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The Shatter Point by Jon O’Bergh – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

AFFIDAVIT FOR ADMISSION TO HORROR PLACE:

Horror Place offers an experience that is physically demanding. Therefore, you must be in excellent physical condition. If you have any medical conditions, illnesses, or pregnancy, you will not be allowed entry. The actors will touch you, but you are not allowed to touch the actors. You will also be filmed throughout the ordeal and you consent to these videos being publicly released. You may experience some mild injuries due to the nature of the experience. By signing your name, you understand and accept these conditions. 

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“I think you should do it,” said Jada, fixing her eyes on Asher. 

Brianna looked at Asher sympathetically. “He should only do it if he really wants to. For himself. No one should pressure someone to do it.”

Jada glared at her. Brianna could almost read Jada’s mind and the words ‘stay out of my business, bitch’. She wondered why Jada was insistent that Asher experience Horror Place. She could tell that Jada’s willfulness dominated Asher’s insouciance. Perhaps that was the attraction for Asher, that forceful personality so unlike his own, compensating for something he thought he lacked. Now his motivation for Horror Place became clear to her. Brianna suspected it had not even been his idea. Jada was exciting to be around, no doubt about t. But with that excitement came a touch of danger. That also explained why Megan liked to hang out with Jada. The thrill of risk. Not the risk Brianna had undertaken when she tested herself at Horror Place with a purpose in mind, to make herself stronger, but the risk that hinted at transgression just for the sake of transgression, or simply out of boredom. Brianna’s initial goodwill toward Jada cooled. The girl was clearly trouble, and Brianna’s heart went out to Asher. 

Jada repeated her statement, a little more quietly but with emphasis. “I think he should do it.” 

 

When lives intersect things can get messy. This is no more apparent than in Jon O’Bergh’s novel The Shatter Point. In it, we are led through the lives of he slowly waning romance of Jada and Asher, brought together by their differences and slowly being worn down by them, the troubles of Asher’s band, ‘Lavender Lush’, and the calamity surrounding the newly constructed horror experience known as Horror Place and it’s neighbour’s in such a ‘nice’ neighbourhood. Lives and characters intersect, ghosts from the past are revived to haunt again, anxieties of the future are brought to bear on the present – but who will break first?

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The Shatter Point is a slow burn of a dark thriller intermixed with paranormal and supernatural leanings, ghosts that appear only at the corner of the eyes. O’Bergh cleverly brings this suburban gothic into the twenty first century by blending social media with prose, present anxieties with recurring past traumas, and complex characters. Given that much of the plot is centered around Youtube videos and the glory that comes from impressing thousands of strangers online, or the shame of not impressing them, the story needed social media and the type of commenting that comes with it and O’Bergh was able to capture – usernames and all – the vitriol and one-upmanship that comes with it.

O’Bergh explores many themes, the most noteworthy being the pull of internet stardom and just how fickle audiences can be, failed masculinity as can be seen in many of the character’s need to prove themselves and the women who push them to it, absent fathers, and illusions. When the internet and social media command more of our attention than our own family and friends, how do you know what is real and what is not real? What is constructed for an audience and what is natural? O’Bergh weaves all of these themes through a narrative that works for the transition between characters though at times can be quite restrained. For a novel that deals so eloquently with the comments under Youtube videos, an update of the prose would not have gone amiss.

One thing I can say for The Shatter Point is that it has some twists and turns that I did not see coming. The violence that occurs in the book is inevitable and you can feel it coming for you from the first page like a rolling train, but when it does hit, you will not see where it came from. The shifting perspectives of the story keep it from becoming stale and each character stands on their own. From the manipulative relationship between Jada, Asher and their hanger on Brianna, to the carefully balanced lives that make up a neighbourhood where disrespecting one another’s roses can lead to deep rooted grudges. The Shatter Point smashes together social norms and requirements with our own need to prove ourselves and find out who we really are, and it does so in a sometimes subtle and sometimes unmistakable way.

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I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an intriguing and modern urban thriller. The Shatter Point readily provides believable characters, complex relationships and twists that will leave your jaw on the floor.

About the Author:

Jon O’Bergh is an author and musician from Canada who loves a good scare. He has written two groundbreaking books which link music and stories: “Song of Fire,” a memoir about the role of music in our lives, and the short story collection “A Book of Hauntings.” With the publication of his first novel, “The Shatter Point,” he continues to link music and writing in a unique way. He also co-authored “Elliptical: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello.”

You can follow him on Goodreads and Twitter.

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Purchase links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Have you read ‘The Shatter Point’? Do you agree with the inclusion of social media and technology in modern fiction? What do you think is the right way to include them?

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

‘The Mongrel’ by Sean O’Connor – Review

“She got out and shook out the damp apron, folded it up, then stuffed it under her arm. The oversized chef jacket was buttoned up tight to her neck, as cosy as she could make it. Readying herself, she stared up the middle of the road in the direction Phil had left. 

The baby kicked, and she took a few deep breaths, rubbing her bump until it calmed. She refused to let the hunger trouble her any further this morning. Fate had given her, Erin Greene, a mission – she had somewhere to go and needed to focus on the task in hand. She popped more snow into her mouth, prepared herself mentally for the long struggle ahead and, with a deep breath, took her first step onto the freezing, snow-covered road, heading for salvation.”

