“Arcana” & “Cold Black Hearts”: Two different flavors of horror

 

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two horror novels written by this month’s author guests; Arcana, by Paul Kane and Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte. I found it interesting that these two authors chose one or two lines that were so similar to begin these very different horror stories. Both beginnings are designed to grab the reader and reel them in, and in both stories, it worked. The hook was instantly set.

Kane begins Arcana with,

“They were all going to die.

But it was for the cause, and they were not only glad to do it – they felt compelled to do it.”

Mariotte starts Cold Black Hearts like this;

“They were dead, all of them dead, and so was she.”

Both authors bring us into the story in the middle of the action at the point of impending death. We don’t know what is happening yet, but we know the speaker in each case is about to die. How does anyone walk away from that without reading more?

Both Arcana and Cold Black Hearts are horrific stories of evil and death, but they each present horror stories of distinctive and different flavors. Although each presents the battle of good versus evil, the resulting stories are very different, yet each has the ability to captivate their audience and satisfy whatever it is inside of us that makes horror such an appealing genre to us.

Arcana, by Paul Kane takes place in an alternate universe with a future where magick is very real and has survived through the Arcana culture, despite repeated efforts to exterminate them from the planet. It’s a world where torture is still used to extract confessions from those suspected of using the the ancient arts, and Callum McGuire is an orphan who bears a hatred for the magick communities  responsible for the terrorist attack that left him alone, to be raised in an orphanage with a brutal matron. As a young M-forcer, dedicated to stopping Arcana after a recent series of terrorist attacks carried out by the group. The viciousness and brutality against Arcana is broadly directed, and as Callum watches innocent children fall prey to it, his own morality tells him that something isn’t right. When he guesses that his friend and neighbor is secretly Arcana, he is swept into the Arcana culture as he tries to protect her from being apprehended by his fellow M-forcers. This tale is cleverly crafted to let the story unfold in a series of discoveries which lead Callum to think that things are not the way he’d been lead to believe, even as more terrorist attacks take place, and his friends in Aracana try to convince him that he is the savior of their prophecy. Savior or destroyer? The power is in Callum’s hands and only he can decide.

Arcana takes readers on a hero’s journey beyond death and back in a world where anything is possible. That, my friends, can be a very scary journey. I give it five quills.

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In Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte, evil stirs the ancient legends into reality. When Annie O’Brian is caught in a bust gone bad and the resulting explosion, she loses both her hearing and her job, but she gains an uncanny sense of empathy for the people around her. So, there’s nothing to stop her from taking a job investigating a four year old murder where the original investigation was botched, and working to free the convicted man, even though he gives her the creeps and is probably guilty of numerous crimes, if not this one. Her investigation uncovers not only the evidence needed to free Johnny Ortega from prison, but also evidence that there is something much more sinister going on in Hildalgo County than a simple cover-up, but when Annie manages to put all the pieces together and tries to stop the return of an ancient demon, it could cost her her life, or worse.

Filled with sacrifice and betrayal, Cold Black Hearts will chill you to the core of your soul. Lots of unexpected twists and turns to this story. I give it four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

 


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – It Chapter Two

Jeff's Movie Reviews

“Want your boat, Georgie?”

by Jeff Bowles

When the first big screen adaptation of Steven King’s It hit theaters two years ago, it took the world by storm. Audiences found it incredibly unnerving, disturbing, and twisted. In other words, it was everything fans of the most important horror writer of the 20th century (and maybe even the 21st century) could want. Part one of the It saga is a coming of age story, a love letter to the kinds of urban legends that have haunted the young and the young-at-heart for generations. I mean for cripes sake, a killer clown? Nightmare fuel, right? And one considered top-notch by critics and movie-goers alike. Too bad that 2017 modern classic was only half the story.

It Chapter Two wastes no time catching up with the heroes of the first movie, the Losers Club, the same rowdy bunch of kids who stopped that pesky, evil-as-all-hell clown (or whatever he is) before his spree of terror and death could claim one more fragile life in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The Losers are all adults now, and though they’ve forgotten a surprising amount of their battle with the eponymous monster, most of them, after a fashion, choose to remember and honor the oath they took together to return to Derry if and when the nightmare began again.

