Horror, Mystery/Thriller

My Review: A Time for Violence: Stories with an Edge: Edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: May 1st, 2019
Number of Pages: 268 Pages
Publisher: Too Close to the Bone
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Crime

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Whether we like it or not, violence has always been a part of our society; we as humans can’t help but resort to it. The reasoning behind why can be incredibly varied: to save your family, to simply steal money, an act of love, or bitter burning of revenge. There’s probably countless other reasons as to what could possibly motivate us to turn towards our more unpredictable and darker side, but this is a collection of short stories that call that notion into question in an interesting array.

While it mostly stays within the mystery/thriller genre, there are some additions of stories of war and even the supernatural/paranormal and horror genres in order to keep the mix more lively and interesting. Theres also a mix of characters that many others wouldn’t see anything they’d possibly have in common except for, obviously, them giving into their brutal and maniacal urges to hurt, to maim, to kill, and to get away with it unscathed.

I will say it quite a bit in this review, but I don’t normally turn towards short stories or compilations of them, and I will get into that later on, but when someone reaches out to ask you to look through it and give an honest review, how can you say no? Crime stories are fun for their lack of predictability, their edge, and especially when there might be an interesting social commentary to linger in your head and overtake your thoughts after you’ve closed the pages. It does, however, leave a lack of character development and usually resorts to using cliché characters in general. They’re not bad stories, and it’s obvious that the authors that contributed to this work all know their craft on a highly experienced level.

I was not familiar with any of the works of any of the authors included in this anthology, but I wanted to switch it up and keep it that way: I didn’t do any prerequisite research on the book itself or any of the writers, and I stayed off Goodreads to see what others wrote; the only thing I did was adding the title to my “To Read” shelf. Sometimes, it’s fun to do that sort of thing where you don’t rely so much on other’s ratings and decide to give it a shot in the dark. I admit, I do that a whole lot now, but with how many titles are out there, how can you not? I’ve got to get picky.

Anyways back to the actual review…

What It’s About:

It’s hard to do this section based off the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. That, plus the fact I don’t want to give too much away, all I can say is they’re all violent stories combined together for a crime/horror themed collection. The more noteworthy stories, at least in my honest opinion, to include are the following in no particular:

  1. Blood Brothers: by Richard Chizmar
  2. Guest Services: A Quarry Story: by Max Allan Collins
  3. Santa at the Café: by Joe Lansdale
  4. Scab: by Wrath James White
  5. The Sweetest Ass in the Ozark: by Andy Rausch
  6. Waste Management: by Chris Roy

What I Liked:

  1. The Variety! There are quite a lot of different style of stories to be told that are all included; I’d say that there’s got to be something that just about anyone could find within that they’d really enjoy! My personal favorites among the many short stories was a story about a 5-person domino-effect crime story by Joe R. Lansdale involving a guy dressed up as Santa Clause, and an African-American man who considers himself a human scab by Wrath James White. Personally, it reminded me a bit of Jordan Peele’s horror flicks, Get Out and Us: African American-centered horror, and with a slight social commentary aspect to add on top.
  2. The Dark Humor! Along with all the murder and thrills as sharp as a knife, there is some humor alongside to (maybe) soften the blow. A lot of it is considered pretty dark humor, which isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain person to not only get some of it, but to also enjoy it.
  3. The Character Studies! This kind of goes with the variety factor I mentioned above, but I felt like there’s a bit of a question of character and their moral compass that plays with you too as you read the stories. You want to think your an upstanding member of society, not wanting to weave away from what the social norm is and that criminal activity is pretty black and white. Some characters are family men, but others are mobsters, criminals or Police Officers. An example where it’s questioned is actually the very first story: Blood Brothers by Richard Chizmar. Without giving up too much information, it presents the timeless questions like: How far are you willing to go to protect your family? What are you willing to sacrifice? It even brings up a good question of if killing for the best of everyone you love is really all that much of a crime?

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Hard to Connect to the Stories…It’s hard to really get into a collection of short stories, because as soon as you feel like you really connect with the story or maybe even the characters; it’s over before you know it, shut off abruptly. I guess you could say I prefer one long story where you can develop a deeper connection with the characters and grow along with them within the story as they develop. That’s very difficult or near impossible to do with stories like these.
  2. A Hierarchy of Interest…Some stories are just a whole lot better than others, plain and simple, straight to the point (no pun intended). I wouldn’t say some are awfully written though; I’d say it’s more that I just didn’t connect to them. Some were also pretty predictable compared to others, which probably didn’t help. I would say out of the 28 stories included, only a small select few really grabbed my attention, which is a major bummer.

Conclusion:

A fun, diverse set of crime/horror-genre short stories that are perfect for those who like that sort of thing! they’re gritty, their humorous, and they’re not something I normally go for when it comes to picking out something to read, but I still had some fun nonetheless. I find it difficult to get into a collection of short stories because of the disconnect with getting into the story and its characters, but maybe its something fun to read on your kindle or nook device when trying to kill time before a doctor’s appointment or on your lunch break at work!

I also would like to add that I received a free version of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: American Queen (New Camelot Trilogy #1): by Sierra Simone

Publish Date: October 5th, 2016
Number of pages: 392 pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre(s): Romance, Erotica, Political Drama

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

To keep my vocabulary clean and proper, I just want to point out that holy shit you guys… this book was an experience to say the least! This book was FIRE; It was intense, it was kind of dark and twisted, and was absolutely eyebrow raising amongst all the other Romance/Erotica titles that I’ve read or want to read.

There’s actually a lot I’d want to reveal about the story, but most of it will spoil the book, so I have to stay somewhat kind of vague. Part of the experience of the book is the shocking discovery of certain things, seeing how things develop and reveal themselves, so why would I ruin it for any new readers?

The very first scene is a wedding, and it starts out pretty light and innocent, but then the author starts to point certain things out that normally would go unnoticed, like a dirty little secret amongst only the select few who know, giving you a little tease of what’s to come…

It’s unorthodox, spellbinding, seductive, wicked, forbidden, and a completely different kind of fairytale than the ones you’ve ever read before…

What It’s About:

Recent college grad and literary professor, Greer Galloway, has always been around the political circuit for as long as she could remember. Her parents died when she was much younger, so her grandfather became her legal guardian, and he also just happened to be the Vice President of the United States at the time. Going with him to special events and galas, she became well versed in politics and how to read people based off facial expressions, body language, what is said and how people say it. Her grandfather noticed, and used her perceptiveness to his advantage.

Through most of her childhood, she’d run into one of her grandfather’s best friends, Merlin Rhys. Cold and aloof, he’d leave Greer with not much more than a few warnings and then disappear, leaving her to wonder if maybe he lives up to the magical being he’s named after?

The real story begins years later when Greer is 15 and meets Maxen Ashley Colchester, or “Ash” for short. They meet at a party in London, and sparks instantly arouse, but they know it’s forbidden because she’s so young, and he’s a 26 year old War Lieutenant. Despite it all, they share her first kiss, not knowing their lives will be forever changed. Their meeting brings a new life into her, and so after he’s off fighting in the war, she writes him letters. She reveals things that she’d never told anyone else, along with her intense, growing attraction to him. Unfortunately, she never heard back from him.

Six years later, at Merlin Rhys’s birthday celebration on a rooftop in Chicago, Greer coincidentally runs into Maxen yet again; this time he’s come back and is considered a huge war hero. She discovers that they are both still attracted to each other, but he’s engaged to another woman. Devastated, Greer leaves the party and meets Embry Moore, a charismatic and charming military comrade of Maxens. They hit it off, both trying to get over lost love, but discover that they may have feelings for each other too, so Greer decided to act on it, and thus loses her virginity to him. The next morning, she leaves Embry with the promise of more should he contact her again, but again she’s left out in the cold

Now in present time, Greer is visited once again by Embry, but now he’s Vice President under Maxen, who was elected as a Third party contender. Maxen sent him to come find her, and what happens after that is an epic love story between a woman and the two most powerful men in the country thats told from past and present times. Its an unconventional story of lust, jealousy, sex, forbidden love, political intrigue, scandal, deceit, and danger.

This book is told from the view of Greer, and the next two books will be told from the perspectives of Embry and Maxen.

What I Liked:

  1. (Most of) The Characters! There’s Greer who’s smart, kind hearted, determined, submissive but strong. There’s Embry who’s charming, reckless, intense, conflicted, arrogant, and aloof. Maxen is commanding, heroic, powerful, manipulative, and honorable. Mixing them together drives the story forward as Greer internally battles herself on the fact that she’s in love with both men for different reasons, and who should she end up with in the end. Personally, there were times I wasn’t a big fan of Maxen, but I dive into that later. The author keeps you wondering, and makes you feel for the characters and worry about them, hoping they all get their happily ever after.
  2. The Exploration of Sexual Attraction! One thing that I’m starting to notice about self/indie published romance books is that they are starting to really dig further in terms of exploring the spectrum of sexual attraction of human beings. It’s become so broad in today’s world, and yes, it’s no longer just about being gay or straight. While this book stays within the realm of those two orientations, it shows forbidden fantasies and if we were to allow ourselves to explore our curiosities, no matter how devious, perverted, or explicit they may be seen as. Sexual orientations are never straight out said within the story, and the author never tries to justify if a character is gay or bisexual; it was done in the “show, don’t tell” method, as it should.
  3. The Romance! It will drive you nuts! The author creates aching sexual tension, and is slow and methodical in the buildup between the pages. The love scenes are so incredibly intense and well written that I actually had to stop, blink, and catch my breath a couple times.
  4. The Sudden Cliffhanger Ending! The ending just happens so abruptly, and I went back and wondered, did someone rip out the last page?… Nope, it’s just a really big cliffhanger that excites as much as it frustrates. I get it; it’s the perfect ploy for any sort of drama to get people to want to read the next book ASAP, and (oh god) does it work, but at least I’m not waiting a whole year for the next title, I already have the next book on my shelf because I had a hunch I was going to need it *wink wink*
  5. The Author’s Writing Style! Grab your vibrating toys ladies, gents, and non-binaries, because this author can freakin’ write! It was probably one of the most intense romance/erotic novels that I’d ever read in my life, and I’m not even talking entirely about the sex scenes. The author weaved a complex story as a great base for everything, and her prose were actually incredibly beautiful! Sierra Simone paints a pretty impressive picture, check this little snippet out:

I’m nothing, I’m everything, I’m the light and the dark and the air and the void. Strong force, weak force, gravity, electricity, magnetism are all pinning me underneath this violent, tragic soldier.

– Sierra Simone, “American Queen”

Pretty hot stuff, right?

(Side note: this isn’t even one of the best written lines in the whole book, but it certainly makes a strong case, am I right? *nudge nudge*)

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Maxen’s Dark Side…So big surprise (not really though), the lead Male has a tragic past, and is into some dark, kinky stuff… Yes, I do mean BDSM. Nothing most of us haven’t read before…but there’s a scene that gets more graphic about it in the story, and I just found that it’s probably the part I liked the least in the whole book. I’m not too familiar or all that informed with the BDSM lifestyle choice, but I still find it a bit off when someone loves someone deeply, but still wants to whip them too? For me personally, it’s not going to be my cup of tea, but I also noticed how controlling Maxen gets throughout the story. He’d go from 0 to 100 real quick, at least during the love scenes, and it felt almost dictator-ish how Embry and Greer would sometimes look down and stay silent and be like, “Don’t do or say anything to upset him,” and while there are plenty of hot moments in the book, this controlling side of him was something I’m not particularly fond of.
  2. The Presidential Factor…While it would be absolutely amazing to have two incredibly gorgeous men in their thirties be the President and Vice President of our country. It’d certainly make me more interested in politics, but it felt a little far fetched in terms of realism and believability. Maxen becomes president by being a war hero, similar to Dwight Eisenhower back during WWII, but it felt like this aspect was added only because Greer had been around politics her whole life. Him and Embry could’ve just stayed Military men, and the story wouldn’t have had to change all that much…
  3. The Cliché Romance Male Lead…I complain about clichés a lot on here…but no apologies, so get over it. Anyways, the whole “Dark haired, light eyed, masculine male who’s in a position of power, has lots of money and a tragic backstory, and now has a dark sexual appetite” is SOOOO played out, I feel like it’s every other male character you’d read in any of the Romance/Erotica novels/series out there nowadays. WE GET IT…If we hate the 50 Shades of Grey crap on paper so much, why do we still go back to it?

(Side note 2: this trilogy along with others like the Crossfire series, are like 50 Shades, but SO much better written.)

Conclusion:

I found myself enjoying this title a lot, and I can say that despite a few clichés that will probably not go away anytime soon, it is something enjoyable that really sticks out amongst other titles. I recommend to anyone who loves intense, erotic romance and is into sexual exploration. I certainly have become a fan of the author after this title, and will continue to read her other works should they interest me. Anyone who like the 50 Shades-esque stories with gorgeous men with a secret dark side and lots of money and power will love it, and that cliffhanger is a doozy, so watch out!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

sci-fi

My Review: Red Rising: by Pierce Brown

Publish Date: January 28th 2014
Number of Pages: 382 Pages
Publisher: Del Ray (Random House)
Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

This book is like the love child of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones…but in space. Oh my god, I know…just let that beautiful image sink into your mind as you come up with dozens of crazy, brutal, and absolutely insane possibilities! Odds are, a good chunk of those ideas are actually in this story. Add a touch of the Ancient Greek epic, The Iliad by Homer, and you’ve got the overall vibe of Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

What It’s About:

Hundreds of years into the future, mankind has finally begun to colonize on other planets, and the ruling class of citizens has installed a caste system that is distinguished by colors into our society. The godlike, arrogant and mighty Golds are the overall rulers, and the system ends all the way at the very bottom with the Reds.

Darrow, a 16-year-old Red, is part of a special group of miners called “Helldivers,” who dig deep beneath the surface of Mars in order to procure Helium-3 to terraform the planet and make it habitable for humans. You meet Darrow during one of his excursions and learn that despite him being a Red, he’s overconfident and regards himself to a higher degree than those around him. The story takes a tragic turn when him and his wife, Eo, are arrested for trespassing in a forbidden forest-like area. After getting whipped publicly, Eo sings a haunting, but forbidden song about their unfair slavery, and is hanged for her actions, per order of Mars’s arch-governor, Nero Au Augustus. Devastated over his sudden loss, Darrow makes the terrible mistake of cutting her body down from the noose and burying her body, which in turn gets him hanged as well.

Darrow awakens to discover that he was drugged and secretly brought to a terrorist covert group of Reds called the “Sons of Ares,” who’s goal is to end the oppression of the lower class citizens (aka “lowcolors”). They reveal to Darrow that the Golds had fooled them all: that society had already fully terraformed centuries before, and they continued the ruse in order to use the Reds for their cheap labor and stay under their subjugation. Furious for the unfairness of it all, Darrow joins their cause, using Eo’s haunting song as part of their smear campaign. After many painful surgeries/treatments/cosmetics, Darrow is transformed from a lowly read to an impressive Gold, and everything is set in order to infiltrate the Gold society and destroy it from within.

Through many lessons of Gold etiquette, social behaviors and receiving fake documentation, Darrow then enrolls into the Gold’s Institute, and befriends the charismatic Cassius Au Bellona, and calls out the bitchy Antonia Au Severus on her elitism. Darrow has them all fooled, and is selected to be one of a select few to represent House Mars by the gruff proctor, Fitchner. This leads to him and the others being split into several teams that have a fortress and a scepter, also known as a standard, to defend (like some space-like advanced game of Capture the Flag) in a designated area within the Institute. Darrow meets some other characters, most notably a beautiful young woman named Mustang, a raging lunatic in Titus Au Ladros, and perhaps his biggest threat: the vicious, clever and unseen figure who goes by “The Jackal.”

The winning captain who enslaves all the other teams is deemed the winner, and receives a patron to sponsor them with power, wealth, and influence. Through this contest, battle lines are drawn, alliances are formed and lost, bitter betrayals cost others their lives, twists that surprise you at every corner, and absolutely no one is safe from the brutality of those that are willing to step on whoever they need to in order to gain power in this epic tale.

What I Liked:

