Category: Thriller


Hypnos Blog Tour

I’m a little late with this, but still excited to introduce you all to the Hypnos blog tour.

Hypnos Cover

What if the unthinkable became a reality? What if technology could be used against you?

A software program has been stolen from the digital vaults of the CIA. It is capable of bridging the gap between A.I. and human consciousness, making a person do whatever the controller wants, creating a potentially terrifying new world. The organisation responsible has racist, right-wing views and a perverted desire to reduce population growth by culling it using the software. Only the rich and the powerful can be part of Asclepius. The software is uploaded to the brain via eye movement using a smartphone, leaving open the possibility for entire countries to be controlled remotely.

Alex Brown, newly-appointed to the B5 Intelligence cell of British intelligence while hunting for the serial killer Dale Broc who has kidnapped her daughter, has been assigned to the case and now has to choose. Will she save the country or her daughter?

Hypnos is the second novel in the Alex Brown series. Author Jon Biddle brings extensive medical knowledge coupled with military and law enforcement experience that combines to produce an exciting sequel to The Harvester.

Hypnos Banner1

This is, as ever, an excellent chance to check out what other bloggers are hosting for the tour and to see what kind of content they post. Just from the synopsis I’m really interested in seeing what’s going to turn up on the tour.

Jon Biddle

Author Information

Jon spends his days smashing out people’s hip and knee joints, and his nights writing medical thrillers.

A veteran and a medical professional who spends 45 hours a week in the OR, Jon brings considerable medical and military/law enforcement expertise to the crime thriller genre, evident by the attention to detail in his six books.

Jon’s writing is dark and eclectic, provoking and deviant. He surrounds himself in the white glow of pureness, with one foot always in the dark. The dark always surrounds us, but Jon has a knack of making his readers ask “Could this happen to me?”

There is nothing too dark for Jon to write about. He has no level, base, or filter, and will get into your head and “scare the living daylights” out of you.

Jon lives in the south-west of England with his childhood sweetheart, Sam, and two Springer Spaniels. With full-time medical responsibilities in his day job, Jon spends 15-20 hours a week writing for his growing online audience. His new medical thriller, The Harvester, was released in 2019 as the first of six books in the Dale Broc series.

Find out more about Jon Biddle, including his new releases and regular short stories, by going to http://www.jonbiddle.uk and joining the mailing list.

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Guest Post:Sharlene Almond

Hi all, today I’ve got a guest post from Sharlene Almond, author of Initiated to Kill, about the minds of serial killers and some of the commonalities that criminologists have found between them. Enjoy!

Initiated to Kill cover

Delving into the Criminal Mind – What we can Learn from Historical Serial Killers.

Who would have thought we would be living in a world in which we have grown rather fascinated with the workings of the criminal mind. With TV shows that delve into criminal profiling, movies and books exploring the depravity of a serial killer.

Criminology and Criminal Profiling is fast becoming a sought-out degree. Even the knowing the basics on Criminology can help a writer better understand why their antagonist and protagonist is doing what they are doing.

So, come with me and explore the sadistic minds of serial killers.

The Importance of a Childhood, and the Affect on the Brain.

As much as we might want to deny it, childhood can have a huge impact on the brain. The idea nature vs. nurture is something we struggle with explaining, especially when it comes to psychopathy.

After all, is it possible for a baby to be a psychopath? Or is there something absent in the brain, which is then triggered by trauma?

It is important to realize that a person’s interactions “shape the structural and organizational characteristics of our brain.” (Nancy Darling, Ph.D.)

Parenting affects the cortisol and alpha amylase levels in our brain. When children are in an environment that encourages positive responses and communications when feeling unresponsive to feelings, as opposed to encouraging negative responses through the exposure to violence, teaches the child that it is normal to react in a violent way in order to get what you want.

He believed even his parents feared him, which he relished all the more. His sometimes-tender self would suddenly change like a storm blackening the sky. His fits of rage caused people to scurry, delighting him, their terror—his drug.” (Initiated to Kill)

Children learn from the experiences they are exposed to the most. In the early years of their life, their main exposure is from their parents.

However, there are some children with underdeveloped or stunted amygdala, resulting in the areas of their brain connected with empathy, pain and fear to not develop effectively.

Psychopathy may be able to be recognized as early as around two years old. The benefit of recognizing and admitting the potential of certain children lacking empathy, means that those that surround them can help the children experience interactions which help to educate the child on the different responses for the different situations they come across.

Who is capable of being a Serial Killer?

“He would make friends easily; they seemed to flock to his charming and energetic self. But he got bored easily, so when they no longer amused him, he would just vanish, pretending they never existed.” (Initiated to Kill)

Serial killers don’t necessarily walk around appearing as though they are about to commit murder. Instead, many of them may appear ‘normal’. However, there can be some indicators that could cause a person to be more likely to commit vicious acts, and with other triggers, could be a violent combination.

Extreme antisocial behavior, voyeurism (watching a person in private setting), enjoys setting fires, and torturing or killing animals may lead to more serious acts of violence.

Other factors may be less noticeable. Some study results have suggested that male serial killers may have extremely high levels of testosterone.

Another genetic factor could be that they have abnormal levels of the brain chemical dopamine – which is responsible for motivation and pleasure.

Those with lower levels of dopamine require greater stimulation to achieve pleasure.

Do You See Them Coming?

No. Although, there are some traits that could indicate criminal tendencies, many proclaim how shocked they are when they discover who is behind sadistic acts.

Ted Bundy was considered a charming man, volunteering for the suicide hotline, and a college graduate. However, underneath that superficial exterior hid a psychopath that killed at least 36 women.

H.H Holmes was a well-known pharmacist that had a torture dungeon in his basement.

John Wayne Gacy was a shoe salesman, entertained children as a clown, and active in his community. However, was a serial killer of young men.

Richard Angelo, a volunteer fire fighter, respected nurse and an Eagle Scout. He was so obsessed with being a hero he would poison patients so he could revive them.

Philip Maroff, eventually known as the Craigslist Killer was a member of the National Honor Society, promising student, and part of the youth court in school.

The Taunting’s of a Serial Killer.

There is one part of the ‘murder game’ many killers cannot resist, and that is to taunt police or victims, show how clever they are, mock them, dare them to catch them if they can.

The Zodiac killer would mock the police for not deciphering his code. In 2018, his mocking finally caught up to him, and Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer was finally caught. It is believed he put in practice before the big events by breaking into people’s homes to steal a personal item, or leave something behind.

Of course, one of the most notorious killers to taunt police, and still to this day not yet be fully identified is Jack the Ripper. He would go into great detail of what he did to his victims, and send it personally to the Police Commissioner.

 Dear Boss,

“‘So now they say I am a Yid when will they lern Dear old Boss! You an me know the truth don’t we. Lusk can look forever hell never find me but I am rite under his nose all the time. I watch them looking for me an it gives me fits ha ha I love my work an I shant stop until I get buckled and even then watch out for your old pal Jacky

Catch me if you can Jack the Ripper

Sorry about the blood still messy from the last one. What a pretty necklace I gave her.”’” (Initiated to Kill)

The Happy Face killer become unhappy with the lack of attention he was getting with his killings, so he started writing letters to local media detailing his crimes and signing them with a happy face.

Taking on Different Personas

Serial killers could be considered some of the best actors, having to put on a fake mask for society, while their inner depths are raging with violent emotions.

Juana Barraza was considered Mexico’s first female serial killer, and often thought to have been a man for her physical strength and build. She would favor disguises like a nurse’s uniform to allow herself to get into older people’s homes, or would wear a pink Power Ranger costume.

The Phantom Killer, known for the white mask with cutout holes for his eyes and mouth would target couples in Lovers Lanes after dusk.

It could be considered strategic for killers to wear costumes to reduce the risk of any eyewitnesses recognizing them, or it may play into their role to become a different person once they have that disguise on.

James Eagan Holmes become known for his murdering spree, but more for is so-called fascination with the Joker from the Batman movies. At a midnight screening of the Dark Knight Rises, James shot 12 people at a movie theatre dressed as the Joker, dying his hair to look like him.

Other killers have keepsakes to use after their crimes to relive it.

Although wearing actual costumes during crimes isn’t all that common, serial killers tend to play with numerous roles to hide who they are, or to get a victim’s guard down.

Which could be why so many people are creeped out by clowns…

There is a theory to why there were so many different suspects in Jack the Ripper killings. One theory is that he dressed up in different costumes to throw off the scent and purposefully implicate others in the killings.

He acted, he played, and he enjoyed fooling people.

“Visiting the Red Cross, asking for military uniforms. Walking along the streets dressed in something different every time. Wearing a moustache or hat to disguise the color of his hair. He enjoyed fooling people, and he did just that. No one suspected who he really was, what he was really doing.” (Initiated to Kill)

The Urge to Continue Despite the Risk

One could say that killing may be like a drug, the high is addictive, the adrenaline pumping through the veins, the intense need for more, exposing the person to engage in more risky behavior to feed their addiction.

Serial killers are intent on self-preservation. Just like those that engage in behaviors to relieve stress, so to do serial killers.

Ted Bundy claimed he ‘craved’ killings as it helped him concentrate.

Israel Keyes was addicted to the thrill of the hunt.

“Elizabeth Wettlaufer… described a pressure that would build up before each murder and stated she started killing people to relieve anxiety.” (Joni E Johnston Psy.D)

Perhaps it is the boost of dopamine that occurs, resulting in feelings of pleasure. The more they do, the more they crave, the harder it is to stop, the greater the risk, the greater the rush.

What Happens if they are Never Caught?

The brain is capable of desensitization. Whether it is from external triggers like abuse, or intentional desensitization by continually exposing oneself to what they fear, confidence in what they are capable of doing can grow. Especially when they keep getting away with it.

“There is no help, no cure, except death or being caught and put away… When this monster enter my brain I will never know… I can’t stop it, so the monster goes on…” (Dennis Rader, BTK Stranger)

The BTK Strangler killed multiple people in the 70s. Thirty years later, supposedly, he contacted the Wichita police again. Sending photographs of a murder in 1986, which had never been solved.

Thankfully, it would seem that finally this deprived psychopath was finally caught in 2005. Dennis Rader terrorized Kansas’s neighborhoods, which sent a flurry of home security systems to be installed. What could not have been foreseen was that Dennis Rader was the one installing these cameras, enabling him to become familiar with his victims’ surroundings.

So, what are the motives behind serial murders?

It is believed that one major motivation for serial killers is to seek that ultimate thrill. Serial killers like the Zodiac killer are motivated through the adrenaline rush of stalking their prey.

While others love the control they can exert over their victims, like Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz ‘Son of Sam’.

Another factor to keep in mind is that even when sexual assault occurs, it does not mean they are doing it for sexual gratification, rather, it tends to be the use of acts to control and humiliate their victims.

Ted Bundy would fantasize about killing; however, initially found the first act so terrifying and nerve wracking that he thought he would never do it again.

Brenda Spencer was an interesting case of a problem sixteen year old obsessed over violent films, and had been involved with drugs and petty theft. Owning a BB gun she would kill birds and break windows. However, when her father gave her a real gun, her psychopathic tendencies came to the forefront.

Setting herself up at Cleveland Elementary School, she went on a 20 minute shooting spree, killing two adults, and wounding nine children.

Even though she seemed to love the spotlight, her claimed motive for what she did shocked all – “I just don’t like Mondays… I did it because it’s a way to cheer the day up. No body likes Mondays…” (Brenda Spencer)

How to Use Profiling in Writing?

So, why do we want to know all this? Well, for authors, especially for those that write mysteries or thrillers, to have some understanding of the psyche of the killer helps to bring the person to life.

A vivid picture is created, the person feels real, their actions feel real, and they slowly progress through the story.

The antagonist, in my opinion, is just as important as the protagonist. They are two opposing forces that eventually have to collide. And, I guess, what makes it even more interesting, is that for some antagonists, you can almost feel sorry for them, can almost understand how they became who they are. And perhaps that is why criminal profiling is so fascinating – to learn what we may be capable of.

To read more about Jack the Ripper and a present-day killer, you can find my historical/present day psychological thriller here.

Sharlene Almond author pic

Author Bio:

I live in Auckland, New Zealand with my partner and two Jack Russell’s (my babies). Historical based movies and documentaries are some of the useful tools to give me ideas for my next books. I have a diploma in Body Language and Criminology, enabling me to understand and portray my main character – Annabella.

At 32 years old, I also have diplomas in Cognitive Behavioural therapy, Freelance Journalism, Editing and Proofreading and Naturopathic Nutrition. These qualifications give me the ability to better understand the human mind, writing about it in a manner my readers can understand and connect with.

Currently, I am studying to specialize in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Dialectal Behavioural Therapy, and Medicinal Cannabis.

Author Website  Amazon Author Page  Twitter  Facebook  Pintrest  Goodreads  Instagram

Devil’s Demise

So, this has been a time and a half coming, hasn’t it? I’m not planning on this being my review for the week, but I did want to get it up since I feel like I’ve been dragging my feet on it. I was sent a copy of this one by Authoright for review. This is Devil’s Demise. Enjoy!

Devils Demise cover

A killer stalks the streets of Edinburgh seeking a twisted revenge on beautiful women. Successful beautiful women. He gets off on their fear, on the power he has over them and the pain he can inflict. He’s untouchable. That is, he’s untouchable until one of his victims survives.

Lee Cockburn’s Devil’s Demise is a frustrating book for me. This is distinctly a first book, with all the pitfalls those tend to have, but it’s a first book that I had really wanted to like. There were a number of solid ideas here and I feel like the characters could have been interesting given more space to interact, but then the writing itself didn’t support them.

A lot of my issues with the writing come from the odd sort of third person omniscient thing going on. It is all tell and no show to the point that our introductions to the major characters are more or less just lists of traits and how other people react to them. After being told so much how evil and terrible the antagonist was, the serial killer who had committed multiple on page rapes, it started to feel more than a bit like Cockburn didn’t trust her audience to understand but that she also didn’t know how to get it across better. Likewise, being told how good and honest and hardworking the protagonist was without being shown much at all of her doing her job, I started to not believe it, she complains about her boss and worries about her maybe girlfriend a lot though. This continues throughout the book, we get told how bad the protagonist feels about failing to catch the killer or how she and her maybe girlfriend are just so into each other or how terrible and glory hogging the boss character is. It’s distracting and leaves me feeling very little for the characters except mild annoyance.

It’s also all very declarative. The characters don’t so much speak as they declare things at each other. When a situation is meant to have humor, it gets noted that that’s just the sort of gallows humor police all have.  This is, again, very repetitive. It ties into how everything is told to the reader while also making the characters feel less human because the way they communicate is just off.

The book also has a weirdly huge focus on all the sex these characters are having. It feels like if you cut out all the sex scenes the book would be a third its total length, half if you removed the consensual sex scenes. I’m probably exaggerating somewhat but this is a book that interrupted itself multiple times, completely breaking tension, to show characters having sex. The sex scenes themselves wound up feeling repetitive and emotionless and half the time I had trouble figuring out just what characters were doing. Though, again, that feeds into the book being so reliant on telling the reader everything. If the action isn’t being shown, then it is going to feel stilted.

That’s really as far as I can get into the writing without going into spoiler territory. As I’ve said before, this was a book I really wanted to like. The concept of a serial killer driven to punish successful women by his own feelings of not being given the respect he deserves is an interesting one for me. Mission driven serial killers are terrifying. I liked the idea of one of his victims surviving and becoming the focus of his hunt, because a single victim could give the reader more time to get to know them and identify. We did get a fair amount of time with the victim, but we spent a lot more with the killer and that just felt weird for me. I feel like stepping back from the killer, leaving him more in the shadows and more a mystery would have been a benefit to the book. I really didn’t want to know how hard he got every time he thought about hurting women.

Ultimately, I’m left disappointed by Devil’s Demise. It’s a book I wanted to like and it had a number of ideas that could have been good. Unfortunately, the writing and the repetition of descriptions and opinions wrecked it for me. I feel like Cockburn could be a solid writer with more practice and the benefit of a second pass with an editor. I wouldn’t read the next book in this series, but might try out one after she has had more practice. Devil’s Demise gets a two out of five from me.

Hey all, I’m taking part in Authoright’s Spring Reading Week this year. I’m lucky enough to get to both host the guest post here and to do a review of the first novel in this series, Devil’s Demise. That’ll be up later today. For now though here’s the author, Lee Cockburn. Enjoy!

Character development between books.

At the beginning I carefully chose the two main characters to feature in the novel Devil‘s Demise, they are Taylor Nicks and Marcus Black, I chose names that I like, ones I thought were pretty cool, names I would like for myself if I could choose, male or female.

I then thought about what they would be like, as people, their good points and their bad, Taylor striking to look at, intelligent, committed to work, but very flighty in her private life, unintentionally hurting others as she fails to commit to them, the explanation for this will come in the third book which will hopefully be out this year.  Marcus is a very handsome, kind, caring individual, clean cut, faithful, hard working, and loyal, everything a man could be, committed to his wife and son, and works very hard to provide for them, he’s intelligent and enjoys his work, and the team he works within.

These two main characters are featured heavily through all three novels, the books cover their working relationships and their private lives, the emotional turmoil of the harrowing incidents they deal with week in and week out.  The second book Porcelain Flesh of Innocents covers one of the most terrifying situations a parent will ever face, DC Marcus Black’s son is snatched from just outside their home, only being left for a moment.  The rollercoaster of fear and terror, their heartaches as the team work to try and get him back before it is too late.  Both novels delve deeply into their personal lives, as other characters dip in and out of the storyline and add to the ups and downs the main characters are involved in.

I like the freedom of writing you can and add and takeaway characters as and when required, new love interests for Taylor, their emotional problems, their personalities, their draw towards the main characters, especially Taylor, she tends to lure people into her life and then shuts the door as they get too close, when she deeply wants to change, to be different, but hasn’t managed, yet.

Taylor and Marcus are good friends as well as colleagues and share a relationship that many would crave to have, they are able to tell the truth to one an other, whether it will be liked or not, they have each others backs and are fiercely loyal to one another, and share a mutual respect, but don’t always see eye to eye, as their private lives differ greatly in the spectrum of life.

The main storyline will always change, along with the villain, so to speak, other characters will come and go, and others will feature throughout all three books, their part to play always simmering just below the surface, their presence almost as important as the main characters, with the depth of the parts they play, so the reader will also wonder about what will happen to them too.

I don’t know if I’ve really explained how all the characters roles develop, it just happens, when you are writing the story moves in varying directions and the characters just fold into the mix and their importance in the grand scheme of things, is just like a piece in a jigsaw, it can’t be completed without every little bit, some a piece of sky, the same as many others and non descript and the others a face, or special feature, but all required to complete the task.

Hopefully if and when the reader finishes the novels, they will be satisfied the way the story has kept the characters parts running, explaining what is going on in their lives and leaving them wanting the characters to do the right thing and wanting things to work out for them, and of course, wanting more.

 

Devils Demise cover

Devil’s Demise

A cruel and sinister killer is targeting Edinburgh’s most powerful women, his twisted sense of superiority driving him to satisfy his depraved sexual appetite. He revels in the pain and suffering he inflicts on his unsuspecting victims but a twist of fate and an overwhelming will to survive by one victim ruins his plans for a reign of terror. His tormented prey will need all her courage if she is to survive the hunt.

Purchase from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Devils-Demise-Lee-Cockburn-ebook/dp/B00OKQB900/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1509620984&sr=1-2&keywords=lee+cockburn

Lee Cockburn Photo

About Lee Cockburn

Lee Cockburn has worked for Police Scotland for sixteen years including as a police sergeant in Edinburgh for seven years and also as a public order officer. Before joining the force, she played for Scotland Women’s rugby team for fifteen years, earning over eighty caps for the Scottish ladies and British Lionesses teams. She also swam competitively for twelve years, successfully representing Edinburgh at the age of fifteen in the youth Olympics in Denmark in 1984. Lee lives in Edinburgh with her civil partner Emily and their two young sons Jamie and Harry. Her first book Devil’s Demise was published by Clink Street Publishing November 2014.

Follow Lee Cockburn on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lee_leecockburn

One Was Lost

So, this turned out better than I’d hoped. This was one I’d picked up because it sounded interesting and a co-worker had mentioned enjoying it. I figured, “thriller, cool” and ran with it. So this is One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards. Enjoy!

One Was Lost cover

Sera’s school requires its students to complete a Senior Life Experience Mission before they graduate. A big field trip that takes them some place new and away from their comfort zones. No problem, it’s a camping trip in the rain. Until it isn’t. Sera finds herself trapped with three other students and their very drugged teacher, a killer stalking the woods after them, and mysterious words lovingly written on their arms. The words are clues, maybe, maybe keys to their escape or a judgment. They’ll have to figure out what it all means if they want to survive.

Natalie D. Richards’ One Was Lost is a solid thriller in many ways. In many ways it also falls into standard teen novel pitfalls that damage the flow of the story. This leaves the book in a strange place writing wise, which is interesting for me. It has fantastic bones and a lot of ideas that I would love to see more of, but then tends to side track away from those ideas where it counts.

The biggest pull for a thriller is the characters. Who are they? How does the situation affect them and how they view each other? So, character is important. There is a fair amount of good character work here. Unfortunately that character work gets overshadowed by the romance fairly often. I got really tired of Sera’s whole circular deal with how attracted she is to Lucas and how she doesn’t want to become her mother. It took up a lot of page space compared to Emily and Jude, the other half of the group being hunted.

I wanted to see so much more of Emily and Jude. To find out more about what made them Damaged and Deceptive respectively, and see how they started working better with our lead pair. I feel like that and the killer threat should have been the core of the story. Here are these kids, they’ve each been labeled by the killer in the woods, why? What’s the game here? How is the killer making this work, leading them through the woods and sneaking around so much? More build on any or all of those would have been great and done a lot for the plot.

Because the plot is sort of scattered, the killer seems to both have a specific timeline for their plot and is totally willing to just let the kids do whatever. It almost feels a bit like a Joker plot, everything the kids do plays into the killer’s plans somehow, but there shouldn’t have been a way for everything to work without the killer getting caught. This leads to a point where the red herring makes a lot more sense throughout the book than the actual killer. And that feels like a missed mark in the writing, where I feel like removing the red herring and letting the killer be this dangerous unknown could have been fantastic, especially if we had gotten more about some of the scary stories told on one of the earlier nights. Have more work put into the foreshadowing for the big reveal.

That’s where I land with a lot of One Was Lost, more work would have made the book so much better. It has good bones, solid ideas, and the potential for good characters. Then there are also points where it seems determined not to live up to any of its potential, the romance is an example of this. It’s frustrating like that. I did like the book and I would read more of Richards’ stuff in the future, but I would probably see what other people said first. I’m giving One Was Lost a three out of five.

Head Games

I’m cutting it a little close to the wire here. I’d driven to visit my folks and spent a fair amount of time on the road today. It was fun and my car is once again fully functional, plus I got to see their new kitten. So, a win all around. This book is a bit of an odd one for me, it’s not my usual genre at all, but it was worth giving a shot. Thanks to the nice folks at First Second, this is Head Games. Enjoy!

Head Games cover

Novelist Hector Lassiter thought his adventure days were behind him. At least, he thought that until an old acquaintance lures him into one last run. He’s found Pancho Villa’s skull and a buyer, he just needs someone to get it to them. Money in the bank, easy as easy can be. At least until others get wind of the skull. Feds, frat boys, and soldiers of fortune are on Hector’s tail and the only folks he can count on are himself, a poet, and a woman hard as nails and twice as beautiful.

So, the Head Games graphic novel is an adaptation of Craig McDonald’s debut novel of the same title. It’s content is more than a little bit of a surprise, given that I’m used to more kid friendly graphic novels from this publisher. That threw me for a bit of a loop. The book very much not my usual thing. The lead character is very much a man losing his place in the world and becoming more aware of it day by day. This might be his last big adventure and he knows it. He knows that the world is changing without him and that he can’t, or won’t, keep up.

That’s actually part of the problem with the book. The protagonist, Hector Lassiter, spends so much time looking back to his glory days early on in the story that, while I’m interested in those stories, I don’t really care what’s going on in the actual plot. The action is tied too much to Lassiter’s past and his adventures in his youth. That’s where most of the characters who are after the skull come from, they’re people he knew from his army days or folks who have been hired by those people. I would have liked for there to have been more characters who weren’t connected to him or, failing that, if the protagonist had been Bud, the poet side character. I could have also done without the second and third parts included, combined they’re about half the size of part one and they don’t really add much to the story proper.

This is the part where I admit that my problems with the book are probably more due to the nature of it being a graphic novel adaptation of a novel rather than an original comic. Some connective tissue and character details were probably cut to make it flow better. For what it is, the writing is pretty solid even as it’s not exactly my thing.

The art fits really well with the plot. It’s blocked out with a lot of heavy shadows and sparse color. The character design is also solid, the characters are distinct and the backgrounds are detailed without distracting from what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Head Games isn’t really my kind of story. There isn’t much of anything wrong with the writing, and very little that couldn’t be attributed to it being an adaptation. It’s a first book as well, so others in the series could easily have less of the looking backward. I would probably be willing to read one of them. So, given that, I give it a three out of five.

The Sitter

Hey, guess who’s reviewing a fourteen year old book! This gal! So, yeah, there might be some spoilers here. I tried to avoid them, but this was surprisingly hard to talk about without getting into what, specifically, made my reactions happen. I got really hung up on one thing, guess what it was. That’s pretty well it though. I’ll have another post up probably tomorrow or Friday. For now, enjoy!

the-sitter-cover

Ellie Saks is at the end of her lease, the end of her temp job, and the end of her patience with her mother and her ex-boyfriend turned stalker Clay. So, she jumps at the opportunity to leave the city behind for a trip to the Hamptons for a summer of fun away from it all. A stroke of luck even lands her a babysitting job and place to stay. That luck turns sour though when someone starts sending her threatening notes and disturbing gifts. With a disturbed child to care for, a stalker on the loose, and a ghost story unfolding with her in the middle of it can Ellie figure out what’s going on or even survive her summer as the sitter?

Not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy The Sitter. This is one of those books that feels so, so like a lot of the books I have tremendous nostalgia for but with all the nostalgia stripped away and a painful attempt at retargeting its readership. See, R. L. Stine does a great job with teen horror, particularly cheesy teen horror. His books can be very formula and very like a B horror movie, but they tend to be fun and quick and you know what you’re getting in to when you pick one up. That’s sort of the case here and with a few changes this could have been a pretty standard Fear Street book. That’s part of the problem though, with The Sitter Stine tries too hard to make his book “adult” and it feels very forced. There’s a fair amount of profanity, some drinking, a really gross sex scene, drug use is mentioned, but it all feels like someone reminded Stine that he was writing for grownups after the book was already finished, so he just threw that all in.

So, that said, what made me dislike this book other than the audience related weirdness? There are a lot of things that get a pass in teen novels that shouldn’t and don’t in adult novels, this book for example had terrible foreshadowing. Early on, we find out about Ellie’s cat, he’s sweet and trusting and she misses him so because she couldn’t have him in her apartment. Yeah, he didn’t make it to the end of the book. The problem with that is twofold. Stine’s used killing the beloved family pet to gain a quick cheep hit to the feels before, several times actually, so as soon as the cat gets mentioned you know what’s going to happen. It’s a similar thing with the big twist at the end. It also ties into my next big issue.

A ton of terrible stuff happens between Lucky’s introduction and Lucky’s plot appointed death, but Ellie doesn’t seem to take that into account. The book’s plot was almost entirely reliant on the protagonist making stupid choices. Again, a lot of those choices would have made more sense in a book with a teenaged protagonist rather than one in her twenties both because relative youth and because a teen protagonist could be stuck being the sitter rather than it being a summer job. This bit is really hard to go into without spoilers, but our protagonist gets death threats and vile stuff mailed to her. She stays, doesn’t even talk to the police after like the second thing. Not for the threats, or her cat getting killed, or her stalker ex showing up and threatening her. Most of the tension in the book relies on the reader having never read R. L. Stine before and Ellie being an idiot.

Add to that, The Sitter has a ton of stuff going on that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until the end. There are chapters from the antagonist’s view point. They could have been cut entirely. There was a side plot about some curse on the guest house. That could have been cut. Clay probably should have been cut, he doesn’t really add much to the story and is basically made of cringe. The cat could have been cut, he was a completely pointless inclusion. Any of that could have been removed to tighten up the main plot and work the twist in better.

Those are my big issues with the book, everything else kind of spins off of those. It had a twist ending, but that was completely unsupported by the rest of the book. The only reason I didn’t see it coming was that it was so completely out of left field it came from another game entirely. It’s silly in the grand scheme of things, but this book made me angry. There were so many places where Stine could have done better, could have not done the blatantly obvious thing, could have shored up the writing instead of going into another side plot. This book gets a one, as much for what it could have been as for what it is.

Broken Red

I’m back with a couple reviews for you guys. Quick thing with this one, I received the book through my job. It was printed in store at the Brookwood Books-A-Million on our Espresso Book Machine and can be found here, or by ordering it in store.

Who do you trust when the person closest to you might be a murderer? Tegan Kelly has been running from her traumatic childhood for as long as she can remember. When her mother is found murdered her life is thrown into chaos and the killer might be much closer than she thinks. As the body count rises will she be able to protect her family or will she fall prey to a mad man who knows too much.
So Heather Avello’s Broken Red is kind of a mish mash book for me. On the one hand, the blurb promises a murder mystery thriller with a heroine who can’t know who to trust because the killer is someone super close to her. On the other hand, the book gets bogged down in a romance side plot that really didn’t do anything for me and that I feel could have been cut dramatically without damaging the story. On the inexplicable third hand, I’d have probably been more into the romance side plot if the murder mystery main plot had connected it’s events better in the beginning of the book.
Where to begin, because there are a couple of big things that I think could have taken this from being okay to being pretty good. The big separation between the main and side plots is probably the easier thing to address. It actually feels in a lot of ways like this is two separate books featuring the same characters but with very different stories. In the main plot Tegan is a woman who’s had essentially every horrific back story element thrown at her, but she’s kept going despite that, and now there seems to be a murderer after her family. Her husband is a cheating jerk who isn’t there for their three kids or her and, when things start going weird for her, he immediately blames her for it. Contrasting her husband is Victor Ramirez, the knight in shining armor who’s had it bad for her since forever and who might be hiding something seriously dark. She calls him when she can’t reach her husband; he checks in on her and is there for her, often at her eldest son’s insistence. It’s pretty obvious they’re going to end the book a couple from the start. In the romance plot Tegan’s back story stuff results in a distrust of people that is mentioned, but essentially hand waved for Vic, and Vic despite thinking he’s bad for wanting Tegan is great with her kids and lavishes her with attention and stuff. There’s a distinct disconnect there for me.
The romance side plot is kind of expected since it’s telegraphed from the beginning, but rather than being entwined with the main plot it takes over a significant chunk of the book. The writing changes to match this and the mystery plot mostly disappears for this whole section, it gets brought up a couple of times, but it doesn’t do anything. That feels wrong for me on a couple of levels, the previously mentioned thing about this reading like two different books, and that while a big deal is made about her husband’s cheating being terrible and evidence of him being an awful human being it gets brought up when she and Vic are about to jump in bed but isn’t really treated as a big thing. It’s sort of like she gets a pass because he is terrible to her and the plot doesn’t really care about him, and that’s what doesn’t work for me.
Which kind of brings me back to the inexplicable third hand. See, my big thing here is that the mystery parts, especially the bits later in the book, are legit good for a first time author. They aren’t tied together as well as they deserve though, in part because the romance plot intrudes, but it’s pretty easy to see where the connections could have been made. There are bits that could have been included earlier to bolster the overall story and to tighten up the writing, things that are introduced at the last second could have been hinted at or hinted at more strongly. The biggest problem created by this is that it makes the murderer seem right out of left field and badly supported by the story itself. The lack of things being tied together does lead to a couple of hanging plot threads, but I’m thinking those were deliberate to set up a sequel.
Where does this leave me? The romance is bad and our protagonists’ characterization can be a little all over the place, but when the writing focuses on the mystery it’s pretty good. I would definitely want to see more build up to the climax in the next book and less focus on the protagonists’ love lives, definitely more foreshadowing the antagonist’s identity. It’s a good freshman effort and I think that Ms. Avello will improve greatly as she continues writing so, from me, Broken Red gets a three out of five.

Guest Post: Tom Doyle

Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.

The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?

One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.

The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.

The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand.  But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.

But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.

Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.

Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.

For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.

A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.

Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

Halloween Giveaway

Because Halloween is awesome and books are awesome I decided to combine the two and run a giveaway from Halloween until the Saturday after.  I’ve got three prize packs up for grabs, all of them books, all of them well worth reading.  And you, my readers, get to choose which ones you want to enter to win.

The prizes are:

Murder and Mayhem:

A copy each of Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon and Erica Spindler’s See Jane Die.

Behind the Masquerade:

A copy each of Rachel Caine’s Ill Wind and Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

The final prize is a copy of Ilona Andrews’ Gunmetal Magic.

So, how do you enter to win?  It’s easy, follow this blog either by email or through WordPress, comment here telling me what prize you want to be entered for and something about Halloween, then check back Sunday evening when I post the winners.  You can get an optional extra entry by also following me on Twitter @Tymp3st, but that will not qualify you to win on its own.

Best of luck everybody and have a great Halloween!