Book Review—Dark Screams: Volume Six

[Dark Screams Volume Six Cover]When I pick up a new collection of short fiction, I am ever hopeful that I will find at least one gem. Dark Screams: Volume Six is such a collection. Happily, though, in addition to the jewel in the crown I discovered in “The Corpse King” by Tim Curran, I also found two other stories I liked very much: “The Manicure” by Nell Quinn-Gibney and “The Comforting Voice” by Norman Prentiss.

But it’s “The Corpse King” I want to talk about. I tried researching to see if it had been made into a movie but was unable to find anything. Pity. The writing is so visual! I could actually see the two boozy, foul-mouthed resurrectionists Clow and Kierney as they moved through the dank, rat-infested cemeteries of Glasgow, retrieving bodies for the insatiable anatomists who paid them.

If you like horror set in a time when brutality and death were the norms, then grab this collection. Oh, and try not to think about what happens to the human body once it’s in the ground. Yeah.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Stephen King, Lisa Morton, Nell Quinn-Gibney, Norman Prentiss, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tim Curran plunge readers into the dark side in this deeply unsettling short-story collection curated by legendary horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

THE OLD DUDE’S TICKER by Stephen King
Richard Drogan has been spooked ever since he came back from Nam, but he’s no head case, dig? He just knows the old dude needs to die.

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by Lisa Morton
Even though she made her name revealing the private lives of the rich and famous, Sara Peck has no idea how deep their secrets really go . . . or the price they’ll pay to get what they desire.

THE MANICURE by Nell Quinn-Gibney
A trip to the nail salon is supposed to be relaxing. But as the demons of the past creep closer with every clip, even the most serene day of pampering can become a nightmare.

THE COMFORTING VOICE by Norman Prentiss
It’s a little strange how baby Lydia can only be soothed by her grandfather’s unnatural voice, ravaged by throat cancer. The weirdest part? What he’s saying is more disturbing than how he says it.

THE SITUATIONS by Joyce Carol Oates
There are certain lessons children must learn, rules they must follow, scars they must bear. No lesson is more important than this: Never question Daddy. Or else.

THE CORPSE KING by Tim Curran
Grave robbers Kierney and Clow keep one step ahead of the law as they ply their ghoulish trade, but there’s no outrunning a far more frightening enemy that hungers for the dead.

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Book Review—Mrs. Saint and the Defectives

[Mrs Saint and the Defectives Cover]Sometimes, life sends us spiraling in directions we never wanted to go. A death in the family, a natural disaster, or a devastating divorce. And more than the actual event, it’s the resulting fallout that keeps the spiral going until we either grab on to something to stop the inevitable descent into despair, or we simply let go.

The author deftly covers this theme—and much more—in Mrs. Saint and the Defectives. As the journey of the protagonist, Markie, and her son, Jesse, unfolds, we come to learn that, generally, people are broken. Some in little ways and some to the point of near self-destruction.

What’s important, of course, is what we do with the information. Recognizing our own faults and shortcomings, do we still find ways to help others or do we simply wallow in our own misery. And which is the road to happiness? In Markie’s case, maybe she still has a chance at a life worth living.

I enjoyed the interplay of the rich, quirky characters who populate the book. Markie is not the brightest bulb when it comes to self-realization. Fortunately, the author has left the work of solving her problems to the reader. Enjoy the ride.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Critically acclaimed author Julie Lawson Timmer returns with a tale of how community can heal the brokenness in all of us.

Markie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.

What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.

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Book Review—The Memory Box

[The Memory Box Cover]This is the story of a madwoman—an unreliable narrator par excellence who creates more twists and turns than a plate of linguine. All the while, I was laughing my ass off at the wry observations of stilted suburban life, and the hilarious inner dialogue comebacks directed at the parade of boobs and morons who actually had the temerity to get in the way.

Am I exaggerating? Possibly. But I can’t help it. Eva Lesko Natiello has given us a story that defies logic—and worse, sends you halfway to the looney bin as you try to sort through the protagonist’s anxiety-ridden bitch of a day-after-day. Halfway through, you almost wish Caroline would just pop and be done with it so you could get half a breath, for crying out loud.

All I can say is, read The Memory Box at your own peril. But first, make sure you’ve got a stiff drink close by. And a pillow to scream into. You’re probably going to need them.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY Bestseller

A psychological thriller page-turner with twists and turns until the very last page.

WHAT IF YOU GOOGLED YOURSELF & DISCOVERED SOMETHING SHOCKING?

In this gripping psychological thriller, Caroline Thompson Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn’t remember.

