Thursday, July 27, 2017

REVIEW: Warm, Dark Places Are Best


By: Mike Duke

Genre: Horror
Publication date: 3.27.2017
Pages: 89

Carl and Jessica are emotionally stretched thin, down on their financial luck, and stuck moving into a really nasty apartment complex after Jessica gets laid off and Carl is already on a fixed disability payment.
            From day one, they see lots of roaches in the hallways, but nothing in their own apartment.  Hoping their luck will hold, they have no idea just what kind of hell is coming their way, or what hideous secrets their apartment, in particular, holds.
            Buckle up.  Carl and Jessica are in for a nasty ride, and so are you.

Note: Not Extreme Horror, but NOT for the squeamish.


After meeting Mike at Scares That Care this past Saturday, and having a long discussion with him about this story, I decided to jump into this book of his, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of months.  (I actually started it the next day while eating breakfast at my hotel, waiting for my friend to join me.) 

Let me start out by saying that I don't particularly dislike bugs.  Now, I'm from Texas... where roaches fly... so maybe I should, but these have never been on the top list of things that bothered me.  Until now.  Two pages in and I was already looking up at the ceiling above me.  (Thanks, Mike!)

Roaches aren't the only bug that we encounter in this story, though, and they are far from the worst thing out there.

Carl and Jessica are good characters, and you find out quite a bit about them, even with the story being less than a hundred pages.  He is on disability from an injury on the job, and she is very caring and protective of him.  My favorite characters were the kids, though.  Like little adults, they were, and full of adventure.  Even though they had to benefit from what ever "good deed" they did, they were still such an awesome part of the story, especially with how quick they were to help Carl in whatever he had planned.

I wouldn't particularly call this a "scary story."  It definitely has that creepy factor - ya know, where you stop for a minute, look around, not sure if you really did see a shadow out of the corner of your eye.  It wasn't until I was laying in bed that the full impact of the story hit me.  Every time something brushed against my skin, I was wide awake, looking around, wondering.  In fact, it wasn't until the next morning, when I went to stand, that I realized just how tight I had been holding my legs together in my sleep.  Shortly after finishing the story, my left ear REALLY started hurting, so much so that I eventually went to the doctor because the pain was unbearable.  The first thing I thought, when he told me it was an ear infection, was "Oh, thank God!" haha.

The ending was particularly good, what with Carl's bond to these kids growing to another level.  I would love to see these characters again.


About the author:
I'm 44, married 25 years, and have a son and daughter who are both grown and out of the house (pretty much).  I was a cop for 12 years (and even spent a few years on the SWAT team) before getting into the training industry.  I've been working full time the last 10 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving and Hand to Hand Combatives.  I also did a few bodyguard gigs, one for three weeks in multiple South African countries, one in Jamaica, and three for the Ultra Music Festival owner - twice in Miami and once in Sao Paolo.  Had some incredible experiences, especially in Africa.
            I've self-published three works thus far.  Two short novellas - Ashley's Tale and Ashley's Tale: Making Jake.  One short story - The Awakening.  I recently was picked up by Stitched Smile Publications and they are going to be publishing my full length novel Low in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Scares That Care Weekend 2017

I've been sitting on this post for a few days now, trying to figure out exactly what I was going to say about my latest book adventure.  I wanted to share my experience - my first - with the world, and also have it where I could go back and look at it in a few years and see how different things are when I hit my fifth year at Scares That Care.
          I've been reading what a lot of the authors had to say about their con experience, and I've noticed that, even though they're not just a reader like me, they had a lot of the same feelings and experiences that I did.
          I'm glad they enjoyed it as much as I did.  I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I was like this kid...



I got back from Virginia a few days ago, and am still trying to get my head around the weekend that I had.  Not only was it my first Scares That Care, but it was also my first con that revolved around books.  It was definitely one of the most amazing weekends of my life.


 


Stephen Kozeniewski and I shared our table with Steven Shrewsbury, who is a seriously awesome guy.  In fact, our little room was full of some great people, and it was definitely not boring, us bonding over a broken air conditioning, a fire alarm evacuation Saturday afternoon, and a lot of shenanigans and frivolities throughout the weekend.
          James WallaceWill Allen, and M.C. Allen are NEVER boring!  They were across from us, and were ready for entertainment.
          Also in our room was Grindhouse Press, their table being manned by C.V. HuntJohn Wayne Communal, and Andersen Prunty.

I won't deny the fact that I had major anxiety about this whole thing.  I was meeting a lot of people in real life that I had known for years, so my excitement level was already through the roof.  Add on top of that the fact that there were some pretty amazing authors there that I would be connecting with for the first time, and the fact that there were lots of people in general, it did take me until about mid-afternoon Saturday to finally feel like I was being myself, and not coming across as some awkward weirdo haha.  (Which would explain why there are not as many pictures on my phone as there SHOULD have been.  Next year's goal: Take more pictures.)

One of the first authors I saw was John Boden.  I'm all "I know you" and he starts telling me how close I live to him (which is no more than fifteen minutes) haha.

Once we got everything set up, I went in search of friends.  Specifically... Jonathan Janz.  Not only is he super talented, and I love everything of his that I've read, but I also consider him a good friend, having had many conversations with him over the years about life and everything that involves.  Remember that anxiety thing I was just talking about?  I had to go over, in my head, several times, what I would say to him when I walked up to him, cause he's this great author and my brain was telling me he would have no idea who I was.


Me: Hey, I was told I needed to come in here and finally
meet this author that I have known forever cause I'm 
Meghan and you're Jo....

I didn't even have his full first name out of my mouth before the look of recognition happened and he went to hug me.  Talk about feeling important haha.
          Jonathan treats everyone like they are on the same level as him.  You can tell that he tries to remember each person's name, and he interacts with each person as if they are a member of his close group of friends, as if they are a member of his family.  

 

(Note the fact that the excitement caused me to not give a flying-flip what I look like in a picture, any picture, the whole weekend hahahaha.)

While I was there, I introduced myself to the amazingly awesome Paul Tremblay, who I also "know," and who was sharing a table with Jonathan.  (I also went up and spoke to Wrath James White for a few minutes, but alas, was too excited to remember to take a picture with him, any of the times I spoke to him.)


The next room over, I found Jaime Johnesee, who has always been one of my favorite people ever.  For those of y'all who have not met her in real life yet, you definitely need to.  She is so amazingly sweet and loving, and you really feel how much she cares about you... plus there is not one time I saw her that I didn't think, "Man, she's pretty."

 

We didn't even make it back to our hotel (a half mile down the road from where StC was at) until around 4am, having hung out most of the night with some really great people... and playing a game of Werewolves, which seemed confusing when they were talking through the rules, but maaaaaaan was that fun.


 


On Saturday, Mike Duke arrived.  Like Jonathan, him and I have had lots of conversations, about books, writing and life, and it was awesome to finally meet him (and his gorgeous wife, Kristi - you ever meet a couple and realize that they are just absolutely perfect for each other?).  When he told me what room he would be set up in, I laughed cause... he was actually in our room, too.  Talk about perfect.




Saturday brought conversations with many amazing people, including Jay Wilburn and Matt Manochio (who I completely didn't recognize at first cause he looks way younger in real life), another two people I was already connected with on social media... plus I had the chance to meet and talk to people I had not already known.  

I'm going to veer off subject a tad here: I'm actually really proud of myself.  I can talk about books, authors, and reading all day long.  I talk to random strangers all the time, connecting with them over what they're reading on their e-reader or the book they are holding in their hand.  I can even scream from the rooftops about The Gal, because this is my happy place... BUT I just can't talk about my editing.  It's not that I don't have confidence in my work, because I know I do a good job, but that I don't have the confidence in myself to do so.
          Steve came up to me Saturday afternoon and told me about a lady - an editor - that was walking around introducing herself to authors and handing out her cards (she had stopped at the table when I was on the other side of the room having a conversation), and he thought it would be really good for me to go do the same thing.  I had a box of my cards there so I could hand them to people when I met them, but the idea of walking up to people and specifically speaking to them about me as an editor was scary.  So we argued haha.  Ya know how it is with your best friend - they tell you to do something, and you tell them why you're not going to haha.  He was right, though... and I rarely tell him when he is.  I went downstairs and had my mini-panic attack with Jaime, who told me I was being silly because she thinks I'm amazing, and pumped me up to go do it... and I was actually able to do it, with authors I know and authors I didn't know... and have been contacted by a few of them in just the few days since I've been home, so that was really cool.

Saturday was also the unveiling of THE official The Gal in the Blue Mask t-shirt, which was designed by author (and cover artist) Michael Bray.  I've had this shirt hanging in my closet for a few months, waiting for this weekend, and only showed it to a handful of people.  (By the end of the weekend, I already had four people that wanted to purchase one.)



During my adventure around the rooms upstairs, I met Christina Hargis Smith of Optimus Maximus Publishing, along with two of her authors, Scott Carruba and the infamous Ricky Fleet.  I can't wait to have them on.

