Book Review: The Guardians by T. M. Franklin

the guardians

 

The Guardians (More #2) by T. M. Franklin

Read my 5 star review of More (book #1)

Genre: YA Paranormal

Publisher: Self Published –  The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House

Pages: 255

Published: November 7th, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads

It’s not every day a girl discovers she’s not entirely human and unlocks hidden powers strong enough to make even the First Race take notice. Then again, Ava Michaels is no ordinary girl.

Now, the Race’s Ruling Council wants her under their control, and that’s just the beginning of her problems. Her boyfriend, Caleb Foster, has disappeared—accused of betraying the Race—and Ava herself is implicated in a crime she didn’t commit.

Clearing their names will mean uncovering a web of deceit and intrigue with Ava woven right in the center. To unravel the strands, she joins forces with some unlikely allies; a Protector who once haunted her nightmares, a young girl with secrets as unexpected as Ava’s, and a group of rebel Guardians who have their own fight against the Council.

Together they stand in a battle to find the truth, bring Caleb home, and secure Ava’s freedom—not to mention save her life.

THE GUARDIANS felt like a gutted version of the first book.  The beginning is extremely confusing unless you’ve recently read MORE.  There’s not even enough clues scattered in the novel to piece together the basic plot of the first book.  Bottom line, if you want to read THE GUARDIANS, read MORE first.  If you read MORE awhile ago, then reread it.  Otherwise, don’t bother trying to figure out what’s going on.

It’s an easy read that focuses on the plot.  The characters, setting, and everything else just seems less than what was in the first book.  It was okay, but there wasn’t a single time that I loved what was said or what happened.  The book didn’t spark any emotions.  It wasn’t boring though.

Caleb goes through a personality adjustment for plot reasons and I was sad to see the shift.  The chemistry between them is missing and there’s no sizzle between Ava and the other characters, even in friendship.

By the end, Ava’s abilities do get stupidly ridiculous.  The twists border on predictable.  I also thought that Tiernan was too easily swayed by Ava, especially considering the consequences of his actions.

THE GUARDIANS is a good self-published book.  It’s a good sequel for fans of MORE.  But, it won’t attract any new readers.  It felt too ‘safe’.  I won’t be continuing the series.

D rating plus rating  

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.)

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Book Review: Turner by Karl Drinkwater (3 1/2 stars)

turner

 

Turner by Karl Drinkwater

Genre: Horror

Publisher: Self- Published

Pages: 202

Published: January 25th, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Full List of Buy Links

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

An isolated Welsh island seemed like the perfect escape for a convict on the run, a jilted woman, and a policeman seeking a quiet life. When the surly locals turn to murderous violence the three visitors are forced on the run together, trying to stay one step ahead of their increasingly insane pursuers.

The bad news keeps coming. There are too many to fight. There is no escape from the island. And the worst storm in years has just begun. They can only run and hide as they face a night of horror and madness. If they don’t work together then none of them will live to see the light of day.

This tense survival horror novel is a homage to decades of nasty villains, scary predicaments, and bloody books and films.

The author escorts the reader through an island clearly not friendly to visitors.  In fact, it becomes quite obvious early on that most of the foreigners will not survive halfway, much less to the final chapters.  Knowing that deaths are inevitable, it’s difficult to gain a sense of empathy of all the characters before they’re mutilated.  In this sense, TURNER sways towards the slasher/gore end of the horror spectrum.

I have no doubt that many horror fans will love TURNER.  My 3 1/2 star rating is more from personal taste than fault of the book.  I prefer psychological horror, where the emphasis is on what might happen or what could happen.  This is more slasher/gore, where the deadly deeds sometimes happen without provocation.  If I had to compare TURNER to a horror movie, I would say that HOSTEL would be most like it.  It has some of the suspense and character development, but it really shines with the unexpected, brutal deaths.

The Welsh setting is so lifelike and fleshed out that I could almost taste the salty air.  The beacon of light on top of the lighthouse seems so enticing and hopeful that not only are the characters surprised when things don’t improved when they seek refuge, but so am I!

I was a little disappointed in the character setup in the beginning of the novel.  Some of the placement of where characters were in relation to other characters felt almost contrived.  It felt like the characters needed to be somewhere and instead of letting them go there organically, they were rushed into the proper spot.  But, once all the chess pieces were in position, the story was intense, dramatic, and shocking.  One death in particular left my jaw hanging.  And I really, really liked that character!

Well-done horror is all about setting up an atmosphere of anxiety and hopelessness; TURNER smothers the reader in both in the opening chapters.  It’s not ‘if’ someone is going to die, it’s ‘if’ someone will survive.  Reading this book gives you the same feelings as playing a video game, in where you are running around trying to find the save button before some stupid AI hits you for your last 10 hit-points.  Then. you die the second you see that shiny save point.  That anxiety and frustration really sums up how I felt while reading.  And in any genre but horror, that would be a bad thing.  But man, the characters in TURNER just could not catch a break!

rating C  plus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.)

