In this epic fantasy, a world is “splintered” into three separate parts (Allure, Aldur, and Eldwitch) for its own survival. For thousands of years, thIn this epic fantasy, a world is “splintered” into three separate parts (Allure, Aldur, and Eldwitch) for its own survival. For thousands of years, these three regions were able to properly function by using a World-Gate for communication and trade, but now, the planet as a whole is starting to die. In order for this degradation to stop, Sierra, a girl who is born with the blood of all three planets, has to set out on an adventure for the entire world’s restoration.
The beautifully and well-written prose of Splintered instantly sucked me in. This novel is—all at once—entertaining, creative, well-researched, and thought provoking. The three different worlds and their inhabitants are symbolic for the different cultures and diversity that exists in our reality. This element of the novel also spoke to the idea of adaptation and survival. For example, the inhabitants of Eldwitch (the mountainous region of the three worlds) develop wings in order to fly around their terrain—which is super clever. But really, this thoughtful idea was only the tip of the iceberg in the scheme of this great novel. Without getting too specific about the convoluted plot, the novel also addresses important rampant social and political issues that plague our world in several different ways—like the concept of Mind Rub.
Mind Rub is the idea of getting rid of the overwhelming thoughts that can weigh the inhabitants down, just like the overwhelming stress that we sometimes feel. By using Mind Rub, the inhabitants of the Splintered realm are able to forget their pain, thus mirroring the abuse of drug use in our reality. This was a great issue to address.
The novel also examined the ideas related to half-breeds, and how that “race” is viewed as a negative, which then leads to the ideas associated with racism and discrimination. I like how Leslie Ann Wright was able to address this issue, and turn it into a positive, because in the novel, Wright made the half-breeds powerful, valuable, and precious. By doing this, Wright is cleverly addressing the frivolous and insubstantial discrimination that exists in our society when it comes to multi-racial children/adults. The idea of sharing a homogenized belief based solely on race is completely absurd, and this has to be my favorite issue that was raised in the novel.
Another issue, that seemed the most consistent and universal, has to be the one dealing with worldly conservation. It’s clear that Wright is a big advocate of environmental conservation, and attempts to convey the message that we are quickly destroying our world through reckless acts of mistreatment. The coolest part is that Wright does a great job expressing this idea without coming off pious or unfair in her message. Kudos to her for successfully achieving this!
But, even with all these great elements in the novel, there were still a few drawbacks that I encountered. Firstly, because the novel was an epic fantasy/sci-fi, I expected a lot more action than what was delivered. The main action sequence came at the very end of the book (which was awesome!), but other than that, I can’t seem to recall any other major action sequence. In addition, with all the creativity swirling in the novel, I wanted more scenes that played on the fantasy concept of magic, but that too, seemed like it was lacking.
Also, the ending—though very cool—felt abrupt. I would have preferred it to simmer a little more as to make the hopeful message of the novel even stronger.
Lastly, the flashbacks that occurred throughout the novel had me confused at times. It didn’t always seem apparent as to what timeline I was reading until I got further into the chapter, which slightly jarred the reading experience.
Overall, though, I would highly recommend this novel to readers who are looking to escape into another wondrous fantasy/sci-fi world. The content in this novel is creative and humane and well-expressed. Leslie Ann Wright did an amazing job in creating a fictional world that speaks volumes to the current state of our reality in both social and political ways—and in the end, Splintered isn’t just a work of creative fiction, but one that intelligently challenges us as readers, too. ...more
With their mother deceased and their father taking a job in Siberia, the shy Charlotte Calloway and her outgoing, older brother, Kevin, move back to CWith their mother deceased and their father taking a job in Siberia, the shy Charlotte Calloway and her outgoing, older brother, Kevin, move back to Charleston, South Carolina from Alaska to live with Monty, their sweet-natured uncle. Once in SC, the fifteen-(almost sixteen)-year-old has a difficult time adjusting, while her brother, once again, does just fine.
Fast-forward a few chapters into the book, where Charlotte ventures into her uncle’s garden and literally discovers a gateway to another world. This new world, though astonishing at first, soon reveals more than what Charlotte bargained for—because it is there that Charlotte finds her first love, learns about her mysterious past, and unravels what potential dangers are lurking in her future.
I thoroughly enjoyed Beckoning Light by Alyssa Rose Ivy. It was a fun and easy read with a plot that intertwines secrets, lies, and magic. It was thrilling to unravel the mystery of Charlotte’s history, and see how that ultimately affects her destiny. The story was well paced, creative, and the incorporation of magic was—for the most part—pretty cool to read about. But my favorite part of the book has to be the strength that Charlotte acquired by the end of the book, which leads to the universal message of inner strength.
With all that said, the story does have a few drawbacks. The characterization of Charlotte and Kevin was lacking. Though there were many aspects of their lives that were nicely described, I never fully connected with their characters, which lessened the impact of my sympathy for them.
Also, the alternating narration between Charlotte and Kevin was difficult for me to adjust to. Though Alyssa Rose Ivy did a great job stating whether Charlotte or Kevin will be the one to narrate the chapter, the fluctuation between the two different points of view still felt jarring to me, even by the time I got to the end of the book.
But in spite of these drawbacks, I still really enjoyed Beckoning Light, and would recommend this novel to anyone who prefers reading fun, creative, magic-filled fantasies with hints of love and danger—and a powerful message. I look forward to reading the sequels. ...more
Imagination runs wild in The House in Windward Leaves by Katherine L. Holmes.
On Halloween, Sadie Waskowsky and her diverse group of friends, heads outImagination runs wild in The House in Windward Leaves by Katherine L. Holmes.
On Halloween, Sadie Waskowsky and her diverse group of friends, heads out trick-or-treating dressed in an assortment of entertaining costumes. During their rounds, they make it to the mysterious “House in Windward Leaves” where they are suddenly whisked away to a magical distant star. On this star, Sadie and her friends not only become their actual costumes, but they end up going on random fun-filled adventures, including an exciting scavenger hunt.
The House in Windward Leaves is a pleasant and well-written book for children who particularly enjoy the Halloween festivities. I loved that I felt immersed in the children’s free-flowing dialogue, palpable excitement, and creative adventures.
For me, this book depicts two great lessons: Firstly, the strength of individuality. Most children crave the need to belong, and are completely afraid to be different in many ways. This book stresses the power of individuality (done through all the different costumes), and how that specific uniqueness can be exciting, fun, and beneficial to the people around us. This is an amazing message!
The second lesson comes at the end when the children finally return home. After their return, the children seem very glad to have the normalcy of their lives again. This is an excellent depiction of missing the people and things around us that we often take for granted—which in turn, stresses the importance and value of appreciating everything we have at the moment. I love this lesson, as well!
The only drawback in the novel is the lack of substance in the beginning and end of the book. I wished the beginning carried more excitement. I didn’t get reeled into the story until the children got whisked away. And the ending, though lovely in description, felt very abrupt. A few more lines—or maybe another chapter—would have made it even better.
Overall though, I highly recommend The House in Windward Leaves. With its imaginative/whimsical adventures and thoughtful lessons, this is a great children’s book. ...more
Mother’s Playground by R.C. Trebes is a short sci-fi/fantasy story about human companionship and redemption.
A young man in his late teens known only aMother’s Playground by R.C. Trebes is a short sci-fi/fantasy story about human companionship and redemption.
A young man in his late teens known only as “noname” awakens in a forest one random morning to a post apocalyptic world with no one in sight. All he really remembers are comforting thoughts about his father. As he travels through the forest and out into the open road, he eventually encounters two other people: Jerry and Clair. As their brief friendship starts to develop, enemies known as the “Dinos” emerge in an attempt to take one of them.
I really enjoyed reading this short story. It captured my attention right from the start, and never let up. Mr. Trebes wrote a story about how we sometimes feel lost and lonely in this chaotic world. And during these times, some of us will retreat into seclusion, but will eventually seek out companionship because that is within our baser human instincts. And the fight that is within us to achieve this need is part of what makes this story redemptive.
Mother’s Playground is a simple, yet well-written and satisfying read. Mr. Trebes was able to convey the point of his story in a way that was both entertaining and clever—and I definitely recommend this story to all readers interested in a light sci-fi/fantasy experience....more
As human beings, we often want things that we can’t have. In the novel, Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled by Bert Murray, that again, is sadly the case.As human beings, we often want things that we can’t have. In the novel, Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled by Bert Murray, that again, is sadly the case.
In 1985, Colin Preston, an amiable—but not completely atypical—nineteen-year-old college student, goes to fictional Elerby University in upstate New York. There he meets Jasmine, a tumultuous wild child, who he falls madly in love with. Through their eventual relationship, Colin experiences challenges with infidelity, self-worth, and his sanity.
After finishing the novel, I have mix feelings about Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled. The elements I enjoyed were the dialogue, the pace of the novel, and the free flow of Colin’s emotions. It was fun and entertaining reading his thoughts and how he perceived the world. His naiveté was frustrating, but also understandable—which was part of what kept the novel interesting.
The parts I didn’t particularly enjoy were the constant juxtaposition of Beatle songs to certain scenes. It was way too much. If Bert got rid of half of the Beatle songs that were mentioned in the book, it would have made the effect much more fun and memorable. Also, even with Colin’s fun ramblings, I didn’t get a good feel for his character. I often felt detached; and I can only assume that had to do with my own sensibilities as a person because I felt Bert did a decent job of giving Colin a solid backstory.
Lastly—and from a very constructive point of view—I think a good Copyeditor or Proofreader would have been very beneficial. They could have taken out certain grammatical issues that would have made the book shine even more. Though the issues I encountered didn’t completely hamper the reading experience for me, I definitely felt like some parts were still too rough.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book—and would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fast read on college life from a heterosexual male perspective. I think it’s fair to say Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled is an entertaining read. ...more
Doing Max Vinyl is a novel with quirky characters, absurd situations, and a lesson on the hazards of waste disposal on the environment. Though the novDoing Max Vinyl is a novel with quirky characters, absurd situations, and a lesson on the hazards of waste disposal on the environment. Though the novel is fiction, it isn’t typically a genre (parodic/satirical mystery) I would read—but I’m glad I did. This well-written novel lends itself to having a very detective, film noir feel. I could practically hear the saxophones playing in the background of certain scenes.
My favorite elements of the book were the characterizations of the diverse cast of characters, especially Tranny (who I found hilarious) and Annie Ogden (who I adore). I really enjoyed the way Brooke’s fleshed out not only these two particular characters—but the majority of his characters—with solid backgrounds and entertaining dialogue.
I also enjoyed the ethical lessons of improper waste disposal. Though Brooke’s message in properly recycling and conserving clean water was quite palpable, it didn’t come off as pious or preachy. And I think a big part of this had to do with how he integrated this belief into the story in amusing and clever ways.
However, there were a few drawbacks in the novel. Since there was so much going on in the book, there were several moments when I felt lost. The plot, at times, seemed to be bouncing around way too much, slicing and dicing different scenes back-to-back in such a rapid fashion. This was probably done to mirror certain movie scenes, but it gave the book an incohesive, disjointed feel. To remedy this issue, I had to go back and reread several sections in order to keep the story straight.
