#4.) Burner by Robert Ford

To be honest, I began this series in pursuit of material I knew I would enjoy. Eventually some writer somewhere is going to be upset with what I have to say, but not today. Robert Ford has sculpted an excellent piece of situational horror in BURNER, a textured examination of dehumanization, torture, hope, and revenge.

I picked up BURNER on the recommendation of a trusted reader friend, and I’m happy to report that I walked away sharing her enthusiasm on its achievement. Will definitely check out more of Ford’s work.

Official Synopsis:

IRIS

It’s terrifying how quickly everything can be taken away from you. Iris learns this agonizing lesson in the blink of an eye. Her future dreams. Her past life. Everything gone in a storm of pain. But this pain is only the beginning.

AUDREY

Audrey had the perfect life. Great husband, beautiful daughter, lots of money. Except her husband isn’t the man she thought he was. Her dead husband’s burner phone was bad. The Polaroids were worse. But the secrets she uncovers next set her entire world on fire.

BURNER

Two women’s lives intersect because of one man’s actions. The transformation is pristine, and beautiful, and filled with pain. Sometimes the scars are on the inside.

Plot Overview:

BURNER is the tale of a man’s fatal juggle between his family and his hidden life, and just how close his parallel worlds can coexist without detection–until death severs his ability to keep the threads apart. In the case of BURNER, the threads do converge. A parallel narrative serves the accounts of twenty-five-year-old med school graduate, Iris Sanders (who is abducted and sold in a trafficking ring, thought to have been younger than she was), and housewife Audrey Dugan, who find themselves involuntarily postured in a sinister scheme orchestrated by Audrey’s husband, Paul, who dies at the hands of a stroke at the start of the novel.

At the beginning of each chapter, Ford simply labels the POV character (Iris or Audrey), as well as the timeline orientation along each characters’ respective narrative: then, and now. Within the realm of “now”, Iris and Audrey each find themselves subject to interviews with authority figures: Iris with Dr. Walker, and Audrey with Detective Blevins. In documentary style, the reader is able to examine the characters’ mannerisms and emotions during their testimonies of what led them to their respective interrogation chairs. Within the scenes of the “then” category, the voice shifts to a cinematic approach, showing the events as they occurred.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, this dichotomy of testimonies between Iris and Audrey takes the reader on an adrenaline drive from point A, the beginning, to point B, the end, with no rest stops in between, through the world of human trafficking, as well as the choices pedestrian actors must make when faced with awful, inconvenient realities–does one’s silence to evil invite culpability?

Takeaways:

Though not mind-blowing in terms of originality (it doesn’t have to be–the purpose of the novel is to shed light on an existing evil in the world), Robert Ford has sculpted an excellent piece of hard-boiled situational horror, executed with plain language yet textured emotional insight.

A woman’s torture stands at the crux of the novel, but I didn’t detect pleasure in Ford’s descriptions. The quickness of each scene and lack of authorial intervention throughout (score) lends a sense of precise urgency to the delivery. For all the time spent describing a woman being branded with a square iron, we can recognize the physical and spiritual effect of the ordeal, and ultimate acceptance of suffering when hope fails to show its face.

Many themes struck me as I read BURNER, and I’ll list a handful of them here in lieu of ascribing them to specific scenes:

  • The taking of normal life for granted when thrown into sudden adversity.
  • The consequences of deciding to remain silent when privy to one’s suffering at the hands of another.
  • The instinct to perpetuate suffering (including, to a large part in this novel, through revenge).
  • The secrets simmering between partners (both benevolent and malevolent).
  • Torture as a means of transformation, in this case large-scale burning, and the shift of impressions from those who witness the subject on either side of its evolution.
  • The spontaneity of abduction and the various paths that follow.

