‘The Occultists’ by Polly Schattel – Review

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

***

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

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

It would always be that way. Always.

Synopsis –

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

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

Thoughts –

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

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

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

About the Author –

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

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‘Grim Fate’ by Nicho Young – Review

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

***

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

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

Synopsis –

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

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

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

Thoughts –

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

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

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

About the Author –

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

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

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‘Unsafe Words’ by Loren Rhoads – Review

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

***

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

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

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

Synopsis –

Thoughts –

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

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

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

About the Author –

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

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

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

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‘Kept From Cages’ by Phil Williams – Review

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

***

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

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

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

Caleb shifted. “We could try another one?”

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

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

Synopsis –

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

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

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

Thoughts –

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

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

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

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

About the Author –

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

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

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