Category Archives: Historical (80s)

Review: The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox

Title: The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Historical (70s & 80s), Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Hollywood, 1978

Tragedy sends troubled film star Vivien Lockhart into the arms of Giovanni Moretti—and it seems her fortunes have finally changed. Until she meets his sister and learns that her new husband’s past holds dark secrets…

Tuscany, Present day

Lucy Whittaker needs to disappear. But her new home, the crumbling Castillo Barbarossa, is far from the secluded paradise it seemed. Strange sounds come from the attic. The owner of the house will never meet her in person.

The fountain in the courtyard is silent—but has never run dry.

Across the decades, Vivien and Lucy find themselves trapped in the idyllic Italian villa.

And if they are ever to truly escape its walls, they must first unearth its secrets…

Review:

Seamlessly weaving back and forth in time, The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox is a vaguely sinister mystery which takes place in an isolated Tuscan mansion.

Needing to escape from London, Lucy Whittaker is hired to work for reclusive former actress, Vivien Lockhart in Italy. With no internet or cell service at the spooky mansion, Castillo Barbarossa, she is blissfully unaware of whether or not the mistakes from her past have been exposed. Instead of dwelling on her own problems, Lucy is instead extremely curious about what happened to Vivien and why she lives such a solitary life with no company other than her maid, Adalina and groundskeeper, Salvatore.  After experiencing a few strange events she cannot explain, Lucy tries researching the history of Castillo Barbarossa and Vivien’s past. Finding little information, she teams up with Max Conti, Vivien’s former housekeeper’s nephew. When her personal life begins to implode, Lucy becomes more determined than ever to unearth the truth about Vivien and what happened at Castillo Barbarossa.

In the mid seventies, Vivien escaped her abusive father and fled to Hollywood where she discovered she had to a pay a pretty steep price for fame and fortune.  Just as her life was spiraling out of control, she unexpectedly finds romance with Italian doctor, Giovanni “Gio” Moretti.  Deliriously happy yet wary of his younger sister, Isabella, Vivien eagerly accepts his wedding proposal.  Her dream wedding is marred by a vindictive act by Isabella and soon the three are ensconced at Castillo Barbarossa.  Their initially happy marriage soon falters as Gio works long hours on a secret research project while Vivien grows increasingly frustrated by his refusal to believe Isabella is trying to drive Vivien away. As the years pass, Vivien and Isabella are locked in a battle of wills that culminates in tragedy.

Lucy has not had an easy life and once she is on her own, she makes a terrible decision when she puts her trust her boss, James Calloway. Now that things have gone horribly wrong, she feels incredibly guilty for her perceived role in what happened.  The job in Italy is the perfect opportunity for her to leave the past behind, but she is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some of the inexplicable and eerie phenomena at  Castillo Barbarossa. While at first curious about the history of the Castillo and what happened to Vivien, Lucy’s quest for answers eventually turns urgent amid her fears about the increasingly disturbing incidents she is experiencing. At the same time, her past is beginning to catch up with her and Lucy is soon facing an inescapable decision about how to handle the situation.

The Silent Fountain is an atmospheric mystery with increasingly ominous overtones.  While Lucy’s story is interesting, readers will most likely find Vivien’s story arc the most compelling.  With the chapters flipping back and forth between past and present, Victoria Fox ratchets up the tension as Vivien’s secrets are slowly revealed. With numerous twists, turns and shocking revelations, the novel comes to a an poignant yet satisfying conclusion. A truly spell-binding, suspenseful mystery that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Historical, Historical (70s), Historical (80s), Mira, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, The Silent Fountain, Victoria Fox

Review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Title: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical (80s, 90s), Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

Review:

Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis.

After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail.  Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily.  Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own.

The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family.  Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody.  Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband.  After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral.

The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school.  He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over  Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart.  However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give.  It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for.  In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody.

Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel.  Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants.  The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles.  An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Historical (90s), Hogarth, Phillip Lewis, Rated B, Review, The Barrowfields

Review: Courting Death by Paul J. Heald

Title: Courting Death by Paul J. Heald
Clarkeston Chronicles Book Three
Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Genre: Historical (late 80s), Mystery
Length: 328 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

From an internationally recognized law professor comes the third legal thriller in an exciting mystery series, the Clarkeston Chronicles.

Courting Death finds Melanie Wilkerson (from Cotton, book two of the Clarkeston Chronicles) and Arthur Hughes working uncomfortably together in the chambers of a famous federal judge. While Melanie neglects her duties as a law clerk to investigate the mysterious death of a young woman in the courthouse five years earlier, Arthur wades through the horrific habeas corpus appeals of two prisoners: an infamous serial killer and a pathetic child murder.

Melanie, a Georgia native who returns from law school in the Northeast, hoped to establish a legal reputation that will eclipse her beauty pageant queen past, which she is now desperate to disown. Arthur is a bright but naive Midwesterner who is rapidly seduced by the small Georgia college town of Clarkeston which, to his surprise, comes with an exotic and attractive landlady. The cohort of federal court clerks is completed by Phil Jenkins, a Stanford graduate from San Francisco who tries his best to balance the personalities of his volatile colleagues.

Living and working in bucolic Clarkeston comes with a price. In Courting Death, Arthur, Melanie, and Phil are confronted with the extremes of human mortality, both in and outside the legal system, in ways that they could never have expected or prepared for.

Review:

In Courting Death, the third outing in the Clarkeston Chronicles, Paul J. Heald offers an intriguing glimpse into the inner workings of the federal judicial system.

Melanie Wilkerson, Arthur Hughes and Phil Jenkins are excited for the opportunity to work as law clerks for a legendary federal judge.  Their cases run the gamut from writing mundane briefs to life or death appeals from prisoners on death row.  Arthur views his first habeas corpus appeal of a prolific serial killer dispassionately while Phil finds it difficult to set aside his personal feelings on the death penalty.  Having sailed through the process on his first death row appeal relatively unscathed, Arthur wrestles with the second  habeas corpus appeal for a death row inmate whose conviction is not as cut and dried as it first appears.  At the same time, Phil has the unenviable task of finding a legal precedence that will stay the execution of a decorated war veteran.  Meanwhile, Melanie is distracted by puzzling death of law clerk, Carolyn Bastaigne.  Five years earlier, Carolyn fell to her death while working late one evening at the courthouse.  Although her death was ruled accidental, Melanie cannot shake the feeling there is much more to the story than has been revealed.   At the end of the three clerks’ tenure, their lives will be forever changed by their experiences as they discover the justice system is not always fair nor is it easy to remain impartial when a prisoner’s life is at stake.

Arthur has his future all mapped out for himself when he begins working as clerk for the Judge.  His first case does not challenge his viewpoints overly much and he effortlessly maintains his objectivity while writing his brief.  The outcome of the stay of execution is expected and he easily puts the case behind him.  The next habeas corpus appeal is nowhere near as straight forward and he is somewhat stymied the Judge’s cryptic advice.  Arthur’s personal life is also rather unsettled  as his family faces a tragedy and his relationship with his landlady Suzanne Garfield hits an unexpected snag.

Melanie is hoping her career in law will finally prove to everyone that she is more than just a pretty face.  With a keen intellect and  an analytical mind, she has no trouble writing briefs.  However, with  her curiosity piqued by Carolyn’s death, she is having trouble staying on task.  The further she digs into the case, the more convinced she is that Carolyn might have been murdered.  Although there is very little evidence to prove her theory, Melanie tenaciously keeps searching for answers, but once she learns the truth, will she be able to find justice for Carolyn?

Phil is surprised to discover how difficult it is to keep his own beliefs from influencing his work with the Judge.  He and Arthur are often on opposite sides of issues yet they do not allow their disagreements to affect their friendship.  Deeply troubled by a stay of execution appeal he has been assigned, will Phil find a legal maneuver that will save the prisoner’s life?

Courting Death by Paul J. Heald is an insightful addition to the Clakeston Chronicles.  The cases presented are quite fascinating as are the legal procedures associated with each brief.  Fans of legal thrillers and mysteries do not want to miss this novel which provides a very thought-provoking and sometimes disquieting behind the scenes perspective of the justice system.

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Filed under Clarkeston Chronicles, Courting Death, Historical, Historical (80s), Mystery, Paul Heald, Rated B, Review, Yucca Publishing

Review: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen

Title: We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Historical (80s), Young Adult, Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear, Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.

This funny, extraordinary, and deeply moving book—set to an awesome ’80s soundtrack—captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.

Review:

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen is a humorous, poignant and heartwarming novel.  Set in 1982, lifelong friends Scott Agee and Cath Osteen exchange letters as Cath goes off to college while Scott stays in their hometown to work in his family owned clothing store.

Although Cath is excited about attending college, she is a little homesick as she settles into dorm life.  Through her letters to Scott, she fills him on her somewhat quirky roommate, freshman shenanigans and her surprisingly close friendship with Jane.  From her first college romance to struggling to keep up in her classes, she humorously and sometimes sarcastically keeps her best friend apprised of everything going on her life.  Her letters take on an unexpected serious tone as her first holiday visit home approaches and Cath finds out unsettling, life changing information about her parents.

Back home, Scott is adjusting to working in the clothing store and while he is not exactly overjoyed with his career path, he is appreciative that working with his dad has improved their relationship.  With self-deprecating humor, he minimizes his decision to coast through high school but as the months pass, he is rather contemplative as he tries to understand why he chose not to focus on going to college.  Forming a band with some of his friends provides Scott the opportunity to try his hand at songwriting and they reach a measure of success performing gigs at local establishments.  While the majority of his letters are light-hearted and humor-filled, they become much more serious after an unexpected loss.

Although Cath and Scott do talk on the phone and see one another in person, these events are only referenced during letters they write after the fact.  Their letters occasionally cross in the mail so there are a handful of slightly confusing out of sequence exchanges but the next letter helps make sense of things.  The more serious aspects of their correspondence are deftly balanced with their playful banter and  personal jokes.  The occasional misunderstanding sometimes leads to angry exchanges but their longstanding friendship easily survives these squabbles.

An absolutely charming novel with a nostalgic vibe due to music references, mix tapes and letter exchanges, We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen has a refreshingly unique storyline and a wonderful cast of characters. While the overall tone of the novel is upbeat, Cath and Scott also undergo serious, life-altering events that strengthen their friendship.  All in all, it is a captivating read that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Michael Kun, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Griffin, Susan Mullen, We Are Still Tornadoes, Young Adult

Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Title: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Historical (70s, 80s), Fiction
Length: 353 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy’s family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won’t soon forget, Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.

Review:

Set against a bleak and desolate landscape of dysfunction, abuse and neglect, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is nevertheless a captivating, albeit occasionally uncomfortable, novel that culminates in forbidden love.  Although this story may not appeal to all readers, it is a testament to Bryn Greenwood’s incredible skill as an author that she manages to turn  a relationship  that is considered unpalatable and unacceptable into a powerful and riveting love story.

Wavonna “Wavy” Quinn is the daughter of a meth cooker and a drug addicted mom suffering from mental illness who have both spent time in jail.  During her mother Val’s incarceration when Wavy is five years old, she experiences a “normal” life for the first time, but unfortunately, as soon as Val is paroled, she regains custody of her daughter and her baby son, Donal.  While life with Val is much improved as she adheres to her treatment plan, when Wavy’s father Liam re-enters the picture, the family moves to the isolated farm where Liam runs his drug lab. Life continues to go downhill for Wavy as she cares for baby Donal while her mom gives into her addiction and continues to experience the highs, lows and delusional thoughts from her untreated mental illness(es). Liam uses his good looks to charm the women who work for him and although he is spends little time with his family, when he is around, he is both physically and emotionally abusive to both Val and Wavy. Life becomes more bearable for Wavy when she is eight years old and she meets much older Jesse Joe Kellen. The bond between them is unshakable and by the time she enters her early teen years, their feelings for one another have begun to cross into romantic territory.

Forced to grow up entirely way too fast, Wavy is heartbreakingly sympathetic character who takes her mother’s wild rants to heart.  With a host of inexplicable habits that horrify and confound the people around her, she says little and puts up with abuse and neglect that no one, let alone a child, should ever have to endure.  Therefore, it is not at all surprising when she becomes completely enamored by Kellen.  Although Kellen is an ex-con and a low-level criminal, he is the only person in Wavy’s life to show  any kindness, care or concern for her well-being.  In the midst of chaos, Kellen is a stabilizing force who ensures Wavy continues her education and provides many of the basics she needs in order to care for herself and her brother.  Entirely enrapt with the one person who provides her unconditional love and comfort , Wavy’s innocent affection  for Kellen gradually blossoms into love as she enters her early teen years.

Kellen’s past is almost as tragic as Wavy’s yet he remains kind-hearted and caring despite his abusive childhood and his criminal background.  He is immediately drawn to Wavy and his interest in her is completely innocent and above reproach for the first several years of their relationship.  Although he is a high school dropout, he is a skilled mechanic who easily recognizes Wavy’s above average intelligence. Taking her under his wing, Kellen takes his role as her protector seriously as he makes sure she attends school and steps in to assist her wherever she needs his help.

Spanning fifteen years, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is written from multiple points of view, including Wavy’s and Kellen’s.  While it seems impossible to believe, the evolution of Wavy and Kellen’s relationship into a taboo romance is natural and believable, albeit somewhat disturbing to outsiders looking in (and readers).  Although somewhat uncomfortable once the story moves into sexual territory, the scenes between Wavy and Kellen are non-gratuitous and tastefully written.  Wavy is rather precocious and since her world is full of inappropriate relationships, she sees absolutely no reason she should not love or desire Kellen.  Older yet damaged and emotionally stunted, Kellen is taken off guard by his shifting emotions for Wavy and in his defense, he does try hard to keep their relationship platonic.  Just as his plan for their future begins to come together, Wavy’s parents careen toward a disastrous end that threatens to tear Kellen and Wavy apart permanently.

Raw, gritty and dark, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is one of those novels that grabs a reader by the heart and never lets go. Bryn Greenwood is a phenomenally gifted storyteller who does not hesitate to delve into controversial or difficult subject matter.  An amazingly gusty risk that I am so glad she decided to take because Wavy and Kellen’s story is an incredible journey that is heartrending yet unexpectedly uplifting.  An enthralling novel that might be considered taboo, but ultimately speaks to power of love.

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Filed under All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood, Fiction, Historical, Historical (70s), Historical (80s), Rated B+, Review, Thomas Dunne Books

Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Title: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Genre: Historical (80s), Horror, Supernatural
Length: 337 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession. The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries—and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil? Like an unholy hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist, My Best Friend’s Exorcism blends teen angst, adolescent drama, unspeakable horrors, and a mix of ’80s pop songs into a pulse-pounding supernatural thriller.

Review:

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is a spellbinding and suspenseful novel about a friendship that is strong enough to withstand just about anything, including demonic possession.

Despite coming from completely different backgrounds, Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang have been close friends since the fourth grade.  Abby’s family has struggled financially ever since her father went on strike during the air traffic controller strike in the early ’80s while Gretchen’s family is wealthy.  Abby is on her own a lot but Gretchen’s über religious parents closely monitors her activities.  Despite a few fights along the way, their friendship is closer than ever when, after experimenting with LSD one evening, Gretchen disappears overnight and although she returns the next morning, she soon begins acting very strangely.  Abby knows something is very wrong with her friend, but cracks soon begin to appear in their relationship when Gretchen’s parents blame Abby for the changes in their daughter’s behavior.

The first half of the story follows Abby and Gretchen’s friendship from its inception through junior high.  Abby is well aware of the socioeconomic differences between them and because of the girls’ close friendship, she included in several of the Lang family vacations.  Since Abby’s family is less strict than hers, Gretchen takes full advantage when she is away from her parents’ watchful eyes to experience the movies, TV shows and music that are popular in the 80s.  In junior high, Abby is shocked and stunned by Gretchen’s mom’s extreme reaction when she catches her daughter emulating a popular musician of the day.

By their sophomore year,  Abby is well aware of the risk Gretchen is taking as they begin pushing the boundaries as they while away their summer days drinking and sunbathing with their friends. With the rest of the group eager to experiment with LSD, Gretchen reluctantly agrees to join in only after Abby promises to take care of her. When the girls are disappointed  their “trip” never materializes, they decide to go swimming late at night but Gretchen quickly disappears in the surrounding woods.  Abby refuses to leave without trying to find her, but after she stumbles across a ramshackle building, she is too frightened to continue her search.  When Gretchen returns relatively unharmed the next morning, Abby drops her off at home then goes about her day.  However, trouble begins later that evening when Gretchen begins experiencing terrifying and unexplainable phenomena.

As Gretchen’s behavior begins to alienate her classmates and her other friends, Abby desperately tries to help her. With each horrifying incident, the gulf widens between the girls but Abby refuses to give up trying to understand what is happening.  Her appeals to the adults around her fall on deaf ears and as the situation continues to escalate, Gretchen’s parents turn on Abby.  Even when Gretchen appears to have finally recovered for her ordeal, Abby remains suspicious but no one believes her when she tries to convince them something is gravely wrong.  As the situation continues to deteriorate, Abby is ostracized by her friends and classmates but she refuses to stop trying to uncover the truth about what is wrong with Gretchen.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a compelling novel that is takes a rather tongue in cheek approach to demonic possession.  This aspect of the storyline is very well written and while it is not overly scary, it still manages to be a quite creepy. It is not until the exorcism takes place that the scenes become graphic and even then, Grady Hendrix takes a very unorthodox approach to casting out Gretchen’s demon. A highly unique and extremely engaging novel that horror fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Grady Hendrix, Historical (80s), Horror, Quirk Books, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements