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Showing posts by: Amber Keller click to see Amber Keller's profile
Sep 6 2016 3:00pm

Review: The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young is a Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist.

I don’t usually pass up a southern gothic novel. With The Gates of Evangeline being just that—along with suspense, a deep and entrenching mystery, and a paranormal twist—I was easily sold. It surprised me that this was a debut novel, as author Hester Young brings beautiful writing and wonderful storytelling to the table with the ease of a seasoned and practiced hand.

The setting is highly effective in carrying the story and paralleling, while subsequently enhancing, the characters’ emotions. The brooding Louisiana swamps along with the spooky and frightening visions that Charlie Cates, our protagonist, begins to have, lead us on an otherworldly pursuit of rescue and closure.

[Read Amber Keller's review of The Gates of Evangeline...]

Sep 2 2016 1:30pm

Dear Mulder & Scully: Advice for the Abducted

This week's guest columnist are FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully, who—I want to believe—keep each other “balanced.” 

Dear Mulder and Scully,

On a night two weeks ago, I had just come off a shift at the local PD where I work. It was late, close to midnight, and I was traveling on a rural road. It was very dark and no moon was out, which made it very obvious when a bright light suddenly appeared in the sky. It grew in size as it approached, finally splitting into 3 smaller lights. They flew so erratically that I almost crashed my car trying to keep them in view. I pulled over and got out of my car with my phone to take pictures. I was only able to get a couple, and the next thing I knew, I was lying on my back in a field, at least 100 feet from my car.

As I drove home, I noticed the clock in my car was showing 2 a.m. My watch and phone also said this. There was a strange burn, like a sunburn, on my face. Later, I found a mark in the shape of a triangle on my side that hadn’t been there before.

Given my position, I haven’t told anyone else—instead making up stories about a random sunburn, but it’s been very uncomfortable to shave, so I’ve taken time off under the guise of sickness. I’ve enclosed the photos. Please tell me I’m not crazy.

—One Crazy Night


[Read Mulder and Scully's advice!]

Sep 1 2016 12:00pm

Review: Hell Fire by Karin Fossum

Hell Fire by Karin Fossum is the 12th Inspector Sejer Mystery, following the murder of a mother and her son and the masterfully intertwined parallel story of a separate mother/son relationship.

This was my first time reading an Inspector Sejer Mystery. I’m normally not one to jump into a series midway, but I held my breath and tested the waters. And, I’m glad I did.

Hell Fire is 12th installment of the aforementioned Inspector Sejer series. Author Karin Fossum carries the title of “Norwegian Queen of Crime,” and it’s not hard to see why. This story refused to be put down until it was finished. I started it before bed on a Friday night and found myself on the last page a little after midnight. I had to know how it was going to turn out. Fossum has a genius way of baiting the hook and steadily reeling the reader in, and she does this with amazing ease.

I was a little hesitant when I saw that this book was about the murder of a woman and her child. I’m a mother of three and don’t normally read stories with a premise such as this, but the more I read about the series and Fossum herself, the easier the decision was to take a step out of my comfort zone and give it a try. I really didn’t know what to expect—if I would be able to finish it or not. I was truly surprised by how much I was pulled into the story and how fast I had it read.

[Read Amber Keller's review of Hell Fire...]

Aug 8 2016 4:30pm

Review: Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville

Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville is a debut novel and zombie apocalypse thriller (Available August 9, 2016).

I was intrigued by the title, and once I read the blurb, I knew I had to read this one. I admit, I was expecting something along the lines of the popular 2009 movie, Zombieland. I think it was a mixture of the title font, the blurb, and the title itself. My brain forged a connection somehow. But this book was different. It was something more than your run-of-the-mill, garden-variety zombie tale—and I liked it.

First, let me give you an interesting factoid about how the book came to be. Nerdist, the uber popular machine that serves as both an empire and a nucleus for anything pop culture, put out a call on their website—a contest that would see one lucky person having their sci-fi/fantasy novel published in connection with both Inkshares and Nerdist. Zachary Tyler Linville was the winner, and Welcome to Deadland is that novel.

I am mostly a consumer of the zombie culture. I watch movies, tv shows, and have participated in a zombie run. I’ve even published a short or two in the genre. Despite all of this, I seem to be picky about the zombie stories I read. There’s no real reason—I just am. But, there was something about this book that made me sit up and take notice.

[Read Amber Keller's review of Welcome to Deadland...]

Jun 21 2016 1:00pm

Review: Burn What Will Burn by C.B. McKenzie

Burn What Will Burn by C.B. McKenzie is a gritty, gripping mystery and an enthralling character study of its poet-protagonist (Available today!).

Set in rural Arkansas in the mid-eighties, C.B. McKenzie brings us noir in the base, true-to-form sense, with a setting filled with oppressive southern heat that rises from the pages like the sheen off scalding asphalt, leaving letters dripping and bringing sweat to your brow. It has the sharp, cutting edge and the southern drawl of a fly lazily buzzing on the front porch in the hot afternoon sun, slicing through the humid air with the background drone of its wings.

Bob Reynolds is a flawed character, all the way, and seeing through his eyes is like looking through a veil at a kaleidoscopic Polaroid memory. He’s a widow, a poet with a drinking problem, a loner, and, most importantly, an outsider in the small town of Poe County—but there is more just under the surface. His eccentricities stand out to the Locals, who don’t really need a reason to target him other than he’s a stranger. The local postman won’t even deliver mail to his house because he’s not a relative of the family who owned the house before he bought it.

[Read Amber Keller's review of Burn What Will Burn...]

Jun 20 2016 3:30pm

Review: Pressure by Brian Keene

Pressure by Brian Keene is this summer's hot new thriller from the bestselling author and World Horror Grandmaster Award winner (Available June 21, 2016).

Fast and full of breathless moments, this one is a definite for any summer reading list. To say I really loved this story doesn’t do it justice. I was left wanting more—more about the characters I had come to love, more about the fascinating and terrifying monsters, more and Mauritius. It also had the surprising effect of making me want to go to the beach RIGHT NOW and snorkel and dive and see all of the wondrous things under the water, which is really a surprise for me since I’m pretty much afraid of what lurks under the surface, be it a lake or the ocean.

Brian Keene’s gorgeous descriptions felt so real that I could easily imagine I was right there at Mauritius, in the water. After looking up the real phenomenon, I have to say I am intrigued—an underwater waterfall I had never heard of before.

[Read Amber Keller's review of Pressure...]

Jul 11 2015 12:00pm

Fresh Meat: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich is a multigenerational tale of one family's history of crime and vengeance in rural Georgia (available July 14, 2015), 

For a debut novel, Brian Panowich really knocks it out of the ballpark. The text is tight, and the prose is just right. The raw and emotional writing has spikes of action that keeps pulling you along from page to page. I was attracted to this book because it is set a little close to home for me. Panowich brings a genuine southern flair to the book with descriptions, slang, and, oh boy, the occasional food description. He nails the setting and the feel of the south, along with some of the more eccentric characters you sometimes meet in this part of the world. In other words, I can see his fictional Burroughs clan being a real thing – down to their idiosyncrasies and their generational drug trade. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me tell you a little about the family.

[Let's meet 'em...]

Mar 19 2014 5:00am

Fresh Meat: Without Warning by David Rosenfelt

Without Warning by David Rosenfelt is a Maine thriller about a small town's murderous mysteries, uncovered after a hurricane unearths a time capsule (available March 25, 2014).

Author David Rosenfelt is no stranger to novel writing, having authored multiple books, including the Andy Carpenter series. This was the first time I had read Mr. Rosenfelt, so I came to the page with curious and fresh eyes. What I found was a fun, sometimes nail-biting, true who-done-it experience.

In the vein of the television shows Magnum P.I. and Kolchak (minus the paranormal aspects), it was like reading a beloved crime show. The first person narrative served well to get into each character’s head. Early in the reading it was a little confusing until I figured out who was talking, but as the story advanced, this ceased to be a problem.

Jake Robbins is the police chief of Wilton, Maine with a colored past. His armed services’ duties left him a war hero, and his marriage was abruptly ended by his wife’s murder after her confessed affair with his friend.

[Have I got your attention? Just keep on reading for more. ]

Nov 25 2013 11:00am

Fresh Meat: City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus FlyteThe City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte is the second adventurous mystery set in  a Europe where magic, science, and alchemy are all valid. In it, musicologist Sarah Weston and her friends—drunken dwarf Nico Petusato and her former lover Prince Max—will chase a villain through history and fight even death itself (available November 26th, 2013).

The City of Lost Dreams was my first taste of author Magnus Flyte, and now that I’ve sampled, I find myself asking for seconds. That really doesn’t accurately explain my reaction—I loved it. The crisp writing, fast and neatly-trimmed sentences that tumbled one after another without too much fluff or unnecessarily pretentious words kept my attention throughout the book. Also noted, I read this one in a little over a day, only putting it down for sleepy time and the unavoidable daily routine. Yes, it was that good.

The name Magnus Flyte is really a pen name for authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, two talented ladies who bring a style to their writing that is fast, clear and concise, yet employs an entertaining flair and, at times, a perfect balance of whimsy. Their ability to spin a yarn that pulls the reader along on a flying carpet ride of mystery, comed,y and romance is top0notch. Some of the elements included in the book: a galleon automaton that sprays wicked drugs in the face of unsuspecting victims, alchemy and an immortal dwarf, a race to find The Fleece—a book that holds the answers to everlasting life and the ability to cure afflictions, hell portals, a complicated love triangle and Mesmerism, just to name a few. This thing employs a mystery that deepens like the sudden drop off of a sandbar.

[Into the deeps we go...]

Sep 24 2013 11:00pm

Fresh Meat: The Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes by George Mann

The Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes by George MannThe Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes by George Mann is a collection of short stories detailing the supernatural steampunk adventures of detective duo, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in dark and dangerous Victorian London (available September 24, 2013).

This was the first of George Mann’s books that I’ve read, and what caught my eye was the steampunk theme. Even the cover reads, “Science, Adventure, Mystery.” As a lover of them all, how could I pass that up, right? But here’s where it gets interesting. It wasn’t only the aforementioned elements, this book as a whole was pure fun and completely delightful! The world of Newbury & Hobbes is intricate and well thought out, spanming across storylines to intersect with none other than one of the most famous and widely known detectives, Sherlock Holmes.

Another interesting fact is that Newbury has a female sidekick by way of Miss Veronica Hobbes. I loved this aspect, and her character rounds out Newbury and his quirkiness with her clear-headed and logical ways. We see a little of her and their relationship in this anthology, but if you want to read more of her, you can check out the entire Newbury & Hobbes series that starts with The Affinity Bridge and is ongoing, including the latest release, The Executioner’s Heart.

Mr. Mann has edited many anthologies, has a series of mystery novels, and has written a Dr. Who novel, for all of the Whovians out there. He is also slated to write an audiobook featuring Sherlock Holmes, and has contributed to the Holmes mythos in both the short and long form. His extensive biography shows his love of the craft along with the steampunk and mystery genres.

[So, clang on with the automatons...]

Sep 8 2013 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Blade of Dishonor by Thomas Pluck

Blade of Dishonor by Thomas PluckBlade of Dishonor by Thomas Pluck collects a three-part adventure—The War Comes Home, Devils and Dragons, and The Shadow Shogun—into the modern culmination of a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a stolen sword (available September 10, 2013).

I have been reading Thomas Pluck’s fiction for quite some time now, and when I heard that he had a debut novel coming out, to say I was excited is to put it lightly. He has a certain style, a punchy language that puts the reader right into the action, successfully amping up my adrenalin and leaving me on the edge of my seat. This also has the effect of driving the story forward at break-neck speed, making it hard to put the book down until the very end. And to be honest, folks, I wanted more when it was over. Call me an adrenaline junkie if you will, but the rush his writing supplies is addictive.

The subject of ninjas and World War II would not have been my first choice, admittedly, but now that I’ve read it, I realize I will be broadening my horizons from now on. Both subjects were intriguing and fascinating. Mr. Pluck’s knowledge of them, especially the martial arts and fighting, was very impressive. He’s a fighter. Take one look at his author picture and you will see that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He knows his stuff. Each fight scene shines with intensity and bravado, but most of all, heart. His heart runs deep in everything I’ve read from him. Now we get nearly 300 pages of this. Where to start? At the beginning, of course.

Rage Cage Reeves returns home after a long stint in the Mideast and finds his grandfather, Butch, a World War II war hero, caught up in a deadly battle over a sword.

[Behold the titular blade...]

May 3 2013 8:00pm

Hannibal Episode 5: “Entrée”

Crawford and Will

Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane is a large, Gothic estate that houses a violent criminal known as Dr. Gideon. He’s been a model prisoner during his two year stay, earning him the privilege of lighter security measures in an otherwise high security psychiatric hospital. But that all changes one day when Dr. Gideon fakes being unconscious and, when left alone with a nurse, performs a grisly murder. His method mirrors a serial killer named the Chesapeake Ripper, who is presumably at large and hasn’t murdered in over two years, ironically the same amount of time Gideon has been in the hospital. The question becomes, is Dr. Gideon the Chesapeake Ripper?

[Ripper in the asylum]

Apr 26 2013 8:00pm

Hannibal Episode 4: “Coquilles”

Hugh Dancy“Coquilles” was an episode laced with sadness and mortality. Tonight’s killer gave a thought to humanity and just how little we know about how the human brain works.

There were several themes in the show tonight, but the strongest that stood out to me was change. Almost every character in this episode is going through some change, and they are all in differing stages.

With religious undertones involving this new killer, aptly named The Angel Maker, the story goes beyond that, to much deeper depths. Meet Elliot Boudish. Five months ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that is causing him to change at a rapid pace as it is killing him. As the tumor manipulates different parts of his brain while it grows, his behaviors, beliefs, and even what he sees all change. He’s become a killer, ironically, because he seeks peace. By killing his victims, then fileting the flesh off their backs to make them resemble angels with wings, which he also puts hooks through and hangs from the ceiling, he is creating his own guardian angels. Later in the show we learn that Elliot had a near death experience as a child when he almost suffocated in a fire. The fireman who saved him told him he had a guardian angel. The tumor must be causing memories to resurface, and his ability to perceive them, along with proper placement, have become skewed. He’s desperate to find his guardian angel before he succumbs to the cancer. We also see his visions of his victims as having flames engulfing their heads. Again, this can be attributed to his childhood trauma. It is quite coincidental that the victims that he chooses also happen to be criminals with very nasty backgrounds. Perhaps he also feels he’s doing a duty, performing a service if you will, by killing them; one good last deed for his last days on earth. For what it’s worth, I’m reminded of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs in which Lecter escapes and hangs the guard on his cage, backlit and resembling an angel. Maybe Lecter copycats from many different killers per the series.

[Criminal victims...what do they deserve in the way of justice?]

Apr 20 2013 10:00am

Checking Out Bates Motel

When someone says the name Alfred Hitchcock, it immediately signals a barrage of visuals and memories for me. One of the first is the familiar bass tones of the haunting opening theme to his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962). Another is those ominous black birds swarming overhead, lunging down to peck at people as they frantically fight to get away, their fears plucked to the surface along with mine. Concerning the former, as a kid I delighted in pooching my belly out and artfully stepping from the darkness to stand in the middle of a doorway as I sang that song. It usually garnered a few chuckles to my satisfaction.

Now A&E has released a new television show based on the popular Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho. This franchise has been done... I would say to death, but that wouldn’t be very nice, now would it? There have been good films and there have been bad, so I was curious to see how Bates Motel would ultimately stack up.

[Do you have reservations?]

Apr 18 2013 9:55pm

Hannibal Episode 1.03: “Potage”

Yeah, I'd say she has some major daddy issues!All eyes are on Abigail Hobbs as they wait for her to wake up. The show opens up with Abigail having a coma-induced vision of going hunting with her father, giving us a little glimpse at their relationship. She shoots a deer, and once they get it back to their cabin, she is told to gut it. The apprehension on her face as she was hunting it and her commentary on the deer’s social structure gives the impression that she doesn’t really want to be doing this, however, she doesn’t say no. But the real moment comes when she pulls back the head and it is a girl. This dream is powerful enough to bring her out of the coma, and rightly so.

Does this prove Crawford’s claims that Abigail was an accomplice to her fathers’ killing spree?

[Oh no! Does the apple really not fall far from the tree?...]

Apr 11 2013 10:55pm

Hannibal Episode 1.02: “Amuse-Bouche”

Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in Hannibal

“Amuse-Bouche” is a shocking and grotesque episode that introduces another serial killer, Mr. Eldon Stammets, who just happens to have a disturbing affinity for fungi.

Because Graham took out serial killer Hobbs in the last episode, as this one begins he’s regarded as a bit of a hero. He is given the all clear to return to fieldwork, and his students give him a standing ovation. Crawford, however, requests a psychiatric evaluation (and understandably so since Graham shot Hobbs not once but ten times). Given that Crawford knows Graham is a little unhinged anyway, I think this is a waste of their time. It does give Graham and Lecter more bonding time, though. Lecter shows his favoritism toward Graham once more by giving him a clean bill of health. I was surprised when Lecter said he felt responsible for Abigail Hobbs. I never considered Lecter as a father figure, or as someone who cared much about other people, but I doubt that he has paternal instincts in mind; more like a Gordon Ramsay recipe.

[Mmmm...victim bourguignon...]

Apr 5 2013 11:30pm

Hannibal Pilot: “Apértif”

Opening scene of Hannibal

I eagerly awaited Hannibal with the hopefulness of a child at Christmas. And did I get what I wanted? Let’s see…

Let me speak about the opening scene for a moment, if you will. The introduction to Will Graham, played brilliantly by Hugh Dancy, is an attention-grabber. We see a crime scene through his eyes, which aren’t your regular set of eyes. He’s able to go into a trance of sorts in order to recreate the crime, in a sequence that the director pulls off with stunning effect. My favorite bit was the reverse motion. We are given a glimpse of how Graham’s special ability works.

Readers of the books by Thomas Harris will know that Graham has empathy with the killers he studies, but Dancy’s acting takes it one step further by showing us just how intense, emotional, and believable it really is for him. As it turns out, Graham is on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum. This isn’t such a stretch for Dancy to play because he portrayed another man with this affliction in the independent film, Adam, back in 2009. Graham’s struggle with these feelings of empathy shows on Dancy’s face and are another testament to the bang-up job he is doing with this role.

[Of course, the show isn’t called Will Graham]

Feb 21 2013 1:30pm

Still Stalking Kolchak

It was January 11, 1972.  A made-for-TV movie debuted on ABC that would turn out to be the highest rated to date. This movie was The Night Stalker and it was America’s introduction to the quirky, persistent reporter, Carl Kolchak. I can’t think of actor Darren McGavin without picturing his portrayal of Kolchak and the various monsters of the week he was pitted against.

To get an idea of what this franchise is about, in case you aren’t familiar, let me give you a quick synopsis of The Night Stalker. The film begins with Kolchak at a hotel speaking into a recorder as he dictates a novel he is writing. He tells the audience about his recent shocking and life-changing experience. In Las Vegas, he became privy to a string of gruesome murders where the victims had been drained of blood. As Kolchak became more engrossed in the case, he believed the killer to be a vampire. He does manage to convince the authorities in the supernatural element, but the killer proves too elusive. Eventually it is Kolchak himself who disposes of the fiend.

[There are more where that one came from...]