A HOUSTON WRITERS GUILD MANUSCRIPT AWARD WINNER

A fast-paced suspense where a group of privileged suburban moms amuses themselves by Googling everyone in town, digging up dirt to fuel thorny gossip. Caroline Thompson, devoted mother of two, sticks to the moral high ground and attempts to avoid these women. She’s relieved to hear her name appears only three times, citing her philanthropy. Despite being grateful that she has nothing to hide, a delayed pang of insecurity prods Caroline to Google her maiden name–which none of the others know.

The hits cascade like a tsunami. Caroline’s terrified by what she reads. An obituary for her sister, JD? That’s absurd. With every click, the revelations grow more alarming. They can’t be right. She’d know. Caroline is hurled into a state of paranoia–upending her blissful family life–desperate to prove these allegations false before someone discovers they’re true.

The disturbing underpinnings of The Memory Box expose a story of deceit, misconceptions, and an obsession for control. With its twists, taut pacing, and psychological tenor, Natiello’s page turning suspense cautions:

Be careful what you search for.

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Book Review—Stillhouse Lake

[Stillhouse Lake Cover]Let me start out by saying that Rachel Caine is an excellent writer. Her prose is concise, controlled, and chillingly violent when the occasion calls for it. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially liked her protagonist, Gina Royal, who is single-minded in her determination to protect her children and herself from the memory of her soulless ex-husband and the thousands of trolls now pursuing the family on social media. Quite a challenge for a former housewife whose main concerns used to be centered around seeing her children off to school and putting dinner on the table.

If you like tense thrillers, I can say with confidence that you will enjoy Stillhouse Lake—with one caveat. For me, when someone says “serial killer,” I expect a high body count. I mean, that’s kind of what they do, right? And though Gina’s ex-husband, Mel, does live up to his reputation, most of it is in backstory. In fact, Caine spends most of the first half of the book on Gina’s inner life. By the time we get to the new peril she finds herself in, we know her intimately—a good thing if you enjoy believable characters. I only wish the author had peppered the introspection with a bit more action, that’s all I’m saying.

All in all, a terrific read. Can’t wait for the next book in the series.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

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COME AS YOU ARE—More News

Hey, guys! Just a quick note to let you know that today I posted the final chapter from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine. The novella will be available for reading online through the end of May.

I plan to publish Come As You Are in the next few months both in digital and print. The Kindle edition will be available for preorder first. (More on that later.) Also, I’m very excited to tell you that the book includes nine additional short stories.

If you’d like to read the novella now, check out my Channillo series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade, let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

Book Review—Sorrow’s Turn

I read the first two books in this series, and this one is my favorite. Mainly, I love the way the author has developed the relationship between Jimmy Holiday and his old-now-new girlfriend, Tabby who, as it happens is also his exorcism buddy. Yeah, you read that right. A former Catholic priest has teamed up with a witch to save the world from bad things. Quite a unique concept, if you ask me.

The central conflict in the series is within Jimmy himself. He has learned to his never-ending bewilderment that he is a “marker,” which means he possesses the power to save souls from eternal damnation by marking them. And if that isn’t bad enough, he’s learned there exists an Order of Markers. And these boys don’t really have much of a sense of humor. Though he continues to do the right thing by confronting demons as they possess people, he’s not too happy about it and, sometimes, wishes he could simply hide and eat chocolate. What, no rotgut whiskey?

Sorrow’s Turn is a very entertaining read. If you like paranormal stories with some pretty crazy twists, I suggest you start with the first book. I wouldn’t call Jimmy’s life a roller coaster exactly. It’s more like the funhouse in an abandoned amusement park. You really don’t want to continue forward, but you’re too scared to go back the way you came.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Sorrow’s Turn Cover]

Some Things are Worse Than Demons.

Jimmy Holiday, reluctant exorcist, is finally getting the help he needs from the higher-ups. The Order of Markers is sending him to the Vatican’s exorcism school. Now, he’ll receive the training he should have gotten at the beginning. One problem, someone wants to sabotage him.

When his time at the school is cut short, Jimmy receives an interesting new case. It is the assignment that no one wants—a corpse has come back to life. And it isn’t a zombie.

Too bad nothing goes as expected. Armed with his usual bag of tricks, Jimmy thinks everything will eventually be all right. Well, that is until his betrayer turns out to be the person he trusts most.

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COME AS YOU ARE on Channillo!

Hey, guys! Just wanted you to know that starting Tuesday, January 31st, I am posting chapters from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine that allows writers to share their work in regular installments. I will be publishing a chapter a week through the end of April, at which point the entire novella will be available for reading.

Please check out my series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade—let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied—along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

 

Chainsaw Honeymoon—Building a Community

[Chainsaw-chicks]
Photo Courtesy of Lennart Takanen via Creative Commons

I am about to perform an experiment. Instead of trying to publish my new novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster, on my own, I have decided to join Patreon, a crowdfunding site for authors and artists. I’m not really sure how this will play out, but I’ve created some rewards at varying contribution levels I hope you will like.

As part of my experiment, I plan to blog the first seven chapters of the novel beginning in February. It’s my hope that, as people read about Ruby Navarro and her insane adventure, they will be moved to join the Patreon community by making a contribution of as little as $1.

Please check out my page at https://www.patreon.com/stevenramirez. And if you have comments about the content or the rewards, I would love to hear them—good or bad. As I said, this is an experiment, and I’m anticipating things will change as I build my community of Patrons.

Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster Synopsis
Ruby Navarro is not your typical fourteen-year-old girl. Sure, she’s bright and funny. But she’s also an incurable carnivore who adores horror movies—the bloodier, the better. A year ago, her parents separated, leaving her to live with her mom, Stacey, and her dog, an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. Now, Ruby loves her mom, but she also misses her dad. A lot. People split up all the time, and most kids might get over it, providing they could still Snapchat. Not Ruby. She has decided it’s her mission to save her family. And save them, she will!

Ruby is leaving home to spend the summer with her dad, Alan, a top-performing salesman at a luxury car dealership. At his apartment, she divides her time between her machinima project—a dark fantasy featuring a crazed killer with a chainsaw—and hanging out with her two best friends, Claire and Diego. While Ruby is away, her mom’s boss proposes marriage—ew! And Stacey is seriously considering accepting. In the meantime, Alan stupidly believes he can win back his wife and gets to work on a “best of” video reel, using years of mind-numbingly boring home movies. Ruby suggests contacting her dad’s younger brother, a talented but arrogant student filmmaker. But her uncle has other ideas, and he talks her dad into making a real movie—with actors and a script—a romantic comedy guaranteed to win Stacey’s heart.

As the movie takes shape, unexplainable things are happening to Ruby. Diego is acting weird around her—what is up with that boy! She’s having nightmares. Her doll Mr. Shivers might be trying to talk to her. And a creepy stain on her ceiling is turning into the killer from her machinima project. Oh, and people are dying—for realz. While on location for the movie, Ruby accidentally discovers that her uncle is actually using her dad’s money to shoot a horror movie, instead of the rom-com he promised. When Alan finds out, he gets into a fist fight with his brother, cuts off the production money, and returns home with his daughter.

But Ruby is still determined to get her parents back together. She gets her uncle’s girlfriend to help, and together they cook up a plan to get the movie back on track. Stacey, a certifiable “horrorista,” is totally on board. And Ruby’s dad? Well, “Mr. Rom-Com” is another story.

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Free Fiction—Something to Hold

[Rotting Peach] Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo via Creative Commons

Free fiction has an expiration date—and this one has definitely come and gone. Please feel free to explore this site for more great stories.

TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD—Stumbling into Hell

[Steven Ramirez Portrait 2016]Hey, I wanted to let you know that I had the privilege of doing a guest post at Horror Made, a site run by the amazing and charming artist Jeanette Andromeda. You can read an excerpt below, and when you’re finished be sure to check out some of Jeanette’s art here. In fact, take a look at what she did with my boring old headshot—wow! This girl has a real gift, and I am thrilled to have made her acquaintance! Okay, here we go…

In 2013, I published what I thought would be a single novel about a regular guy fending off zombies in the fictional Northern California town of Tres Marias. Though I’m a pantser by trade, I had the whole thing figured out in my head. I would take the recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski on a soul-bending journey of sorrow that would cause him to inadvertently put his wife, Holly, at risk while he struggled to stay sober, even as the body count was going up. But when I finished the book, something happened.

“Dave’s not done,” I said.

And so began the long, hard road to the Tell Me When I’m Dead trilogy. In 2014, I published Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. And in 2015, I brought Dave to the end of his trials with Book Three, Even The Dead Will Bleed.

Pantsers and Plotters
I mentioned earlier that I’m a pantser—as opposed to a plotter, who carefully outlines their book the way a draftsman creates a blueprint. I tried doing that a few times with other stories. But the same thing always happened. Fifty pages into the outline, I would get fed up and start writing the damn novel. Want to know another thing about outlines? You don’t always end up going where you thought you would, once you actually begin writing. Plotters will tell you they love being surprised. Well, in my defense, I am surprised every moment I write.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against plotters. In fact, some of my best friends… Okay, never mind. The point is, both types of writers turn out brilliant fiction. How you get there is more a function of how your brain is wired. Moving on…

You can read the rest of this post over at HorrorMade.com.