Wish List by Amanda Pampuro


Wish List by Amanda Pampuro
Publisher: Alien Buddha Press
Genre: Contemporary, Science Fiction, Horror
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

You’re talking with a friend, face to face, smartphone stashed safely in a pocket. You mention a trendy restaurant, a dream vacation, some hot piece of new tech. The next time you go online, you’re hit with ads for all three of those things. You’re amused, bemused, unsettled all at once. Amanda Pampuro taps into that feeling in Wish List, narrated by an earnest, efficient AI hive mind striving to bring happiness to account holder ARgurl16 – one “Complete My Purchase” click at a time. It’s a sweet and creepy little tale – sweet because Pampuro deftly sketches ARgurl16’s ups, downs, loves and hopes through the lens of her buying history, creepy because Wish List makes it clear that computers aren’t the only things being programmed.

For a disturbing little read, Wish List meets expectations. The book is clever and fast-paced. It tells the story from the point-of-view of technology tracking the life story of a woman from her childhood to her death.

The technological protagonist is so honest, and this comes across as so authentic that readers are likely to watch what they do online more carefully. The reader learns about the human protagonist through her online purchases. Assumptions are made as “the next good buy” is constantly pushed on her.

The suspense is well-done, too, because there are hints of the young lady’s death throughout, but mostly right after she makes a specific purchase. What is going to happen to her? Why does she die after buying the specific item?

It’s also clever that her husband and child are brought into the scene based on more online purchases.

This book will make you think. It’s a quick and easy read worth a look.

The Wayfarer by Zachary Kekac


The Wayfarer by Zachary Kekac
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

“Burying sorrow is like burying water; it simply seeps into the soil and up into everything that grows from it.”

___

The Wayfarer stands on the rim of insanity. Forgetting everything. Everyone.

He doesn’t know when the forgetting began, but the Shadow does. A doppelganger wreathed in darkness; a figure only he can see; it claims to know both why he is losing his mind, and the way to restore it. Wary, desperate, with what seems no other way open to him, the Wayfarer submits himself to the Shadow, its warning compelling him forward:

Move on.

Or wither.

As the Shadow leads the Wayfarer through sentient forests, the graveyards of dragons, and realms between realms, so too does it lead the way into his forgotten past, restoring fragments of memory throughout the journey. Only the memories are distorted, nightmarish. In them he sees his friends, his family—dead. Impossible. His friends are alive, aiding him on his journey. His family is safe, awaiting his return.

Disillusioned by these perversions of past, the Wayfarer decides the only way to salvation is within himself. Aided by a psychoactive mixture, he descends into his subconscious, seeking the truth of his unravelling mind, the memory of his madness’ beginning.

You are not ready.

Though the Wayfarer can sense the truth lurking within the abyss of his subconscious, something in the Shadow’s words waylays him. Something in the Shadow’s words holds a truth of its own, warring with the truth within himself.

Frustrated, fearful, his mind fraying at its seams, the Wayfarer stands now on the rim of a choice: to trust the Shadow, to hope on a fool’s hope that its way was the way to remedy; or to forsake it, to do as he willed and seek resolution his own way, knowing with the wisdom of a man prone to folly that it may very well be the way to ruin.

I was instantly drawn to The Wayfarer and enjoyed it immensely! This story takes readers on a dark and twisted tale as the MC slowly loses himself to his own internal darkness, which is why he’s named ‘The Shadow’. This is definitely a darker read, which is clear from the blurb, but it’s interesting to see the swirling mix of what’s read and what’s real to the MC but only in his head, things realize are merely imagined, as truth as the story goes on.

I enjoyed this one, and know with High/Epic Fantasy it’s not always about the characters, which is fine, but I tend to prefer more character driven stories, and found that this one actually was more about prose and the flowing writing style, and less about the character’s own personal journey or struggles. I found the story overall to be beautifully written, hauntingly so, but wish it was even slightly more character focused, since it flowed smoothly and was well told, but lacked the depth and emotion that character focused stories are more apt to have.

