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

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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

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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

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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

 

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