Review of “Trampled Crown” by Kirby Kellogg

Valerie Barnes is tired. Tired of wrangling snarky teens through their math lessons, tired of helicopter moms with no respect and even less kindness, and – most importantly – tired of hearing about Canary Lane High’s upcoming homecoming dance. She’s been planning it for months and promises, if only to herself, to give the kids a night they’ll never forget.
But when strange things start happening and people’s lives are threatened in the days before the dance, that promise becomes more ominous than ever. Even the administration is getting antsy, and fingers are pointing to Valerie. With time running out and stakes getting higher, it’s up to Valerie to keep her students safe, clear her name, and figure out who’s been threatening all of their lives.

This one feels like it could easily be a movie. Set in a high school, centered around an upcoming dance, the story could be predictable and all-too familiar, but the interesting part for me was that this was from the perspective of a teacher. That certainly kept it from feeling like just another teen horror/suspense story. In addition, the main character has to cope with the challenges of being gay in a small community, and the author did a great job of using this to add additional drama to the story.

The characters at times do or say things that feel a little off or forced for the sake of the plot. It’s not entirely a shock who the bad guys are. But the main character really makes you care, and I kept reading because I felt for her situation and wanted to know she was going to figure things out and be okay. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the teen students. Again, they could have been typical teenagers you see in movies, but I liked that they weren’t all little jerks to their teachers. And their interactions were believable.

The horror/suspense aspects were pretty chilling at times, and this is certainly not a book for the queasy. There was one murder scene that was a total surprise to me, jumping the plot into serious tension very quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed this fairly quick read and would recommend it to anyone who likes dark high school stories with a twist.

See it on Amazon!

Review of “Darkest Hours” by Mike Thorn

36309774.jpgIt might be odd to call a collection of horror/noir short stories “beautiful,” but that is the impression I’m left with.  These are incredibly well-crafted, well-written stories from an author I quickly grew to respect.  Thorn’s mastery of prose is an absolute delight to read.  His creativity is refreshing.  His subtle ability to make the horror sneak up on the reader is a gift.  I compared these stories many times to my favorites from Poe, and they indeed share the chilling truth that the worst monsters are the ones within.

The range of stories here was a surprise.  I never knew what to expect from story to story – in one you have a guy unnaturally obsessed with hair, in another you have a ghost doomed to wander, in another you have a terrifying monster that assimilates unsuspecting campers.  In every story,  it was easy to get into the mind of the characters and see the horror through their eyes.  And, again, the writing itself is worth your time.

Any book that has a monstrous blob devouring the works of Derrida has my vote.

5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

Review of “The Sea Was a Fair Master” by Calvin Demmer

40033777.jpgThis author never disappoints in coming up with unique, impressively well-written shorts.  This collection of 23 stories has a little bit of everything – from crime to love to androids to the worst English class imaginable.  There’s a great balance of creepy, troubling, sometimes funny (in an “oh, that’s terrible” grinning kind of way), and heart-wrenching tales.

I also love that these stories aren’t straight horror aimed for gore and terror only.  They feel more akin to the works of Poe – there’s a point, if not a message, about humanity in every one.  Some stories are thought-provoking, others intentionally make you sympathize with the baddies, others are horribly sad but have something beautiful thrown in.  And Demmer is a master at last lines.

Give this collection a read!  These stories are super-short, so even if you don’t like one or two, it’s not like you’re wasting time.

5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

 

Review of “Hardened Hearts”

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I finished this collection the day after Valentine’s Day, which was kind of perfect.  These are not your typical love stories, although “love” is the general theme connecting them.  I was very impressed with each writer, and I didn’t feel like there was a weak story in the bunch.  The writing is solid.  The range of genres in the collection is cool, too.  Most of these stories are so uniquely weird in their own way, and yet how the stories are organized makes them cohesive, like they naturally belong in the same collection.

A few of my favorites were “Heirloom” , “Dog Tired”, “The Heart of the Orchard,” and “Matchmaker.” Honestly, I liked something about almost every single story.  Despite many being short, they packed emotional punches. The immediate weirdness of many drew me in and held my attention.

If you like your love stories a little on the dark side, definitely check out this collection.

4.5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

Review of “Tongues” by Sam Joyce

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At the start of this book I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it (based purely on another book’s similar premise where I ended up hating that story entirely).

However, THIS book drew me in pretty quickly.  The twists and complexity of this story were thoughtfully well-crafted.  I wasn’t sure how the elements of “neo-Nazis, top-level federal government, and the strange world of the occult” were going to work together, but the result was a suspenseful, somehow realistic, creepy horror tale.  And I appreciated that, though the events were horrific, the “horror” element was never gratuitous just for the sake of being shocking.

Catherine is a great main character, certainly not perfect but easy to relate to as we see things through her eyes.  I really liked how the plot progressed as she journeys deeper and deeper into what’s going on in Elena.  When we meet the federal agent, I wasn’t sure how everything there would fit, and this could maybe have used a little fleshing out.  I DID like how he got in over his head, and I was not expecting what happened once paths converged.  As for Carmen, I liked how the author slowly introduced him as the source of all the trouble.  The author did a great job of making him not just a dark, evil bad guy but instead a man with thoughts and motives that made sense to him.

That said, the back flash for Carmen felt really, really long. It was hard to focus on all this backstory because I wanted to get back to the main story’s timeline.  I liked the idea of what the author was doing, but it probably could’ve been shorter and still gotten the point across.

In all, I’d recommend this book if you’re looking to read an occult-based horror story with unexpected elements.  The uniqueness kept me turning the pages, and the author’s writing drew me in, from dialogue to action scenes and everything in between.

4 Stars

 

See it on Amazon!

Review of “Hungry Ghosts” & “Labor Day Hunt” by Calvin Demmer

 

31308950.jpgFirst of all, I found the cover intriguing.

Secondly, short stories can be tricky.  You want enough detail to set the scene but not so much detail that you can’t get to the meat of the story.  It’s hard, in so few pages, to be drawn into whatever mood, tone, feel of the story that the author is trying to create.  It’s hard to become quickly invested in a character.  It’s hard to tell a complete, full story in limited time.

This short story, with all of the above considerations, does a great job.  It helps that there’s a horror/mystery aspect going on with the ghosts, so not everything HAS to be explained.  Lara, as the main character, was easy to identify with and root for.

The story is so short and quick that I feel safe telling you to just read it for yourself to find out more.  I really enjoyed it.

5 Stars

 

See it on Amazon!

 

31815027.jpgI loved that I had no idea where this story was going to end up.  It starts out with the rather mundane life of a guy just trying to make money in his hometown.  He answers an ad.  Goes to the job.  How interesting could this be, right?

But there IS a dark tone to the writing that hints at something coming.  I loved the pacing – which is tricky in a story this short – and the twist.  When you meet the villains, something is clearly off, but then the story slams the gas and the action takes off.   By the time it all wraps up, it’s probably fair to say this was the worst Labor Day of Jared’s life.

This short story might be a little too violent for some readers, but if you’re okay with just a bit of gore, give it a try.  It’s so short that even if you don’t like it, you’re not wasting time.

5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

 

#AuThorsday with Barbara Chioffi

51ptOb6M2oL._UX250_Today I’d like to welcome Barbara Chioffi, romance/horror author of Angel Mine, Lycan Heart, and Trickery.

Can you give us your quickest description of your books?

I’m all about romance, except for Trickery.  The horror trilogy indulged my childhood love of horror comics.

Is your horror writing targeted towards a younger audience, then?  Who would you say is your target audience?

Target audience, I’d say 18+ due to the sexy parts, although in my last work, Dark Lycan, the sex was toned down a bit.

What are you working on currently?

Two novellas for anthologies, three poems, and the next in my Mystic Hearts series.

That’s quite a bit all at once!  What is your favorite thing to work on and why?

Paranormal romance will always be my favored genre, due to the many possibilities, the twists and turns it can take.  Horror is my second choice, thanks to Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and earlier, those horror comics I mentioned.  I discovered them when I was ten while going to the corner grocery for my grandmother.  If my memory is correct, they were ten cents.  She would always ‘tip’ me for making the short trips.  My treasured stash of those illustrated ‘comics’ grew with those runs to the store.  Several years later, the government decided they were too explicit for young minds, and they banned them.  My stash disappeared over the years.  I’d love to have them now.

That’s a great story.  What is one bit of advice you’d like to share with writers?

Be true to yourself, be honest, and play nice with others.  That’s it.

Have there been times in your writing life when you’ve felt like you were changing your writing for others (i.e. NOT being true to yourself)?  Why do you think some authors struggle with this?

I write what I love.  Writing to please an audience would betray one’s voice.  If you can’t embrace your story, there’s no point.  There is a tendency to follow the current trend for some, reaching for success, and I wish all those the best of luck.

Who inspires you to write?

My mother…people I’ve known and admired…dreams

Can you give an example of a dream that’s inspired a story?

Since childhood, I’ve dreamed of wolves, first as vicious attackers, and later, in college, as a date at the door, complete with suit, hat, flowers, and candy.  In recent years, a large, white wolf appeared in our yard, traveling through the adjacent wetlands on his journey.  They’ve appeared in dreams lately, in the form of comforting messengers.

Interesting that wolves have been so recurring over the years.  In a perfect world where you could cast your book for a movie, who would you pick for your main characters?

Justin and Jared, twin sons of Robert Flannery from my lycan stories, would be Angel Macho, a male model and software engineer.

Julia, from Lycan Heart, would be Nina Dobrev from Vampire Diaries, and Tara, from Dark Lycan, would be Emma Stone.

Do you picture different actors when you’re writing these characters?  Or do those actors just happen to fit best with your idea of that character in your head?

I write my story with certain features in mind… hair, eyes, build, etc.  As the character develops, his/her personality takes shape, along with talents and quirks.  After these are in place, then I look for one to fit what’s been created.  It’s often difficult to find an actor or picture with the ‘look’ I want.  For instance, Julia is a sweet, young woman and Tara has a little bit of fire.

Thanks, Barbara, for sharing!

51tMi4DND+L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_WHERE TO FIND Barbara Chioffi: 
Website:  www.reveriesfrombarb.blogspot.com
Goodreads:  Barbara
Amazon Page:  Barbara Chioffi
Facebook:  Barb’s Angel Mine
Twitter:  @starlite42

Review of “Tribes of Decay” by Michael Garza

28496418(I reviewed this on its release date but just now remembered I didn’t want anyone to miss this, so I’m posting here too.  So GOOD!  And yet again from Garza, a creepy good cover with eyes that will haunt me a little bit.)

This story is so much more than just another zombie book. I’ve read a lot of Garza’s work, and I think this is my favorite. What I love about his stories is that the characters feel like real people – you might hate them, you might love them, but they feel like real people. Their choices make sense rather than just doing whatever works to advance the plot. Mia and Rowan are two great characters, and even the minor characters are given a lot of attention. Mia’s development greatly overshot my expectations (without giving away spoilers), and Rowan was consistently a good guy you could cheer for.
The post-apocalyptic world-building in this story is simple but perfect. Every description gives you just enough to create a picture in your head, and basically if you picture mass desolation, you’re good. Zombie worlds all have the same familiar feel, but I really liked the idea of how “tribes” of survivors had formed in cities and how these people had reverted to more primitive ways – if the world hadn’t functioned in decades, yeah, teens wouldn’t know about electricity.
The tension in the writing is great, too. I plowed through this book in two sittings because it kept building and I couldn’t put it down. The unique evolution of the zombies was something I hadn’t read before, and it added to the creepy factor. I always love when books like this use bad-guy humans as the biggest (still living) evil, and the second part of the book does a great job of bringing in something new.
Definitely gory. Definitely intense. Definitely worth a read if you like post-apocalyptic, zombie survival stories infused with a human kick.

5 Stars
See it on Amazon!

#AuThorsday with Matthew Harrill

11046737_765934656836286_6253167781775005498_nToday I’d like to welcome Matthew Harrill, international award-winning horror author of The ARC Chronicles.  

Can you give us your quickest description of your books?

Impending Apocalypse.

Ooh, that’s a favorite genre of mine.  Can you tell me a little more about the world your book is set in?

It’s set in the world as it is.  Present day, or slightly (at the time of writing) in the future, but not more than a couple of years.  I have in the past written epic fantasy, and got so caught up in the world building, I just wanted something a bit more relatable to people this time.  I very much like to use real places, be it the top of a mountain, a historic furnace in Alabama, or an Irish Bar in Worcester, Massachusetts.  On earth, every place used is real, or has a solid basis in fact.  What I might do with the scene may stretch the imagination somewhat, but you can go to pretty much any place in my series and imagine what might have been.

What is your favorite scene you’ve written?  Can you give us a peek?

Eva ran her finger along the balcony rail of the apartment she shared with Madden. The mortar underneath the whitewash was dimpled and the feeling not unpleasant. It was sunrise, the sky was clear and the magmatic luminosity of the sun was erupting over the horizon. The air was still warm. It never seemed to get cold in Cairo.
She smiled as the bells began to toll, calling the Muslim population of the city to morning worship. The azan echoed out from loudspeakers all over the city. Cairo was a noisy place, full of character, full of soul. Eva loved it.

Nice imagery and tone.  What is this scene from?  It’s interesting, because this is much “prettier” writing than you often see in anything apocalyptic.

It is a midpoint in Hellbounce.  Some pretty scary things have happened to the main character Eva up to this point, and it is a time to catch breath before it all plunges back into darkness.  Cairo was a good place to set part of the book because I needed somewhere in the region of Nag Hamaddi, where artifacts of historical and biblical significance were once found.  Of course I exploit that for the story.

My writing is more of a psychological horror than a nuts and bolts ‘slash, hack and scare’ type affair.  It was described best by one reviewer as if ‘Clive Barker had worked on The Da Vinci Code’.  It is a horror, there is a heavy supernatural  element, but it is also an adventure.

That sounds really cool.  Who inspires you to write?

My mentor, David Farland (www.davidfarland.net).  He has always been there for me, and gives so much of himself to others.

That’s great.  Constant support is certainly something all authors need.  Does he help you creatively?  Or where would you say your ideas come from?

My ideas, my story, my entire world is all in my head.  I am merely the scribe, transposing to text the vision I see.  David has helped me with the structure of my writing, and the occasional brainstorm.  He is an excellent teacher.  I wouldn’t say he is constantly there for me – I like to think I am beyond that level of need now.  He is a NY times bestseller,  and head judge of L Ron Hubbards ‘Writers of the Future competition’, as well as teaching many many others in formal settings as well as offering advice.

In other areas, I can pick up ideas from seeing people walking down the street.  There are two gentlemen I walk by on a daily basis who will never know they are the inspiration for two of the main characters in ‘The Shikari’, my elite armed force in Hellbeast.  The news, snippets, I get information from everywhere.  The key to good writing is to make the important seem trivial.  Throwaway quips and incidental information make characters believable.

That is a really good point – “The key to good writing is to make the important seem trivial.”  But it can be difficult.  When you get stuck in your writing, how do you make yourself keep going?

I am a plotter.  I don’t get stuck.  A is always going to B, in a roundabout way.  I have chapter notes all prepared.  I normally spend up to six months of the time that I have to sort out the notes.  For example, I am currently writing a chapter in the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts.  I know exactly who will be in there, and exactly who is going to wow the crowd.  There are no surprises for me.

So you have pretty extensive notes, I’m guessing.  Do you HAVE to have a whole story plotted out chronologically, or do you write here and there and flesh things out later?

I have the entire story plotted out chronologically.  I couldn’t do otherwise.  The story I am working on now takes place during the first week of Hellbounce, with elements tied in from that story, so I need to ensure that everything ties up perfectly.  The actual putting to script of the story is still open to interpretation.  A lot of the time I find myself struggling to contain the story within the boundaries of the chapters, and have to add in extra chapters.  That’s when I know the story is flowing well.

Do you use your personal experiences in your writing?

Absolutely!  I am a writer.  Anything you say or do may be used in a story!  I find personal experiences are immensely useful to write into stories (where relevant) and often very cathartic.  But I would hasten to add a word of caution.  Don’t sacrifice the tale you are writing in order to get revenge in text on anybody that wronged you in life.  Revenge writing can be all-consuming.  That being said, I have based nasty characters on people I am very fond of (none less than my own wife).  The personal connection makes it so much more colourful.

That’s a good approach and also good advice.  I completely agree with you about the cathartic aspect.  Out of curiosity, do you tell people when you’ve used some part of them for your characters – your wife, for example?

Most certainly.  My wife knows that the antagonist in book 2 is based on her… or rather her reactions to when I piss her off!

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing! 

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WHERE TO FIND Matthew Harrill
Website:  Horror Author Matthew W Harrill
Goodreads:  Matthew W. Harrill
Amazon Page:  Matthew Harrill
Facebook:  Matthew W Harrill
Twitter:  @matt_harrill

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