Also, the sheer amount of characters was entertaining to read about, but also hard to keep up with. It felt like certain characters were introduced, then taken away, only to return later on in the book with a certain purpose that I couldn’t necessarily figure out or remember. Hence, having to go back and reread certain parts yet again. But, with all that said, I have to add that it might have just been my own comprehension level due to the fact that this specific genre isn’t one that I’m particularly accustomed to.
Overall though, I enjoyed Doing Max Vinyl. It’s mysterious, humorous, sexy, explosive, and gave a positive message. It’s everything most readers crave in a novel. And, if you’re really into parodic or satirical mysteries, then you’ll practically be in heaven while reading this book. ...more
I love Halloween (it’s my second favorite Holiday) and I love haunted houses, so when you put the two together in a book, it’s hard for me to resist rI love Halloween (it’s my second favorite Holiday) and I love haunted houses, so when you put the two together in a book, it’s hard for me to resist reading the story. HUDSON HOUSE by J.T. Warren takes these two ideas and morphs them into an entertaining—and sometimes chilling—thriller that was a lot of fun to read.
It’s 1984, a few days before Halloween, and best friends Eric Hunter, Tommy Pomeroy and Ed Forlure, are daring themselves into Hudson House, the most haunted house around their neighborhood—if not the entire town. After entering Hudson House, the boys experienced some strange sightings and a few scares, before they finally escaped, but not completely unscathed.
As Eric, the protagonist, runs home in a state of fright, anticipating the comfort and familiarity of his house, he was instead, greeted by his dying mother who laid on the kitchen floor; a wound in her head was gushing blood. Soon after this traumatic scene, Eric’s mother passes, which then prompts Eric to blame himself, linking her death to his invasion of Hudson House.
As I mentioned before, this was a fun read for me. The novel was a combination of a mature version of Gil Kenan’s Monster House and a much lighter version of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. The plot was thoughtful, the characters were well-developed, and the pace was fluid. The novel itself was divided into three different parts to better illustrate the time frame of Eric’s life—and it worked great. This book was very easy to follow.
Reading the book also brought on nostalgia since it took place in the eighties. Though I was very young, the references were still pleasant to read about. Warren mentioned the likes of Metallica, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and even Skeletor from the iconic eighties cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Awesome, dude!
But my favorite part of this novel had nothing to do with the plot. Instead, I was smitten with Warren’s prose. It was clean, succinct, fluid, fast, articulate—and great! I loved it. The writing even compelled me to read when I wanted to stop, just so I could continue to admire the prose even more. In his bio, Warren states that he’s a literary school teacher, and it shows. He’s super talented and I’m glad that he’s passing his skills on to his students.
Now some grips about the novel.
Though the writing was great, the content vacillated between YA horror and adult horror (that’s why the reference to Monster House and Hellraiser). And typically, I don’t mind this back and forth tethering, but for a reason that I still can’t pinpoint, this particular quality of the book bothered me. Maybe it was because the core of the novel felt juvenile and young, but that certain contrived and graphic ideas were thrown in as an attempt to elevate the material to something more mature. I’m not positive, but something about the discrepancy irked me.
I also had issues with the majority of the characters in that I disliked them—including Eric. This saddened me. Almost all the characters displayed some brooding, obnoxious, self-loathing trait that I understood, but didn’t respond to; at least, not on any emotional or visceral level. In addition, I didn’t enjoy the last few chapters of the novel because the reveals didn’t have the impact that I think Warren had hoped for. Maybe part of it was because of my apathy towards the characters. I'm still not sure about this either. But, when all is said and done, I still felt like the reveals lacked the necessary emotional punch that I desperately wanted in the end—and that’s too bad.
Overall, I still recommend HUDSON HOUSE—especially if you’re a fan of fun thrillers with a harder edge. The campfire ghost story feel mixed with certain adult themes can be jarring at times, but the moments of thrill compensates for these flaws. Plus, the writing is too good to deny. Read this book—and have fun doing it! ...more
I love off the wall things; things that are weird and strange and random and goofy and campy and ridiculous. Things that aren’t always so l*4.5 Stars*
I love off the wall things; things that are weird and strange and random and goofy and campy and ridiculous. Things that aren’t always so logical or predictable or sensible. Off the wall things add color and flavor to the world; and often times, these things crack me up. And I like to laugh—a lot! Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer encompasses this “off the wall” attitude that more fiction needs to embrace—and then some.
Sarah Weaver, a senior in high school, lives with her single, conservative grandmother in Beverly Hills, after both her parents—more or less—abandoned her. One day, said grandmother catches Sarah in the throes of passion with Brad Taylor, the most popular guy in school. Needless to say, grandmother was not pleased with what she saw. So, after graduation, grandmother gave Sarah two options: Attend Wetherly (an all-girls college located in Massachusetts that was grandma’s alma mater) or go to a college of her own choice; only, with the second option, grandmother wouldn’t pay for tuition. Left with very little choice and a lot of reluctance, Sarah chooses Wetherly.
Once at Wetherly, she meets her new soon-to-be roommates: Madison Snow (the innocent, pretty friend, who everyone adores) and Agnes Pierce (the more masculine, “less attractive” friend, who seems to be in love with Madison herself). The friendship amongst these three girls sets into motion one of the most bizarre, fun, entertaining, laugh-out-loud, clap-my-hands in glee stories I have ever read—and I love it!
