Hungry Ghosts and Labor Day Hunt: Short Stories by Calvin Demmer

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SYNOPSIS:

A rocky relationship threatens to ruin Lara Adams’ first time abroad. To her surprise, she finds that she and her boyfriend, Ray, have arrived in China during the “Hungry Ghost Festival”. Swept up in the warm mood of the festival and people, Lara feels things may finally improve. This year, however, the ghosts have found a new way to prolong their stay in this realm.


Goodreads

Amazon

4 stars

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Synopsis:

Jared Rodgers needed cash and had to work, while the rest of his hometown got to kick back and enjoy Labor Day. After answering a job ad in the local paper, he is directed to an abandoned warehouse. An ominous feeling grips him as soon as he enters the boarded-up building. By the time he realizes what’s going on, the hunt has already begun.


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Amazon

**Thank you to the author for complimentary copies of these stories in exchange for an honest review**

First off, how cool are those covers?! Not only are they really well designed but they also very neatly tie in with their story.

Hungry Ghosts was a 16 page spookfest, starting off with the 10 rules of surviving the festival of hungry ghosts. Clearly, Lara and Ray didn’t mind these rules while on holiday in China… to their cost.

I really enjoyed the premise of this story, especially the 10 rules at the beginning but as it was such a short  story it wasn’t possible to fit each rule in to the narrative. The author’s vision is excellent but in this story I felt that his writing technique wasn’t developed enough to completely convey everything within the limited page space, the relationship between Lara and Ray was a bit of an information dump which could have been explained far more subtly, leaving more room for the ghosts and the gore!

I get the feeling that Labor Day Hunt was written after Hungry Ghosts, after the author had a chance to hone his craft, so to speak. He managed to build a connection between us and Jared, the main character, very easily so that when the hacking and the slashing started we were rooting for him.

This story was a lot more violent and gory than the first, with limbs falling off all over the place – so if you dig the Blade mythology, this would be a nice little snippet of literature for you.

Both of these stories were enjoyable reads and the writer’s imagination makes me hope that he has a full length book in the works.

Review: Strawberries by Casey Bartsch

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Published by Ten of Swords Publishing

4 stars

Synopsis:

Strawberries is the name he has been given.
When they let him out, they had no way of knowing what he was. A psychopath. A killer.

The body count is at twenty already, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Agent Harry Bland can’t see one anyway. He doesn’t have a single clue to go on. It doesn’t help that his mind won’t focus. His heart just isn’t in it anymore.

Half way across the country, Sylvia is in a different state of mind. When she isn’t selling sex to the rich, she is doing her best to disappear. She lives a life of assumed names, one night stands, and a constant stream of narcotics. Sylvia has heard of Strawberries. Of course she has. So has everyone who has turned on the television or surfed the net. Yet, she has no way of knowing just how much his life will affect hers.


Seedy hotels, cross country truckers looking for the meaning of life, homemade pie, a reporter with her own secret agenda, obscenely expensive champagne, and plenty of spilled blood await our cast. But make sure to read fast…..Strawberries has killed number 21


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Amazon

**Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

It’s been a while since I read a serial killer novel, but I’d just finished re-watching series 1 of Hannibal (is there anything more glorious?) and was in the mood for something just like this.

I’m going to explain the star rating on my review before getting into it: I loved the book, the characters and the story so why might I have been so tightfisted with the sparklies?

Well, this book has a little bit of debut novel syndrome, where the second half flows better than the first when the author really figured out his own voice for writing. So, I figured that I’m going to save that final star of perfection for his next book which his Goodreads author page  states that he is diligently working on – I can tell from this book that Bartsch has some real talent and so I’m holding my breath for his next work!

This book was a thriller, a mystery and a horror. It didn’t hold back on the violence and gore; the killer’s victims dying in a whole myriad of icky and messy ways.

The chapters alternate between the killer, the FBI agent sent to track him down, a dysfunctional sky-prostitute with a pill problem, a journalist who may have the answer to what connects them all, and a pair of brothers on a road trip. This gives you a broad view of what’s going on from different perspectives and was executed artfully, giving you just enough to follow on and draw your own conclusions without spelling every last thing out for you (pet peeve of mine).

The characters were really well developed, especially considering how many there were to follow. My favourite would have to be Sylvia, aforementioned sky-prostitute (the airplane kind, not the satellite TV kind) with a pill problem. She’s ballsy and in control despite her obvious issues, her voice in this book was the one that kept me utterly hooked.

Being a thriller, it would be rude of me to give away any of the plot but I can tell you that it isn’t too predictable. It pretty much cuts a direct line between horror and mystery, with the strange nature of the killer and the brutal ways he dispatches his victims, but the sheer depth of all the characters rounds the story off nicely.

This story takes place in a variety of locations and I thought they were all really well described, giving a slightly jarring contrast between the homely settings and the horrible things that take place in them.

One more author to stick on my ‘to follow’ list!

Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

 

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Published by Quirk

5 stars

Synopsis:

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

Designed by Andie Reid, cover photography by Christine Ferrara


 

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Amazon


 

I found out about this book during this particularly excellent episode of the Get Booked podcast. It’s another branch of the Book Riot group and it has to be my favourite of all their podcasts, taking recommendation requests from listeners and sharing books they things would suit the question.

I couldn’t possibly say how much money this show has made me spend on books, because that would force me to admit that I have a book problem… let’s just say….. some money has changed hands.

This book is amazing, it’s not just a good read but a really fun experience.

The book itself is laid out to look like an IKEA catalogue, complete with cover and illustrations and chapter headings inside so my appreciation goes out to the team who created this beauty as well as the author – good job, people!

The story is your typical haunted house mystery, but set in a ‘we-all-know-it’s-IKEA’ Swedish furniture store called Orsk which adds an oddly enjoyable dimension to it, especially given my own personal hell of weekend trips to pick up furniture this year.
It’s a parody of everything truly awful about a shop that’s kept young professionals in uncomfortable sofas and 50p potato peelers for years.

I’m not going to give any of the story away, it’s pretty predictable if you’re a fan of the haunted house sketch but that’s not what makes this book so good – funnily enough, I find ghost stories to be one of my favourite comfort read genres but this book also has really well written characters, they manage to be very distinct and entertaining in personality without being too cartoonish. It’s the humour combined with the tension and suspense that Hendrix so aptly creates.

This is a really well told story and in my opinion will make a fantastic Christmas present for anyone with even the slightest interest in ghost stories – it’s a very easy read and with its unconventional layout, really fun to have on your shelf.

 

Guest Post with Stephen Kozeniewski

Two of the funniest/most twisted authors I know have collaborated and the result is a morose but thought provoking post, but it includes THGTTG so I’m ok with it.

Katrina Monroe

Happy Friday! This week, it’s Stephen Kozeniewski (author of BRAINEATER JONES and HUNTER OF THE DEAD) on the blog, chatting a bit about re-reading books.

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There’s a lot of pearl-clutching these days about what kids won’t get to do that their parents got to do because, you know, every generation has to live identically to the generation before it or else society just, like, completely fucking breaks down.  Just like, you know, the Greatest Generation didn’t live the way their parents did and then the universe imploded in the ‘40s.  I don’t want this to be one of those posts, because those posts are universally stupid and no, I am not being hyperbolic, they are, to a one, completely and utterly moronic.
So this is more of an elegiac post than a condemnatory one.  But I do wonder if kids in the future will ever know what it’s like…

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This is Groot: He has a problem

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This is Groot.

He’s had a bit of a checkered past – I stole/borrowed/liberated him from my workplace when 3 of his 4 trunks had died, with the sole intention of bringing him back to life.

That part’s worked out surprisingly well thus far, especially given my track record of murdering plants.

I knew he could be saved because even though his 3 siblings had died, he was growing leaves from the bottom – he was an anarchist and I liked that about him. He clearly had the will to live and I thought that even I might struggle to finish the job of his assassination.

This time last year he only had a quarter of the foliage he has now.

 

 

It turns out that he only needed these things to thrive:

  1. Plant food
  2. Plenty of sunshine
  3. Less air conditioning drying out his leaves
  4. Tender loving care
  5. The 8 litres of water stagnating at the bottom of his pot to be dumped out

It looks like he was being given an entire watering can of water every day in the office… I only noticed this when he started overflowing and leaving a puddle on the carpet.

I wasn’t particularly covert about dragging him out of the office, pouring out the water and transplanting him into my car… but he’s my pride and joy now so if anyone asks for him back, I’ll offer to buy a new replacement in exchange. I can’t imagine that anyone would want a lopsided fig tree decorating their office anyway (apart from me, obviously).

So, this is Groot. My wonky ficus.

You may be wondering why the hell I’m telling you all about my liberated plant, especially as this is a book blog- and well you might!
This is a cry for help, not for me, you understand, but for poor Groot (I name my houseplants and talk to them, I’ve already accepted that I’m beyond help). He has *gasp* plant scale.

That’s right. My baby has tree chlamydia. It’s highly contagious among plants, my fern Gary has it too but ferns have been around since the time of the dinosaurs so I have much more confidence in his ability to get on with it.

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That brown blob in the middle of the closest branch is actually a scale, formed 3 days after I meticulously cleaned every single twig.

Plant scale is caused by bugs which leech the sap of plants, they then form a scale to protect themselves from predators and angry bloggers with pesticide sprays.

The cry for help is this:

Any gardeners out there with any tips for getting rid of plant scale?

I don’t want to prune the poor guy unless I have to, he’s been naked long enough!

Thanks in advance for anyone who can help.

Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Published by Penguin UK

5 stars

Synopsis:

Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.


Goodreads

 

Amazon


**Thank you to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

This book blew my mind. What an amazing premise!

Contestants taking part on a wilderness survival reality TV show are out facing challenges during filming while the world is taken over by a pandemic that kills off almost the entire population. having missed the media coverage of this catastrophe, Zoo has to figure out where the artifice of the show ends and her new horrifying reality begins.

The style of writing is very unique in this book, the tone is very detached as though we were the viewers of this reality show and can only watch what the contestants do without any context to their personalities or motivations. It’s a take on the unreliable narrator trope as we can only rely on Zoo, the main character, to tell us what she understands of each situation and as the book goes on it becomes clear that she’s missing a lot.
The chapters alternate between Zoo’s present after the world has already gone to hell, and earlier times when the show was still being filmed and all of the signs that the world was going to end this way. They complement each other perfectly and you don’t feel that you’re getting too much of one over the other, both timelines are utterly enthralling and made me really pissy to have to close my book after my lunch break was over. Really pissy.

Zoo is a great character to lead this story, on one hand she’s really relateable and confides some of her deepest thoughts through her narration which makes you feel a close connection while on the other hand, she does some pretty questionable things in the course of events to try to keep herself sane.

The book ended in such a way that I can imagine there being a sequel but I’d beg of the author to write the story from the perspective of another contestant rather than continue Zoo’s story (or as well as, I’m not that picky!) – personally, I’m a fan of survival stories directly after the disaster rather than the rebuilding stuff.

I can’t really think of another book to compare this with, but it’s a dystopian survival story which I think would appeal more to older readers (rather than YA) to fully appreciate the main character.