The Skin Room, by Morgan Fleetwood

Step inside the mind of a young man that has a slight obsession with skin. The look of it. The feel of it. But alas, things never go as planned, and he ends up on the run for a set of very coincidental circumstances.

Given the style of the novel, there was a lot of time spent inside Alex’s head. He was at least an entertaining narrator, but I do wish there was just a bit more external interaction to break up some of the monotony. Dialogue was on point as a good indicator of character personalities. They were noticeably differently from one another.

I liked the fact that the author made him very fallible—a first timer into the world of the macabre, if you will. Things are made more gripping by the fact that he made mistakes and everything that he planned for got derailed. It showed his character, as well as show a spark of creativity.

The story itself is compelling, and I liked how the author developed the main character. Alex was different and it really helped things along. Violence was used in appropriate amounts and never really felt overly gratuitous. Not a bad read.

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Blades of the Fallen, by Ross Harrison

An awesome, Mass Effect-esque adventure of galactic proportions.

What seemed to be a simple assignment for two aspiring Vanguard turned into a haunting nightmare. Necurians are generally a peaceful race, but the upcoming conflict is going to test any and all of their convictions as they pursue a merciless killer across space.

Let me just say: wow. This was excellent from start to finish. Such a beautiful, expansive, and detailed world was created amidst so few pages. There were only a few instances of long, lengthy explanations of history or backstory. The rest was spread out and drip-fed as it became relavent to the plot so as not to overwhelm the reader. Great care was taken in the creation of the world and it really shows.

Allegories for sexism and racism in the modern world were also heavy themes throughout. There were arguments done from both sides, and it was tasteful, meant to actually make the reader ponder about morality for a moment.

The characters were wonderful as well. Significant differences were seen in their personalities at the end. Their development was thorough, emotional, and relevant to the kind of character they were. Psionic abilities were given to the Necurians, but they weren’t all-powerful. Appropriate nerfs were applied to their powers so that they still had challenges to overcome.

The depth of the plot was astounding. There were a few different storylines intersecting throughout, all coming from different characters and different corners of the galaxy. Some were shorter than others, yet still necessary to either plot or character development. I didn’t have any questions left over at the end, nor was I left feeling unfulfilled at the resolution itself. Fight scenes are hard to pull off, and this novel excelled at them.

This was an excellent book. The opening was a little slow, but once past that, it doesn’t stop. I can see inspiration drawn from several big-name fantasy and sci-fi sources. And, it was sci-fi made accessible for the casual reader. The writing style kept the readers attention, and felt fresh and fun the whole way through. This was a wonderful book. Definitely an author I want to keep an eye on.

No Man Left Behind, by R. G. Miller

A killer is stalking Vietnam vets and murdering them in the most horrific manner. Toni and Isis, NYPD detectives try to slog their way through rats, subways, and a crazed killer that will stop at nothing until they’re all dead.

Once you get past the awkward opening, the plot catches the readers’ attention and keeps them there through the remaining rough patches. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the main characters were a lesbian couple. They were done well, and things like the sexuality spectrum were frequently talked about and used as inner conflict in a tasteful manner. Now, given the fact that the setting is NYC, there should, by default, be a certain level of racially diversity. The author made extra sure to accomplish that, no questions asked. As far as characters went, I really liked them all. They were done well, they meshed well, and they all served appropriate roles for either plot progression or conflict.

There’s definitely opportunity for editing. There’s some real awkward dialogue that doesn’t fit with the flow of things. Scene progression and change got choppy sometimes, which made them jarring. While I liked the ending, I still had many, many questions about things that were brought up or happened earlier in the story that didn’t get tied up. They felt forgotten and lost. There was a whole lot of info dumping that went on, especially at the beginning while the author was trying to establish the characters. It was a lot to be thrown at once.

For its flaws I still enjoyed the story. I think this could really shine with some extra editing. I adored Toni and Isis, their relationship, and would love to see what other stories they have to tell.

A Life Removed, by Jason Parent



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There’s so much I want to say about this novel, I’m not even sure where to begin. There were so many layers and nuances to it that I could not put it down once I started. 
There’s a killer on the loose, carving out hearts and leaving the bodies on display. Aaron’s a good cop. He really is. But once he gets involved in the gruesome murders, his life is literally downhill from there. 
First things first, as a crime novel, I was really satisfied with how things were set up. Things started off vague, to keep both readers and cops guessing. Then the foreshadowing started to trickle in. “Aha!” the reader says, “I’ve got the whodunnit…what now?” Oh, boy. Let me tell you what now. Things explode. I mostly mean the narrative, of course. It expands and then turns itself on its head. I really liked both of the twists at the end. 
There were a lot of psychological and religious themes throughout. Both were tied heavily to morality and it’s grayness. I don’t mean peppered here or there; they were the main themes. Both were explored thoroughly through the narrative. They were both used in conjunction with each other to make their necessary points. What surprised me the most was how well-researched they appeared to be. And, throughout, the narrative remained respectful for all walks of life. 
Now, characters, because what’s a story without them? Relationships are put to the test. Some bend, some break, some are formed. Some are brought into question and re-examined when morality is threatened. There was quite a bit of development to go around, some good, others bad. I really liked how well done the “bad” character development was. It’s something that not a lot of novels choose to undertake. I was so happy that this one did. The police force was fallible, realistically so. It really, really made for a good story. It kept things from feeling too easy. 
I also enjoyed the realism of the police work. It allowed the reader to keep their attention focused on plot and story progression rather than fanciful detectives that miraculously know everything. It wasn’t boring. It didn’t feel overdone. Yet it was still realistic. 
I could honestly go on about this novel, so I should probably stop. If crime fiction with a bit of horror is your bag, please pick up this book and read it. I promise it will be worth your while. 
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The Horror Writer, by Jerry Jay Carroll

