Cat Ellington’s review of The World Without Crows

The World Without CrowsThe World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Reviewer’s Preface.

“And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Everyone who is found written in the book.
And many of those who sleep in the dust
of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
—Daniel 12:2

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed,
rather than having two hands, to go to hell,
into the fire that shall never be quenched—


‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’
—Mark 9:43-44

Hereto lies the judgement of the accursed: those who have not fallen asleep in Christ, but in their sins have they fallen asleep.

For the recipient of eternal life is only returned unto the Earth in the glory and blessedness of his indestructible resurrection, while even the inheritor of eternal damnation is returned unto the Earth in the Divine ordinance of his destruction: his decomposition and his spoil.

For no human soul sown in righteousness can be an heir to otherworldly ruination upon the physical death—which is the first death.
But the human soul sown in unrighteousness is already doomed to the corruption of otherworldly ruination upon the physical death—which is the second death.

A human soul, still equipped with its five senses but dwelling within the form of a condemned physical being, would account for the second death. And because such a combined spiritual and physical condemnation is truly beyond the scope of Mankind’s imagination, most tend to refer to such doom by the traditional usage of one ghastly word: Zombie.

The Reviewer’s Critique.

Athens, Ohio—The world is forever changed, no thanks to a deadly parasite known as the Vaca Beber, or Vaca B, which has somehow found its way into the entire U.S. water supply. Some say that the fault lies with American cattle ranchers who had been cutting into the Amazon where the parasite originated; others agree that the U.S. government is actually to blame after it allowed imports from Brazil at the nation’s borders. Of course, those who argue the strain’s cause are those few who have merely survived it. At least for now.

On Saturday, August 12, 1989, our star protagonist, a morbidly obese and miserably unpopular young man named Eric, would celebrate his seventeenth year of life surrounded by his single mother and four of his closest (and only) friends. On Monday, May 14, 1990, Eric’s single mother and his four closest (and only) friends would be dead, succumbed to the Vaca B, leaving the devastated and defenseless Eric to fend for himself and to make his own way in the ultimate struggle for survival.

Dear reader,

Everything you thought you knew about the Apocalypse, the end of the world, if you will, is to be considered frivolity. Not until you’ve been held—as if in a Zombie-like death grip—by the momentous post-apocalyptic storyline currently under review will you come to a genuine knowledge of what it really means to be rattled to the marrow of your bones . . . with grievous anguish and mind-altering fear. For Ben Lyle Bedard’s The World Without Crows does not suffer the faint-hearted gladly.

The Long Journey.

After burning down his childhood home containing the infected remains of his mother, Eric sets out to travel on foot to the beautiful coastal state of Maine. Believing that a certain island along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean will be his salvation—and protection—from a cracked Zombie population and murderous gangs formed by snapped survivors, Eric, following a survival guide that he lifted from the now desolate Athens branch library, as well as his trusty map, begins the toilsome 800-mile trek north from Wolf Creek Wilderness through many a state park, national forest, and mountain region on a grueling quest to reach his coveted destination.

But our leading man’s passage through God’s great gardens and landscapes—in search of saftey—will be anything but safe as he is to undergo one horrendously inhumane tribulation after another along his route, including a detestable trial in the human form of a blood-coagulating American Patriot named Carl Doyle.

The Squadron.

For a work of fiction with a pagination of only 216, The World Without Crows incorporates a substantial—and surprisingly gifted—cast whose performances on said pages are nothing short of superior. Guaranteed to emboss an imprint of their memory on the reader’s intellect, these supporting players stream into the scenes of Bedard’s deftly composed script—and Eric’s radically changed life—as follows:

• Charlie, a grizzled old man and former librarian with a safe cabin, plenty of preserved books, fresh water, and hot meals to spare Eric. That is, until the venomous Snakes slither in.

• Birdie, an orphaned African American girl of six years with whom Eric falls head over heels in a sort of parental love after nearly shooting her to death during a scavenge for food. Immediately taking her under his guardianship, Eric and Birdie form a sturdy, deeply emotional, and unbreakable bond that will propel her to Eric’s right side as his top-billed supporting lead.

• Sarah, a twenty-something pretty blonde and fellow survivor with a penchant for fishing and cooking. After meeting and conversing with Eric and Birdie, Sarah quickly decides to join them on their journey to Maine.

• Brad, Sarah’s boyfriend and a pistol of a former gang member who, despite his machismo and low blow taunts about Eric’s hefty weight, ultimately concurs to join Eric, Birdie, and Sarah—Maine or bust.

• Cecile, Sharif, Katie, Van, David, Mark, Mary, and Sharon all consist of a small set of survivalists who dwell on a large farm in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and call themselves the “Slow Society.” Taking in Eric, Birdie, Sarah, and Brad after the quartet chance upon the Slow Society camp while diligently trying to escape a madman stalker, it is Cecile who offers the hungry and famished youngsters a dwelling place in the camp, so long as they contribute to manual labor around the farm. A generous gesture indeed were it not for Old Scratch.

• John Martin, a tall and powerfully built African American man from Cleveland, Ohio who encounters Eric while traveling—on foot—to New York. But John Martin is not making the passage alone. In his warm company are two redoubtable individuals who can do nothing short of adding even more sublime appeal to an already breathtaking prose.

• Lucia and Sergio are those two redoubtable individuals. The Hispanic siblings are traveling with their lifesaver John Martin when they, too, meet Eric’s small group, join with them all on their excursion, and skyrocket to stardom status by way of their supreme performances.

• Daniel Sullivan, a green-eyed monster of a religious fanatic, and macabre Shepherd of a demented flock.

• Carl Doyle, an all-American chauvinist, a repulsive race baiter, a Land Rover driver, and a bearish being who will for a surety grant the reader a nightmare. Carl Doyle, a most harrowing dead man walking.

• Kaye Cornplanter and Ms. Good Prince Billy also make cameo appearances: Cornplanter as a Seneca Warrior vowing to take back the Red Man’s land; and Good Prince Billy as a hoary, but tough matron striving to maintain order amongst humanity from the confines of a long ago abandoned Church.

The Reviewer’s Postface.

Mankind’s greatest fears are those of death and destruction. And we, as humans, never know what we’re truly made of until we are faced with those fears. Speaking of which, here, on the shook up pages of Ben Lyle Bedard’s marvelous post-apocalyptic chiller The World Without Crows, Death gallops in on his pale horse. And Hades follows with him.

