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Book Review: Craven Manor By Darcy Coates

For down on his luck Daniel, opportunity knocks at the perfect time . . . but will it take him to an imperfect place?

More than just a ghost story, the horror extends beyond the paranormal in this creepy little tale. That said, it’s cozy horror, more atmospheric than scary. You have the old, abandoned house, a set of mysteries as to what happened and who’s behind the MC’s sudden good fortune, and a whole host of the otherworldly to keep you guessing friend from foe. Not my favorite by this author. Good but not great.

From Goodreads:

Daniel is desperate for a job. When someone slides a note under his door offering him the groundskeeper’s position at an old estate, it seems too good to be true.

Alarm bells start ringing when he arrives at Craven Manor. The mansion’s front door hangs open, and leaves and cobwebs coat the marble foyer. It’s clear no one has lived there in a long time.

But an envelope waits for him inside the doorway. It contains money, and promises more.

Daniel is desperate. Against his better judgement, he moves into the groundskeeper’s cottage behind the crypt. He’s determined to ignore the strange occurrences that plague the estate.

But when a candle flickers to life in the abandoned tower window, Daniel realises Craven Manor is hiding a terrible secret… one that threatens to bury him with it. 

Publishing Updates And Other Insanity

Life has been crazy hectic this summer. I’ve been juggling monkeys and herding cats, and unfortunately, the time it takes to do this (trying to get a monkey to behave or a cat to stop ignoring you and obey are both very labor intensive chores) has greatly diminished my writing time.

And I’ll be honest here and confess that I get insanely cranky when I’m writing and get interrupted, and will usually just ignore whatever the interruption is until it goes away. But that wasn’t going to work this time. So, instead of creating new material with what scant time I’ve manage to squirrel away, I’ve spent those far and few between moments excavating old, forgotten about short stories from my file explorer, brushing them up, and submitting them for publication.

I’m thrilled to announce that my story, Here I Am, will appear in the fall 2021 issue of 34 Orchard, due out November 11th. Described as ‘a literary journal that takes you dark places,’ it was a perfect home for this piece, which, as the editor describes it, “is infused with a pervasive sense of sadness and regret that’s hard to escape; visceral work that illustrates the dark reality of our world; those internal things we cannot talk about, but we all know exist.”

I wrote Here I Am about 2 years ago. It’s definitely a departure from my normal mysteries, and I was reluctant to find out how it would be received. This acceptance was a lesson in ‘no risk, no reward’!

My story, Last Stop Of The Night, has been accepted for the next issue of Pulp Modern, themed 1981, which was, according to editor Alec Cizak, “a fantastic year for genre literature and cinema,” specifically in terms of horror. Which makes this piece . . . you guessed it! A horror story.

I wrote Last Stop Of The Night 6-8 years ago. Loosely based on a real life experience followed by a dream I had after, I felt this piece was a little too retro horror to appeal to a modern publisher. This acceptance proves that if you write it, there is a market and an audience who will appreciate it!

I’m also happy to share that my story, Money Talks, has been acquired by Murderous Ink Press for a new project they’re working on called It’s Always Raining in Noir City. A publisher of “crime fiction in most of its many and varied guises,” they’re an ideal publisher for this piece!

Money Talks, in it’s current form, was completed early last year. However, I’d been kicking around the core idea for this one for the better part of a decade, and had many false starts. I wanted to develop this idea into something serious and hard hitting. Once I let go of what I wanted to force it to be, the words flowed and I finally managed to complete the story. This acceptance proves that sometimes the story knows best – even better than the author!

I’m looking forward to life slowing down and more time opening up to write, but until then, I’ll keep making the most of it. I like reading through my old work (even when it makes me cringe) and applying what I’ve learned since into strengthening old pieces until they’re ready to see the light of day (or the page)!

For all you other writers out there, keep at it! Find a way to use what time you have wisely, and don’t be afraid to submit – there’s someone out there who wants to read it!

Book Review: 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

A couple who just recently met decides to move in together so they can continue developing their relationship instead of putting it on pause during the Covid pandemic lockdown. Weeks later, a body is discovered in the apartment they shared.

The premise is certainly intriguing, and the author definitely kept me on the hook with the need to know what the characters’ secrets and motivations were. There was even a nice twist I didn’t see coming. That said, the way the narrative jumped, not just between characters but time, and by this I mean the flashbacks start out sequentially, (56 days, 35 days, etc.), but then starts to bounce around (35 days, 56 days, 12 days, 23 days, etc.), really worked to the story’s detriment. It made it hard to follow and a bit frustrating. I did enjoy it, and would say it’s worth a read because that’s my only complaint, but I would have liked to read the story in a more linear fashion.

From Goodreads:

No one knew they’d moved in together. Now one of them is dead. Could this be the perfect murder?

56 DAYS AGO
Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket queue in Dublin the same week Covid-19 reaches Irish shores.

35 DAYS AGO
When lockdown threatens to keep them apart, Oliver suggests that Ciara move in with him. She sees a unique opportunity for a new relationship to flourish without the pressure of scrutiny of family and friends. He sees it as an opportunity to hide who – and what – he really is.

TODAY
Detectives arrive at Oliver’s apartment to discover a decomposing body inside.

Will they be able to determine what really happened, or has lockdown provided someone with the opportunity to commit the perfect crime?

Book Review: The Last House On Needless Street By Catriona Ward

A long missing child, her devastated sister, the odd loner who lives nearby and his cat. Nothing is as it seems as the strands unravel . . .

This book sunk it’s claws in deep and wouldn’t let me go! It was creepy and atmospheric and dark and psychological and I had no idea where it was going or even quite what was going on – the sense of reality versus fantasy was almost hypnotic! The pacing, the writing, the characters were all perfect. The ending was mostly unexpected, transforming this book from a lesson in horror into something more.

From Goodreads:

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

Book Review : These Toxic Things By Rachel Howzell Hall

A ‘digital scrapbooker’ is hired to compile a collection for a woman losing her memory to Alzheimer’s disease. The woman dies, but the scrapbooker proceeds – and stumbles upon a disturbing pattern.

I thought the premise of this book was great. The execution was good, but there was a bit too much going on in it. It could easily have been at least 50 pages shorter by weeding out some of the MC’s side arcs, and I think it would have made the book stronger.

Plenty or red herrings were introduced, but again, there was so much going on that they weren’t as effective as they might have been. The MC was kind of a princess, not really relatable or likeable. The author did try to evolve her character and show growth over the course of the story, but it was almost lost among all the other strands of the web.

Worth a read, but not a must read now.

From Goodreads: A dead woman’s cherished trinkets become pieces to a terrifying puzzle.

Mickie Lambert creates “digital scrapbooks” for clients, ensuring that precious souvenirs aren’t forgotten or lost. When her latest client, Nadia Denham, a curio shop owner, dies from an apparent suicide, Mickie honors the old woman’s last wish and begins curating her peculiar objets d’art. A music box, a hair clip, a key chain―twelve mementos in all that must have meant so much to Nadia, who collected them on her flea market scavenges across the country.

But these tokens mean a lot to someone else, too. Mickie has been receiving threatening messages to leave Nadia’s past alone.

It’s becoming a mystery Mickie is driven to solve. Who once owned these odd treasures? How did Nadia really come to possess them? Discovering the truth means crossing paths with a long-dormant serial killer and navigating the secrets of a sinister past. One that might, Mickie fears, be inescapably entwined with her own. 

ARC Book Review : Her Perfect Life By Hank Phillippi Ryan

A TV reporter has to hide all her dark secrets to maintain her ‘perfect’ persona.

I’ve been thinking about my review for this book for a while. I love Ryan, but this book? Not so much. A 3.5 rounded up to a 4. It was fast paced and well written, but I felt ambivalent about the characters (make me love them or hate them, please!). I couldn’t connect with them and found them annoying. The plot seemed unlikely and far fetched, relying on the characters being unbelievably naïve and I just couldn’t buy it. And I realize I read an ARC, but when ages, time past, etc. are inconsistent, it makes my brain stutter. It yanks me out of the story to do math. Please don’t make me do math. Please. Edit first.

This book will be released September 14th, 2021.

From Goodreads:

The next thrilling standalone novel by USA Today bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.

Her own.

Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips—but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he—or she—know the truth?

Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world—and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.

How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?

Book Review : Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

I loved Buxton’s first book, Hollow Kingdom, so much that I immediately preordered the sequel as soon as I found out about it! But my problem with sequels, especially when the first book is a near perfect literary adventure, is that my expectations can be too high – I want to relive the experience I had during the first book, and that’s often not possible. But this book? Hit. The. Mark.

It had enough from the first book to invoke the sense of love I had for the characters, while being enough of a departure from the original that the plot felt fresh and fulfilling. It made me laugh out loud – multiple times – and it made me cry (also multiple times). So much heart and irreverent snark, a perfect combination! Not quite as good as the first, but a close second. Trilogy? Please?

Apocalypse settings and animal characters usually aren’t my thing, but the Hollow Kingdom series is worth the departure. I highly recommend these books!

From Goodreads:

In this stunning follow-up to Hollow Kingdom, the animal kingdom’s “favorite apocalyptic hero”is back with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, ready to take on a world ravaged by a viral pandemic (Helen Macdonald).

Once upon an apocalypse, there lived an obscenely handsome American crow named S.T. . . .

When the world last checked-in with its favorite Cheeto addict, the planet had been overrun by flesh-hungry beasts, and nature had started re-claiming her territory from humankind. S.T., the intrepid crow, alongside his bloodhound-bestie Dennis, had set about saving pets that had become trapped in their homes after humanity went the way of the dodo.

That is, dear reader, until S.T. stumbled upon something so rare—and so precious—that he vowed to do everything in his power to safeguard what could, quite literally, be humanity’s last hope for survival. But in a wild world plagued by prejudiced animals, feather-raising environments, new threats so terrifying they make zombies look like baby bunnies, and a horrendous dearth of cheesy snacks, what’s a crow to do?

Why, wing it on another big-hearted, death-defying adventure, that’s what! Joined by a fabulous new cast of animal characters, S.T. faces many new challenges plus his biggest one yet: parenthood.

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