Easer embraces what fiction is supposed to be. I’m not going to attempt to summarize the plot because in her story, she includes a River Phoenix poster, a hurt fawn, an ominous gypsy, hair clots, a ketchup bottle, a naked party, an eighties party, obsession, manipulation, sabotage, secrets, lies—basically everything but the kitchen sink. And all this adds up to one great page-turner.
The character themselves are all so colorful and prominent. I liked how Easer made each of them strange and full of contradictions, which not only coincided with the one of the themes of this book (ambiguity of human nature), but it also amplified the entertainment value. I liked how Sarah, the protagonist, rambled on and on, revealing not only her random thoughts to us, but also her contradictions. For example, when she first met Sebastian (Madison’s boyfriend), she thought his lack of intellect made him unattractive, but still, she couldn’t deny that she was sexually drawn to him. I like that honesty in Sarah because not only did she show her flaws—even as a protagonist—but it also played into the endless mind games that the characters perpetuated. Super thumbs up for the cohesion of elements.
The one negative thing I will say about the book is that even though Easer offered an onslaught of contradictions and confusion to play with the reader’s emotions, her confusion didn’t necessarily hide the secrets that perhaps, she was hoping for. And though I wasn’t able to guess the ending by any means, I was able to predict many aspects around it. But, even with that said, my accurate predictions couldn’t take away from how entertained I was with the book—at all.
I loved that Easer didn’t play it safe for her debut novel. She was provocative and daring and cool. This book really appealed to my sensibilities; especially my sense of humor. And if you want a fun, campy, creepy, eighties-inspired, WTF thriller about the extremities of friendship, obsession, loyalty, and love, then I can’t recommend a better novel. This is it! You can’t go wrong. Now, the only bummer is having to wait for Easer’s next novel. I just hope that when it finally comes out, it’ll surpass this one in terms of sheer outlandishness—and also that it includes a kitchen sink.
Seventh grade math. My teacher was Miss Smiley. She was a sweet and helpful teacher—but sadly, she was also atrociously boring. I would enter class, tSeventh grade math. My teacher was Miss Smiley. She was a sweet and helpful teacher—but sadly, she was also atrociously boring. I would enter class, take my seat (which was near the back), and wait for class to start. The moment the bell rang, she would go through the agenda for that day, followed by the dimming of the lights and the monotonous hum of her projector, which would last the entire period. Usually, it didn’t take me very long to doze in and out of sleep, completely uninvested in the class, waiting for it to be over so I could move on to the next. Reading The Revenant: A Horror in Dodsville by Brian L. Blank was the equivalent of Miss Smiley’s seventh grade math class.
After a kickass prologue where two kids went missing, The Revenant jumps to eleven-year-old, Stephen O’Neal, and his best friend, Reed Price. As kids, they were inseparable; so much in fact, that they opened up a make-believe business called Ghost Hunter’s, Inc. where they investigated supposed paranormal locales, which eventually led them to “Wickerman’s” abandoned, but believed to be, haunted house. After sneaking their way in, they found a mirror that ends up being a gateway to another dimension. At one point, the mirror tried to pull Reed inside, but luckily, the both of them were able to escape.
Not long after this incident, Stephen’s parents died in a car accident, which forced him to leave Dodsville, Wisconsin. He ended up moving to Milwaukee to live with his grandmother. Over the years, the boys never kept in touch—as we all know, long distance relationships are very hard.
Jump to thirteen years later. Stephen, who was now twenty-four and a teacher, was notified that his ex-best friend, Reed, was found dead. He drowned in Brunner’s Pond (a pond he was deftly afraid of) under very suspicious circumstances. To pay his respects, Stephen revisits his old hometown of Dodsville. While there, he rekindles his friendship with Reed’s two sisters (Julie and Tabitha), Sly Williams (Julie’s boyfriend), Melissa Anderson (Reed’s ex-girlfriend) Detective Sherwood Pierce, and all sorts of other random people. He also ends up encountering Randy Beliwitz (Tabitha’s boyfriend) who ends up being a total douche. The guy continuously threatens his life.
Eventually, the plot leads us to a Mrs. Klaus. A strange woman who propositions the said people above—minus Randy and Detective Pierce—to investigate her huge, elaborate mansion because she believes that it is suddenly haunted. The rest of this story fans out from there.
After the initial prologue and the first few chapters, I had a very difficult time reading the rest of this novel. I wanted to like it, but the novel kept holding its hand in my face and saying: “You will not like me!” Okay, the last part’s a lie, but the rest is true. I pushed, and the book kept pulling—and here are the reasons why:
The first reason: This. Book. Was. So. Extremely. Descriptive. And. Also. Immensely. Too. Wordy. Typically, wordy books don’t bother me this much. I know I can get wordy myself. But the amount of unnecessary writing was beyond reason. The book was drenched in verbosity. Almost every sentence—if not every sentence—had an unnecessary description that literally stifled the reading experience. It was like learning to drive a stick shift through the entire novel. For example, take this excerpt:
He slammed his right fist down on the desk in a sudden outburst of anger, tipping over a cup of pencils. Two of the pencils rolled off the desk. The rest settled down near the cup. “That, Inspector, is all we know,” he added in an almost, but not quite, shout. He didn’t’ want to upset Pierce to the point he threw them all behind bars, after all. Then he sat back down.
Okay, the line: “an almost, but not quite, shout” is a little “too interesting” for my taste. And Mr. Blank does this throughout the entire book. Why didn’t he just say something like: “he almost shouted” or “he loudly spoke.” And what’s up with the pencils? Anyway, my point is that Mr. Blank’s writing style is just too verbose for my reading sensibilities. Maybe if he wrote more dialogue and less descriptions that would have helped remedy this issue.