***

At various points of BURNER, I expected the story to go deeper in several directions. I didn’t find myself disappointed when the story maintained its narrow path, but a part of me got curious as Ford led me from abduction, to auction, to ultimate sale of Iris as to the larger world of human trafficking. However, the administrative atmosphere created a sense of believability, from the doctor and detective interviewing Iris and Audrey to the handlers of the trafficking operation to the credit union with whom Audrey must decipher the terms of her family’s wealth following Paul’s death, and I didn’t feel further need for details with how all these issues were handled.

Movies reminiscent of BURNER in some way: Taken, Martyrs.

Amputations:

I don’t have much in the way of criticism for BURNER.

Conversely to my takeaway point on the novel’s scope, the lens could have been more expansive along the various points it cuts short: the larger trafficking operation, the specific purpose of each woman’s interview, and the missing link scenes between their final testimonies and their presence in their interrogation chairs. This is a mild consideration, and one that would dramatically change the energy of the novel, so not something I would recommend. But the cleaver is hungry, so I have to reach for things to consider.

Final Score:

4.5

#3.) The Miracle Sin by Marcus Hawke

ON THE TABLE for this installment we have THE MIRACLE SIN by Canadian author Marcus Hawke (through Blood Rites Horror). Reading the afterward to this book only serves to further warm my early impression of the novel–a SUCCESSFUL display of horror appreciation (ranging from the comedic to the brutal) carried through excellent prose. As with most writers I come across in the writing community, I don’t remember when I first came across Marcus. However, I had caught some posts on his novel and the cover stood out. It’s funny how we decide to read works by indie authors. In the case of Marcus, while searching for something to pick up and dissect, I saw one of his posts urging readers to download his book for free on Kindle in search of reviews. I appreciated the straightforward, open sentiment, and took it a step further by grabbing a physical copy off Amazon. Simply put–through all the stress we endure devising ways to get our work out there, one fact remains: ask, and you shall receive (or not; but best to try). Without adieu, let’s dive in–

Official Synopsis:

Have you ever wondered if there’s more to life? If we are destined for something great, part of a divine plan rather than just subjects of random chaos?
Mason Cole has wondered these things. And he has the answer…
No.
How could that be when his parents were killed in an earthquake that destroyed the city of Jerusalem, yet he alone survived? How could he be destined for great things when he’s stuck in a town-shaped reststop where nothing he does makes a difference? And why would God do this to him in the first place?
Then one day a stranger passes through town, bringing with him a unique explanation of his past, one he never could have imagined, and wishes he could forget. It sounds like something from one of his books, only this time it’s happening to him, and it becomes clear that not every miracle is a blessing. Now, with a red-haired devil hell bent on possessing him for his own sinister gains, Mason must discover the answers to these questions if he ever hopes to survive in a world where the dark no longer hides that which dwells within.

Plot Overview:

Three acts comprise THE MIRACLE SIN. As the novel features a large supporting cast and a winding story, my intention here is to break the acts to components I can discuss generally in my takeaways.

Act I. (Heaven and Earth; 16 chapters) —

Mason Cole, an eighteen-year-old orphaned by his grandmother, Rose, faces a dead-end life in his slow Ohio town. As his friends Julie and Dale gear to pursue their college experiences, Mason must come to terms with his lack of opportunity as he pumps gas at a local station. All the while silently loving Julie, and struggling to find a way to expose his feelings.

The narrative sets up a convincing and intriguing teen dynamic. Yet, just as the tensions seem set to find catharsis, Hawke allows the horror, which has been writhing through the grass like a snake, to strike and sink its venom into the story.

One night Mason, Julie, and Dale get pulled over by two police officers. Against the teens’ protests, the cops take them to a remote location and hypnotize them, revealing their true identities as operators in a grander scheme.

In this moment Mason reveals a power (that will be explored extensively in the following acts), and he breaks free from the hypnosis that contains him and escapes his captors (more alive than he left them) with his friends.

Mason returns home and finds a man waiting for him (Blake Grimshaw, AKA Grim) with Rose–the same man who came to the gas station earlier that day, who Mason mistook for an evangelical hoping for his spiritual enlistment and immediately forgot about. The following action sees Mason lose every shed of familiarity he has in life, and he can kiss the past goodbye. Central to the cabal of blood suckers that has upended his life is the copper-haired fiend, Novak, in whom Mason can directly ascribe the torching of everything he’s ever known to the ground.

Act II. (Slings and Arrows; 24 chapters) —

The second act finds Mason settling in with the Boston chapter of the Holy Order of Militia Dei, a private sect of the Catholic Church that specializes in the supernatural and occult. Mason discovers that he is the current messiah (the powers of which aided their escape from Novak), a role that has been passed through the generations down a mostly hereditary-based succession. A working class kid from middle America, Mason struggles to accept his reality.

Regardless of what he is willing to accept, however, the group that has taken him in trains him to harness his powers (including, through meditations–the ability to glean entire lifetimes in his mind’s eye by touching another–even if just an amputated finger; access to increased senses and the ability to connect with his surroundings on a metaphysical level; the exhibition of telekinetic capacities; among others) as well as handle himself in clandestine situations (fighting training, workout regiments, etc.).

Following a series of chapters fostering inter-character development and informing Mason (and the reader) of their group’s purpose, the novel shifts back to its central goal of finding Novak.

Act III. (My Thoughts Be Bloody; fifteen chapters) —

The final act provides many revelations of the mythology Grim and the others have provided Mason regarding the mystery surrounding his predecessor and a whirlwind of nail-biting action scenes. To make a (long) story short, I can only imagine the ending suggests that THE MIRACLE SIN is the first in a series.

Takeaways:

First off, I love the matte cover–a skull set against a black background framed by a simple yet elegant border, its texture giving the impression of an antiquated volume.

On the writing–

Hawke does a great job of varying sentence structures and utilizing a strong, active voice yet modest vocabulary. You can tell that the book is the end result in a long writing and editing process (congratulations on not quitting, Marcus).

Details are installed in such a way to suggest the reader should already be aware of them, and are soon after expanded upon and clarified (to scratch that itch that makes us wonder if we missed something).

Despite the satirical air that bubbles throughout the narrative, moments that demand a suspension of disbelief do so with ease (I nearly looked up earthquakes in Jerusalem to see if I missed a blaring event in history, only to realize that the compulsion represented a great feat on Hawke’s part).

Also despite this satirical air–and always beneath it, is a seriousness that drives the story. Philosophical questions arise as expectantly as the next joke. Poetic metaphors always find their home. Beautiful descriptions of scenery abound. The nail-biting action, as I described above, can pounce across several pages before you realize how many you have turned.

Coupled with the chapters full of extensive action and dialogue are short moments that, while occupying only a paragraph’s space, do as much to steer the novel as its larger counterparts–resulting in a great variety of chapter lengths and densities.

I consider THE MIRACLE to be a long book at 462 pages, and, within this huge bracket of space, Hawke covers as much ground as possible without veering away from the story completely–as though applying more relish in its composition than a following a strict adherence to following the arc of the underlying storyline (Mason’s reflections on his former life, drama between team members, acceptance of our current position versus where we had originally imagined ourselves winding up, etc.).

Regarding the issue of authorial intervention, I believe Hawke takes a hands-off approach on editorializing what the reader should be believing as they read. While faith and religion play a heavy hand in the story, the scales shift according to what the characters are experiencing–there are no total claims brought on by the author. That said, there are plenty of amusing sacrilegious moments as well as thoughtful moments of reverence. The shifting tides of Mason’s faith really help bring the story to life.


Movies, TV, etc. reminiscent of THE MIRACLE SIN in some way: Rocky, The Boys, Karate Kid, Fright Night, Underworld, The Matrix, X-Men.

Amputations:

I don’t have much blaring criticisms for THE MIRACLE SIN; in fact, many of the stories strengths seem to work against themselves. Carrying confidence through strong writing, the novel feels to be a well-crafted work by an avid horror fan. The unique moments could be conveyed through any genre, but the horror elements seem to be the author’s favorites in the recognized canon of horror. Not to say the novel lacks originality, but rather that the author created the first installment in a greatest hits modern vampire story. That said, I really enjoyed the elements of the vampire story that Hawke chose to run with, and believe that he succeeded in creating his own yarn with them. The story seems to be a collection of individual asides and moments to explore Mason’s developing awareness of his powers.

I’m still having trouble grappling with my opinion on this next detail– while I don’t believe anything should have been cut from the text, it did seem to distract itself from the central storyline. As an introduction to a cast of characters it works exceedingly well. However, at several points I wondered what the story was exactly. The events flowed naturally and at an organic pace, and couldn’t be trimmed and maintain their effect. Despite what I perceived as plot ambiguity, and experiencing the busiest month of the year in the time it took to read the novel, I felt driven to finish and am happy that I finally have.


As I wrote above–THE MIRACLE SIN seems poised as the first in a series, and I hope that this is a decision that Hawke chooses to pursue. Otherwise, looking forward to his next works.

Final Score: 4.5

#2.) The Bell Chime by Mona Kabbani

When I published my anthology collection, BIZARRE MESSAGING, I had no idea how to pursue the public fiction arena. But one thing stood clear: the reading and writing communities are largely confined to the internet. Having existed largely off the grid at the time, I realized I had to snap off my aversion for social media and try to find a way to establish some kind of presence. And when one looks at the reading and writing communities for the first time, one sees an endless, intermingled map of personalities–with no discernible door into the fold.

Mona Kabbani was one of the first people I approached (on Instagram) upon publishing BIZARRE MESSAGING. Shortly after, she wrote the first review for my little book (for which I’ll always be grateful, having proven that the reading community is open to completely unknown authors, and not just floor show exhibits dedicated to Stephen King praise). At the time, however, (to my mild embarrassment) I didn’t realize that Mona was embarking her own literary pursuits, juggling reviews and her edits like a circus trapeze artist twirling fire mid-air.

Since then, we’ve seen the Wattpad publication of the short story LAUREN, the release of THE BELL CHIME, and, most recently, the arrival of VANILLA (which I will most definitely be reading). Now, almost a year and a half after finding her, I’m proud to read and provide an HONEST review of Mona’s first published book, THE BELL CHIME.

Official Synopsis:

"Can you hear the bell chime?"

A girl suffering from paralyzing night terrors finds a missing poster hanging from the door of her apartment building. On that poster is a photograph of a frighteningly familiar face.

It's her.

Only, she's never seen this photo before and something about its grin scares her. How its eyes seem to follow her no matter where she finds herself in the room.

Over a series of strange events to follow--events that will make her question whether her sanity is still there or fleeting--she must discover:

What is real and what is the nightmare?

Plot Overview:

At the risk of exposing spoilers (considering its novella length), an examination of THE BELL CHIME’s structure will suffice for a plot overview.

My favorite part of THE BELL CHIME is its fearlessness in chopping itself into smaller parts that are then juggled back into the deck out of chronological order. These parts are framed within the FORWARD, INTERMISSION, END OF INTERMISSION, and AFTERWARD, wherein the author makes an expository appearance to introduce the story (as well as her initiation as a writer) and help shift the gears of its narrative meat. I often scorn authorial intervention, the addition of outside opinion in the story (which Mona doesn’t do)–however, there’s nothing wrong with BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL, especially when yielding exceeding results (which Mona does).This technique adds to the theatrical effect of the project, framing the longer sections: THE BELL CHIME, [section title withheld for preservation of effect], BEFORE THE RING, DYLAN WERNER, and THE FIRST RING.

With the juggled chronology between the parts, which now feels like a series of interconnected short stories, Mona does a great job of refocusing the camera, so to speak. Though the points of intersection are not hidden as they unravel (urging the reader to attempt connecting the dots before the author does it for us), Mona allows them to hover in the air until she ties the pieces together by the end.

Takeaways:

First off–I loved the design of the book, inside and out. The online images of the matte cover don’t quite do the physical version justice. I particularly liked the back cover, which does as well a job as introducing Mona Kabbani the author as it does the story.

Inside, the design couldn’t be more clean.

Regarding voice, each of the longer sections of the story take on their own character. As each part finds the protagonist in a different stage of her journey, her awareness of the situation takes on new proximities of clarity depending on where she stands on the timeline. For a mentally-unstable individual, the

The nuances are applied believably, as we the readers often know more about what’s happening than our protagonist.

Sentences are written with brisk confidence, with no time wasted on single ideas. I really enjoyed the fragments following the full clauses, setting a good rhythm and shading. No rambling sentences appear, the syntax is solid. This contained style lends well to the chopped nature of the narrative, and allows shifts in character perception to be seen loudly in their subtlety.

Mona’s writing takes on exceptional flourish amid action scenes, sending off electric vibes, though the generous supply of metaphors in the reflective moments provides the author’s willingness to take chances and expect success time and time again.

For such a short book, Mona couldn’t have covered more ground. I believe the content to be appropriate to general audiences. As such, at times (in the best way) the story felt like a fleshed out episode from anthology shows such as CREEPSHOW 2, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, nhetc.

Several books and movies that THE BELL CHIME brings to mind: JACOB’S LADDER, THE MATRIX, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FIGHT CLUB.

Amputations:

Following the FORWARD, the first scene begins with a character waking up from a dream. Though this setup is typically regarded as a cliché, it is soon proven intrinsic to the story, as the story’s protagonist (let’s just consider her largely unnamed throughout the story) is prone to night terrors/sleep paralysis. I wondered if this introductory scene could have been omitted from the story’s final version, but realized that would have taken the edge off the introduction, as the dynamics between the protagonist and her boyfriend are rolled out through how they deal with this situation. The issue of the protagonist’s sleep paralysis are confined to the very beginning of the story, and I’m happy they are treated more as an introduction to the character rather than a revisited theme throughout.

Despite all the great things I can say about the writing and organization of the BELL CHIME, occasionally wordings would arise that seemed to hit the mark less squarely than they could have. This is primarily in the verb department. These moments didn’t hinder my overall view of the book, but I did have to stop several times and think about them.

Final Rating: 4

#1.) Father of Contention by Lanie Mores

A sense of dread accompanies the prospect of reading your friends’ writing for the purpose of a review. When they bounce ideas off you, ask for feedback, or anything else that yields in pre-publication reinforcement, it’s easy–you don’t have to own any criticisms; the recipient of said criticism can happily apply the suggestions without a sense of slight. Feedback helps to avert roadblocks, see things that wouldn’t be noticed without outside eyes. For a writer (who’s honest about bettering their craft), nothing is more valuable than good feedback–save for a good review. Fortunately for me, Canadian author Lanie More’s FATHER OF CONTENTION, the first in a four-part series, is an awesome novel from start to finish–and I don’t have to concern myself with handling it with kid gloves for my first review.

***

Official Synopsis:

There was only ever meant to be one Creator. In 1972, German scientist Renner Scholz travels to Barbora Bay, Washington to continue his research in recombinant DNA technology. Only believing in things proven by science, his deeply held beliefs are challenged when he meets Milena Nowak, a psychic. After a whirlwind romance, Renner becomes obsessed with understanding Milena's unexplainable ability. Stumbling upon an exclusive occult ritual involving an evil spell that connects him to the spiritual realm where psychic abilities and power originate, he finds the answers he's been searching for...but at a cost. Compelled by the ritual, Renner pursues a new vein of research. He develops the genetic blueprint to produce psychic abilities in humans—creating a superhuman—without realizing he is the main player in a plot to destroy mankind. Milena senses that Renner has changed and a new darkness resides within him. Helplessly she watches as the man she loves transforms, becoming deceptive, volatile and both physically and mentally more powerful. Can Milena save Renner from this evil presence? Or will she become an unwilling participant in his next experiment—one of the darkest kinds?

***

Plot Overview (Warning—potential spoilers):

FATHER OF CONTENTION is broken into two parts, which are sandwiched by a prologue, an interlude, and an epilogue, written in verse and conveying the voice of a demonic presence determined to find a mortal vessel. To be honest–I’m not a huge fan of prologues because they don’t always connect to the story in a meaningful enough manner to warrant their existence. Hence, I read the prologue at the end of the first part, and appreciated the added context its presence provided, as though filling in blanks rather than setting the stage; I read the interlude and epilogue in their proper order.

Part I. covers Renner Scholz as an ethical, ambitious student determined to find success in his discipline of recombinant DNA technology as he strives to abandon brutal memories buried in his early childhood. Leaving his foster parents in Germany to continue his studies at a fictitious university in Washington state, Renner, possessing a single-minded obsession with his goals, sets on his path to acquire the academic and professional clout to inject a revolutionary impact in human health–perhaps find the cure for cancer, which ails his foster father and pushes him ever-closer toward death.

Upon arriving at his dorm, Renner is displeased to discover that, as housing is limited, he will be forced to shack up with a roommate, Paul. Paul, an arrogant slob, quickly establishes himself as a rival (being a student in the same discipline), offering mixed signals of friendship and competition during the entire span of their relationship, which extends beyond their days at the university.

It is during their time as students when Renner meets Milena Nowak, a psychic. As a scientist Renner balks at Milena’s claim to possess such powers, but after Milena provides him a reading and taps into the memories that Renner so desperately wants to hide from himself, the resolve of his doubts waver. The couple soon elope–Paul finding a way to insert himself as a witness at the court, of course.

Paul, who has marginally discussed Milena’s psychic abilities with Renner since he learns that she claims to be a clairvoyant, and has somewhat established the subject as a mainstay in their communications, invites Renner and his new wife to a ceremony hosted by a medium, claiming that the experience will explain how someone like Paul can receive such great grades with minimal effort through the reception of her spells. Renner agrees to come with Paul; after some resistance Milena agrees to attend as well. Milena watches the ceremony with dread, ultimately witnessing a dark force enter her husband (the realization of the wishes of the Demon who voices the prologue, interlude, and epilogue), which will taint his ambitions from this point forward.

During the ceremony, DMT is utilized to enhance the spiritual effects of the ritual. Once Renner has identified the chemical, he reads material professing how the properties of DMT may create a bridge to the spiritual world. Inspired by the possibilities of bridging this gap–an illuminated state of mental being–Renner concocts a plan that will test every ethical value he holds dear and threatens to corrupt his soul.

***

Part II. follows Renner’s motivations to actualize his plans. Now a successful scientist working for a prominent company (and having inherited an exuberant sum from his foster father, who has passed away), he conducts his studies at home in private, knowing full well that the discovery of his indiscretion will yield in criminal charges and institutional excommunication. Despite the risks, at every stage of his experience upon arriving on American soil–through his scientific determination, spiritual enhancement (at its own cost), and total monetary insulation, Renner’s greed never fails to simmer until his eyes literally turn black.

Milena–formerly vibrant in spirituality, full of exotic beauty, and physically ravishing, experiences a total deflation of self, experiences a total deflation of self as Renner’s star shines brighter and his eyes burn darker. Toward the beginning of her marriage to Renner she has a premonition that she refuses to accept as plausible. As a result of averting the image from her consciousness, she abandons utilizing her psychic abilities altogether. Renner accumulates all–while she dwindles until she represents little more than raw research for her husband’s eventual experiments.

***

Part I. builds up the tension gradually, almost allowing the reader to feel a sense of comfort in the setting and interpersonal situations to this point. Part II. shatters this false sense of security and pushes boundaries that can’t be repaired. Domino pieces fall into place with a surgeon’s precision–almost too conveniently at times (although I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word, as much calculation has gone into aligning the fragments), but every issue is addressed.

Takeaways:

The first thing that stands out in FATHER OF CONTENTION, clocking in at a fairly dense yet breezy 375 pages, is its focus. To accomplish this, Mores keeps a tight leash on every ingredient, ensuring that each character and event plays into the grand scheme–no red herrings, no throw away characters. It’s only a matter of time before the story answers questions plotted throughout; just when you wonder what happened with X at the beginning of the story, it explodes before you, and you can’t help but relish in such well-placed catharses.

The novel carries a neutral tone, maintaining an almost clinical view of events to match the climate in which the story takes place: the lab. And even when the story takes its dark turns, investigating the speculative nature of the occult or the horrors of domestic abuse, the spikes in tension take on an illuminated nature within the narrative’s level casing. I don’t want to spoil anything regarding these elements, but let’s say I didn’t expect to see certain things transpire with such a cold gaze.

A note on the science–while the story doesn’t dawdle into rambling theory, it does delve deep enough in the theories contained to truly captivate. I had to remind myself that my more experimental days are behind me (supposedly) when a desire to dabble in DMT bubbled up in the back of my mind. Lanie reveals in the afterward that these concepts are partially based in real studies and inflated with imagination.

Perhaps one of my favorite elements of FATHER OF CONTENTION is its insular nature–every expository detail pertains to the characters’ past experiences or the world around them. Meaning, minimal authorial intervention (when a writer injects their own perspective into the narrative, staining what could potentially stand as a successful story). Some people thrive on utilizing and ingesting authorial intervention, but in Lanie’s writing it’s simply a nonentity, and I look forward to reading the three next three books in the series.

Amputations:

I have to strain to summon a short list of criticisms for FATHER OF CONTENTION.

At times I felt that certain words were repeated too often in proximity, such as referring to Renner and Milena as “the young married couple” several times on a single page.

I mentioned earlier that some resolutions occurred somewhat conveniently. In other terms however, it can be said that Mores ties loose ends when the narrative allows the space to attend each issue simmering beneath the story.

The cover stands as a somewhat sore point for me, though it doesn’t affect the rating–the front shows a depiction of Renner while Milena’s image occupies the back. This is a sensible enough concept, but Lanie points such a clear image of the characters at the beginning of the story that the models on display don’t do their source material justice.

Final Rating: 4.5

Introducing the Duke’s Butcher Block

I’m proud to introduce the Duke’s Butcher Block, a book review series wherein I will cover (mostly, but not always) indie authors and provide an honest view on the work through my perspective as a writer. As such, I don’t claim to be the closest reader, but I’m not shy to assert that my grasp of mechanics and organization will be well-applied, and ultimately understood (by you).

I won’t let nepotism infect my judgment when considering the work ON THE TABLE. Whether acquainted with the author or not, I will investigate the consistency, layout, character development, tone, application of theme, etc. throughout the work.

What titles will I select? That’s up in the air. But I keep my finger on the pulse of the indie community as it surrounds me and choose those that receive broad attention. To be honest, my goal is a moving target. In any case, I can see my honesty drawing much ire as this endeavor fleshes out. That’s okay with me—I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. If an author or their cadre find my conclusions disagreeable, I will remind the aggrieved parties that my perspective is driven solely by objectivity.

This is the big one—personally I prefer distance between a fiction author’s worldview and the point-of-view in the stories they produce. So, I will have to address the issue of authorial intervention as a serious matter, which I believe truly distinguishes an author’s ability to show rather than tell the ideas they are trying to convey.

Regarding genres, I will be open minded, but I prefer to investigate the activities within the horror, dark fiction, and satirical veins of the writing community.

Good luck and congratulations to everyone whose books makes it ON THE TABLE—where ego can’t shelter your title from the cleaver’s cold truth. I will have my first review available by the end of the week.

—JMDIII