In the age of many a trendy dystopian narrative, it would perhaps be safe to assume that very few can actually project the world’s end and the total obliteration of nearly all humankind in quite the same way that the consummate Bedard does with The World Without Crows.

An intensely poignant effort, no reader—be he or she Jew or Gentile—will be allowed to follow this clenching plot from beginning to end and then separate from it emotionally unaffected. No, not even one. For the tear duct of the human eye will not resist to shed a salted stream; and the human heart—in all of its life-pumping pomp—will not resist the heavy temptaion of an embittered ache.

Desperation, dark and poetic, is to be the reader’s guide. For the souls of men are to be required of them—regardless of fleshly hue or societal status. Extraordinary is The World Without Crows.

Five . . . let the dead bury their own dead stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Bedard Publishing, as well as Ben Lyle Bedard himself, for the author-issued copy of The World Without Crows in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of The World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Thursday, April 19, 2018

View all my reviews


Cat Ellington’s review of The New Neighbors

The New NeighborsThe New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Inceptive Assertion.

Fear begets worry. Worry begets doubt. Doubt begets anxiety. Anxiety begets paranoia.

Low self-esteem begets self-hatred. Self-hatred begets depression. Depression begets self-pity.

Enemy-centered begets hate. Hate begets anger. Anger begets rage. Rage begets revenge. Revenge begets murderous spirit.

A nation divided against itself will surely fall. And a man’s enemies will be those . . . of his own household.

My Examination.

On the pages of this eerily alarming and slow boiling psychological suspense, the reader becomes both judge and jury as the tale’s two twenty-eight-year-old star witnesses take the proverbial stand to testify inside the courtroom of its covers. Here, we meet our duo of top-billed defendants, Mr. Jack Walsh and Ms. Sydney Baker, as they each render their own individual statements detailing the London fog of evil that commenced to progressively encounter their lives only a short time after moving into Sydney’s—not Jack’s but Sydney’s—dream home.

• Jack

Jack is sworn in first and gives a rather choppy description of what exactly led up to the death of Sydney’s and his next door neighbor, the detested Sean Payne. Payne is, or rather was, the despicable and savagely abusive father of Elsie Payne, the young girl who would thrown herself in front of the speeding train—right before Sydney’s eyes.

It all began after Jack and Sydney purchased the house, which they suspiciously won at a bargain price, outbidding even all of those other couples laden with greater financial means. While not Jack’s immediate favorite, the old house—sold to the young partners by an elderly gentleman, one Patrick Bernard Winters—is infused with an uncanny and cold inner spirit that betrays its warm and welcoming physical beauty. And not long after they move in, Jack and Sydney soon begin to detect that smell, a distinctive aroma that only intensifies in pungency as the days wear on.

Once that smell becomes to annoying to further tolerate, Jack goes on to conduct a thorough investigation into the source of the strange odor, ultimately locating the culprit in Sydney’s and his lonesome attic: a dead, rotting cat—with its legs broken. Of course, the findings are enough to make Jack’s blood run arctic. Because for one, all of the attic’s windows were sealed shut by the home’s previous owner. So how on earth did the cat manage to penetrate the attic space in the first place? For such is a task deemed virtually impossible—at least by Jack’s logic.

What’s more, the slightly passive leading man also finds some other items laying only a breath away from the cat’s decaying carcass: a shoe box filled with a variety of knick knacks, including a doll’s head, that more than likely would have been those personal effects of a little girl; however, there is only one problem. The elderly Patrick Bernard Winters—who, by the way, quickly sold his house (to Jack and Sydney) in order to flee to Perth, Australia and into the arms of a woman he met on the Internet—didn’t have any children . . . or grandchildren. And this fact leads Jack to suspect what? Well, he doesn’t really know what. He certaintly doesn’t tell Sydney about any of it, especially not about the dead cat with its legs broken, as that one detail alone would freak her out henceforth.

Even so, his perplexing discoveries—disgusting and otherwise—start to hungrily gnaw at Jack’s mind. And he is intent on unraveling the creepy mystery behind them.

• Sydney

Emotionally broken as they come, Sydney “Syd” Baker is the product of a tumultous upbringing. Having her entire body decorated in a bloody mélange of enraged scars, Sydney is still battling with a myriad of demons—including the one of drug abuse—from her nightmarish past when she meets her would-be beau Jack Walsh for the first—and somewhat awkward—time at a social workers conference. The emotionally wrecked couple soon fall head over heels in true love, and after only three months of dating, are already making plans to move in together.

Neither of them wants to meet the other’s family. And that joint understanding is just fine with Sydney—whose father had been her hater, her batterer, and her scoffer for the most part of her childhood into her adolescence anyway. Sydney was a phenomenally disdained and abused child in the domestic setting: her father was her homegrown terrorist, whilst her mother stood only for submissive cowardice. And through it all, her little sister Jessica could be nothing more than an eyewitness. That is, until she died—compliments of suicide.

This is why Sydney could so relate to the Benson & Hedges smoking Elsie Payne, even finding camaraderie with the thirteen year-old.
. . . A very peculiar camaraderie.

• Elsie

Elsie Payne is Sydney Baker’s second chance to vindicate herself. Even from the very first day that her eyes rested themselves upon the little girl from across the housing row, Sydney has felt an instant connection to Elsie. Especially because of Jessica. Sydney’s kid sister, the late Jessica.

Full of painful regret and self-blame about Jessica’s premature demise, Sydney can spot one of her own maltreated kind in the young Elsie, and soon forms a trusting bond of friendship with the forever sad, miserable, and hopeless child—who is a seemingly ironic carbon copy of Jessica. And now, knowing of Elsie’s horrifying quandary at the heavy, harm-inflicting hands of the child’s angry and abusive father Sean, Sydney knows that she has to save Elsie for the sake of saving her former self . . . and her dead sister, Jessica. And once Sydney makes it up in her mind to rescue the helpless Elsie from her unhinged reality, nothing can prevent her doing so. She even recruits Jack to help her—by way of involving child services.

But the rabbit hole leading down the Hadean portal that is Elsie’s life goes seabed deep. And once Sydney and Jack dive into the turbulent rapids, neither is to resurface without mangle—be it spiritually . . . or physically.

Desperately treading many a tempestuous wave in her new role as savior, Sydney, while waiting to board the train for work on one fateful morning, can only watch in blood-curdling horror as young Elsie Payne ever so casually steps off the train platform and directly into the oncoming path of a speeding locomotive.