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Blitz/Giveaway: The Unseen by J. L. Bryan

TheUnseenBlitzBanner1

Today, I’d like to give a shout out to one of my favorite indie authors with his newest book release.  You can check out my review of his JENNY POX series or read up on his awesome GUEST POST about time travel.  Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for organizing this blitz.  I do plan on eventually reading THE UNSEEN, as it looks amazing!

Unseen

The Unseen by J. L. Bryan

Genre: Dark Fiction/horror

Publisher: Self published

Pages: 343

Published: October 31, 2013

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads  |  Barnes & Noble

Author Links:  Website  |   Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon Author Profile

Cassidy is a young tattoo artist living in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. She’s always suffered terrible nightmares, and sometimes the hideous creatures seem to follow her out of her dreams and into her waking life, though she’s the only one who can see them. Drugs and alcohol can blot them out, but never entirely chase them away.

When a demonic cult begins to take control of the people in her life, including her younger brother, Cassidy discovers that the unseen world of monsters is very real. She can no longer avoid it. To protect those she loves, she must accept her own hidden supernatural talents and face the forces of evil before the sinister cult achieves its twisted goals and casts the world into darkness.

about author

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The Unseen by J.L. Bryan has a special release price of 99 cents through Halloween.  See his website for details and links.

J.L. Bryan studied English literature at the University of Georgia and at Oxford, with a focus on the English Renaissance and the Romantic period. He also studied screenwriting at UCLA. He enjoys remixing elements of paranormal, supernatural, fantasy, horror and science fiction into new kinds of stories.

He is the author of The Paranormals series (starting with Jenny Pox), The Songs of Magic series, Nomad, and other books. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Christina, his son John, and some dogs and cats.

 

excerpt

Chapter One

 

Years later, Cassidy would remember the night of the party as her first encounter with the unseen world.  It began with broken glass, blood, and a homemade Ouija board.

The day after Cassidy’s seventeenth birthday, her mother was away at work for the night, inadvertently giving Cassidy the best possible present: a Saturday night alone at the apartment.  Her younger brother Kieran was staying at a friend’s house for the weekend.  Cassidy’s mother had forbidden her to have any guests except for her best friend, Barb.  Boys, as always, were doubly forbidden while Cassidy’s mother was working the night shift at the hotel.  Her mother called her on the land line to make sure she was home—never Cassidy’s cell, always the land line.

The night started out calmly, with no sign of the horror to come.

Cassidy and Barb stood in the narrow kitchen, spreading sauce and mozzarella on a pre-made Boboli crust. Cassidy opened a jar of olives.

“Seriously?” Barb asked. “Why you are always trying to sneak olives into everything?  You’ve got an olive fetish.”

“Olives are awesome on pizza,” Cassidy said. “Way better than one of your Hawaiian-style travesties.”

“I like things that follow a theme.”

“Even though pineapples and ham actually taste terrible and ruin it?” Cassidy scattered olives on one half of the pizza. “There.  I’m saving you from any olive deliciousness.  Tamila and I can eat this half.”

“You really invited Tamila?” Barb frowned.

“I told you I was.”

“I thought you were kidding.” Barb had never particularly liked Tamila Evans, who was Cassidy’s “old” best friend from middle school.

Barb was the sort of sixteen-year-old girl who dressed in black lace, corpse-white face powder, purple lipstick, and hair dyed “Black Death,” just one of the colors offered by Barb’s beloved Horror Girl Cosmetics.

Cassidy’s old friend Tamila, by contrast, played trombone in the marching band and had joined groups like Math League to pump up her college application, while Cassidy and Barb spent the football games getting high or drunk under the bleachers.  Cassidy and Barb also struggled to pass Science and Society, a boring remedial class better known as Science for Slackers.

Cassidy had tried for a couple of years to create a friendship between Tamila and Barb, but neither girl had any real interest in the other.  Cassidy had found herself drifting away from Tamila and closer to Barb, and having both girls to her apartment at the same time could get awkward.

“Reese said she’s coming, too,” Barb said.

“Ugh,” Cassidy said.

“I’m telling you, you’d like her if you just give her a little bit of a chance.”

“What’s to like about Reese?”

“She’s fun,” Barb said.

“Let’s not confuse loud with fun,” Cassidy replied, shaking her head.

Cassidy couldn’t stand Reese Warwick, but the skinny blond girl was Barb’s latest girl-crush.  Barb was always hunting for a third girl to link into her and Cassidy’s friendship so they’d be a “clique” instead of “just a couple of losers.”

Barb had been hopeful about Reese as a third Musketeer because she was pretty and had a salty tongue, able to cut down the lame preppy kids with a few choice words.  Cassidy thought Reese was a big fake—her blond pageboy-type hair, the golden ring in her nose, the skimpy tops and ultra-short skirts she wore, as though being pretty wasn’t enough and she just had to snag the attention of every male in the room at all times.

Barb herself was chunky, with a low build a bit reminiscent of a bulldog.  Cassidy was tall and gangly, with a hideous number of freckles and long, unmanageable red hair.  Cassidy was five foot eleven and holding, hoping each day she didn’t grow another inch and cross over into six-foot territory.  She already towered over her mom and her brother.