I can see others enjoying this one, but it’s a bit harder to recommend due to its dark themes and unique style. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure Dark Fantasy/Fantasy Horror readers might know of similar stories and may even enjoy this one.

New Era by Tommy B. Smith


New Era by Tommy B. Smith
Publisher: Raven Tale Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Insomnia. Headaches. Fear.

It drove Marjorie down, cost her a career, and almost destroyed her marriage. When she and her husband Terry escaped to the quiet green countryside west of the Mississippi River, their new home, it seemed too good to last.

The snake-ridden adjoining property, bordered by a row of maple trees, hosts a deadly secret. There the blood of fiends and innocents stain the crumbling ruins of an old farmhouse, a decaying testament to a web of treachery and murder stretching back to distant times.

The horror in the ruins watches in wait. Marjorie fears the end, and the end is coming.

The past never dies.

It was nice to read about characters who are sensible and cautious in the horror genre. While they didn’t always make the same decisions I would, I understood why they made other choices and thought they were doing the best they could with the information they currently had. That’s not always something that happens in these sorts of tales, so it’s refreshing to find here.

The cast of characters was large enough that I had trouble keeping track of who everyone was and how they knew each other. It was even more of a problem for me in the 1982 storyline because it kept introducing new characters who were sometimes critical to the plot and in other cases played less prominent roles in future scenes. As much as I liked switching between this year and the 1918 plot that explained the origins of certain events, it was also confusing for me as a reader because of how many extra characters I then needed to keep track of.

One of the most memorable parts of this novella had to do with its thoughts on how curses work. This was even more true since part of the curse was placed upon a parcel of land instead of on an object or a person. I found myself wondering about all sorts of practical matters related to cursed land. For example, would an object lose its curse if it were removed from that area? Were the soil and plants themselves cursed, too? How long could someone spend on that land before terrible things began to happen to them? I can’t answer those questions in this review without sharing spoilers, but I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on how that all worked in this universe.

I did find myself wishing that the narrator had gone into more detail about the motivations of certain characters who committed some pretty violent acts. Yes, violence is to be expected in the horror genre, but I struggled to understand how those characters could switch so quickly from displaying fairly calm demeanors to attempting to kill those around them. With more development, these changes in behavior could have been truly terrifying in the best sense of that phrase for the horror fans reading it.

The ending was well done. I was especially interested in seeing how the main characters would react once they’d discovered enough clues to realistically have some idea of just how much danger they were in. Their sensible reactions only made me more curious to see if they’d prevail in the final scene. I will be keeping an eye out for any sequels that might revisit this world.

New Era was a delightfully scary story.

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell


Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell
Publisher: TCK Publishing.com
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Horror
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Deliver us from evil…

Drowning in a meaningless existence flipping burgers, Matthew Davis suddenly collapses from a powerful psychic connection he shares with his twin brother, Jake. The pain is violent and immediate, and Matt knows exactly what it means… hundreds of miles away, Jake has been viciously killed. But instead of severing their connection, the murder intensifies it and Matt begins to suffer the agony of Jake’s afterlife.

Hell bent on solving Jake’s murder in order to break the connection, Matt travels to his troubled hometown of Hatchett, Nebraska, where an old lover and savage new enemies expose the festering wounds that Jake left behind.

Matt tries atoning for Jake’s sins, but when a demon infests the connection between the two brothers, Matt must find a way to sever their bond before his world, and ours, become engulfed in the flames of hell.

Our Trespasses is an unpredictable mystery but is so much more. It is labelled as a legal thriller; however, it has the feel of a spiritual thriller. The supernatural elements are key to the plot and add much to make readers sit on the edge of their seats, so to speak.

The story takes place in a small town, and the author has done a great job with the setting. Little details set the mood. When strange, otherworldly things begin to happen, the thriller aspect of the book comes into play. The stakes are high, and things do not look good for the protagonist who is trying to solve his brother’s murder. If he does not do this in time, evil will be unleashed into the world.

