*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
He wanders the night feeding off your fears.
His right hand has five candles for fingers to light up the darkest of hours.
Beware if you lose your way at night and see him.
Stay away from his light.
He will lead you to a place of darkness never to sleep or awake again.
Sleep. We all need it, but not everyone gets it. Studying the effects of night terrors, a doctor recruits five strangers to write down their nightmares in order to find out what causes them. As these strangers lives begin to intertwine, they realise that they have more in common than just bad dreams and that this doctor may not be telling them the whole truth. As they each struggle with their own demons they must now face the one demon that they all share before it’s too late.
“With a deep and labored breath she ran her hand through her short brown hair feeling the dampness at the roots from sweat. The back of her shirt clung to her skin like saran wrap as she pushed the blankets away from her body to cool down. She reached over to her bedside table and flipped the switch on the lamp and sat up. It was 3am and she felt too shaken to try and go back to sleep.”
Over the course of our lifespan we sleep for 26 years.
Don’t Follow has an interesting premise and I think in terms of horror, night terrors is something that should be explored more. The characters are really the driving force of this novel and their relationships are what keep you interested in between the creeping dread and horror that surrounds them. Lane has a talent for writing frustratingly flirtatious scenes and there was more than once I was so enthralled by the characters, I forgot about the evil entirely.
That being said, I felt that the introduction of the characters was more like a laundry list. It was the type of quick, short, descriptions jumping all over that would work in a screen play or movie but in a novel you just don’t have time to fix the character in your mind before you are thrust into a different scene with another. There are also two very similar bars where different characters work and frequent which at times could be quite confusing.
The actual story however was enjoyable, I would read this again and perhaps just pay a little more attention. I do have a love of anything that comes for you in your sleep and nightmares have such a potential for evil and darkness that I’ll take anything with nightmare demons in them. I like how Odette had diverse characters who turned stereotypes on their heads or just accepted them and made them their own. They explore sexuality, alcoholism, depression, and grief all the while being stalked by a shadowy demon of death – what more could you ask for really.
The last sentence read. “It will find me again, and when it does, I need to rid it from this world.”
To be honest, the monster of this story is just background noise, even the open conflict is second hand to the relationships of the group. And the doctor who brought them all together is barely seen at all, a forgotten pawn in the plot that needed to be more than she was. I was expecting long drawn out exploratory therapy sessions and pushing for more information, but in reality she seemed to not have much time for her subjects at all, and quickly disappears when they discover what her real intentions are. The diary extracts that she has them write about their nightmares were a little flat for me. When dealing with nightmares I find it far more compelling to be experiencing them with the character not reading descriptions of them.
I would recommend this novel for anyone looking for a fresh take on nightmare horror. The characters are well written and well connected, you will believe the relationships that you read about in Don’t Follow and will find it very difficult not to empathise with them. I look forward to seeing more from Odette Lane in the future.
About the Author:
Don’t Follow is the debut horror novel from Odette Lane, a native Minesotan who now lives in Los Angeles. Lane has studied creative writing and film production, performing her prose and poetry across stages in New York City and has worked on multiple film productions.
Do you suffer from night terrors? Do we need to explore the world of nightmares and dreams more in horror? What’s more important in a novel to you – the terror of the monster or the characters and their relationships to one another? Let me know down below!
*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
“The brilliant blue flash of the electrical storm lit the old city as the thunder raged overhead. The creature knelt in the shadows, knowing there would be no prey moving around in such conditions. The rain didn’t bother it and neither did the thunder-claps, but the giant electrical spears that sometimes came from the sky and assaulted the buildings raised concern. It had hunted with itsbrothers and sisters for the first years of its life, before returning from a rare solo hunt to watch the jagged spears tear a building apart, sending it crashing to the ground on top of its family. The creature was the only survivor and had been on its own ever since.”
Screechers is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novella with dark elements to it. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of the last adult ‘Screecher’, a humanoid intelligent predator that strikes out on its own owner to later discover that the last new born of its species has survived. We also meet human twins Austin and Denver and their dependent friend Brooklyn as they strike out from their destroyed community to survive in the hostile landscape they live in. Will either of these groups survive in their new isolation? What happens when inexperienced human meets engineered killing machine?
So, yet AGAIN I did not read the description well enough and AGAIN thought this was a novel and not a novella. That being said, is one of my only complaints. The world is so well set up, the characters so quickly real and three dimensional that I think it’s a shame this isn’t a chunky fantasy novel. While reading it, with the disjointed nature, the bad weather, and the predator species, reminded me of ‘The Shadowleague‘ series from Maggie Furey – always a good thing. I was a little confused as to the era of the story, whether its sometime in the future or a separate universe altogether, but as it is a a short story this doesn’t interrupt the reading experience as it would in a larger novel.
Screechers doesn’t take a deep dive into much, but you can dip your toe into what community means, what makes a family, and the tough decisions that need to made when there are no rules to follow. Bergling and Kennedy work well as co-authors, never feeling like there were conflicting styles in the narrative. I do wish there had been a little more gore/horror involving the humans, there are some great fight scenes sure, but not as much darkness as I’d hoped to see. I still really enjoyed reading Screechers however and would happily read it again.
If you’re a fan of post apocalyptic fantasy and creatures that could disembowel you by accident, you’ll enjoy Screechers and if you like it as much as I did, I’m sure you’ll be checking out the many other works that Kennedy and Bergling have put their name to in the horror genre as well.
About the Authors:
Kevin J. Kennedy is a Scottish Horror author and editor, and a Bram Stoker Award nominee. You can find him on Twitter and on his website here.
Christina Bergling is a an American horror writer from Colorado. You can find her on Twitter and on her website here.
*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
“No one could pin anything illegal on this guy. All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine. He somehow could slip in, silence his victim, and slip out and no one would know until hours later. And he had connections. Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets. That was the deciding factor. That was single point for him to get this wild idea. Ask Smitty for help. The police department, the entire city, was baffled. Scared. Frozen in indecision. This madman left no traces. He left no evidence behind. He left no DNA material behind. It was like, like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world. No one knew why.
So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost. No one knew why.”
Artie is a police detective tasked with finding and apprehending a local serial killer who has been mutilating sex workers in the area for months. But he knows he can’t find them all by himself, he needs help. So, risking his career and possibly his life, Artie enlists the help of local assassin and ‘boogie man’ of the night, Smitty, a legend among the shadows and a man who will stop at nothing to get the job done. But there’s more to just this mystery than the identity of the killer and Smitty wants to know it all.
So, I was asked to review this book and as I do normally find some sort of morbid enjoyment from books about serial killers, I thought I’d get something out of it. Turns out I didn’t like it for many reasons, the first being that there are spelling and grammar errors constantly, I mean every other page. I stopped making notes of them because there were just too many, so many that they did sort of become background noise by the middle unfortunately. This book needs another run over by an editor.
Now onto the real issues with the plot and the writing. Right off the bat I was confused as to why a seasoned detective would enlist the help of some sort of freelance assassin – in some ways a serial killer himself – to help with his search of the killer. It all happened very quickly and without much insight leaving me feeling that the police are wholly incompetent in this story, and that’s not entirely unheard of for crime thriller books, but it was a point that took me out of the narrative. But, this could be seen as nit-picking which would be fair.
“A strong woman. A beautiful woman. A woman of taste and refinement. She didn’t look like a hooker. She looked like a successful business executive.”
Character description is a difficult thing to get right but a good general rule is that you only need to describe someone once. The reader then knows what they look like, they keep this in their mind, and their imagination embellishes when needed. If you are fully describing a character every time they walk in like it’s the first time they are introduced, your reader will die of boredom. They will skip forward to when you stop drooling over Charlene’s ‘divine breasts‘ because we know what she looks like and it doesn’t further the plot.
“The same raw sexual attraction which attracted men to them like freshly spilled molasses attracted ants to a picnic.”
The basics of the plot are fine, not revolutionary or unique, but fine, which means the story should really be in the execution and handling of the plot. Unfortunately for Smitty’s Calling Card, the cliches are abundant and repetitive. Yet another serial killer cleaning the ‘whores’ off the streets? A man with a caged animal inside that he struggles to control? High class prostitutes who are unimaginably beautiful, classy, confident, and sexy who need a whole host of men looking out for them to keep them safe because they are such fragile creatures? We’ve seen all this before and quite frankly I was bored with it before the novel even began. Stateham spends so much time making the character of Charlene so irresistible and interesting, switching from the P.O.V. of all the men to look at her, but he never gets inside her head to let the reader see what she is really thinking which is insane when you think that she is the driving force of the entire plot.
Very Important Things you need to know:
Smitty has dark eyes. His eyes are dark. He is a dark eyed killer. Why does he kill? No reason whatsoever, that’s what makes him interesting apparently. With absolutely no backstory he can kill six of the best assassins in the world with just a pen knife and multiple people report that he is a ghost and no one has ever seen him even though he is constantly wandering around town shooting people. Everyone reports that he is faceless, yet he has no qualms showing everyone his face either, so by the end of this book, he isn’t that mysterious anymore is he?
