It’s raining! It’s raining so much, it’s flooding—the perfect time to stay inside and get cozy with a cup of hot chocolate and an exciting book. Here are my winter thriller picks:
Re-releasing on January 18th by award-winning crime writer, Lisa Towles, Choke won A Big NYC Book Award in 2018 and has been cited as a”compelling story” and “a smoking’ good read”. I totally agree. It’s a IUPH reprint that was originally published by Rebel Publishers in 2017. I loved it then and again! In typical Towles-style, this fast-paced psychological thriller is a puzzle for the reader to piece together. Through snappy dialog, characters’ on-going internal anguish and tightly crafted and complicated plotting, Choke is a thrilling ride guaranteed to keep you awake way too late. I highly recommend Choke—and all of Lisa Towles‘s thrillers. See the trailer here.
Kerry Stine’s life is destroyed when she’s blamed for the death of a hospital patient. Not only is she fired, but she’s wanted by the police. On top of this, a squatter in her apartment thinks she’s hiding a priceless historical treasure—and wants it. Elsewhere, Dr. Adrian Calhoun is a target and a liability to the pharmaceutical industry for the controversial cancer cure he’s developed. Kerry’s search for the truth about her squatter leads her to a different truth – about a part of her past she’s not ready to face and a precious jewel that can’t possibly be hers. Adrian must protect not only himself but his secret formula and his vulnerable control group, before Pharma gets to them first. The destinies of Adrian and Kerry collide to piecing together stunning revelations that change their lives forever.
Published in 2021, Blood’s Echo is the first of three Veranda Cruz police procedurals set in Phoenix, Arizona. Veranda is determined to take down the heir to a ruthless Mexican cartel, but is she willing to lose everything, including her life, to see justice? Not only is Bartolo Villalobos unstable and vicious, but foes on the force stand in her way. Her new homicide team and an arsonist ally are drawn into the danger as the investigation heats up. When Veranda learns information held secret for years, she has no choice but to protect her family . . . and stop Villalobos.
Blood’s Echo deservedly won the Mariposa Award for the best First Novel. It’s a fast-paced, thrilling procedural dealing with some of the most dangerous police work: fighting the drug cartels. Hank Phillippi Ryan describes it as, “Taut, tense, and relentlessly authentic. Isabella Maldonado-with her unique personal knowledge of the danger, conflict and emotional toll of law enforcement is an important new voice in crime fiction.” I picked up my copy before getting on a plane and only put it down when I disembarked three hours later. Everything about Blood’s Echo kept me reading. Veranda is smart and strong, but she’s also a loving family member. I loved being a fly on the wall observing her big Latin immigrant family. I will read the rest of this series and the touted Nina Guerrera series too. Don’t miss this high tension, adrenaline producing thriller by Isabella Maldonado.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”– Mortimer J. Adler
All Her Little Secrets is one of the best books I’ve read. Wanda M. Morris is an accomplished writer; her sentences are beautiful, her language is intelligent, and her ability to drop into various voices is smooth. The book is an edgy, hard look at racism, secrets, the legal system, and family. Morris doesn’t mince words. Character Ellice Littlejohn’s descriptions of being a powerless poor Black child in Georgia and an invisible Black professional woman in Atlanta are heart wrenching. Ellice’s secrets might have held her back, but her strength and determination to protect her family keep her going where a lesser person would give up. What a debut! All Her Little Secrets won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel. Congratulations Wanda! I look forward to more of Wanda M. Morris’s books.
Ellice Littlejohn has an Ivy League Law degree, a great corporate job in Atlanta and a long-time lover—who is white and her boss. When she finds him on his office floor shot through the head, she walks away. But why? She’s afraid her past, her jailbird brother, her impoverished upbringing, must remain secret. The following day she’s promoted to her boss’s position, but why didn’t the top executives go to the funeral? Ellice, the only Black employee, starts to uncover the rot at the core of the corporation. As she gets closer to the company secrets, her own secrets are exposed. It’s a moral and ethical nightmare, and a heart-pounding ride!
Okay! Pick a book or three and make the perfect hot chocolate. Here’s how:
INGREDIENTS: 1 SERVING
1 cup milk, soy milk, almond milk, or water
1 package/disc Taza Chocolate Discs (any flavor)
Salt to taste
1. Roughly chop or grate one disc of any flavor and set aside.
2. Heat one cup of milk or water in a small saucepan over medium heat to just below a simmer.
3. Remove the milk from heat and add a pinch of salt.
4. Slowly mix in the chocolate, stirring frequently until dissolved.
5. When the chocolate is dissolved, return the mixture to the stove and re-warm over low heat.
6. While the chocolate is warming, use a whisk or molinillo to froth the chocolate.
7. When the chocolate is hot and frothy, remove from heat and serve.
America: Standing Strong
Right from the introduction to America: Standing Strong, I knew I‘d be powerfully moved by Robert J. Emery’s book. He says, “There is a worldwide upheaval coming if it’s not already here. This time, it feels different; this time, it feels dangerous. Where are the voices of common sense, reason, and compromise? There was a time when America’s two-party system, for example, worked to advance American society despite philosophical differences. Today there is endless in-fighting and political posturing between the parties that do little to advance the lives of citizens. Enough already.” Exactly—enough already!
