Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Twilight (Twilight, #1)Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I surprised myself... I actually liked TWILIGHT more than I thought I was going to... in spite of its numerous grammatical faux pas.  Or, perhaps, because of?

I do have to remind myself that TWILIGHT is written for the young adult demographic and the level of... how shall I say this... sophistication and technical writing is appropriate for that audience.

TWILIGHT is addictive... I will give the author that.  Having now written four books in her vampire/werewolf series, Stephenie Meyer seems to have found a formula that works... a simple story line... simple, if rather 'un-complex' characters... and a somewhat blurred line between good and evil.  Nothing too deep that the average reader would get mired in.

Her treatment of the vampyre is a bit predictable, but then... I don't suppose she has had much experience with them to have any real understanding.  I find it odd though, that having given the Cullen clan a degree of humanity, the author refers to them as less than human... I refuse to refer to a vampyre as a 'creature'!

I am now just a bit more than half through with the second book in the series, and likely will finish all four... unless the author 'runs out of steam' between the second and fourth books.

I can't in good conscience give TWILIGHT more than three stars... some might say that was being generous, but I honestly did like the book.  I just can't get past the predictable and rather formulaic story line.  And, I do think some of the writing is a bit sub-par, even for a young audience.

Veronica Marie Lewis Shaw
Portland, Oregon
28 December 2011

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Apostle RisingApostle Rising by Richard Godwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Noir/Horror has a new ‘master’… his name is Richard Godwin.

Having been introduced to Richard’s dark telling of the depravity the human soul is capable of in his Pony Equus stories in Pulp Metal Magazine, I thought I was prepared for Apostle Rising… oh, foolish girl!

The third night in, reading Apostle Rising, I awoke in that sinister, slivery hour between midnight and pre-dawn… from a horrible nightmare… heart pounding in my chest, body drenched in sweat and a scream threatening to spill over my lips… an itching between my shoulder blades and the image of a dark, silvery blade dripping with blood locked in my brain.  Oh… my… god!

Yes… Apostle Rising is THAT good!

Apostle Rising is a police procedural/psychological thriller of the first order… dark, twisted and suspenseful. Richard gives nothing away in his narrative… no red herrings… no leading one down the garden path.  From the very first page, one knows this is not going to be a pretty ride.   Richard’s writing has a dark, sinister feel that, for fans of crime/horror, is irresistible to put down and impossible to ignore.   His rich, dark, imaginative prose draws one in much like one of those water vortices in the northern Atlantic… undeniably powerful and compelling.

Ahh… but we were talking about a novel, not water phenomena, weren’t we?

More than a quarter century previous, Detective Chief Inspector Frank Castle of the Metropolitan police was unable to mark ‘closed’ to the Woodlands Killer case; a case which almost destroyed Castle’s career and left him with deep psychological scars.

The ghosts of those long unsolved murders from decades past still haunt Frank, and now with what appears to be a copycat killer on the loose, DCI Castle, along with his new partner, DI Jacki Stone, is once again drawn into a madman’s dark desires and lusts.

I am trying to be careful here, and not reveal too much, so… this might be a good place to add a SPOILER ALERT!  Proceed at your own risk… you have been warned!

As the body count mounts, Castle and Stone become enmeshed in a nightmare that may very well end both their careers, as well as Jacki’s marriage.   At times, Frank seems either unaware or unable (or, unwilling?) to escape the monster’s(s) influence, so blind has he become in his singular quest to bring a killer to justice and redeem himself.

Castle’s ‘custom’ with the ‘ladies of the night’ reveals not only the frailty of his psyche, but also his determination to see justice… at whatever cost!

Will Frank become the monster he seeks to destroy?  That is a question the reader is forced to ask themselves, as we watch helplessly, the dark metamorphosis of a once proud and honourable man.  DCI Castle seems only too willing to cross the line between good and evil in a desperate attempt to stop a madman.

One wants (perhaps, though… this is only me)… feels the need to… to put the book down occasionally… if only to give their mind a brief respite from the tension… the dark horror… the mesmerizing litany of the mysterious Order’s perverted agenda… the stark look into the mind of a killer(s) so lost in his (?) own twisted, evil psychosis that one feels a shiver of fear run down their spine, and wonders… not for the first time, perhaps… if they remembered to set the dead-bolt.

The dark-haired girl tried to run… escape… but the air surrounding her was thick… it had a weight that pulled her down…

Oops!  Sorry… little flashback to that nightmare I had earlier (shudder).

Too often in reviews, comparisons between authors come out sounding trite or forced… I tend to stay away from them myself, unless…

Apostle Rising is how [Stephen] King would write if he did noir… the relentless, escalating horror of Richard’s deftly written prose leaves one on the edge… breathless… having serious second thoughts perhaps, about taking that evening walk unaccompanied.

Engrossing, beautifully written horror… with the technical detail of a first class police procedural, Apostle Rising is a ‘must-read’ for any fan of crime fiction or horror.