Cassidy’s unusual height had led to her being recruited for the girls’ basketball team as a freshman.  She had sucked at basketball and quit after one season—Cassidy liked the Art Club, she liked painting backdrops for school plays, and she liked getting high in the woods behind the gym.  She did not like chasing a ball and putting it through a hoop like some kind of trained hamster.

Cassidy thought Barb just wanted a hot girl like Reese around to make their small group look more attractive.

The doorbell rang.  Cassidy opened it and hugged Tamila, who gave her an uncertain smile that said everything about the deteriorating state of their friendship.  Tamila was devolving toward a gross preppy look, too.  She wore a blue and white Abercrombie dress with two matching bows in her long, soft black hair.

Tamila’s smile, weak enough to begin with, faltered more when she saw Barb.

“Hi, Barb.” Tamila waved.  Tamila was a shapely, dark-skinned black girl who had grown out of middle-school gawkiness to become a real beauty with large, deep brown eyes.  If Barb wanted a cute girl for their group of friends, Tamila should have been a top pick, but she was too bookish and not wild enough for Barb.

“Tamila!” Barb said with fake friendliness, then turned her attention to sliding the pizza into the hot oven.

“Want some wine?” Cassidy offered.

“Is it a merlot?” Tamila asked.

“It’s a…pinot noir.” Cassidy read the words off the label, pronouncing them peanut no-wire, since she had no idea how else to say it.

“Just a little, thanks. I don’t want to get dizzy,” Tamila said.

“This should be fun, right?” Cassidy asked them, handing Tamila her wine.

“Sure.” Barb refilled her own glass, avoiding eye contact.

The evening was quiet and awkward until Reese arrived, at which point it became loud and awkward.  Barb let Reese in the door while Cassidy and Tamila sliced the finished pizza in the kitchen.

“What’s up, bitches?” Reese announced as she entered, waving a tall vodka bottle like a trophy.  The blond girl staggered into the room, dressed in a transparent mesh shirt with a skimpy bra top underneath, her tight low-rider denim shorts strategically slashed in several places. “So you call this a party, huh?”

“Want some pizza?” Barb offered.

“Um, do I look like I want a giant ass?” Reese unscrewed the vodka bottle and swigged. “So can we have some fucking music up in here?”

The group moved back to Cassidy’s room to blast Cassidy’s stereo.  Cassidy sat on her daybed, which was lined with cushions, between Tamila and Barb.  Reese was left with the sagging armchair in the corner.

“So what’s for entertainment tonight, ladies?” Reese asked.

“I brought a pack of Uno cards…” Tamila reached into her purse.

“Uno?  Because we’re a bunch of kindergarteners?” Reese snorted. “Let’s play ‘Hot or Not.’”

“What’s that?” Cassidy asked.

“Where we judge the boys at school like the pieces of meat they are,” Reese said. “I’ll start:  Hot or not?  Dexter McKenna.”

“Ew, not,” Tamila said, frowning.

“How is he not?” Reese scowled.

“Because he’s a dick.” Tamila sipped her glass of wine.

“You don’t like dicks?  You’re a chick-licker, aren’t you?” Reese laughed and stuck out her tongue, pierced with a stud that looked like a black pearl. “A preppy little dyke.”

“I am not!” Tamila snapped.  She gave Cassidy a desperate look, her eyes pleading for rescue.

“Come on, leave her alone.” Cassidy held out her glass to Barb, who had the open wine bottle. “Let’s drink more.”

“What do you think, Cassidy?” Barb poured until Cassidy’s wine glass was dangerously full. “Is Dex hot or not?”

“He’s kind of cute, but Tami’s right.  He’s a dick.” Cassidy drank her wine and fought down the urge to grimace at the bite of the alcohol.  She had a feeling Reese would make fun of her for it.

“I think he’s hot,” Barb said.

“Thank you, Barb!” Reese said. “All guys are dicks, people.  You just have to pick the hot ones.”

“Wisdom from Reese.” Barb toasted her and drank.

“I’m full of it.” Reese lit a Parliament.

“You really are,” Tamila said softly.

“What was that?”

“I’m going to let the smoke out.  It’s getting hard to breathe in here.” Tamila stood and opened the glass door to the balcony, letting in a warm, damp April breeze from the night outside.

Cassidy’s apartment was crappy and small.  The air conditioner smelled like sour rust, the plumbing was unreliable, and she could hear her neighbor’s dog barking day and night on the balcony below hers.  She and her brother shared a small hallway and a bathroom.  Their mother had the master bedroom, all the way across the living room.  The only good things about her apartment were that it was on the top floor of the three-story building and it had the little corner balcony.  Doors opened onto the balcony from both the living room and Cassidy’s room.

“Does my smoke bother you?” Reese asked, blowing a thick plume toward Tamila.

“It bothers anyone who doesn’t smoke,” Tamila said.

“Can I have a Parliament?” Barb asked.

“Oh, sure!” Reese stuck a cigarette in Barb’s mouth, then held out the open pack to Cassidy. “And you, ma’am?”

“Let’s go outside.” Cassidy took one and led the way out.

The balcony wasn’t large, but Cassidy and her mother had decorated it with outdoor shelves full of small, blooming plants.  It overlooked a broken concrete walkway next to a chain link fence.  Past the fence lay a big sinkhole thick with pine brush and kudzu.  Tires, beer cans, and an old boxspring had accumulated in the weedy sinkhole over the years despite the high fence around it.

“Oh, yeah, we wouldn’t want to bother all the non-smokers here.” Reese just happened to blow a big cloud of smoke into Tamila’s face on her way out.

Tamila hung back, standing inside Cassidy’s room and watching the three girls stand at the wooden railing.  The railing’s blue paint was faded and peeling, neglected for years by the apartment complex’s cheapskate management.

Cassidy wondered what Reese was secretly thinking about her tiny apartment.  She’d been to Reese’s house for a party once.  Reese had a big princess bed, a flower garden and swimming pool in her back yard, and a pool table and a bar in her finished basement.

“Full moon tonight,” Barb said. “The werewolves will be out.”

“So, Dex McKenna…?” Reese said.

“We already did him,” Cassidy replied.

“I haven’t done him,” Reese snickered. “But I will.  I know he’s kind of a douche, but…so hot.  So, so hot.”

“I’m not sure he deserves the double ‘so hot,’” Barb said. “A single one, maybe.”

“That’s why I invited him over tonight,” Reese told them.

“What?” Cassidy asked.

“It’s cool, he’ll bring some goodies if he comes.” Reese touched the side of her nose. “I was going to let it be a surprise, but…”

“A surprise?  Like a present?” Cassidy asked. “Isn’t a present supposed to be something you actually want?”

“I told him he could bring Kyle Bowers, too.  Kyle’s totally up for grabs.  Who’s calling him?  Barb?  Cassidy?”

“I made out with Kyle at Jerry Krazinksi’s party freshman year.” Barb shuddered. “He tasted like bologna.  It was like sticking my tongue up Oscar Meyer’s crack.”

“I don’t want those guys in my house,” Cassidy said. “Reese, you should have asked me.”

“First of all—‘apartment,’ not ‘house.’  Let’s not mangle the English language.  Second, I’ve been after this guy forever, for like four weeks.  It’s cool if we use your mom’s bed, right?” Reese asked.

“Gross.  Use my little brother’s bed,” Cassidy told her.

“Um, even grosser?  I am not hooking up with Dex on your brother’s snotty-caked little Star Wars sheets.”

“Then go somewhere else.”

“Fine.  The living room couch?”

“Like somewhere not in my apartment,” Cassidy said. “I’m not cleaning up those stains.”

“We’ll use a towel!” Reese offered.

Cassidy shook her head. “I can’t believe you invited them without asking me.”

“They probably won’t even come, okay?” Reese said. “Dex said he was busy.  It was just my fantasy that he would show up anyway, and take me right to the…couch…Cassidy, does your mom’s bathroom have a Jacuzzi tub?”

“Nope,” Cassidy said. “So those boys are not coming?  Right?”

“Almost definitely not.  But maybe.”  Reese shrugged and flicked her cigarette out into the sinkhole, where it landed among dry weeds and brush.

“Watch out!  You could start a fire.” Tamila leaned out to see where it had gone.

“Don’t be such a panty-pisser.  Your friend is boring me, Cassidy.” Reese nudged Tamila aside with her elbow as she returned inside Cassidy’s room.  Tamila gave Cassidy a look of disbelief and shook her head.  She mouthed the word bitch, and Cassidy laughed.

“What’s funny?” Reese looked back, frowning.

“Nothing,” Cassidy said.  She stepped inside and grabbed the vodka bottle from her dresser.  Barb followed her in and closed the balcony door behind them.

When they sat down, Reese stole Tamila’s previous spot at the head of the daybed and Barb sat beside her, leaving Cassidy to sit at the foot of her own bed.  Tamila rolled her eyes and dropped into the sagging old armchair instead.

“So, yeah, probably no boys,” Reese said. “What do we do instead?”

“Vodka shots.  Everybody empty your glass,” Cassidy said.  All four girls turned their glasses up and drained the wine.  Reese poured vodka.

“That’s too much!” Tamila gaped at her wineglass, filled to the lip with clear liquor.

“If you get drunk, maybe you’ll be more fun!” Reese gave her a chipper smile, and Barb laughed. Reese raised her glass. “Here’s to me hooking up with Dex, and to whatever you bitches want for yourselves.”

“Cheers!” Barb replied, clinking her glass against Reese’s.  Vodka sloshed over her fingers. Barb turned to Cassidy and held up her glass. “To whatever us bitches want for ourselves.”

“Cheers.” Cassidy clinked her glass against Barb’s, then leaned and stretched toward Tamila, but it was too far to reach, and neither of them made the effort to stand up and cross the room.

Cassidy, Barb, and Reese downed her entire drinks, but Tamila took a small sip, wrinkled her nose, and coughed.  She waved her hand in front of her mouth and set her mostly-full glass on Cassidy’s dresser, shaking her head.