I’m not a zealous fan of political essays or social histories, although I’ve read a few important books in my day, and this is one of them. The book is not anything I expected when my fellow Indies United Publishing House author asked me to review. Emery has offered readers a look at our divided society, politics, COVID pandemic, racial tension and eroding trust in our government, leaving it up to us, the reader, to form our own opinions. He punctuates his thoughts and illuminates the facts with quotations from famous authors, movies, politicians, songs,—even Forest Gump— all designed to make the reader think and to put things in perspective. Inspired by columnist David Brooks, “. . .when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” Emery counters with [Brook’s words are] “a call to arms, not with weapons or violence, but as a unified country to meet challenges head-on with honesty, truth, and facts and to roundly reject the voices of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would lead us in the wrong direction.”
Written with humor and straightforward “plain talk,” America: Standing Strong explores where we are on many fronts and how we got here. Emery includes chapters on Dictators, terrorism, Anger and the Loss of Civility, Guns in America, the environment, Conspiracies Theories & Misinformation, Technology & Social Media, along with the expected chapters on January 6th, The 2020 Election and The Pandemic. He says, “Stay with me; it gets messier as we proceed.” He often opens a chapter with “What went wrong, and what went right.” and often ends a chapter with a call to action and a summary of the consequences of the chapter topic and a final word. In the chapter, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? it ends with this:
The final word goes to philosopher Voltaire
“What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We
are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally
each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”
—Voltaire (1694 -1778)—
Writer, historian, and philosopher
Another favorite line of Emery’s is “Make of that what you will.” He isn’t proselytizing or persuading. He’s presenting the facts of our current socio-political life and inspiring us to action by telling it like it is, how it’s been (there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?) and offering steps to right some of our wrongs. As an added bonus, Emery offers a host of books and articles to reference within the text. I read several of them and made a list of many more to catch up on later. That’s because Robert J. Emery has made me a convert.
Rather than sticking my nose into another thriller, now I’m paying attention to real life. How did this happen? Robert J. Emery has written a book that inspired me. The issues are complex but the intent and presentation are simple. America: Standing Strong is fact-filled, often entertaining, and left me feeling hopeful. I highly recommend it. “Make of that what you will.”
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
—T.S. Elliot (1888 -1965)—
An Interview with Robert J. Emery
am: What brought you to writing?
RJE: I have no idea why I began writing little stories in the 5th grade, like the two pages I wrote when my dog died. I attended Catholic school and my homeroom teacher, a nun, was kind enough to read my one- and two-page stories and she encouraged me to keep writing, which I did consistently all through school and my 4 years in the Air Force. It was a fun way to amuse myself. I never gave thought to where it might lead me one day.
am: You eventually broke in to the film industry. Tell us about that.
RJE: It began with a small ad agency I opened in Canton, Ohio. When the first TV station came to town in the mid-sixties we got into the writing and shooting of local TV commercials. I then created a daily morning talk show which I produced and directed for that station. We were fortunate to have a regular flow of Hollywood actors as guests when they were doing summer stock at the Warren Theater in nearby Warren, Ohio.
At some point, I began writing screenplays with no clue what I would do with them. As it turns out, some local businessmen had an interest in investing in an independent motion picture and that’s how I got my first film made. I then spent 4 decades writing, directing, and producing eight motion pictures and over 140 hours of cable network documentaries, and everything in between that had anything to do with film production.
am: Now you’re writing books. Have you come back to your story telling roots?
RJE: Yes. In 2006, I retired and set out to fulfill a life dream of writing books, which I never had time for during my production career. First came four non-fiction books. A NY publisher asked me if I would write on my experiences producing and directing the Starz/Encore 92-episode series, “The Director.” I followed that with my first novel, In the Realm of Eden, a science fiction story about human/alien first contact. Later, I extended the story to 562 pages, changed the name to The Autopsy of Planet Earth, and released it in two volumes via Indies United Publishing House. Next came the dystopian novel Midnight Black, also revised and expanded and released through Indies United.
am: Tell us about your writing process. You write in several genre.
RJE: I admit to being obsessive writing 6-7 hours a day every day when I can. And I’m fortunate to be able to write in any genre when a subject moves me, fiction or non-fiction, like my current book America: Standing Strong, a subject I’m passionate about. America: Standing Strong is a non-fiction examination of what Americans endured between 2015 and today, and how as a country we will come back strong.
When writing fiction, I believe one of my strengths is creating characters because of my background in writing and directing screenplays. I direct my book characters in my head the same way I did when directing actors. For me, it’s the same process. I try to give each character something that sets them apart from the others. It might be how a character looks or how they talk. In Autopsy, for example, I had one character drop the ing’s on all his spoken words. It’s something I work hard at to give readers a visual sense of who each character is. That, I believe, is the challenge each writer faces.
am: What was the inspiration behind America: Standing Strong?
America: Standing Strong came about because all the books that were coming out by investigative reporters, as good as they were, were about the previous American administration. But what about what Americans endured not only politically, but the pandemic, the racial uncertainty, the 2020 election, the Jan 6 insurrection, unemployment, healthcare, inflation? That’s what was missing from the narrative. That is why I became passionate enough about it to spend over a year writing.
am: So what’s next? Will you write more on the troubling times we live in?
RJE: Ahhhhh… the next one, The Diarrhea Diaries, Trump’s Tweets That Give us the Runs, began as a joke that I turned into a non-fiction book featuring 400 of Mr. Trump’s greatest insulting Tweets which gained me my share of blowback from his supporters.
I will never live long enough to write all the stories rolling around in my head, but, I’m going to give it one hell of a try, because I love what I do.
Robert J. Emery
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