That’s the problem with evil immortal-monster-alien-clown-shapeshifter thingies. They just don’t take no for an answer. The cast of Chapter Two is suitably star-studded. Jessica Chastain plays the adult Beverly, who possibly had the most to deal with in the first film, mostly due to an abusive father. She’s still suffering at the hands of an abysmally abusive man, her husband, which is sad, though annoyingly ham-fisted in the ludicrous fashion with which the guy goes from zero-to-full-on-rage without any believable provocation. Stephen King has never been known for subtlety, and It Chapter Two suffers from it. Not that the movie’s problems begin and end with the author.

Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) join Beverly back in Derry twenty-seven years after the events of movie one, each of them having lived surprisingly full lives. Well, all except for Mike, who’s spent the last three decades charting, following, and studying the supernatural killer. One of the Losers, Stan (Andy Bean), chooses to end his own life rather than set foot in that town again, which makes for a chilling prologue to the events that follow.

The first real set-piece of the movie takes place at the fan-favorite Chinese restaurant, a scene even the 1990 made-for-TV It nailed. It’s more adult and much creepier this time, and the dialog flows about as well as the original banter Steven King committed to the page. Then of course there’s the main event, the monster himself, played once again by Bill Skarsgard. Holly cannoli, this guy is freaky. Unfortunately, director Andy Muschietti makes the mistake of giving us less of him. In fact, less is the watchword for the entire exercise.

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It Chapter Two is bloated and water-logged, just like that one guy It killed in … never mind. The only significant moments of cogency and relatability occur in flashbacks to the Losers as kids. These brief indulgences serve to remind us just how comparatively focused part one was, and we can’t help but feel a slight twinge of nostalgia for a movie that’s only two years old.

The cast does a great job exploring their characters’ unique personalities and allowing us to feel true terror when the big moments arise. But the film seems far too interested in pondering and extolling the concept rather than pushing it forward. Stephen King may be one of the most beloved pop-fiction writers of all time, but a second-parter built on what amounts to little more than a scavenger hunt? Yee-ikes. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Stand, Carrie, The Shining, and many others, as much as the next guy. Some of those books used long-windedness to their advantage. I hear they’re adapting The Stand next. Fingers crossed, all you kooky King nuts.

The climax of the film is impressive if confounding. By the time we get there, it’s become apparent the It saga has suffered from the same disjointed sequel-manufacturing other literary adaptations indulged in (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight, I’m looking at you). Funnily enough, Marvel Studios’ big Avengers two-parter—released in 2018 and 2019, respectively—managed the trick in a much neater fashion, but then, those movies are actually two separate stories blended into one, whereas the It saga feels like, well, a nicely-structured opener and an obligatory half-waisted capstone.

Which isn’t to say It Chapter Two doesn’t have its moments. With high production values, an excellent cast, and a willingness to scare no matter what it takes, the movie can’t help but hit the mark more often than it misses. It’s just that the scenario doesn’t get as much breathing room this time. Scratch that. The problem is the scenario gets far too much breathing room.

Writing to Be Read gives It Chapter Two a six out of ten.

Not a truly poor nor truly serviceable adaptation, but who knows? Maybe when you binge both movies together, Chapter Two feels more satisfying. Is it possible a freakish clown lured us all down into his favorite storm sewer and made a nice, toothy snack of our expectations? I guess it could be worse. We could’ve buried a beloved dog in a pet cemetery, rented out a room at a haunted Colorado hotel, or engaged in interstate mayhem with a possessed car. Ooph. What a way to make a living.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today


Short Fiction Contest! Paranormal Stories Sought

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I love a good ghost story or paranormal tale, and that’s just what I’m looking for for the first Wordcrafter short fiction contest. If you write paranormal short fiction, submit your best story for a chance for it to be included in a paranormal anthology. Flash fiction is accepted as long as it is a complete story, with beginning, middle and end. In addition to publication, the winner will recieve a $25 Amazon gift card.

Guidelines:

  • Submit paranormal, speculative fiction, or horror. I want to read your story!
  • Stories should be less than 10,000 words and have a paranormal element. They don’t have to be scary, but it helps.
  • Submit stories in a word doc, double spaced with legible 12 pt font, in standard manuscript format.
  • Submit stories to kayebooth@yahoo.com with Submission: [Your Title] in the subject line. You will recieve instructions to submit your $5 entry fee with confirmation of reciept.
  • If you recieve an invitation for the anthology, you will also be asked to submit a short author bio and photo.
  • No simultaneous submissions. You should recieve a reply within 45 – 60 days.
  • Multiple submissions are accepted with appropriate entry fee for each individual story.

