughts, so please bear with me, or skim, or totally ignore.

I’ve always been fascinated with the occult. The Exorcist (both the book and the movie, RIP Mr. Blatty) scared the hell out of me, pardon the pun. It still does. Every. Single. Time. And I love being scared. I love horror movies, haunted houses, Ouija boards (even though my husband forbids them), and Halloween. I love Halloween so much it’s my wedding anniversary.

My freshman year of college, I was a moron. I had an English Lit class where I had to write a basic research paper on anything I wanted. I chose exorcism. Why? Moron.

Fascination is one thing; belief is another. I didn’t actually believe all this stuff; I just liked reading about it. All my research during that semester long assignment pointed to one book, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin. I was nineteen. This was before the internet and Amazon. I actually had to check books out of physical buildings called libraries. I had to find Hostage to the Devil…and I couldn’t. It had mysteriously vanished from every library within 100 miles of my college. My dad happened to find a copy in some little secondhand bookstore, and when he told the bookseller who it was for and why, the guy actually tried to convince him not to buy it.

But I’m stubborn, and my dad knew, one way or another, I’d find it. He bought it anyway. At the risk of unintentionally reviewing Hostage too, I’ll just say…I kind of wish he would have listened. That book messed me up. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I was on edge. Things happened in my college apartment I couldn’t explain. I managed to turn in an incomplete paper, and my professor took pity on me. He gave me a “B” and told me to get some sleep.

Why am I telling you this? I have absolutely no idea. I guess because it’s been on my mind lately, reading this book, and then yesterday with the death of William Peter Blatty and this oddly timed report on Father Martin.

For at least a decade after that taxing English Lit class, I wouldn’t go near this stuff. But time has a way of minimizing even the most frightening memories, and looking back, I’m convinced I was just sleep deprived and hormonal.

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So here we are. I read Jay Anson’s  Amityville, finally. And not just any old Amityville, but a used battered paperback that looks like it holds its own demons. Was it scary? Not particularly—at least not when compared to The Exorcist. Plus, to be able to read the faded print, I had the room lit up like noon in August. Was it good? Definitely. And for someone interested in the occult, it is, in fact, fascinating. If you look at the reviews, it seems the people who believe the Lutz’s account rate it much higher than the people who don’t. I went into this thinking I’d be impartial; I’d just rate it as a work of fiction and leave it at that. Easier said than done, because the entire way through, I questioned everything. Did this stuff really happen? If they were lying, what was their motive? How do you explain the testimony of respected corroborating witnesses like Father Mancuso and the local police force? It was impossible for me to read this simply as a work of fiction, and to review it, I had to look at it from all angles. The writing, the storytelling. Fact vs. fiction. The phenomenon, the controversy, the legacy. As a whole, it’s kind of brilliant.

Should you read it? If you’re into this kind of stuff? Absolutely! I wanted to go big, thus the creepy looking paperback, but if you really want to be scared…read the e-book version. Alone at night. With the lights out.

Oh, and sweet dreams.

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MY 2016 TOP TEN!

When it comes to books, the harder I cry, the higher I rate…usually. My perfect reads have high angst, high swoon, and high heartbreak, and they also end with an HEA…usually.

I LOVE these books in no particular order. Except for the first one. It’s pretty solid at #1.

Suanne Laqueur’s The Man I Love. This is the book that captured me, but the entire series is pure brilliance. You don’t read this series, you experience it, and if you skip Give Me Your Answer True, you can’t fully appreciate the magic that is The Fish Tales. I know it’s hard to resist jumping ahead to Here to Stay, because technically you can, but don’t. Just trust me on this. My review.

Also from Suanne Laqueur, An Exaltation of Larks. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this one and I devoured it! It’s an epic tale of love and loss told in Laqueur’s wonderfully unique style. Clear your calendar. It’s big and it’s unputdownable. My review.