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Full of nothing but satire and accurate demonstrations of what I believe goes through every horror writer’s head, The Horror Writer is equal parts hilarious and creepy.

 

 

After crash landing in the jungle, author Thom Hearn and his companion, Carrie Alexander, finally made it to their paradise retreat. Only, they came to find out that Thom wasn’t supposed to be there. It was a mistake. Except, those at Echchols don’t make mistakes. Ever. What was really going on was far more sinister and surprising.

 

 

The life of an author isn’t always glamorous. I think oftentimes it ends up romanticized into something it’s not. I really liked the way the author conveyed the darker, less attractive side of the writing world. At the same time, it also showed that inspiration could happen anywhere, at any time, for any reason. There were definitely some bright notes for aspiring, and current, authors.
Points of the plot were confusing at times. Thom tended to have some long-winded monologues—which, usually was okay because it worked with his personality—but occasionally it sidetracked me as a reader. I lost track of what was happening more than once. There were time jumps in funny places. Perspective switches weren’t always the smoothest.

 

 

The writing style was great for the narrative. There were weird allusions and metaphors. Odd, satirical descriptions. To be honest, the tone felt as though the author had personal dealings with some of the themes, and was looking for a good, comedic outlet. The characters really helped that along. They were snarky, sarcastic, and up to the challenge of the circumstances. However, it doesn’t feel like an overused character stereotype. Nor is it annoying. I have to say I didn’t feel like there were many commonly used tropes. It was very different—and sometimes bizarre—but in all the right ways. Creativity really shows in the way the novel was constructed.

 

 

As for the plot, it was done well. Keeping with the rest of the novel, the plot twist was fairly out there. It made sense, though, and it didn’t take it to an unbelievable extreme.

 

 

I love when novels aren’t afraid to go the extra mile to be weird. I think it makes them fun and entertaining, as well as differentiating them from everything else. The Horror Writer managed to do just that. I would recommend it for authors that need a good laugh at their own industry. A good read for anyone, however.

 

 

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Day of the Tiger, by Dallas Gorham

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Carlos McCrary is a private investigator, not a cop, thank you very much (quite possibly my favorite running gag throughout the entire novel). Hired by a millionaire, ex-NFL hotshot to help a friend, McCrary’s life just got a lot more exciting.

 

 

Now, please believe me when I say that this is, at its core, wholly a private eye novel. A modernized version, for sure, but it stays mostly true to the formula. It didn’t follow the ‘damsel in distress’ trope as much as others seem to. That was nice. While it remains committed to its genre, it defied many stereotypes with its characters.

 

 

I can honestly say I enjoyed every character in this, with the exception of the villain. I don’t think he was designed to be a sympathetic character. And he was good at making the reader dislike him. All the characters were integral to the development of each other, in one way or another. The plot almost feels constructed around them—that’s how well it aided them.

 

 

The plot was fairly intricate. Several overlapping story lines peppered the narrative. All of them were needed for it to feel complete. It really felt well-rounded. Everything made sense and I didn’t have any questions left at the end. The mystery part of the book was really disguised as background information and world-building, in my opinion. It was how the readers’ learned information that added depth to the characters and the world, without boring or overloading them.

 

 

I also enjoyed the diversity of the characters. I liked how they were treated and how the narrative came together around them. That diversity was another place where stereotypes were broken. It helped add a bit more realism and relatability to the cast of characters.

I loved the way everyone interacted. There was plenty of drama to go around, for sure. However, the difference came during how they handled everything. There was no unnecessary in-fighting, simply for the sake of drama. People got along, had good relationships and good foundations.

 

Action and dialogue were at a good balance. Action was carried out with realism rather than flashy Hollywood stunts. It really felt that McCrary was flying by the seat of his pants instead of miraculously knowing exactly how to escape a situation. That’s not to say things weren’t too easy sometimes, but he still at least hit a few speedbumps.

 

 

Quite possibly the series I’ll turn to when the mood hits me for the genre. Very well done. Excellent characterization. Definitely a good read.

 

 

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The World Without Crows, by Ben Lyle Bedard


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I think the most interesting parts of zombie novels are the origin stories. Was it a virus, radiation, or an unfounded allegory to how “kids these days” spend too much time on their phone? Whatever the origin story, the point is that they’re all different. That includes all the different variations of the above mentioned.

