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‘Unsafe Words’ by Loren Rhoads – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

“You’re going to love this place.” Caleb promised. He pulled his bike over to the side of the pot-holed driveway, so Violet stopped, too. The house ahead of them was clearly vacant, its creamy paint gone scabrous as the stucco beneath it had fallen away. The window – blank, like eyes blinded by cataracts – reflected the flawless cerulean sky overhead. In front of the house stretched a lawn gone to meadow. Its tall golden weeds drowsed in the sun.

Violet and Caleb rounded the lawn – was it heart-shaped? – and went to sit on the broken steps leading up to the veranda. Caleb shouldered out of his backpack and pulled out two sandwiches. They were dill Havarti on sourdough with some lettuce and just a little mustard. Violet smiled, pleased that he’d finally remembered she was vegetarian. After the bike ride up the mountain, the sandwich was perfect, washed down with water from her thermos.

The area around the derelict house seemed eerily quiet. The fall of a leaf, rattling on its way to the ground, echoed. Violet turned so she didn’t have her back to the house.

Synopsis –

Thoughts –

Unsafe Words is a unique collection of dark fiction that explores themes of addictions and desires, of man and monsters, and does so in a way that enthralls the reader not only with the subject matter but by the strength of Rhoads descriptions and sentences. Ranging from the haunted wilderness of ‘In the Pines’ to the sci-fi horrors of ‘The Arm’s Dealer’s Daughter’, this collection reaches far and wide, examining every dark corner you can think of

Unsafe Words is a collection that is diverse and inclusive of queer people, exploring physical and emotional desires that are too often shunned from our pages. Rhoads clearly shows that she is not afraid to describe in detail the physical and loving acts of her characters, as well as the bloody and violent ones. From unique vampire stories such as ‘Affamé’ were no blood is ever spilled, to the heartbreaking ‘The Energizer Bunny at Home’, the stories in this collection cut deep and open up new avenues for fiction that need to be explored more.

Unsafe Words is a dark short story collection that reaches far, cuts deep, and is not easy to forget.

About the Author –

Loren Rhoads is author of Unsafe Words, the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning stories. She’s the co-author of Lost Angels and its brand-new sequel Angelus Rose. She’s also editor of Tales for the Camp Fire, which raised money for survivors of 2018’s devastating wildfire in Butte County, California.

Loren is also author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.

Finally, she is the author of the space opera In the Wake of the Templars trilogy: The Dangerous TypeKill By Numbers, and No More Heroes.

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‘The Mirror’ by Hash Black – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Agatha grabbed her ears, frantically struggling to block out the deafening squeal that stabbed through them. She fell to the ground, writhing in pain as she waited for her eardrums to pop.

Then it stopped.

She opened her eyes. Everything was a blur The room seemed to revolve around her. A ringing wound chimed in her ear. And a throbbing ache pounded in her head.

She pressed her temples as she trailed her gaze back to the mirror.

It was intact.

But a message was scribed into it.

A LIFE FOR A LIFE

I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE

YOUR TWENTY FOUR HOURS STARTS NOW

Synopsis –

Jared Carson is gone, leaving a ravaged home behind for her wife Beth and baby daughter Lily. With her guardian angel gone, Lily’s horrid fears fester. The unseen monsters beneath her bed grow malevolent and stronger. It’s up to Beth to fill her husband’s shoes. She hugs Lily tight in her arms with teary eyes and makes a vow,

“You will never be alone, baby. Mommy will always be here to protect you.”

But…

The forces of evil watch quietly in the shroud of darkness. They thirst for anguish. They thirst for blood. They thirst for REVENGE!

And Lily is their prime target.

Thoughts –

The Mirror is a novella that follows a grieving widow as she moves into a new house, and hopefully a new life with her young daughter. Unfortunately, this new house has a dark past and an even darker entity inhabiting it and it’s reflective surfaces. Drawing on themes of painful secrets that refuse to be forgotten, repressed evils, and a mother’s love for her daughter, the story deals with heavy subject matters.

Unfortunately the pacing of the story is off. The entire work spans only a couple of days, and yet it seems only in the first hour or so of our main protagonist moving to this new town and still grieving the loss of her husband, she has no qualms falling in love with a brand new doctor who quite literally falls into her yard. Not only does this short span of time make some of the events feel unreal, but the backstory of the ghostly haunting going on was very difficult to fully believe as well – without any spoilers, the events of the town’s past just didn’t make sense and so the tragedy and darkness there didn’t have the impact that it should have. I did have to read the story twice to get the events straight in my head.

There are some good scares and descriptive passages of the dark entities that have stolen our main characters daughter. The psychological aspects of the scares were a plus for me.

The Mirror is a fast paced paranormal horror that just needed more space for the story to breath.

About the Author –

Hash Black is an author with a flair for writing horror fiction. Ironically, his educational background is rooted in marine biology, and has an innate love for coral reefs. However, he has always enjoyed writing his heart out as he grew up. R. L. Stine was a major influence during those days, with Goosebumps and Fear Street series getting lots of traction among his peers. Finally, at the age of 30, Hash gave in to his passion for writing.

The Mirror is his first novella.

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‘Gothic Blue Book VI: A Krampus Carol’ edited by Cynthia Pelayo – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

If her mom were here, Anna would suck it up and spin the flax and scrub the toilets and help with the cooking. Her mom made it fun, but her dad just went through the motions. Surely, he didn’t believe in a crazy witch that lurked around on Epiphany cutting out people’s guts and replacing them with trash. The story always seemed ridiculous, even when Anna was little. It never scared her. It just annoyed her that a witch would do all of that as punishment for not cleaning and cooking and spinning fabric.

Talk about overkill.

Anna rolled on her side and let herself sink inter her mattress. Tomorrow, her home would fill with relatives. She knew the amount of chaos the Epiphany feast caused. A tiny seed of an idea sprouted in her mind. She rolled it over and gave it room to grow. A smile spread on her face as it fully developed.

This would be her last Epiphany.

– ‘The Night of Epiphany’ by Nico Bell.

Synopsis –

A collection of short horror stories and poems resurrect the spirit of the Gothic Blue Book. Gothic Blue Books were short Gothic fictions popular in the 18th and 19th century.

Burial Day Books presents its sixth Gothic Blue Book, A Krampus Carol. A Krampus Carol is a celebration of folklore and myth around Christmas, Yule, the cold winter months and Santa Claus’ opposite, Krampus.

Thoughts –

Capturing the atmosphere and the traditional feeling of the story of Krampus, a northern European myth and legend, is no easy feat and yet A Krampus Carol manages it time and time again. With over thirty dark tales of yuletide horror, many featuring the horned demon directly, and a contributors list of many diverse and accomplished authors, this is one collection that will become a staple of my end of year readings.

Throughout this collection there is an emphasis on traditional folklore, on cold winter nights, and on the monsters that can stalk them when the veil is just thin enough. In the story ‘The Night of Epiphany’ by Nico Bell readers are treated to a YA story of grief and family traditions, where deviating from her late mother’s usual Christmas plans could stand to be deadly. ‘Candy Cane’ by Jeff Carter is a short, sharp, and more abstract tale of the dangers of bullying. Or, if you prefer to can delve into a more more modern take on the idea of the naughty list with Austrian Spencer’s story ‘Krampus’ which is a bleak and yet comical story of an app out of control.

This was certainly a collection that extended the Christmas atmosphere for me at the end of December, and one that I am sure will give readers a dark and cosy reading experience into the new year as well.

A Krampus Carol is a stellar collection of yuletide horror sure to give any horror fans chills that have little to do with the winter season.

About the Editor –

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, a Master of Science in Marketing, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology. Cina was raised in inner city Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children. Find her online at www.cinapelayo.com and on Twitter @cinapelayo.

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‘Ladies of the Canyon’ by Douglas Wood – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Celebrities are always telling you not to believe everything you read in the press, but in my case it’s all true. Shoplifting. DUI’s. restraining orders. Community service. Interventions. Rehab. Rehab again.

Let’s just say for a young woman of twenty-three, I’ve led a full life.

I’ll spare you a rehash of all of the above because what’s the point. If you want gory details, you can always Google me. All that matters at this moment in time is that I’m sober. “One day at a time,” as they say. But that’s the thing about those twelve-step platitudes – and why I use them sincerely, without irony or apology – they really are grounded in truth. And today I’m all about truth.

I’m at a Sunday morning meeting and not just any meeting. I’ve been asked to share and it’s my first time. The church basement is small and cave-like and I’m feeling clammy. The meeting leader has one of those craggy faces that looks like it would shatter into a million pieces if he smiled. But he doesn’t smile. He just whispers into the mic in a voice so soft I almost don’t realize he’s said my name.

I make my way up to the podium and look out at about twenty-five people. It’s a typical West Hollywood crowd – film industry types, hipsters, LGBTQ, young and old, but nobody as young as me, not even close. There’s one middle-aged woman who looks familiar but I can’t quite place her. She’s beautiful, in a ravaged sort of way, and she’s staring at me. I break from her gaze and begin speaking.

“My name is Devon, and I’m a drug addict and alcoholic.”

You can also watch my video review of this book on my BookTube channel here.

Synopsis –

Devon O’Keefe, star of a popular streaming TV series Beverly Hills Banshee, is losing her grip on life and her sudden fame. When substance abuse and erratic behavior cause production of her show to come to a halt– and after burning through all of her money on drugs and legal fees– the young Midwestern transplant finds herself alone and homeless in L.A.