I’m excited about this contest and the resulting anthology, and I hope you are, too. I can’t wait to read your stories. I’m hoping to release the anthology around Halloween through WordCrafter Press, so get your submissions in by April 30th. I’m searching for a title for this anthology, so if you have a paranormal title that’s killer, leave a comment below and give me your suggestions.

 

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Merry Christmas!: Welcoming Children’s Author Robbie Cheadle to the WtbR Team

Robbie Chaedle

Robbie Cheadle is a very creative mother, author and fondant artist, who thinks outside the box to find inventive solutions for life’s difficulties. I first met Robbie through Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party Halloween book event, where I did a reading of her short horror story, The Willow Tree, via audio recording for the event. During her takeover, Robbie posted images of her delectable creations to promote her Sir Chocolate book series for children, which she wrote with her son, Michael. She uses these image of her baked creations as cover art and to illustrate the book series. I thought this was incredibly innovative, and I immediately wanted to know more about this woman, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to add her to the WtbR team.

Robbie is my Christmas gift this year, as I’ve been searching for a children’s author to join the Writing to be Read team. So, starting in January, Robbie will be popping in the second Wednesday of each month with her new blog series on writing for children, Growing Bookworms. I can’t wait to see what she has to share with us, so let’s learn more about her.

Kaye: Your Sir Chocolate covers are photos of your own delectable desert creations, which is very creative. Which came first – the baking or the writing?

Robbie: I started with baking and fondant art quite a long time before we wrote the books, but pairing the two was an idea that only came later. I used to write poetry and descriptive passages as a tween and teenager. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery was my favourite book when I was a tween. Emily is a poetess in the book and her father is a writer. The book inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings.

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Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? How did the published works of Robbie Cheadle come to be?

Robbie: I never planned to become a published author when I first started writing the Sir Chocolate stories. My son, Michael, aged 6 years old at the time was having difficulties with learning to read and write. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem which made these activities difficult for him. He had the loveliest story ideas about a little man made of chocolate who lived in a land where you could eat anything, even the sand, trees and houses. In order to encourage him to write, I made up rhyming verse stories using his ideas. Together we wrote them down in handmade books.

I have always enjoyed fondant art and sometimes Michael would come and sit with me and make his own version of what I was making. We started making illustrations for the books by taking photographs of our creations. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the Sir Chocolate stories, so I tried them out with my Sunday school class of children. One of my friends at the Church suggested I send the stories and pictures to a friend of hers who is a publisher in the UK. Anne liked the stories and gave us a contract for the Sir Chocolate series of books.

Kaye: You talk about fondant art. I, for one had never heard of this. Could you explain briefly what fondant art is?

Robbie: Fondant is also called sugar dough and is an elastic type of icing, almost like modelling clay. This is the substance that cake bakers use to make figurines, flowers and other edible artworks for cakes. The items in the picture I emailed you are all made of fondant.

Silly Willy

Kaye: You’re the co-author, along with your son Michael of the Sir Chocolate book series for young readers. How did that partnership come about?

Robbie: Between the ages of 6 and about 9 years old, Michael and I continued to make up Sir Chocolate rhyming verse stories from time to time. We would be doing something like visiting an ice cream shop and an idea would come to us. We would then chat about the idea and develop it into a story. Michael has delightful ideas like the chocolate snow and the ice-cream rainbow fairies who feature in Sir Chocolate and the Ice-cream Rainbow Fairies’ story and cookbook which will come out in 2020.

Kaye: What’s the one thing you hope your son takes away from this venture?

Robbie: I always hoped that Michael would become a proficient reader and learn to enjoy books and reading. It is not easy for a child who struggles to learn to read to develop a love of reading. I am very happy to say that this has happened. Michael now reads on his own for about 30 minutes a day. We often read together with me reading my book of the day and him reading his current story. Lately, these are all Rick Riordan books.

Kaye: What ages are the Sir Chocolate series aimed at?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate books are aimed at young children, aged 3 to 9 years old. They are lovely for beginner readers as they are comprised of rhyming verse.

Kaye: Each book in the Sir Chocolate series features a story and a cookbook. That’s an interesting combination. Would you like to tell us a little more about why you chose to pair the two?

Robbie: Sir Chocolate is a little man made of sweets and sugar. All the characters in the books are made of edible products as well as all the houses, trees, flowers and even the rivers and the rocks. As all the illustrations are made of cake, biscuits and sweets, it seemed natural to provide the recipes to make some of the goodies in the book and make the books into a series of first cookbooks as well as a story.

