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Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

The Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring A.J. Vrana!

Welcome to the special Halloween edition of the Sunday Brunch Series!! I was so excited to see Halloween falling on a Sunday this year.  After an absolutely incredible month of GrimDarkTober interviews, it is coming to an end with an amazing feature… Presenting my first traditionally published author – dark fantasy & horror writer A.J. Vrana!!

I “met” A.J. on bookstagram after participating in a tour for her first book, The Hollow Gods, and at this point am honored to say I consider her a booksta friend!

Happy Halloween everyone, here she is!


🎃Welcome and thank you so much for coming onto the Halloween edition of the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I feel like my online bio is more eloquent than I am, but here it goes: My name is A. J. Vrana, and I’m the author of The Chaos Cycle Duology, which is comprised of The Hollow Gods and The Echoed Realm. They’re folklore-infused, contemporary dark fantasy with horror undertones and a romantic subplot. I also penned the short supernatural horror story, These Silent Walls, which is published in Three Crows Magazine. Outside of my literary life, I’m also a PhD candidate researching the supernatural in literature and its relationship to violence, and I have two magical rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. 

🎃That’s a fascinating topic for research! Especially in book one, the interest in violence, legends, and sociological/group aspects was evident. How did that research translate into or influence The Chaos Cycle?

🎤I actually think that it might be the other way around: my fiction influences my academic writing more than my academic writing influences my fiction. That said, they are mutually reinforcing, and I think that ultimately, they might just be part of the same project.

To be a little more specific, my research focuses on Japan and former-Yugoslavia, with my personal background being with the latter. I was always interested in the supernatural, and through my research, I’ve found that it functions as an excellent metaphor for trauma, violence, and all the horrible things that we maybe can’t do justice to through plain, clinical expression. Further to that, the relationship between truth and fact is something that I have always been intrigued by. I research a lot of folklore, and folklore has always been a way of approaching and understanding the world. It’s a system of knowledge, and it can be very useful! There is truth to it even when it is just a story, because often, those stories are produced from generations of lived experience.  

I also think a LOT of my own experiences are in the novels, but they’re all written in through metaphor and allegory. I really struggle with explicit #ownvoices stories because it feels like there is no barrier between the reader and the writer. It’s too vulnerable. However, using the supernatural to talk about communal violence is a productive way to explore themes in my own life. I’ve never been kidnapped by spirits or anything, but I do think there is a relationship between Miya’s existential ruminations, Kai’s alienation from society, and my diasporic experience. Also, having grown up being adjacent to civil war, there is something about the way Black Hollow functions that echoes that experience of mine as well. Violence against the outsider is such a common theme, but I wanted to give it the kind of intimacy that can really unsettle. And what could be more intimate and unsettling than having a folkloric creature invade your dreams and become the reason your whole community turns against you?

🎃I was sometimes a little confused during book one, and then book two was just incredible and I loved how you brought the legend to life via the history.  What do you think was the biggest growth factor for you as an author between the two books?

🎤There was about a five-year gap between the writing of the first draft of each book, so I definitely grew as a person and as an author, though I don’t think that’s what impacted the clarity of the story so much as it impacted the way I delivered my themes. When I wrote the first book, I was in a phase in my life where I was grappling with a lot of intellectual ambiguity, and so ambiguity became a huge theme that permeated the story. I actually intended the first book to be rather hazy, because one of the central points is that there are no simple truths and that we can’t always get clear cut answers to our bigger questions. Was the town’s violence the result of groupthink and repressed generational guilt, or was it due to the influence of a malevolent entity? The story doesn’t give you an answer; both possibilities are true and inseparable from one another. Likewise, the way we weave social narratives is diffuse and confusing; you can’t always locate the logical progression that led to a belief system or social truth. The fabric of real-world narratives is often incoherent and full of contradictions, and I wanted to capture some of that incoherence in the structure and narrative style of the book. That said, I was also far less confident when I wrote The Hollow Gods; I shied away from being direct about my themes, and when you are a new writer trying to get traditionally published, it can be difficult to feel assured in your approach. I also had no idea how to outline! To a large extent, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting as a result. 