“What?  How can you wuss-gag on vodka?  It has no taste,” Reese said. “Who wants seconds?”

“We don’t want to waste all of it right away,” Cassidy said.

“It’s not wasted if we drink it.” Reese winked, and Barb laughed.

“You know what we should do?  A full moon is the best time to contact the dead,” Barb said.

“Why would we want to do that?” Reese asked.

“To see what’s on the Other Side,” Barb replied.

“Isn’t that why the chicken crossed the road?” Tamila asked, but only Cassidy laughed at her joke.

“I’m serious, let’s do it,” Barb said. “Let’s talk to the spirits.”

Cassidy bit her lip.  Barb thought death was dark and romantic, but Cassidy didn’t find it romantic at all.  Her own father had died when she was six years old.

“How do you want to contact the dead, Barb?” Cassidy asked. “A séance?”

“Oh, this is all part of your ‘Look at me, I’m so Gothic and mysterious and weird’ thing,” Reese said to Barb.

“It’s better than your ‘Look at me, I’m wearing a see-through shirt’ thing,” Barb countered.

“Bitch!” Reese replied.

“Slut!”

Reese gasped and slapped playfully at Barb, who tackled her in return.  Cassidy watched them, drunk and friendly on the bed beside her, and still couldn’t think of a single good reason to ever hang out with Reese again.

“Want to do the séance, Tami?” Cassidy asked.

“That’s not funny,” Tamila said. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Yeah, a séance!” Reese suddenly seemed interested now that Tamila was clearly uncomfortable.

“We used a Ouija board at my cousin’s house during Christmas,” Barb said. “It really does move by itself, it spells out words.  It was creepy.”

“Those are dangerous,” Tamila said. “We did a study unit on them at church.  Ouija boards, Tarot cards, Satan-worshipers, Wiccans—”

“Hey, Wiccans worship nature,” Barb interrupted, sitting up and looking serious. “Not Satan.  Satanists don’t worship Satan, either.  I read the Satanic Bible.  Well, like three pages of it.”

“Then that’s a rip-off,” Cassidy said. “What are people who worship Satan supposed to call themselves if they can’t use the word ‘Satanist’?”

“They need a name,” Barb said. “They should organize.  They need like a devil-pope, and a whole Satanic bureaucracy—”

“Stop it.” Tamila said. “Stop saying ‘Satan.’”

“Are you fucking serious right now?” Reese asked. “Let’s break out that Ouija board, ladies.”

“No!  They can make people crazy.  There’s demonic possession, ghosts…if you really read up on this, Reese, you’d know.  It’s dangerous,” Tamila said.

Reese and Barb looked at each other, then burst out laughing.

“Dangerous?  They’re made by Parker Brothers,” Reese said.

“I don’t have one here, anyway.  I bought one in middle school, but my mom found it and threw it away before I could use it,” Cassidy said.

“Did she throw it in the sinkhole out back?  Like next to the old homeless-person mattress?” Reese asked, and she and Barb broke down laughing again.

Cassidy felt herself blush—part anger, part embarrassment—and she poured herself more wine.

“We can make one!” Barb, who knew Cassidy’s room as well as Cassidy herself, stumbled across the room and opened the door to Cassidy’s tiny closet.

The closet door was covered in drawings, as were all the walls in Cassidy’s cluttered room.  Her oldest works were approximate drawings of Oscar and Elmo from Sesame Street, in the medium of Crayola, just above the springy doorstop that had fascinated her as a small child.

From there, the drawings had spread up and out, bats and dragons done in colored pencil and marker, then attempts at portraits of people she knew—her mother, her father, her kindergarten teacher, and some preschool friend whose name she’d long forgotten.  Later works included paintings of trees, spiderwebs, and a homeless one-eyed cat who lived in the parking lot.

“You could draw an awesome spirit board, Cassidy!” Barb carried out poster board and a shoebox with markers, glue, scissors, and bottles of glitter, which Cassidy had used to create the colorful, shimmering flowers on her dresser drawers back in middle school.  “It would be so much better than the store-bought ones, anyway.  You know it would.”

“You want me to make it?” Cassidy smiled, a little excited by the idea of creating something new.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if they might contact her father’s spirit, wherever it was, but she certainly didn’t say it out loud.

“We’d better not,” Tamila said.

“Come on, Tami, it’s something we can all do together.  What goes on a Ouija board?  Just letters and numbers, right?” Cassidy asked.

“You also need a YES and a NO so the spirits can answer questions, and a GOOD-BYE so they can leave when they’re done,” Barb said. “Use the glow-in-the-dark markers.”

“Good idea!” Cassidy replied.  Barb hopped up to light the three scented candles in Cassidy’s room.  Tamila frowned.

Cassidy carefully wrote out the alphabet in three rows of green letters, then added numbers from zero to nine.  She wrote YES and NO in the upper corners and GOOD-BYE at the bottom.