Kaye: You also write supernatural and horror for adult audiences, and you had two stories published in the recently released horror anthology, Dark Visions. (See my review of Dark Visions here.) Another interesting combination: horror and children’s stories. Is there a story behind how you ended up writing in those two genres?

Robbie and DVRobbie: I entered a short story for children in one of Dan Alatorre’s writing competitions and it won an Honourable Mention. I really liked the critique on my story that I received from Dan so when another competition cropped up a few months later I decided to enter. The topic for that one was horror so I thought I would give it a go. That was when I wrote The Willow Tree. Dan again provided an excellent critique in respect of the story. I entered The Haunting of William into his most recent horror competition in June 2018. That was how I came to write darker stories. I discovered that I enjoyed writing this genre and now I am writing a supernatural/horror YA book. I have just exceeded 50,000 words.

Kaye: I can think of many differences in writing horror and in writing for children, but are there also ways in which they are alike?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate stories all have a villain ranging from the trolls in Book 1 to the candy stripped Roc in book 5. All stories generally have a heroic character and a bad character so there is a common thread between the two genres. The difference is that in the Sir Chocolate books the “baddie” is generally redeemed and becomes a contributing member of Chocolate Land. In my current book, the evil characters are not redeemed.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a horror story you’ve ever had?

Robbie: I have just written a horror story about cockroaches which infest a working microwave oven and gain unnatural powers as a result of the microwaves they are subjected to. I think that is about the most unusual story I have written to date but I have only been writing for just over two years and I only started writing horror this year.

Open a New DoorKaye: In addition to writing children’s stories and cookbooks, and adult horror, you write poetry. And you have a poetry collection out with Kim Blades, Open a New Door. What type of poetry can we expect to find in this collection? How did that collaboration come about?

Robbie: Kim Blades and I are both South African poets. Our collection is about life in South Africa and is divided into four sections entitled God bless Africa, God bless my family and friends, God bless me and God bless corporates and work. Each section is divided into poems about the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences in each of these areas of our lives.

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a poem for you?

Robbie: I like poems that are simply written and have a strong message. I try to write my poems along those lines. I don’t believe a lot of “highbrow” language is necessary in a poem for it to be an emotional and evocative piece of writing.

While the Bombs FellKaye: You have another collaboration with Elsie Haney Eaton, While the Bombs Fell. It’s about life during World War II, which is quite different from the Sir Chocolate stories. What age audience is this book aimed at? Would you like to talk a little about it?

Robbie: Elsie Hancy Eaton is my mother and While the Bombs Fell is a fictionalized account of her early years growing up during WWII in a rural town in England. It features the deprivation caused by bombing and rationing and the other hardships experienced, but it also provides a lot of insight into the small pleasures people enjoyed during the war in the way of a Christmas pudding, the ingredients for which were literally saved up for most of the year, swimming in favourite spots along the river Waverney and learning to knit. The reason this account is fictionalized and not an autobiography is my mother was aged 4 to 7 years during the war and so she can’t remember all the fine details. I supplemented her memories with a lot of my own research.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Robbie: Marketing the books. Indie authors and writers with small publishers find it more difficult to get their books into stores and in front of the eyes of children. Children generally don’t use social Medias and, therefore, we are marketing to the parents and not to the actual child. Impulse buys are fewer as a result. I try to visit schools and Sunday Schools, but my time for these events are limited due to my work requirements.

Kaye: What other activities do you find time for when you’re not baking or writing?

Robbie: I am a qualified chartered accountant with a full time job and two sons. Any recreational time I have that isn’t spent with my family is used for writing, baking and blogging. I have two blogs, one for my children’s books, light poetry, baking and fondant art called robbiespiration.wordpress.com and one for my adult writing and darker poems called robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com.

Thank you so much Robbie for chatting with me here today. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to have you on board. I look forward to your Growing Bookworms blog series. I have no doubt that you have some interesting things to share with us.

Welcoming Robbie to the Writing to be Read team is my Christmas present this year, and adding her blog series will be a great way to start out the New Year, too. You can learn more about Robbie and her writing and art one her blogs or click on the links below:

Sir Chocolate book series: https://www.facebook.com/SirChocolateBooks/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1542170868&sr=1-1

Bake & Write: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/author/robbie-cheadle/

Or look her up on social media:

Twitter: @bakeandwrite

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robbie.cheadle.7

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cheadlerobbie/

I hope all my readers will help me welcome this creative children’s author to the Writing to be Read team and be sure to catch the first segment of her Growing Bookworms series on January 9th.

