‘A Step Away’ By G Randy Kasten – Review

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

 

Three friends, Brianna, Sean, and Robert, happen across a body buried in their neighborhood. Because a police investigation might reveal that the trio is connected to a stolen motor, and that Sean’s mother was having a relationship with a neighbor, the three friends decide they must solve the apparent murder before contacting authorities. In the process, they sneak into a house, befriend a vigilant neighbor with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and develop a friendship with a kind, older man. Brianna becomes convinced that clues point to Sean’s father and realizes their detective work is doing more harm than good. She makes tough choices that affect families and friendships.a step away cover

Book Extract:


Right below the pipe, a human hand and wrist poked out from the dirt, its flesh partly rotted away. The fingers pointed at us.

I let out a panicked yell identical to Robert’s but stood frozen. A hot, prickly feeling crawled up my back as Sean shouted to Robert. “You okay, Robber?” When Robert murmured a response, Sean scrambled down to the creek. “Cover it up!” he demanded as he went, pointing at me. “Cover it back up!”

“We can’t just…” I started.

“Cover it up!” Sean was bending over, one hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Just do it!” I shoveled dirt and leaves at the void, breathing as little as possible and only glancing occasionally at the rotted appendage sticking out at me. Each scoop of crumbly soil slid back down, so finally I started stomping on it to get it to stay, right on top of the hand. I felt as if I was pressing down on something evil. Trying to keep it back. After a minute, Sean stood next to me working with Robert’s abandoned shovel. With his head turned away from the hole, he didn’t help much. Robert sat where he was, letting out little wails every now and then. It wasn’t a sound like the pain of a sprained ankle or something. It was more like the desperate moans of someone who’d forgotten how to talk.

Once we managed to get the hand covered, we scrambled down the bank, grabbed Robert by his arms, then half carried him and the tools back to the workshop we’d taken over from Sean’s dad. After breathing the rotten stench of the creek, I barely noticed Robert’s smell and couldn’t get that image of the decaying hand out of my mind. We set Robert down in one of the beaten-up old armchairs we’d dragged in there, then sank down ourselves, panting. The hot prickly feeling was still crawling all over me. Sean and I looked at each other for a few seconds, then away. Robert stared at the floor. I’d never seen a real skeleton — or a dead body – before. The tuna sandwich I’d eaten an hour earlier seemed to be on a climb back up. I imagined the scene once we called the sheriff; Sean’s parents would arrive home to a flock of cop cars in the driveway. Maybe there’d be a coroner’s van. They’d love driving into that mess.

Then things went from bad to worse. Sean leaned forward and pointed one finger at me and one at Robert. “We can’t tell anyone about this.” Robert peered out from under the layer of the coarse black hair fallen in front of his eyes.

“But Sean, somebody buried a body.”

“We know that, Robert,” Sean snapped. His nasty scowl reminded me of his father. “But nobody else is going to know that.”

“Why not?” that high voice again.

“That body where it is, it’s not by accident.” Sean turned to me, “Brianna, you know why we can’t tell anyone.” Like he was pleading with me. “You know.”A Step Away


 

‘A Step Away’ is a YA Thriller about a group of friends finding a body in their neighbourhood and the unraveling threads of deception, family ties, and the disillusion of youth.

 

Following the thoughtful Brianna, you’re pulled onto an average street in an average town – there just happens to be a body slowly rotting by the creek with no clues as to who buried it or why. The trio face obstacles with their closed off families – Brianna struggling to connect with her selfish and greedy father, Robert still struggling with the tragic of his dad whichwis connected to Brianna’s father and his mother’s new boyfriend, and Sean is burdened with the knowledge of his mother’s affair and the need to protect her secrets. But did she have something to do with the dead body in the dirt? Or was it the man she cheated with?

‘A Step Away’ has mystery, plenty of depth, and the camaraderie you want from kids. I was expecting much more darkness to the story as we are dealing with a dead body here, but the darkness is kept at bay by the hijinks the kids get up to in order to bargain their way through the strange question they’ve set for themselves. Other than the body clawing at the back of their minds every few chapters, this would be much more of your average coming of age story. Brianna realising that her father is not the inspiring man she wanted him to be, and Sean struggling with his family’s secrets and silence, there’s a lot more underneath that isn’t explored that could have added much more colour to the plot.

But that’s coming at it from an adult point of view, from a teenager’s perspective I think ‘A Step Away‘ is a great YA Thriller with the right mix of darkness, mystery and adolescent hangups. Brianna is a the perfect character to have the point of view from as she’s the only girl in the group and sees things that the boys don’t. I have a theory that she may even have a ‘not so strictly’ heterosexual angle there as well, and if that is the case it’s a nod without being explicit which in this case is fine as the kids romantic interests are not central to the plot.

Kasten does a great job of writing adolescent kids and the anxieties and contradictory confidence they have. Sean is an apt example of the pushy friend everyone had who always got their way. And poor Robert is the submissive friend who just wants to avoid their bullying brother.  A solid YA novel that explores what it’s like to share a dark secret with your friends and put the morals you’ve been taught on the back burner.

 

One to put on the shelf, and I’d imagine a teen coming back to read this one, peeling back a layer each time.

 

 

About the Author:

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After some childhood acting and living in England for a year, I graduated from Reed College, then attended law school. As a litigator in California and Washington State for thirty years, I learned a great deal about what people really want, and also how humor helps in tough situations. Writing remains my main interest. I am the author of Just Trust Me: Finding the Truth in the World of Spin (Quest Books, 2011), a book about discerning truth from appearances. My young adult novel, A Step Away, will be published by Black Rose in 2019. I have also written a couple of short plays, which were performed at a local theatre in Marin County, CA. The Ribbons Agency is a nearly completed satirical book about the arduous task of securing a literary agent. On a more serious note, I am working on a non fiction book that presents a unique, logical reason to believe that greater international peace is inevitable. A resident of San Francisco’s east bay for most of my life, I have lived along Hood Canal (a fjord and part of Puget Sound) in Washington State for the past three years. I’m still adapting to the weather, though it keeps me inside and productive most of the year. When not writing, I’m enjoying the outdoors or playing improvisational piano. G. Kasten

 

Links to ‘A Step Away’ (ALWAYS LEAVE REVIEWS!):

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

 

Review organized by: R&R Book Tours

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What do you think of YA Thriller? Do you think there should be more dark fiction out there aimed at teens? 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! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

Love YA Blog Tour!

There are so many new books coming out this year, and it is looking to be a great year for the Young Adult genre in particular! In this post we’ll take a look at four of the hottest YA books coming out or already available to buy.

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There will be exclusive excerpts and wonderful prizes to win, so be sure to read on! As an added bonus, all four books will be available to book reviewers in exchange for honest reviews. Contact Shannon @ R&R Book Tours to find out how you can get your hands on a review copy.

 

the gemini connection coverThe Gemini Connection by Teri Polen Publication Date: June 7th, 2018 Genre: YA Science Fiction/ Dystopian Teen twin brothers Evan and Simon Resnik are fiercely loyal to each other and share an unusual bond—they experience each other’s emotions as their own and can sense where the other is. On their dying planet of Tage, scientists work tirelessly on its survival. Like the twins’ parents, Simon is a science prodigy, recruited at a young age to work with the brilliant creator of Scientific Innovations. To the bitter disappointment of their parents, Evan shows no aptitude or interest in science. As a Mindbender, he travels into the minds of scientists to locate buried memories, connect ideas and concepts, and battle recurring nightmares. When Simon mysteriously disappears, Evan is plunged into a world of loss and unbearable guilt. For the first time, he can’t ‘feel’ Simon—it’s like he no longer exists. Evan blames himself. No one knows that he ignored his brother’s pleas for help on the night he went missing. A year later, Simon is still gone. Evan lost his twin, but Tage might have lost its last hope of survival when it’s discovered that Simon’s unfinished project could be its salvation. Evan is determined to find him—somewhere—and bring Simon home. Their unusual connection might be more extraordinary than they know, and the key to locating Simon.

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Excerpt:

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Ugly. That was the first word that came to mind. Deadly was next. The twisted creation was courtesy of a new client, a scientist. The nightmare had been tormenting him for the past couple of weeks. The monster stood roughly fifteen feet tall, walked on two legs, and stretched two muscled arms in front of it, but its elongated head was a grotesque combination of goat and demon. Treacherous horns protruded from either side of its skull, torso, and upper thighs, making it difficult for anyone to get close to the beast. Not that we especially wanted to, but it was part of a Bender’s job requirement to eradicate nightmares. So, we took up battle positions—Syd to its right, me to its left—crouched in anticipation of this formidable creature’s attack. “I’ll go high, you go low,” I called to Syd. Besides a hideous appearance, the goat thing screeched like a deranged bird, and we strained to hear each other, even with the com units. “Got it, Evan.” She unsheathed a ten-inch dagger from her utility belt, the silver blade glinting in the eerie cast of yellow-green light in this nightmare-scape. Being somewhat vertically-challenged (she hated it when I said short), Syd might not look intimidating, but give the girl a knife and she was absolutely lethal. The creature’s leg tendons would be sliced to ribbons in seconds. Syd dived to the creature’s right, spinning and coming up behind it, as she avoided an angry kick to her head. She carved into its left limb, and it let out an ear-piercing shriek. I withdrew an iron mallet from my own belt and catapulted myself off the wall, soaring over the goat-demon and landing a blow to the left side of its skull. Its head jerked in my direction when I came down on its other side. The sharpened tip of the horn caught the left side of my rib cage, and a warm flow of blood seeped through my shirt. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d walked away from a nightmare with a permanent scar. Syd scrambled around its legs, careful not to be trampled. Her dagger was a silver blur as she slashed the gray-haired appendages, the goat-demon staggering in its efforts to avoid her blade. The ground was wet—possibly blood. But with dream or nightmare creations, you couldn’t be sure. Because this thing’s creator was a scientist, they tended to more detail-oriented. Odds leaned in the blood direction. The light around us took on a red hue. Did the ambient illumination correlate to the creature’s anger level? If yellow-green meant annoyed, did red mean take no prisoners? -The Gemini Connection

Available Now!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Black Rose Writing

 

About the Author:

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Teri Polen reads and watches horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, and anything Marvel-related are likely to cause fangirl delirium. She lives in Bowling Green, KY with her husband, sons, and black cat. Her first novel, Sarah, a YA horror/thriller, was a horror finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Visit her online at www.teripolen.com

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | BookBub

 

 

For your chance to win either a signed copy (U.S.) or digital (International), click on this link – a Rafflecopter giveaway

dear janeDear Jane by Marina DelVecchio

Publication Date: January 3rd, 2019

Genre: YA/ Coming of Age

Kit Kat is a fifteen-year-old adoptee who writes letters to her favorite literary character, Jane Eyre, as a means of surviving a violent childhood in Greece and a harrowing adoption in New York that requires her to silence her memories and her voice. In writing letters to Jane, Kit Kat discovers a connection to literature that saves her life. Dear Jane is about family, love, forgiveness, and the power of a good book.

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Excerpt:

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For the next two weeks that I was in possession of your story, it was as if someone had seen me, claimed me. I had a sister, a mother, an aunt, a place in which I was loved and understood and cared for. I was connected to something solid and real, for even if the story wasn’t real, a real woman had written it, had understood the pain that comes with being rejected and lonely; the angst that comes with being a girl severed from her roots and family. -Dear Jane

Available on Amazon

 

About the Author:

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Marina DelVecchio is a college professor of literature and women’s studies and lives in North Carolina with her family. Her work can be found online at Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Tishman Review, Her Circle Ezine, and The New Agenda.

Marina DelVecchio | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

 

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For your chance to win either a signed copy (U.S.) or digital (International), click on this link – a Rafflecopter giveaway Version 3Till It Stops Beating (The Maddie Chronicles #4) by Hannah R. Goodman Publication Date: July 5th, 2018 Genre: YA Contemporary Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman has always coped with anxiety by immersing herself into the latest self-help book. Then her grandmother is diagnosed with cancer, and she spirals so far downward that she almost risks losing everything she holds dear. From applying to college to solving the mystery of why she detests jelly doughnuts to writing a novel for her senior project and reconnecting with an old flame (or two), the ever-mounting stress leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers what she needs in order to really live. If your heart has ever hurt from beating widely, whether from anxiety or love, this book is the one to read.

Add to Goodreads Available on Amazon

 

Excerpt:

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“I need to be with Bubbie. I want to be there every day. When she is sick or tired. When she needs help.” I take breath. “I will stay and take care of Bubbie and go to school in January.” “I don’t like this idea,” Mom says. Dad sips his coffee instead of gulps. “I don’t know if the deferment is a good idea or not,” he says. “But staying in California for that long? I think it’s sweet to want to stay and care of Bubbie, but what else will you be doing?” He looks at my mom. Then Mom explodes. “Stan, she is not deferring.” Finally, she looks at me. “You are not deferring. I’m calling Emerson tomorrow to straighten this out.” This is so ridiculous. When are they going to get it? I stand up. “You know what? This is crazy. I’ve been losing sleep and getting all panicky again over this for the past few weeks and for what? For what reason? Fear of disappointing you? And now here I am full-blown disappointing you both and I did not fall apart or die. I am still here. And so are you guys.” I think of Susan’s opening lines to her speech. Welcome to the last day of childhood. “I’m an adult now, Mom. You guys have to let me make my decisions, without trying to guilt me into doing what you want.” And with that, I walk my adult self out of the living room, and they don’t follow. -Till It Stops Beating

 

About the Author:

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Often referred to as “the teenage whisperer”, Hannah R. Goodman’s twenty-year career working with teenagers includes the titles teacher, tutor, coach, and, more recently, mental health counselor. Hannah has written essays about mental health for various online publications. Her work has appeared on MindBodyGreen, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Zencare.co, and The Mighty. Though she has previously earned the title author with her first three books, those were all were self-published. This time around, publisher Black Rose Writing released her novel Till It Stops Beating in July, 2018. Literary Titan’s review praised Till It Stops Beating for “tackling a difficult issue like anxiety and making a story that was funny and sweet without making light of the issue.” Hannah is a member of ARIA (Association of Rhode Island Authors) as well as a graduate of Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in Creative Writing where she earned an MFA in Writing For Young People. She resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and black and white cat named Zoe.

Hannah R Goodman | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

LinkedIn | Amazon | Email | Goodreads | BookBub

 

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For your chance to win either a signed copy (U.S.) or digital (International), click on this link – a Rafflecopter giveaway a step away coverA Step Away by G. Randy Kasten Publication Date: February 7th, 2019 Genre: YA Thriller Three friends, Brianna, Sean, and Robert, happen across a body buried in their neighborhood. Because a police investigation might reveal that the trio is connected to a stolen motor, and that Sean’s mother was having a relationship with a neighbor, the three friends decide they must solve the apparent murder before contacting authorities. In the process, they sneak into a house, befriend a vigilant neighbor with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and develop a friendship with a kind, older man. Brianna becomes convinced that clues point to Sean’s father and realizes their detective work is doing more harm than good. She makes tough choices that affect families and friendships.

Add to Goodreads Available on Amazon

 

Excerpt:

flipping pages gif

Right below the pipe, a human hand and wrist poked out from the dirt, its flesh partly rotted away. The fingers pointed at us.

I let out a panicked yell identical to Robert’s but stood frozen. A hot, prickly feeling crawled up my back as Sean as shouted to Robert. “You okay, Robber?” When Robert murmured a response, Sean scrambled down to the creek. “Cover it up!” he demanded as he went, pointing at me. “Cover it back up!” “We can’t just…” I started. “Cover it up!” Sean was bending over, one hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Just do it!” I shoveled dirt and leaves at the void, breathing as little as possible and only glancing occasionally at the rotted appendage sticking out at me. Each scoop of crumbly soil slid back down, so finally I started stomping on it to get it to stay, right on top of the hand. I felt as if I was pressing down on something evil. Trying to keep it back. After a minute, Sean stood next to me working with Robert’s abandoned shovel. With his head turned away from the hole, he didn’t help much. Robert sat where he was, letting out little wails every now and then. It wasn’t a sound like the pain of a sprained ankle or something. It was more like the desperate moans of someone who’d forgotten how to talk. Once we managed to get the hand covered, we scrambled down the bank, grabbed Robert by his arms, then half carried him and the tools back to the workshop we’d taken over from Sean’s dad. After breathing the rotten stench of the creek, I barely noticed Robert’s smell and couldn’t get that image of the decaying hand out of my mind. We set Robert down in one of the beaten-up old armchairs we’d dragged in there, then sank down ourselves, panting. The hot prickly feeling was still crawling all over me. Sean and I looked at each other for a few seconds, then away. Robert stared at the floor. I’d never seen a real skeleton — or a dead body – before. The tuna sandwich I’d eaten an hour earlier seemed to be on a climb back up. I imagined the scene once we called the sheriff; Sean’s parents would arrive home to a flock of cop cars in the driveway. Maybe there’d be a coroner’s van. They’d love driving into that mess. Then things went from bad to worse. Sean leaned forward and pointed one finger at me and one at Robert. “We can’t tell anyone about this.” Robert peered out from under the layer of the coarse black hair fallen in front of his eyes. “But Sean, somebody buried a body.” “We know that, Robert,” Sean snapped. His nasty scowl reminded me of his father. “But nobody else is going to know that.” “Why not?” that high voice again. “That body where it is, it’s not by accident.” Sean turned to me, “Brianna, you know why we can’t tell anyone.” Like he was pleading with me. “You know.” -A Step Away

 

About the Author:

author-photo

After some childhood acting and living in England for a year, I graduated from Reed College, then attended law school. As a litigator in California and Washington State for thirty years, I learned a great deal about what people really want, and also how humor helps in tough situations. Writing remains my main interest. I am the author of Just Trust Me: Finding the Truth in the World of Spin (Quest Books, 2011), a book about discerning truth from appearances. My young adult novel, A Step Away, will be published by Black Rose in 2019. I have also written a couple of short plays, which were performed at a local theatre in Marin County, CA. The Ribbons Agency is a nearly completed satirical book about the arduous task of securing a literary agent. On a more serious note, I am working on a non fiction book that presents a unique, logical reason to believe that greater international peace is inevitable. A resident of San Francisco’s east bay for most of my life, I have lived along Hood Canal (a fjord and part of Puget Sound) in Washington State for the past three years. I’m still adapting to the weather, though it keeps me inside and productive most of the year. When not writing, I’m enjoying the outdoors or playing improvisational piano. G. Kasten

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For your chance to win either a signed copy (U.S.) or digital (International), click on this link! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you for celebrating with us this week and best of luck on the giveaways! Book Blitz Organized By:

 

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R&R Book Tours

Check out the tour schedules for some more reviews and insights!

Schedule

Monday Jan. 28th
Reads & Reelshttp://readsandreels.com
Gloria McNeelyhttps://gloriamcneelywriter.com/blog/
The Writer’s Alleyhttps://www.jacobrundle.com
Go By the Bookhttp://gobythebookblog.wordpress.com
YA/NA Book Divashttp://www.yabookdivas.com/
Just 4 My Bookshttp://www.just4mybooks.wordpress.com
Tuesday Jan. 29th
Devouring Bookshttps://devouringbooks2017.wordpress.com/
Didi Oviatthttps://didioviatt.wordpress.com
Breakeven Bookshttps://breakevenbooks.com
Tsarina Presshttps://www.tsarinapress.com
The Hufflepuff Nerdettehttps://thehufflepuffnerdette.wordpress.com/
Wednesday Jan. 30th
Jessica Rachowhttp://jessicarachow.wordpress.com
Misty’s Book Spacehttp://mistysbookspace.wordpress.com
Touch My Spine Book Reviewshttps://touchmyspinebookreviews.com/
Thursday Jan. 31st
From Belgium With Book Lovehttps://frombelgiumwithbooklove.com/
Life at 17https://lifeat17.wordpress.com
Friday Feb. 1st
Eclectic Reviewshttps://eclecticreview.com/
Dash Fan Book Reviewshttps://dashfan81.blogspot.com/

My Young Writer Delegate Experience

*Disclaimer* I was a YWD, and before and after I volunteered at the IWC so obviously I am slightly biased, but I still think this can only be a positive experience. I wasn’t asked to write this by anyone, I just had a positive experience and think you should go for it too!

The thing about being an artist and particularly a writer is that you have to take a lot of chances. It’s never a straight path to get to where you want to go and you have to seize opportunities when they crop up, if they ever do – at least that what I told myself when I signed up to be a Young Writer Delegate for the Irish Writers Centre. I was convinced I wouldn’t get it but I thought going through the process of submitting would give me practice so I did it anyway. I’d never been published anywhere, had a BA in English but no Masters, didn’t have a polished novel or short story to my name, and had never been to a literary festival. But it was a new initiative I figured I had nothing to lose. As it turned out, I had quite a lot to gain though.

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Myself, Jack, Rachel, and Supriya. Is it obvious that I’m the horror writer?

So, some basic questions that probably need an answer first:

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19 Parnell Square aka the Irish Writers Centre decorated for Culture Night.

What is The Irish Writers Centre? In short, the IWC is a place that offers resources and opportunities to writers in Ireland and Northern Ireland. They are a registered charity and get funding for a lot of their schemes, including the Young Writer Delegate scheme. They offer classes and seminars, rooms to rent for book launches, memberships and space for those members to write in a beautiful Victorian building in the center of Dublin.

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They spelled my name right and everything.

What is Cúirt? Cúirt is one of the oldest and most recognised literature festivals in Europe, annually held in Galway. Stocked full of writing, reading, music, literature, poetry, and plays, there’s something for everyone. Each year they have a diverse list of writers and artists participating and there’s always a chance to meet the best contemporary writers of the day.

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Our first time meeting Alan – we wanted to seem cool.

What are the Young Writer Delegates? The YWD programme was set up last year in an effort to champion young emerging writers and bring more of an interest to younger artists both for literature in Ireland and to the IWC as well. Offering a unique opportunity to take part in multiple festivals accompanied by a professional writer as their mentor, participants are offered a free festival pass, insider industry knowledge, and a chance to see what professional writers do when they aren’t actually writing. After the festivals, they have a connection to the professionals they met and hopefully a new relationship with the Irish Writers Centre.

My experience…

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A very nonchalant snap of us, Alan, and Valerie Bistany, Director of the IWC and mastermind behind the YWD scheme.

The week for us basically consisted of going to as many events as possible, as a group, and as individuals. Our mentor was Alan McMonagle, writer of many things but notably his 2017 novel ‘Ithaca’. Alan would introduce us to anyone we thought could give us insight, he got us a spot talking on a radio show, and even at an open mic in the Róisín Dubh to read our work. That was my first time reading it out loud and boy did I learn a lot about editing from those five minutes. In the evenings there are social events to mingle with not just writers but also readers and people from the publishing industry. The only qualm you could really have is the stimulation to write and then not having much time to.

Being completely inexperienced as I was with festivals and professional writer life in general I was blown away by the experience. For anyone who is unsure what being a writer entails or has doubts about their abilities, going to something like Cúirt makes everything a lot more tangible. You can see writers like Sally Rooney and Sebastian Barry, speak to them even, and get a sense of how they got to where they are. It makes it all seem possible and for me, it definitely spurred me on to finish my novel manuscript which is currently being looked over by a publisher. I can’t say it wouldn’t be finished right now if it weren’t for the motivation I got just being in that atmosphere. And just to point out, the other YWD participants we’re all published in some way and had masters from Trinity but it was still a worthwhile experience for them.

Writing can often be, and indeed is sold as, a lonely art form but it doesn’t always have to be. The difference between locking myself in a room and forcing myself to write around everything else and everyone else in my life, in comparison to just hanging around other bookish people and really getting an urge to write, is staggering. Being in the right environment and connecting with other writers can make all the difference.

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And since Cúirt 2018, I’ve been determined to return as a published writer. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still determined and battling chronic procrastination. We’ve been invited to book launches and events, and even to meet the second round of YWD mentored by ‘Red Dirt’ author E. M. Reapy at the Dublin Book Festival a few months ago. And we even got our faces in the IWC brochure. Sure, it’s something to put on your writing CV but it’s also shaping up to be a small community of emerging writers sharing a great experience.

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I consider myself an A-lister now.

 

There’s still time to sign up for a potential free ticket to an historic week long literary festival. If you are between 18-26 and writing in Ireland, this is an opportunity not to be missed. At the very least it’s an excuse to be in Galway for a week, and I dare you not to feel the inspiration to write with views like this.

As a side note, if I can swing it this year, I’ll be back at the festival myself on my own time. I’m like a junkie for artistic atmosphere these days.

You can find more information here on the Irish Writers Centre website, and take a look at the Cúirt website here. And you can check out the Young Writer Delegate Instagram page to see what previous participants got up to here.

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Do you plan on submitting for the YWDs this year? Have you submitted before? If I can answer any questions down below, I’d be happy to.

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!