“Beautiful simply did not describe Charlene Hicks. Words would always fail trying to do so. […] Making her one of the most dangerous creatures he had ever encountered.”
Charlene is beautiful. She has divine breasts. She seems to be telepathic at times and despite being a full time medical student and sex worker, never seems tired, irritated, or aware of a murderer disemboweling her closest friends. Did I mention she is an angelic creature whose hips sway with a ‘girlish confidence’ that makes men weak at the knees? Even nuns stop to stare at her in the street – (That is an actual point made in the book).
If you are looking for a formulaic serial killer mystery thriller then give this one a go, but don’t expect much from this book. The characters are paper thin, the misogyny is rampant, and the idea that a group of female sex workers would have no reaction or agency whatsoever in the continuous murder of their peers, is frankly disturbing. Smitty’s Calling Card does not pass the Sexy Lamp Test, in my opinion. I think the Author has some skill and if he could only engage more with realistic characters outside his line of experience, he could write a really good book. But this book wasn’t written for women, or with women in mind.
About the Author –
B. R. Stateham is crime fiction writer hailing from America. You can find him on Amazon, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Most people have issues with procrastination in one or more areas of their life, some (me) more than others. And in the year of our Lord 2019 there is an unlimited supply of things to distract ourselves with, each one designed to keep our attention at all costs. So, for writers and artists of all kinds, how can we avoid procrastination and get our work done? Especially since more and more of us are doing it after our usual 9-5 jobs, right when your brain is telling you that you need to relax and take a break. What if we chose to procrastinate and feed our creative minds, rather than passively accepting it and punishing ourselves for it?
First, let me tell you a little story. I’ve been writing a novel for, oh, I don’t know, a million years now, and last year just before Christmas I finished my first full draft. I won’t go into exactly how I did this, though I will say I was working a very slow job at the time and was able to write at least a few hundred words every single day at work. My family are from the middle of nowhere Donegal – no internet, no phone service – and I always go up for Christmas so I figured I would get a whole lot of writing done. This time, that did not happen. My sister got internet for the first time ever and seemed to have unlimited movies on her television, so I literally watched 9 hours of movies a day, and I loved it. I don’t think I wrote or edited a single word while I was there, and I made a conscious decision not to write. I’d spent the previous few months hammering out a word count and felt like I needed a break and deserved one.
When I came back to Dublin I was focused more on my burlesque dancing and performing, getting back into singing, and supporting other artists, so editing a second draft fell by the wayside for a while. I’m sure we’ve all heard the tip that you should put your draft away for a while before coming back to it and I definitely did that and did so much better coming back with a fresh mind to edit it for querying. I’m doing that at the moment, but my time spent resting my writing mind taught me so much about how I had been sending my time previously, how much I guilted myself and punished myself for going to the cinema or taking a night off to see a friend. I realised that I’d gone back to my Leaving Cert. days where just sitting down to watch the Simpsons when I knew I should be studying gave me heart palpitation – and I didn’t really give a rats ass about the LC. Procrastination is often, though not always, a sign of underlying anxiety, something I do struggle with, a fear of failing so you don’t even start or leave everything to the last minute. But these days there’s so much more than that, so much more to distract us it’s almost impossible to stay focused on the things we really care about and thus end up feeling like we are failing, even though everything around us is designed to grab and keep our attention. We are living in a world designed to make us passive.
Why We Can’t Relax Anymore
We are all constantly on our phones, there’s no two ways about it. Even if you profess to hate social media like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter seem to think, you’re still on there, scrolling and like, comparing and judging, and it just isn’t healthy. Most of what we see also isn’t realistic. Think about it, if you follow loads of people but they only post when they’ve done something cool or a product to sell it looks like everyone is constantly doing more than you are and we all think like that! We can’t relax because we can see how much other people are doing with the same time and resources and we feel like we’re wasting our lives because we aren’t building businesses, or ‘brands’, or volunteering, or travelling. To sit and do nothing but scroll is to sit and do nothing but stress. Here’s an article from Moodpath that delves deeper into this.
And even when we aren’t on social media, we are all accessible, ALL the time. Anyone else have family who look their collective shit if you don’t answer the phone immediately? I’ve been trying for a long time to figure out how we made plans and kept them before mobiles and I honestly can’t remember. We are never actually alone anymore, and as an introvert, that sucks.