“And maybe a big FUCK YOU in case they get annoyed,” Reese suggested, and Cassidy snickered and added FUCK YOU between the YES and the NO.

“This isn’t a joke,” Tamila said. “I’m not doing this.”

“Blah, blah, blah.” Reese rolled her eyes.

“Now we just need to decorate it,” Barb said. “There’s usually a sun and a moon…”

“We can do better than that.” Cassidy drew a blue moon, a green clover, a red heart, and a purple horseshoe before realizing she was imitating the ingredients of a Lucky Charms box. “Wait, this is stupid.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Tamila said.

“It looks good!” Barb countered.

“Make it more occult-y,” Reese said, with a sharp grin at Tamila.

Cassidy used the nozzle of her Elmer’s Glue bottle to sketch stars in each corner of the poster board.  She dusted them with red glitter and blew off the excess, leaving four sparkling red pentagrams.

“That seems like a bad idea,” Tamila said. “Just take off the pentagrams, okay?”

“The pentagrams are great!” Barb said.

“Hell, yeah, keep them,” Reese nodded.

“What other occult symbols are there?” Cassidy asked.

“Inverted crosses?” Reese suggested, then smirked at Tamila’s shocked look.

“There’s a symbol for each horoscope sign. I’ll sketch them…” Barb drew the symbols on a scrap of notebook paper, and Cassidy copied them in marker around the edges of the posterboard—blue waves for Aquarius, a red bull pictogram for Taurus.

“The symbol for Cancer is a sixty-nine?” Reese snickered, looking over Barb’s shoulder.

“That’s what Cancers like.  I’m a Cancer, so I know,” Barb replied.

“Here it is—the ultimate Ouija board.” Cassidy held up the colorful, glittering poster board. “We should be able to talk to ghosts from all over the world with this thing.”

“Sweet, international ghosts!  Let’s see how it looks in the dark.” Barb turned out the light, leaving the room in the dim glow of three candles.  The letters and numbers glowed an eerie green.  Outside, the trees rustled in the wind and light rain tapped on the balcony.

“Maybe I should go,” Tamila said quietly.

“Maybe you should!” Reese snatched the newly made board from Cassidy’s hands and tugged Barb down to the carpet with her. “Come on, let’s call up some dead people.”

“What do we use as a pointer?” Cassidy asked.

“You mean a planchette?” Barb drained her wine glass, then placed it upside down in the center of the board.  A few droplets of red wine dribbled down and blurred the glowing letters M and N.  Barb and Reese laid their fingertips on the base of the inverted glass.

“Let’s do this!” Reese said.

Cassidy slid down from her bed and sat across from Reese.  She placed her own fingertips on the glass along with the other two girls.

“One spot left,” Cassidy said to Tamila, who had made no move to leave the chair.

“I’m not doing it.”

“Come on, Tami.  It’ll be fun.  Please?” Cassidy resorted to a begging tone, locking eyes with Tamila.  What she wanted to say was: I am desperately trying to make you part of the group here, so please stop acting like such a tromboner tonight. “As a favor to me?”

“It does work better with four people,” Barb added.

Tamila sighed, looked at the board, and reluctantly left her chair to sit next to Cassidy, while offering a shaky, frightened smile to no one in particular.

“Okay.  Let’s get it over with,” Tamila whispered.  She placed her trembling fingers on the base of the upside-down wine glass. “We should say a prayer first.”

Barb and Reese found this hilarious, and Tamila frowned at their peals of drunken laughter.

“Let’s go,” Barb said.  She closed her eyes. “Are there any spirits—”

“Come talk to us, spirits!” Reese interrupted, closing her eyes and also swaying from side to side.  In her best drama-club voice, she projected, “Speak to us, give us messages from the world of the dead…”

The glass trembled under their fingers, and Cassidy gasped.  Everybody leaned in for a closer look, but the glass became still again.

“You should say only good spirits,” Tamila whispered. “Or we could end up talking to demons, or evil ghosts, or dead murderers…”

“Calling all demons, evil ghosts, and dead murderers!” Reese cried out in a slurred voice, then doubled forward, laughing.

“Be serious, Reese,” Barb said.  In a louder, more formal voice, she asked, “Are there any messages from the Other Side?  Like from our spirit guides or totem animals?”

“Totem animals,” Reese snickered.

“We all have one.  Mine’s a frog,” Barb told her, and Reese laughed and shook her head, tossing her blond hair.

“You look like a frog!” Reese said.

“Sh!  It’s moving,” Cassidy told them.

The wine glass shuddered again, and this time it began to slide over the poster board, the lip scraping and smearing a few of the still-wet letters, gathering glowing paint around its rim.

The glass moved across the alphabet to the word YES in the upper left corner of the poster, scraping up glue and glitter from a sparkly red pentagram along the way.

“Who’s doing that?  Are you doing that?” Reese asked Tamila, who shook her head, her wide eyes fixed on the board.

“Hello?  Are you a spirit?” Barb asked.

The glass slid half an inch, then right back into place.  YES again.

“Who are you?” Barb asked. “I mean, to whom do we have the pleasure of speaking?”

