‘Ambrosia’ by Madison Wheatley – Review

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

***

Fat pig. Fat pig. Fat pig.

I let Jace’s ugly words roll around in my head while I try to tear myself away from the bathroom mirror. They echo throughout my mind, waking up feelings of self-hatred and disgust. I feel my soul sinking the longer I stare at the hideous figure in the toothpaste splattered mirror, but I can’t make myself look away.

Can’t seem to shut off the voices from the past.

I came home from work early, only to find someone else’s lithe arms coiled around his chest like a white snake. Upon seeing me in the doorway, her arms slithered off his skin as she sprang off the bed.

He rose, half-dressed. Stood next to her in solidarity. The fear in her eyes was absent from his defiant glare.

Normally, I’m able to weaponize my destructive thoughts, normally able to use them as some sick form of ‘motivation’ to drag myself to the gym every morning.

But today is August 3rd. The Anniversary

Synopsis –

Two words have haunted Crystal for years: fat pig.

So when a handsome and athletic stranger promises that his gym will change her life, how can she say no? With its cutting-edge facilities, beyond-friendly staff, and endless free samples of Ambrosia, their signature energizing sports drink, Mount Olympus seems too perfect to be real—and maybe it is. Crystal needs it all, but is she willing to lose more than just weight?

Thoughts –

Ambrosia is a stark tale of self-hatred, guilt, regret, and body image that follows the story of Crystal, a woman who has long struggled with her weight and loving herself. Predisposed to believe that she deserves to be punished and hurt, Mount Olympus, the new and exotic gym in town that have graciously slashed their prices just for her, is primed to draw her in. As Crystal becomes more and more obsessed with working out, she also starts to see that she is not the only one spending every waking hour in the gym. Having pushed away any family or friends she had, there is no one around to pull her out of her addiction, so when she begins to lose a lot more than bodyweight, she has to pull herself out of this hell hole.

A novel that tackles difficult events and emotions, Ambrosia is a story that I think most can relate to, if not at least most women. The pressure to lose weight, to work harder, to repress unpleasant memories and focus on ‘goals’ on the ‘hussle’ of our new lives is a constant pressure. To always be better, stronger, and more in control. Crystal, our protagonist, falls fast, but it’s a fall we can all recognise. Her past and her struggles are universally tragic as well as the buttons pressed to pull her into this well-crafted business of despair.

Wheatley’s writing is in the moment, it is honest and raw, and gives an urgency to Crystal’s muddled brain that brings a realism to the surreal events that are happening. Wheatley uses her writing to confront the irony of a complete body overhaul, only to find out that your mind is still the same. You can’t wipe away a traumatising past with any amount of treadmill miles.

Using imagined horrors to reflect the true horrors of our daily lives, Ambrosia will have you running a fine tooth comb through every gym membership contract you see.

About the Author –

Madison Wheatley is a poet and speculative young adult/new adult writer from Jackson, TN. Since her graduation from Harding University in 2014, she has been teaching middle school and high school English Language Arts. Her poetry has been published in Seltzer (2014) and Cave Region Review (2014), and she is a contributing author in Seven Deadly Sins, A YA Anthology: Avarice (2018) and Secrets in Our Cities (2018). Her debut novel Ambrosia, a new adult paranormal thriller, was released by Authors 4 Authors Publishing on October 13, 2019. You can find her through her Twitter or Instagram.

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‘Food Fright’ by Nico Bell – Review

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

***

Virginia, 1995

Cassie Adler gnawed her thumbnail until she tasted blood. Crickets chirped as a slight breeze cooled the September night air, cutting through the thick Virginia humidity. She shifted on her feet and looked past the dim streetlights lining the parking lot of Rochelle High School. A truck’s high beams switched to low as it drew closer.

Her chest tightened.

This was a mistake, but she’d come too far to wimp out now. Heather and her friends would never let Cassie hear the end of it if she didn’t follow through with the plan. Besides, this is what she wanted, right?

To be one of them.

Because if she belonged to their group, the teasing would stop.

No more jabs, about her loser father.

No more jokes about Cassie’s skeleton build or frizzy brown hair.

No more mocking her mom, who spent more nights sleeping in the county jail than her own bed back at home.

Cassie just needed to complete this one small task and she’d finally be in their circle, no longer standing on the outside.