Enter Nikki Barnes, notorious aging child star and Hollywood survivor with her own tabloid exploits, who waylays Devon after a twelve-step program meeting. Nikki sees a younger version of herself in Devon, having battled addiction, eating disorders and the effects of personal tragedy for decades. She offers to share her decaying Laurel Canyon mansion with the troubled actress, determined to help her avoid making the same mistakes she’s made. But soon a series of mysterious and disturbing incidents occur and the two women find themselves locked in a complex and twisted relationship that spirals downward into violence.

Ladies of the Canyon explores the universal need for family and acceptance, and how a toxic environment can affect the choices we make.

Thoughts –

A thrilling mystery set in the Hollywood hills shows the darker side of stardom and the darkness beyond the spotlights. Ladies of the Canyon gives readers an insight into the possible pressures that have hounded actors for decades, from enabling stage moms to a spiraling drug addiction, Devon is a flawed and painfully real protagonist. Along with her new friend Nikki a former child star and mentor to Devon who seems to have gone through much of what Devon has, and has the industry experience to help her younger friend through her career troubles. But despite looking like she is now doing well, the layer of grime and dirt covering her Hollywood mansion, frozen in 80’s decor, might be a sign that some troubles can never be resolved – a dark prophecy that may be in Devon’s future.

Ladies of the Canyon is a modern mystery with a timeless story. Woods writing is comfortable and assured, his storytelling bringing the reader into Devon’s life and mind, rooting for her recovery and equally bruised by her falls.

Ladies of the Canyon is a dark, thriller novella with an explosive and unexpected ending.

About the Author –

Douglas Wood writes, creates and produces children’s television for Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, NBC, Amazon, BBC, Netflix and Apple. The PBS series, Molly of Denali, for which Wood was Story Editor received a Peabody award. Wood has also been a film executive for Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment as well as several major Hollywood studios. He began his career in entertainment as an actor in Chicago where he appeared at Steppenwolf and the Goodman Theatre. He was a member of the Second City National Touring Company and the Fine Line comedy duo, which appeared at the Comedy Store, The Improv and The Motown Revue with Smokey Robinson, an NBC series for which Wood was also a writer. He lives in Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains outside of L.A. with his wife and two cats. Ladies of the Canyon is his first novel.

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‘Kept From Cages’ by Phil Williams – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

With Stomatt propped against the wall, Reece straightened out the boiler suit and patted down his legs, then twisted his gun belt round so the pistol was hidden to his rear. Caleb caught his eye like he wanted to suggest something worrisome, and Reece smiled it off before it was said. Because everyone liked Reece once he got talking. He rapped his knuckle on thee door. “Excuse me, good people! I know it’s late but we’re in bad need of assistance.” No reply. “Had ourselves an accident back up the road. Damnedest thing, you wouldn’t believe – car on its roof, and we got a man down.”

Nothing. Caleb worried, “Think they heard us coming, hid away?”

“Why’d anyone hide from a couple harmless musicians?” Reece said. Caleb’s eye tracked down to the gun belt. Reece curled his nose: even if they did see La Belle Riposte holstered there, it was an instrument as exquisite as his trumpet. And they were in Texas – who didn’t had a gun? He knocked again. “Hate to be a burden, but my friend here lost a lot of blood – can’t even stand right now.” Still nothing. “We’re decent people, like yourselves – just trying to get back home.”

Caleb shifted. “We could try another one?”

“Another house?” Reece raised an eyebrow to indicate the hundred miles of nothing surrounding them. He called out, “We don’t need to stay long, just got to patch up my friend – get him some water, fresh bandages. I gotta insist on that much at least.” One last pause. “We’ll make our own entrance if we have to.”

You can also watch my video review of this book on my BookTube channel here.

Synopsis –

Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows.

Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

Thoughts –

Kept From Cages is the first in a duo of supernatural thrillers, and is a beginning that will have you salivating for the next installment. Filled with strong characters, a supernatural mystery at the core of the story, and Williams engaging and enthralling writing, it is a difficult book to put down.

The reader is taken on a journey through America, Africa, and Europe as the mystery of Ikiri unfolds, from a criminal gang of jazz musicians who now have a young and near magical ward, to a British spy tasked with uncovering the reason for multiple villages around the world annihilating themselves. The most enigmatic character for me was the character of Katryzna, an unhinged and untamable assassin that has her own motives, her own goals, and is not about to let anyone stand in her way – not even the voice of her conscience that only she can hear but that tries its best to guide her anyway.

Kept From Cages has unsolved murders, international conspiracies, rogue assassins, demons, a girl with red eyes, a man with a sword for an arm, and a swift and sure writing style that makes turning every page just that much easier. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey to Ikiri and look forward to the release of book two, hopefully very soon.

As a book one, Kept in Cages is an explosive beginning to the Ikiri story and will have you counting down the days until you can get your hands on the next one.

About the Author –

Phil Williams writes contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction and non-fiction grammar guides. His novels include the interconnected Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers, the post-apocalyptic Estalia saga and the action-packed Faergrowe series. He also runs the website English Lessons Brighton, and writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English.

Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and now spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert. 

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