 

Erin Greene is a woman caught between the men in her life. With a baby on the way she’s struggling to find the balance between her over-protective father and her over-bearing boyfriend. She knows something has to give for her family to feel like a family again, and maybe, just maybe, this romantic drive to the Wicklow mountains to watch the sun set, could mark the turning point for her and Phil. Of course there’s a storm rolling in and the cars been on the blink, but together they can get through it. But it’s getting cold and the lonely Wicklow wilderness, might not be so lonely after all…

 

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Ignore my nails and look at my cool ‘Women in Horror’ badge instead.

 

For ‘The Mongrel‘ I was lucky enough to go to the book launch of the novella and score some free wine with my purchase. Introduced by the authors Jonathon Barry, writer of ‘The Devils Hoof‘, and Matt Hayward who I have reviewed before for his short story collection ‘Brain Dead Blues‘ which you can see here. I can’t honestly say how inspiring it was to be sitting in a local book shop and seeing other Irish horror authors up there talking about their work, if you need motivation to get your own writing done, go to book launches! You are supporting the community you want to join and also – FREE WINE! I feel very lucky to have been in contact with other Irish horror writers like Seán O’Connor, Matt Hayward, and also the YA writer Tina Callaghan – the first review I wrote on this blog was for her YA horror ‘Dark Wood Dark Water‘ which you can see here, just saying. The horror community in Ireland is getting bigger and I can’t wait to see what else shows up on the scene from these writers and more. The future is exciting for horror!

 

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My name is not capitalized because he had no idea what I was saying.

 

Seán O’Connor was the man of the hour though and he was lovely to meet, he signed my copy of ‘The Mongrel‘ and I lied and said I would have a review up in a week or so… it’s been about three months I think. A fine debut novella, I can only hope that Seán keeps writing, and keeps setting his stories in and around Ireland and our mythology. I love a good Irish horror story and we have so much more darkness to give the genre. I look forward to his next read.

 

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Very minor spoilers ahead – to paraphrase Stephen King, you can’t ruin a book with spoilers because the joy is in the journey. The twists will remain hidden. 

 

Things I Liked – 

Something I will always root for is a great female protagonist and if I end a book with no mention of bra size or how beautiful yet unknowing a woman is, that tends to be a good sign. Erin Greene as a character shows depth and humanity, as a protagonist it’s both easy to follow and easy to want to follow her harrowing journey of isolation and transformation. O’Connor manages to keep the prose tense and surprising though the core of the story is a trope we’ve all read before – a journey through a storm in a dodgy vehicle, it can never end well.

 

Things I Didn’t Like – 

So, the two spoilers that aren’t spoilers are that Erin gives birth and there are wolves in the Wicklow mountains. These come up pretty quickly so they shouldn’t ruin the story for anyone. Armed with a few swigs of whiskey Erin manages to give birth by herself and not only that, it isn’t a straightforward birth either (that’s all I’m saying about that horror). My problem with the birth scene was that it felt quite devoid of pain. I’ve never given birth myself but I’ve been at them and I’m pretty sure there isn’t much else to feel while it’s happening but pain, especially when things go wrong. I’m not saying there should have been a blow by blow of every ache and internal stab but it felt strange that the pain was barely mentioned and especially since the birth is nowhere near the end of her misfortunes – she has to get up and run afterwards. I would also like to get rid of the trope of swigging alcohol before dealing with pain, it doesn’t work that quickly and from experience I know you need more than a shot to make any difference.

A problem with novellas and short stories is that sometimes you can feel like you just don’t have enough space for the story, and with something like ‘The Mongrel‘, a story with plenty of twists and conspiracies thrown in, much of this was not explained to my satisfaction.  Particularly towards the end I found myself wondering about certain characters and motivations, there were certain throwaway lines that I would have liked to have been explained more, or even less weight given to the back story.

That being said, I was still able to enjoy ‘The Mongrel‘ on the strength of Erin’s character and her will to survive.

 

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About the Author – 

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Seán O’Connor is an Irish author born in Dublin. Always a lover of horror and dark fiction, his debut horror novella ‘The Mongrel‘ was published by Matador Press in October 2018, and he currently lives in North Dublin with his fiance and son working on his next tale of darkness.

You can follow Seán on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and his via his website seanoconnor.org

To get your hands on The Mongrel or give it a well deserved review of your own, follow these links. Remember! A review is a good as a quid –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you read ‘The Mongrel’? Do you know of any other great horror reads, particularly Irish horror? Let me know down below!

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

Death in Vermilion by Barbara Elle – Blog Tour

 

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To get ready for the 2019 release of book 2 in The Cape Mysteries, I’m sharing Death in Vermilion today, the book that started it all! Read the entire first chapter today and download a copy! 39863595

‘Death in Vermilion’ Publication Date: April 16th, 2018

Genre: Mystery/ Thriller/ Suspense

KWL Cover Contest of 2018, Mystery Category Nominee!

A psychological thriller about murder among friends … and enemies. Who do you trust? Leila Goodfriend is laying down the bones of a painting. Interrupted by Iris, the noisy, unlikeable artist in the studio upstairs, Leila becomes distracted and annoyed. When she discovers the racket was actually Iris’ dead body hitting the floor, Leila becomes obsessed: Who murdered Iris? The other Red Barn Cooperative artists—competitive, jealous and hypocritical—are prime suspects. They all hated Iris. “An artist owes his life to his art,” Iris said. Iris was good for a laugh. But no one is laughing now. In this gripping mystery, new author Barbara Elle paints a clever and twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a charming Cape Cod town. Alibis fall apart. Plot twists multiply. And Leila comes to a dangerous conclusion. Add to Goodreads

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Chapter 1 – Bellies and Strips

There was no glance more cutting or cruel. The narrowing of unsympathetic eyes a shade of cool, blue slate, like Dylan’s on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. The imperceptible flare of nostrils, followed by a slow yoga exhalation in Savasana, the corpse. It wasn’t going well.

Leila Goodfriend was laying down the bones of a painting. She took a step back from her easel. A no-name clam shack clung fearlessly as a barnacle to the edge of the old East End pier. A forlorn wooden structure, barely bigger than a Punch & Judy puppet stage, had withstood the fierce winds whipping off the water in the dead of winter. The pier was deserted. Anyone could paint a sunny day.

After outlining the shack in ghostly charcoal strokes, she stood, hand on hip, poised with a palette loaded with ultramarine and cobalt blues for the sky, sap green for foliage, a transparent manganese blue hue for waves in the water, Van Dyck brown for the pier’s planks and Naples Yellow Hue for sunlight. Flake white blobs dabbed in the foreground could be gulls, or children, or discarded clam containers. She hadn’t decided which. Leila loved that shack, the rough pier, and the view of dotted Race Point Lighthouse off the distance. Painting was all about execution, feeling a connection to the subject, the composition, the angles of light. Though local artists mostly painted popular summer scenes of boats and beaches.

That’s what the summer birds, vacationers who nested in the Cape Cod dunes from June until the end of August, bought. Her husband Joe dubbed them the dorks of summer. Leila didn’t care what unflattering name Joe had for them, or whether the summer birds cared as much about this place she called home as she did. She wanted to sell them a painting capturing what she loved about this place.

If she was lucky, and painting was largely a matter of luck, random strokes on the canvas would become a painting, At the Clam Bar: Succulent Bellies and Strips. If one of the summer birds bought her painting, she’d be happy. Even the most dedicated of artists needs affirmation sometimes.

A loud whacking thump overhead jarred Leila rudely from her thoughts; the thud traveled like a jolt of electricity down her spine Immediately, Leila knew the disturbance, of course, was Iris. Iris again. Always Iris. Of the six other artists who called the Red Barn home, her studio had to be, unfortunately, overhead.

And inevitably, as Iris worked, the creaking old floorboards quaked under her relentless assault with her flapping Birkenstock sandals.

Leila complained about Iris to Joe more than once, actually almost every day. It was impossible for someone who barely grazed five feet could make so much noise. Iris could be quiet if she tried, she’d say. She was inconsiderate. She was pompous. “Art,” Iris would say, “has a life of its own and an artist owes his life to his art.” Quoting Iris was good for a laugh.

If Iris bothered her so much, Joe would say, why keep talking about it? Why not rent a different studio? That would make sense, except Leila loved her space, had been there for nearly five years, and was lucky to have found it in this touristy town. Besides, she hated giving in to her own annoyance; she’d learn to ignore Iris if it killed her. Maybe, someday, Iris would just float away like a child’s birthday balloon. No such luck; gravity worked overtime with every tread Iris inflicted in her flapping Birkenstock sandals. Leila fought her first instinct, which was to grab the long, telescoping pole by the casement window, stand on a stool and bang her weapon of choice sharply on the lofty ceiling, twice. It wouldn’t work. It never did. Iris would ignore her.

Instead, Leila turned up NPR on the radio. She could drown out Iris with the sound of undemanding human voices on the radio. NPR was excellent company and, when necessary, excellent white noise. The hourly news, a lengthy interview, a personal piece affected in that breathless NPR accent was the perfect antidote for distraction. And the distraction was usually Iris.

Iris McNeil Thornton was a fellow member of the Red Barn Art Cooperative at Castle Road, which was housed in the happily dilapidated Red Barn Studio. It was high on a hill, overlooking Pamet Marsh, close enough to spy the flights of blue herons and egrets wheeling through the Aliziran Crimson sky, the sun an orb of Cadmium Yellow falling into the salt marshes from her window.

Among the Red Barn’s many charms were the old building’s quirky twists and turns, the sizeable studio spaces with high ceilings from its former life as the Southwind Bros. Button and Snap factory. Leila loved the patina on the old, uneven oak floorboards, the room secreted under the stairwell, doors that jammed and staircases that creaked.

But it was the heady mix of gesso, turp, linseed, pigments, primer, developers and emulsions, the fat smell of oil layered with acrylic resin and a faint dash of watercolor, an acrid, chemical concoction heady in the nasal passages, smells as familiar as the scent of a baby, that made it home.

Not that the Red Barn was without its problems. The daily irritations of artistry and intimacy meant the Red Barn artists were often less than happy. And when the Red Barn artists were less than happy, which occurred as frequently as the tides, they would reach for anything on hand ⎯ brooms, clogs, slammed doors, sighs in the hallways, post-it notes on the bulletin board, giggles behind a back, and any combination thereof ⎯ to convey their displeasure. Under other circumstances such communications might be considered rude, but the Red Barn operated by its own set of rules.

It wasn’t that the Red Barn, a collective space of otherwise solitary individuals, didn’t have its share of fellowship and communal spirit. Sometimes it was nice to see a friendly face.

But, recently, their friendships had been called into question by a series of items gone missing, small stuff, seemingly at random, from their studios, Daklon paintbrush, a can of gesso, and unused tube of paint and a half-used tube of paint. A box of plastic gloves was now empty; which Leila was sure had been half-full. No

one said theft, not at first. It was more like, did I leave this in your studio? did you find this in the bathroom? I must be a little crazy because I was sure I had it, but as the missing items mounted, minor though they were, so did whispering, suspicion, and an uneasy sense someone, maybe one of them, was a thief.

It made Leila uneasy; maybe someone was invading her studio, without her knowing. She debated whether, like Iris, she should lock her door at the end of the day. But she shook it off as unnecessary paranoia and decided to ignore it.

Leila took a deep breath, brushed back her unruly, graying curls, squinting at her canvas. When she painted, the circling steps of the heavy woman upstairs receded from consciousness, and time was suspended.

The wood planks of the pier were muddied. The perspective wasn’t quite right. The colors weren’t right. Leila waggled the end of her paintbrush like a cigar between her lips. It was a messy habit. She looked down at the black-and-white photo of the shack, not that she had any intention of painting the snapshot, any more than a musician only plays the notes.

Leila picked up her palette knife. Shaped like a small trowel for digging in the dirt, its usefulness came from its versatility in blending colors, creating textural effects, or scraping across the surface of a painting to obliterate an offense. Artists can be rough on their work; Leila was her own toughest critic.

The pier had to go. Leila wielded the knife, scraping hard until she hit the tooth of the canvas. She preferred working on a good, tightly woven cotton duck. It wasn’t an inert surface, so it recovered quickly after Leila’s brief attack. She dabbed a rag soaked in turpentine on the wound. The reconstruction of the pier could wait until tomorrow.

What time was it? Leila lost track of time as she worked. She never wore a watch in the studio.

But if she left too late, Joe would be annoyed his port wine reduction for the seared tuna had broken. It wasn’t the sauce—he could revive with a quick whisk of butter on a low heat—it was her spending more and more time at the studio and coming home later. The sky over Cape Cod Bay was a wistful grey heading into night.

Leila put down her palette knife, turned down her radio, and listened. There was quiet, finally quiet, blissful silence.

Now, at the end of the day, Leila had to steel herself for the most infuriating moment of the day: Iris leaving. The torrential thumps of Iris’ flapping Birkenstocks as she gathered up her belongings, slammed the window, searched for her purse, and slammed her door. The old oak boards were punished as as Iris clomped overhead.

The stomp was followed by the slam. Iris was incapable of doing anything quietly. There was some relief in the slam—it meant Iris was no longer overhead. The Red Barn artists never said good night, pretending not to notice each other’s comings and goings. So Leila didn’t expect Iris to poke her head in, or wave when she passed by. However, the daily drama of the swirling clamor that was Iris, like a performer doing a star turn on the stage, made it impossible not to notice her entrances and exits.

Leila walked to the window. The light of an Indian summer day was fading. Sailboats moored in the bay listed drunkenly. Had the final thump earlier signaled Iris’ departure? Leila walked back to her canvas. She recognized this as the same solitary circling as that of her neighbor overhead. It was ironic, but that didn’t stop Iris from being an annoyance.

She put her tools on her workbench. She should rinse them in turpentine and water in the bathroom at the end of the hall—the brushes would be tackier and difficult to clean after drying overnight. Oh well, she’d deal with that in the morning. Grabbing her backpack, she turned out the lights and closed her door. The hallway was silent. The other studio doors on her floor were closed. No Philomena, no Dové.

But something in the quality of the jarring loud noise earlier somehow made the quiet louder.

The stairs were poorly lit, even after Leila switched on the bare bulb dangling overhead. The whole damn place was a fire hazard. She climbed to the second floor. No Liz, no Gretchen. Later, she couldn’t quite explain why hadn’t she gone home.

The crap fixture in the upstairs hall, that never worked right, was out, as usual. The damn, dusty moose head Iris had mounted above her door stared down dolefully through its blind, button eyes. Its antlers wore a fine coat of dust.

Iris’ door was open a crack, which surprised Leila. Iris worked behind closed, locked doors, all day, every day. The other Red Barn artists left their doors open at least a smidgen, not exactly an invitation, but not a deliberately antisocial act. Iris had no such compunctions.

Leila knocked. Silence. She hesitated. Should she leave Iris alone? She took a few steps back toward the stairs, but turned around. What harm was it peeking inside? “Iris, its only me, Leila. ” No answer. “Iris, are you there?”

Leila stared through the crack in the door. At first, she thought the room was empty, but as her eyes adjusted, Leila made out a shape, or maybe a shadow, in the center of the studio.

The value of the only available light source, through the far window, made it difficult to see. Iris refused to use artificial light. She insisted on painting ‘as the Old Masters had’, that is, only by natural light. For a time, she had painted by candlelight, until the Red Barn got wind of it, banning burning candles before Iris burned the place down.

Leila stared at the shape. It didn’t move. Iris never left her door unlocked. Maybe she’d left something behind and would come back for it. Leila pushed the door open further, venturing into the silent studio, under the disapproving gaze of the mildewed moose, inching towards the shadow.

Iris, who incurred the Red Barn artists’ collective ire by deprecating the work of her fellow artists, neglecting to lock the front door, leaving puddles around communal hall sink, and far worse, as the prime suspect in the ongoing war of toilet squatting accusations, that same annoying Iris, was splayed on the floor, eyes wide open, inert as a tube of sepia.

It was a body. Iris’ body. Later, Leila recalled the body like a dead deer, abandoned on the side of the road after an accident. She remembered noting the color of Iris’ skin, like the underpainting of flesh in a neutral shade—what artists called grisaille, or dead coloring.

Ironically, under the circumstances, the scene is not unlike Iris’ own brooding assemblages: the carnage of death, overripe fruit in silver bowls, bird carcasses on platters, and game animals, fresh and bloodied, trophies of the hunt hung in the background, rendered in the style of the Old Masters.

And later, Leila was vaguely ashamed of her observations, her detachment. But, she thought defensively, isn’t observation was a habit developed over a lifetime?

Tentatively, Leila inched forward, reaching out her hand to touch the body. She yanked it back as if it was submerged in a shark tank. Iris was surprisingly warm, alive warm.

As her eyes adjusted to the low light, Leila saw Iris’ blood was a seeping stain from her flowing blue dress onto the floorboards. The red was the red every paint manufacturer had tried, but failed, to capture in a tube. Brilliant, blood red. But the eyes were dead, even if the heart was beating. Leila’s heart dropped a beat. Fear crept up her throat. Leila had to look away; she couldn’t look at those eyes. Should she call out? Is anyone here? But it was better she was alone, even if it was with a dead body. But, Iris wasn’t alone.

A small figure stood—as if on guard—over the body. Leila bent down to look at it: it was a wooden artist’s mannequin, no bigger than a child’s toy, standing guard over Iris. She recognized him immediately.

Jesus, it was Fred, fucking Fred— Leila, in a fanciful mood, had painted the figure to be anatomically correct, as well as well-endowed—who had gone missing from her studio months ago.

But poor Fred, as an eyewitness to a crime, could have nothing to say. There was no doubt he was Fred, and that he belonged to her. Bending down to pick up her missing mannequin, Leila gazed into his dead eyes. What to do?

In truth, she was both embarrassed by her handiwork, and concerned his presence could be construed as evidence at the scene of the crime; she pocketed Fred and in a sleight of hand he disappeared.

Leila didn’t need Fred to paint the picture. Iris prone. The blood. The burnished wood handle of a knife stuck in an ample left breast. Iris had been murdered. Leila didn’t scream. Leila wasn’t a screamer.

 

About the Author:

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In her stunning debut thriller, author Barbara Elle paints a clever and twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a charming Cape Cod town. Death In Vermilion asks: Who can you trust? After falling love with books and writing at a young age, she honed her writing chops as a copywriter at Macmillan, Doubleday Books and other publishers. She reported on local events, news and personalities working as a freelance journalist. She grew up in Boston, but as an adult became a New Yorker. However, her writing draws on people and places she remembers, so Death In Vermilion is set on Cape Cod, a place of memories. Barbara continues collecting characters and plots, often traveling the world with her touring musician husband, exploring Buddhist temples in Beijing, crypts in Vienna or Kabuki Theater in Tokyo. She always packs a notebook and a laptop. She is currently working on the second book in The Cape Mysteries, Death in Smoke, due for publication in 2019.

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Available on Amazon & Kobo

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If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! 

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Destination Death: A Horror Anthology by Chris Liberty – Review

Tracy’s heart thumped. “Jonas!” Her shout filled the cabin. She raced forward, followed by the others, their footsteps clomping on the wood floor. She grabbed the flashlight from her belt and aimed the light and gun up at the dark chimney. Stars gleamed from the purple twilight through the top of the funnel. Blood streaks dripped from the stones, and she jumped from the fireplace, wiping her face. “He’s gone!”

“What’re we gonna do?” Nick shouted, his eyes flitting around. 

From the bottom of her boots to her shoulders shuddered as if in an earthquake. The floor boards rattled. Something was underneath. She froze. An explosion of wood and dirt cascaded like a bomb. Tracy was thrown back. The air crushed from her lungs, and her vision spun.

Frank tumbled beside her, his gun lost in the surging dust cloud. “Son of a bitch!” 

Nick slammed into the wall. He pressed a hand to his brow, his eyes dazed and unfocused. Something pushed through the plume of debris with menacing force, right behind Nick. The filmy image, glowing in the moonlight that streamed through the window, reached out. 

Tracy jumped to her feet. “Nick, run!”

It was too late.  –  Wendigo Woods

 

 

Destination Death: A Horror Anthology is a collection of four short novellas that are tied together by the theme of death – does exactly what it says on the tin. Each story deals with it’s own urban legend/mythological creature and doesn’t shy away from gorey and bloody ways to dispatch characters and uses the sense of dread and mystical eeriness of forests to kick the suspense into a higher gear. Stories like ‘Wendigo Woods‘ and ‘Death Forest‘ borrow from Native American traditions with Liberty’s own unique spin. ‘The Devil’s Field‘ is one that feels more rooted in American urban legends following after movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer, whereas the final story, ‘Shadow Mountain‘, brings in Eastern tradition and mixes Native American and Japanese mythology to great effect. With young groups of men and women venturing into the unknown, armed with stories of unpleasant murdering fiends, what could go wrong?

Destination Death is an anthology looking into the depths of survival, of friends trying to battle their own baggage and stay alive in the face of supernatural powers, fighting the inevitable danger on the incredibly close horizon. His inclusion of flawed characters give them a sense of realism that keeps them relatable in such strange and surreal circumstances.

 

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What I Liked

What intrigued me about Destination Death was the refusal to shy away from violent gore and bloody deaths. If this isn’t something you would like to read then it may not be for you. The violence is not gratuitous and I never felt it was forced, it just felt natural for the kind of creatures that appear in the stories, would have been unnatural for the deaths and violence to come ‘off screen’ so to speak.

Liberty’s treatment of the multiple characters, for the most part, worked quite well too. Each voice is distinct and the personalities come across in a powerful way.

By taking the general outline of different myths and creatures, Liberty gives a sense of familiarity to the darkness in his stories but adds his own personal twists to the monsters. He cycles through some of the most interesting themes a writer can use, not just death, but retribution, secrets and lies, and of course the unknown. The forests in this anthology represent a fear of the unknown and a fear of things that are hidden, always leaving the possibility that there is more there than even the characters discover.

 

What I Didn’t Like

There were a few things that took me out of the stories and one of them was the description of the female characters. In short stories it can be a rush to get the image of a character in as quickly as you can, and though I don’t believe it’s intentional on the part of the author, phrases like ‘generous breasts’ too often appear to describe the women. In most other ways the characters are full and three dimensional, but the fact that I know that almost every woman had breasts trying to burst out of her clothes, had me frowning for a while. There are no sexual scenes in the stories and as the point of view is generally third person and not from a straight guy for instance, it seems out of place.

One more point about short stories is that it can be difficult to keep them under the word count while still giving the reader all the information they need. In the story Death Forest for instance we see an ex-boyfriend pushing to go on a trip where the woman he cheated on will be even though he wasn’t invited by anyone –  it just pulled me out of the story that this was thrown in there and couldn’t get my head around it.

 

Recommended for:

If you are interested in mythology and urban legends and have a particular penchant for creepy trees, I think you might enjoy this anthology. pulling you along through stories of death, darkness, and betrayal, you won’t find a happy ending here but you might find something a little more interesting, something that really gets you thinking.

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Purchase and Review Links:

Amazon.co.uk

Goodreads

 

 

About the Author – Chris Liberty

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Chris Liberty was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1972. His passions include travelling the world, the darker sides of world history and understanding cultures outside of his own.

You can find him on Twitter and Facebook

Check out my other reviews of horror story collections – 

Brain Dead Blues by Matt Hayward

The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

 

What do you think of urban legend horror stories? Would you like to see more ancient myths brought to the twenty first century? How do you feel about taking established myths and adding your own twists? Let me know down below!

If you do read Destination Death: A Horror Anthology, don’t forget to review it wherever you can! It helps authors and it helps other potential readers too – and it’s free!

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

Late Night Partners by Fennel Steuert – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Though they said she never was human, exactly, Doris had held onto the belief otherwise – even as she sat in the back of a wagon with a few pigs being taken along the road southward.

It was a slow ride. She contemplated running, but where could she go? The man at the head of the wagon had a dog with him, and he would certainly set it loose to her. She tried to imagine that being bitten wouldn’t be that bad. This only made her blood run cold, and with that came a kind of numbness, until something large swooped down from a tree onto the man at the reins. His gingerly whistling turned to a yelp. As the dog barked and the pigs squealed, Doris took off. 

Behind her, the dog let out a quick final screech.

Doris ran faster, ably dodging the star-lit silhouettes of the trees. But what was along the ground was another thing. She stumbled over rocks and roots, until something on the ground sent her tumbling to the dirt. When she looked up, all she could see was the silhouette of a man in a tricorn hat. And then the entirety of existence was the fiery pain where his teeth tore at her neck. Her last sight was the bleeding wound formed as the man pressed a pointy finger along the inside of his arm.

 

Synopsis

In Late Night Partners we meet Doris, a victim of the American slave trade, who in her escape attempt, finds more than she bargains for in a contagious bite from a stranger. Cut to the present day and strange things are happening in the city where Doris and her Native American ghoul friend through the ages, Gesine, now live. Human Roger gets pulled into the fray after his elderly uncle Simon, afraid to leave his house because of a mysterious and bloody attack he suffered, and both of them find a world that neither thought was possible before. As the two worlds intertwine, the earthquakes shaking the city turn out to have a supernatural and shocking epicenter. With twists and turns for days, distinct and charming characters.

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What I Liked

What I liked about Late Night Partners was obviously the uniqueness of the story. I’ve never read a novella quite like this, with characters like these, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so. There’s no fear for ‘diverse’ characters here, and there never should be, but more importantly there are no stereotypes either. Steuert’s treatment of not only LGBT characters and women of colour was nuanced and enjoyable, as was her treatment of much used creatures such as vampires and ghouls. I was surprised quite a lot in this book by the origins of the characters and their afflictions and the twists that the story too – that ending? Never would have seen it coming in a million years. Late Night Partners is definitely not a story you can walk into assuming anything and that made reading it quite easy to keep the pages turning.

The urban setting was also quite interesting for me. I have only read medieval type fantasy stories before and having this in the setting of a city was quite something different and works quite well I think.

 

What I Didn’t Like

One thing that bothered me in Late Night Partners was the time jumps. Between Doris in her beginning as a vampire and the characters in the present, I often got confused as to where I was supposed to be picturing them. This is something that can easily be fixed with some sub-headings but it did mean some re-reading. I also would have liked to have the romance side of the book explored more, and I am not a romance fan. I just feel like the characters could have been explored more in their interactions with each other, if this was focused on with a little more time it would have added another layer to the story.

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Recommended for:

I would recommend Late Night Partners to someone looking for a light, fantastical read. Anyone who needs another shot of vampires but wants an urban twist to it, and anyone who thinks they always know where the twists are going – you will fail for this one!

Late Night Partners is a new twist on an old tale and if you are looking for a diverse book you should definitely pick this one up. I’ve talked before about the need for more LGBTQ characters in particular in horror and ‘genre’ fiction, you can check out my thoughts on Lesbianism in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House here.

Purchase Links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

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What do you think of modern vampire stories? Do we need more diversity in our fiction? Does the vampire mythology need a new re-vamp? (puns always intended here) Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

 

 

‘Without Hesitation’ by Talia Jager – Blog Tour (Free Book and Amazon GC Giveaway!)

Woul you like a free book?! Of course you would! To celebrate the newly released ’Painted Skies (Beyond Earth: Book Two)‘ by Talia Jager, the first book in this series is available for free download! Read all about Without Hesitation, download your free copy, and enter the amazing giveaway at the end of this post!

The 1st book in the Beyond Earth Sci-Fi series by author Talia Jager, ‘Without Hesitation’ has been repping the LGBT flag in the adventure aisle since June of last year. Now that book 2, ‘Painted Skies‘ is out, you need to get your hands on the first one FOR FREE to get the full scoop on this interstellar adventure. And read to the bottom to be in with the chance of winning a free copy of ‘Painted Skiestoo!

 

Synopsis:

Without Hesitation is set a thousand years in the future. Earth has become a wasteland. Humans traveled into space to colonize other suitable planets. Labels and stereotypes are a thing of the past and gender and sexual identity are as fluid as love as humans strive to survive. Here we meet Everleigh, the commander of her ship named Nirvana. She is under the control of an evil madman, Caspar, who keeps her family captive. He sends her to Valinor to abduct the Empress Akacia. When she arrives, she is taken aback by Akacia’s beauty and when the Empress fights back, Everleigh realizes she has met her match.

You can add ‘Without Hesitation’ to your Goodreads and I’ve just started a Goodreads account myself, why not add me here

 

*Available for FREE Download Right Now!*

Get your free copy of ‘Without Hesitation’ through these links:

Amazon

Apple

B&N

Google

Kobo

Smashwords

 

 

About the Author

Author Pic

 

Talia is no stranger to labels and judgment. She has slowly been developing her voice for those who need help speaking up. She believes that someday labels will be a thing of the past, that sexuality will be fluid, love will be love, and mental illness will be handled with love and care. Talia is an author with fifteen books published including: Damaged: Natalie’s Story, Teagan’s Story: Her Battle With Epilepsy, If I Die Young, Secret Bloodline, Lost and Found, The Gifted Teens Series, The Between Worlds Series and The Beyond Earth Series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking red rocks or sitting on the beach with a Kindle in her hands and her toes in the ocean.

 

Author Links:

To find out more about Talia Jager and her writing you can catch her at the following links:

Website, Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Pinterest, Instagram, & Goodreads.

And check out some of her Tweets below.

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Excerpt from ‘Without Hesitation’:

Limbs lashed at my legs and arms as I ran through the trees, toward the light. Hugging the shadows, I wove through the forest until I came to the clearing. A female around my age in a black protective suit stood there checking some kind of device in her hand.

She was beautiful. Her hair was just as long as mine, but was dark, smooth, and straight and framed her oval face perfectly. Her bright, golden eyes scanned her surroundings. She turned slowly revealing an animal print tattoo that trailed from the back of her neck, down her right shoulder, and her arm all the way to her pinky finger. I took half a step toward her before common sense drew me up short. I had been hiding for a reason. I had no idea whether she was friend or foe. It was dangerous to go charging out there, even if the girl seemed to be alone.

The stranger was facing me again. Her eyes landed near where I was hidden.

Could she see me?

She smirked and, said, “I know someone is out there. Save me the hunt and I’ll spare your life.”

Somehow I doubted she spoke the truth.

I hunkered down, daring her to find me. I was ready for her.

Slowly, carefully, she picked her way through the underbrush and made her way toward me. She knew I was here, but she didn’t know exactly where. Remembering how important it was that I not die, I couldn’t take any chances. As soon as she was close enough, I struck.

Just before my arm made contact, she shifted her weight and spun, stepping out of the way. She threw a punch, which I dodged easily, but then she continued to come at me and I blocked her over and over, until I made a misstep. While I was stumbling, she caught my cheek with her elbow then landed another blow to my belly. I countered, slamming my hand onto the bridge of her nose sending her backward. She stumbled but caught herself.

I launched myself at her, drove my body into hers, knocking her to the ground. We both fell in a tangle of limbs. She rolled, putting distance between us, and we both jumped back to our feet.

When she sprung forward again. I twisted, my back protesting the movement, just enough to get out of the way. We exchanged quite a few blows before she finally clocked me one good time in the face then followed that up with a kick in the ribs that stole my breath. I collapsed to the ground grabbing my side. Not wasting a second, I swept her with my foot, hooking my leg around hers, and yanking back with all my might. Her bright eyes widened as she went down, landing on her back. I jumped on top of her and pinned her to the ground. Now that I was up close I saw that there were two more tattoos on the left side of her neck: an arrow with two Xs in the middle, and another simple symbol next to it.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

No answer, though her eyes were wide with excitement—like she was enjoying this.

My heart thudded roughly against my chest. “How did you get here?”

Again, she didn’t answer.

Using her legs, she bucked up, throwing me onto my hands and knees. She kicked me down and sat on my back.

“What do you want?” I asked, face to the ground.

“Looking for you, Empress Sparks. I have to say I’m surprised to have found you so easily.”

 

 

And now time for the Giveaway Details:

By clicking the link below you could be in with a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate, unfortunately only if you live in North America, but, for international readers, you could be in with the chance to get your hands on a digital copy of the 2nd book in the Beyond Earth series ‘Painted Skies‘.

GIVE ME FREE STUFF!

 

 

Thank you to the R&R for organising the tour.

Click the name below to learn more about what they do!

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Have you grabbed your free copy of ‘Without Hesitation’ yet? Have you read any other great Sci-Fi stories recently? What would you like to see more of in Science Fiction today?

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

 

‘Fountain Dead’ by Theresa Braun – ARC Review and Blog Tour

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The vapor wafting from the stagnant pool smelled like the rancid rot from inside a carcass. Mark felt he breathed in fire. The gooey surface boiled and foamed as if a prehistoric substance. His heart stopped as something emerged. A goopy and gnarled dome became a sickly face. The eyelids still closed, the rest of the form rose, covered in green.

A tattered dress clung to the feminine curves. The cloth slipped from the shoulders, drawing his attention to her skin. The texture made him gag.

A sour taste of bile filled his mouth. His skin contracted as he contemplated her spongy flesh. Her black eyes sprang open like a demonic doll’s. Her inhuman gaze stabbed his very core, and he knew he was facing a soul-less being. The eyes burned like hot stove burners.

A decomposing hand extended toward his throat.

 

Expected Publication: November 20th, 2018
Genre: Mature YA Horror/ Paranormal
Published by: Unnerving Press

 

About ‘Fountain Dead’

Mark isn’t exactly thrilled that him and his younger sister have to follow their parents to the tiny town of Winona and make a fresh start in a creepy house, but he doesn’t have much say in the matter. And his parents don’t seem to notice that strange things are happening in their new home – they just don’t want to see it. 

As the pull of the ancient house drags him in, Mark has much more physical things to think about, romantic things, and this only seems to intensify the supernatural goings on. But he’ll soon realise that the past never really leaves and that everything is connected like bricks in a wall, or hearts that beat as one. The secrets of Fountain Dead are about to be discovered, don’t you want to see?

 

My Review

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Fountain Dead is a novel that will have you gripped from the outset. In the beginning I have to admit I was afraid that the time jump between the 1980’s and the 1860’s would be jumbled and confusing but it wasn’t, it actually kept the story fresh. There are plenty of underlying themes in the story that are often overlooked in a lot of genres, even horror, and the switch between the Emma’s point of view and Mark’s, added another layer to this dissection of gender and sexuality. 

Fountain Dead is a multi-faceted story of past and present, history repeating on itself, and the outliers who break social norms to feel like themselves. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some genuinely scary and creepy scenes in the book either. Mixing historical fiction, haunted house, paranormal romance, and great character building, I thoroughly enjoyed Emma and Mark’s journey and was rooting for them til the very end. I would recommend this book for readers of all ages, but at least 15-16 and up as there are some steamy scenes in there. 

Links to Pre-Order

Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/Fountain-Dead-Theresa-Braun-ebook

Amazon US: www.amazon.com/Fountain-Dead-Theresa-Braun-ebook

 

About the author

theresa-braun

Theresa Braun is an American author of Horror fiction who, when she isn’t writing her own stories, teaches English and shares her love and passion for literature with her students. In her spare time she also enjoys painting, photography, and even ghost hunting. Theresa has many nooks and stories under her belt and thinks you should totally check them out. 

Website: theresabraun.com

Facebook: Theresa Braun, Author

Twitter: @tbraun_author

 

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Are you looking forward to getting your hands on a copy of Fountain Dead by Theresa Braun? Have you read any of her others works? Or have you already pre-ordered this one? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!