Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Juniper's Shadow by Fiona Dodwell


Available on Amazon and Amazon UK.


If you've ever followed my reviews, you'll know that I'm a fan of Dodwell's work. I've become friends with her via my coverage of her books (full disclosure) and I have to say, she's only getting better.

Lately she's been on a short story spree, as "Juniper's Shadow" was preceded by the very excellent "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". She's been doing well with this format, as short stories lend themselves very well to horror, and I'm excited to see what she will come up with next.

When Leighton Banks finds an extremely rare record at a music fair, he is thrilled with his find. However, after hearing the legends and creepy stories associated with the music, he beings to wonder if the record is cursed. 

Thrown suddenly into a dark world where even music can put lives and souls at risk, Leighton soon learns that he must find a way to put a stop to a centuries long curse, or become victim to it himself.

Juniper's Shadow takes a little while to get started since much of its horror derives from Leighton's imperfect relationship with his pregnant wife Jessica, as the two constantly quibble about his dream to own a record store. She's supportive, but he feels like he's a failure since she's almost the main breadwinner. Leighton wants so desperately to succeed that it'd make sense that he'd jump on something that'd make a huge profit - a record by Victor Marlowe, a musician whose music has left a dark legacy. A legacy so dark that there have been efforts to eradicate all remaining recordings of his work.

This is where the horror comes in, because as the story progresses there's this increasing sense of dread. From the start Leighton is warned against purchasing the album (although the seller isn't that reluctant to let it leave his grasp), however he's lured in by its background and the idea of raising a large sum. He quickly grows obsessed with researching the record and if you're familiar with Dodwell's writing style then you know that what Leighton is going to find will be dark indeed.

Overall I was rather pleased with this story. It's not perfect, but that's mostly because this is something that I think would have worked far better as a longer piece, maybe as a novella or full novel. We're left with far too many questions at the end of this and while some don't need to be answered, I was just intensely curious as to the album's background. This next part is a mild spoiler, so I'll try to post it far enough down that those who want a spoiler free review can avoid it. It does somewhat pertain to the piece as a whole and it's not a major spoiler, if you're afraid of it giving away any large reveals.

If you're wondering if you should try this out, I say go for it. It's available for free for Kindle Unlimited readers and while $2.99 is a little pricey for a short story, I greatly enjoyed it.

4/5 stars

Reader copy provided by the author

(Thar be spoilers)



(seriously, there are spoilers)

\

This isn't going to be a major spoiler, but I couldn't help but wonder what the motivations were for the old man selling the record. He was somewhat reluctant to sell Leighton the record, but not so reluctant that he wouldn't have sold it. There's this nasty sort of cat-and-mouse interaction where you can tell that he's baiting Leighton, who likely wouldn't have otherwise shown any interest. There are more revelations at the end of the story that I won't divulge here, but this was the main reason why I felt that this would work exceedingly well as a longer piece. There's a dark, nasty and entirely human force at work here along with the supernatural ones, which is what makes Dodwell's work so horrifying, because a large portion of the misery and darkness in her work comes from how people treat one another. If you look back at her other work, you'll see that while the supernatural does come into play, it's only there because the involved humans invited it, even if inadvertently. I think that this is why I continue to really enjoy her work, since I maintain that how humans treat one another is almost always the most terrifying aspect of horror. It's why books and films like Richard Matheson's Hell House (later adapted into the wonderful The Legend of Hell House) work so well - it has supernatural horror but most of it is a direct result of human interactions. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Winter cleaning, or how I learned that vampirism could solve everything

I admit that I'm not the best at keeping this up and that this can be a problem since unmoderated blogs are prone to spam. Since I signed on tonight I decided to clean out the "send me your money and I'll save your life through the power of (insert something here)" spam. 

Then I saw the spam in response to my 2014 post about Fated, the vampire series that was accused of plagiarizing other work. I started deleting some of it, but I'm going to have to leave it up because it's just that freaking hilarious. I'd like to think that some of it is snark. With about 40+ comments that are almost entirely spam, I'd really like to assume it's snark. I'm going to leave the e-mails up on this because I figure that if you e-mail them seriously looking for vampirism, then it's on you for whatever else happens.

Yes, you read that right. When I came across it, I saw that it had 44 comments (I've deleted two). Only three of those (one of which is mine) are actually about the article. The others give off vague promises that you too can have a life of excitement and wealth as an undying bloodsucker. One of which even promises that you could accomplish this with just a mere "snack of my finger". 


You heard that right guys, all you need to do to gain immortality is bite off one of these guy's fingers. Brings a whole new perspective to the term "finger foods". 

Pictured here: a child achieving immortality and literally becoming a child of the night. (Image from Death and Taxes Magazine.)


That doesn't seem enticing? (I don't doubt you, because I'm pretty sure that this guy is a zombie trying to trick unsuspecting vampire wanna bes into joining Team Zombie.) Want something that actually seems like it'd be from a vampire? How about paying this person some money to (presumably) get a vial of blood in the mail? 