On impact, everything literally goes pitch black.
. . . Even the hearts of men.

Just when Jack and Sydney thought the torments of their past dead lives had plummeted into eternity’s abyss, the same have reemerged from the billowing smoke of eradication to hunt down their former acquaintances through the most relentless of pursuits. For they are come only to steal and to kill and to thoroughly destroy. And with these old foes settled in for the fleshly score, the heinous murder of one Sean Payne is to be the least of Jack Walsh and Sydney Baker’s concerns.

That is, until they both become the prime suspects.

The Assembly.

Although Jack Walsh and Sydney Baker carry the magnitude of this shadowy psychological suspense with their tremendously stellar performances, the two stars also share the fictional spotlight with a compact—though indelible—company of bit players who each annex even more profundity to the twisty, turny script in his and her own right.

Incidentally, these would include Bartol “Bart” Novak, Jack’s best friend and a fellow social worker with whom Jack is convinced Sydney is having an affair; Sabeen, Ali, Amira, Hakim, and Kalila, a family of legal (and illegal) Iraqi refugees who are about to be evicted from Sabeen’s small bedsit for overcrowding and squatting—until Jack brazenly intervenes on their behalf; Karen Leigh, the attractive redhead of a Detective Inspector who enters the plot to investigate Jack and Sydney for the implacable murder of Sean Payne; DC Grainger, this novel’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Karen Leigh’s professional colleague; and Evan Cohen, the corrupt, avaricious, deceitful, and lowdown estate agent from whom Jack and Sydney purchase their new house of ill repute.

Mr. and Mrs. Walsh, and Mr. and Mrs. Robinson—Jack’s parents and Sydney’s parents, respectively—also feature in speaking roles, but only one quarter of them is deserving enough to have been appointed a name: Penelope, Jack’s mother.

My Cessation.

Immediately recognizing the tell-tale symptoms of feeling emotionally drained, tensely frustrated, and stressfully aggravated, it was my determination that Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors was at first suffering from “psychosomatic cancer,” what considering the rather feverishly slow pace at which the complex storyline moved in its earlier stages. And with all due respect, constantly putting the narrative down in order to give it a rest became quite an unchallenging activity for my reader.

Notwithstanding, said effort would—in its own sweet time—redeem itself admirably.

Proven benign, the annoying literary tumor that plagued this novel at the outset soon dissipates. And the storyline, originally frail and weak in structure, suddenly gains a few extra pounds of muscled momentum, and comes out swinging on the reader like an undisputed heavyweight champion—determined to land as many compensatory uppercuts on the same as it possibly can.

True to its rendition, the grand illusion of this written account’s conclusion is somewhat reminiscent of the illustrious Alfred Hitchcock and his ingenious brand of chilling suspense. Of course, I wouldn’t go sar far as to declare it the Rear Window of mystery thriller fiction, but one thing is certainly clear, and that is that the effort is heavily influenced by those timeless filmworks of the storied Master. And because of the contents of its Hitchcockian character, The New Neighbors—in the end—managed to stave off what would have perhaps been a much lower rating.

If truth be told, this literary puzzle of a two-part psychological thriller greatly impressed me in its final rounds, cleverly pinning me against the ropes as it pummeled away at my psyche with blow after blow of page-turning and pulse-palpitating perturbation.

Yes, in the end, Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors got medieval on yours truly. And there is no singular devotee of its respective genre to whom I would not inordinately recommend it. However slow its dreadfully teasing start, the London-set fiction comes alive remarkably after awhile, commanding its own dignity, and proudly shutting down the would-be critical naysayers of mind.

As I tip my cloché to the narrative, I stand both humbly . . . and mumbly corrected.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Berkley Publishing, as well as NetGalley, for the advanced review copy (ARC) of The New Neighbors in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Friday, April 6, 2018

View all my reviews

Cat Ellington’s review of When the Light Goes Out

When the Light Goes OutWhen the Light Goes Out by Shawn Bartek

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Opening Statement.

When the Light Goes Out is a YA fiction thriller. And I don’t normally accept YA novels for reviewing purposes, but under the impression, per this written effort’s publisher, that the narrative was in fact a suspense thriller (and it is, though it rotates around a galaxy sprinkled with teenage stars), I agreed to receive the complimentary copy into my library, assuring both publisher and author that I would certainly read the dialogue and provide the same with an unbiased review.

It was only today (March 15, 2018, the date on which I began to absorb the plot) that I learned of its actual genre specification. And regardless of how misled I initially felt in the immediate wake of discovering the reality of the novel’s literary category, for the sake of upholding my word to the fiction’s publisher/author that I would pursue the dialogue and render it with an honest critique, I delved into the script with a professional focus on a split decision.
And as surely as truth bringeth forth liberty, I will forever bless the day on which I made the split decision to forge ahead into the storyline currently under review.
Yes, I will forever bless the day.

My analysis will now inaugurate.

The Hour of Trial.

As this powerfully composed anecdote brings itself to life, the reader plays eyewitness to a remarkably dangerous incident involving a row of railroad tank cars transporting large amounts of toxic chlorine gas across the Umpqua Bridge in East Missoula, Montana. In the process of chugging themselves along the evidently faulty tracks, the tankers derail—leaving two of the row’s gas filled cars dangling over the bridge’s edge. While the 90-ton tanks pose a grave risk of falling nearly fifty-feet into a steep ravine below, strenuous efforts to prevent such a disaster from occuring are now underway. And time is of the greatest essence. Because should either tank plunge and rupture, causing the entire contents of chlorinated gas to become airborne, the probable outcome would be no less than catastrophic for those inhabitants who populate the surrounding areas. Quickly reacting to this impending doom are the small town’s officials who together have ordered a mandatory evacuation. And it is a mandatory evacution that will not allow anyone who is on the housetop to go down to take anything out of his house, nor will it allow anyone who is in the field to go back to get his clothes. Here, the faith of Man will be put to the test.
And where the faith of Man is put to the test, even there is where the Agent of Chaos does his fair share of destructive bidding.

The Leading Lady.

Ami Gibb renders a jaw-dropping performance in this accelerated and unputdownable masterwork as an eighteen year-old senior at Missoula’s Big Sky High. Too tackling the many daily impediments that coincide with coming of age, the fairly beauteous Ami is not so uniquely different from other teens in general. But unlike some other teens who may ache inside from feelings of overall scorn and/or alienation, Ami Gibb’s heaviness of heart (and premature under-eye bags) are not the result of a school bully, or peer pressure, or unpopularity, or her inability to “fit in” with any hipster cliques; rather, Ami Gibb’s inner ache results from the sudden death of her father, Martin. A sudden death for which she regrettably blames herself.

