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Friday, May 22, 2020

5 Attributes of Good Reviews & Reviewers I Love to Read

In case you didn't know, I love to talk about books. After I finish a book, the first thing I want to do is share my thoughts with everyone. It doesn't even matter if anyone engages in the conversation, getting my feelings about a book out of my mind and into words is part of the reading process. It's necessary.
When I'm finished writing up the review, I go seek out the reviews of my friends to see what they had to say about it. I have some favorites. I thought it would be a good idea to highlight the people who write reviews that I want to read and also compile a little list of what I look for in reviews. As I've heard it said before: Your mileage may vary.
What you look for in reviews might be very different and that's the beauty of opinions-they are YOURS. You're entitled to them. These are MINE. You don't have to agree, but worrying about you disagreeing with me is not going to prevent me from sharing them because you can stop reading or caring about what I'm saying at any damn time. Okay, I'm done prefacing. Here's my list:

5 Attributes of a Good Review

*Sidenote: I typically don't read reviews unless I've already read the book and have written my own. But there are exceptions. 
  • A very brief synopsis. I tend to overlook reviews that go into long descriptions of plot details. It's not necessary. If I want to know what a book is about, I can read the summary on the back of the book or online. Usually authors/publishers are pretty particular about how they describe the book and some reviewers overshare stuff that I want to discover on my own. I absolutely HATE when reviewers give away easter eggs or spoil something or even hint at a plot twist. I don't need to know any of that. I also don't like it when reviewers copy and paste the description in the review. I often choose to go into a book blind, so I don't need a reminder to read a summary, I know how to get that information should I need it. 
  • Reasons. In the case of star rated reviews, I think it's important for reviewers to explain the reasons a book didn't score higher. If I read a review that sounds totally positive but the star rating is three stars or less, it leaves me wondering why the book wasn't scored higher. If the review highlights a fair amount of complaints but scores on the higher side, again-I'm left wondering why the written review doesn't match the score. Personally, I like reviews where there isn't a rating--just the review and I like to imagine, based on the reviewer's tone, how they would have scored it. I'm a firm believer in a good review being able to communicate disappointment or enthusiasm based on language vs. stars.
  • Specifics. I love it when a review gives specifics. This builds trust. I find that some review sites are only interested in being the first to review a new book so a reviewer will rush through reading or skimming a new release just to push a review out for the sake of claiming "FIRST". It's easy to spot these reviews. The praise or complaints are super generic and mostly just a rehash or reconfigure information that can be found online. It's easy to just cobble together a quickie and make it sound passable. Much more difficult would be the act of actually reading the book and sharing some very specific thoughts and feelings that can only come from genuine, authentic engagement with a book. I can smell a fake from miles away.
  • Respect. The reviewers that I enjoy reading have a healthy amount of respect for authors and the art of writing. I think negative reviews can be written with respect.
  • Personality. I love it when a reviewer's personality comes through the words. Some of my favorite reviewers are hilarious or have a unique way of explaining their emotions and experiences. Piggybacking off of this one is the length of the review, a dry, emotionless essay length review takes me back to school book reports. No thank you and goodbye. Give me a concise, sharp-witted, buzz-worthy blurb over a diatribe any day and twice on Sundays.
I Like to Read Reviews From These Fine Folks
*Sidenote: Goodreads makes it really easy to see reviews from your friends and most of the people on this list show up first in my Goodreads feed after I review a book

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Goodbye March 2020

March 2020 will probably go down as the weirdest month for me. It started out normal enough but then Coronavirus and social distancing happened. My husband's job was still considered essential at this point and he was working four 10 hour days away from home. This afforded me a lot of down time and because retreating into books is my happy place escape, I read a shit ton of books.
Here's a brief recap of what I was up to.

Books I read & reviewed:

THE DEEP by Alama Katsu- Review
THE LONG SHADOWS OF OCTOBER by Kristopher Triana (Scream review coming)
THE COMPLEX by Brian Keene (Full review sent to Cemetery Dance)
THE FINITE by Kit Power- Review 
THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES by Grady Hendrix (Full review sent to Cemetery Dance)
HOW WE BROKE by Bracken MacLeod and Paul Michael Anderson- Review
MALORIE by Josh Malerman (Review sent to Cemetery Dance)
AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE by Gwendolyn Kiste (review sent to SCREAM Magazine)
THE FOURTH WHORE by EV Knight- Review
HELL HOUSE by Richard Matheson - Review
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Gaston Leroux- Review
CLOWN IN A CORNFIELD by Adam Cesare (Review sent to Cemetery Dance)
A VOICE SO SOFT by Patrick Lacey- Review
WILTED LILIES by Kelli Owen- Review
THE RAVEN by Jonathan Janz- (Review sent to Cemetery Dance)
THE LANTERN MAN by Jon Bassoff- Review

The Night Worms Review Team posted our Review Round-Up- HERE

I launched my Patreon in March! #TeamHorror

Night Worms sent out our March 2020 Package which was another Thunderstorm Collaboration. This time we had signed, limited, exclusive editions of SNOW by Ronald Malfi and HOW WE BROKE by Bracken MacLeod and Paul Michael Anderson. 

I recorded an episode of THIS IS HORROR with Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella, which was a huge bucket list milestone for me. The episode is available now! CLICK HERE

My LitReactor article about One Star Reviews 

I announced that I joined the Tor Nightfire Team! I'm excited to be writing original content for their website.

Cemetery Dance posted my full review of WHISPERS IN THE EAR OF A DREAMING APE by Joshua Chaplinsky. Click HERE

My article featuring 13 Indie Publishers on LitReactor

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Goodbye February 2020

My son did a #ToonMe challenge of me on vacation 2/4/2020
February 2020 was an interesting month. Some real peaks and valleys. While everyone in the horror family was kicking off "Women in Horror Month" on social media, my family and I piled into our cars and headed to Seaside, OR. It was a much-needed reprieve from our typical, daily experience. The weather, however, was the same old grey skies and rainy days we experience in WA. But at least they were "new" skies and near a beach and the vacation home was everything we wanted. We just couldn't afford a "someplace sunny and warm" kind of vacation this year and that's ok. A week away from jobs and stress is pretty great.
My daughter and Owen at Cannon Beach, OR

When I got back from vacation, social media was alive with our Night Worms February package, "Horror Addiction". This was a pretty interesting package for us because Ashley and I are both very into the sub-genre "addiction horror" and we took a risk sharing it with everyone. I think the response back from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Max Booth III at Perpetual Motion Machine and Mark Matthews at Wicked Run Press are both highly professional and remarkable people. We enjoyed putting these books in people's hands.

On vacation, I managed to read two amazing books. I could not have asked for better vacation reading. SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay and PARADISE SKY by Joe Lansdale. You can read my review of Tremblay's book a little closer to release at Cemetery Dance and my review for the Lansdale book is HERE

I had the amazing opportunity to write an article for LitReactor focusing on some of my favorite Women in Horror. It was an honor to showcase these talented women and I am beyond flabbergasted that the article got so much traction. I'm excited to announce that I get to keep writing articles for LitReactor and I have two more coming next month!

Because of our family vacation, I got a little behind on reading and reviewing. I did manage to read and review all of these titles. THE GIRL IN THE VIDEO, WHISPERS IN THE EAR OF A DREAMING APE, SURVIVOR SONG are coming soon to Cemetery Dance. BAD PEOPLE and EDEN will be in an upcoming issue of SCREAM Magazine. 
Whispers in the Dark is HERE
A Collection of Nightmares HERE
The Festering Ones HERE

My review of TOUCH THE NIGHT by Max Booth dropped on GingerNuts of Horror:
Read my full review HERE

I celebrated some milestones on Twitter and Instagram this month. I hit 15K followers on Instagram and 10K on Twitter. I was also looking at my Twitter analytics and I was shocked to see what's going on in there. I don't know what the hell Twitter impressions are, but I almost reached a million of them in 28 days or something so like, someone explain to me what those even are?? Scratch that--I did hit a million in 28 days. WTF are they??

Don't forget to check out the two "Women in Horror Month" interviews I did for Cemetery Dance:

Okay, oh my god. I think that's all. Jeeze. I even exhaust myself when I do these updates. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

10 Non-Horror Books That I Love So Fiercely I Can't Even.

I used to have this annual tradition called "Season of Horror" where I would read horror books for the entire month of October. I'd say it was a fully-formed thing by 2017.
That year, I had a bunch of bookish friends on Instagram join in on the fun. We posted all the books we were planning on reading for the month. In 2018, as my Season of Horror drew near, I realized I had a problem: I had too many horror books I wanted to read in October; way more than I could manage in one month.
So I started early in September. And then guess what happened?
I never stopped. The Season of Horror has now become EVERY DAY IS HORROR. 24/7-365.
But there was a time where I was reading from other genres (do I miss those days? Do I miss "other" genres? Nope. But that's a different story for another day).
I was an early avid reader. As soon as I was able, I was reading everything I could get my hands on. As I look back over my relationship with books, I see that I have always been attracted to reading in one genre. I had a very longterm relationship with Fantasy. I discovered Stephen King at 13 and read everything available of his on my mom's shelves.
I had a brief love affair with criminal justice books and courtroom drama so I read everything John Grisham had to offer. My mom was into these A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar series by Sue Grafton but like midway through I grew bored of the formulaic storylines and timid violence. I was knee-deep into Stephen King stuff--I needed DETAILS of these crimes! So...
...there was a whole year where all I read was John Sanford "Prey" books with detective Lucas Davenport. Then I moved into the Patricia Cornwell- Kay Scarpetta series. I couldn't get enough of the grisly serial killer/flawed but dedicated detective trope. The grislier the crimes, the better.

I feel like everything I have read and loved has primed the pump for where I am now with horror. My favorite books have been stepping stones for the most rewarding and satisfying genre relationship I've ever had.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien will forever be "that book" for me. I read it in 1989, I was in 7th grade. This is the edition I have and inside is a bookplate with my name on it and a flying pegasus in pastel colors. So 'me' circa the 1980s. I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy too but they were harder for me to engage with because of the long, rambling scenes and sprawling storyline. The Hobbit is all of the Tolkien goodness but all smooshed into a concise, fast-paced story. My heart belongs to Bilbo Baggins. I'll say this book gave me my preference for character-driven tales.

I was in Freshman English when the teacher assigned Lord of the Flies by William Golding. He passed out our copies. I brought it home and went straight to my room and read the whole thing. My mom probably made me come down for dinner but I definitely read the entire book. I think it's safe to say that this book is almost horror if not full-on. My heart was racing after certain scenes with Piggy. Poor Piggy! And what would happen to sensitive, vulnerable, Simon? Still to this day, thinking about this book disturbs me so much. I absolutely love it. I'll point to this book for starting my romance with suspense, tension, and violence.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison is one of those books that I never would have picked out for myself but I lived in a home with an avid reader (mom) and she either gave this to me to read or I just swooped it from her shelves. Either way, thank goodness I found this book. Semi-Autobiographical and set in the 1950s in South Carolina, the story explores themes of poverty, abuse, abandonment, and neglect. It perfectly blends some horrific depictions of humanity at its worst with the beauty of resilience. There are some laugh-out-loud scenes as well that make things a little easier to stomach. Highly recommend. Scenes of violence, rape, and perseverance-perfectly setting the bar high for horror books to come.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of those books where if you haven't read it, I kind of judge you. And if you have read it but don't love it, I can't be your friend.
The main character is this guy who lives with his mom. He's lazy and ineffectual but he's also HILARIOUS and kind of genius. There's so much that happens that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where if you try to explain it, there's really not a plot but a bunch of amazing shit transpires. That's this book. there are letters to read between Ignatious and Myrna, journal entries, inner monologues, it's just all very non-traditional and unique. Highly recommend. I love this book for its character study style and unique storytelling voice/narrative.

I read Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane in the early 2000s. Not quite horror, but walks the line for sure. Perhaps responsible for my love of asylum horror since this one deals with mental illness, criminal insanity, and treating patients/prisoners with psychotropic drugs causing delusion and paranoia. I absolutely binged this book. It's unputdownable. Dennis Lehane is probably one of my top ten non-horror authors. He's a damn good writer. I recommend this book all the time. Of course, so many people have seen the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, which is good, but the book was better.

I don't remember when I read this book but it's been on my "All-time favorite books" list for many, many years. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one of those stories that come alive for the reader in a magical, romantic way. It's difficult to pick a genre for it-combining elements of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, just has everything anyone would ever want in a book. One of the few books I've read multiple times as a grownup. I would say that the most appealing thing about this one is its authenticity and its magical quality.

I almost can't express my love for this book in a way that would convey the seriousness of my love. William Goldman's The Princess Bride is the best book in the whole world. It's fucking timeless. I can't believe it was written in 1973 but you could read it today and it would still hold up. Like the tagline on the cover suggests, "It's a 'hot' fairytale". It's so many genres rolled into one, comedy, romance, adventure, fairytale...
I love how the style is like this secondhand telling of some other book by a fictional author named S. Morgenstern. It breaks down that wall between author and reader and you feel like your friend is telling you the juicy parts of an otherwise boring book. Oh my god it's hilarious.

It's weird to me that The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is not considered horror. How in the world??
It's horror. Full stop. There's a scene in this book that broke my mind. Like the horrors of what I was reading was making my whole body go into some kind of shock response. I literally heard sounds while I was reading--I don't know how to describe what happened to me. My reading experience was off the charts intense and to this day, this is one of the most visceral stories I have ever read. A mind blower.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns is a small-town drama and a coming-of-age novel. Probably one of my favorite coming-of-age stories and cemented the sub-genre as my favorite. (I have always been a fan though, I fall in love with all young adult protagonists).
This book follows Will Tweedy (best name ever). He's 14, growing up in the fictional, idyllic town of Cold Sassy.
There's town gossip, nosy neighbors, tragic events, drama & scandal, lazy afternoons, comedy, and just wholesome goodness. I could live in the pages of this book and feel quite at home.

I can't make a list of favorite books without John Irving on it. The Cider House Rules is another coming-of-age story about a young man named Homer Wells.
So much happens in this book--there's the whole storyline of Homer's relationship with his mentor, Dr. Larch who is a wartime abortionist and obstetrician. There's the orphanage, the cider farm, the romance, the relationships, and colorful characters...there SO MUCH STORY. I died several times while reading this one. Like straight up-dead in the feels. Ugly crying. Just...this book is a winner.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Essential Ingredient to ALL Good Stories is: CONFLICT

This little drawing cracks me up. That expression captures so perfectly what everyone is feeling when there is...duh-duh-DUHHHH...





Conflict. Oh noooo. *rolls eyes*
What the hell is everyone so afraid of?? *flapping my hands*
Drama or conflict is as reliable as the sun setting and rising. Where there are people there is the unquestionable potential for there to be drama. And why?? Is it because only certain people bring bad juju into an otherwise simplistic and wholesome community? (cue laugh track)
Um, no. There is not one community or group of people who exist apart from conflict. As long as we all shall live, we can expect shit to go down and you can bet your ass you will be the source of it and you will be on the other end of it. Are you married? You have conflict. Do you have children? They are conflict factories. Are you a part of a family? Mothers, Fathers, siblings? No drama there right?? Dysfunctional families are the rule, not the exception. Do you drive? (road rage) Do you go to the store? (Line rage) Do you live in America? (Politics rage)
Picture of Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump's State of the Union Speech. Stirring the shit! Good for her.


Because we are human beings and we are different. We have different beliefs. Different opinions. We want different things, feel different feelings, love different things, hate different things and we always think we're right and the people who are not like us are wrong. This causes conflicts. It is ridiculous and naive to demand from people, "no more drama!"
A community thrives on a steady diet of conflict and peace. It's healthy and necessary for communities to learn how to resolve conflict and drama in a healthy, trustworthy way in order to achieve real peace. Real peace is when everyone is sharing and supporting in sincerity and authenticity. If conflict is avoided at all costs or if the community fosters a culture where conflict is dealt with as a crisis or something we just want to go away, true peace will continue to escape the community's grasp. People will be afraid to speak their minds for fear of being ostracized or ignored. Relationships will be surface level or forced into hiding where only a few people really know how others feel about a situation or topic. This breeds disunity and falsehood. If conflict is dealt with in a healthy way and people feel free to voice their true feelings and opinions, sure, everyone runs the risk of offending a few people or causing a little drama, but adults should have learned a thing or two about behaving in such a way where conflict resolution is not only achievable but sought out in order to promote peace and growth.
It's not really a matter of IF drama will show up but HOW it's handled. Some people suck at it and are actually incapable of dealing with it well. This can only be known if a resolution is sought after but ultimately rejected for a variety of reasons and in that case, there are toxic relationships where boundaries need to be set and protected.
The reason I bring this up is that I wrote a review recently where the conflict in a book was so clear. It was the most entertaining part of the story. Internal and external conflicts among characters are what most stories seek to expose to the reader. It's the reason stories exist, quite honestly. If there wasn't a conflict, what kind of story would we be reading? Something pretty unrealistic and dull is my guess. As a reader (who also reviews) I am looking to invest in the lives of fictional characters as they are subjected to situations outside of their control. It's fascinating to see how the author will use the characters to make choices that cause the story to go THIS way or THAT way. Often times, the most well-told stories have protagonists that are flawed and antagonists that are sometimes good. Nobody is always one way or the other. All good or all bad.
However, humans have a tendency to demonize one another, especially during a drama. People will pick sides based on whatever biases or feelings they have towards people they really don't even know. We do this as we read stories as well. The author probably has assigned very clear motives to their characters but based on our own, personal contexts and worldviews, readers will get it all twisted out of shape and come away with a totally different experience than what the author intended.
I'm sure I'm not writing anything new here--I'm sure everyone is well aware of this concept and agrees and if that's the case--then stop freaking out over a little drama!! Okay great, bye.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

These 7 Books Need to be TV Shows Right Now

With the success of Stranger Things and just coming-of-age dramas in general, DECEMBER PARK by Ronald Malfi is the perfect book to keep that momentum going.
Small town.
Kid Boy-Gang on Bikes.
Murder mystery.
Poised to have a great soundtrack from the 90s.
I need this TV show right now.

Think 'dark academia' with an old, castle-like building serving as a private school. A young boy shows up. He's quirky--collects bugs and he's curious; astute.
The young boys at the school don't immediately take to this newcomer. Not only that but at night, strange things happen while everyone is sleeping.
Our protagonist, Charley, begins to investigate and uncovers secrets that want to stay secrets at all costs.

This story/atmosphere in THE BONE WEAVER'S ORCHARD by Sarah Read would be appealing to fans of Harry Potter & A Series of Unfortunate Events. It would be a surefire hit for all ages. Whole families would watch it.

With Bracken MacLeod's knowledge of the criminal justice system, having worked as a civil & criminal litigator combined with his ability to write compelling fiction, we need the next new crime noir drama to come from his brain.
WHITE KNIGHT, the title story from this collection, WHITE KNIGHT and OTHER PAWNS would be the perfect jumping-off point.
I could easily see a reoccurring character in the D.A. who gets in over his head, emotionally, in his clients/cases.
I'm thinking of a show like LUTHER.

Picture this: A show on Netflix about a bunch of writers, all with very strong/different personalities, are invited to this writer's retreat hosted by a prolific, mysterious (cutthroat) author.
Each episode, audiences get to know one of the authors and learn about the story they're writing and how they interact with the fellow writers on the retreat. We start picking our favorites.

Someone dies. Maybe at the end of Season One? And then Season Two could be all this horror and drama and mystery.

THE DARK GAME by Jonathan Janz needs to be a show now. Thank you.
Think a fictional reality show where things go horribly wrong.

My favorite aspect of THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu was the ever-growing tension and suspense. Among the characters was all this drama that kept the reader turning the pages. All the while, we know something is "out there". A present threat. But the protagonists have other things on their minds (like good ol' fashioned survival). This would make for a perfect TV show.
Each episode could be filled with delicious drama with talented actors and could end on some kind of a cliffhanger.
I know exactly where Season One would end.

It would be amazing. Fans of Historical Fiction dramas with some horror mixed in would binge the hell out of this!

THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB by Damien Angelica Walters would be the best TV show. Each episode could take one of the two narratives:
The girls growing up.
The girls in the present day as women.

I can see it now. Each episode developing character, mystery and that sense of dread. The finale would be an emotional rollercoaster where absolutely NOBODY would see coming.

We need this. Like, yesterday. This show would trick everyone into thinking it was some kind of YA drama, safe. But then it would start taking a VERY dark turn.

The world needs to know the characters, Dallas and the Kid. And they need to read the book RATTLESNAKE KISSES by Bob Ford and John Boden but in order to get them there, maybe the trick would be to bring these characters to life on screen.
It would be magical.
The dialog in this book is laugh out loud funny. The story is fast-paced, compelling...
It would translate perfectly to the screen!
And then we could just have Boden & Ford write TV shows in the Knucklebucket Thang universe forever and ever.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Book Blogging Pro Tip: Image Search on Google

Hello, hello! It's me, Mother Horror with a friendly, useful "Pro Tip" that will help you be respectful of others and save face when doing a Google Image Search for your blog article.

If you can, use your own photos. Not a photographer? You'll probably go to Google Images and look up a book or an author. Let's try it!

Search: "Micheal Wehunt"


In this search, I found a photo of mine from this blog, bottom left corner. I also see a photo that my friend Bethany of Wraith & Roses took. There are several other images here as well and almost all of them belong to someone. This means you have to ask permission to use it and credit that person as the source. Let's try it again:

Search: "A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay"

This photo of mine gets used all the time for this book and I'm never asked and I'm never given credit and I always approach the blogger when I see it and just plainly tell them to take it down at that point. If you click on it, it goes to a Twitter post I did where I used a screenshot from my own Instagram photo:
My advice is: If you are going to use any images on your blog article, the safest thing to do is use your own photos. If you want to just Google Search images, just know that when you right click over that image and click, "Save As..." you might want to click on it first. See where it goes. It probably belongs to someone else and that someone deserves credit for their "unique-to-them" image.