Family and friendship are important here, as is the idea of forgiveness. This gives a depth and more meaning to this fast-paced tale.

Day Unto Night by TammyJo Eckhart


Day Unto Night by TammyJo Eckhart
Publisher: Liminal Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Erotic Romance, Horror, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Action/Adventure, Historical, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A Sumerian child named Ningai survives the murder of her entire family and cries out to her people’s gods, who answer her prayer in an unexpected way. Now, as the first of the Akhkharu, the living dead, Ningai embarks on a journey across the millennia to rebuild what she lost. The best of her offspring must maintain some shred of goodness to prove worthy to their Child-Mother while fighting the deadly impulses of their kind. Join their journeys across time in a series of interconnected stories from the earliest cities to a brutal future where humans are mere pawns in the hands of near gods. Like all of us, Ningai and the best of her children will stop at nothing to protect her family. Can they succeed before they lose what’s left of their humanity, or will all of humanity become enslaved to the Akhkharu forever?

Fear is an excellent teacher.

Anyone who is patient will eventually discover the many ways in which Akhkharu are nothing at all like humans. Some of these differences weren’t revealed until the last hundred pages or so. Seeing them gradually shared with the audience only made me more excited to learn more. I was never quite sure when the narrator would stop remembering more things to add to this list. Each one of them was important regardless of how often they showed up in the plot, so it was a great deal of fun to keep discovering them up until almost the end.
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This book included dozens of characters who were human, Akhkharu, or a god or goddess. Sometimes I struggled to keep track of who everyone was and how they were connected to other characters, especially for individuals who only showed up occasionally. As much as I enjoyed the breadth of it all, the gigantic cast was a little overwhelming for me at times. I did find myself wishing that the glossary in the beginning had included the names of everyone instead of only some characters.

With that being said, I adored seeing the wide variety of responses people had to meeting an Akhkharu for the first time or, even better, to becoming one themselves. These creatures tended to feed on folks who lived at the margins of society because it made it less likely that anyone would come looking for someone who had died or joined their ranks. This had fascinating repercussions for how Akhkharu society evolved over time and why Ningai struggled so much with the behavior of some of her followers.

There were pacing issues. Some sections seemed to move much more quickly than other sections. When combined with the multiple time jumps and large number of characters to keep track of, this made my reading experience feel disjointed at times. I never knew who I’d meet next or how quickly their tale would be wrapped up. The storyline itself was complex and well written. I would have gone with a much higher rating if there hadn’t been pacing problems and if it had been easier to keep track of everyone.

The horror elements of the storyline were well done. Blood-sucking creatures like the Akhkharu are frightening enough by themselves, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many other things the author thought of to make things even scarier. Some scenes relied on graphic descriptions of battles or surprise attacks, while others used mental or emotional fear to amplify smaller events into much bigger deals than they would have been if the characters had known in advance what was coming for them. This is something that I think would work best for readers who enjoy thrillers and many different types of horror.

Day Unto Night was well worth the read.

The Sea Below by William Meikle


The Sea Below by William Meikle
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Horror, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The adventurers from THE LAND BELOW return to the cavern under the Austrian Alps.

At first it is a rescue mission, but soon Danny, Stefan, Ed and Elsa find themselves in a fight for survival.

A perilous journey across an underground sea brings them to a lost island and fresh adventures, but their attempts to return to the surface only serve to make their situation worse.

Now they must flee for their lives, with all the denizens of that strange island at their heels.

When Danny received Stefan’s missive – that their mutual friend Ed had gone back underground to the caverns and other world they had recently discovered in an old caving site – Danny doesn’t hesitate. With little money to his name and even less reason to stay in London, Danny decides to go and offer whatever help his friends could use from an old soldier. Even though his dreams were still shadowed from his previous experience, Danny has no real idea of what’s in store for them all.

