Tag Archives: Renee Roberson

Book Review: Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares

When I got the e-mail about Ellen Valladares and the blog tour for her new YA novel, Crossing the Line, I jumped at the chance to review the book. A teenage girl ghost from the 1980s? A mystery? A young journalist as the protagonist? I couldn’t not check out the book, as these are themes near and dear to my own heart.

Thanks to Crystal Otto with WOW! Blog Tours for offering me the chance to participate! You can check out an interview with the author here.

About the book:

Laura, who died thirty years ago, enlists the help of a tenacious high school reporter named Rebecca, who is very much alive. Rebecca, although skeptical and conflicted by her supposed encounters with a spirit, determines to learn the truth about Laura’s tragic death. As the clues unravel and their worlds collide, Rebecca finds herself at a dangerous crossroads.

Laura, now pulled back into everything she left behind when she died – her old high school and memories of her life and death—has been in training for this exact moment. And nothing means more to her than succeeding at her assignment.

It is her one chance to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone else, and especially not to her new friend, Rebecca.

About the author:

Ellen Wolfson Valladares is an award-winning writer/author, workshop facilitator, community volunteer, and mother. A native Floridian, she grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She has worked as an editor, public relations professional, and freelance writer. Her first book, a children’s novel entitled Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu, received several awards, including a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources Visionary Awards Book of the Year award. She also has a meditation CD, entitled “Healing and Manifestation with the Archangels.”
Today, Valladares continues to work as a freelance writer. She also enjoys coaching high school students working on their college essays and helping other writers realize their dreams. She has been married to her husband, Manny, for 30 years and they have two sons, Gabriel and Michael, two dogs, Flash and Chili Pepper, and a crazy cat named Zelda. They live in Weston, Fla.

Paperback: 300 pages

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: WiDO (March 2018)

ISBN-13: 978-1-937178-99-4

Review:

This book had everything I enjoy in a novel–relatable characters, paranormal elements, mystery, romance and a time period the features the  music and fashion I adored.  But Crossing the Line turned out to be so much more than that.

I knew from the opening pages that there was more to Laura’s death than met the eye. Through alternating chapters, the reader is able to learn more about the character of Laura, and her murder at the hands of a female classmate. Throughout the course of the novel, Laura is a student at “The Academy,” or how the author presents the Afterlife. As she learns various ways she can reconnect with the living, she also receives a mission that requires her to reach out to a modern-day student at her former high school, Rebecca.

When Rebecca first makes contact with Laura through a Ouija Board (remember those?), she is understandably frightened. But through her sleuthing skills and help of her journalism teacher, she starts to investigate Laura’s death and her long-standing feud with the girl who murdered her, Katie.

Valldares is a masterful writer and plotter, and I enjoyed reading the story through the alternating chapters of Laura and Rebecca’s voices. She skillfully tied the characters of the early 1980s to present day (I won’t get into too much here but there were plenty of surprises on that front!) and I could easily understand how a teenage boy could could cause friction among two female students. The mission Laura is on is also woven into the novel in a way that flowed seamlessly.

And not to give too much away, but I was also glad to have the chance to hear from the character of Katie herself, but I won’t reveal exactly how.

I look forward to sharing this book with  my own teenage daughter. I know she’ll love it.

 

Who Was in the Polaroid? The Case of Tara Calico

Sometime last year I came across a video on the case of Tara Calico, who vanished from her hometown in Belen, New Mexico after heading out on her daily 34-mile bike ride on her mother’s Huffy (Tara’s bike had a flat tire and needed to be repaired). The year was 1988 and Tara was 19 years old. Her mother knew she wouldn’t be gone too long because she had an afternoon tennis date with her boyfriend.

Witnesses saw a white pick-up truck following closely behind her as she took off, and although she had only planned on taking a short ride, she never came home. After the initial 24-hour waiting period, police traced her route and found her Boston cassette tape lying by the side of the road about three miles from her home. Tara was described as outgoing, studious, and hard-working. She was attending a local  college and working part-time when she vanished, so her family believed immediately that she wouldn’t have left on her own.

Some time later a Walkman believed to have belonged to Tara was discovered about 19 miles away at a local campground, along with what looked to be bike tracks or scuffle marks.

About nine months after Tara vanished, a woman came across a Polaroid photo in the parking lot of a grocery store in Port St. Joe, Fla. A white cargo van had been previously parked in the spot where the photo was found. The photo showed a young woman and an even younger boy both bound and gagged on a bed with some striped sheets.

Alburquerque Journal

The picture appeared to have been taken in the back of a white Toyota cargo van with no windows. When Tara’s mother saw the picture, she insisted the girl, who had a V.C. Andrews novel placed beside her, was Tara. Andrews was Tara’s favorite author. Other people speculated the boy with Tara was Michael Henley, a nine-year-old boy who had gone missing in the New Mexico Zuni mountains in 1988, but his remains were later found near the area where he went missing two years later.

The case has never been solved, but with the renewed interest of the former sheriff, Rene Rivera, and an old classmate of Tara’s, Melinda Esquibel, closure could be on the horizon. There are rumors in the town of Belen that  two teenage boys were possibly involved in the abduction and subsequent murder of Tara, and that parents of the boys helped cover it up.  When Esquibel began working on  documentary of the case, the sheriff’s office in Valencia County gave her access to what little files existed on the case. What she found was in shambles and it was evident files had gone missing over the years. She began her own investigation that has been turned into a podcast, Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation. I just started listening to the podcast and am curious to see what unfolds.

A lot of the fiction I write is inspired by true crime stories, and the Tara Calico case is no different. After hearing the initial story, I envisioned a young woman and boy held in captivity together for several years, and what would happen when they finally got the courage to escape. I wrote a short story called “The Polaroid,” and recently found out it placed first in the Suspense/Thriller Category of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

WOW! Women on Writing Round-Up

I’ve written for WOW Women on Writing’s blog, The Muffin, for awhile now, and periodically I like to do a round-up of my recent posts, which all revolve around the writing life. Here are a few from the past few months–hope you find something useful!

Going “There” with Your Writing

Because it’s National Novel Writing Month (no, not participating this year!) I’ve noticed all the writing trade magazines and websites are chock full of inspirational articles on how to write a great plot twist and craft a page-turning dilemma. One such piece of advice centered on writing what scares you—you know, dig into those deep, dark fears a la Stephen King It style.  Read more . . .

How Mysteries Inspire Our Writing

Pexels.com

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries. I read them as a child and then ventured out into reading authors like Mary Higgins Clark in my teens. Nowadays, I prefer more of the true-life mysteries. When revamping my writing blog a few months back, I decided to dedicate one day a week to writing about missing persons or homicide cases and offering my own theories about what might have happened. Read more . . .

The Stories Behind the Authors

This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Read more . . .

When the Flood Gates Open

If you’ve read any of my posts over the last year, you know that I’ve been somewhat blocked in my creative writing. I have a few different manuscripts that I’ve been tinkering with, but those often get put aside due to my paying freelance gigs. But in my last post, I put down in writing that I was revamping my personal blog so that I could get back into a regular writing schedule. Read more . . .

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit

This is a case that drives home the fact that you can be vulnerable anywhere, even in the early hours of the morning when you’re doing something as innocent as trying to get to work. This case has always bothered me, because when 27-year-old news anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared, she wasn’t out partying or returning home from a late night with friends. She had overslept and was in a rush to get to her job at news station KIMT in Mason City, Iowa, where she hosted the early morning show. Jodi was an ambitious reporter who was focused and working hard on advancing her career. Her friends and co-workers described her as vivacious, friendly, motivated and energetic.

On the morning of June 27, 1995, Jodi didn’t show up for her 4 a.m. call, and a co-worker phoned her from the station to check on her. According to the co-worker, Jodi was awakened by the phone and said she would “be right there.” She only lived a few minutes from that station. But based on the evidence that was found a few hours later by police when Jodi didn’t show up for work, she never made it out of the parking lot. Jodi’s car was still there with they key bent in the lock on the driver’s side door. Tools she needed for work (a blow dryer, jewelry, shoes, etc.) were found scattered the ground. Drag marks near the car suggested a struggle, and that Jodi was most likely ambushed while she tried to get in her car. Neighbors later reported they heard screams in the early hours of the morning but no one called the police at that time. Someone else claimed to have seen a white van in the parking lot with its lights on around that same time.

The “Disappeared” episode on this case provided a lot of interesting information. The really eerie thing? Jodi’s employer, KIMT, had to report on their missing anchor, so it hit her co-workers hard. Watching news footage during that time, you can see how shell-shocked they are. Female anchors were also nervous because they were afraid there was a stalker out there who had known what time Jodi left for work each day and would strike again. There was another person of interest brought up during that episode. Jodi had a friend, an older gentleman who had wanted a relationship with her, but she had gently told him she wasn’t interested. He had lavished her with attention and gifts and even threw her a birthday party. After her disappearance, he went to the police and told them he was “the last person to see Jodi alive,” which was kind of bizarre, because no one knew if Jodi was deceased.

In 2011, a female police officer fired from the Mason City Police Department claimed that three members of the department had been personally involved in Jodi’s disappearance and had covered it up. This officer also filed a sexual harassment suit against the department and claimed to have been discriminated against based on her religion. Because she had a contentious relationship with the department, it’s hard to know if there is any truth to her claims, but you do have to wonder if she was fired for knowing too much.

There has never been any closure in this case, and Jodi was declared legally dead in 2001.

True Crime Wednesday: Kyle Fleischmann

I moved to the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. in late 2003, and in 2007 I saw the original news stories when local resident, 24-year-old Kyle Fleischmann went missing. He has never been found and it’s a case that bothers me every time I think about it, mostly because it could have happened to anyone. How many times did I meet friends at bars when I was in my early 20s and walk in the dark to my car, alone? When you’re that age, you think you’re invincible. This case shows us our vulnerability. And also to be wary of walking alone, especially at night. It also inspired a flash-fiction short story I wrote several years ago.

Kyle is described by his friends and family as fun-loving, happy, and at a good place in his life. He had a nice job and had just moved into a condo in the trendy part of uptown Charlotte. On the night of Nov. 9, 2007, Kyle’s best friend organized an outing to see a Dane Cook concert (I believe his parents were there, too), and then the friends decided to end the evening with a stop at the Buckhead Saloon. I saw one interview where his friend said he saw Kyle talking to an attractive young woman at the bar, and he asked Kyle whether he was staying or leaving. Kyle opted to stay. Based on some reports I’ve read, surveillance footage caught a discussion between the guy the woman was with and a few of his friends. Kyle then exited the bar alone around 2 a.m. He left his jacket and debit card at the Buckhead Saloon, and went out into the cold night wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.

Here’s where the story gets strange. An employee at nearby Fuel Pizza claimed Kyle came in and ordered a few slices of pizza around 2:30 a.m. A little while later, he made calls to his parents, his best friend who was with him at the concert, his sister, and maybe one other person. He didn’t leave messages on any of those calls. He was never seen or heard from again.

When police investigators started searching for Kyle, they tracked his cell phone records. They could tell that when he made all the early-morning calls, he was walking through uptown and into what’s considered a bad part of the city. At some point after that, his phone went dead. Based on an interview with Kyle’s dad, Dick Fleischmann, that ran in Charlotte Magazine, Dick thinks Kyle is dead, and probably died that same night. He believes Kyle may have been intoxicated and tired and wandered into a bad part of town, where someone attempted to rob him. His theory is that Kyle’s body was left in what was then a construction site in that area. If this is what is happened, it is all the more sad because Kyle likely had nothing of value on him. He had left his debit card at the bar, must have used some cash to buy the pizza, but he probably didn’t have much more than a few dollars on him. Because wouldn’t he have used money or another credit card to call a cab?

To learn more, you can visit the Help Find Kyle Fleischmann Facebook page, where his father often posts.

 

Book Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Digging in with my afternoon cup of coffee! #elinhilderbrand #theidenticals #summerreading

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“The most underrated force at work in the universe is that of coincidence. And yet who among us hasn’t been at its mercy?” – The Identicals

Elin Hilderbrand is one of my favorite authors, and every summer I look forward to meeting a new set of characters in her latest novel. In my favorite book, The Blue Bistro, it was Adrienne, Thatcher, the mysterious chef Fiona, and the whole colorful front and back of the house staff at the restaurant. In The Castaways it was Tess and Greg, Addison and Delilah, Addison and Phoebe and Andrea and Jeffrey, a group of couples who had all grown too close for their own good—I almost couldn’t keep up with all their secrets! In A Summer Affair it was the illicit romance between Claire and Lock as they worked together on a summer gala, even though both were married and had a lot to lose if their secret was discovered. The list goes on and on. This year, I couldn’t hold myself back when I heard about The Identicals, a tale of two identical twins who were raised on the separate islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

In fact, both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard each serve as narrators in different parts of the book. Nantucket says things like, “Famous residents: Prefer not be named,” while Martha’s Vineyard adds, “Famous residents: Meg Ryan, Lady Gaga, Carly Simon, James Taylor, John Belushi,” etc. The book is also told from the points of view of twins Tabitha (raised on Nantucket with her mom after her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager), Harper (who traveled to Martha’s Vineyard with the twins’ dad) and Ainsley, who is Tabitha’s 16-year-old daughter and quite the handful.

Both women are 39 and have lives that couldn’t be more different. Tabitha never married but had two children with her ex-boyfriend Wyatt, Ainsley and an infant son who only lived a few months. She also followed in her mother’s business trying to keep a clothing line (think Lilly Pulitzer variety) afloat, while Harper never really settled on a career and got into one scrape after another, including a drug trafficking charge. When the book begins the two women are united when their father Billy dies, and the reader learns the women haven’t spent any time together since the death of Tabitha’s son—a death for which she blames Harper for some mysterious reason. When their mother Eleanor falls and breaks her hip, there is no one to stay and watch over Ainsley, who has become quite a rebellious and indulgent teenager, on Nantucket. Harper ends up traveling to Nantucket to help out against Tabitha’s wishes while Tabitha first helps her mother in Boston, and then makes her way to Martha’s Vineyard.

I enjoyed reading about the dynamic between the two sisters, especially their complicated love lives. The character of Ainsley had the most growth throughout the novel, which was a nice surprise. I did grow a little frustrated at the hints of what happened the night Tabitha’s son died, because at the end blaming Harper was a little more than misplaced. It also reminded me a little of the storyline in Summerland that involved Ava and Jordan’s infant son who also died.

As usual, Hilderbrand’s love of food comes into play (Harper is a great cook and the meals she prepares are decadent) and it was a change of pace to read about Martha’s Vineyard this time along with Nantucket. It made me add one more place to my travel bucket list! I also purchased the book from Barnes and Noble and it featured bonus content at the end that gave a little backstory to the Tabitha and Harper’s parents, Eleanor and Billy.

Have you read any Elin Hilderbrand books? Which was your favorite? If you haven’t, what is your favorite author famous for writing “beach reads?”