Come As You Are—Horror Palace Review

I am so excited to share this with you. Here is a review of my new collection Come As You Are, which is available for preorder at Amazon. Enjoy!

And for those of you who haven’t taken the opportunity, you can download a free copy of Book One of my horror thriller trilogy, Tell Me When I’m Dead. Just visit my homepage for details.

[Come As You Are Feature Image]

Come As You Are: A Short Novel and Nine Stories is a collection, featuring a short novel and several short stories. Steven Ramirez is the capable voice behind the supernatural gloom and thrills, and you will quickly learn that this author has a very subtle skill. His target audience for the short novel and I assume the anchor for the collection, is clearly young adults, although Ramirez does not shy away from the graphic details. He is clearly experienced in conjuring up a wonderful story, even if they are all drenched with innocent blood.

The collection starts with Come As You Are, the short novel based on a kid called Ivan. He is in the seventh grade and faces a daily routine of getting bullied with his best friend, Ollie. That is until Ivan comes across an old locker at school, and it holds a strange list. When Ivan starts reading from the list, the seats of power take a dramatic change. All of a sudden the bullies are taken down a step, with fatal consequences. Unfortunately, Ivan does not realize what he unleashed until it is too late.

The stories that follow are a blend of different horror/thriller themes, which I can not really connect other than by being within the horror genre. For example, Nailed It sees a writer waiting for his flight to take off, then gets bothered by a kid sitting next to him. The writer notices the kid is very organized and neat, so he tells him the story of a guy he knew with the same neurotic habit. The guy eventually went over the edge and did things I can not reveal without divulging any spoilers. Then there is A Bone in the Throat, which is based on a scam artist becoming the victim of a crazy surgeon.

All-in-all, the collection features ten powerful and very different stories.

To read the rest of this review, please visit Horror Palace.

Preorder Come As You Are Now!

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.

Where to Buy
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Book Review—Little White Lies

It’s not often I say this, but Little White Lies by Elizabeth McGregor blew me away. What starts out as a sad, curious mystery festers like sepsis, driving you to high fever and delirium until what you are left with is shock and a sickening truth that speaks to the worst human frailties. All through the book, the author is both careful and relentless. Her writing is unfailingly English, and she doesn’t brook impatience. You must wait for the revelation. And, dear Lord, when it comes you almost wish it hadn’t.

By nature, I am an impatient person. And, for better or worse, my writing reflects that. But in this brilliant novel, McGregor has taught me that sometimes it’s better to breathe and let the pain wash over you like a rinsing agent mixed with blood. Beth March never had a clue that a dead bird would lead to such misery—not just hers—and when she accepts the reality that has always surrounded her, it’s as if she is acknowledging not just one but many deaths.

Don’t go looking for heroes in Little White Lies—they don’t exist. Some, however, do act heroically at times, including Beth. There is no doubt I will read this book again. But I’ll have to wait until the fever subsides. In the meantime, I’m going in search of the 1998 TV movie version, which was produced by the BBC and co-written by the novel’s author.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description

[Little White Lies Cover]

Any other year, summer arrived with the swallows. But this year, the broken body of a bird, left on the porch, serves as an omen of deception, a shadow cast over the days to come…

Beth March’s life seems unexceptional: she and her husband, David, have a conventional, quiet marriage.

The opening morning of the nightmare seems like just another day, aside from the unexpected body of the bird…but while Beth showers and prepares for the day, David drives his car at full speed into the path of a lorry. He is killed instantly.

From the moment that Beth learns of his fate, her world begins to shatter around her. Nothing in her life can ever be the same again.

No one can be trusted. No one is telling her the truth.

Was David having an affair?

Why did he go behind her back to sell his shares and take out another mortgage — and where is that money now?

What dark secrets lie beneath the picture-perfect image of the family down the lane?

As she unravels the chain of tragic events that preceded her husband’s death, Beth finds herself tossed from side to side on a sea of continually shifting information, never sure what is true and what is not.

What seem like little white lies gradually begin to build and build until Beth truly begins to realise the horror of devastating betrayal experienced by everyone involved…

Little White Lies is an intriguing tale of suspicion, deceit and the quest for the truth.

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Book Review—Before You Leap

[Before You Leap Cover]In many ways, Before You Leap is a book I admire. I’ll mention two. The author has a way of describing things that, frankly, is bound to make me work harder as a writer. And indeed, he has taken to heart the notion that it’s better to start in the middle of things, leaving the reader in a dizzying confusion of places and events that—ever so slowly—become more apparent as you wend your way through a pulse-pounding maze of violent emotion. It’s a technique I’ve used myself, and it’s very effective in the mystery thriller genre. The other thing is, the characters ring true to me—especially Greg. Although after finishing this book, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that he is more than a little disturbed.

Regarding the plot, I felt the story was a little convoluted and could have benefited from some simplification. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem dealing with characters whose motives are mysterious and who consistently act in ways that deceive. But there were a few times when I found myself wishing for more of a straight line as Greg is forced to confront his painful past.

Overall, I liked Before You Leap and recommend it to fans of the genre. It’s a solid piece of work and definitely worth exploring.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
Peace of mind is all Greg Cole has wanted since the murder of his twin sister, Scarlett. 

In his new sun-soaked Florida life, he thought he had found it. But when Scarlett’s killer is released early from prison with a cast-iron alibi, Greg realizes that his past is about to explode into his present, with terrifying consequences.

To expose the truth he must open up old wounds. As a talk therapist, Greg knows all about dark secrets, but when a childhood friendship comes to the fore and the police turn their spotlight on him, the thought of analyzing his own psyche is a disturbing prospect. How far can he trust his own memories?

With his life coming apart at the seams, and his grip on reality beginning to unravel, Greg must face the ghosts of his past if he hopes to prove his innocence and live to see another day.

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Movie Review—‘Arrival’

[Arrival Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Arrival’ (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Paramount Pictures
PG-13
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.

I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.

The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.

Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.

In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.

You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0OiYFywN-Y]

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Movie Review—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

[The Keeper of Lost Causes Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Denmark-Germany-Sweden
Not Rated
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.

Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.

Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.

This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!

I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTY-LLRQGco]

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.