Seems legit. 


I'm sure that you'll likely get something from that, but it's probably not going to be vampirism. 

Not pictured here: diseases. 


There are others in the comments making similar promises, one of which swears that a hot Indian vampire transformed her into a being that requires no sex, which is good if you want to be a Masquerade vampire, but bad if you're hoping on having that hawt, hawt vampire sex that's so frequently depicted in various films and books. 

If you want to read the hilarity, you can do so here. I'll be disappointed if I don't get spam in this article's comments section promising me immortality in return for my bank account number or general cash transfer, to be honest.


Best Snark: iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel

In what's quite possibly the snarkiest thing ever created (lately, anyway), artist and writer Robert Sikoryak has made a graphic novel adaptation of iTunes's Terms & Conditions.



The end result is pretty snarky and probably one of the only ways you'll actually get me to read the entire thing, the South Park human centipede withstanding.

Seriously, I'd read it and write a book report in order to keep this from happening. 


You can read the piece in all of its glorious snark here. The piece has a mixture of art styles and as of this writing, he's still publishing new pages every day. It's supposed to be 94 pages and he's on page 58, so there's still more to be enjoyed.

Further reading:




Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: Nails by Fiona Dodwell



I've been following Dodwell's work for a while now and I have to say that one of her hallmarks is that her work is challenging. By challenging I mean that her work can frequently tackle difficult subjects like domestic abuse, rape, or stalking - things that make the average person squirm a little more in their chairs. This is probably what makes her works so fascinating to me, since it pushes the horror envelope a little further. This could, however, make her work difficult for some readers, which makes this novella a good place to start for new readers. There are difficult topics in this work, but they're more subtle than they were in her 2011 book The Banishing so if you're easily made squeamish and want to wade a bit before swimming into the deep end (and you should swim into the deep end if you want a good scare), this is a good start.

What makes this so unsettling for me was that Dodwell takes her time in drawing out the scares. There's a lot of human interaction in this novella, which I really enjoyed.  We're given a chance to get to know the main character of Carla as she has to deal with strange noises and voices in her apartment. The buildup, paired with Carla's desperation not to have to return home, reminded me somewhat of Adam Nevill's No One Gets Out Alive. (Nevill's novel is also worth checking out, if you're curious!)

I can't and won't spoil the ending for you, but I was left with some major questions about everything that happened and I can easily say that this could be turned into a more full-length novel if Dodwell wanted to go that route or she could explore some of the side characters introduced such as Brian, the paranormal investigator.

This is absolutely worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of Dodwell's work. (And I am a major Dodwell fangirl!) Also, if you haven't read it already, you should check out her free short story "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". Parts of it are supposed to be based on something that really happened, which makes it much more fun to read!

5/5

(Review copy provided by author)

Further reading:


Monday, September 14, 2015

Crowdfunding campaigns for authors: is it OK?

You may or may not have heard about this recently. This brings up a very interesting question: is it OK for authors to seek money for daily needs?

Earlier this month Payne Hawthorne, a self-published author, opened up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign with the intent to raise $12,000. Getting this amount would enable her to become a full-time writer instead of having to hold down a job, which cut down on her writing time. The overall total comes down to a grand a month. She's stated that although she's been getting fairly positive reviews on her work, she isn't getting paid enough per book for her to move to full-time writing.

Needless to say, she's received some criticism over her actions. She's responded with what some of us would likely call "Badly Behaving Author" actions, but I'm not really going to go into that all that much. You can read more about this at Jenny Trout's website, where she covers Hawthorne's rant. Yes, it is BBA territory and she ticks a lot of the "do not do this" boxes.

What concerns me most is whether or not it's OK for authors to seek additional funding from the general populace in this manner. Seeking funding isn't anything new and you can see various websites asking for funding like popular webcomic sites such as Something Positive, although these sites rarely ask for a set amount of funding. Most of the time they do not mention any specific amount and instead mention how it will be used, like towards paying the server costs or similar needs for their series. Sometimes they'll say that they will use it to lessen or eliminate their job hours, but few make it sound like an absolute necessity.

Most of the time when this is done these websites will utilize direct Paypal donations or they'll use something like Patreon, a website that's specifically geared towards things of this nature. Few use websites like GoFundMe or Kickstarter since those are usually oriented towards very specific goals. GoFundMe is typically associated with people who are seriously down on their luck and need funding for things like funeral arrangements, rescue animal care, hospital bills, and the like while Kickstarter is aimed towards completing a very specific project. It can be frivolous, but you need to clearly state what it is that you are working on and is not intended for vague goals such as gaining enough to live off of while you write.

I think that part of the consternation surrounding Hawthorne began with the outlet she chose, GoFundMe. Jenny Trout brings up a very good point in her blog in that she points out that nowhere in the GoFundMe page does Hawthorn give off the impression that she's a starving artist or is in a particularly bad situation outside of what most authors have to go through. Her funding page generally gives off the impression that she's putting out a lot of effort but that she isn't gaining enough in book and audiobook sales to make it worthwhile. Trout also brings up another valid point: most self-published and indie writers do not make audiobooks because they rarely make enough money to make it worthwhile. Eliminating the audiobooks would probably save Hawthorne quite a bit of money and time, likely enough time to allow her extra hours of writing time a week.

Much of the reaction towards Hawthorne's campaign has been fairly negative, especially after she posted a fairly nasty rant on Facebook. Many authors have criticized her for opening a campaign on GoFundMe as they themselves wouldn't think to do that. Some felt like it came across like Hawthorne was critical of her readers for not paying enough for her books and others see it as a form of entitlement, especially when some of them have continued to write without seeking donations. Author Rhiannon Mills points out in her blog that she's had some particularly tough times in her life, yet never sought out donations in order to make ends meet.

My personal reaction is that this is a tacky thing to do and one that comes across like a shortcut to success. There are multiple authors that worked full-time jobs and continued to write. Rob Thurman is an excellent example of this since she continued to work a job even as her books hit bestseller lists and could be found on the shelves of any Barnes & Nobles. I'm also concerned that if successful, Hawthorne could be cutting herself off from a lot of inspiration. The famous author Ann Patchett held several jobs in her early years and she's openly credited these jobs as inspiring multiple scenes in her work. Many of the scenes likely wouldn't have been written. I'm certain that a lot of other authors can back this statement up as well.

In the end there's no set rule that says that Hawthorne can't ask for money, enough to where she can stay at home. Again, I think it's tacky, but there's nothing that says she can't. I just think that if she was going to do this, that it would've been better for her to do this through a different funding website and to have phrased her request a little more differently. That she shouldn't have posted her Facebook rant goes without saying.


Further reading: 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Website Roundup!

I'm trying something a little bit new (no, not posting regularly again, that's too new!).

I figured that it'd be interesting to post some of the strange things I've read on various blogs and some websites around the Internet. Click on the title of the links to go to said article.


2015 Hugo Winners (Hugo Site)

I know, I know. Everyone's sick of the Hugos and more specifically, the Sad Puppies, who seem to be gung ho on making the world think that we're all sad sacks bemoaning diversity in science fiction. This may not be what they think they're doing, but it's kind of how a lot of their actions came across to a lot of non-science fiction readers... and all without it coming from the supposed SJWs, meaning that people are reading about this from various news sources and thinking that this is essentially what is at stake here. Seriously guys, STAHP. You're making everyone look bad here. I'm gratified to read that others are just as disgusted with them as I am, if this thread about the winners at SF Signal is any indication.

Anywho, this is a link to the Hugo winners.


Who causes more destruction in superhero movies, heroes or villains? (Gizmodo)

This is the question of the ages. I remember reading a random anthropological thriller ala Indiana Jones and being aghast at the amount of carnage our heroes wrecked upon any given location they visited. I wish I could remember what series it was, since they ended up knocking over a lot of priceless statues in Rome or some similar location.


Learn to Build 20 iOS Games for $20 in The Mary Sue Store (The Mary Sue)

Dismayed at the lack of games featuring broody pieces of toast? Solve that problem yourself by making a game about broody pieces of toast. You could have the next Hatoful Boyfriend. Well, assuming that you're going to make it in one of the genres offered in the bundle.


Inside Disneyland’s Secret Club Reserved For Only the Elite (FoodBeast)

Another year, another look into Disney's Club 33. No, you don't want to know how much it costs. Yes, you'll probably look at the price anyway. How much is it? It's somewhere between "damn I'm poor" and "People pay that much for this?".


Singaporean cosplayer proves that cosplay doesn’t have to have an age limit【Photos】 (RocketNews24)

All you need to know is that this is one awesome lady. She cosplays at age 68 and looks great doing it, showing us all that mindset is a huge part of looking good in cosplay.

American English teacher in Japan takes a moment to remind student that anime is not real (RocketNews24)

Not real? Shut your mouth! Hakuya is mai husbando! Well, not really. Niro Sanjaya will always be my first anime/manga husbando, if I'm going to claim that for anyone. (Hush! I can like cheesy manga if I want!)

JK Rowling Plays Coy (Cuddlebuggery)

This is one of several pieces of news on the page, but come on. It's HARRY POTTER. ON STAGE. So you know that even if you're pretty over Harry Potter, you're still going to be salivating to see this and gobble up all the hints you can find. However I will suggest scrolling down to read about the... "interesting" sticker that a conservative public school in Arizona put on their science books. Yeah. The Harry Potter story might not be as interesting, but it's certainly better for your blood pressure.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Looks amazing: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Here's the second of some posts I'm stealing from SF Signal, but can you blame me? This book looks and sounds pretty badass.


\

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Doesn't that sound cool? It'll be out on September 22 through Tor.com

Further reading: