I received this book complements of NetGalley and the publisher, William Morrow and Custom House.
The blurb for this book drew me in and it was promoted as “Paper Moon meets Badlands.” I have to add my own spin on that. To me, it was more like “Where The Crawdads Sing” meets John Steinbeck.
I’ve read a lot of books this year and this one is landing at the top of my “best books” ever list! I don’t think I’ve met such horribly flawed characters.
A baby girl without a name, unwanted, discarded at birth like a piece of garbage, who never knows acceptance or love through the many foster homes is the main character. “The policeman who had found her as an infant had supposedly named her Katherine, but the only time she heard her name spoken was when a teacher called roll or a social worker handed her off to a new foster family.“
At thirteen, she ran. She has one tiny piece of paper that tells her of an aunt who lives in Pecan Hollow and that’s where she blindly heads. Starving, she steals food from a gas station, then attempts to steal a bag of food from a Mustang parked outside when she gets caught. Instead of Manny turning her over to the authorities, he takes her in. She struggles when he asks her name and finally tells him it’s Kit. He feeds her. He grooms her for his wants and needs. Like in Paper Moon, she distracts the victims while Manny steals. She finally knows what it feels like to be loved, wanted, and useful.
But Manny’s petty theft escapades soon escalate to more and they became known as the Texaco Twosome for the string of armed robberies across the state. As Kit grows and develops into a teenager, her infatuation for Manny grows. He has not made any sexual advances toward her, and that is his one redeeming quality.
That eventually changes and Kit gets pregnant. Manny insists on an abortion. I don’t want to reveal too much about this story, but Manny gets caught in an armed robbery while Kit escapes. She arrives in Pecan Hollow at her aunt’s house with nothing but a baby inside her. It’s here she puts down roots.
Kit is tough. And her daughter, Charlie, refers to her mom as “bat-shit crazy.” Kit cannot feel pain. She only knows she is wounded when blood flows. But the pain that rests in her heart makes up for the lack of physical pain.
This story is well-written, gripping and I absolutely devoured it. The plot twists and thriller ending left me reeling. Kudos to this author for such a tremendous debut novel. While Caroline Frost is a new author to me, I can promise I will be reading everything she writes! She’s that good!
The book is set for release in February, 2022 but is available now for pre-order.
I might add that this author doesn’t have a lot of followers on Twitter, but seems to really appreciate each one, so you might consider following her.
Thank you for hosting me today, Jan. There’s a lot to be said for crossing the pond “on a magic carpet” in these difficult times. I’m here to launch my first crime thriller, Shattered Lives, and the first thing I want to say is it is true escapism. I’ve ignored Covid19 – in the book! I am double-jabbed, and crossing my fingers, in reality.
Escapism with a serial killer? Maybe. This is a five-star Amazon review.
Callianne: A Very Different “Killer-Thriller”!
I loved the way the first murder happened right at the start, though it’s scary being inside the mind of a psychopath. Shattered Lives has a complex plot, and knowing who the killer was, and his real target made it truly enthralling.
Ralph Thyme, an addicted gambler, and his wealthy grandmother’s only acknowledged heir, discovers he has an elder sister, Olivia, who was sold at birth. Suppose Olivia discovers her true identity and claims half the inheritance he craves? How far will he go to eliminate the threat?
Olivia escaped childhood sexual abuse. Despite horrific memories, nightmares, and fear, she is determined to save a stranger’s little girl from the same fate, and the solution she offers takes all her courage… and then some.
DCI Croft investigates a heinous case of rape, murder, and mutilation. Next to die, are a private detective and his pretty daughter… and then another woman… and another. Can DCI Croft identify and capture a psychopathic killer hell-bent on eliminating anyone who stands in his way before he murders his sister… or is it already too late for Olivia?
Excerpt featuring the serial killer.
Ralph was bored and frustrated; Sykes Gambling Club was closed for the installation of new machines, and he had problems to solve before he killed again. He wandered out into the garden. It would all be his soon, and when it was, he’d have a fully-glazed shelter built at the highest point – what the fuck were two of the gardeners doing?
‘Hold it higher than that, Lofty.’
‘Sod yer, I kent ’elp bein’ short. What’s this ’ere trellis for anyroad? This ’ere fence ’ides the rubbish bins from the windas.’
‘It’s a new support to train Sweet Pea plants. Dame Edith likes the flowers for the house.’
‘In autumn? Pull t’other one.’
‘Lift up, blast it, and keep it still while I tie it in place.’
He stopped listening. If Ralph Thyme wanted to keep a girl’s wrists together, those ties would do the trick. He approached quietly and grabbed a handful. If the men ran out, so what? Grandmother wasn’t coming home to stink the place out with flowers.
Back indoors, smugness faded. He’d seen how the ties were used, but he hadn’t expected them to be so stiff. No woman would hold her wrists together and wait! Then there was the hooker who’d screamed. Suppose one of the slags in the flat below had taken a night off and heard her? Would a scarf make a good gag? November had arrived with cold winds, so a woman wouldn’t be spooked by him wearing one. He pulled a selection out of his drawer. How much sound would penetrate cashmere? Was wool the best material? He opened drawers where some of Grandmother’s clothes were still stored. Useless female colours… except one.
Kicking his bedroom door closed, he scowled. He still didn’t know which to choose. He could try it on himself and bellow loudly – and have Mrs. Sharnbrook overhear if it didn’t work and send men to disable a mythical attacker? He could wait until she went out…
Mrs. Sharnbrook shopped personally sometimes, but the house was never empty and choosing an innocent item that worked as a gag was urgent. His cock gave him no peace and his hands itched to kill. He was holding scarves against the light to assess their density when Candice walked in with coffee.
‘Shall I ask Auntie to turn up the radiator thingy, sir?’
Trust Candice not to remember it was called a thermostat. The half-wit would forget him experimenting on her with scarves; if she did and said anything, nobody would believe her. It was risky, putting his hands near that long slender neck.
‘Sir, I could light the fire.’
Drivel, drivel! It was her life on the line unless he got satisfaction elsewhere. ‘I’m not cold now, Candice. I’m trying to decide which scarf is the warmest for when I go out.’
‘They all look warm, sir. I haven’t got a scarf, but I only go to the bins with rubbish.’
‘You shall choose one of mine if you help me with an experiment, Candice.’
‘Ooh, yes, sir. What’s an experiment?’
‘A way of –’ she wouldn’t understand “establishing facts” – ‘finding out something. If I tie a scarf over your mouth, and you shout, I’ll know which one is the thickest.’
Candice still looked baffled. ‘Yes, sir.’
The first two scarves allowed him to hear “is that right, sir”. He said nothing, so she was sure to have shouted louder, and the third scarf smothered her words. ‘Well done, Candice. Now, which scarf would you like?’
She pointed at the purple one that belonged to Grandmother. ‘That one, please, sir.’
It wouldn’t be missed by its owner, but it might be noticed. ‘Tell Auntie that Dame Edith said I could give it to you, or you’ll be in trouble.’
Candice shivered. ‘Yes, sir, I will.’
The half-wit feared Auntie, but silence from a victim was assured. Using the ties must be done quickly, and he had a girl here to practise on, but he’d already rewarded her. ‘Candice, do you have nice warm gloves?’
‘No, sir. My hands get sore every winter.’
‘I could buy you a pair, but I’d need to know the right size and… and not everyone’s wrists are a pair.’
‘A pair, sir?’
God, this was difficult. ‘Hold out both hands close together.’
‘Like this, sir?’
‘Perfect, Candice. Now, keep very still while I use my special measuring gadget.’ It took him far too long to wrap it around her wrists and slip the pointed end into the hole. ‘Ah! I need to practise, or the gloves might not fit.’
‘It’s a queer looking thing, sir. Will it hurt if it gets tighter?’
‘I suppose it might, but I won’t let it.’ At his sixth attempt, he applied one in a few seconds, and it locked. ‘Got it!’
‘Got what, sir?’
He pressed the tab and released her. ‘The correct size for your gloves.’
It was dark when he strolled down the steep hill to Garton North underground station debating whether to get off a train at a stop in Garton Central or travel on to Garton South. The second was where he’d found hookers, but he wanted a woman the Garton Gazette would write articles about, and half their readers probably thought hookers deserved anything they got, so another murdered would only get mentioned to up the victim count.
Amongst the crowd emerging from the station was a girl wearing a fur coat with a matching hat and gloves, and high-heeled shoes. Blonde hair flowed from beneath the hat and over her collar. She was perfect, and she was alone. Any second, a husband or father would arrive to pick her up; she was hovering almost on the kerb looking to her left.
He pretended to light a cigarette. She waited, tapping now and then at a mobile she produced from her handbag.
Another crowd of passengers swarmed from the station and took the waiting taxies. The girl stamped a foot, thrust the mobile into her pocket, and set off at a brisk walk. He followed, keeping to the opposite side of the road and watching for a darkened shop doorway deep enough to hide them both.
Five-Star Readers’ Favorite Review by Anne-Marie Reynolds
Shattered Lives by Sarah Stuart is a fascinating thriller that delves deep into two storylines: the mind of a psychopath and that of a sexual abuse survivor who must save another from the same fate to heal herself. It isn’t a story for younger readers or the faint-hearted: child sexual abuse, necrophilia, and graphic violence are just part of the substantial subject matter. This story delves into how a psychopath functions and what makes them tick, leading you down some dark paths through a truly twisted mind. It also guides you on a journey of discovery through the eyes of a child sex abuse survivor, more dark paths that eventually lead to the light. Shattered Lives is a gripping tale that will hold your heart in a vise while you read it, and it will have you turning the pages deep into the night.
I was so excited to get my hands on this book for many reasons, but one of them being that Taylor Moore was a part of my sister’s writing critique group in Amarillo, Texas. This is his debut novel.
Garrett Kohl is as rough and rugged as the land he grew up on in the Texas Panhandle. He’s as comfortable on the back of a horse as he is behind the wheel of a vehicle. He served in the military special forces and now works closely with the CIA as a DEA undercover agent. The story begins with immediate action and tension as Garrett is on a surveillance mission in Afghanistan. He knows he’s past the allowed U.S. perimeter but when he witnesses marauders massacre an entire village, except for one small boy, he cannot idly sit by. He doesn’t stop until they all pay for murdering the innocent people. With the boy in tow, he returns to headquarters to take his punishment for interfering.
Only the punishment he receives is nothing like what he imagined. He is ordered to take the boy with him and return to Texas, to keep him safe for future testimony against the terrorists.
Here’s where the story shifts and Garrett’s family dynamics come into play. His mother is deceased. His father is a grizzled old rancher with more grit than John Wayne. He has one brother, Bridger, a prominent attorney in the small town of Canadian. Bridger is married and has two twin daughters. I was prepared to dislike Garrett’s father for his rough ways and spiteful comments, but this author made me love him. The old man takes the young Afghan boy under his wing and teaches him the ways of the ranch. The story’s pace cools down to a slow burn while building toward the climax.
While Garrett thinks he’s escaped the tense and deadly world of high-stakes drug dealing, instead he’s walked right into the most deadly fight of all and it involves his entire family. The Garza drug cartel is deeply embedded in the panhandle working through a local oil company to move the products.
When Garrett’s brother, Bridger is forced to represent Mescalero Oil, drawing up bogus contracts and representing two of the oil company’s goons who get caught with drugs, he plays a game of Russian roulette with his family as the bargaining chips. The brothers join forces, letting their bygone differences be bygones. They won’t rest until the family is safe again as well as the Afghan boy, Asadi.
The non-stop action, the authenticity of the setting, the weapons, the military tactics, and the characters are compelling and unforgettable. This author managed to combine high-tension thriller drama with family dynamics in such a way that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. All of the tertiary characters are multi-dimensional and each with their own story. If I had to offer any critique of the story, it would be that Garrett thought about and talked about how much he loved and missed his nieces and sister-in-law, and yet he never made an effort to go see them until they were under the cartel’s thumb, so I think a thread got dropped.
This is a story we will be seeing on the big screen. It’s that good! I highly recommend it.
I received this book via NetGalley and the publisher, William Morrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review.
About the Author
I’m often asked how I ended up at the CIA, a question to which there are more than a few answers. But what I think people really want to know is what edged a regular guy like me out of the light and into the shadows of the intelligence world: a what makes you tick kind of thing.
It’s a question I can answer in one single phrase—passion for adventure.
This is the same passion that drew me to childhood heroes like Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Jack Ryan. This quest for adventure propelled me on a solo journey at the age of twenty-four through the jungles of Bolivia, over the Andes, and across the raging Drake Passage on a Russian icebreaker to Antarctica.
And it’s the same passion I have now that spurs me to write thriller novels and action-adventure stories.
We may grow up, but we don’t have to give in. No matter our age or what we do, a good passion for adventure never dies. And if you’re like me and you’re searching for the next one, then look no further. You’ve arrived.
I am super happy to turn my blog over to Gwen Plano today so that she can tell us about her new book, The Culmination A New Beginning!
Thank you so much, Jan, for inviting me to your amazing blog and for helping me launch The Culmination, a new beginning. It just went public on Amazon, and I’m super excited. To celebrate, the Kindle edition is on sale at 99¢ through December.
So, what’s the book about? The Culmination can best be described as a military thriller. It tackles difficult topics such as denuclearization, the power struggles over oil in the Middle East, as well as the ever-present danger of war. Readers will find themselves sitting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walking in the historic Red Square, and laughing with children in an orphanage in Turkey. They will glimpse the horror of war and watch the give and take of a negotiated peace. Readers will also meet the two heads of state who fall in love and subsequently commit themselves to creating a world in which all are family.
I never expected to write this book, but in some ways, I had no choice. The characters crowded into my office and insisted that I listen to them. In a very real way, they wrote the book. I simply tapped the keys and learned of the urgent need to become family. How perfect for Thanksgiving!
The Culmination, a new beginning is the third book in The Contract thriller series. After an assassination attempt on an Air Force base in northern California, tensions mount. Heads of state meet to craft a denuclearization agreement. The meetings between these nuclear powers take a murderous turn. A nefarious conspiracy re-emerges and leads the characters into the heart of the Middle East, where they encounter the unexpected and find a reason for hope.
Leaders from nine countries with nuclear arsenals gather in Reykjavik, Iceland to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty. Vice President Margaret Adler from the United States chairs the meetings. After an intense and heated exchange between two heads of state, Adler calls for order and addresses the group.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, or anyone else, we’d admit freely that we don’t trust, that we live in fear, and that we are always ready to impose a deadly strike. In fact, our power is measured by our ability to destroy. Isn’t that right?
“No one suggests that we abandon our need to protect our country’s boundaries and our people. Rather, today, we lay the foundation for an alternative way of relating. Shall we proceed?”
Members glance one at another and nod their agreement.
For the next two hours, the leaders present and discuss their preliminary ideas for progressive nuclear disarmament. The Pakistani leader asks for a break, and Adler concurs.
“Let’s reconvene in fifteen minutes,” she says.
As chairs get pushed back, and people stand, Adler walks out onto the deck. A chilly breeze brushes her skin, which she welcomes. This is her first visit to Iceland, and she smiles. What a perfect location.
The Russian President interrupts her reveries when he stands by her side. “This is a day I could not have imagined, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Vice President of the United States, looking out on …”
Adler smiles, “I couldn’t have imagined it either. Here we are, the two most powerful countries in the world, nations who have hated one another for a century, marveling at natural beauty and a child playing with a kite. No, I couldn’t have imagined.”
President Smirnov gives a side glance and asks, “Where did it occur?”
Adler realizes that he’s noticed her arm prosthesis. “Afghanistan.”
“Ah, another reason to hate Russians.”
“Don’t we all have reasons? You wonder who holds the power—truly. Those of us who can destroy, or a child who plays innocently with her kite?”