  1. The Drama! The author does an amazing job of creating tension, adding in dozens of action packed scenes, badass & diverse characters both male and female, the plot twists and reveals, and a real sense of danger between the pages. There are some brutal deaths that are handed out, and even “The Jackal” can remind GoT fans of a combination of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton, two of the biggest villains the HBO show has ever seen. There’s even a small amount of romance, much to my delight! It’s not a major part of the plot, but feels natural and well developed between two strong characters who recognize the call to battle that’s more important towards their survival, but allow small moments of passion and tenderness.
  2. The Diversity of Characters! Because of the rich world building (more on that down the list), the author created a great opportunity to create a diverse cast of characters, and even does so without getting too into the terminology or risk racial issues of groups of people being misrepresented. People within the color ranks are different races of ethnicity, and it’s the same thing with sexual orientation, and the author doesn’t just straight up say if a character is black, or gay, etc. It’s implied, but never outright said, which gave me the impression that the author didn’t want these things to matter so much in the story. They do matter, but the issue of race or sexual orientation is never questioned in the world.
  3. The Infusion of Greek/Roman Mythology! With some research involved, there’s actually quite a lot of comparisons to the ancient tales. The names of the characters like Nero and Cassius, to the houses within the story, and the planets that represented Roman gods and goddesses, PLUS symbolism used in the story. Upon checking out a subreddit, people pointed out many similarities that I missed: Eo being Persephone, Ares (Greek God of War) with the terrorist group, even the pyramid caste system is similar to Plato’s ideal society! I suggest looking into it, it makes the story so much more satisfying to tho
  4. The Setting! The author has made a truly interesting world in this series; the most notable being the caste system that keeps society in “order.” The setting is also such an integral part of the story, and I am glad to see that it doesn’t just fall in the background; its needed as more and more is revealed in terms of the society, technology and the many characters that appear. The color caste system was a nice touch and felt original, which is impressive considering all the dystopian series like Divergent and The Hunger Games that made the idea so popular. Many other stories failed to make their system something credible, but Red Rising successfully accomplished it. Below is the Caste pyramid that shows the colors and their rank, along with their societal roles:
The Caste system of the colors, image courtesy of http://www.queergeektheory.com
  • Golds: rulers, royalty of the society
  • Silvers: financiers and Businessmen
  • Whites: clergy’s and Judges
  • Coppers: administrators, lawyers, and bureaucrats
  • Blues: bridge Crew & pilots
  • Yellows: doctors and researchers
  • Greens: programmers and technicians
  • Violets: artisans and creatives
  • Oranges: mechanics and engineers
  • Grays: regular soldiers and police force
  • Browns: servants, cooks and janitors
  • Obsidians: Elite soldiers and bodyguards
  • Pinks: sex slaves, prostitutes and social functionaries
  • Reds: manual laborers and miners

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Wordy in Some Areas…The book is marketed as a dystopian/sci-fi thriller (some would even argue that it could be YA since Darrow is only 16 in this story), but it does get incredibly wordy throughout, much like a fantasy genre novel. the author uses a high level of technical terminology, loads and loads of characters with little descriptions and a considerably slow first half of the story that could cause readers to lose interest before the real games begin. It’s supposed to read like an ancient greek tragedy written by Homer himself, with the words that the author uses in his prose and the character dialogue, but it can seem overdramatic and cheesy at times.
  2. Darrow is Perfect…In fact, he’s too perfect. Sure, he’s made into a space-age Adonis as a Gold, but he gets a little too close to the “Mary Sue” character trope (or maybe “Marty Stu” in this case?). He accomplishes tasks with seemingly little issues along the way from his end; any problems he runs into is because of outside forces. Maybe his only mistakes is underestimating other characters: taking them for granted, and being upset with himself when it comes back to bite him in the ass, and learns that there’s more to others than his own assumptions. He views himself as somewhat superior to everyone around him, even when he was Red, and it’s ironic how he’d mention how annoying the arrogant Golds were. All of this, along with the idea that he’s supposed to be an average guy who is from the lowest social caste in the world and the fact that he’s only 16, is a bit hard to believe. It’s MarySue meets the Chosen One for cliché character tropes.
  3. The First Half is incredibly Boring…I’m not going to lie, it drags on for quite a bit. After the initial set up, the story flows at a much slower pace, with a ton of info dumped onto you as well. Darrow’s transformation is a little cringeworthy: bones are snapped and rebuilt to be longer, skin is peeled off, there’s lots of pain, screaming, and blood; and while it’s kind of awesome, but I personally wished that the author condensed more parts around this part of the story. Once Darrow and the other Gold’s get into the competition is when it gets much more interesting, but man-oh-man….it was a journey to get there.

Conclusion:

I’d say that fans of the Hunger Games will enjoy these books because they both deal with similar themes of warfare, oppressive governments, and politics in fun, creative ways. Pierce Brown has created a rich world, probably even more complex than Panem, and the promise of so much more to come as the series develops. It’s still far from perfect; there’s still plenty of work that the author needs to improve on: like developing Darrow into a much more fleshed out, relatable character that more people can support and get behind. To end this review, I can say that the book is definitely worth checking out!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell