“Darkscapes”: Stories That Will Keep You Reading

Darkscapes

Darkscapes is a top quality anthology of short stories put out by Curiosity Quills Press. I must say, this anthology delivers on the promise of the premise. The title says that the stories within may be on the darker side of things, where danger lays hidden beneath the layers of the mind’s eye. The cover image tells me I’m in for some rather unusual stories, ones that go to places which may defy logic. And, having read many books produced by Curiosity Quills Press, the fact that they published this book says it’s a collection of good quality, well-written stories. And that my friends, is exactly what I got – all of the above.

There are twenty-one stories contained in this collection, too many to be able to discuss all of them here. So, I will give you a brief overview of the six, yes six, stories which I deemed to deserve a five quill rating, meaning the authors of these stories have done an exemplary job of storytelling. Keep in mind that these stories are the best of the best in this collection, but all of them are good reading.

The first story in the anthology, Exley Avenue, is an extremely well-written ghost story of sorts, with a surprise ending. Going between the 1920’s and the twenty-first century, storytellers Jordan Elizabeth and W.K. Pomeroy unravel the unsavory history of the stone castle on Exley Avenue, when several bodies are uncovered on the premises.

Further into the collection is a cute noirish story, with an unlikely P.I. for a protagonist, which is sure to keep you chuckling until the end is Skeleton Jim, by J.R. Rain. Noir with humor is the only way to describe this bizarre tale. But, rest assured, Skeleton Jim always gets his man, (and the girl, for some reason). Things are no different when the client, Lucy Newman, hires him to find out if she killed her abusive husband, and who is blackmailing her, Jim may have his work cut out for him. No bones about it. (Skeleton humor. Har, har, har.)

Then, there is The Giovanni Effect, by Robert J. Defendi, an extremely well-crafted story with excellent world building. Readers will live this one. On a desert outpost planet where sand and wind are constants, Allred and his wife and child are the planets only occupants. They’ve always known others might come, but when a ship lands on the planet Allred is forced to put their emergency plans to the test. The planet’s harsh atmosphere may be the death of him, or it might just be his savior.

The forth story, Landing a Job in the Private Sector, by Rena Rocford, kept the pages turning with the best of them. Furies are conditioned assassins, but when Boxy, an enslaved fury acquires an organic ship that is loyal to her, and becomes a rogue mercenary, she learns that everything is negotiable, even under pressure.

The fifth five quill story is Out of Sight, by Mathew S. Cox. Sima is a street kid, who wakes up to find she’s been relocated to another planet and her pod crashed. She all alone, with no supplies, no clothes and no idea where she is. But then she discovers three other children who were sent here, as well, and she has more to worry about than just her own survival.

The One You Feed, by Katie Young was the last story in this collection to fall into my best of the best list. This was a well-written werewolf story, which left me wanting more. Dupree is haunted by more than just werewolves. As he spins his tale for the cowboy he just hired on with at the last rodeo, we learn more about the ghosts who haunt his past, and the curse that controls his future.

The above mentioned stories are, in my opinion, the best stories in this collection. However, they are all entertaining tales. I wouldn’t rate any of the stories in this collection with less than three quills. They really are that good. The smashing cast of talented authors whose work appears in this anthology also includes: Richard Roberts, Ann M. Noser, Randy Attwood, Nathan Croft, Tegan Wren, James Wymore, J.P. Sloan, Andrew Buckley, Darin Kennedy, J.E. Anckorn, Piers Anthony, B.C. Johnson, S.E. Bennett, Mark W. Woodring, and Benjamin Sperduto.

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Overall, I give Darkscapes four quills.

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“The Psychokinetic”: Good Story, Believe It or Not

The Psychokinetic

The Psychokinetic by Grace M. DeLeesie is Book 1 in her The Day Twelve Witches Burned series. If this first book is any indication of what’s to come, I might hesitate in reading the sequel books. There are many, many typos, missed words, and misspellings; the whole story is told, rather than shown; there is a lot of head hopping. But the biggest problem was an inability to suspend disbelief. I just couldn’t buy into the odd responses and behaviors of her characters.

Overall, the story line is a good one. Six teenage girls find themselves with extra-sensory powers which normal teens just don’t have. They feel they have been led to find each other, and they’ve bonded to form a tight knit group, who look out for one another, while they search for evidence of who or what they are. And before the first book is finished, we learn that there also exists an evil nemesis, who has followed them through many lifetimes, intent on destroying them. Which, is all pretty cool.

I spoke with the author, Grace M. DeLeesie about my concerns with this story, and she admitted she had some problems with a previous editor. She assured me many of the problems are already being addressed and a revised text will replace the current version. I have to say, I really like the story line, although it could have been written better. I still can’t buy into the story or its characters, but with the author’s assurance that at the least, the grammatical errors and typos will be corrected, I feel comfortable giving The Psychokinetic three quills.

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“Wolves for the Holiday 1.1” has potential to be more

Wolves for the Holiday 1.1

Wolves for the Holiday 1.1, by Josette Reuel is a short story with the potential to be a longer supernatural romance. As with many short stories, it feels like there should be more. The ground work is laid for secondary characters to have relationships, providing plenty of subplot material that Reuel fails to take advantage of, and readers are left wanting more. This story has the potential to become a novel length work, if more fully developed.

When first three wolves, and then later, three naked men show up at a secluded mountain cabin, where three writer friends are taking a writer’s retreat, things promise to get a little weird. That’s where the problem lies, for three women in a secluded cabin just wouldn’t react the way these women do, so I had a hard time buying into the story. The premise is good. Actually, the premise is great, but Reuel fails to suspend my disbelief. 

Then there is the romance element, which is good, and almost believable. However, having our heroine submit to the Alpha male makes her appear weak, conforming to typical female stereotypes. The males are stereotyped as well, but I could buy that because they are wolves, after all.

After our two protagonists have their romp in the hay, there is no follow through. The story just ends, leaving the reader feeling cheated. Relationships with her friends and his pack members are alluded to, but not shown. We can only guess what was happening in the rest of the cabin while the main romance is blossoming in the bedroom. I will say the bedroom scene itself was done tastefully.

Wolves for the Holiday  1.1 has a great premise, but fails to deliver, doesn’t carry through the full romance arc, has a weak female protagonist, but does include a well written bedroom scene. I give it two quills.

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There’s No Escaping Hell For “Hell’s Butcher”

Hells Butcher Series

I had the pleasure of reading the Hell’s Butcher series by Chris Barili, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher. This series is refreshingly different, a combination of western, speculative fiction and super hero, and somehow, it all works.

Frank Butcher has been appointed Hell’s Marshal, sent back to the land of the living on the trail of killers escaped from hell, bent on wrecking havoc and changing history to aide in the rise of the south. In Hell’s Marshal, Frank and his posse of walking dad and their coyote guide are after the renegade soul of Jesse James before he can revive the confederacy and rise up once more against the union.

They travel on a stage pulled by hell’s steeds, which never tire and move at incredible speeds, and they carry weapons with the power to send souls back to hell, where they belong. But, it isn’t easy to pursue their prey in bodies that have been dead a long time, causing extra difficulties to the chase. The coach is driven by a mortal man with special gifts and they’re joined by an orphan boy with the power to see souls raised from the fiery pit.

In Hell’s Butcher, John Wilkes Booth is the renegade soul, back to build an army to finish the government takeover, the conspiracy around the assassination failed to complete, and Frank and his posse must send them back. In a chase filled with misdirection, and battles with demonic souls inhabiting living bodies, there is no way to triumph without further damning the posse members’ souls.

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I absolutely love these story lines and must say these books are well crafted. Barili does a smash up job of drawing the reader into his world, where condemned souls can walk among the living. My only problem with these books is the fact that Frank doesn’t seem to change much. Guilt and self-loathing are Frank’s fatal flaws as the protagonist, and although it doesn’t necessarily be resolved, there should at least be some evident change by the end of each story arc.  Even by the end of the second book, although he reasons that people should not have to suffer for things they’ve done due to circumstances beyond their control, yet he still resigns himself to whatever punishment the judges dole out, feeling he deserves it, unable to apply the lesson to his own situation, and he is unable to forgive himself.

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Both books in this series, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher are entertaining tales with refreshingly original story lines. Each book could be stand alone stories. Regardless of the one glitch found in the protagonist’s character arc, they are fun reads that keep the pages turning. I give them both four quills.

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GuiltyIf you like the Hell’s Butcher series as much as I did, you’ll want to be sure and grab the prequel, Guilty, which is now also available. Guilty tells the story the events in Frank’s life that brought him before the judges and put him in the position to serve as Hell’s Marshal. This book offers insight into Frank’s character, so we can see where all that self-loathing comes from, drawing the series together and giving it cohesion. It is a different, but wonderfully entertaining story line. I give Guilty five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Weeping Willows”: A Ghostly Tale

weeping-willows

Weeping Willows by B.J. Robinson has the potential to be a good ghostly tale. Unfortunately, Robinson didn’t take it quite far enough. All the elements are there, but they just don’t come together very well.

The story fails to set a tone scary enough to cause any real anticipation. The House of Usher, it is not. The one spirit that actually shows herself, isn’t very threatening, is actually rather helpful, providing all the needed information about the house’s history, so the story may proceed, thus removing any sense of mystery the story might have been carrying.

The plot is classic haunted house to the point of almost being cliché. Two couples enter into a contest where the couple who lasts the longest in the old house, which threatens to crumble and fall into the sea, wins a honeymoon in Hawaii, but of course, the house is haunted and the spirits don’t seem happy about its latest guests.

The circumstances often seem a little too convenient, as if the events occur at the convenience of the author, to get the story out. It feels like the characters do what is necessary for the story to unfold, but perhaps not what would be natural for their personalities, but that could be because the characters lack depth. Character development is always a challenge when writing short fiction due to the short amount of page space, but without it, it’s difficult to care about the characters.

Weeping Willows is a ghost story of fair quality. I give it three quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

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This week, I’m interviewing Colorado freelance writer, editor, author and book designer, DeAnna Knippling. I first met DeAnna through the Pike’s Peak Writers when I was still serving as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. What struck me about her was her enthusiasm and willingness to help where ever she can. She treats her writing as a business and goes at it with a high degree of professionalism, yet she is personable and willing to share what she’s learned from her own writing experiences.

DeAnna Knippling writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll.  It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more.

Kaye: You created Wonderland Press to get your books out there. What all is involved in creating a press for your work and what are the advantages of doing so? I mean, why would an author do this rather than just throwing their book out on Amazon or Smashwords?

DeAnna: This isn’t one of the fun answers.  It’s stupid easy to make a “press.”  It involves no special equipment.  You look online, make sure nobody else has one of that name in your state, register a business name with your state or county (look up, “How to register a business name in [name of state]”), and Bob’s your uncle.  You might want to get more complex with an LLC or something–but I recommend leaving that for later, unless you already have experience doing that.  I am, of course not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice.  When you want to start looking at an LLC or corporation, I believe, is when you start having to worry about taxes and tax brackets.

I set up my press, “Wonderland Press,” because some publishing sites back in the day didn’t want you to publish books under multiple pen names under the same account without having a publisher name.  Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with multiple blogs for my pen names, and moved the names to the same website (for now).  However, things are changing, and I may need to move back to multiple websites, mailing lists, etc.  The thing about business is that everything changes based on the scale of what you’re doing and how much time has passed since you set things up.  It seems like it’s more important to stick to a couple of core principles (bring customers back to a location you can control rather than social media–that kind of thing) and stay flexible in the details than it is to get wrapped up in questions like, “Should I set up a small press?”
Kaye: A lot of your books don’t fit neatly into a genre category or subcategory. How do you describe your books?
DeAnna: I’ve struggled with genre categories since I started publishing.  Part of the reason for that is that my subconscious loves to smash incongruous things together.  For example, I love puns and double entendres–two ways of seeing meaning at the same time–and I love stories that are really two things that don’t really go together being put together (like cowboys in space–Firefly).  The kinds of stories that I tend to write are kind of the opposite of sitting firmly within a genre and therefore being easy to describe.
I’m both looking into ways to get around this (by sneaking more solidly into genres) and finding out what parts of my genres I’m missing out on.  I recently finished up what I call “my cheesy ’80s genre novel.”  When I did the research to try to find out where to put it, I found that…it actually fits pretty solidly into the current Occult subgenre of Horror.  I keep trying to tell myself there’s nothing wrong with writing what feels cheesy (I certainly read it), but sometimes it takes a while for me to learn the obvious.
To actually answer your question?  Since I can’t copy my competitors, I describe my books by putting on the silliest movie announcer voice I can come up with and reading the blurbs out loud.  The more mock-serious the better.  Somehow it works.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or a story? What’s the least fun part?
DeAnna: Most fun:  The fun parts. Least fun:  The parts that stick the fun parts together.
I get really bored at the least fun parts.  I think that’s where the books I write start getting weird.  If I plan a book, then I plan something at least a little bit more genre-specific than what actually comes out.  But then I get bored and jump the tracks.  I feel like writing a book is a process of going “Ooooh, shiny” over and over until I step into the circle of rope hidden under the leaves in the jungle, and the ending jerks me upside down into the air.
I wish it were that quick to write the end–it’s the slowest part of the book for me as I wrap up all the shinies that I’ve picked up throughout the plot–but that’s what it feels like.
Kaye: If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
DeAnna: More of the same.  My major goal in life is to allow my wonderful spouse to become a pool boy at our eccentric castle in the mountains.  Travel more.  At least, I say those things.  Probably I’d still just begrudge the time I wasn’t reading or writing.  I’d go to exotic locations and just read a book.
Kaye: Why do you think some writers sell well, and others don’t?
DeAnna: Probably that stuff I mentioned about genre.  A lot of writers will look at a successful writer’s book and go, “What a terrible writer!  Why do they sell?!?”
But here’s my experience (based on ghostwriting so much):
The stuff that I’m forced to write to genre by my clients sells a lot better than the stuff I write for myself.
Granted, you still need to know what you’re doing.  But writing a book isn’t just about pretty sentences–it’s about making the constant readers happy, feeding their addictions.  The answer to why some books are massive successes when others aren’t is often, “Because they can see the forest for the trees–and you can’t.”  Cold but true.
Kaye: Any advice for upcoming authors who are trying to get a foot in the door?

DeAnna: Just keep working.  Everybody’s in a hurry to succeed.  Success!  Millions!  Riches!  Fame! But, in the end, it comes back to the basics.  Did you read?  Did you write?  Did you learn something?  Did you talk to other people in the writing community?

“A foot in the door” is just the feeling that the universe owes you something, or that you can sneak something past somebody.  “How do I cut in line past the people who have been working their asses off for years?” And the only answers are:  Write a good story, network, value your readers, don’t be stupid about genre, work your ass off, don’t fail on purpose.  That last one is pretty significant.  I’ve seen a lot of people give up or just put things off until they’re “ready.”  The hell with waiting for “ready.”  If you’re going to do that, you’ve already failed, because this is a bootstrap industry–nobody gets the magic green light.  Even people who are going traditional start out by hustling for publishers and agents.  Make someone else tell you no.  Make them tell you no a lot.
I want to thank DeAnna for joining us here on Writing to be Read, and for sharing her knowledge with us. If you’d like to learn more about Deanna or her books, her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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“Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces”: A short fiction collection that’s full of surprises

Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces

This week I’m pleased to review Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces – the latest collection of short fiction by my friend and colleague, Jeff Bowles. Since I know Jeff personally, I do admit to a certain amount of bias, but only because I truly admire the way this man crafts a story, so I went at this reading with a certain amount of anticipation. With Jeff, I never really know what to expect, but I always expect to be pleasantly surprised.

And, I was not disappointed. The stories found in this collection are original and unique, and the artwork is awesome.

The first story, Will of the West, has a good western flavor with a surprise ending.  I truly enjoyed the vivid imagery of the lightning dance is Blue Dancing With Yellow, and Jeff’s story telling voice in Tumbleweeds and Little Girls nails the young girl’s POV. Four Heads, Two Hearts is a unique romance with its own unusual set of obstacles and a very interesting solution. The Fall and Rise of Max Ziggy is a reincarnation story of the feline kind.

Two of the stories deal with the topic of mid-life crisis, a topic that the author seems too young to know a lot about, but when you read these stories, us old foggies may find, or at least I did, that his interpretations are pretty spot on. Mid-Life Crisis: The Video Game defines the age of technology in a way the older generations can relate to, right down to the frustrations of dealing with voice activated responders which never seem to get our answers right. And,  Jack Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis provides an online view of the mid-life crisis of a hit man that is sure to make you chuckle.

The collection also offers two ghost stories: Falcon Highway is a good, old fashioned ghost story running along the lines of an urban legend. And, Deadman’s Hand is a ghostly tale of being ‘spirited’ away.

All of the stories contained in Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces are well crafted and quite entertaining, and they all contain unexpected elements that Jeff Bowles makes to work in short story form. Each and every one carries the uniqueness that is Jeff Bowles style, making for an overall enjoyable read. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.