The wineglass lay still for a moment, then vibrated and hummed as if someone had plinked it with a fingernail.  The glass slid over the alphabet.

Cassidy felt her heart racing.  She hadn’t expected it to work at all, and it was starting to freak her out.  She wished they hadn’t turned off the lights.

The wine glass smeared its way across the board, its entire rim glowing green now.  It stopped at the letter N, and didn’t move again until Barb said the letter aloud.  It stopped again on the I.

“N…I…” Barb said.

“Nipple?” Reese suggested.

The glass continued on to the B, then HA…and then it stopped on Z.

“N-I-B-H-A-Z,” Barb said.

“It’s just nonsense,” Cassidy said.

The wineglass jerked under their fingers, then flew to the word NO, dragging their fingers with it.

“Who’s doing that?” Reese asked. “Is it you, Cassidy?  Barb?  It’s you, isn’t it, Barb?  You big Goth girl.”

“Sh,” Barb said. “Nib…haz?  Is that right?”

The wineglass zipped over to YES.

“What does that mean?” Cassidy asked.

The wineglass spelled out NAME.

“Your name is Nibhaz?”

YES.

“Sounds like a demon’s name to me,” Tamila said in a soft voice.

“Pfft, shut up,” Reese told her. “Like you would know.”

“Do you have a message for someone here, Nibhaz?” Barb asked.

YES.

“For who?” Barb asked.

CASS

Cassidy felt her blood turn cold.

“Oh, shit, for Cassidy?” Reese asked.

YES.

“Nibhaz, what is your message for Cassidy?” Barb asked.

The four girls watched as the glass crept back and forth along the top row of text.  DIE

“Die?  It’s telling her to die?” Tamila gasped.

“Sh, it’s not done yet,” Barb told her.

“Yeah, it’s not done yet,” Reese echoed, her eyes fixated on the glass.

Cassidy shivered, trying to think of any non-scary word that started with “die.”

“Diesel?” Cassidy asked in a shaky voice.  She expected someone to laugh at her, but nobody did.

The glass moved back to the letter D.

“Died,” Barb said. “He’s saying he died, I think.  He’s a ghost.”

The glass whipped over to the word NO, then returned to the letter D.

DIE..

DIE

DIE

 

“Does it stand for something?” Cassidy guessed, trying not to sound scared.  Her heart was thundering inside her chest.

“Is it somebody’s initials, Nibhaz?” Barb asked.

NO.

“He’s telling her to die!  Are you people blind?” Tamila snapped.  She took her fingers off the glass and stood. “I’m gone.  Forget this craziness.”

“You can’t let go until the spirit says GOOD-BYE!” Barb yelled at her. “That’s how people get possessed!”

“Oh, now you believe in demons?” Tamila asked, brushing off her knees.

“Please don’t leave me, Tami,” Cassidy whispered.  She was genuinely scared now. “Not until this is done, okay?”

Tamila looked at her a long moment, then sighed and reluctantly sat on the floor again.

“Make it quick.” Tamila returned her fingers to the glass. “I mean it.”

“Nibhaz, is there more to your message?” Barb asked.

YES.

“What?” Cassidy whispered.

The glass flew back to the top row of letters.

DIE

 

It moved faster, back and forth, never leaving the top row.

 

DIE

DIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE

 

Cassidy watched in horror, spellbound as the glass raced back and forth, smearing the top row of letters into an illegible green streak, but still sliding back and forth, back and forth, touching the spots where the three letters D, I, and E had been.

She wanted to let go and pull away, but her fingertips felt glued to the wine glass.  The glass became icy, burning cold under her fingertips, a crust of smoking frost forming inside the bowl and along the stem.

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Book Review: Viral Bound by Dan Waltz (1 star)

viral bound

Genre: Horror, Zombies

Publisher: Self Published

Pages: 432

Published: December 6th, 2012

Links: Amazon |  Goodreads

Author Links:  Goodreads  |  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Google +

I was diagnosed with cancer just hours before rumors of a cure began circling the globe. Like me, most people were skeptical, while others thanked their lucky stars for such fantastic news. Then, strange things began happening, like thousands of birds falling from the skies and fish going belly-up for no reason. People assumed foul play, but that was quickly dismissed. A secret society with government backing lurked in the shadows while a virus was born. It spread wildly across the planet, unleashing the dead to walk among us. This is when my living nightmare began, and life as I knew it changed forever.

“There is an appointed time for everything, and there is a time for every event under heaven.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-1 KJV

 

Maybe I was wrong to assume, but I thought VIRAL BOUND would be about a cancer patient fighting zombies.  It is and it isn’t.  Until the last chapter, the character with cancer isn’t revealed and THAT character isn’t fighting zombies in the last chapter.  I was prepared to give this book a two star rating, but the ending pissed me off.  So, now it’s one star.

I liked and hated the author’s morbid sense of humor.  Besides the reason for the development of the zombie virus (they needed something else for people to die from since cancer was cured), the humor set the book apart from others in its genre.