Synopsis –

High school junior Cassie Adler just wanted the bullying to stop. She thought gaining a spot on the varsity soccer team would whip up instant friends, but it isn’t until the popular girls need Cassie’s help that they acknowledge her presence. Cassie reluctantly agrees to participate in a prank that turns sour fast. Now with blood on their hands, she and the popular girls race to cover their tracks. But something savage knows what they’ve done, and it’s hungry for revenge. Can Cassie redeem herself before it’s too late, or will her deadly sins ketchup to her?

Thoughts –

Food Fright is a 90’s camp horror that takes the phrase ‘death by chocolate’ quite literally. Nestled among the stress of high school politics, a hierarchy obsessed gang of witches, and one poor girl who just wanted to make friends on the soccer team, this is a story that will have you reaching for the snacks and getting concerned at every gurgle of your stomach thereafter.

Cassie as a main protagonist is a typical down trodden teenager who hates the popular girls almost as much as she wants to be them, desperately trying to make right what she did wrong. Ms Bower is your not quite so average teacher with a dark background, a yearning to belong, and not quite as well put together as her students might seem. With misplaced magic, murderous desserts, and teenage angst, Food Fright is a campy, violent (with fudge in place of blood) story of revenge that will have you laughing, rolling your eyes, and forever suspicious of a croissant that smells just a little too irresistible.

Nico Bell manages the characters well and keeps the tone of the book anxious, thrilling, yet as light as a French pastry much of the time. The reader is pulled into the story from the off with a familiar setting and characters, but a unique method of murder for the poor girl caught up in her own high school tragedy.

A palate cleanser for any horror fan.

About the Author –

Nico was born in New York, in 1983.

Nico started her writing career as a Christian fiction writer under a different name. She was a semi-finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer Genesis Contest, a finalist in the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Music City Melody of Love Contest, a finalist in the Splickety and My Book Therapy Flash Fiction contest, and a finalist in the RWA Great Beginnings Contest. Her flash fiction has been featured in Splickety, and Spark.

Her love of psychological thrillers and twisted plots led Nico into the world of horror where she unleashed her unsuspecting characters. Her stories have been published in several collections including The Second Corona Book of Horror Stories, Drabbledark Anthology and her debut novel Food Fright was released on March 26, 2020.

For more, find Nico on her website, twitter or instagram

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‘Nocturnal Farm’ by Villimey Mist – Review

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

You can also see my video review of books 1 & 2 in the series on my BookTube channel here or read the review of Book One, ‘Nocturnal Blood’ here.

 

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***

My hands shake from holding the gun. Holding it brings back memories. The last time I held one, I shot a man in the thigh. I helped kill him.. It’s the same heaviness, the same stench of gunpowder in the air. There’s also the disgust at countless other people having touched this one with their dirty hands.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” Dad says.

I grip the handle tighter. “Yes, I do. I have to be prepared for anything.”

I hear a scream. My eyes dart around, but there are only my concerned father, with his hand stretched toward me, and my annoyed little brother, who has his arms crossed against the bitter cold. No one screamed. It was just a wraith from my haunting memories.

“You sound like one of those doomsday preppers,” Nathan says. “You know that, right? Are you gonna build a bunker in the woods?”

I shake my head and adjust my focus to the red-and-white circle fifteen feet away from me. They don’t know what I’ve been through. I have to be ready. Mom, Dad, and Nathan were safe because Sophie and I left Anchorage, but what if vampires come after more of my family? What if those nocturnal creatures ignore the pact? I can’t take that chance. I can’t tell my family what happened to me, but I can be prepared if all hell breaks loose.

Synopsis –

Leia Walker has been training to protect her family from vampires ever since her best friend died six months ago. That humans are disappearing all over Europe is a distant worry — Until her little brother goes to Amsterdam, meets a Sangue — a vampire familiar — and disappears.

Leia knows she can’t save him alone. To bring him home, she must take up arms with the Owls, a group of vampire hunters, without her vampire protectors or the Owls becoming aware of each other. Under Amsterdam’s streets, she discovers dark secrets, a vampire who is immune to sunlight, and a threat that turns humankind and vampires alike into feral killers.

Can Leia hold on to her belief that everybody can be saved while she fights to bring her brother home — Or will she end up as a human blood bag on the farms?

 

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Thoughts –

Nocturnal Farm, Book 2 in the Nocturnal Series by Villimey Mist, brings the story of Leia and her vampiric associates from Anchorage, Alaska, to the historic city of Amsterdam. Book 2 follows Leia as she attempts to find her brother, missing on a school trip to Europe, and she is convinced that he has somehow gotten himself involved with the vampires she was too afraid to tell him about, or possible kidnapped by a Sangue – a vampire familiar.

While the first book in the series was about the unshakable friendship between Leia and Sophie, book two gives a wider view of the vampire world, the myriad factions across the globe that fight for power, control, and to keep their citizens in check for the protection of the species. Leia’s love for her brother and her family is still present, but she is often distracted by the strangeness of this new city, and the increased opportunity to get herself in trouble. She seems to be breaking free from some of her anxious habits, but is still taken aback when a young vampire hunter actually starts to flirt with her. Could it be the start of a romance or is their world far too dangerous for that?

While the driving force of Sophie and Leia’s friendship was missing from this novel, it was still action packed. Travelling now with an immeasurably wealthy vampire elder and her vampire friend Kenji, there’s a lot more luxury as opposed to the bitter journey taken in the first book. The vampire universe of the Nocturnal series is expanded, and with it, the dangers and threats to the human race as well.

 

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It seems the more Leia learns, the more she has to fear, and with the bombshell ending of this book, book 3 is sure to be another whirlwind of emotion, blood, and shocking twists.

 

About the Author – 

Villimey

Villimey has always been fascinated by vampires and horror, ever since she watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula when she was a little, curious girl.
She loves to read and create stories that pop into her head unannounced.
She lives in Iceland with her husband and two cats, Skuggi and RoboCop, and is often busy drawing or watching the latest shows on Netflix.
You can find her on her Twitter or her Instagram.

 

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‘Shepard’s Warning’ by Cailyn Lloyd – Review

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

****

 

He froze.

The broad oak floorboards undulated, a low rumbling sound, the same sound he heard earlier, but louder, more pressing. The house shook and trembled as if the ground beneath the foundation were in the grip of an earthquake. It all happened in seconds. Tom stood, gripped by morbid fascination and fear. A dizzy, nauseous feeling swept through him. He bent over, thinking he would throw up. 

Another slamming door jolted Tom from his trance. He had to get the hell out of here! Jesus! The floorboards were clattering like a mad drum brigade. He turned and ran down the hall, toward the stairs. Ahead, door at the end of the long hallway pushed ajar – just an inch or two. Bright sunlight spilled through that crack and the keyhole, down the dark hallway, a surreal contrast between the sudden calamity indoors and the serene July afternoon outside. Cheerful birdsong, from beyond that door perhaps, completed the insanity. 

Drawn to the doorway like a moth to a lamp, he felt powerless to resist the attraction of whatever lay beyond the threshold. Light emanating from the room grew brighter and warmer. He drifted down the hallway, clenching his fists for a moment, trying to shake the anxiety, trying to regain his composure. The floorboards rattled beneath his feet, the ominous rumbling continued, danger lurked around him – but not beyond the door. He just knew it. 

He took a deep breath. 

Reached for the knob. Hesitated. 

Pulled the door open – 

 

 

Synopsis –

For years the abandoned MacKenzie mansion remained hidden in rural Wisconsin. Rumors and stories of apparitions, odd noises, accidents, and strange deaths in or near the property were enough to convince the townsfolk it was haunted and they stayed away.

Lucas MacKenzie and his brother Nate know nothing of this when they inherit the property and decide to bring their families to Wisconsin for a major renovation project with HGTV stardom in mind. As they tear out old fixtures and open shuttered windows, the house begins to reveal secrets of a terrible past and it soon becomes clear the MacKenzies are in grave danger. In the end, only one person can save them.

 

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Thoughts –

In Shepard’s Warning Lloyd crafts a story of tension mystery and more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Switching from multiple points of view the novel builds to a dizzying conclusion that satisfies the reader without playing into their expectations. Laura, the most frequented point of view in the book, carries the story through believable loneliness, seclusion, and disbelief towards the frightening and supernatural things that are happening to her, and perhaps through her.

With so many other characters however, at times some can seem more important than they actually are and there are loose ends and questions unanswered by the curtain close. But with the main characters and plot largely resolved, Shepard’s Warning delivers on its promise of a dark and intriguing story.

 

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With ancient magic, cautionary ghosts, generations of mysterious deaths, and a family crumbling, Shepard’s Warning delivers a dark story meaty enough to keep you hooked to the very end.

 

 

About the Author –

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In addition to writing, Cailyn Lloyd is an accomplished weather photographer and her work has appeared in several publications including Life Magazine and Time Magazine. She is also a composer and musician with three album releases to her credit. Cailyn lives near the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin and when she’s not writing spooky stories, loves hiking with her children and dogs.

 

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What’s your favourite ancient ghost story? Would you like to see more generational curses in your horror content? Let me know down below!

 

‘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 –

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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!