Our fear of missing out leads us to constantly pick up that phone, even when we don’t want to, even when it makes us feel bad, EVEN when we have a project that we are passionate about and want to finish – it’s so hard to stay focused. Eve calling it a project feels somewhat wrong when you’re motivation is coming from the heart, it’s so mechanical. I feel like this is also the reason why I can’t read like I used to. Even in college I could finish books no problem, but since I started using smart phones, I find it very hard to make it through a single chapter even without checking Twitter, which is insane! I even procrastinate procrastinating by watching a movie, then ignoring it and scrolling through Instagram. We can’t relax because there’s always more content to consume, always more to catch up on, ALWAYS more ‘hustling’ to do. No wonder we’re tired all the time.
The Weight of Guilt
Do you ever sit down to watch a movie or tv show and feel guilty? Does scrolling through your list on Netflix make you feel like you are a failure? You are not the only one.
I have only recently been talking to friends about how we used to LOVE getting to the weekend because you got to just do nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Can you remember the last time you did that and it wasn’t linked to depression? I feel like these days the only time I do nothing is when I am so overwhelmed I just can’t, instead of purposefully doing nothing and enjoying the freedom of not having a to-do list, not having a schedule, and not feeling like I’ve failed when I don’t get things done. These days, weekends are for doing the things you can’t do during the week, or for some of us, to work on what we really want to do outside of the job we need to pay the bills. For me, Saturdays are for running errands and cleaning things, Sundays are for classes I’ve scheduled, updating social medias and this blog. Every spare minute of every week day is for writing, including lunch at work. I have to schedule in time TO DO NOTHING like it’s a real chore or something, and isn’t that weird?
Our Self Worth is Tied to Productivity
I believe, and there seem to be some studies that show that people in general these days, are more anxious than previous generations. Obviously there are different types of stress and anxiety, there are different things that make our lives easier and possibly make them worse, but our constant access to everyone around us and to so many types of ‘product’, ie videos, podcasts, photography, music, books, art etc. that other people are making, it shows us that we can do those things to. This can inspire, but it can also crush your soul. Yeah you could have all that too, but you aren’t doing anything to get it. I could have written multiple books and worked hard to get them published by now, but I haven’t. I’ve wasted my time right?
No, just because you aren’t constantly being ‘productive’ it doesn’t mean you are failing. Everything you do when it comes to art is a choice, most of the time there is no one pushing us, no hearts to break if you don’t pant that picture or finish that story, we have put the pressure on ourselves and that is why it’s hard to get things done, because we are the ‘Boss’. Artists of all kinds these days are struggling to keep up with the constant demand for new content and few spend the time that they should creating something that is whole and finished. It takes so much time to write a book, or create a show, or an album, but we demand more stuff, more often. Binge culture is feeding into this and the pressure to get something out as quickly as possible is killing so much creativity.
Blindboy Boatclub from the Irish comedy duo ‘The Rubber Bandits’, has a podcast about art and mental health, and in it he points out that we need conscious relaxation to take in other people’s art in order for your sub-conscious to later create its own art. We are all filters of the world around us and the art and experiences that we consume and have. If we never watched movies, read books, listened to music, put blinkers on and only wrote our own stuff, we would never get the fuel for further art. Eventually our inspiration would run out and we would again feel like failures.
Coming Back After a Break
When I came back from my intentional break, did I have anxiety about writing? Of course I did! I freaked out for a bit, thought maybe I’d forgotten how to do it, had fallen out of whatever semblance of a routine I’d made for myself, but I definitely don’t regret taking that break. I watched all the movies I’d been missing because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything but write for so long. I had basically been punishing myself, and though this worked sometimes, more often than not it just wreaked havoc on my mental health and made me feel like a failure no matter what.
And you know what’s really irritating? Constantly complaining that you aren’t writing, or you haven’t written enough. Your friends and family will get real tired of that, real quick, even if they don’t want to admit it.
If you are going to procrastinate and watch Youtube videos or listen to podcasts, or hel make bracelets out of coke can tabs (yes I do this), do it on purpose. Do it consciously. Focus on the things that you are using to distract yourself. Get rid of the stress, get rid of the pressure to get back to writing. Now, when I sit down to watch movies or read books I’ve bought, I focus solely on that one thing, put my own book aside and know that I will get back to it. I know that what I take from the experience of that other piece of art will feed back into mine, maybe even plug up a few plot holes, or teach me how to set a scene better.
Do you have a problem with procrastination? Do you feel guilty or anxious when you aren’t writing? Let me know down below.
“The cadence of the story was beautifully choreographed and flowed like a well-orchestrated horror symphony. This was original, a bit peculiar and out of the ordinary with a very strange and dark sense of humor thrown in to make it all that more eerie and fascinating.” – William Bitner Jr.
‘Control is something I’ve never had.
I didn’t choose my profession – Francis did. He said the only men he respected were men with titles, and his grandson sure as hell had to have one. I had the choice of military or medical school. For eighteen year old scrawny, scared , and awkward Gary, it was an easy decision.
I didn’t choose to live where I live – Francis did. My parents owned a quaint little house on about fifty acres of land about an hour outside of Claybrook City.
Being the next of kin, I own the house. Francis hated that house and refused to live there. I rent out this shitty townhouse, in shitty downtown, to take care of his shitty ass… Well, figuratively shitty.
I examined the bathroom. My clothes were scattered across the floor. Feces, blood, and vomit smeared along the scuffed tile and dusty baseboards. Shower-water, and what smelled like piss, pooled up at the foot of the tub and around the base of the toilet.
I couldn’t even control myself. ‘
Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle. Burdened with the an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can’t catch a break.
That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self , forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.
‘Siphon’ is the story of disturbed and delusional man who holds no power or control in any aspect of his life, and suddenly finds the strength to act, to take what he wants, when a new urge takes a hold of him – the urge to drink blood. Him being a hematopathologist is convenient in that respect but as repressed memories begin to surface, it may be that he was destined to find his calling in blood.
If you are looking for sympathetic characters to really feel for you won’t find it with this book. Dr. Phillips is a thoroughly unlikable character and it took a few chapters to realise that he was supposed to be. If you can go into ‘Siphon’ knowing that you aren’t supposed to like him however, the story is much more palatable. Probably the wrong word to use there really, but here we are. What would today be described as an ‘incel’, a morose and secluded man who feels no power in his subordinate job supervised by a much younger man, no courage to ask out his attractive co-worker, and no fortitude to stand up to his grandfather, the man who raised him and who calls the shots in both their lives – it is not unkind to describe Dr. Phillips as pathetic, but rather apt, and this explains the stranger events of the short novel.
At times it can be an uncomfortable read, but that is the point of horror, to make us uncomfortable. Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ‘Siphon’ plays on all of our voyeuristic tendencies and though your stomach may turn at the events and even just the thoughts of the protagonist in this book, you do keep reading, and you keep looking through his eyes. You might briefly wonder how his young work colleague could tolerate him for a second, how even a sex worker self medicating on drugs can see past the atmosphere of weirdness that surrounds him, but again maybe they don’t. Maybe the smiles he sees are plastic, the acceptance he feels a product of the fear they feel around them. It seems almost inevitable that they are but as we only see things from his perspective, we can only take the story as it is.
Being as disturbed and unhinged as Dr. Phillips is, he presents as a classic unreliable narrator. You may believe that he sees the people around him as he claims to, but can you believe the supernatural elements or are these just another part of his fantasies? Is there really an entity pushing him to drink blood or is that simply a scapegoat for his own actions, an excuse to act out his darkest fantasies? Even his claims to the women he has slept with, clearly meaning to sound unfortunate yet involving scenarios that are unlikely given his personality and general hygiene, could hardly be considered embarrassing when the only two experiences he has could be taken directly from a porno script – teenage friend’s older sister and college threesome? Woe is me. Dr Phillips does not come across as a man you can take at his word. This unreliable narrator side to the novel did have me thinking of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho on more than one occasion, but with a much more submissive energy to it.
The horror of ‘Siphon’ is Medina’s refusal to shy away from the gruesome details of Phillips life. From vomit and feces, to menstrual blood and rotting corpses, if you have a thing for bodily fluids then this novel will peak your interests. You are with him every step of the way, probably wincing, almost definitely not eating, and truly horrified that there are people like him out there, and we are the unsuspecting victims he feels entitled to. Anyone who thinks that referring to a woman’s eyes as ‘mossy ponds’ and thinks it’s romantic must be messed up.
Overall, if you have a strong stomach and search for the darker side of horror, if there is such a thing, ‘Siphon’ might just be the book you are looking for. But if you need a happy ending, or someone to route for, I’d be a little worried if you found that in Dr. Gary Phillips, just saying.
About the Author –
A. A. Medina is a writer and reader of strange things who believes in the power of stories to inject mystery, joy, and even fear into our every day lives. Living in Arizona with his wife Samantha, their fat cats and a dog, he also co-runs the fiction magazine Aphotic Realm. Follow him here on Twitter
What do you think about the unreliable narrator trope? Do you avoid books that have unlikable characters? 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.