The vendor rooms close at around 7pm on Saturday, but there are a lot of other things going on for you to be a part of - readings, an on-site recording of Brian Keene's podcast, and a live Rocky Horror Picture Show.  
          We met up with Brian for a few minutes while he was grabbing some dinner before the podcast began... and I can tell you honestly that I really can't remember ANYTHING from that because the no-descriptive-word-is-adequate Mary SanGiovanni stuck her hand out in my direction and introduced herself to me.  She was the ONLY person I noticed at the table.  I fan-girled (in my head - I mean, I didn't want to make it awkward) so much that I thought my brain was going to explode.

I quite enjoy The Horror Show, listening to episodes on my iPod while I'm walking, but seeing it as it's happening is pretty awesome.  Especially when you find out that the two surprise guests are Joe R. Lansdale (I kicked myself for not bringing my books and having him sign them) and Chet Williamson.  



Epic moment of the weekend #1.  Brian asked them a lot about their friendship and how they handle each other's success... it was a really good interview (so definitely check that out on iTunes when it goes live).

Brian actually recorded two shows that night - this one and a live Q&A for the people on his show.  As usual when I'm put on the spot to ask a question, I couldn't remember anything I had been thinking about, but the people there were asking some really good ones.  (I actually connected with a young lady over the question that she had asked.)  A couple of authors even presented Brian with a statue to thank him for all that he has done for them and the horror community.



 

When the show was over, I went to see my VERY FIRST author reading.  I have had an obsession with these since I saw Jessica Fletcher do one on Murder, She Wrote when I was really young, and have seen some on YouTube, but this was my first LIVE.
          This one was After Dark with Wrath James White, Christian Jensen, and David Barbee.  David is a Bizarro author that Brian had seen at a con and knew, from first hearing him read, that he had to be here.  I'm sure glad he came because the story he read was hilarious, in a bizarro-horror hilarious kinda way (haha), and I definitely want to search out and read some more of his work.  Christian is a horror writer.  His story started out with, "Fuck you, Brian Keene" yelled across the room... and since I was sitting right in front of Brian, I was able to witness his reaction to that first-hand, and the laughter that ensued.  I look forward to reading more from him as well.
          Wrath was the last read, and since he had time, he chose to read a longer story.  The only word I can think to describe it was "Wow!"  He made my first reading perfect.




    

Sunday began for me in the Author Reading Room, where Stephen Kozeniewski and Ralph Bieber would be.  Ralph had also been in our room upstairs, so we had a little crowd of "our people" listening to these two.  Ralph read an excerpt from a future novel of his, and Steve read a story he wrote about a drinking contest he had once with Brian.  (When Brian asked me later what he read, and I told him, he laughed and said, "That's a true story.")



  

What made this reading EVEN BETTER, was that Jaime Johnesee and Suzi Madron had arrived a little late, and when Ralph pointed out how they missed the beginning, he handed Suzi his papers, and we got a chance to hear his story a second time, but from her.  Talk about neat...





I hadn't actually looked at the schedule of readings, so I was pretty excited to find out that the next authors up were Mary and Jonathan.  To watch two of my favorites in the same place at the same time was overwhelming; to watch them interact with each other was beautiful.  These two people, who are BIG deals, are so down to earth, so real.  It was just really neat to see the way they dealt with each other, and how open and inviting they were to the other people there, even if they weren't all fellow authors.






He went first, walking around, really getting into the characters, yelling - the emotions that came through his reading were epic... and he needs to hurry up and finish this book because I need it in my life.


 

Mary read her story from the StC 2017 Zine, and if I wasn't already in awe of how fantastic this woman is, and how talented she is, I would be now.  If you have not read anything of her's, you really should.  Definitely worth it.


 


I mentioned before that seeing Joe and Chet on Brian's podcast (like in the same room with them) was my #1 epic moment of the weekend.  Meeting Jonathan in real life AND meeting Mary for the first time, were very close at #2 and #3.
          In fact, in a conversation between me and Brian, I told him how excited I was about finally getting to meet her, how she is so amazing, and so talented, and she's like my hero... and he wanted to know why I hadn't said that to her.  "Um... didn't want to make things weird."  He laughed and brought her over to me so I could say it to her... and she had tears - TEARS - in her eyes, and we hugged.  I can't put in words just how much that whole conversation meant to me.



The saddest part of the whole weekend... was it's end.  It's kinda like going to summer camp.  You're with a group of people for several days in a row, almost nonstop, and you get this bond.  Then, when it's time to go, ya just don't want to because these people have become friends and leaving them leaves you with this ache in your heart.  Which means next year will be even more awesome, because I will be there and I will see these people again.

I didn't go and buy an insane amount of books while I was there... had to reign myself in... but I did add to my signed cover collection and now have two signed Shrewsbury books, along with a signed Bizarro that's been on my wish list for awhile.  (And Amber Fallon's latest - oh my God I forgot to mention Amber haha.)




Friday, May 5, 2017

REVIEW: Ashley's Tale


Ashley's Tale
By: Mike Duke

Genre: Horror
Publication date: 10.31.2015
Pages: 139

Ashley, a young college girl with a horrific past, is immediately thrust into a living hell when she is kidnapped one night.  In the lair of her captor she will be forced to choose between submission and defiance, between folding beneath his punishment or finding the strength to endure and seize an opportunity to kill the man and escape.  But Ashley will also have to face the horrors of her past in this twisted game he has prepared for her.  Can she prevail against the demons that have made her frail and weak as well as the sadist before her?  And if so, what may she become in the process?


I began this book awhile back and, through no fault of the book, picked it up and put it down and picked it up and put it down, never getting much past the first ten pages.  There are just days that I can't get into reading, or can't get into a specific genre, or can't focus enough to read more than one or two pages... and unfortunately this book suffered because of it, sitting on my Kindle staring at me, pleading for me to come back to it.

Yesterday was an especially lazy day (we all need those every once in a while), and I found myself snuggled on my couch with my cat, Kindle in hand, searching for something to read.  As I slid from page to page, I accidentally hit the cover of this book wrong, and it opened.  Seemed like a "meant to be" kind of moment to me, so I went back to the beginning and dived in once more...

Boy am I glad I did.  

I ended up reading it all without moving off that couch once, enjoying every bit of the crazy story, the twists and turns, the characters, and the outcome.

I was surprised by the characters, to be honest.  One of the characters, I wanted to love, but hated, then loved, then hated, then loved... then felt an indifference I've never felt before for a character that is so well written... and at the same time feeling a compassion, and a draw to, as she grew in her uncomfortable (for lack of a better word) surroundings.  The other I wanted to hate, but ended up liking, on some levels, never loving, becoming a character that had me very intrigued.

The end was something completely unexpected, as were several moments in the story, and I was left with a feeling of needing and wanting to know more.

Very well done, Mr. Duke.  Very well done.

Recommended by: Read 2 Review
Date read: 5.4.2017


About the author:
I'm 44, married 25 years, and have a son and daughter who are both grown and out of the house (pretty much).  I was a cop for 12 years (and even spent a few years on the SWAT team) before getting into the training industry.  I've been working full time the last 10 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving and Hand to Hand Combatives.  I also did a few bodyguard gigs, one for three weeks in multiple South African countries, one in Jamaica, and three for the Ultra Music Festival owner - twice in Miami and once in Sao Paolo.  Had some incredible experiences, especially in Africa.
            I've self-published three works thus far.  Two short novellas - Ashley's Tale and Ashley's Tale: Making Jake.  One short story - The Awakening.  I recently was picked up by Stitched Smile Publications and they are going to be publishing my full length novel Low in the not too distant future.

REVIEW: Fallow Ground


By: Michael James McFarland

Genre: Horror, Occult
Publisher: Blood Bound Books
Publication date: 1.31.2014
Pages: 342

What begins in madness and desperation must eventually end that way.  The Taylors want nothing more than to start a family, but the couple remains childless.  A stranger, known only as Mr. Smith, arrives on their doorstep late one night with a strange propositions: safeguard a crate for the peculiar man and they'll get their offspring.  They strike a dark and irrevocable bargain.  Almost twenty-five years later, the Taylors' farmland is occupied by a new family - but the curse of the past lives on.  Does wickedness dwell in the soil itself, or does evil grow from what takes root there?


This is my first experience reading anything by this author, and I have to say, months later, my heart still begins to thump quickly thinking about the story in this book.  

Not only is it very well written, but the characters stay with you, along with the range of emotions you feel for them.  And I'm not over-exaggerating when I say stay with you.  There are nights that I lay in bed, having not thought about this book in weeks, only to think I see something out of the corner of my eye, and lay there, very still, waiting...

Lots of things happen throughout this story, but to me the reason we end up where we are is because of the love the Taylors had for each other... and how much they wanted to share that love with children.  I felt so much for them, knowing how much I myself would love to have children, and wondering just how far I would go to have the children I want and need to love.  This is a horror - so no, they don't kidnap anyone.  They went even further than that.

Once they make that step... everything begins to unravel, and the twists and turns begin.  Twists and turns I never expected... twists and turns that continue long after the Taylors have ceased to exist.

Have you ever read a book that you're afraid if you say even the smallest thing about it, you will ruin it for the next person that read it?  I have never felt so much that until this book, sitting here trying to write this review.  This is my blog and I could outline the whole story if I want to, go off on a rant about this or that, but even the slightest thing, in my mind, will make you not enjoy the book as much as I did.

By far one of my favorites, not just of this year, but maybe ever.

You like horror?  Go get this.  Now.


About the author:
Michael James McFarland has been writing for over 30 years and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of formats.  Among these, 'The Hypnotist' was selected for Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (15th Annual Collection), 'The Duel' and 'Mira' were produced by Pseudopod as audio podcasts, and 'Deadline' and 'The Yellow Wind' have appeared in print anthologies.  Blood Bound Book published Fallow Ground, his first novel, in 2014.  He has self-published two well-received novels (Wormwood and Blood on the Tracks), a novella (Duplex), and a short story collection (The Yellow Wind & Other Horrors).
            He lives and works in Washington state.

REVIEW: Fat Girl Walking


Sex, Food, Love & Being Comfortable in Your Skin...
Every Inch of It
By: Brittany Gibbons

Genre: Memoirs, Humor, Essays, Culinary
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, Day Street Books
Publication date: 5.19.2015
Pages: 240

Dear person holding Fat Girl Walking,

First of all, thanks for picking up this copy of my first book.  I hope you buy it - and to just because each purchase gets me one step closer to buying the leather pants of my dreams.
            I hope you buy Fat Girl Walking because I want to start a conversation.  Or continue a conversation, one I inadvertently started a while ago when I took my clothes off on a stage in front of 700 people.  A lot of people thought I was awesome for doing that.  A lot of others thought a size 18 woman had absolutely no business showing off her body.  Unfortunately for them, I've made it my personal mission on my blog, in social media, on television, and now in this amazing book you're holding, to destroy the ridiculous myths that every woman who is overweight hates her body and herself.  I, Brittany Gibbons, and the Curvy Girls I speak to every day on the internet, beg to differ.  We love our bodies.  We love fashion.  We are in loving relationships, having lots of sex.  We aren't just a fetish, we're normal women.  Sure, sometimes we doubt ourselves, we're not robots, but not anymore than EVERY OTHER WOMAN ON THE PLANET.  See, Fat Girls aren't freaks of nature.  We're just like you.  Maybe we are you.
            Fat Girl Walking is a collection of stories from my life, my thoughts about the issues that I have faced as a woman, wife, mom, daughter, daughter-in-law, and internet personality in regards to my weight.  I have tried to be as honest as I possibly could - apologies in advance to my husband and parents, but hopefully any discomfort you feel is quickly replaced by laughter.  The insecure texts to my husband and summer camp hijinks are hilarious if I do say so myself.  And I also ask some tough questions, things like "What if my husband weighs less than I do?" and "Is my body hate ruining my daughter's life?"  Read Fat Girl Walking and let's start having these conversations.  No pressure, but we may just save all womankind.

Love, Brittany


I am a fat girl... and I am occasionally proud of it.

Me reading this book makes much more sense now, doesn't it?  Haha.

I had a vague amount of knowledge about Brittany Gibbons before I happened upon this book at some bookstore or another.  I looked at the cover and thought, "God she's gorgeous.  And she's bigger than I am!  Why is she gorgeous... and I'm not?"  Then I looked at the book description - the letter to her readers you see above - and I knew I needed this book.

I learned a lot in this book.  I laughed (until I almost wet myself), cried (big sobs), and realized that the only difference between me and her (other than her internet celebrity, obviously) was that she didn't care what people thought of her, and that not caring gave her better self esteem than I have ever had.  She did care, for a long time, and there are stories, and crazy texts to her husband, all here between the covers of this book to show you just how much she UNDERSTANDS.  And it's nice to hear someone say (or... read... you know what I mean) that they understand what I - an overweight, lonely, depressed, woman with little to no self-esteem - am feeling.  Especially someone who has worked hard to do something about the way she sees herself and life.

I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who has ever looked at themselves in the mirror and not felt beautiful, no matter what size they are.  But I warn you... you will laugh and cry just as hard as I did.  And maybe you'll learn something like me, too.

I have a new hero... and her name is Brittany Gibbons.

Date read: 1.6.2017


About the author:
Brittany Gibbons was born a poor, fat child.  Since then, she has become one of the most prominent body image advocates in the country.  As the leader of the Curvy Girl Army, Brittany speaks to thousands via her Facebook group and her blog.
            She has been the subject of extensive media for her Ted Talk/striptease, for her 365 Days of Sex adventure with her beloved husband, Andy, and for having the sheer audacity to wear a bikini as a size 18 and putting the photo on the internet.  She is the mother of three children and has been with her husband since they were teenagers.  This book is her dream come true.