Already overwhelmed by grief and mourning, no thanks to her father’s death and a nasty breakup with her boyfriend, the wildly popular Scott Dwyer, Ami now finds herself cast in the unwanted role of “replacement mom” by her distrait and disgustingly selfish mother Pam, who, by the way, is on her own little vacation (with one of her girlfriends, no less) in Toronto, Ontario—touring sites and guzzling fine wine—while her eldest daughter is left to act as guardian to her youngest daughter, the ten year-old Dana.

Though embittered all the more so by this uncompassionate turn of events, Ami holds down the Gibb fort in a most mature fashion: caring for her baby sister Dana, cooking for her baby sister Dana, and driving her baby sister Dana to school every day. Despondent as she may be, Ami Gibb has created for herself a memorized mantra (one that she lives by religiously), and is determined—above all else—to ultimately discover her happy place.

The Leading Man.

Marc Nelson too unveils a tour de force presentation as this dialogue’s fiercely introverted co-protagonist who stars opposite Ami Gibb. The scrawny eighteen year-old shines, immensely, as Ami’s art-class mate and secret admirer. And much like his brunette crush, Marc also grapples with being the offspring of an uncaring, degenerate, absentee parent: his bar-hopping father, Robert. Infatuated with Ami, Marc is contemplating whether or not to ask Her Cuteness to prom, but the spirit of fear (expressly of rejection) gleefully aids in his procrastination.

The Agreement.

The clock ticks on during their art course until an Emergency Broadcast—featuring the voice of principal Benson—summons both faculty and student body to vacate the premises for a major announcement outdoors where they would then be informed about the derailment from earlier that morning, and the mandatory evacuation.

After fruitless attempts to reach their self-absorbed parents, Ami and Marc soon decide to jointly remove themselves from the perimeters of the deadly chlorinated gas (should the tankers rupture and leak it). But before Ami can truly clear the way of danger—and possible death by suffocation—she must first collect her little sister Dana, who is sitting at home all alone on the other side of town, innocently oblivious to the impending perils.

When Ami’s ex, Scott, comes up with the surprisingly bright idea for them all to form their own evac unit—making it easier to first retrieve Dana and then proceed to his house in Frenchtown—the offer sounds too good to refuse, though to it, Ami is initially opposed. Once settled in agreement, the evac unit is set to include Scott, Scott’s new girlfriend Leslie Knadler, Leslie’s loathsome loser of a best bud, Jodi, and Scott’s loathsome loser of a best bud, Shane—not to mention Ami and Marc.

Jodi and Shane (in cahoots one with the other) are visibly irked by and verbally averse to the picking up Dana plan, but Ami couldn’t care less; it’s her car that will transport Scott and Shane, and like it or not, she is going to get her baby sister—whatever it takes to do so.

The Nightmare.

Anything that can go wrong in this spectacular novel will manage to do just that, what go wrong, including Ami’s car when it—while being driven by its anxious owner who desperately wants to get home to save her kid sister—makes a wrong left turn onto a fateful road, and comes this close to colliding head-on with a huge Ford truck traveling in the opposite direction.

Although an accident, still, Ami Gibb should’ve apologized to the occupants of the Ford truck for her reckless driving but she didn’t. And when she didn’t, the Agent of Chaos, even Satan, the devil himself, got busy. And this blood-thirsty predator would remain busy—ruthlessly hunting a small group of distraught teens (including Ami Gibb and Marc Nelson) from the early afternoon hours, yet still, all the way into the darkened soot of the late evening hours. And his human hosts? A racist crystal meth addict, and two depraved, deformed, raping, murderous, maniacal, and terrifying hillbillies who are for a surety to kindle within the reader a most intensified sensation of mingled disquietude, heart-thumping trepidation, bone-deep despair, and artery-throbbing rage.

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a horrifically bloody and death-dealing night . . . in the moutainous state of Montana.

The Summation.

First-rate is too inferior an adjective to describe the page-turning, difficult-to-part-ways-with anecdote that is Shawn Bartek’s When the Light Goes Out. From beginning to end, the same is a fascinating literary consumption that is guaranteed to leave its reader reeling with the effects of a severe book hangover no sooner than he or she has ingested the last drop of its prose.

The loftily recommended Young Adult thriller (along with its shrewd author) is more than meritable of not only a YASLA Edwards Award, but also a place in the illustrious Association’s Hall of Fame. For if verity be known, the Association would only serve to be that much poorer minus said work’s honorary inclusion.

Is Shawn Bartek’s affrighting and profoundly emotional When the Light Goes Out commanding of a greater number more than five stars? Yes, undoubtedly, but unfortunately, five stars is the cap on literary ascendancy here; therefore, it is to be crowned accordingly.

Five teen beat stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Bubby Dee Publishing, as well as Shawn Bartek himself, for the author-issued copy of When the Light Goes Out in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of When the Light Goes Out by Shawn Bartek is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

View all my reviews

Cat Ellington’s review of Fear Thy Neighbor

Fear Thy NeighborFear Thy Neighbor by Pamesh Gates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…”
—Exodus 20:17

Yes, thus saith the Lord of Hosts. But those are exactly the Holy Commandments that the recalcitrant Landon Mitchell—the next door neighbor from the pit of Hell—is being wickedly tempted to break in two on the unforgettable pages of Pamesh Gates’ bone-chilling thriller, Fear Thy Neighbor.

The trepidatious drama begins to unfold after expectant parents Amir and Serenity Larson finally buy the house of their sweet dreams on Pine Lane in the upscale subdivision of Ashland Falls. Excited that all of their strenuous exertion has paid off with the acquisition of the property, the swooning lovebirds are putting in supplementary labor, pun intended, on a few more renovations, including the creation of a vibrant nursery for their upcoming little one, Amir, Jr., the first anticipated addition to their new family.

Mr. and Mrs. Larson are overwhelmingly joyful in their new digs, nevertheless, gnawing at them both is a sort of paranoiac fear that maybe these new digs are just a little too much, a little too perfect. The confusing thoughts come back to attack their minds in periodic spurts, but even so, Amir and Serenity shrug off the “negative jitters” and elect to live happily married ever after under the pristine roof of said abode, carrying on with the painting and the saw and hammer redecorations. And what’s better is that both of their earnest mothers are coming to Ashland Falls to assist Serenity, the twenty-eight-year-old mama-to-be, with all of her postpartum essentials.
. . . Nothing could be more preferable.