The second reason (and this directly correlates to the first reason): The plot was too convoluted for its own good. I read this on the kindle and it showed 417 pages. Now I ask: Why, Lord? Why? This book could have easily been reduced to half its size—and that would have made the book more enjoyable to read because the novel would have moved at a brisker pace. Again, the extra descriptions and words did not help here.
While reading this novel, the words ‘edit’ and ‘Copyeditor’ kept running through my mind. I know that Mr. Brian L. Blank is himself an English teacher (it’s in his Bio) so maybe he didn’t feel like he needed one—which I would disagree. But, if he did in fact use a Copyeditor, and his book still turned out this lengthy, then he should make them re-edit it again.
I’m going to condense the rest of my critiques for the sake of saving space and avoiding verbosity myself—assuming it’s not too late.
I had issues with the plot branching off into too many directions without any significant payoff. Also, every character in the book was only a caricature of a human. I didn’t develop any empathy or interest in their lives. I just kept visualizing paper dolls walking through a cardboard town. In addition, some of the dialogue was just plain wonky. “Darting tongues” during the love scene, Mr. Blank? Please, no. No darting tongues. Love scenes are supposed to be hot and seductive and sensual. Visualizing a game of darts at a smelly bar or a rusty spear coming at you while I was supposed to be visualizing sex is not sexy.
Now, with all of that said, parts of the book I can honestly defend. The book does have some redeeming qualities. The core story had a lot of entertainment value and some of the ideas were really good. I loved the setup of the haunted house. I loved the dimensional mirror concept. I loved the lingering, mysterious deaths. Some of Blank’s foreboding was done well. Also, I really enjoyed the prologue and the epilogue. I just wish the rest of the novel kept up with these two sections.
But, the one thing I appreciated most about this reading experience was the author’s intent. Clearly, this novel was Blank’s labor of love. I can tell that he genuinely enjoyed writing this book. His excitement was practically seeping out of every page. And he probably imagined us getting lost in his story the way he honestly did. And for that, no one can fault him. That extra star is for his ambition. I’m a big sucker for moxie.
The general feel of The Revenant is very Hardy Boys, Scooby-Doo, Nancy Drew, Lucy Liu. Okay, wait, not Lucy Liu; although, I did like her as Ling in Ally McBeal. Anyway, I went into this book thinking the plot and overall content would be more mature, more sophisticated—and it wasn’t. It came off as juvenile literature; almost like a very long, fun-filled campfire ghost story or something to read at a teenager’s slumber party. I think that’s where Mr. Blank’s head space was when he wrote this book. He channeled his inner child. But for the rest of us who wanted something grittier, the overall story and execution just didn’t work.
Lastly, I want to make one thing clear: My goal in this review is not to put Mr. Blank on blast. I think constructive criticism is always a positive thing, and I hope people are able to decipher that. Behind all his excessive writing and my critiques, there’s a great storyteller here. I just feel like some layers need to be peeled off for us to really see that.
One last, last thing. On the kindle, at 45%, Mr. Blank wrote: “And watch out for Pierce. He would have an orgasm if he caught you out there.” Orgasm? I wonder if Mr. Blank meant aneurysm because that scene wasn’t sexual in any way. Now I can't stop laughing.
As a young child, I played this fun, titillating, sometimes frightening game with friends and cousins when they came over to the house. The game didn’As a young child, I played this fun, titillating, sometimes frightening game with friends and cousins when they came over to the house. The game didn’t have a name, but this was how it went: I would go steal my parents' biggest blanket from their bedroom, then me and as many kids as possible would gather under this blanket, covering ourselves as if the blanket were an invincible shield. We would then start our little walk from the living room down the long, dark hallway of my childhood home before making our way through my parents’ bedroom, then into their private bathroom, before finally circling around and making our way back. Except for the living room, we kept all the lights off on this path; we wanted a rush from walking in the dark. Needless to say, no one wanted to be the leader or the caboose while playing this game. If a ghost or spirit of some sort were to graze us before whisking us away to some demonic land, no one wanted to be the first to go—and if we stood first or last in line, we would be the ones most susceptible. Looking back, the game was absolutely silly, but it was also so much fun!
Reading Manchester House by Donald Allen Kirch flooded my mind with memories of this particular game because oddly enough, there were so many parallels between the two experiences. Both were thrilling, exhilarating, terrifying, fun, and at times, disappointing.
The novel starts off with Jonathon Holzer, a Professor of Parapsychology (a branch of psychology that deals with the investigation of purported psychic phenomena), who is finally granted permission to investigate Manchester House; a widely known condemned house located in Atchison, Kansas, whose legends tell of extraordinary haunts and unspeakable evil. With him on this investigation is Miranda Wingate (pathologist/archeologist), James Sinclair (cameraman), Teresa Gonzalez (Psychic), and later on, Ingrid Night (badass) and Lars (Night’s servant). The code name for the group was SOURCE. Their goal on this investigation was to extract as much information from the house as possible while still trying to survive.
Manchester House was an amalgamation of Silent Hill, Scooby-Doo, Dungeons & Dragons, Van Helsing, The Exorcist (one of my favorite novel/movie of all time), and several other sources. And while I wanted to love Manchester House, I only ended up liking it; that’s why the 3 stars.
The first half of the book was amazing. I loved the premise: A group of educated, logical, experienced adults attempting to dig up information from a bizarre, illogical, supernatural place. The contrast between something concrete (the educated adults) versus something abstract (Manchester House) was a great juxtaposition. Plus, the potential for excitement was all there, and the beginning chapters delivered this excitement.
The mood was creepy, ominous, portending; all the qualities I look for in a horror novel. And as the story progressed, a frightening teenage girl known only as “The Shape” (this spirit reminded me of Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist) was introduced, and cranked up the scare factor quite a bit. The interaction between the characters and The Shape kept my focus through the beginning chapters and that was a main driving force as to why I liked the book. But, as the story continued it’s progression, my interest waned and I didn’t enjoy the direction of the book as much.
The second half of the novel lent itself to a more supernatural “Dungeons & Dragons,” Van Helsing-esque feel, which took away from the horror aspect of the novel. I liked the anticipation, the buildup of the first half of the book and when all the reveals came in the second half, they were laced with action and explosion, which didn’t gel well with the ominous nature of the beginning of the novel. And though I know some of the action elements tied in with the concepts of Parapsychology, I still felt there was a discrepancy in mood and flow, which ultimately took away from the enjoyment of the novel. If the second half of the novel was consistently creepy like the first half, this book would have easily received a higher rating.
Also, another disappointment was James Sinclair, the cameraman character. He was the obvious comic relief, but I couldn’t help but feel that his jokes and behavior during several scenes in the book were inappropriate. Sometimes he would attempt to be funny at the riskiest, most frightening times and it came off jarring; like an odd, completely illogical reaction, which again, added discrepancy to the novel. I wished Kirch had toned down Sinclair’s humorous ways in many parts of the book.
But, with all that said, I still recommend Manchester House to anyone who enjoys horror. It was a compulsively readable book with some fun surprises and scares. And, if action/horror is your cup of tea, than I can almost guarantee that this book will satiate and excite. One last thing about this book that I really appreciated was its themes: Overcoming setbacks; continuing to push forward in times of hardships; and eventually, conquering your fears. These were all great themes to explore. ...more
Maeve Haile and Kate Hanson have been best friends since childhood. Now, middle-aged and busy caring for their families, they have found a nice, quietMaeve Haile and Kate Hanson have been best friends since childhood. Now, middle-aged and busy caring for their families, they have found a nice, quiet life for themselves in Elkhorn, Colorado, the same small town they both grew up in.
The two friends, while out enjoying dinner at a restaurant one night, witnessed the shooting of Vivian Astaire, one of the few wealthy women in Elkhorn. Naturally, the murder falls into the hands of the local police who were unable to uncover very much. Afraid that the murder would get swept under the rug, and inspired by the Nancy Drew books that they used to read as kids, Maeve and Kate decides to take the murder mystery into their own hands, thus prompting them to ask: “What Would Nancy Do?”
What Would Nancy Do? by Maureen Mullis is a fun and cozy murder mystery that felt like a cross between (of course, excluding the Nancy Drew series) Scooby-Doo and the eighties sitcom, Cagney and Lacey. I also felt that the story was probably near and dear to Mrs. Mullis, as many aspects of the book seemed autobiographical—based solely off her bio.
Being a fan of cozy murder mysteries myself, I found this story extremely fun to read. After the requisite introductions and backstories, the murder mystery instantly takes off—which is awesome! The pacing afterwards was also great, keeping consistent and exciting by giving the reader morsels of information, but never too much—which is always a good sign of a splendid mystery novel.
The characterization of the huge cast was also commendable. I think Mullis gave each of the important characters a well-defined personality and backstory, as well as motive to play with the reader’s mind on whether or not they were somehow responsible/connected to the shooting. Mullis also did a fine job keeping the story cohesive and tight, and when the mystery was finally revealed at the end, the explanation was well-told and sensible.
The only potential drawback is perhaps the reader’s inability to connect with Maeve and Kate (though this did not happen to me) because they are both women in their fifties, thus diminishing the reader’s ability to fully connect with the story. In addition, the general story was light and fun, and perhaps not suitable to the taste of readers who are looking for something that’s darker or grittier in nature.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading What Would Nancy Do? because it was fun, fast-paced, humorous, and well-expressed. I want to give a big kudos to Maureen Mullis for creating such an entertaining story. ...more
As a little boy, I grew up in a very close-knit community. Me and all the other kids in the neighborhood would meet up anywhere we could (at our houseAs a little boy, I grew up in a very close-knit community. Me and all the other kids in the neighborhood would meet up anywhere we could (at our houses, at the local park, in our front yards) and share ghost stories. We would try our best to come up with the most clever and realistic ones, all in the hopes of being the best storyteller. Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance took me back to that time in my life.
Daemon Hall is about Ian Tremblin, an eccentric and mysterious author, whose fascination with horror stories prompts him to come up with a writing contest. In this contest, people are encouraged to submit their best horror stories, and Ian Tremblin will then pick out the five finalists (Wade Reilly, Kara Bakshi, Demarius Keating, Chelsea Flynt, and Chris Collins) to come to Daemon Hall where they will share their stories with him – and each other. The winner of the contest will then see their story published.
This book was an easy read, and reminded me of a cross between the movie, The House on Haunted Hill, and the novel, Campfire Ghost Stories by Jo-Anne Christensen (which I love). I had a lot of fun reading this novel. Nance did a great job creating an entertaining premise. The mood he set throughout the novel was great, and the creativity within the myriad stories was also commendable. Reading Daemon Hall did make me feel all warm and nostalgic.
Now, with all that said, I couldn’t give this book more than 3 stars…and there are two reasons why.
The first reason: While I appreciated the creativity within Nance’s writing, some of the stories lost their impact and relevance in the translation. An example is Chelsea’s story (The Babysitter (Revisited)), which was written like a script/chat room conversation. In the novel, Chelsea encouraged everyone to play a part in her story, but the reader had no choice but to read every line ourselves, thus diminishing the impact of her story. Chelsea’s story would have been better told in a group setting. The impact of what Nance was trying to achieve would have been much more powerful that way.
The second – and most important reason – were the stories themselves. They were not scary. I prefer horror stories to be a bit more graphic and provocative, and Daemon Hall was probably written with a younger audience in mind and so, I wasn’t that impressed. This novel would probably satiate a young teenager’s appetite for scary stories (and there are plenty in the book). But even with that said, I could see many teenagers scoffing at the majority of the content.
Still, I would recommend Daemon Hall. Just be aware that the stories are short, entertaining, and not that frightening. And when the follow-up (Return to Daemon Hall: Evil Roots) comes out later this year, I will still pick up a copy. The child in me will always love ghost stories – even if they aren’t as provocative as I prefer. I just hope the next book in the series pushes the envelope a little more. ...more
Identity is a daunting and controversial issue. For me, the dichotomous nature of identity became very prominent and tangible during my teenage years.Identity is a daunting and controversial issue. For me, the dichotomous nature of identity became very prominent and tangible during my teenage years. As a teenager, I thought I knew so much about life, but at the same time, I felt so lost and confused. I was trying to find an identity, a purpose – any purpose – but not knowing exactly where to look. And in all honesty, I don’t think this feeling of searching for a purpose truly ever leaves us. I know I still feel it, even as an “adult.” For all of us, identity and purpose just changes and bends and morphs into something new as we encounter different stages of life. It’s a natural part of being human. In the novel, I Am J by Cris Beam, a seventeen-year-old transgender named Jenifer Silver (he goes by the name J) faces his personal struggle for identity and purpose.
J was born as a female, but all his life, he inherently felt male. He began to realize this because even as a very young child he had male proclivities. He was attracted to girls; he wanted to wrestle with boys; and he peed standing up. But his emotions of feeling like a male were beyond these examples. It was something visceral and profound – almost indescribable. But because of his parent’s (Manny and Carolina) and society’s strict definition of what it means to be male and female, J was never able to express what he felt. If anything, he was encouraged to repress it.
The novel starts with J’s intentional, but harmless kiss on the lips with his best friend Melissa, while she was sleeping. This prompts Melissa’s commonly dramatic behavior to come out once she realizes what was happening. She ends up telling J to go home…and then later the next day, sends him an email stating that they need a break from each other, even in spite of their long-term friendship. Though J was deeply hurt by this decision, it also fueled his desire to leave his “comfortable” environment, and take the risk that he’s always wanted to take: start his transformation into a full-on male. That is the where the novel really takes off.
The only negative thing I will say about the novel (to get it out of the way) was that in the beginning, I was slightly turned-off by the didactic prose of Beam’s writing. But as I kept reading, I easily got over it because it became unnoticeable. Beam’s writing ended being great.
I love this book…and here’s why: I Am J kept me interested. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about what J was planning on doing next, and how the book would eventually unfold. But beyond this, there was so much more to enjoy and appreciate. The novel was so smart and educational and touching and relevant and thoughtful and many, many other great adjectives.
Right away, the one thing I appreciated was how Beam was able to educate the reader on the differences between being a masculine lesbian and a transgender. She did a great job dissecting and explaining the physical and emotional differences; something that I wanted and needed to know as a reader.
I also loved how Beam fully fleshed out the main characters. I loved that J had a talent in photography; and that Melissa had deep emotional issues; and that Carolina was a contradiction. This gave the book life and a relatable, necessary quality; a quality that people needed to understand in order to empathize with the characters. Beam easily accomplished this.
But the one thing I was most impressed with was what I was able to extract from the book – and that was lessons in humanity. Before I read I Am J, I predicted certain themes and elements that I thought would be in the book. Themes like self-discovery and situations relating to the harsh reality of discrimination and homophobia, which Beam did talk about. But there was another layer of the book that I didn’t predict, and was pleasantly surprised by.
I Am J illustrated the concept of beauty in conviction, and that the only person who can truly define who you are and what you can make of yourself…is you. I loved how J didn’t give into the criticisms and judgments from his provincial environment or society’s outdated values. I also appreciated J’s unwavering confidence and strength that helped him fight off the self-loathing that can easily manifest from similar circumstances. J was able to define his own self-worth. He did not let anyone else define who he should or should not be. That’s a lesson I love!
One last great lesson I extracted from the book is its advocacy of “not judging a book by its cover.” For example, in the beginning chapters, I didn’t like Melissa, but as I kept reading, I began to understand her character more and more. And by the time she did her AMAZING dance recital, I loved her. (Side note: Melissa’s gutsy rawness in her dance scene was magnificent!)
This novel definitely pushes people to see beyond the outside, the exterior, and to really relate and delve into the interior of a person before forming opinions. When a novel is able to dig deep and open reader’s eyes to something this great, then the book gets nothing but kudos from me. ...more
When people are traumatized, we often internalize the source of that trauma for fear of having to relive it. Without help, those fears will manifest aWhen people are traumatized, we often internalize the source of that trauma for fear of having to relive it. Without help, those fears will manifest and eventually cripple us, ultimately preventing true happiness. Reunion by Jeff Bennington was a novel that delves headfirst into this issue—and the results were great. Bennington was able to create a book that was all at once: touching, thoughtful, metaphysical, suspenseful, and smart.
The book starts with David Ray, an extremely damaged teenager. He was bullied in school, neglected by his mom, beaten by his stepdad, and completely friendless. He had no self-esteem, no one to comfort him, and no one to turn to—and so, fueled by his deep-seated rage and lifetime of pain, he turned to violence as a means of retribution. After killing his stepfather, David Ray marched into his high school in Crescent Falls, Idaho around 9:30 a.m. and killed eight more people, wounded several others, and then finally, took his own life.
Twenty years later, a few of the surviving students, decides to return to the scene of the crime, and back to their old high school. This “reunion” was an attempt to face their demons and bring closure to their lives. But, little did they know, attempting to face their demons also meant opening doors—both emotionally and metaphysically—into a world that they weren’t quite ready for.
I really enjoyed Reunion. It was a fast-paced, thrilling, well thought-out book and reminded me of a cross between Stephen King’s It and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (both I love).
The main characters in the novel were well fleshed out. Bennington was able to formulate a clever backstory for each character, explaining how the massacre from their youth had now affected them all the way into their thirties. People like Maria Vasquez, the previous valedictorian who now helped run a Crisis Center in New York; and Bryan Jacobs, the nice guy from school who aspired to be a doctor was now a deputy in Crescent Falls; and Lana Jones, the head cheerleader who was crippled in the shooting was now a motivational speaker and author; and every other main character in the book. Bennington was able to truly capture the relevance of the psychological effects of trauma on fictional characters—and make it believable. That was a great and admirable feat. Two thumbs up!
In addition, trying to articulate each person’s independent voice can be a very difficult process. But for Bennington, that wasn’t the case. The dialogue flowed well and captured the personality of the diverse characters. So again, two thumbs up!
With so many different characters, I also wanted a conclusive ending to the novel—and Bennington delivered here, too. Every single character got addressed, and though I didn’t like everyone’s ending (Lana and Noah), I still appreciated the fact that it was addressed.
With all that said, there was one thing in the novel that I was mildly irked by, and that was the subtle religious overtone near the end of the novel. Perhaps, though, this interpretation could have also fallen into the “spiritual” category, which is how I’m ultimately perceiving it—as this interpretation helps me to enjoy the novel even more.
Lastly, the one thing I was most impressed with was the humanizing of David Ray. We often condemn the “villain” without exploring any objective angles. Everyone loves to instantly point the finger or start throwing stones. But in this novel, Bennington forces the reader to be objective. It would have been very easy for him to simply graze David Ray’s history, which would stifle our empathy of his character—but Bennington didn’t. Through several thoughtful and revealing flashbacks, we were able to witness the pain and anguish he experienced, and to finally see why he chose to do what he did. That was much appreciated.
I highly recommend Reunion to anyone who’s into psychological/supernatural thrillers. But even beyond that, this book offers a little bit of everything for everyone. It even offers a light case study on the potential psychological effects of an extreme violent situation. Kudos to Bennington for writing a great book.
The summary from the front flap of Cryer’s Cross and its eerie excerpt from the back of the book instantly captivated me. I had no choice but to buy tThe summary from the front flap of Cryer’s Cross and its eerie excerpt from the back of the book instantly captivated me. I had no choice but to buy the book.
Seventeen-year-old Kendall Fletcher lived all her life on a farm in the tiny town of Cryer’s Cross, MT (population: 212 residents). Nothing ever happens in this quiet, rural town until one day, Tiffany Quinn (a sophomore at the one-room high school) goes missing. After weeks of searching, the Sheriff, along with the majority of the townsfolk, were never able to locate her body.
Not long after Tiffany’s disappearance does Kendall’s best friend/boyfriend, Nico Cruz, goes missing as well. Nico’s last remaining clue was his abandoned car. And once again, the town goes on a mad search to try and find Nico, only to return empty handed – just like with Tiffany Quinn.
The rest of this chilling novel unravels from there…
I loved Cryer’s Cross. I devoured the book in only three hours, and still wanted more.
Lisa McMann’s writing was clear and easy to follow, reminding me of Gayle Forman’s. McMann’s description of the two main characters (Kendall Fletcher and Jacian Obregon) was simple yet concise, easily allowing us to relate to their volatile emotions. I especially liked the scene when Kendall fell on the gravel road while trying to escape the fear and pain of Nico’s disappearance. Also, the overall dialogue among the characters was smart and realistic; their voices were truly indicative of their character.
The tone of the story and the creepiness that ensues while reading the novel is why I really enjoyed Cryer’s Cross. There was at least three times where my heart started to beat faster and I got goosebumps. Plus, the ending to the book was disturbing and extremely unique. I love books that dare to push the envelope – if even a little. It shows the author’s willingness to take chances and that’s always kudos in my book. One last thing I have to mention was that I was reading the novel around the midnight hour so that didn’t help at all. I jumped a few times from the slightest noise. Nonetheless, getting scared was like an early Halloween gift – and I loved it! (Side note: I wish it was Halloween already)
On the Acknowledgments page, McMann gave credit to her daughter, Kennedy, for enduring OCD and letting her share some of her experiences through the main character of Kendal Fletcher. The OCD knowledge McMann gained from her daughter was quite apparent in the novel. It was actually the element of the book that I appreciated the most because she was able to turn something that is viewed as a negative into something positive.
In our society, the idea of being OCD has negative connotations and McMann made this condition something useful in her novel. It was a great and unexpected revelation. I also think the introduction of OCD in Kendall Fletcher reinforced that we all have different layers and characteristics as human beings; and that sometimes the things that people perceive as flaws are still beautiful; and that the unique qualities that each of us possess can teach us something that we might not know about ourselves. This was actually a very nice lesson to relearn...and also the reason Cryer’s Cross is both creepy and beautiful – a great juxtaposition. ...more