However, The Echoed Realm was a very different process. It took me much longer to write the first draft, but it was such a strong first draft that the editorial process only took several months (THG’s editorial process took years, hence the five year gap!). I went into The Echoed Realm with a much firmer idea of what I wanted to do, and so I think the book is much more confident and direct about some of its themes. I feel like it also reflects my personality better; there is, I think, an intensity to The Echoed Realm that wasn’t present in The Hollow Gods, and that has a lot to do with me feeling like I have laid the groundwork to really be myself as a writer. This also reflects the characters’ growth between books; they are not the same people they were in The Hollow Gods. They’re not experiencing their world for the first time! I also did lean into commercial fiction a lot more for the second book, whereas the first book veers a bit towards the obscure. All that said, I think the success of The Echoed Realm largely hinges on the work The Hollow Gods did to establish a strong foundation. The first book does a lot of heavy lifting with world building, lore, and characterization so that the second book can really showcase what the duology had been building up to all along.  

🎃What do you think is the most important part of capturing a consistent atmosphere?

🎤This might sound weird, but I think the most important thing is to actually decide on what kind of atmosphere you want and to pay very close attention to word choice and language. Atmosphere (for me anyway) is a matter of focus. It’s kind of like maintaining a character’s voice throughout the book; you need be consistent not just with imagery and descriptions, but with the specific word choices that make up each image, because word choice can help evoke a particular tone or emotion. Atmosphere suffers when writers reach for the easiest or most obvious word. Readers don’t consciously pick up on word choice, but it does impact them because we all make subconscious associations without even realizing it. So, if I say, “Thunder rolled through the grey sky,” it sounds quite plain compared to, “The sky churned with a menacing rumble.” Both sentences are almost the same length, but the second one uses a stronger verb (one that evokes sickness or unease) and transforms something commonplace (thunder) into something with character (a menacing rumble). Ultimately, these are the things that make up atmosphere. 

🎃What makes a good morally gray character?

🎤I think this is a really interesting question, because in reality, we are all morally grey. No one has a rigid or unchanging moral compass; we are all reacting to our circumstances and trying to navigate the world in all its complexity. The world is morally grey at best (or completely bankrupt at worst), and so we are all inevitably morally grey. But, to answer your question, I think that good morally grey characters are the ones that invite us to reflect on the moral ambiguity in ourselves. Their reactions, attitudes, and choices have to make sense for their character regardless of our moral expectations, and even if we recognize that their actions are morally questionable, we an approach those reactions with a degree of compassion. 

So, for example, it’s not that Kai lacks a conscience or acts out of wanton malice. He is simply responding to his circumstances in the only ways to know how to, and that is all informed by his personal history and his position as a socially marginalized person. But I think most people who read the books don’t judge him to be a bad person, so that particular confluence of indictable behaviour and compassion help us produce a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others. Morally grey characters may do something that is morally reprehensible, but in context, that behaviour might seem reasonable, and that forces us to reckon with the expectations we have for moral behaviour. I also think this is why Mason is the character I personally find the most frustrating. He’s someone who fancies himself to be morally upright, but he behaves in ways that are subtly quite selfish, and ultimately, it’s his confrontation with Kai and Miya that brings all that to the fore.

🎃Is it hard to write your characters into those tough, destructive, near deadly scenes that Grimdark requires?  Are you a true lady of chaos or does it take an emotional toll?

🎤Full disclosure: when I first wrote The Echoed Realm, Kai lost an arm. My editor made me change it, though, and in hindsight, I’m happy he got to keep it. I think when I’m writing it, I’m not really impacted by these tough scenes, but sometimes I’ll come away, like, “Wow, that was kind of intense.” I wouldn’t say it takes an emotional toll, though. On the contrary, I think it can be quite cathartic and invigorating to write out a very intense scene in which all the characters’ emotions are running at eleven and a half. In some instances, the whole book is culminating to that moment, so it’s exciting to finally let shit hit the fan, you know? I guess that makes me a true lady of chaos…

🎃Seeing as it’s halloween! If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

🎤Oh gosh, I don’t remember the last time I dressed up—I’m so lazy! As a kid, though, my two favourite costumes were a witch and a ninja. I don’t have any photos from that era, but I have this monstrosity

Screenshot_20211031-120717

🎃How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

🎤I adore brunch, and it’s one thing Canada sucks at. When my partner took me to his hometown in the US, I nearly died eating biscuits and gravy every day. That said, I do love just a basic brunch of fried eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. If I can get a single banana pancake on the side, then we’re golden.

🎃Ama – I am just dying for any tidbit that hints at Ama’s story. I think I missed who she was in the original story.  Can you tell us anything extra about her??

🎤I actually have a whole book planned for Ama! Her backstory is still definitely a mystery. All you really know is that she’s been with Gavran for a long time and that he more or less raised her. She’s obviously very dedicated to anything Gavran cares about, and she is strongly attached to Miya both because of Gavran but also because she genuinely cares for her. Regarding the first book, **spoiler here** Ama is the wolf that Miya originally sees as a child, and this encounter becomes the thing Miya latches on to and hopes for throughout her youth and into had adulthood. Of course, the next time she encounters a wolf, it’s not Ama, but Kai. 

What I can tell you is that Ama’s becoming a wolf is not quite the same as Kai’s, though there are similarities too. Neither of them are werewolves in the contemporary sense; their condition follows the wonky rules of folklore rather than what we get in genres like urban fantasy. In Kai’s case, it’s “spiritually inherited” from Sendoa, though his parents were also like him. Kai’s history is also a bit of a shadowy thing, so there is a lot about his past left unexplored by the end of the duology. Ama, however, was not actually born a wolf as Kai was, and if you go to my website, click on Vignettes, and then on “The Weaver,” you’ll find some short stories exploring bits of Ama’s past ;). 

{{Done!! Can’t wait for that book!!}}

Now that The Chaos Cycle duology is completed, can you give us any hints as to what’s coming next? A WIP?

🎤I am currently working on a supernatural horror novel! I can’t say much about the project right now, but it does feature a small Appalachian town in rural Pennsylvania, an unreliable narrator, creepy, supernatural melodies, and murder. It’s been slow going, but I’m just about 40-50% through the first draft. I also have been fleshing out the world of The Chaos Cycle on my Patreon and plan on writing a standalone that takes place after the duology. It will focus on Miya, Kai, Ama, and Crowbar, and it will not be related to the major plot of the duology, though I do plan on exploring Kai’s history quite extensively in that book!

🎃Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

🎤Uhh, here goes:

  • The Winternight Trilogy by Catherine Arden!
  • I am blanking so hard on this. Let’s say Dorian Grey. 
  • I’m pretty boring, but I need to read in complete silence, or I get very crabby. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!! A.J. wanted to tell you guys that the special hardcover editions of The Chaos Cycle duology just released, so definitely check those out!!

Here is an Instagram post with all the info, plus you can find her website at

https://thechaoscycle.com/

There are additional links here!

https://direct.me/ajvrana

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Book Tour & Giveaway: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley!

As always, a huge thank you to Storytellers On Tour and Lee Conley for having me this time around!  Last year I featured the debut novel in The Dead Sagas, A Ritual of Bone, you can find that review here! Now comes the sequel, a even more grim dark-er read called A Ritual of Flesh. Definitely check out the tour schedule and giveaway below because I am 100% fully recommending these books to any dark fantasy and horror fans!

It is also of note that the author is going to be coming onto my GrimDarkTober interview lineup so definitely keep an eye open for that!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Ritual of Flesh
  • Series: The Dead Sagas #2
  • Author: Lee C. Conley 
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 10/10/20
  • Length: 476
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ fully!

Here is the synopsis:

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.

Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.

Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.

In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.

The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead

Holy crap, so I thought that book one was immersive, desperate, dark, and a true grabber from page one .. and then I read this installment. Conley blew it out of the water in terms of maturity, atmosphere, and bringing the storylines together in a cohesive, interesting, and seamless way.

Imagine if you will, the stinking bloody dead victims of a plague piling up in the gutters, no food to be had, and the gates of the towns all sealed. A man is crawling through the corpses, risking the plague himself, trying to find some coin – but even if he found something to steal, he couldn’t buy food. The surviving townsfolk just look on, too numb to bother.

That, friends, is an actual scene (but not a quote) from the novel. I can’t tell you the immersive, seeping atmosphere of dread throughout this book without just describing the scene where I feel they *almost* hit rock bottom.

Each surviving character experiences significant loss and witnesses family as well as other loved ones die, so I know Conley is setting the end up for something even more desperate and epic.

I loved how the characters still managed to find something to fight for, even if all they have left is their family legacy and claim to their homeland.

One thing I have to mention too is the utter chaos of some scenes … Certain parts are just absolutely crazy but still remain within world possibility.

My favorite thing is that this is such a welcome break from the newer fantasy I have been reading: I honestly don’t care about romance and character development and all that crap, just entertain me with something amazing and immersive and intelligent and well written, and this is IT.

Long story short: if you like chaos, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, fighting and honor set in a world reminiscent of Skyrim (I hold by that comparison in terms of my visualization of the world): you need these books!

Has this captured your attention yet?? Enter here to win a copy!

You can also check out the links below to learn more!!

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43245727-a-ritual-of-flesh  

Website:http://www.leeconleyauthor.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor 

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Dreams of the Dying (book review) by Nicolas Lietzau

Happy September! I am feeling the fall vibes, pumpkin spice, wearing of long sleeves, and books that contain corpses and nightmares …. Hey!

Today I am endlessly grateful to self published author Nicolas Lietzau (pronounced Lee-tsow) for the stunning hardcover of his novel Dreams of the Dying.  The naked cover mirrors the dust jacket and makes the book an excellent Halloween/shelf decoration as well as a memorable read, so definitely put this on your radar to read while he’s working on book two!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dreams of the Dying
  • Series: Enderal #1
  • Author: Nicolas Lietzau
  • Publisher & Release: Self, December 2020
  • Length: 826 pages (hardcover)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to those with any interest in fantasy, horror elements, mental health rep

Here is the book blurb from GoodReads:

If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”

Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.

Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.

Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Described as “Inception in a Polynesian fantasy setting,” Dreams of the Dying is a slow-burning, haunting blend of fantasy, mystery, and psychological horror, that explores mental illness, morality, and the dark corners of our minds.

This is a pretty difficult book to unpack! I know a lot of my followers have played Skyrim – if you played the Enderal mod you may be familiar with the author of this book, or at least his writing! (I admit that I entirely stopped gaming around 2016, it wasn’t compatible with travel nursing, but knowledge of the Enderal story is not required to enjoy the book!)

 The Worldbuilding: I thought the best part about the hardcover was all of the extras in the appendix.  This is a clearly lovingly crafted world that had an insane amount of planning involved, both on a macro and micro level.  There is plenty of world building in the book including local foods, customs and culture, architecture, a religious synopsis, weather, and the feel of the populace…

Then the book is over and the appendix is there! The micro world-building is just ..  it’s just something that only an indie author can do and it’s perfect.  Pages on and drawings of animals, even their named skeletons, local fashions, drawings, more about the Gods and Goddesses, and just an incredible breakdown of the language that was created for the Makehu people.

Take this example of how the language and lingual barriers feed overall immersion – it integrates into the story and creates comic relief at times!

‘kaia ‘ō kā teteie e māu kū.’ Do you know it?”

“‘Look out for … the emotional fish?’”

Kawu snorted. “Not quite.

I just love how much local culture and lore was included without being burdensome to the story.  I was going to share another quote about the tension/feel of the city but it contains a typo … The sentiment is there though. (Mostly the editing is extremely well done).

  • The only issue I had with the world is – the heck is up with the seasons? The 6th moon of dry season only has 5 days … but the rainy season month has 33 days? 
  • Also as far as immersion ..  Lietzau probably wrote one of the most creative languages I’ve ever seen in a low fantasy, including such slang gems as “by the excretions of the sacred donkey.” Yet with nothing else modern about the world, he throws in modern slang.  I got used to it … (yes yes even though it’s a Bavarian cultural thing) … but it threw off an otherwise near perfect immersion.  I’m sure the Makehu swear too 😂

The Characters: ah gosh this book was so perfectly tailored to people who are struggling through their 30s.  Jespar has PTSD, anxiety, and guilt, and the representation is just so real that reading his journey through it was a bit jarring at times.   Lysia is a physician that runs a slum clinic even though her debts are piling up, and Kawu is an innocent, selfless little thing that had way too much trauma thrown at him at once.  Neither of them were particularly good people but they seemed real and I think anyone with struggling mental health will be able to relate to someone in the novel.

The point of view is mostly Jespar’s, but there is another that is referred to as “The Man”.  This POV brings out a whole spectrum of one’s own personal hell, confronting past demons, and learning a thing or two about what exactly it means to be a monster.

Between the monster, the swamp, and the court of corpses, the analogies are spot on.

Screenshot_20210810-051015

The Content: this seems like a good time to mention that September is suicide awareness month: I don’t need to give you guys the lecture but PLEASE reach out to a professional if you ever feel like you’ re losing the will to keep going. https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/suicide-prevention-awareness-month

Alright the book is heavy content wise: briefly there is anxiety, crippling guilt, parental death, fairly graphic suicide description involving a knife, a drowning attempt, a not too scary corpse, other corpses, kind of descriptive (maybe R rated) m/f and m/m intercourse, smoking and alcohol use, and some really cute fluffy animals.

Tae ite nū’iwilo, tae hūnā ‘o. ‘You won’t find out if you give up.’ Because that is what it comes down to with melancholia and despair: just as other people lie when they tell you things always get better, your mind lies when it tells you that it doesn’t. The only way to know is to stay and find out … as hard as it might be.”

That quote hit me HARD, and it felt like something extremely personal that the author left in the text. When he recapped it in the afterword and talked about his own mental health struggles; I am just glad to see people speaking openly of this.  My mental health is total trash as a critical care nurse right now and I’ll openly admit that I had to clam up on this review for a bit.

The Magic: alright let’s perk this back up.  The magic system ranges from dream-walking to necromancy, healing, mind control, and seems to work as a mental and physical drain.  There are quite a few abilities and it’s pretty interesting overall.  Y’all know me, throw in necromancy and I’m there. There’s a lot of cause and effect related to the magic, and a professorial lecture in the appendix if you are still curious!

Closing thoughts : it’s a long book but nothing is extra, and the plot keeps moving forward without much drag at all.  This is a more intellectual breed of fantasy that I would push towards fans of Gene Wolfe or NK Jemisin rather than those expecting pure escapism.

To break the book down into a one sentence synopsis:

A comatose magnate, insurgent terrorists, furious commoners.

With a side theme of mental health, and….

If you fight injustice with injustice, no matter how deserved it may feel, you’ll always end up as just another turn of the wheel.”

I do strongly encourage everyone with an even casual interest in fantasy to check this one out.  It won’t be for everyone with some of the strong themes but I definitely think it’s worth consideration!

Again thank you so much to the author for my review copy, all opinions are my own 🖤


Find Nicolas and Dreams of the Dying online:

instagram.com/niseam_stories goodreads.com/nicolaslietzau facebook.com/nicolaslietzau patreon.com/niseam discord.com/invite/zdJyuHV (“The Enderal Novels” Section) niseamstories.tumblr.com reddit.com/r/enderal

 


Now that no one is still reading, a quick bookish note and SBAIS update:  I am endlessly grateful to ALL of the Indie authors that have been reaching out to me with their novels this year!  There are thousands of reviewers out there and it’s an honor! Everyone stay tuned this Sunday because I’ve got Heartmender series author V Romas Burton on and I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Categories
Fantasy Horror Paranormal

Certain Dark Things (ARC) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things was originally published in 2016, and is being rebooted through Tor Nightfire this coming September! I want to thank them for the digital ARC via NetGalley for review purposes! All opinions are my own.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Certain Dark Things
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Nightfire, 9/7/21
  • Length: 341pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fans of the genre! (See below)

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

I think one of my favorite things about this book is how hard it is to pin down. The vampire lore is briefly explored and there are types of vampires featured from all over the world, from different mythologies, but there is also a brief sci-fi element, some fantasy, that whole noir-horror-punk overlay, and also an underlying theme of Mexican socioeconomic movement!

It moved so quickly too that I never had the chance to be bored. Atl is on the run and Domingo meets her on the subway, and the Book flies from there. We learn about vampire drug cartels, rival gangs, and how vampires aren’t even allowed in Mexico City anymore so their presence is a big deal with local law enforcement.

We aren’t meant to get attached to the characters, but they are a nice mix of interesting, sarcastic, and horrifying. Rodrigo was probably my favorite point of view. I think the less you know about the characters going in, the better, but Moreno-Garcia had wanted to explore the (sometimes questionable) choices that some Mexicans make to better their situations, and she succeeded there in Rodrigo and Domingo.

One thing I unfortunately don’t think she succeeded in was making Mexico City itself a character – there is too much else going on for the setting to truly permeate in most places. I will say though that the settings are well described, vibrant, and generally very well done. There is a glossary in the back with more information about the types of vampires and lore, which is helpful to give background without creating an info dump in the story.

Definitely recommend for those who would like a fast paced, fresh take on vampires from a very plot and action driven book!

Categories
Fiction Horror Suspense Thrillers

Misery : My First King (and why I haven’t read one yet)

I don’t think there is anything to say about Misery that hasn’t been said already.  I am 32 years old and finally read a King novel, despite owning two shelves full of his works myself, and growing up in a house filled with a nearly complete collection.  I even took some good-natured flack (WHAT? YOU READ SO MUCH! HOW HAVEN’T YOU READ A KING YET)? So here we go, with my experience.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Misery
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Series: N/A
  • Release: 1987 by Viking Penguin
  • Length: 310 (see HC edition above)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ probably!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon in case anyone isn’t familiar:

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.

Annie wants Paul to write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an axe. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.

I have seen the Misery movie, of course, and Kathy Bates plays a completely, totally insane Annie Wilkes, but the book… oh the book makes her out to be somehow even crazier, the things that you just can’t act out without a description.  King is clearly a talented writer, and I liked the little extras {like the n’s filled in differently on the pages} in the novel.  Was reading a King the prophetic experience I thought it would be?  Not really, no, (but it was better than all the fantasy people telling me Sanderson was prophetic – hahaha). There were lots of tangents, including pages and pages of the Misery manuscript, which I couldn’t really get into and found myself thinking constantly just thinking “why is this in the book?”

One quote that got me was – in referring to writing (it) and the creative process:

It had always been the single toughest thing, the most abiding thing, in his life – Nothing had ever been able to pollute that crazy well of dreams: no drink, no drug, no pain.

I wonder if that is a nod to King’s own issues with drugs and alcohol, I know the 80s were a rough time for him in those regards.  I wonder if he saw some of himself in Paul and felt trapped, and just let it all out in this crazy captor horror fantasy.

This is probably one of my favorite lines in literature so far, only because I am an RN and find this absolutely blitheringly iconic in my mind – 

“Don’t worry,”, she said, “I’m a trained nurse.”

The axe came whistling down…..

If anyone has read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next and met Nurse Rached, or I guess seen the new show that is out, she is probably the other quintessentially insane nurse in modern literature.  I am team Annie though – her hospital travelling murder spree is just something to be truly terrified of.

My one last note on Misery is that I really liked King/Paul’s musings on going insane, and whether or not it really matters since we are all just racing towards death, although some obviously more quickly than others.  I also liked how he mentioned some of his other books, as well as books by other authors, like little shout-outs. 

I will leave you with one last quote to show you how well I think King captured the essence of crazy in the final scene:

He could smell her – cooked flesh, sweat, hate, madness

How many times have you heard a person’s smell described in a book? Are they saying death, fish, rotten things, sweat hate and madness? I just… Anyone with even a slight interest in psychological thrillers or horror needs to read this.

I think this was a good choice for a first King

Now I did mention that I would talk about how I choose my TBR but this post has gone on long enough – so I will just say that I never let popular opinion get to me. A better explanation for why I haven’t read one of his books yet is that he is widely known as the king of horror – which is a huge turn off for me because I don’t like scary books! Not all of his books are terrifying though, I am told, so I will find out I guess!

Categories
Horror Paranormal Thrillers

Book Review: Cracked Coffins by Beronika Keres

Thank you so much to the author for the review copy of Cracked Coffins in exchange for an honest review!  I was originally supposed to be on a book tour that was cancelled so I really appreciate her sending the book anyway.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Cracked Coffins
  • Series: Book #1
  • Author: Beronika Keres
  • Publisher & Release: Immortal Woods Books, 10/24/20
  • Length: 470 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for 18+

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

**Cracked Coffins contains profanity, mature themes, sexual violence, and general violence. It is recommended for a mature 17+ audience.**

THE PAST HAS RISEN

After Marianna Cortez overdoses on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, the strange circumstances surrounding her survival make her doubt that the normal life she desperately wants will ever be within reach. Yet, when Denendrius Sovetta steps out from the shadows of her past, he brings with him the hope that things could be different.

But Denendrius is a twisted vampire from Ancient Rome with a chaotic past of his own. Marianna can’t ignore the cracks in his sweet façade for long. As she discovers her connection to him, she learns more about his dark past and its influence on hers.

With his claims that they’re meant to be together and his brutal means to keep her from leaving him, Marianna seeks to find the truth and escape Denendrius’s grasp before her history has a chance to kill her future.

So yeah – this is a DARK dark dark thriller / paranormal / not-romance that happens to have vampires. Stalking, abuse, drugs, gangs, all of the above and more – and I read it in just about two sittings! I couldn’t put it down if you paid me to, because the action and suspense is just nonstop.

The twisted mind of the Vampire, Denendrius, was unbelievably sadistic at times.  What is he going to do next? How much can I possibly hate one character? The whole plot kept twisting like his mind! I kind of at least had a begrudging respect for Marianna, what a terrible life she was raised in and what do you do when you’re trapped by a monster like she is??  I had to keep flipping pages to see if she would even live or not. I never felt like there was a good stopping point because I had to know what happened next!

I would have liked to see more from Carol, but maybe in book two?  The whole ending confused me a bit, a whole new sect of characters were thrown into the mix without a whole lot of backstory, and I am very confused as to why the women weren’t using that knife to saw off a certain vampire’s head while he was down 😳

This is definitely not a YA book but the main character is 16-17. Would recommend for anyone looking for a paranormal domestic  thriller that is absolutely impossible to put down.

Thank you again to the author for the review copy, all opinions are my own!

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Book Tour and Giveaway! A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley

     Thank you so much to Storytellers On Tour and Lee C. Conley for having me on this tour for A Ritual of Bone! I can not for the life of me picture a more perfect dark fantasy/horror novel for this time of year and I’m so glad to have read it.  Book two in the series, A Ritual of Flesh, was actually published earlier this month and I’ll tell you right now that I already bought it and can’t wait to start reading.

Anyway, here we go!

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Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Ritual of Bone
  • Series: The Dead Sagas, #1
  • Author: Lee C. Conley 
  • Publisher & Release: Wolves of Valour Publications – June, 2019
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ YES for all my dark fantasy, horror, warrior and Elder Scrolls loving friends

Here is the synopsis:

Only valour and steel can stand against the rising dead

Arnar is a land of warriors, its people as stalwart as the stones themselves. In a land of dark forests and ancient hill forts, a forgotten evil is awoken by curious minds.

The Great Histories and the Sagas say nothing of this evil, long passed from the memory of even the studious scholars of the College. For centuries, the scholars of Arnar have kept these records and preserved the knowledge and great deeds of a proud people. The story of these peoples forever chronicled in the Sagas of the Great Histories.

Now the evil spreads and the dead walk in its wake, terrible creatures roam the night and even the spirits are restless. The Dead Sagas could perhaps be the final chapters of these great records

Many threads entwine to tell this Saga, interweaving the tales of those who played their part in the search for answers and ultimately their fight for survival. Amid plague, invasion and terror, the inexorable rise of the dead sends a kingdom scrabbling to its knees.

     This book is just everything my Spooktober reading list needed to be complete, and so much more.  The country of Arnar is finally at a tentative peace with it’s neighbor, while all hell breaks loose within the kingdom itself.  

     A master scholar from the College brought back and modified a long forgotten ritual that seems to have awoken some old and ancient evil, unleashing plague and sickness and zombies.  YES, picture Skyrim-esque warriors with great axes, swords and shields and bows, discovering and battling the walking dead.  Cold mountain passes, savage cannibalistic tribes in the wilds, ancient stone ruins left over from long extinct peoples.

     The combined setting, atmosphere, and writing style in this book is incredible.  There are four or five distinct storylines being told that start with the evil being unleashed, and then tell of various characters in different parts of the country discovering and dealing with the early consequences.  Each of these storylines is going to converge in the second book and I am so excited.  Back to the atmosphere though – the permeation of evil, unsettled emotions, fear, dread, loss, and chills just are equally potent through each storyline so that each was interesting and my attention never drifted.  Whether the warrior Arnuld, the girl Nym, the Hunter Bjorn, or the apprentice, each story had me rapt between the character’s plight, flight, and loss.  I think the atmosphere is what really tied this book together.

     Of course there is plenty of gore and blood and grief as well… I mean there ARE zombies.  Partially self aware zombies at times.  It really was more than a little horrifying at times but also amazing.

     Even with a few slight editing mishaps, I happily give this book every star imaginable.  As a debut novel I honestly expected a lot worse and had an amazing surprise when I ended up hooked from page one, and rapt until the end. I recommend it fully to all adult fans of the genres!


Equally important are the links to the other blog tour stops and giveaway!! Please find the tour schedule here

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Here is the link to the Tour Wide Giveaway!

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Prize: A Ritual of Bone – Grand Prize: One (1) signed hardcover (international), Runners-Up: Five (5) winners, choice of audiobook codes (US/UK) or ebooks (international)


Lastly I hope that you will check out the author’s links!

Website: http://www.leeconleyauthor.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LongswordLee
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/
Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor
Newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/ec0e4d5c30e7/leeconleyauthlaningpage
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/sho

Categories
Historical Fiction Paranormal Suspense Thrillers

ARC Review: The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan

QuickFacts:

  • Title: The Hollow Ones
  • Series: The Blackwood Tapes #1
  • Author: GDT & Chuck Hogan
  • Publisher & Release: Grand Central Publishing 8/4/2020
  • Length: 305pg
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡yes!

A huge thank you to Grand Central Publishing for the giveaway win! I received an early copy of The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and while I slightly missed the publication date I read it as soon as I could!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A horrific crime that defies explanation, a rookie FBI agent in uncharted territory, and an extraordinary hero for the ages: an investigation spirals out of control in this heart-pounding thriller.

Odessa Hardwicke’s life is derailed when she’s forced to turn her gun on her partner, Walt Leppo, a decorated FBI agent who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defense, shakes the young FBI agent to her core. Devastated, Odessa is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation. What most troubles Odessa isn’t the tragedy itself — it’s the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent’s body after his death.

Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Hardwicke accepts a low-level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries, and who is either an unhinged lunatic, or humanity’s best and only defense against unspeakable evil.

This book is everything I could ever want in a crime / thriller /paranormal / FBI / supernatural bundle of amazing ness. Maybe I have just been away from thrillers for too long but I read this in three sittings and have no regrets. From a modern day FBI agent who has to shoot her suddenly violent partner, to insane rampage killings across NY and NJ, to the 1960s bayou where one of the first black FBI agents is sent to help sooth tensions involving a racially charged series of crimes, all the way back to the release of The Hollow Ones… Then there is one mystical man who is summoned via a forgotten mailbox near Wall St.

I can’t speak for the editing in the final version but I can definitely speak for the action.  Told mostly in the present day, with a few flashbacks, from start to finish the action never stopped in this book.  I think there is a detachment from the characters which I really liked, that allows us to focus on the plot and evil at hand without really getting too involved in their personal lives.  We get enough background to empathize with them though, and I really did like ALL of the characters which is rare for me.  Odessa is in an impossible spot after having to shoot her partner.  Blackwood is a British tea drinker with an appreciation for old books, disdain for microwaves, and a sad task in life – or is it a curse? and Solomon… Oh Solomon I had so much respect for the way he handled the KKK and the situation involving the church.  There are a few racially sensitive themes in the book and I thought they were handled well by the authors. Solomon is just such a great character and commanded respect while dealing with both sides of the problem with grace. I also am now very interested in the early black FBI agents if anyone can recommend any reading, fiction or non?

There are some intense spots that made me cringe, because the Hollow Ones thrive on violence there are some pretty brutal killing sprees.  It throws a baby out a fifth story window and watches it splat, for example.  Other than that there is no language or sexual content involved, just violence and possession and talk of ritualistic religious practices.

There is something for everyone in this.  I definitely 100% recommend for fans of FBI thrillers, occult detectives, the supernatural, demon and spirit hunters, rogue agents, and some chilling themes typical of GDT.   Thanks you again to Grand Central Publishing for the giveaway win!

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment below!

Categories
Horror Paranormal

ARC Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing for the ARC of The Return in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

I have honestly never read a horror novel before in my life, because I am a huge scaredy cat.  I didn’t even realize it was a scary book until one creepy thing happened…and then another … and then I looked up the book on GoodReads and said OH, wow, ok.  I turned all the lights in the house on and kept reading.

Here is the description from Amazon.com:

Julie is missing, and no one believes she will ever return—except Elise. Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and feels it in her bones that her best friend is out there and that one day Julie will come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong—she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?

The plot itself is an excellent idea: What happened to Julie? Is this weekend getaway going to turn into the house of horrors? In short: yes. The remaining three friends each  mourn Julie in their own way and are shocked when she comes back.  The women plan a getaway to an eccentric hotel in the Catskills, and from there start to unravel the mystery of what happened to Julie.

“Sallow skin and odd appetites” seems like a very nice way of describing Julie, per the back cover.  She looks like a corpse, her teeth are rotten, and the women become immediately concerned.  At the start of the book I found it hard to keep them apart in my mind – Molly and Mae and Elise, with Elise being the main character.  They all speak in very young sounding slang as well, using words such as ‘peace’ and ‘deuces’ and saying ‘love you’ at least 50 times.

I think too much time was spent with the women just gossiping behind Julie’s back about her.   I either was skimming gossip or feeling horrified after reading something with very little in between. There were a few long diversions from the main storyline that only contributed to the related character’s back story, but ultimately didn’t help the plot.  For example: one about Elise entering a married lover’s house helped show that she could be a little nuts, although it was pages long and  totally unrelated to the story in the hotel.

Speaking of length, I felt like 40 page long chapters couldn’t hold my attention very well for a novel that took place mainly over the course of a weekend.

I also feel like setting can be important in suspense and horror novels.  The hotel was definitely eccentric, isolated, and ran by an odd duck, but there was nothing inherently spooky or scary about the place. A lot of the horror portrayed was in Elise’s mind, at least until some real terror was brought into the place.   I think I would have been more scared by something inherently wrong with the hotel itself.

Finding out what happened to Julie does occur  at the end of the book. While reading I was definitely pretty observant of shadows and windows in my house (as I said, easily scared), but at the same time thought the climactic reveal at the end sounded a little corny.

I think I would recommend this as like an “intro to horror” novel.  It is perfect for people who want to be *a little* scared, although hardcore horror readers may not be as thrilled.  I would have no problem recommending the book to anyone curious though! The Return releases 3/24/20 and I once again want to thank Berkley for the book!!