In The World Without Crows, it was a viral worm. You had regular zombies and cracked zombies…there were several tiny nuances that set these zombies apart from others. Interestingly enough, the zombies are merely the backdrop of the narrative. The story itself follows a young man named Eric on his quest to reach an island in Maine. While zombies are certainly a huge concern, Eric’s real challenges come from the living and the self.

I think the fact that this wasn’t just a “survive the zombies” type novel. There were roving gangs, bad decisions, and some pretty shady people along the way. There was no centralized military trying to evacuate and round people up.

A big theme of this novel was a journey of self-discovery. Watching Eric’s development from beginning to end is not only wild, but mildly heartbreaking. There’s many metaphors placed throughout that give the reader a pretty good indication of how he’s coming along as a character, but there’s one classic scene at the end that really sums it up.

There’s a variety of different people Eric meets along the way. They’re all an incredible mixture of good, bad, and ambiguous. Each of the encounters is designed to further along Eric’s development, for better or worse. Like most people, there’s so many ups and downs it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

The overall writing style was fitting. I liked how well-blended the dialogue and narration were. The description was the best kind of horrifically gory. The kind that’s difficult to illustrate with writing. It had its suspenseful moments, its thriller moments, and its gory moments. Not scary, but definitely on par with expectations of horror enthusiasts. The inclusion of more than just the “token” POC was nice as well. There was a bit more diversity featured here that doesn’t fit with classic horror stereotypes.

Waging a war of moral versus immoral, where both sides become gray areas is an interesting thing. Decision making in the apocalypse isn’t easy, and it changes a person. This was a pretty intense journey of the self, with one crazy zombie background. Well done.

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Reviewers Wanted!

Fred Call
TBH, Cromartie High School is just who I am this week

 

Caleb Broderick, author of The Junkyard Kids, is looking for people interested in reviewing said novel! Serial killers, homeless orphans, and POC that aren’t stereotypes. Check out Caleb’s Amazon page for more information! No purchase necessary.

 

Comment with your e-mail address below if you’re interested!

Killjoy, by LeVar Ravel



I feel like the mob and hitmen go hand in hand. Killjoy’s no exception. Except…this hitman’s quite different.

 
Gwen’s dealings with the assassin are a bit different than that of her husband’s, the mob boss that hired him. Things with the assassin get more and more bizarre the more she deals with him. He has a zero percent failure rate. But…why? And that’s where the novel really picks up.

 

 

Honestly, I thought I had things figured out after about twenty pages. I was delightfully proven wrong. There’s an air of mystique and mystery maintained throughout the narrative. It helps the reader get into Gwen’s head. It also offers many different possibilities as to the resolution and ending. Because of that, it remains a bit of the unpredictable side.

 

 

I liked the dynamic between Gwen and her husband, Charles. They were both excellent, well-rounded characters that adhered to some common genre tropes. However, they deviated enough to keep their characters fresh.

 

 

I had one or two questions still remaining at the end, but it was more burning curiosity than anything. While I enjoyed all of the novel, I think the ending was my favorite part. Through all the tumult endured, it had a powerful message that will hit the reader hard.

 

 

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One Decent Thing, by Michael E. Wills

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One Decent Thing, by Michael E. Wills…how do I begin explaining the sense of relief I felt as I started into this book? It was that good.

 

The story itself is set in 1975 England, during a time when terrorist bombings were common, thanks to the IRA. Scottie is a middle-aged alcoholic womanizer that lost the love and respect of his ex-wife. And his daughter. The story begins with him visiting his daughter in college.

 

Scottie has a run in with two IRA members along the beach at night as they crash land on the shore. After a dubious moral choice, Scottie is in possession of very sensitive documents. Now here’s where things start to pick up.

 

The action is well-paced and left me on the edge of my seat. It became a heart-pounding ordeal to follow along Scottie’s mishaps. Will he escape this time? Where does he go from there? Things in the story get intricate the deeper into it the reader gets. Both sides were well thought-out in their pursuits. They complimented nicely. The author presents both the IRA and Scottie as people you could run into anywhere. It makes them both sympathetic. There are brief moments of doubt when it comes to what side you’re cheering for. The ending, and what leads up to it, is something between James Bond and Scooby-Doo. The composition is masterful, and so is the execution.

 

Characterization, for the most part, was spot on. For the most part, they had their own tone and voice. There’s two characters later that I had a hard time telling apart. They had similar personalities. Given their proximity, it took a bit more effort to follow along. Still, their interactions flowed well, as did the dialogue.

 

I did have to brush up on my British slang. There are plenty of context clues to make the reading easier. I still found myself looking up more precise definitions to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I never felt like I was being jolted out of the story. If anything, it enhanced the experience. And, I learned a few new things. I love it when novels managed to teach me something new.

 

This was quite the thriller to read. Everything from writing style to character development was excellent. The level of detail and intricacy that went into the intrigue aided the tone. If you’re craving a different, heart-pounding adventure, Michael E. Wills has you covered.

 

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