A final thought on Richard Godwin’s debut novel -

I have read countless books, seen countless movies… the ‘monsters’ in those pale in comparison to the walking evil in Apostle Rising.

Thank you,

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Portland, Oregon
26 December 2011

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret LifeWhip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life by Melissa Febos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(There may be a spoiler or two in here – don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Firstly, let me say that I found Melissa Febos’ WHIP SMART to be extremely well-written and knowledgeable… this is truly an unforgettable read.   With only an occasional discordant note, Ms Febos' narrative has a ring of truth that makes WHIP SMART a compelling, thought-provoking, and compassionate telling of human frailty… of human need… of human imperfection.  I recommend this book without hesitation.

The discordant note(s)? The imperfections which led me to upgrade my rating of the book?

The back cover of WHIP SMART reads (paraphrasing) – “Whip Smart is the story of Melissa’s journey into a shocking double life [as a college student and a professional dominatrix]. And she spares no one – clients, co-workers, herself…”

Oh, but wait a minute.  It seems Ms. Febos does spare herself… to a degree.  In characterizing her ‘work’ in the mid-town sex dungeons as ‘a professional dominatrix’, Melissa is less than honest with herself… and her readers.  And, disappointingly, she does not correct this misperception.

This was really my only objection with the book.  Well, there is one other thing, but it is really more of an observation than an objection with the story Melissa tells… and tells quite well, I might add.

All through the book, I waited for Melissa to have her ‘epiphany’.   Either the epiphany never came, or she chose not to share it with her readers.

I do not doubt for a moment that everything that Ms. Febos wrote about is true... I am nonetheless disappointed that she is not being as honest with herself as I would have expected in a ‘tell-all memoir’.   I don’t know - I have a suspicion - if this is deliberate or Melissa is simply in denial.  I just expected more honesty, in the midst of all that truth.

I do not say this to be mean or judgmental… it is simply fact.   Allow me to offer up a couple of definitions -

Prostitution – the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment.

Dominatrix - a woman who takes the dominant role in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism - having near-absolute control over the submissive.   The submissive does just that… submits.  He, or she, does not ‘direct’ the dominatrix.

One can color it how they will, but what went on in those dungeons appears to have been more prostitution than domination… true domination.  It can hardly be called domination if one simply does what another person has paid to have done to them.  Is there really that much difference between paying a person to fellate them to orgasm, than to pay a person to whip or spank them to orgasm?   Both acts meet the first definition.   One does wonder though… about all those clients… how many of them went about the rest of their day thinking how cleverly they have reversed the roles?

If Ms. Febos were to be completely honest, she would preface her book with something along the lines of - “I spent four years as a prostitute in New York City, taking money from men who obtained sexual satisfaction from humiliation and pain, instead of the more conventional acts of sex. At the same time, I worked toward earning my degree, became addicted to drugs (in an attempt to numb myself to the fact that I was, in essence, selling my body so that other people could ‘get off’) and subsequently became a recovering drug addict; ultimately going on to teach creative writing at various institutions.”

I mean… if we want to take away all the pretty words; that pretty much sums things up.

The epiphany I waited for?

Just this… it became glaringly obvious fairly early in the book, that Melissa was not the ‘dominatrix’, but was instead, the ‘dominated’ – the submissive in the twisted symbiosis of two souls in need.

Consider this…

If someone gives you money and tells you exactly what to do… and you do it… who is the one in control?   And, who is the one being controlled?  Who is the one being dominated?

Who was… ‘whip smart’?

Did I miss the ‘mea culpa’?  No… I’m simply not going to spend a lot of time on it.  Drug addiction and recovery seem to be formulaic as far as memoirs go, and Melissa’s was about what one would expect.   Blame is portioned out… perhaps not equally, but the interesting thing about blame and responsibility… they evolve… until what was once an unclosed circle… is complete.

Some have noted that Melissa’s telling of her addiction was a “little too ‘all about me’”.  Of course it is… isn’t that what memoirs are all about?

It sounds as if Melissa has, as much as possible, made her peace with all that transpired during those years. Is her memoir that final step… an [attempt at] expiation of her ‘sins’… an exorcism of her demons?  Only Melissa can answer that.

If it isn’t, then she has paid a steep price indeed, to ‘live outside of convention’.  I want to ask her… if it was worth it… all that she lost.

In closing, I would say only this… Thank you, Melissa Febos.  Whip Smart is one book which will stay with me for a very, very long time.  I am certain that I will read it at least a couple of more times.

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Friday, December 9, 2011


Magenta Shaman Stones The CrowMagenta Shaman Stones The Crow by Lily Childs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lily Childs’ second book - in what one hopes will be a continuing series - featuring earth shaman Magenta Sweeney, is, if possible, even more breathtaking and compelling than her first novella, MAGENTA SHAMAN.

MAGENTA SHAMAN STONES THE CROW takes Magenta (Maggie) from her safe haven on the English coast with her husband Tom, to the dark forests of the Czech Republic, to an ancient castle where her father is prisoner.

In a style reminiscent of horror master Clive Barker, Lily weaves a dark tale filled with horror and magic, love and death, monsters and corrupt spirits. Lily writes with a verve and authority that draws the reader in immediately, grips them and doesn’t let go until the very end.

MAGENTA SHAMAN STONES THE CROW is only my second journey along the astral planes between this world - one that most of us only see with half-opened eyes - and the magical worlds of other planes… other dimensions in time and space. Even to the most diehard non-believer, Lily’s powerful prose brings a sense of wonder, danger and excitement that quickens the heart, and… at least, in my case… makes one sleep with the night light on full!

After reading Lily’s first book, MAGENTA SHAMAN, I had mentioned that, even with a night light on, I’d tossed and turned all night. I told Lily that if her book had evoked any lesser reaction in me, I would have been disappointed. With MAGENTA SHAMAN STONES THE CROW, I ‘suffered’ the same sleeplessness and turmoil… oh, such a sweet ‘suffering’! What I was not… was disappointed. Once again, Lily delivers beautifully!

MAGENTA SHAMAN STONES THE CROW is a rich, dark, magical story… taking the reader across the astral planes with Maggie, on mission to rescue her father from a terrible dark force… from the pits of Hell itself!

Lily’s vivid description of her journey through a supernatural world leaves this reader more than a little breathless! When I dare close my eyes, I can almost see the dark forest before me… feeling the vibration of the boar’s hoof beats on the forest floor… all the rich scents of flora and fauna around me. At one point, I actually felt a bitterness in the back of my throat when Magenta… well, I can’t say here… that might spoil it for the reader. The dusty blackness of the crow is all too real!

Throughout her narrative, Lily enthralls the reader with everything Magenta is doing, from her preparation to do battle with dark forces in the spiritual world, through to the fight itself… a struggle to the death… all in the name of love. While explaining all of this in rich detail, what Lily does not do is burden the reader with a lot of writerly detritus, losing the reader in so much description and ‘authorly voice’ that they become lost.

Lily’s rich prose carefully blends magic, evil and love in a masterful telling that keeps the reader’s interest throughout, captivating their imagination… and upon reaching the end of the tale, leaving them wanting more! Wanting more… not because Lily’s storytelling is lacking in any manner; but wanting more… because her voice so captivates the reader that they don’t want the story to end.

For those of you disappointed that I didn’t relate more of the actual story - tell you about Tom’s struggles for instance, or what happens in the castle - I say this… go buy the book and read it yourself! I mean no disrespect, but really… I’m not your ‘Cliff’s Notes’. Besides, I could not come within a continent’s breadth of coming close to Lily’s rich, magical prowess with the written word.

I will tell you this… Lily’s dark imagination tells a story… a love story, if you will… of the power of love… both in this earthly realm, and in the magic and spellbinding wonder of the supernatural realms.

One final thought. It has been three nights since I turned the first page of MAGENTA SHAMAN STONES THE CROW, and I will have the night light on again tonight. My inamorata and wife, Tina, asks me why I read this ‘stuff’ if it is “…only going to cost you sleep and give you nightmares?” I say to her, with a smile and a wink… “That is the whole point, honey!”

Once again, Lily… a simple ‘Thank you’ somehow seems rather inadequate.

Brava, sweetie… BRAVA!

(Author’s note – visit Lily at Lily Childs Feardom for more of her dark prose and verse of horror and urban fantasy. Lily is also the horror editor over at THRILLERS, KILLERS ‘N CHILLERS.)


Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Silverdale, Washington
Portland, Oregon
9 December 2011

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Thursday, December 8, 2011


The ProphetThe Prophet by Khalil Gibran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Prophet is an impartation of wisdom that is timeless. Khalil Gibran brings to us the other side of questions we ask every day... questions about life... love... fear... truth... honor... purpose.

"Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself."

This is just one of my favorite passages in The Prophet. It speaks of so much more than just love.

Beautifully written and thought-provoking, The Prophet begs to be taken in small measures... little bits at a time... allowing ourselves time for introspection... to look inside us at the person we are. Time for reflection on the purpose of our lives.

The Prophet is a wonderful companion to keep close to us as we experience this wonderful journey called life.

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Monday, December 5, 2011


The Obelisk Trilogy: Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Black SpringThe Obelisk Trilogy: Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Black Spring by Henry Miller

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wouldn't go so far as to call Henry Miller a genius, and I think he sacrificed a great deal... what could have been classics are simply mediocre.

He does seem to obsess about women... understandable though, considering his contempt for them.

I may or may not come back to 'the tropics'... we shall see. I would like to think that there is something at least a little redeeming in his work... time will tell.

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