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‘The Occultists’ by Polly Schattel – Review

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

***

Later he would retire to his room in the upper floors of the hotel, to wash up and lie in the bed and try to ignore the auguries in the cracks in the ceiling. Maybe some song would be playing faintly through the walls – Fats Waller, or Teddy Wilson – and reluctantly his mind would return to the fires. As the hours ticked on and the hotel went to sleep, his thoughts would shuffle along hallways of loss, down corridors of grief, to his unpaid debt. Sometimes the debt felt like a guillotine above him waiting to fall; sometimes it felt less sinister, like the arrival of one of those clammy-fisted kitchen equipment salesmen who came slumping through the lobby’s front doors, briefcase in hand, silhouetted with the sun at their backs. Always with the sun at their backs. Your couldn’t see their faces, even when they’d come to sell you something rather than take it from you.

Lately he’d begun thinking of writing it all down. He thought it might help shut the door on all those shadowy hallways and lonely corridors. And also he wanted others to know what had happened, to bear witness. Which presented the problem: there were those who wanted to keep things quiet. This wouldn’t stop him from doing it, of course. Their need for obscurity and his need for peace was just the way it was.

It would always be that way. Always.

Synopsis –

Sssshhhhhhhh… For Edwardian-era spiritualists and illusionists, silence is more than a strategy; it’s a way of life. And when Max Grahame, a bullied small-town teen, discovers a secretive world of occultism and séances right under his nose, he can hardly contain his excitement.

But as Max begins his conjurer’s lessons in earnest, his newfound knowledge exposes the group’s dark and deeply sinister designs, leading to a game of supernatural cat and mouse that takes him from the ancient hills of rural Georgia and the mystic plains of the Midwest to fin-de-siècle Manhattan… and beyond.

Thoughts –

The Occultists is a novel that plunges the reader back to early twentieth century America, where spiritualism, mysticism, and illusionists were in their heyday. Meticulously researched and using historic events and real people and occult leaders to lend credence to the story, only makes this fantastical story that much easier to immerse yourself in. From the surgical implantation of goat testicles to spark virility, to levitation and séances, early 1900’s spiritualism is provides the texture and driving force of this novel, immediately setting the reader up for shadows, secrets, and incredible feats.

The unfortunate and challenging events of our young protagonist Max’s life, from an unhappy adolescent home to being thrust into a deadly battle between two ancient conjuring factions, are fraught with secrets and danger, and make for a mesmerising story. Simple things like a teenage crush take on a deeper meaning as Max becomes embroiled in a world he doesn’t understand, yet is somehow integral to. Fleeing to save his own life and the life of his sickly mother, Max must grow up fast and learn to control the power within him. But no one is what they seem and despite making leaps and bounds in this strange new reality, Max is frequently left feeling unmoored and confused.

Schattel’s writing is rich and descriptive, the packing of the story is well laid out and executed, and her characters solid and charismatic. The Occultists is a novel that will greatly interest any reader already drawn to the wonderous world of illusion, power, and magic.

About the Author –

POLLY SCHATTEL is originally from Birmingham, AL, but prefers the hills of Colorado and Western North Carolina. A filmmaker with a host of award-winning feature films under her belt, she returned to the written word when she had the bright idea that maybe she could tell her stories without spending years raising money for them first. She’s taught Film Directing, Film Editing, and Screenwriting in the UNC university system, NYC, and elsewhere. Proudly and passionately transgender, Polly lives in the mountains near Asheville, NC with her wife and three vicious and savage but very adorable animals.

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‘The Scavenger’ by Aidan Lucid – Review

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

***

The school bell rang to sound the end of science class. Soon the halls of Hopps Town High School thronged with students. Some, like Jared Duval, put books they no longer needed for the day into their lockers. Others just chatted for a few seconds before going to the next class. Jared, 17, African American of medium height and athletic build, turned the key in his locker door to lock it. He idolized the actor Will Smith and sported the same hairstyle that Mr. Smith had in the early nineties.

Jared froze as he heard an all too familiar taunting voice.

“Well, if it isn’t our resident queer,” said Lydia Moran. Lydia, 16, small with cherry red pigtails and purple-framed glasses covering her blue eyes, looked the picture of innocence. Everyone knew she was anything but that. For two years, she tormented Jared, leaving notes shoved in his locker or bag when he wasn’t looking; sending him crude Facebook messages or teasing him in front of her friends. He learned a long time ago the best way to deal with bullies was to ignore them or show no fear, or both.

Synopsis –

Three Separate Wishes. One Twisted Nightmare

Just like Hopps Town, their humble home, Jessica Barlow, Jared Duval, and Adrian Cole are fostering dark secrets. Plagued by loss, cruelty, and physical abuse, these friends are kindred spirits, bound by anguish and elusive dreams. They’re soon to find the key to change, but any happy future will demand they face a haunting past and brave a lethal present.

Deep in the forest on the outskirts of town, aging and nearly forgotten, there stands a well from another time. Happening upon this relic, Adrian goads his companions to join him in making a wish. Soon, difficult though it is to admit, their luckless lives do seem to shift. The only problem is, the changes aren’t at all as they’d imagined. Seemingly, they’ve only left the pan to face the fire.

Should they hope to both survive and thrive, they’ll need to pool their wits and draw on mystic inner-power. Solving Hopps Town’s greatest mystery now means life or death.

Thoughts –

The Scavenger is the familiar story of ‘be careful what you wish for’ with a little added pinch of evil. A YA horror story that takes the lives of three struggling teens and gives them exactly what they want; a loving parent, attention from an unrequited love, and saving from a relentless bully. A simple wish made by the old fashioned throwing of a coin in a well, leads these teens to realise that though their lives are far from perfect, things can be a lot worse.

Jared is a young gay teen struggling with his religious mother and her refusal to accept him as he is, while being bullied daily by a popular girl at school. Jessica lives with an alcoholic and abusive mother, dodging daily beatings and punishments for just existing. And Adrian seems to be the better off of the three, but still has issue with his lone parent father who expects nothing from him but never ending commitment to sport. These three characters are laid out in detail, built up throughout the story, and entice to reader into their unfortunate story.

Lucid has created a modern YA horror tale with traditional roots and evils that any adolescent, or adult for that matter could enjoy. A story that illustrates very real issues in modern teen lives and mixes in plenty of supernatural horror as well.

About the Author –

Aidan Lucid began writing in 2002 after having a religious experience. Since then, his works have appeared in national and international poetry anthologies, magazines, and e-zines. In October 2019, Lucid released his debut fantasy novel, The Lost Son, and book one in The Zargothian Saga trilogy. He plans to release its sequel in summer 2021, and book two of, The Hopps Town Duology in fall of 2021. In his spare time, Aidan likes to read, meditate, listen to music and go to the movies with his wife, Claire. You can find him on Facebook here, Twitter here, and Instagram here.

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‘Chatroom With A View’ by Glenn Maynard – Review

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

***

The wind gusts reached into the woods and sporadically shifted the little log cabin at its base, and the raindrops thumped the structure with a little more vigor when they did. It wasn’t that it was a threatening storm, but it created enough of a commotion to jolt Troy Cullen back into the world in which he was not a very big fan. The gray, sticky afternoon in late July contained enough heat to bring on this afternoon thunderstorm, but much more accompanied the storm beyond the clouds and the thunder and the rain.

Troy looked around the room from the floor of this long structure and with hazy vision saw his father on the hardwood floor across from him. Neither of them moved like the approaching storm. Turning his head to the left, he could see his house through the window. In fact, he could see the window of his bedroom from his current position inside this little cabin in the back yard. He was on the other side looking in not long ago, but a lot had changed since then. In the matter of an hour, his entire world had turned upside down.

Synopsis –

Lizzie Borden took an axe . . . and so goes the song depicting the 1892 axe murders of her father and step-mother. Research indicates that a killer gene could be passed down through generations of family members, and evidence begins with Lizzie’s ancestor who murdered his mother in 1673. Chatroom with a View opens with a bone-chilling episode, and what’s left of Troy Cullen’s dysfunctional family keeps him even further from the normal integration with society. Troy’s life further unravels when his ex-girlfriend, Veronica, announces that she is pregnant. Troy loses control and plots to do unto others as they have done unto him. When Veronica digs into his family’s past, she exposes this killer gene; she must try to balance her obsession for a family with shielding herself and their baby from evil. But Troy has his own agenda, resulting in an epic showdown. 

Thoughts –

Chatroom With a View explores the intersections and interactions of characters that are in dire need of a therapist. Beginning with the young and troubled Troy Cullen, desperate to protect his mother from his violent and abusive father, Troy feels let down by the world and by himself. Now having to work with two women who bullied him in high school and hearing that they are still up to their immoral shenanigans, he decides to take covert action against them, but quickly crosses the line between giving them a taste of their own medicine, and becoming the monster himself.

But as Troy is struggling not to become like his father, and failing miserably, a girl from his past shows up again too inform him that she is pregnant with his child. Not taking no for an answer, Victoria is determined to create her perfect family with the reluctant Troy, no matter what he is hiding in his father’s cabin. Discovering that Troy may have a hereditary disposition for violence, and so might her unborn son, Victoria believe she can nurture this nature out of them.

Chatroom With a View is a roller coaster ride of bad reactions and even worse decisions. Rather than investing in a few well needed, therapy sessions, every character in this story leans into their darkest and most irrational ideas much to the detriment of everyone around them. With small touches on the theory of nature versus nurture when it comes to violence and even murder, as well as the role of family on one’s own mental struggles, this is a novel that attempts to shed some light on the darker motivations that some people have. Representing the self titled victims of the cruelty of women is Troy, and representing the perfect ten women who just seem to be too much for people is Victoria – at no point should these psyche’s meet, but unfortunately they do.

While Maynard’s writing is enjoyable and his character’s solid enough, the decisions made and actions taken by many of the characters in the story felt very rash and unpredictable. It was difficult to get a handle on what Troy’s priorities were and how far he was willing to go to stroke his own ego. Victoria’s mental health issues were more overt, but Troy’s complete disconnect with reality has them on the same level for much of the story. But the story does take an interesting look at the downward spiral of a young man on the outskirts of society with violence in his blood.

About the Author –

Glenn Maynard has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Connecticut as well as a degree in Communications. After spending four years living in Denver, Colorado, he returned home to Connecticut and now resides in Wethersfield. Glenn Maynard is the author of ‘Strapped into an American Dream’ that details the one-year journey through the forty-eight continental states, Canada and Mexico in an RV. At one time he was a correspondent for three newspapers during his travels. To learn more about Glenn, you can visit his website here.

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‘Grim Fate’ by Nicho Young – Review

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

***

The autumn leaves slowly tumbled to the ground in a graceful dance that reminded the man of a dream he had once upon a time. In the dream there were men and women whirling in ceremonial dress around a child who was lying on the ground, completely silent. Everything was in slow motion, and while it could have been a peaceful scene, there was something wrong about it. It struck the man as more of a warning and less of a dream; almost as if there were clues he was supposed to follow in order to understand the basic nature of the scene playing out before him.

The child, an infant, was watching the procession with understanding in its eyes, as if it already knew what the dance was for, and why it was being performed. There was something ritualistic to the movements; an appeasement dance perhaps, or a dance to ward off some unseen evil spirit. An itch at the back of the man’s head told him there was something familiar with the scene, something more than simply a dream, but then he had awakened. It had happened as soon as he was noticed as a bystander of the dance. And, as dreams most often do, the details had begun to fade the moment the man’s eyes adjusted to the darkness in his room. Most dreams of this nature drifted out of the head completely, and this one was no exception, until the man watched the swirling autumn leaves gracefully descend to the earth below.

Synopsis –

Marcus Grimm is a paranormal investigator who has made a living determining if supernatural events are occurring. Although he has a special intuition and connection to the Otherworld, he remains a skeptic, which allows him to figure out if there is a genuine event or if a family is trying to get their fifteen minutes of fame.

When Marcus meets John Billings and his children at their house, he has a sense that the events John describes are very real. As Marcus explores the house for signs of supernatural activity he not only learns more about himself, but uncovers truths that will change his life forever.

And he discovers that sometimes accepting invitations can have dire consequences.

Thoughts –

Grim Fate follows a paranormal investigator called to a house by the father of two young children. His wife has just died and he is concerned about some strange activities that are happening in the home that may be affecting his children. Our protagonist, Marcus, has been in a situation before where it was the parent harming the children so he is wary of any red flags when investigating the house, but little does he know, there’s a lot more going on here than even that.

Soon he is interviewing the children and discovering that there certainly are otherworldly forces at play in this house, both manipulative, both relentless, and both set to change the course of Marcus’s life forever. Through his supernatural abilities, the reader gets to know more about Marcus’s own life as well as the life of the family and the children he is trying to protect from this dark and dangerous entity in their home. And it is not clear which side the children’s father is really on.

While there is an interesting premise and good writing in Grim Fate, you are thrown in very much at the deep end. I would have liked to have spent a little more time with the family and the children in the ‘here and now’, instead of immediately delving into past experiences and memories. It gave the story a bit of an unstable feeling and made the climax in the real shared reality feel brittle to the touch. In saying that though, the story itself has its own unique layers and will interest any reader who is into ghosts, demons, and paranormal horror.

About the Author –

Nicho Young grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in the state of Washington with his wife and 3 (soon-to-be 4) children. When he is not writing he can be found playing with his kids, live streaming online, and watching shows and movies with his wife.

Writing has always been a passion of his and he is excited to be able to share his storytelling with the world. Grim Fate is his debut novel, and he plans on continuing to write and bring stories to everyone for decades to come.

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‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ by Richard Ayre – Review

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

***

The HS 748 began its final approach to Newcastle International airport. The landing gear locked into place with a clunk and the seatbelt lights flickered into life. The few passengers on board stirred thankfully in their seats. It hadn’t been a pleasant flight.

They had been delayed at Dublin for over an hour, the reason for which hadn’t been disclosed until a helpful, if rather naive stewardess, told a nosy passenger that there had been a bomb warning. According to the anonymous caller, the plane they were on would soon be blown out of the sky.

Maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad. After all, to fly, you have to place a certain amount of trust in the company doing the flying that it will do its best to get you to your destination in one piece. They wouldn’t let a plane fly that hadn’t been satisfactorily searched would they. Would they? But to make matters worse they had run into a thunderstorm just after that reassuring fact had been disclosed. Needless to say the rest of the flight had been disclosed. Needless to say the rest of the flight had been, to put it mildly, rather fraught. The panic stricken silence of the passengers was punctuated regularly with the lumpy liquid sounds of people throwing up and the unfortunate aroma of fresh vomit wafted up and down the fuselage, apparently oblivious to the air-conditioning.

While Phil Sturgess would not say he was unaffected by the violent motion of the small prop job, he at least had managed to keep his dinner down.

Synopsis –

Newcastle. 1988….
They say that music is the food of love. Reporter Phil Sturgess would disagree with this. He would argue that some music is the stuff of nightmares. Some music can literally tear out your soul and drag it, kicking and screaming, down to hell itself.
Sturgess loves rock music. He loves it so much he makes a living from it. But when he hears of a band called Minstrel’s Bargain, Sturgess’ life descends into horror. As the city he lives in succumbs to ever more violent and macabre episodes of grisly murders and barbarous acts of self-destruction, Sturgess begins to understand that there is something very wrong with Minstrel’s Bargain. Something very wrong indeed.
With time running out for humanity, Sturgess is threatened with an age old evil. And to stop that evil he is forced to confront the terrifying stranger who has been dogging his footsteps for months. The only question is; will Sturgess do what needs to be done? If not, the souls of millions will be destroyed.
Sturgess has to make a choice. Fight or flight? Heaven or Hell? Live or die? Whatever he chooses, it will be a Devil of a decision.

Thoughts –

‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is the first in a musical horror trilogy of epic proportions. Spanning lifetimes and generations, the darkness in this story is a legendary and mythological one. Our protagonist Philip, a young music journalist with the world at his feet, becomes embroiled in the fight against this evil when his hometown of Newcastle is overrun with an obsession with a new rock band, and numerous and sporadic violent events. Finding the connection between these two things is the only way for Philip to stop them and save the people around him, but he is loathe to look to deeply into the shadows.

Reminiscent of ‘The Dark’ by James Herbert, ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is a succession of insanity fueled horrifying incidents, held together by the strange events currently affecting Philip Sturgess’ life. After listening to music of the new sensation that is ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’, a band from the states that has swept the airwaves like a tsunami, listeners may find that they have dark and violent impulses that must be sated – whether it’s their friends, work mates, or even their own mother who draws their eye.

Ayre’s writing is competent and enduring, giving each character just enough life to keep us interested before they are violently ripped from the pages. While cosmic horror-ish elements of the mysterious ‘tramp’ and the world which he inhabits did slow the pace of the book somewhat, overall ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is a novel that stretches across time, about an evil that annihilates everyone in it’s path, and the time honoured tradition of a chosen one who must fight it. And who better to take down an evil band than a music critic?

A horror novel about the power of music, and what can happen when that power falls into the wrong hands.

About the Author –

Richard Ayre was born in Northumberland too many years ago to remember, and teaches History for a living. His first novel was Minstrel’s Bargain, and he has also written Point of Contact, a Sci-Fi chiller, and A Life Eternal, a speculative historical novel. He lives in the North East of England where he continues to write whenever he can. When not writing, or putting children on detention, he can be found pottering around the Northumberland landscape on his motorcycle, Tanya.

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