Enter Gates’ supporting ensemble, a memorable company who together represent the most dexterous vision of exemplary casting:

• Brenda Larson, Amir’s peppy-steppy mother and the undisputed queen of collard greens

• Yvette Combs, Serenity’s not only likable, but lovable mother and trusted confidant

• Joe, Amir’s endeared stepfather and head contractor directing the fabulous renovations at Casa Larson

• Myron Combs, Sr., Serenity’s highly respectable and tough as nails father

• Myron Combs, Jr., Serenity’s older brother who takes after not only Myron, Sr.’s name, but also the elder’s hardcore exterior

• Mali Mitchell, Landon’s mail-order bride of a wife imported from Thailand. Mali Mitchell, a helpless woman sliced and diced into acquiescence by the sharpened double-edged weaponry of physical abuse and verbal abuse, compliments of one Landon Mitchell

• Forester McMillian, the homeowners association president to whom Landon Mitchell depicts a sycophantic manpleaser

• Gabrielle McMillian, Forester’s upper middle class-accustomed and homey hostess of a wife

With each polished performer in character, the skillfully penned storyline—while driving drunk in the pitch black darkness of apprehension—zigzags along its course, determined to trigger only the highest degree of nerve-racking terror on the psyche of its reader.
. . . Too impressive is the effort’s proud ability to command the wide-eyed, jaw-dropping interest of the same until it eventually crashes into one guard rail after another in a heart-thumping, sweat-inducing, and shattering climax.

Shall we?

A quiet, peaceful, and family-oriented locality, all is well on Pine Lane in Ashland Falls. That is, until the construction crew—a few men too many anyway, according to Landon Mitchell, the obsessive overseer of the homeowner association’s neighborhood bylaws committee—start to whistle their pungi’s a little too loudly while they work, posing an immediate threat to the serpentine Landon who soon uncoils from the wicker basket of his house with a hissing, sliding his way over to the Larson residence for the purpose of complaining in venomous vexation to those jolly folk on-site—particularly to the men of the Larson and Combs clans.
. . . But luxury is not fitting for a fool, much less for a servant to rule over princes. However unruly and defiant, Landon Mitchell’s feet do not rest in his own home.

Troubled by the Larsons, and full of envy and jealousy (towards Amir and the six-figure salary he earns as an IT professional)—not to mention persistent adulterous and coveteous thoughts about Serenity—the lowdown Landon soon takes his baseless and petty complaints to Forester McMillian, practically demanding the HAP to shut down all current renovations on the Larson property. And unable to achieve his rogue heart’s desire with Mr. McMillan after voicing his grievances, Landon Mitchell, power hungry as they come, takes the law into his own hands—conforming to horrifying homegrown terrorism.
. . . Because what the frustrated, self-loathing, and harm-plotting Landon Mitchell perceives on the other side is not a nice, hardworking twosome in the Larsons who have chosen to dwell by him for safety’s sake, no, but what the frustrated, self-loathing, and harm-plotting Landon Mitchell instead perceives on the other side is a lovey-dovey couple in the Larsons who have themselves a blessed marriage, a happy, close-knit family, a lucky little baby on the way, and a well-manicured lawn laid with proverbial grass . . . greener than his own.

Undoubtedly one of the finest novels of suspense I have ever had the chilling pleasure of reading, even thus far this year, the 64-page Fear Thy Neighbor is a magnificent motivator of nail-biting perturbation, full righteous indignation, and fist-pounding exasperation.
. . . Without question, the markedly deft Pamesh Gates is to urban suspense what the equally proficient Christine Conradt is to the Lifetime Movies network teleplay.

Fear Thy Neighbor accounts for extraordinary storytelling in the superlative psychological thriller genre, and it would not be well for any one or many more of the breed’s diehard enthusiasts to remain unaware of its literary eminence.
. . . For it is a must-read, indeed.

Five lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor stars.

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Cat Ellington’s review of First and Only Destiny

First and Only DestinyFirst and Only Destiny by Gloria Silk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
— William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet: Act II, Scene II

Echoing the classic quote from the fabled English poet, I, too, ask, ‘What’s in a name?’ Well, if one were to contemplate those surnames of the treacherously in love duo who have together been given top billing in Gloria Silk’s wildly alluring romance, First and Only Destiny, then one would doubtless procure an expansive comprehension of any given name’s importance—especially where it applies to both race and culture.

Can a devout Jewish woman and an equally devoted Hindu man vehemently love one another minus any cultural antagonism? Perhaps in a sliver of real-life cases, yes, but on the pages of this spiritually deverging fiction, absolutely not.
. . . For from where do wars and woes arise? From whence haileth striving? Yea, it is a waste of precious time for Man to become feeble of mind; for to be carnal minded is to be perishable.

Judaism and Hinduism.

These two are by far the oldest existing religions known to Mankind. While they are so similar, yet they are so dissimilar—only because each group, respectively, opts to worship in their nearly identical religious beliefs differently. In short, one group is inclined to believe—at least as far as tracings of the Old Testament are concerned—that they’ve an advantageous position, by race, over the other group. And for thousands of years has this belief been upheld, what the tenet of who God’s chosen people truly are. Although the aforementioned be not the only cause of hostile disagreements between the two cultures, it is in itself one of the primary reasons for their ancient religious clashings.

Which brings me back to the touched upon romance currently under review.

Lia Abraham and Devraj Shah.

Starring together in a love story heavily reminiscent of those timeless romances in which Romeo and Juliet, Prince Charming and Cinderella, and General Hospital’s very own Luke and Laura were ridiculously involved, are Lia Abraham, our adorable protagonist who portrays an Orthodox Jewish art major working towards her degree at university in London, and Devraj Shah, the tall, dark, and Bollywood-handsome future architect who portrays Lia’s new (and very first) love interest. After catching Lia sketching his jaw-dropping image in the college’s cafeteria, Devraj—sent forth from the almighty Shah empire of India to the higher learning institution to do his MBA in Accounting and Economics—immediately responds to the consummate brunette with the suavest of conversation, and in all due time, the couple (as much alike as oil and water, initially) descend into a vortex of forbidden love and defying insubordination.

Quarrelsome and seductively sensual, First and Only Destiny expounds the lives of Lia and Devraj as the couple—already pending products of arranged marriages—battle to become one against all the bigoted odds of their appropriate cultures.

The luciously created Devraj is goo-goo for the pretty, nevertheless timid, art wonder who is Lia, and she, too (although she brawls to deny it), feels the exact same powerful attraction to Devraj, desperately desiring to further explore this new sensation of erotic wonder that the Indian heartthrob has such a justified way of stimulating within her. But mind-boggling confliction is the law of the virgin Lia’s land, as she also wants to please the purist wishes of her pro Jewish and treacherously strict grandparents—most notably her gran, Baboola—who would surely lament over a million Torahs in bone-crushing anguish were they to ever learn of their delicate granddaughter’s blasphemous Hindu lustings. For it was they who raised Lia up from her small childhood after the somber deaths of her parents, and neither of the elders take their joint responsibility as her guardians lightly. Meanwhile, the vulva-sprung Devraj is ready, willing, and able to renounce his entire pedigree, along with its practiced Indian Dharma, just to spend the rest of his determined life with the culturally conditioned homebody, Lia, whose art and resolution to satisfy the selfish wants of Baboola are her combined primary life source.

As the brief and rapidly-paced narrative unfolds and explodes into a starburst of man-eating eroticism between the two disallowed lovers who are Lia and Devraj, the steamy dialogue somehow manages to remember that there is a coterie of others in the same room, sharing the same stage in the however complicated drama.

Aside from Baboola, the small cast list also includes Dedda Abraham who stars as the grande dame’s perfectly Jewish husband and Lia’s grandfather; Eliza, Baboola and Dedda’s mutinous, bed-hopping daughter and Lia’s doting aunt; Ella, Lia’s fair-haired musical wonder of a best friend and she-maverick; Jim, Devraj’s arrogant loverboy of a best friend and Ella’s significant other; and Howard, the Ashkenazi Jew for whom Lia will be severely pressured (by her grandparents, no less) to desert Devraj—in order to be joined together with the former in an arranged matrimony not of her choosing.

Only one of these men will be able to possess the beautiful and delicate Lia Abraham as his own. But which man will Lia choose? Will he be her scrumptious true love who is the Hindu Adonis, Devraj, or will he be the brilliant future physician who is the Baboola-appointed Howard?

I would benevolently counsel you, dear reader, to keep on hand a Kleenex. . .or two. . .or three, that the time-honored tissues may capture the stream of tears your eyes are bound to shed—no doubt as a result of this touching narrative bearing its overtly emotional soul right before them.

Though the setting place for this transient fiction be a foreign one (London, specifically), even still, the spirit of First and only Destiny flows ever so Westernized, presenting an interesting and well-selected cast of characters to whom many an American romance novel devotee is for a surety to relate.

In subtle contrast, however, this effort’s dialogue is flawed only by missing pages and troublesome printing errors that shown in its prologue and at the beginning of each new chapter. Barely visible on pages that resembled monochrome positive photography, the fuzzy words of the storyline were somewhat difficult for me to discern, despite my donned reading glasses. Nevertheless, I would still recommend this respectable fiction (the first in a series of stand-alone novels) to those of you who comfortably dwell on the avenues of romance and contemporary fiction in the prestigious—and supremely cherished—literary community.

Go on. Find your destiny.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Creative Hummingbird Results publishing, as well as Gloria Silk herself, for the author-issued copy of First and Only Destiny in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of First and Only Destiny by Gloria Silk is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Sunday, March 11, 2018

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Cat Ellington’s review of Pink Slips

Pink SlipsPink Slips by Beth Aldrich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Beth Aldrich’s Pink Slips, Betsy Ryan stars as a deliciously talented Chicago-based chef whose nurtured life begans to tear itself away from the rigid grasp of her control after she is brutally attacked at knife point in downtown Chicago while heading home from a long day at work by way of the train. Pregnant at the time, Betsy would only moments later suffer a heartbreaking miscarriage after being thrown to the ground and violently kicked in the abdomen by a merciless assailant who would remain at large. Besty Ryan, as maladjusted as they come, desperately wanted to start a family with her husband, Steven, and had finally been blessed to conceive. But that which had taken quite some time to be brought about in her wanting womb, only took less than a single minute to be completely destroyed forever. And from that horribly fateful night onward, Betsy Ryan’s nurtured life would never be the same again.

Ten Years Later.

Betsy Ryan, now a resident of Westin Heights—a fictive and affluent northern suburb of Chicago—has chosen the new life of a stay-at-home mother, taking a break, so to speak, from her passion as a top chef to a wealthy Chicago couple to raise her two young sons, Kyle and Morgan. Incidentally, she is also with child. Betsy and Steven Ryan are happily expecting their third offspring, a girl who is to be named Emma Grace. And Betsy, still regretful and perturbed about that fateful night in downtown Chicago, when she had lost her first baby after an inhumane assault ten years before, is on pins and needles in her eighth month of pregnancy, fearful that she may suffer yet another miscarriage should she make even the slightest wrong turn in her sleep. For Betsy Ryan, her main stumbling blocks are her own obsessive-compulsive personality and her quest for perfection. She means well, but Betsy is someone who simply won’t let go of one singular experience—awful as it had been—from her long ago past. And her inability to forgive herself (and her attacker) for the events that occurred one decade before only gives place to the paranoia that hinders her life in the present.

Mimicking time, Betsy tries to move on, joyful to have her two little angels in Kyle and Morgan, not to mention her unborn baby girl, Emma Grace, who is well on her way into this great big world to meet and greet her loving family. Her marriage to Steven, though still in tact, is hanging on for dear life by the thinning hairs of its chinny chin-chin. And once again, hubby is away from Betsy and the boys on business in San Francisco. This is modern life for the blonde and petite Betsy Ryan as she elects to adjust in her new suburban reality. She’s taking it all one day at a time and one step at a time while on her journey to the proverbial happy place. That is, until she receives her first pink slip.

As the gorgeously arrayed autumn days informally pass, Betsy begins to collect a series of eerie notes—authored by an unknown stalker on small pink slips of paper—that indicate intentions to harm Betsy and her precious family. One of those blood-curdling notes, in particular, has the vindictive writer making it crystal clear that he wants Betsy’s unborn baby. And that declaration, combined with other notes specifying how the stalker would also inflict harm upon her treasured sons, has maliciously dropped the idiosyncratic Betsy from the lofty heights of her imagined suburban utopia all the way down to a cracked pavement riddled with shards of broken glass.

On and on it goes, what the terrorizing of Betsy Ryan. And no matter how many reports she files with the small town police department, or how much evidence—in this case, the notes combined—that she hands over to the officers involved for fingerprint testing, nevertheless, the high-risk, terrified, and wearily frustrated foodie who is Betsy cannot—for the life of her—lay hold on a break.

A quiet, candle-lit dinner of a mystery, Pink Slips also stars Cary Anderson,—a former ABC-TV executive (only in this novel)—as Betsy’s no-nonsense, but gentle as a dove father; Karen Anderson, Betsy’s fiery and admirably supportive mother; Misty Nicks, a gun-owning North Shore G.I. Jane and Betsy’s pretty divorcée of a best friend; Dr. Kevin Deller, a widower, Betsy’s years-long OB-GYN, and a possible suspect; Dr. Gary Hildebrandt, Dr. Deller’s breathtakingly handsome partner in gynecological and obstetric medicine and a possible suspect; Henry, a member of Dr. Deller’s janitorial staff at the hospital, a big, burly man of a tempestuous temperament, and a possible suspect; Freddie, a disgruntled former landscaper for the Ryans and a possible suspect; and Barney, Steven and Betsy’s purebred cocker spaniel with whom Betsy is convinced that she can communicate intuitively. Yes, our main protagonist believes, with everything in her diminutive being, that she has been consecrated with extrasensory perception, most commonly known as ESP. And there is not even one who can convince her otherwise.

As the plot continues to casually stroll along, Steven Ryan, who is pretty much missing in action for the majority of this narrative’s duration, is nearly killed on his way home from the airport. While returning from his “skeptical business trip” to San Francisco, the cab in which Steven is sitting as a passenger suddenly collides with a truck en route, leaving Steven critically injured and hospitalized in a medically-induced coma. This additional grim news only acts as the time-honored straw that will break the camel’s back for an extremely agitated Betsy, by now a hot mess and nervous wreck due to the transfixing stalker threat.

As surely as the sun rises energetically and sets drowsily, someone is out to get the acutely gravid Betsy Ryan—and her hard-won family. But just who can that creepy stalker of a someone be? And why in heaven’s name does he desire to dismantle the Ryan household from the head on down to the least? Channeling her inner Jessica Fletcher, the makeshift sleuth, Betsy, is not going to sit around waiting to find out. Teamed with her parents, Barney the cocker spaniel, the comatose Steven—who, like Barney, is also communicating with Betsy, intuitively—and the butt-kickin’ and name-takin’ Misty, our mom-to-be takes off waddling—like 40 going north—to hunt down some answers. But unfortunately, Betsy’s cruel and callous tormentor keeps discovering ways to advance forward ahead of her in their maniacal little sprint. And lagging behind, thanks to a ton of hormonal fatigue, the parturient Betsy is running out of time—both literally and figuratively.

On the transitory pages of this comparatively penned mystery, Betsy Ryan soon comes to realize, however grudgingly, that the potassium chloride of coveteousness, administered in too high a dose, can be murder.

Whisking together the main ingredients of sweet love, salty hatred, spicy creepers, and smiling faces that sometimes don’t tell the truth, Beth Aldrich’s Pink Slips, added with the standard variety of nutjob common to the mystery fiction genre, is a pretty great recipe and would have produced a flawless literary meal had its author not been so self-doubting and unsure of her own gifted abilities.

I really liked this narrative in the sense that I could almost feel the winds of Chicago radiating from its pages earlier on, not counting that our leading lady is a professional chef—which I too loved, considering my burning zeal for those men and women of the culinary arts species. But somewhere along the route of the plot, Pink Slips became the more reckless, deliberately rolling over nettlesome potholes rather than just swerving around them. And this aggressive action would only result in a number of suspension problems to the dialogue’s ball joints and shocks.

While subconscious conversations with animals—namely dogs and cats—may pass as convincing in say, a rollicking cozy mystery, the employment of such an element in a mystery desiring to be taken more seriously is simply incomprehensible. In point of fact, the internal carotid artery of Pink Slips does not supply the blood of cozy mystery humor to its reader, although it tries its damnedest to.

On the subject of this endeared literary class, all mysteries (specialized in the criminal strand of whodunit) will infuse some form of humor, and maybe even a little bit of the supernatural, that’s the nature of the genre. But at the same time, a mystery writer has to be willing to toe the fine line of the genre’s representation. The old CBS sitcom Murder, She Wrote (1984 – 1996)—too one of my all-time favorites—imputed elements of crime, mystery, drama, suspense, comedy, and some good old-fashioned sleuthing on the part of its star, Lansbury’s “Jessica Fletcher.” Aldrich, on the other hand, markets Pink Slips as a mystery suspense thriller—a classification that I could not disagree with more. And here’s why. Is there crime? Yes, of course, as there should be. Is there mystery? Yes, absolutely. Is there suspense? No. Although she intended to infuse it, apprehension is not Aldrich’s strong suit. Is the fiction a thriller? No, I’m afraid it isn’t. Despite the small bundle of cons, is Pink Slips still an effort worthy of a reading recommendation? Yes, I would say that it is. Pink Slips is one of those novels that mystery readers will either love or hate in the extreme, or simply like right down the middle. For me, the novel was only able to command my likeable respect—serving its purpose only to a certain extent, fifty-fifty.

Taking everything into account, one part of me could appreciate Betsy Ryan, while the remaining part of me couldn’t stand her. I liked her gentle spirit and her loving disposition; several aspects of her life on these pages read like comfort food. But on the contrary, this protagonist is an awfully weak, pesty, and way too needy dishrag of a suburban soccer mom. A woman so emotionally and intimately neglected that she has to rely on her small dog for companionship . . . and protection. For what it’s worth, I could not predict the villian here. And that alone accounts for a pro. Pink Slips does in fact have its agreeable moments, but it lacks depth at other moments, feeling especially rushed as it nears its conclusion. Even so, I would still vouch for the 220-page puzzle of literature to those enthusiasts of a relatively passable whodunit. Because any one of them just may critique it as above and beyond remarkable.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Restoring Essence, LLC, as well as Beth Aldrich herself, for the author-issued copy of Pink Slips in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of Pink Slips by Beth Aldrichbis courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Sunday, February 25, 2018

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Cat Ellington’s review of Secrets of the A-List (Episode 1 of 12)

Secrets of the A-List (Episode 1 of 12) (A Secrets of the A-List Title)Secrets of the A-List (Episode 1 of 12) by Joss Wood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

César Ritz, slide aside. Conrad Hilton, pay homage. John Drake, take heed and recognize. Isadore Sharp and Murray Koffler, study and learn. Potter Palmer, bow down. And John Jacob Astor, take many seats.

The Patriarch.

For never has the world-class hospitality industry known a groundbreaking baron quite like the one named Harrison Marshall of Marshall International, a billionaire hotelier, chef, restauranteur, winemaker, and gourmet foods manufacturer—not to mention television network head, nightclub owner, cocktail bar owner and consumer of souls.

Head of the almighty and all-powerful Marshall clan, the shamelessly rich and wealthy Harrison has been hospitalized in critical condition following a near fatal accident on California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Not wearing a seat belt, the influential entrepreneur was thrown from his exclusive Bugatti after the lavish speedster hit a guard rail while traveling at a significantly lofty momentum. And as a result of the collision, Harrison Marshall sustained extensive injuries to his opulent person, including major head trauma, broken bones, a broken leg, and hand damage among a number of other minor disfigurements.

The prognosis is grave, and the celebrated Harrison Marshall’s chances of survival are slim to none. So, with such being the misfortunate circumstance, there is only one thing left for the good-looking and prosperous proprietor to do: fall head-over-heels into the unconscious embrace of a coma.

I Will Now Interlude.

On the sheets of this minted serial drama, Joss Wood works up a wet sweat channeling the preeminent Jackie Collins in the vein of the rich, the famous, the surgically beautified, and the scandalously vile who scheme, cheat, lie, and copulate their way onto the most debaucherous and sumptuously displayed playgrounds of California’s ultra elite.

In Joss Wood’s literature, however, the excessively abundant among those of the “Jackie like” is the internationally feared and way too revered Santiago-Marshall clan, a centuries-old lineage of king makers and king breakers who share a keen interest in maintaining the worldly status quo.

I Will Now Resume.

The Matriarch.

Mariella Santiago-Marshall, this transient tale’s Leona Helmsley—blended with just a touch of old era Bianca Jagger—is a proud heiress of the Don Juan Santiago dynasty of California. A control freak of epic proportions, and a hater of independent people who have no need of her, Harrison Marshall’s wife of over thirty years is the CEO of MSM Event Planning, the catering division of her husband’s hospitality empire. Mariella, enviable beyond compare (in the opinion of those who envy her), sits as queen on the throne of a two-clan ancestry—one by blood, and the other by marriage.

The undisputed empress of the sprawling Casa de Catalina, otherwise known as “Casa Cat,” Mariella’s God is her combined bloodline and money. And it is in the names of Santiago and Marshall that she puts her unwavering trust.

The Firstborn Child.

Dr. Luc Marshall is a Mercedes-AMG-driving plastic surgeon (specialized in breast and buttock enhancement), and the arrogant eldest child of Harrison and Mariella. The significant other of one Rachel Franklin—the nipped, tucked, unloved and needy daughter of California Congressman Nicholas Franklin—Dr. Luc is the spit of his luxe environment, and an idolator of his Earthly father.

The Secondborn Child.

Rafe Marshall is the incredibly intelligent, albeit less ambitious and homosexual, middle child of Harrison and Mariella. Rebuked by his father but fervently cherished by his mother, the wayward Rafe serves as a figurehead consultant on renovations and designs for the Marshall International hotels and restaurant chains.

The Lastborn Child.

Elana Marshall is the coitus-starved youngest child of Harrison and Mariella. Getting by on her looks, her renowned name, and her witty charm, the pitifully unmotivated Elana serves as a figurehead party planner for MSM Event Planning, an important position that requires a tremendous level of talent and responsibility—both of which Her Highness lacks. Good God, dahhhling, what would she do without Gabe?

The Cousin.

Gabriel “Gabe” Santiago is Mariella’s beloved nephew and loyal first cousin to Luc, Rafe, and Elana. But despite having two—count ’em, two—degrees in business, even still, the smart and hardworking Gabe Santiago is reduced to both doubling as Elana’s babysitter in MSM’s Event Planning division and basking, humiliatingly, in the more exalted shadows of his three extended family members, spoiled as the trio of heathen are.

The Ship’s Anchor.

Joe Reynolds is Harrison Marshall’s Aston Martin-driving confidant, business partner, and oldest, dearest friend. Considered by Mariella to be the ‘rock and strong rope that connects her and Harrison to the ground,’ the impious Joe Reynolds also wears—in addition to his George Hamilton tan—the coddling hat of Marshall family advisor.

The Fixer.

Whomever this mystery man may be, his well-paying job is to make sure that every disgusting opprobrium the unforthcoming Harrison Marshall evacuates from his outrageously privileged entrails gets flushed immediately.

In this, episode 1 of Secrets of the A-List, Joss Wood cooly introduces her silk-stocking cast in a punch ’em-stomp ’em-bang ’em flair that is certain to remind readers of the timeless storylines glamorously scribed by the one and only Queen of the Hollywood Bonkbuster herself, the late, great Jackie Collins.

Joined by an equally haughty bundle of supporting players, including Jerrod Jones, the Hollywood director upon whose mind-blowing erotica Elana finds herself dependent; Finola Jones, Jerrod’s gorgeous, tremendously talented, and Oscar-winning wife; Thom, Elana’s sexy, rich, and cocoa-skinned fiancé; and Nora, a wealthy mystery woman living in Paris with questionable ties to the mighty Harrison Marshall, the top-billed troupe puts forth every given effort to shine in their debut performances. And for the most part, they don’t disappoint.

Indeed, the orgasmic fluid seeping out from the loins of this scurrilous and nauseating 62-page quickie emits a musky potpourri of deception, pride, ego, arrogance, false idolatry, lust, vindictiveness, and avariciousness. I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent cuddled up with this cavorted plot. And if you fancy a ritzy mystery thriller jet set with the filthy rich who double dare comeuppance to interfere with their pompous paths in life, then you most certainly will also.

Five Champagne-wishing and Black Beluga caviar-dreaming stars.

• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Harlequin Special Releases, as well as NetGalley, for the advanced review copy (ARC) of Secrets of the A-List (episode 1 of 12) in exchange for my honest review.

Analysis of Secrets of the A-List (episode 1 of 12) is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington:

Date of Review: Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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