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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

My Top 4 Horror Reads of All Time



Mwahaha. It's Halloween, and I thought I'd help you get into the spirit a little. I took a look at my Horror shelf on Goodreads. There are 28 "read" books on it (out of a total of 226 read--I think I need to read more horror), and I found four of them which I'd rated five stars.

So, in no particular order, here are my top four horror stories of all time. Click on a cover to find out where you can pick up a copy.

Enjoy!

Mold by Lindsey Goddard


About the Book

When a new mother is forced to move into an old boarding home, she discovers the dark secret behind the phantom mold that keeps appearing on her walls.

My Review

I really enjoyed this little story. Not so much scary as creepy, it's very psychological.

The writing is brilliant, and the pacing is just right. It definitely made me think... and I liked the open ending, too!

The End of the Trail by Louis Rackovich



About the Book

A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.

My Review

There isn't much to say about this book, because it's so short that I don't want to give anything away. It's not too short, though: the length is just right. And not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, it's a fully composed story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was creepy, but not too creepy. It was beautifully written. It made me think. And the ending, while somewhat predictable, was utterly satisfying. You can't go wrong.


One for the Road: An Illustrated Story by Stephen King


About the Book

This much-loved tale is narrated by Booth, and elderly resident of a small Maine town that neighbors the infamous Jerusalem's Lot, and it takes place a couple of years after the events in King's novel. Booth describes a winter's night years ago, when he and his friend, a bar owner named Herb Tooklander (Tookey), receive a visit from a distressed motorist named Gerard Lumley, whose vehicle had become stranded in a ferocious blizzard . . . with his wife and daughter still inside. At first critical of Lumley for driving in such weather, both men are horrified when they realise the Lumley's car is stranded in Jerusalem's Lot, widely regarded to have 'gone bad'. Nevertheless, they still decide to drive out in a snow plough and attempt to save Lumley's family. Instead, they barely manage to save themselves.

Widely regarded to be one of King's finest short stories—itself a sequel of sorts to what so many feel is perhaps his finest novel—'One For The Road' is the author working at the top of his form. For years people clamored for another visit to 'Salem's Lot'. Well, here it is . . . a wintry little coda to one of King's scariest works. All the classic elements are here: an empty town, heavy weather, Yankee accents . . . and the monsters, of course. Let's not forget the monsters.

My Review

I listened to the audiobook of this one, that I found on YouTube, but I now can't find it anywhere. Good luck if you're trying to source it!

One for the Road is somewhat of a sequel to 'Salem's Lot. I don't think you'll miss much if you read this one without having read Salem's Lot, but don't read this one if you intend to read its predecessor, or it'll be spoilt for you.

A man shows up at a bar one day, in a town a short distance from Jerusalem's Lot, saying that his car ran out of fuel in the Lot, and he left his wife and daughter there while he came to look for help. The narrator and his friend finally agree to drive him back to fetch them, but they're not happy about it, because of the legendary creatures that inhabit the Lot.

The pacing is fantastic, and the tension builds perfectly. The ending is quite satisfying. I don't know who the audio-book narrator is, but he does a fantastic job in reading! I don't know if I would've given the book five stars if I'd have just read the book myself.


It by Stephen King



About the Book

Welcome to Derry, Maine…

It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real…

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.

My Review

It took me a month or so to read this book, and over that month I had the privilege to know some very interesting and lovable people. I knew them throughout their childhood and adult lives. I played with them, built dams and clubhouses with them, drank with them, ate with them, and smoked with them. And when I was finished, I missed them dearly. Even It, I got to know briefly about where It came from and what Its motivations were for being on this earth.
I even got to know Derry like my hometown, and I feel after all this time that I could get from anywhere in town to anywhere else in town with my eyes closed.

This familiarity is a testament to the incredibly rich writing skills of Mr Stephen King. Every character and every place is entirely believable and entirely consistent, which is no small feat considering there are so many of them, and the story is so long!

This book is meant to be a horror. I must say there are times when I felt "creeped out," but I don't think anything in the book truly scared me - although I definitely felt and identified with the terror the characters were feeling all those times!

This is a story about repressed memories, lost for many years, that come back when the people need to remember, but bury themselves again when the need is done. It's a story about friendship conquering all, but it's also a story about people coming into your life for a purpose, and then disappearing again when the purpose is completed (which is kind of sad).

"It" was the first Stephen King I actually READ, although I've seen many of the movies... the movie is NOTHING like the book! It definitely wasn't the last King book I read, though.

Honourable (I hope) mentions

It's worth mentioning the two horror books I wrote here, Billy's Zombie and Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction. No reviews for these, because I wrote them, and that would be pretentious. Besides, because I wrote them, they're obviously among my favourites!

Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

A perfect introduction into the inner workings of the weird mind of Graham Downs, this collection of flash fiction paranormal stories contains:

The Thing in the Window,
An Automatic Decision,
Telepathic Link,
The Witch of Wellington, and
The Christmas Bird.
All have been newly edited and polished since publication on his website in 2014, and some with new endings.

It also contains the never-before published story, Under the Sheets, about an old woman who believes she is being haunted by a strange ghost, living under her bed.

Billy's Zombie


Young Billy MacIntyre has always been a weird kid, always taking every little slight to heart.
One day, he decides to exact his revenge on all those simpletons who have done him wrong. And he does it by taking a book of Necromancy out of the library, and raising a zombie from the dead!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Repulsive Origins - The Captain: A Short Story by Brian W. Foster (Book Review)

About the Book

When a supervillain attacks civilians, the US Army is first on the scene. Lieutenant Samuel Shields is given the impossible task of protecting lives and property. His weapons won’t hurt a three-story tall enhanced hostile, and even if he could figure out a way to take the enemy out, he’s not allowed to engage under any circumstances. Instead, he must wait for the so-called superheroes to show up.

Leave it to the politicians to create such a FUBAR situation.

Two children are put in danger, and Samuel is forced to make a life-altering decision. If he follows orders, he’ll have the deaths of two kids on his conscience. But if he disobeys, he risks his life and, worse, a court martial.

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

You know, I've been wanting to get into Superhero fiction for a while. I don't know why it took me so long.

The actual short story is sort of okay. I was frequently confused, and it struggled to keep my attention. I don't think it went into as much detail as I would've liked, explaining the world that the author has created.

AFTER the short story, however, there's a three-chapter sample of the book that the story is a prequel to, called Repulsive. I thoroughly enjoyed that! In fact, if I'd read that first, and then The Captain's origin story, we might be looking at a four- or perhaps even five-star review.

So, despite my relatively low review of Repulsive Origins - The Captain: A Short Story, you better believe the next one's going on my TBR.

Click here to find out where you can get your hands on a copy.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Foray into Chatbots, and Facebook Messenger Marketing



There's been a lot of talk about Facebook bots lately, and I've been wondering whether it was worth taking a look at them for my author business.

About two weeks ago, I stumbled across Chatfuel, a free site that lets you create bots that operate over Facebook Messenger and send broadcasts to people who opt-in.

I signed up, and I must say, I've been impressed so far.

If you haven't seen my bot in action yet, please consider trying it out. Click over to my Facebook Page, and either type a comment on one of my posts, or send me a message and type "Get started".

My bot will send you a private message inviting you to subscribe to my broadcasts. Reply with "subscribe" to sign up.

The bot's AI recognises three different keywords right now: Subscribe, Unsubscribe, and Shop. Test them all out--more will be coming soon.

I still have very few subscribers, and I'm trying to grow. I'd love to have you onboard, and you can, of course, change your mind and Unsubscribe from my broadcasts any time you like! :-)

Monday, 23 October 2017

The End of the Trail by Louis Rakovich (Book Review)

books2read.com/u/bxq1O6

About the Book

A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.


My Review (5 / 5 Stars)

There isn't much to say about this book, because it's so short that I don't want to give anything away. It's not too short, though: the length is just right. And not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, it's a fully composed story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was creepy, but not too creepy. It was beautifully written. It made me think. And the ending, while somewhat predictable, was utterly satisfying. You can't go wrong.

To find out where you can pick up a copy, click here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Origin by Jessica Khoury (Book Review)

About the Book

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home―and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin―a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

I found this book in my local e-library, and decided to give it a go. It's beautiful.

It's not easy to sum up the premise, because I found it unlike anything I've ever read before, but let me give it a try: in a remote lab in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, a group of scientists have cut themselves off from the outside world. They've done the impossible, by creating a human being who is well-and-truly immortal. This book is her story, and is all about her coming to terms with her immortal status, and the growing sensation that there's a whole world out there that she's never been exposed to.

She's seventeen years old as the story opens, and is starting (quite late, by human standards, but consider her cloistered existence) to discover all sorts of emotions that she never knew she had. Up until this point, her upbringing has been that emotions are always bad, and scientific thinking, logic, are always good.

The book makes you think, and it's peppered with subtle Christian references comparing her to Jesus Christ. The narrative never goes ahead and SAYS it, but if you know your Bible, they're there. I thought that was strange, until I found out the author is actually a Christian, after which the story took on a whole new meaning to me.

The pacing's fantastic and the editing is almost flawless. One or two missing words here and there, but nothing to detract from my enjoyment.

In my e-book, though, the formatting's a bit inconsistent, and it keeps jumping from the "blank line between paragraphs" to the "first-line indent" method. That's a bit jarring, but it's probably only the OverDrive version.

Click here to find out where you can grab yourself a copy.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Free for Goodreads Horror Week

Social reading site Goodreads holds an annual event they call Horror Week.

This year, Horror Week is this week, and my contribution is the fact that Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction is free on Kobo!

Click the cover below to get your copy, and don't forget to share this post with all your friends. :)



About the Book


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Demons, witches, extra-sensory perception, possessed animals, and an ever-loving God. There is much that exists, or is claimed to exist, in the world today, that we are yet to understand.

A perfect introduction into the inner workings of the weird mind of Graham Downs, this collection of flash fiction paranormal stories contains:

  • The Thing in the Window, 
  • An Automatic Decision, 
  • Telepathic Link, 
  • The Witch of Wellington, and 
  • The Christmas Bird. 

All have been newly edited and polished since publication on his website in 2014, and some with new endings.

It also contains the never-before published story, Under the Sheets, about an old woman who believes she is being haunted by a strange ghost, living under her bed.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Don's Therapist (A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs)

It's the month of scary, so I thought I'd give to something to freak you out this month. Please let me know if I've done a good job, and if you enjoyed my little free flash fiction story.

Here goes. :)




When I called Don, I heard nothing on the other end of the buzzing line. For a moment, I thought he’d hung up on me. Then hesitant laughter rumbled above the static. “Thank goodness you’re safe,” he said.

I almost dropped my cellphone, and instantly forgot why I’d phoned him. “What? Why?”

“Oh, nothing.” He chuckled again, nervously. “I’m probably just being paranoid, but there’s just been a story on TV about a rabid dog in town.”

“Really? I haven’t heard anything.”

“Just be careful, Edith, okay?” There was silence again, then his voiced dropped to a whisper. “D-did you hear that?”

I strained my ears. Nothing. “Hear what?”

“A-a growl, coming from outside.” More silence. Then, “It’s scratching at the door. Edith, come quick. Please, help me.” He was whimpering now.

Pressing the phone against my ear, I shot up and looked frantically around the room for my bag, my keys. Scooping them up, I headed for the door. “Okay. Okay, Don. Lock yourself in the room. Stay on the line. I’m on my way.”

By this time, Don was blubbering incoherently, like a man begging for his life.

Now, if you know Don, you know he’s always been prone to overreaction, to bursts of panic. But this, this was different. I’d never heard him so frantic. In fact, for the past few weeks, he’d been much calmer. He’d been doing well in therapy, and taking his medication regularly. And he said he’d seen something on the news. I just couldn’t risk it.

I collapsed into the driver’s seat of my old Uno and slammed the door, panting. “Don? Are you still there?”

“Yes.” His voice was hoarse. A low whisper. “I think it’s in the house.”

My hands shook as I turned the key in the ignition. The car spluttered. A second time. A third. Finally, it roared to life, and I turned onto the street and sped away.

What should I do? Hang up and phone the police? Or put him on hold? No. I couldn’t leave him, even for a moment. No telling what would happen if I did that.

Two minutes. Just two more minutes and I’d be at his house. But what would I do when I got there?

I screeched into the driveway. There was a light on in the living room. The front door was closed. All was peaceful; the occasional dog barked in the distance, and faint moonlight illuminated the driveway.

“Don, I’m here. Where are you?”

His heavy panting was my only reply.

“Don?”

“In my room.” The sound of his voice made me jump.

I exited the vehicle and walked up the drive, a bad feeling gripping my heart. Oh, Don, I thought, if you’ve been wasting my time....

When I got to the front door, I heard a blood-curdling scream, almost causing me to drop my phone again. I scratched frantically in my bag and found what I was looking for. Thank goodness I’d remembered to grab Don’s house keys. My hand shook as I tried to press them into the lock. “Don? Don? Answer me, Don.”

I finally got the door open and stepped into the room. The TV was on. On the screen, someone was being attacked by a wild animal. Probably a werewolf.

In a huff, I hung up the phone and stormed down the passage to Don’s room. I tried to open it, but it was locked, so I banged on the door. “Don? You open this door right now!”

A moment later, the door opened to Don’s panicked face. He was white as a sheet. I shoved him back onto his bed as I barged into the room. A quick look around proved my suspicions: on his bedside table sat the sealed bottle of pills. His prescription, that I’d taken him to the pharmacy to get refilled three days ago.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Don, why haven’t you been taking your medication?”

His eyes shot open and his jaw dropped. He pointed behind me, and I heard a growl. I turned, just in time to see white teeth flashing as something leapt at me. Jaws sank into the flesh of my arm, and I screamed.




Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Buying E-Books in South Africa

I did some research last week on the topic of buying e-books natively in South Africa. By natively, I mean where prices are quoted, and you get charged, in South African Rand.

Turns out, there aren't many of them. In fact, I could only find four - and three of them are international stores which happen to have a South African presence.

We're still very much lagging behind when it comes to the e-book revolution. Can you think of any others? And no, publishers' own websites don't count; I'm looking for online stores that sell books from a wide range of authors and publishers, and allow you to pay in Rands.

Google Play Books


What I like about Google Play is that it's available to anyone with an Android device, and anybody who uses Android is likely already familiar with the brand.

Most of those people are used to installing apps from the Play Store. They may even have purchased movies, TV shows, or music from the respective stores as well. But do they know that there's a bookstore too?

The site offers e-books in e-pub format, and quotes prices in Rand, including VAT. Plus, you can use the gift cards you buy at South African brick and mortar stores for books as well.

I've read a bit using the Google Play Android e-reading app, and I like it. The app is clean and the options for changing your viewing layout are many. I particularly enjoy the "Night Mode", which turns the text more amber as the ambient lighting reduces, so it's really easy on your eyes.

But if you don't like their native app, any non-DRM books bought from Google Play can be downloaded as epub files, so you can use whatever e-reader you like (except Kindle, obviously).

Rakuten Kobo


Kobo's a mature, world-class e-book store with a South African presence. They have a dedicated e-reading device, unlike Google Play, as well as Android, iOS, and Windows Phone apps.

They're a lot more mature than Google Play, and their sole focus is on e-books.

I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about the shopping experience for me that's better than the other stores I've tried. The only problem is, if you don't like their e-reader (I don't particularly), there's no way to get at the actual epub file to read on a different one.

They also don't have vouchers/gift cards available in South Africa, so if you don't have a credit card, you're out of luck.

Inktera


Another international site that happens to allow you to buy books in South African Rands.

While the site does have a consumer-facing store, that's not Inktera's main purpose. Their main purpose is enabling other retailers by hosting stores for them.

They don't have an e-reader, so the only way to read the e-books you buy from them is to download the epub file and load it onto the e-reader or e-reading app of choice.

eBook Shop


Having just recently found this store, I know next to nothing about them.

It's also the only store on this list where my books aren't available, and I can't find any way to upload them.

I tried to register, but they want an inordinate amount of information (including your full postal address and phone numbers), just to create an account. I'm just not comfortable giving up that kind of information.

It looks like they don't have an e-reader or e-reading app either, because there's a link on their home page with recommended software you can download to read their books.

If you know anything at all about this store, or how an indie author like me can get their books listed here, drop me a comment and let me know!

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Writer's Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos by Kathy Steinemann (Book Review)

About the Book

You’re a writer. You just read your manuscript and discovered your characters nodding like marionettes in every chapter. When they’re not nodding, they’re rolling their eyes.

Oops.

Time to slash the Pinocchio strings and turn them into real live people. Award-winning author Kathy Steinemann will provide the tools. She cuts through the so-called rules and offers simple solutions.

Too many repetitions of “little”? There’s a cure for that. Do you rely on “very” too often? There’s a cure for that too. You’ll find the remedies in this book’s dispensary.

Should you ever use anything other than “said” to attribute dialogue? Are exclamation points taboo? The answers might surprise you.

Learn how to harness body language, cut hackneyed adjectives, and draw on the environment for ambience. No more wooden characters. You’ll transform them into believable personalities your readers will learn to love. Or hate.

Get in the driver’s seat, relax, and enjoy your journey—with Kathy Steinemann’s book as your GPS.


My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

An exceedingly useful, if not indispensible, writing guide.

This book goes deeper than probably any I've read so far on the subject of writing. The first half consists of words writers should avoid or use sparingly, from the obvious "very" to the less obvious "sat". There is one chapter for each of these words (And there are lots of them), and each one contains loads of examples for adjectives, nouns, and verbs to use instead. "Before-and-after" example paragraphs abound, and each chapter's also packed with writing prompts to help get your creative juices flowing.

After these "Words to Avoid" chapters, we move into things like when to use certain punctuation marks, how and when to incorporate swearing into your story, and things to avoid when writing in the third person.

It's definitely a book I'll be keeping on my device to refer to again and again.

Having said all that, there was something ... off about the writing. I couldn't immediately put my finger on it, but it affected my enjoyment of this book.

After thinking about it for a while, I realised what it was. It's very "teachy". It feels a bit like the author is a doctor who's really good at what she does, but her bedside manner leaves more than a bit to be desired.

There are example paragraphs, before and after certain changes, and the author will say something like "The second paragraph is much stronger." or maybe "Don't you think the second paragraph sounds so much better?

That's a rhetorical question, and it can come off as patronising.

She also refers back to the two big style guides quite often - "This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says on the subject." As if that's an end to it.

Sure, she SAYS that everyone's different, and you should write what works for you, but the tone of her advice is less advice and more instruction. "This is the way you should do it. Now do it this way and no other."

I guess when you've been an editor for as long as Ms Steinemann has, you develop a thick skin. Much like that proverbial doctor.

That may not be a bad thing for you. If you want to learn the correct way to write, this book is definitely for you. 

If you like to make up your own mind about things, you might disagree with the author on a couple of points, but you'll hopefully agree with her on a lot more. Either way, this book is for you, too.

Click here to find out where you can grab a copy.