Bookish Recap (October)

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Oh man I feel like this month was a total bummer book/blogging wise. October is known for its surprises and I don’t suppose that should surprise me. Despite the twists this month had for me, I did manage to read two books. While I wasn’t completely blown out of the water by either, I enjoyed them. Both offer fresh takes on old tropes.

Cuckoo Song (Frances Hardinge; 4 stars)

KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale (NISIOSIN; 3 stars)

I certainly have a preference for Cuckoo Song. It’s dark, atmospheric, and the writing style is just my type. The story touches so many elements, mental and physical health, family issues, and different kinds of love. It’s one of those books that makes you view old things in a new light.

That’s not to say that KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale wasn’t a fascinating read in its own right! I haven’t encountered vampires in that light before, and learning about the Japanese culture was awesome. It was a fun, but unusual read.

I also wound up starting quite a few books. While I might not be able to review them all before the end of the year, I certainly plan to finish them before the year is out. Next month is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I’ll be doing some writing focused posts. I always planned for this blog to be both a writing and a book blog, so I’m using the upcoming month as an excuse to start integrating writing, including my own, into the blog. Fret not, the book reviews aren’t going anywhere!

I’ll be aiming for two posts a week again during November. Ideally a post on writing and the second post will be a book review. I’ll be doing a lot of re-reads during November because re-reads are quicker to get through, but I haven’t reviewed any of the books on the blog (except for The Martian, hahah, I’m obsessed!). So expect new reviews on some of my favorites!

While not the grand reading month I had planned, at least I got some good reads in and was able to use them towards the Cornerfolds Horror Challenge.

Book Review: Cuckoo Song

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator |+|

“Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between.” ~Shrike (Cuckoo Song)

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Author: Frances Hardinge

Genre: YA Horror, Historical fiction, Paranormal

Summary: When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family—before it’s too late . . .

My Opinion: I live for atmospheric books. The stranger the better. Cuckoo Song delivered. I picked it up ages ago, almost finished it, then had to return it to the library (ah, the curse of exams). It was great to finish it this time. Everything I loved was still there and it’s a satisfying story. A historical fiction that couldn’t quite seem to get across to the reader when it was taking place, Cuckoo Song was wonderfully atmospheric, interesting, and creepy. Due to a few lacking things, but plenty of strong elements, I gave the book four stars.

What stood out to me from the start was the atmosphere of the story. It comes in many forms, from the language used to describe things, pacing, and the increasingly strange happenings. In parts it’s so bizarre it’s disturbing. Dolls were terrifying, birds were unusual and not to be trusted, and I will never look at scissors the same way again. And that’s why I think this book really does stand on its own as a horror book, especially in the YA field. While none of the scares lasted off the page, there’s a few household objects I’m still giving the side-eye to.

The characters were unique and for the most part well developed although there was little diversity. Triss was interesting and I enjoyed being in her head. I have a thing for unreliable narrators and this one showed huge growth. Violet and Pen are close seconds in favorite characters. Watching the three of them grow was wonderful. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book is that the secondary characters don’t get any character development until about 200 pages in. We’re consistently shown that there’s potential but it’s not set into motion until half way through the book. I felt there was way too much hint dropping about what characters could be instead of getting a move on with that development. But Triss’ parents and their characterization was phenomenal. I applaud Hardinge for tackling such an overlooked issue when it comes to bad parenting. Triss’ parents are despicable.  Yet the parents are loving. They want what’s best for their daughter, they’re older and wiser and know best. But the book makes clear that they are stifling not only Triss but the whole family. Their obsession with control is causing cracks in the family and possibly putting them in danger. Sometimes reading about the parents’ choices was more frightening than screaming dolls. Screaming dolls are not real, but parents like Triss’ are. And that’s terrifying.

I also was frustrated with the setting. No doubt of it, Hardinge has a wonderful writing style that reminds me of Stiefvater. Both writers are very whimsical and metaphorical. But with Hardinge, I had no idea when this story was taking place. I knew it was after a war, but which war? It never was clearly established. Turns out that the story takes place after World War I, but with such weak timeline establishment, the book felt like it was trying for something steampunk.

Flaws aside, I really did enjoy this book. It’s perfect for October, especially if you’re going to read under the covers with a flashlight or around a bonfire. Creepy, moody, and filled with uncertainties, Cuckoo Song is a top pick for those looking for something out of the ordinary.

TL;DR: Despite little diversity, sluggish character development, and sometimes veering into formulaic territory, Cuckoo Song has promise and delivers on it. A dark and unsettling atmosphere is established from the start. Mundane items become frightening and the book tackles one of the most challenging family issues. While I wouldn’t recommend this to those who are unsettled by dolls, for those of you looking for a creepy read that puts a new spin on old things, read Cuckoo Song. It’s seriously the perfect October read.

Book Review: KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale

|+| Warnings: Violence, gore, consensual sexual situations, talk of suicide |+|

“Some people ought to die-but people dying can’t ever not matter.” ~ Hanekawa (KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale)

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Author: NISIOSIN (Illustrations by Vofan)

Genre: Mature YA Paranormal; Horror

Summary: Around midnight, under a lonely street lamp in a provincial town in Japan, lies a white woman, a blonde, alone, robbed of all four limbs, yet undead. Indeed, a rumor’s been circulating among the local girls that a vampire has come to their backwater, of all places.

Koyomi Araragi, who prefers to avoid having friends because they’d lower his “intensity as a human,” is naturally skeptical. Yet it is to him that the bloodsucking demon, a concept “dated twice over,” beckons on the first day of spring break as he makes his way home with a fresh loot of morally compromising periodicals.

Always disarmingly candid, often hilariously playful, and sometimes devastatingly moving, KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale is the perfect gateway into the world of author NISIOISIN, the bestselling young novelist in Japan today. The prequel to BAKEMONOGATARI (“Monster Tale”), this is where the legendary MONOGATARI series, whose anime adaptations have enjoyed international popularity and critical acclaim, begins.

My Opinion: This was a fun and interesting read. It turned out differently than what I expected, but in a good way. I really enjoyed the fresh take on vampires and I also wound up learning a lot about Japanese culture. But the writing style was a bit too manga like. Not to mention some parts just went on forever which killed tension. Because of those reasons I gave the book three stars.

I’m a big fan of anime and manga. Now I don’t watch/read them as much as I’d like to, but I love the series that I’m invested in. When I first found this book I had never read anything by this author and I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t seen the manga series around. So when I realized that this was a prequel, and the author said it was totally fine to read it before reading the rest of the series, I was game. I read the book and wound up learning a lot about Japanese culture, and I’m also pretty sure I found a new series to check out.

Now with all that being said, if you’re familiar with manga and animes, you know there is melodrama! It’s just a thing. When it’s done well it’s awesome, fun, and completely loveable. I am a huge fan of melodrama! Here…well there were some hits and misses. In some parts scenes were so dragged out to add to the melodrama. It just didn’t work for me. I didn’t need or want to read 10 pages of our hero monologuing about the current situation when the answer was rather clear. Frankly, a lot of tension could have been added to the book if some of the monologues were cut back. Secondly, the sexual situations. Ok, I get it, spring break, boys and girls meet and even if they don’t fall in love (and in this book they don’t), there’s a high chance for fooling around. But our hero Araragi was just too much of a guy at times. Usually it was done to add humor, and it did consistently work towards character development. So yay for that! But sometimes he was so much of a guy that it just lowered the intensity of the story. Now about that writing style…look, manga is a visual medium, and novelizations of visual things (mangas, animes, movies, what have you) don’t always work. The writing style for this book was so close to reading a manga that honestly it was difficult to read at times. Mangas are very visual based, regular books are not. It’s awesome to blend genres but for this book the blend didn’t work the way it needed to.

One of the saving elements was the interesting characters. We have humans, vampires, half vampires, and humans that might not be humans after all. Each character, no matter the species was fleshed out. By the end of the book, despite the aforementioned issues, I really was invested in everyone. I want to know what happens in the rest of the series and will gladly get my heart ripped out for these fictional characters. I found my heart breaking when multiple characters struggled with suicidal thoughts. This story doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s a tragedy with bursts of comedy more than anything, so while no one commits suicide, the problem isn’t fixed with a perfect bow, which I appreciated-it’s clear that those issues will come into play later in the series and I hope that it’s handled well. While Araragi wasn’t my favorite, I loved his character development. Over all I was impressed with not only the main character’s development, but the development of Hanekawa and Oshino as well. I felt like Kisshot was well layered and fleshed out, but I didn’t feel like she grew as much as the others. Regardless, she made a lovely foil and I was surprised by her depth.

Another thing that made me enjoy this book was the take on vampires. Now as someone who’s spent all their lives in the States I’ve never realized how western vampires are. This book is so cool because it’s a western monster in an East Asian setting and both the monster and the people from a culture that doesn’t have vampires has to adjust. It was a new spin that I had never seen before and made me realize that I have a lot to learn about monsters and the world in general. I also found myself learning a lot about the Japanese culture. Araragi is such a straightforward narrator and is so practical about what he says (for the most part), so I found myself learning a lot about his culture in a really fun way.

With interesting characters, and a unique take on vampires I found myself enjoying this book. True, at times it read like a hot mess due to the odd writing style that just didn’t seem to work, but I can forgive the book for that when it gives me such a unique story.

TL; DR: With a fresh take on vampires and well developed characters KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale is a really cool story. While the writing style is bizarre at times and some of the issues and topics are pretty dark, it’s a good book for fans of anime and manga. If you’re new to the series, this is a fun introduction and will probably leave you wanting more. If you’re already familiar with the series, then this is a must read. Looking for a new take on vampires as well as looking to diversify your shelf? This is a good bet!

6 Books You Should Read This October

These books are books I can’t get enough of. They’re eerie, terrifying, unsettling or sometimes all three. Although not all of these books are horror, these are books I recommend to people looking for a perfect October read. Be careful when you pick your poison though, some books have possible triggers in them.

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Asylum (Madeleine Roux; warnings: unreality, torture) First in a haunting series, Asylum is the story of Dan who goes to a summer camp for high school students that actually want to learn. He and his friends quickly learn, but what they learn isn’t mathematical equations, history, or new art skills, it’s about their temporary summer home-a former asylum. And with that knowledge comes a nightmare that Dan and his friends weren’t expecting and might not ever be free of. You can check out my review here.

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Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy) There’s a talking skeleton mage that can control fire. How much more Halloween do you want? Filled with dark humor, suspense and excellent world building, Skulduggery Pleasant is the story of Stephanie Edgley discovering quite a lot about her uncle when he passes away. She meets her uncle’s unusual friend Skulduggery Pleasant who takes her under his wing. Skulduggery does things on his own terms though, and magic isn’t an easy subject to  learn, even without people trying to kill you.

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Tamsin (Peter S. Beagle) Perhaps the most underrated book on the list, Tamsin is the story of Jenny Gluckstein and her encounters with the paranormal, love, and cats. Although furious with her mother and her new-stepfather for taking her from her home in New York City, Jenny can’t deny that the English countryside has a plethora of unsettling mysteries and dark dangers which are calling to her.  And the strongest call of all is the ghost Tamsin.

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Sabriel (Garth Nix) Necromancers have never been so cool. First in the Abhorsen series, Sabriel is our heroine that frequently walks in death to battle all sorts of undead things. Monsters, corpses, other necromancers, you name it, she can kick its butt and master walking through death. Hopefully. The magic system of this world is complicated (beautifully so), and even the most well trained of the Abhorsens need a bit of help now and again. Read it and thank me later.

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The Demonologist: (warnings: gore, violence, language, and torture) One of the few horror books that actually scared me, The Demonologist follows a professor who doesn’t believe in the demons he studies. But then they kidnap his daughter and send him on what feels like an impossible quest. Adjusting to the reality of demons is soon the least of his problems. But hey, a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do. The ending just about killed me. It’s a beautiful and haunting read that stuck with me. If you chose to read it, I’m sure it’ll stick with you too.

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The Raven Boys (Maggie Steifvater; warnings: abusive situations, language): Although the book starts in April it also starts off with psychics and ghosts. It’s a dead king that’s at the heart of this story. The very much alive Blue becomes involved with the Raven Boys and their quest for magic and a dead king that can grant wishes. In their quest the group becomes involved with curses, ghosts, and a growing series of unsettling events. It’s filled with all the stuff people love to read about in October. You can check out my review here.

Bookish Recap (September)

 

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This month was a great month reading wise! I got to team up with Xpresso Book Tours and help out with two book tours by reviewing the books and that was quite fun. I got my hands on Nevernight and devoured it and got my romance in Sun and Moon. I feel like this month made up for the past couple where I’ve been in reading slumps.

I’ve also made a couple of changes around the blog. From here on out in the Bookish Recap, books will be listed in alphabetical order by author (it used to be random). I’ve also gone through and updated my Past Reviews page and added the star rating for each book. I’m considering adding a new page for my 4 and 5 star reads so that those are easier to find and you don’t have to hunt for them.

Nine Candles of Deepest Black (Matthew S. Cox; 4 stars)

The Shattered Seam (Kathleen Groger; 3 stars)

Nevernight (Jay Kristoff; 4.5 stars)

Sun and Moon (Desiree Williams; 3 stars)

I think by far this month my favorite book was Nevernight. I had seen it around and in the bookstores. I was in love with the cover and the idea was certainly interesting. But I wasn’t sure if splurging on a book that I might not like would be worth it or not. It was worth every single penny and I am so proud of the life choices that brought me to that moment. Ok, ok, melodrama aside, it was a really awesome book that was 100% what I was looking for. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but the whole book is about defying expectations in a way, so it fits that the book would defy expectations as well.

Overall, the books I read this month all surprised me. They took old tropes and made them new, or had fresh writing styles, or were beautifully heartfelt stories. I might not have given every book 5 stars, but these books were all well worth the reads and I’m glad I had the chance to read so much this month.

The Shattered Seam (Book Tour!)

The Shattered Seam (Book Tour!)

Fan of haunted houses? Looking for an authentic voice? The Shattered Seam is the book for you! Below you can find my review of the book as well as a bit about the author and a giveaway for Kindle Fire (US/CAN only). Be sure to check out the rest of the tour here!

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Giveaway (US/CAN)

Author: Kathleen Groger

Genre: YA Paranormal, Horror

Summary: Spending spring break on an isolated island rumored to be haunted is not sixteen-year-old Sam’s idea of fun. Spending spring break with her uncle and his ghost-hunting film crew on an isolated island is even worse.

Way worse.

Her family’s secrets—and a genetic ability she can no longer deny—surface, along with the ghost of a rich serial killer who left behind a trail of trapped souls.

And he’s not through yet.

With only one chance for escape, Sam must embrace her family’s curse and close the Seam between the living and the dead. Or be lost, forever.

My Opinion: The Shattered Seam is a cool concept with a unique narrator. I immediately fell in love with Sam’s voice and the other characters were fun to read about too. In many ways this book reminded me of an updated version of the horror classic Hell House. Overall I gave this book 3 stars due to a major issue that touched too close to home for me.

When I read the first page of The Shattered Seam I gasped. Sam’s voice was so authentic I had to pause to take it in. It was beautiful. I really enjoyed reading from her view point because it really did feel like I was reading a 16 year old’s thoughts. I also really liked that Sam started out a skeptic and was thrown in with a group of hardcore ghost hunters that fully believed in what they were doing. It added a fresh spin to the old “non-believer” trope. This book reminded me of Hell House, but in a good way. The violence, the mysteriousness, and the numerous creepy going-ons hailed back to that sort of thing. But the story behind the castle is unique and interesting, making The Shattered Seam stand on its own.

But despite the fresh take on a classic (and favorite) horror trope, I can’t overlook the schizophrenia issue this book has. Note, Sam does not have the illness, nor does anyone else in the book. But schizophrenia is a real mental illness that impacts real people and real families. Sam thinking that she had schizophrenia, her mother allowing her to think this, as well as her grandmother allowing this thought, came off almost as insulting to those who are impacted by it to me. From the get-go we know that Sam is going to see ghost at some point or another and her skepticism will turn into belief. We’re here for the fun stuff of seeing how that all pans out. It wasn’t fun reading over and over again, Sam trying to justify what she saw because she was “supposed to be” mentally ill. It didn’t feel like a quest for self discovery. It felt awkward and unrealistic. Mental illness is never something you want to make cool in any form because that mindset can prevent people from getting the help they need. As one of the most demonized of mental illnesses, I worry that people reading the book will misunderstand what schizophrenia is really like. Because it is nothing like what is described in the book. There were some other issues, but they were easily overlooked thanks to the wonderful writing style and characterization.

I think that Uncle Eric was my favorite character. At first he appears to be a ghost obsessed man, trying to get good ratings for his show, but as Sam discovers more about herself, she also discovers more about her uncle and his crew. Her bond with Eric became something I really enjoyed and looked forward to as the book went on (I was not dissapointed). Each of Eric’s crew members have distinct personalities. This mix of characters was so authentic that the book really did feel like a behind the scenes look at a paranormal investigation show.

While there was a stand out issue for me, The Shattered Seam was a fun read. Cool characters, creepy setting and situations, and a nice mystery to go along with it all makes it a good read for anyone who’s a fan of haunted houses or who’s into paranormal investigation shows.

TL;DR: Despite the poor use of mental illnesses, this is a good book. Sam’s voice is completely authentic. Sam is not the only interesting character though and she’s joined by many others who are just as fun and interesting to read about. It’s a solid read that has some great takes on haunted houses.

 

About the Author

kathleen

Author Website, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter

Kathleen wrote her first story in elementary school about a pegasus named Sir Lancelot. It had no plot or conflict, but it sparked a dream. After serving a fifteen-year sentence in retail management, the bulk in big box bookstores, she turned her love of reading into a full-time career writing dark and haunting characters and stories. She writes paranormal, fantasy, suspense, horror YA books. She is a contributing member of READerlicious, writers who love readers. Check out her blogs here.

She lives by the mantra that a day is not complete without tea. Lots of tea. Kathleen lives in Ohio with her husband, two boys, and two attention-demanding dogs. When not writing or editing or revising, you can find her reading, cooking, spending time with her family, or photographing abandoned buildings.

Nine Candles of the Deepest Black (Book Tour!)

Nine Candles of the Deepest Black (Book Tour!)

If you’re looking for a book to read this October, Nine Candles of the Deepest Black is your bet! Below you can find my review of the book as well as a bit about the author and an international giveaway (Amazon gift card as well as a signed copy of the book). Be sure to check out the rest of the tour here!

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Goodreads |+| Amazon |+| Rafflecopter Giveaway (INT)

Author: Matthew S. Cox

Genre: Mature YA Horror, Paranormal

Summary: She saw it coming. She knew it would happen―but no one believed her.

Almost a year after tragedy shattered her family, sixteen-year-old Paige Thomas can’t break free from her guilt. Her mother ignores her, doting on her annoying little sister, while her father is a barely-functioning shell. He hopes a move to the quiet little town of Shadesboro PA will help them heal, but Paige doesn’t believe in happiness anymore.

On her first day at school, a chance encounter with a bullied eighth grader reawakens a gift Paige had forgotten, and ingratiates her into a pack of local outcasts. For weeks, they’ve been trying to cast a ritual to fulfill their innermost desires, but all they’ve done is waste time. After witnessing Paige touch the Ouija board and trigger a paranormal event, the girls are convinced another try with their new fifth member will finally work.

Once the darkness is unleashed, it’s not long before they learn it will give them exactly what they asked for―whether they want it or not.

My Opinion: There’s something to be said for classic horror. It touches on our base fears the most. Taking the tropes of demons, occult magic, and paranormal events and forming them into something is great fun if done right. Nine Candles of Deepest Black does it right. It’s a lovely homage to classical horror tropes while upgrading it all to something diverse, interesting, and unusual. There were just one or two things that rubbed me the wrong way, but regardless this was a fun read that fully earned 4 stars.

Most of the time in paranormal horror the ghost comes in after an introduction. Not so here. Almost immediately we discover that Paige is haunted by her dead sister. The death of Amber hit the family hard, and it seems like the only person who’s coping in a remotely healthy way is the annoying little sister. This is where the book stands out. We have multiple points of tension throughout. First we have Paige and her family, then the relationships with her new-found friends, and the tension the magic brings. Cox does a wonderful job of having these separate sources of tension feed into each other and move the book forward.

At times though I was taken out of this tension due to a couple of things. Cox has a wonderful writing style and is very descriptive. It’s easy to picture what’s going on, but sometimes things were just a little too metaphorical. Frequently we’re told about Paige’s black cloud and it took me a couple of times reading that to realize it was metaphorical. I think. Considering all the other things going on, it wouldn’t have surprised me if it was actually real. This was never really cleared up, but considering everyone’s non-reaction to it, I’m assuming it was metaphorical. This kind of seemed to be a thing though, some things were just over-described which caused confusion. The descriptions of clothing were great…but sometimes the focus was a bit too heavy on what each girl was wearing which needlessly slowed down things. Also, sometimes the gore felt less necessary and more like the trope where people assume horror has a ton of blood and gore in it. These issues took me out of the book and the reading experience. The book is also incredibly heavy and at times the book felt a little too dark to be full on enjoyable for me. Ultimately  despite having gore, nudity, detailed talk of suicide, and forced sexual situations, for the most part all of it was handled very well.

Now for my favorite part of any review, and my favorite element of Nine Candles of Deepest Black: the characters. The characters are diverse, and the WoC, Santana and Renne, are fleshed out and the focus is not solely on their skin color. They have interests and personality while embracing their culture which is always refreshing. Horror tends to have a lot of tokenism in this area, and I was pleased to find this wasn’t the case for this book. These girls have their own hopes and dreams and are stuck in the same fear boat as Paige our heroine. Overall, all characters were well rounded and believable. There’s a variety of ages as well. We see how the supernatural (and death in general) impacts everyone from 8 years old to adults. I also really enjoyed seeing how Paige grew as a person and how her growth impacted those around her. Again this is another element that makes the book stand out from typical horror.

If the characters weren’t going to win me over the hat-tips to classic horror and weird fiction would have. I loved how Cox alluded to the greats such as Stephen King and Niel Gaiman. Even if this wasn’t intentional, it was there and added a lovely mood to the story.  Classic tropes such as girls trying a ritual, demons running crazy and being unstoppable, nightmare sequences that may or may not be real, were all done superbly. Overused tropes are a grantee to bore the reader, but here they’re reborn with eeriness and tension. True, you can find a ton of books and movies with those elements in it, but the book takes these things and makes them fresh.

Nine Candles of Deepest Black is a great bet if you want dark and creepy. It’s a solid read and does a lovely job weaving the old with the new. If you’re looking for something to creep you out this coming October, here’s your book. It’s darker than night, suspenseful, and fresh.

TL;DR: Despite being incredibly dark, and having a little bit too much focus on descriptions at times, Nine Candles of Deepest Black is a lovely homage to classical horror tropes while upgrading it all to something diverse, interesting, and unusual. If horror is your thing and you’re looking for a fresh spin on classical horror, this is your book.

About the Author:

matthew

Author Website, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter

Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.

Hobbies and Interests:

Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it.

He is also fond of cats.