I really enjoyed this short story and feel it’s an excellent, quick read for those looking for an old school action/adventure with a bit of mystery and horror thrown in for good measure. While this is a sequel to The Land Below, readers should be reassured that they absolutely don’t have to have read that first installment to really enjoy this story. Even better, half the first few chapters aren’t spent re-hashing the previous book. While there isn’t much time spent describing Danny’s journey to the cave site, nor their descent down into the underground world the story is set in, I feel this time the story really reaps the rewards of having all it’s action centered fully on the caves, monsters and adventure the men have below ground. While the book is a self-contained adventure, there is not a traditional style of “happily ever after” ending. I don’t particularly mind this with mystery and adventure books, and I certainly don’t feel like the ending is a cliff-hanger or without suitable resolution, but I do feel readers should be aware the ending isn’t a traditional tying up of all the loose ends.

William Meikle – in my opinion – is an exemplary storyteller when it comes to short, action-paced and spooky stories. His writing style really flourishes in this sense and I feel he manages with true skill to straddle a number of genres. While not horror in a traditional sense, his story has monsters and things going bump in the dark. The action is there from virtually the first page and the pace is fast and I feel it really draws the reader along at a breakneck pace. I also really enjoy how he skillfully weaves the story so it’s impossible to tell what sort of period/year these two stories are set in. There are lamps, boats, trains and pulleys, engineering feats so it doesn’t feel “really” old – but the lack of computers and phones also indicates it’s not necessarily the modern world as we know it. Then again, phones and computers won’t work so deeply underground, so given the story’s setting this lack of modern technology indicating an older time period is seriously debatable. Underground caves in the middle of the isolated countryside don’t lend the story to the internet, wifi reception or satellite coverage. While I can’t quite figure this is a truly contemporary time period, I feel this story really can’t be slotted into a historical setting either – but more a vague, hazy “in between” type of time of not right now but neither in the distant past. And oddly, I enjoy the fact this story doesn’t give answers to every question that the reader will come up with. Some things are left to the readers own imagination – and isn’t that the point of reading, really?

Readers looking for an intense, fun and slightly scary monster/adventure/treasure hunt style of story should not find themselves disappointed with this. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every word and I know there will be a number of happy re-reads of this to come. Recommended.

Extinction Plague by Greig Beck


Extinction Plague by Greig Beck
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Horror, Action/Adventure, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Around the world entire towns are being wiped out, a trail of boneless bodies left behind.

Professor Matt Kearns, paleo-linguist, and a team of scientific and military specialists, rush to decipher the hidden secrets of a pair of ancient stones that prophesise the next great extinction on Earth. They soon discover that the ominous predictions are linked to a plague of unstoppable creatures that have risen from the centre of the Earth.

In a heart-pumping adventure that begins in the hold of a sunken German U-boat, Matt Kearns travels to the lost Nazi treasure tunnels in Poland and dives deep down to sunken caves below Easter Island. Matt is fighting for his life, the ones he loves, and the existence of the entire human race.

Matt Kearns, paleo-linguist, is back once again for another adventure. A Nazi-era German U-boat is discovered down in New Zealand, leading to a series of strange discoveries and all too soon all over the world swarms of bugs start devouring everything in sight – killing humans, animals and everything in it’s wake. Matt and the team need to first discover what’s going on, and then once again save the world.

I’m a huge fan of Grieg Beck’s but I admit I have a particularly soft spot for Matt Kearns and his adventures. Beck somehow keeps Matt’s stories a little lighter to my mind – and less heavily invested in all the military/ammo aspects of the storyline. With a Kearns adventure I know there will be not just science and thriller aspects with a solid and well woven plot, but usually there is an excellent dose of paranormal and a strong influence of a more intellectual/academic and research based side to the adventure. For me, personally, this hits a really good spot and I’ve never yet been disappointed by one of these stories.

And this book delivers in spades. From Nazi Germany to Easter Island, the Polish mountains and all across the globe Matt and the team piece together what’s actually happening and then fight to save the world from extinction. It’s a magnificent adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I particularly liked how solidly Beck wove together a number of different plotlines. It’s clear he’s put a good amount of research into each different element and while the final picture pushes the boundaries of realism, each aspect is clearly weighted strongly in reality and is both exciting and also totally plausible.

This fine line between fact and fiction is a very delicate balance and I really love how Beck seems to straddle it perfectly. That, coupled with the adventure and scare-factor is an absolute highlight for me of all the Matt Kearns stories and one of the reasons they’re an auto-buy for me and one of my favorite series.

Readers looking for a fast paced, fun adventure novel where the hero and his team race against the clock (and where the bad guys are not just a few horrible people, but the bone-eating, creepy, bug kind) this is an excellent story and one I can strongly recommend.

Illusion by Aurelia T. Evans


Illusion by Aurelia T. Evans
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

Arcanium’s greatest illusion is that there’s any illusion at all…

When an old flame returns to Arcanium in the company of her own magical circus, Illumina, offering an alliance, Bell initially considers the merger an opportunity for much-needed change.

However, with Illumina comes Maya, who has lost her memories not just of Locke’s Arcanium but all her time with Bell—love, guilt, wishes, everything. Having her memories removed leaves Maya with too large a gap in her mind that she’s desperate to fill, and she knows that Bell, of all the people in Arcanium, can give her the information she’s missing.

Bell still loves Maya and spends every day trying to atone for the pain he caused her and the rest of his cast. In spite of her frustration, she’s happiest without him, without the memories that once nearly destroyed her. If Illumina is to become part of Arcanium, he has no choice. He has to keep his distance, because she doesn’t know why she should run as far away as she can from Arcanium—and from Bell.

Even so, resisting Maya is almost too much for him to bear.

Once again, we find ourselves in the world of Arcanium where Bell rules and the consequence for breaking his rules are harsh. Yet even Bell has a heart and a conscience. He has learned from his mistakes and works hard at making his circus safe and a happy place for those in it. When an old friend and lover returns to Arcanium with her own cast that includes Maya, Bell must make the hard choice of opening his doors or shutting them. His own heart lays in the choice and he could lose it all over again if he is not careful.

I was both excited and sad to see this book come out as it is the last in the Arcanium series. I enjoyed returning to this world and its characters. As much as I enjoyed this book, there were a few points where the story dragged on a bit too much, and there were characters made to stand out, it seems, just for the purpose of being annoying. It worked. This story brings readers full circle and back to the beginning. It is centered around Bell and Maya of course, and as with all the books in this series, there are major twists and turns.

This book is an interesting way to end the series and the author has made a great world with memorable characters that I fell in love with and hope to see again in the future.

While the Devil Lies Waiting by David J. LeMaster


While the Devil Lies Waiting by David J. LeMaster
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

During the Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression to Southerners, General Elijah Beauregard was heralded, although not within earshot, as a demon. Known for shooting his own men for running from carnage, he had no less respect for his beloved Virginia.

She’d prayed for his demise, yet only received absolution in her own and her child’s death in childbirth. No one else, who dared live in his house, ever died in peace…nor left the premises. Over a century later, and many mysterious deaths and events, he would have his Ginny…again.

If you’re ready for a good ghost story, this is it. General Beauregard of the Civil War is creepy and scary. What makes him worse is that he is motivated to hurt people.

In this book, we jump through time and meet the general’s unfortunate victims as they stay in his house. The setting and atmosphere, the mood are superbly written. Characters—dead and alive—interact in realistic ways, and suspense is strong throughout the story.

We see some of the characters at different stages of their lives. The challenges they face keep the pace of the book quick. It is a horror story, but can anyone have a happy ending? Are the good guys hiding anything?

David J. LeMaster has written a unique tale that readers of this genre are sure to love and remember.

Bloodman by Robert Pobi


Bloodman by Robert Pobi
Publisher: Arrow Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Horror
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

FBI contractor Jake Cole deciphers the language of murderers by reconstructing three-dimensional crime scene models in his head, a talent that has left his nerves frayed and his psyche fragile. Jake returns to Montauk, New York, for the first time in a quarter of a century when his father, a renowned painter, lights himself ablaze and crashes through a plate-glass window. Once home, Jake is pulled into a gruesome local homicide investigation that echoes his mother’s murder three decades earlier.

As he sifts through the detritus of his father’s madness, Jake discovers thousands of seemingly meaningless paintings stacked in the studio – a bizarre trail of dust-covered breadcrumbs the painter left as he tumbled down the rabbit hole of dementia. Breadcrumbs that Jake believes lead to the killer.

With the help of Sheriff Dan Hauser – a man scrambling to prepare the seaside community for the arrival of a catastrophic hurricane – Jake Cole sets out to find the seemingly unstoppable force of malevolence known as the Bloodman.
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A unique and disquieting thriller that redefines the genre, Bloodman will leave you reeling long after its operatic finale.

FBI agent Jake Cole is back home on Long Island to try and clear up matters for his estranged father. Between his father’s accident and Alzheimer’s Jake wants nothing more than to sort out what sort of living accommodations would be best for the elderly man, then Jake wants to return to his wife, son and regular life back in New York and to put this – along with the memories from his past – behind him. His plans are foiled though when a stomach-churning murder of a woman and child only a few miles away has him being drawn in to investigate as the only nearby and available FBI officer.

I found this to be an amazingly written and incredibly intense read. First up though I need to insist that this book won’t be to every reader’s taste and while the first half is more Mystery/Suspense the second half leans a bit more strongly toward being a Thriller and even mildly a horror style of novel. I don’t feel personally that this is a story for the faint of heart. While not really a horror – it’s not gory or overly descriptive and certainly it doesn’t use the murders or scenes in a titillating manner nor is it descriptive with the gruesome scenes – this book did give me the creeps when I was reading it late into the night and I’m pretty sure it won’t be enjoyed by readers looking for a more straight mystery style of novel.

That said, I found this book very well written. The writing style appealed to me as being easily read and relatable, I really enjoyed the complexities of the main characters and the first half of the book really is a more “regular” mystery/FBI/police style of story. By the half-way mark when I started to get an inkling of the plot not being quite as simple as I expected, the characters not precisely as they were portrayed and I finally cottoned on to the hidden snippets of what lay beneath the surface it was far too late for me. I was absolutely hooked – both on the plot, the storyline and the characters – and even though I spent all of a minute contemplating not going further I simply couldn’t put the book down and walk away. The last half of the book was quite a roller coaster and while I regret nothing, I wish I’d read a review that had at least suggested readers maybe read this book in daylight hours and not deep into the night. I might not have listened to such a suggestion, but it’s one I would have appreciated nevertheless.

I thought this book was intense. While there are tons of serial killer vs the FBI and local police in a small, deserted town style of stories out there this book had a number of twists and turns that made it feel unique and fresh to me. This isn’t like any other book I can recall reading before. Indeed a number of the twists took me totally by surprise and even though a few of them I knew I was missing something (or I knew there was more going on that I could recognize) when everything unwound I was still gobsmacked even as the pieces all fell together. This is a wonderful story in that the author carefully leads you through the pages and then when it all clicks together you can see it all for what it is and it totally makes sense. There’s no dangling plotlines or guessing what was meant – everything is very clearly and explicitly laid bare by the end and while amazing it’s as scary as it is thrilling. I really found this story to be akin to a roller coaster, half terrifying but equal parts exhilarating and at the end you’re not sure if you want to have a lie down or get straight back on and do it all over again immediately.

Readers looking for something addictive, different and really well written should love this book. It’s a strong thriller/mystery and bordering (in my opinion) on horror but well, well worth the price of admission. I probably won’t be reading this again at night-time, but for sure I’ll be reading it again just to catch all those small things I missed the first time around. It’s an excellent story – it just won’t be for everyone.