Full Tilt by Emma Scott. This one killed me, broke my heart into a million pieces, but left me oddly motivated and inspired. Expect a good cleansing cry and some self-reflection. Full Tilt is part of a duet, and you’re going to want to read the second book, All In, immediately following. I apologize in advance…and you’re welcome 😉 My review.

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Wolfsong by TJ Klune. My friend Fabi recommended this one, and I’ve been high on candy canes and pine cones ever since. It’s different from anything I’ve read. It made me feel more than anything I’ve read. Every possible emotion—relief and fear, excitement and dread, joy and agony—all at the same time. Its genius is in its simplicity. And yet, it isn’t simple at all. Confused? I thought so. My review.

One True Loves and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The woman is a one stop sob shop. All of her books are amazeballs. ALL OF THEM. But if you are a TJR virgin, I recommend starting with After I Do or Forever, Interrupted before diving into these. Why? I think Reid took a risk with One True Loves, and from what I’ve seen, readers who start here are less likely to “get her.” And Maybe in Another Life is what I call TJR-Light. Don’t get me wrong, it will still knock the wind out of you, but if you’re considering reading her, you’re probably a masochist too. Start with the hard stuff! My review of One True Loves. My review of Maybe in Another Life.

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I bought Hausfrau on my friend Amy’s recommendation. Then, after her incessant badgering (jk lol), I finally gave in and read the stupid thing. Dear God, what on earth was I waiting for? This book is perfection. My review.

Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino. I read several of her books this year, but Before We Were Strangers was by far my favorite. It’s classic Carlino, riddled with angsty, swoony goodness. This one hurt me in the best of ways. I didn’t really review this one. I wrote this instead.

Amy Harmon’s From Sand and Ash. Originally, I had Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us on this list, but after finishing this one in December, I had some serious thinking to do. Bottom line: From Sand and Ash is perfect just the way it is; I wouldn’t change a single thing, and I can’t say that about It Ends With Us. Plus, it’s like The Thorn Birds set during the Holocaust. “Hello, Robin? Amy Harmon here. I want to write a book for you. What would it take to rip the still-beating heart from your chest? Ralph de Bricassart? Anne Frank? Ok, I think I’ve got something. Stay tuned…”

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Never Stop Falling by Ashley Drew. As with most of my favorites, it’s high angst, high swoon, and it chips away at your heart slowly and steadily. But what sets it apart is the OMG WTF moment that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. The heroine is51U82VevACL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ flawed, which is refreshing, and the hero is one of the best anti-alpha/boy next door heroes I’ve read. It made me laugh as much as it made me cry, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

But, there’s another reason this book is so special to me. It introduced me to its author. Who knew beta reading for some random chick on Goodreads would change MY life? 2016 was a good year for me, and the biggest reason was her. I ❤ you, Scissorhands.

It’s Beginning to “Have to” Look a Lot like Christmas

What a month. Between the never-ending election and my kitchen after Thanksgiving, I’m almost inclined to skip right through December and start fresh with 2017. I doubt I’d miss searching for extension cords and red and green light bulbs. Untangling all those nasty lights I was sure I untangled last year. I wouldn’t miss the calories that’d come from making homemade salted caramel and gingerbread. And the parking. I hate shopping, but the parking? I keep telling my seventeen-year-old she’s not ready for her license, but come Christmas I’m ready to negotiate. “Okay honey, just promise me two things. Don’t kill anyone and drive Mama to the mall.”

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Our daughter’s 1st Christmas with us 2008

But, then there’s the yard that looks like a fairy-tale when the lights are untangled and wrapped around the trees. The boring tan siding that’s suddenly washed in red and green. Homemade salted caramel and gingerbread. And spending a whole day with my daughter without fighting because, well…presents.

Most of my friends have had their trees decorated since the day after Thanksgiving, but we aren’t built that way. It takes me days just to plow through the dishes. Even longer to put away my grandmother’s china, the ceramic turkeys, the plastic gourds. It’s been almost a week and I still haven’t erased the menu from my chalkboard. Why would I? Technically, we’re still having turkey and dressing…leftovers. I’m sure my family is beginning to wonder if I’ll ever cook again.

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At  the Majestic Theater in San Antonio 2008

We must sound so old, but you try throwing a week-long Halloween party followed by Thanksgiving! Last year we were so spent, we paid our daughter and her friend to put up the tree! Then we made plans to leave town for Christmas just to get out of any additional decorating. Funny thing? The closer it got, the more we dreaded leaving. So, the trip was cancelled and with only a few days left, we decked the remaining halls and planned another feast.

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Thanksgiving 2016

This year we’re doing it a little differently. We’re planning to enjoy the Christmas season. The shopping. The decorating. We’re even kind of excited about it. Saturday night we’ll have eggnog and cider and listen to Bing Crosby on the turntable. I won’t complain that Jesus isn’t perfectly centered between Mary and Joseph on the tree. Or that the angel on top is so crooked she looks like she had a few eggnogs herself. We’ll unpack and display the nativities I’ve collected since I was a little girl and laugh at the one with the singing lamb. Within the thickest branches, we’ll hide the “sacred” Christmas egg and (my favorite) the rubber snakes that didn’t manage to get put up after Halloween. Because we’re weird like that. And because it’s our tradition. Our family. Our Christmas.

So, whatever it is you celebrate, even if it’s nothing but the beginning of winter, I hope you enjoy it all month long. Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy December!

XOXO, R.

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My Review of An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur

I have exactly 3 favorite authors. I LOVE them. I LOVE their writing, and I’ll inhale anything they put out there. Anything. If they’ve got old post it notes or shopping lists lying around that t29637128hey want to stick on eBay…sold. I’ve read all of their books, and for the most part, none of them have dipped below 4 stars.

That being said, there is high probability I’m going to love anything new I read from them.

Suanne Laqueur is one of the aforementioned writers, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to read her latest work. The fact that it’s her signature style of writing is going to shoot it into 4-star territory right off the bat. Whether or not the book gains a star, loses a star, or stays still at 4 depends on the story itself as well as the execution. It can go either way, but based on my love of The Fish Tales, it’s unlikely it will drop.

It didn’t.

An Exaltation of Larks is not an epic romance like The Fish Tales, but it is epic. It’s a tragic family saga that’s spans three decades.

From the blurb:
Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11’s, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

Their story is fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, and real. Their relationships are enviable (and at times, smoking hot) and provide a high dose of romance that kept me swooning.

But, what took Larks from four to five stars wasn’t the romance or even the brilliant writing. It was the feelings it evoked in me from the very first page. Filled with beautiful highs and heartbreaking lows, it captivated me. It also disturbed me, charmed me, broke and fixed me. It exalted me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that reading a Suanne Laqueur book is, and will always be, an involved, emotional experience. It’s not a simple pastime. If you pick up one of her books, be prepared to feel everything.

Her storytelling capabilities are genius. Her writing is poetic. Words spill onto her pages in sentences that make my heart clench and swell, and my eyes water.

I loved The Fish Tales. I miss The Fish Tales. But a few chapters into Larks, and I thought, Well, here you are.

Here I am, it whispered back.

6 beautiful stars!

 

My Review of All In by Emma Scott

***This review contains spoilers for Full Tilt***

If you’re on Goodreads and haven’t blocked me from hijacking your feed yet, you may have noticed I’ve spent the last few days beta-reading for Emma Scott. If this had been an ARC, I would have inhaled it in one sitting. As it was, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not reading purely for my enjoyment. Even though I did enjoy it. Immensely.

And that is the magic word folks… “ENJOY.” If you’re reading this, like myself you probably LOVED Full Tilt. You probably had one hell of a book hangover. You probably felt oddly motivated and forever changed. But did you enjoy it? Did it not twist your stomach into a pretzel? Rip your heart to shreds? Did you not throw your kindle at your homemadeEmma Scott dart board even though you knew what was coming? (don’t lie, we all did).

Yeah, OK…maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Full Tilt was a piece of art. It was gut-wrenchingly, heartbreakingly, beautiful.

All In is its perfect counterpart.

The Band-Aid on the wound.

The crème brulee at the end of dinner.

The H. E. A.

If Full Tilt broke you, All In will heal you.

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As always, Emma Scott’s writing is absolutely beautiful. If you follow my reviews, you may have noticed I’ve started DNF’ing more and more lately. That is why. She spoils me with her words. If she wrote a book on the effects of watching paint dry, I’d pre-order it.

One thing I love when it comes to a book series is consistency. All In flows nicely from Full Tilt, even though it is a completely different book with a completely different tone. Both books are bright, colorful, and vibrant—not only in their gorgeous covers, but also on their pages. And just as Las Vegas provided the perfect backdrop for Kacey and Jonah, New Orleans does the same for Kacey and Theo. Its old, deep-south vibe is a nice contrast to the vibrant newness of Las Vegas, yet it somehow maintains a similar feel.

My husband took me to NOLA once. “Let me plan the trip,” he said. “You’ll love it,” he said. We went during Mardi Gras and while waiting for a parade to start, he decided to refill our daiquiris. He crossed the street and disappeared into the crowd. THEN the parade started. Just an FYI, nothing good can come from a stranded husband with two daiquiris. My first NOLA experience was reduced to Bourbon Street and our hotel. Thanks to Emma Scott and her uncanny ability to set a scene, I finally feel like I’ve seen a bit of the city. Just yesterday, my husband promised me a do-over. I handed him All In and told him to use it as a travel guide.

Aside from one notable absence *deep breath, long swallow* all the characters from Full Tilt resurface in All In as well as the addition of a few more, most notably Yvonne, who had me in hysterics more than once. As far as the MC’s, Kacey is still beautifully flawed, but following Jonah’s death, she’s lost her way again. She’s broken and struggling, desperate to numb her pain—falling victim to old habits that, this time around, really have their claws in her. Enter: Theo. Without his POV in Full Tilt, he came off guarded, protective, and somewhat icy, but within the very first pages of All In, you discover so much more about him. He’s loyal and selfless. Honorable. He keeps his promises. As far as book boyfriends go, he’s perfection.

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There was so much to love about this book: Kacey’s affinity for eighties movies, Viv’s magic 8-ball, palm reading, beignets, and the steamiest NON-sex scene I’ve ever read. The romance is off the charts swoon-tastic. I grinned. I giggled. At one point I broke into song.

Because I read this in beta, I was able to shoot anything Ididn’t love back to the source…but there really wasn’t anything.And believe me, I pored over the pages, looking. I pointed out every little thing I could find until I felt stupid for trying so hard. Finally, at about 1am last night/this morning, I realized…if Emma Scott is the standard I compare everything else to, is it really such a shock I can’t find anything to dislike?

All In isn’t dramatic. There’s no unnecessary angst. The relationship isn’t rushed; its progression is natural.

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It is simply a love story. And I loved every perfect word.

Mexico. Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

Erica Lynn and her husband, Billy, joined my family in Cozumel, Mexico. We survived. This is our story.

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Are you familiar with the ever dangerous all-inclusive? Four nights in a tropical paradise–all the food, alcohol, and fun in the sun you can handle? Sounds awesome, right?

BEWARE. It can hurt you.

It was a rainy day in Cozumel when our van pulled up to the resort. We didn’t care. We were greeted by iguanas and flamingos and bartenders.

We were too late for the pool (they close at 6-ish for GOOD reason–although at the time we were somewhat disappointed) so we opted for dinner–which was fantastic, BTW. It was a buffet. A HUGE buffet. You know, I’ve read several reviews online. WTF are people talking about saying the food is whatever? This isn’t the Four Seasons. It was a $600 per person package. ALL INCLUSIVE (flight too). It was awesome! There were french fries! *rolls eyes*

After dinner, these places do some kind of nightly variety show. They’re usually pretty lame and we rarely go, but I’d heard good things and…Orlando. (He’s part of the entertainment staff and he’s very pretty. Right Erica?)

So, when did all-inclusives start doing Cirque Du Soleil? They did some seriously bad ass productions. The first night was horror themed, complete with musical renditions of Thriller, Rocky Horror, Phantom of the Opera, and The Ring.

The second night was The Beatles Show and it was even better. I think I cried through Hey Jude.

The 3rd night…needed some work, but I was told I REALLY enjoyed the 4th night! (I was celebrating my birthday and can’t be too sure). I did see pics, though, so I know I danced. A LOT. With…Orlando (yeah, I deleted those).

And this part really shocked me. The drinks were fantastic. Usually at these places, the beer is skunky, the wine is a no-go, the cocktails are watery, and your choices are limited. This place had Campari. CAMPARI. I was in heaven. But now I’m pretty sure I’m never drinking Campari again.

In addition to eating and drinking everything in sight, we swam with barracuda and stingrays (not on purpose), snorkeled, and shopped for “high quality junk.”

The resort we went to was the Iberostar Cozumel. I’ve been to several (different brands) and this one is hands down the best so far. I can’t vouch for Iberostars in other locations, but I imagine they’re similar. Great drinks, great food, killer entertainment…Orlando. The rooms are so-so, but who cares? Again, not the Four Seasons. This particular beach doesn’t have a “sandy” entrance (it’s rocky), but you can get in at the pier (where it is sandy).

 

Here are some tips if you are considering tackling one of these unassumingly dangerous vacations:

1. Don’t drink ALL of the drinks. Take my word for this, I tried.

2. Eat something leafy and green at least once.

3. French fries should not be consumed four times in one day.

4. Stay away from the Cantina. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t close.

5. Mudslides are yummy.

6. Don’t sleepwalk to the pier at 1 am, strip down to your skivves, and forget to put them back on before walking back to your room.

7. If you happen to do #6, try not to leave your wallet.

8. Don’t put creamy sunblock on wet skin.

9. Tequila is not your friend.

10. And contrary to what you might think after 57 shots of tequila, neither is Orlando.

Thanks for going with me Erica!! I can’t wait for next time!

The Write Drunk, Edit When You Get Home 2016 Summer Writers’ Retreat

After months of waiting with bated breath, I finally got to meet some of my favorite book peeps!  But it didn’t feel like I was “meeting” them. It felt like I’ve known them forever. There was no awkward introductory period; we just fell into the same crazy convos and antics we get into online.

For our first retreat, we had three writers (Erica Lynn, Ashley Drew, and myself), an avid reader (Fabi), a couple of husbands (Erica’s and mine) and a poodle (Alice Malice). Neil Christiansen had to cancel, but he was here in spirit!

We ate a lot. We drank even more. We made margaritas, bloody marys, pina coladas, mojitos, mimosas, micheladas. We taught Ashley about “hair of the dog” and that coozies didn’t go out in the eighties. We talked about books. We talked about hot guys on twitter. We stalked hot guys on twitter. We talked about books some more. We laughed. We floated the river. We slip n’ slide-d. We played table pong and washers.

 

We watched Fabi kick our asses at Cards Against Humanity. We watched distorted eighties porn on the side of the house while listening to “Peter the old British guy” read naughty scenes from our books (Thanks Neil for your contribution!). We had a seafood boil. We had midnight banana splits with Erica’s homemade ice cream. We had theme dinners for Never Stop Falling, In the Shadows, and one of Fabi’s favorite books, Surviving Raine. We turned ribs to sawdust (yeah okay, that was me).

The only thing we didn’t do, oddly enough, was write!

Erica, Ashley, and Fabi…I heart you guys big time! You’re not just some of my favorite book peeps anymore, you’re some of my favorite peeps period. I can’t wait to do this again come winter. Yes, I said winter. There’s no way in hell we’re waiting a whole year, so check your calendars and get back to me!