Scene where the humor works:  Steven has to hide in the garbage to hide from zombies.  He stinks so bad that the zombies can’t find him.  Then he discovers that the garbage is full of maggots and flies.  On his way out of the garbade, he sees the sign that says ‘recyclables only’.

See, that’s funny.

Scene where the humor doesn’t work:  Steven is suffering from diarrhea.  He goes into this school’s bathroom and takes a shit where there’s dozens of kids’ half mutilated bodies.

That’s not funny.

The humor is the best part about the book.  The rest of the book falls flat.

The head hopping is outrageous.  We’re reading tweets (why no hashtags?), then a scene from the hospital, then a blog post, then to this kid with his family in a car, then to a drunk guy on a motorcycle, then text messages from random people, then to some birds in Africa or where ever…it’s overloading.  If this book was written as a mock-documentary, then it would work.  It doesn’t work when 75% of the book is devoted to a set cast of characters and the other 25% is random.

Because so much effort is placed on being everywhere at once, there’s no room to develop personalities for the characters.  There’s a nurse, a kid, an old man, a drunk guy with a motorcycle, and then this guy and his pregnant wife.  Does there ALWAYS have to be a pregnant chick in zombie books?  Plus she doesn’t even do anything except be pregnant.  The characters do things for plot purposes.

For example:  Sarah is in her car with the kid and she’s running from a crowd of zombies.  This old guy is trying to get into the car.  Sarah nearly lets him die to the crowd of zombies.  She doesn’t trust that he’s not infected.  But, eventually she lets him in the car.  She’s a nurse, but she doesn’t bother to actually CHECK to see if he has any injuries.  In the next scene, Sarah vouches for this old man that she just met and that she didn’t trust 5 minutes ago.  WTF?

And then there’s times that the characters escape situations in ways that don’t make sense.

For example:  Steve hides under a bullet-filled corpse of a dead zombie.  Steve has injuries.  The zombie is leaking fluid from its injuries.  Why is Steve not infected?  I admit that it is a creative way to escape, but it still doesn’t make any logical sense.

As I said, I would have given this book two stars for still being entertaining and somewhat humorous (and good editing), but I hated the ending.  Not cool.

F rating plus rating

(I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.)

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Review: Love, Tink by Elle Strauss (3 1/2 stars)

love tink elle strauss

Love, Tink by Elle Strauss

Genre:  Fantasy, Fairytale retelling

Publisher: Self Published

Published:  July 10th, 2013

Pages: 249

Links:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Goodreads  |  Kobo

Author Links:  Website  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Twitter

Tink is hopelessly smitten with Peter, the leader of the lost boys who’d mysteriously arrived at Neverland two years ago. Unfortunately, Peter is tired of the adventure and especially tired of dodging Captain Hook who is after his head. He just wants to go back to New York City and live his life as a normal fifteen-year-old.

Tink is the only one who can help Peter return, but it breaks her heart to do it. She just wants to make him happy, so she does the unthinkable and betrays the fairy king. Now her heart is filled with remorse. Should she go after Peter? Should she follow him to his New York?

Originally published as six separate novella episodes, Love, Tink the complete series is all six stories together in one volume.

LOVE, TINK goes against everything I normally want in a book, yet I adored it.  I’ve read a couple other Peter Pan retellings and LOVE, TINK offers a modern version of the tale.  MG or YA readers can appreciate this clean fantasy.  I read this book almost straight through, and now I’m itching to read other books by Elle Strauss.

In this version of Peter Pan, Peter is homesick and wants to leave Neverland.  Tink is so love-smitten that she goes against the laws of the fairy people and helps him leave her.   The romance between Tink and Peter is the primary plot.  There are other subplots, particularly later in the story, but none of them distract from the romance.   It is told from the POV of both Tink and Peter, although we don’t get to pop into Peter’s head until 40% through the book.

I liked the complexity of Tink and how her heart brought her mishap after mishap.  She experiences a vast array of emotions throughout the book, yet never slips out of character from what you’d expect.  Jangles is a fun, spunky character.  She actually has some plot of her own and her entire life doesn’t revolve around Tink, however the ending with her I wasn’t pleased about.  It made her seem shallow, even though her intentions may have been noble.

I’m not as fond of how Wendy is portrayed, since she shows zero depth.  Her only apparent trait is that she is super obsessed with Peter, then again with the unreliable narrations of Peter and Tink, this lack of complexity might be because neither of them think that highly of her.  Peter is a little underdeveloped.  I liked him from Tink’s perspective, but not when we’re in his head.  He’s whiny and weak and totally not what turns me on in a guy.

Considering that this is a fantasy, I don’t expect a completely realistic atmosphere, however the scenes in New York conflict with what I know about the city.  Most importantly is that there are a whole lot of schools.  The chances of Dylan and Peter attending the same school are slim.  The chances of a taxi cab driver knowing which school to take you to when you can’t even tell the cab driver the name or address is infinitely improbably.

I wish that the locations used in New York City were more specific and localized.  It’s such a unique city that generalizations really don’t match.  Baltimore, for example, would have been a much better choice for a city without personality.

rating C plus rating

(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.)

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