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Artemis: From Vigilanty Diety to Superhero

Artemis

 

One town, two killers and the body count is rising.  Artemis, by Chris Snider is the tale of how freak set of circumstances turned an ordinary scientist on the brink of death into something no longer human. With superhuman powers, including the ability to command animals, Joseph Art becomes Artemis, defender of animals and the innocent or vulnerable. The police don’t know whether they should string him up as a vigilante, or pin a medal on him. After he comes face to face with the evil clown axe murderer, the stakes are raised and the hunt becomes personal, and no one knows what will happen when the two killers confront one another a final time.

The individual storylines are skillfully woven into a single plotline and action filled climax. I give Artemis four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Halloween: Scary, but Fun

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People love to be scared, especially within a safe environment. That’s why the horror genre will always be popular. Sitting around trying to scare one another by telling ghost stories or urban legends is a passtime enjoyed and induldged by young and old alike. It’s one of the reasons Hallowen is a favorite holiday for many, with haunted houses and ghost stories and a monster around every corner.

But telling ghost stories to pass the time on a stormy night isn’t any type of new passtime. In fact, two hundred years ago, on a damp and dreary night, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstien was created on just such an occassion, when a challenge was issued to see who could invent the best scary story.  Today’s monsters may be digitally enhanced, but we still enjoy sharing their stories, searching for an inkling of fear or a rush of adrenaline to get our hearts pumping.

Dead Man's Party

That’s why I hope you’ll all drop in and join in the fun at the Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party today on Facebook, where myself and other authors will be reading scary stories, playing games and holding giveaways. Many of the authors from the Dark Visions anthology, which I reviewed this past month, including Writng to be Read team member Jordan Elizabeth, and AtA panel member, Dan Alatorre, who compiled and produced the anthology which climbed up the ratings for best horror anthology rapidly following its release. I gave the anthology five quills and it is well worth the read. I’m excited to be reading a few of their stories for them, as well as my own The Haunting of Carrol’s Woods, and can’t wait to hear the audio recordings of the other’s stories, too.  I hope you will join us. It may be scary, but it will be fun.

Happy Halloween

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Dark Visions: A Horror Anthology You Won’t Want to Miss

Dark Visions

October is the month for scary things, and a horror anthology filled with spine chilling short stories from over thirty authors is the perfect read for the season. The release of Dan Alatorre’s compilation of Dark Visions anthology is October 15th, and you won’t want to miss it. In addition to a wonderfully original and entertaining  prologue, and his own story, “The Corner Shop”, Dan has lined up a slew of writing talent to include in this tomb of short horror tales.

Not only does this anthology have a very cool cover, (Check it out above), but it also has some very well crafted short fiction, some that will stay with you in times to come. These shorts cover a wide spectrum of horrors; nightmares, voodoo, vampires, apparitions and spirits, and even demons. The stories found here prey upon your inner fears, making brief little ditties from the stuff of nightmares.

None of the stories I read from this collection would rate less than three quills, meaning even the mediocre stories are pretty good. Among my favorites are “The Devil’s Hollow”, by Adele Marie Park; “Road Kill”, by Ernesto San Giacomo; “Behind the Leather Apron”, by Alana Turner; “The Bloody Dagwood Tree”, by Dabry Farmer; and “Ice Cream”, by Geoff LePard.

Not to say that other stories in this volume are not noteworthy. Many of these stories will keep you awake at night, including: “The Haunting of William”, by Robbie Cheadle; “Nightmare”, by Lori Micken; “Swimming”, by Frank Parker; “Lucifer’s Revenge”, by Christine Valentor; “What If”, by Geoff LePard; “Ghosts of Tupelo” by Sharon Cathcart; “Where the Black Tree Grows”, by M.D. Walker; “The Right Time to Move”, by Jennifer Ruff; “The Stranger”, by Allison Maruska; “The Storm”, by J.A. Allen; and “Spirit Lake”, by Sharron Connell.

I may be difficult to please when it comes to short fiction, because I like my stories to feel complete and often short fiction fails  on those lines, but most of the tales in this collection did not fail to satisfy. Most of them were also a little creepy, which is essential when it comes to horror. And, did I mention it has a really cool cover? Put all of that together, and I give Dark Visions five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.