Cheerleading can be Murder by Carissa Ann Lynch

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This clichéd, little book begins with cheerleading and ends with cheerleading. The middle of the book – more cheerleading. For those of us who don’t care about cheerleading one way or the other, it might be difficult, dare I say painful, to swallow the life and death stance on cheerleading portrayed in this book.

There are very few characters in the story and none of them are impressive or even likeable. It is written first-person, which makes it harder to read. Dakota is shallow, flighty, will literally do anything to be a cheerleader, and every ounce of happiness in her life is based on making it to the varsity squad her freshman year. Oddly enough, this school doesn’t seem to have a junior varsity anything, and the squad is a meager six girls. No wonder they’re willing to kill each other; they have to go above and beyond to make up what is more like half of a squad.

In her quest to beat out all the nasty, petty girls at school, she proves to be even more shallow than them all. For example, someone shreds her uniform and she has a very public melt-down that would make any parent ashamed. She’s not going to live it down anytime soon, but she couldn’t care less in comparison to her trashed uniform. Throughout the entire book she has the maturity of a five-year-old. She takes offense at each little infraction, thinks horrid thoughts about every other girl, throws a hissy when the guy she thinks is a dork, but she might like a little even though she deems him a loser, is spotted kissing some other girl. Thankfully, she’s incredibly superficial and the next day he becomes her boyfriend and she later professes her true love for him.

She’s not the only girl to give teenagers a bad rep. For being such a tiny book, there are numerous instances that made me cringe. The girls are vicious, nasty, have egos that rival Madonna, and take capricious to a new high. They cannot figure out whether they hate each other or they are besties. Within one paragraph, Dakota is going to tear her former best friends’ (there are two and you can safely pick either one in this scenario) hair out and then she is ready to “forgive” said girl for all the ways she wronged her. To clear things up, they all wrong each other over and over, until I had a headache from rolling my eyes.

Supposedly, there is a sociopath who is meant to drive the story and provide suspense. Warning: there is no suspense. Out of seventy chapters, maybe three are dedicated to that individual and they last thirty seconds. The author took the bad guy right out of the book. Then comes the great revelation. It was far from great, although it was a revelation, since any of these girls could have easily been the one slashing tires and killing kittens. That particular character has basically zero action, so it had to be tied up with a bow in a long paragraph at the end that explained why she was crazy. There are no hints and she is given only a cursory description, which I immediately forgot. If you’re looking for a book where you actually have to think and guess, move on.

After everything that happens, Dakota is still so immature that she thinks it is quite a shame that the evil cheerleader is evil, because she could have been great the following year. She tried to kill people, so it would make sense that her cheerleading abilities are inconsequential, but not according to Dakota. As wretched as these teens are, the adults are sorry excuses for parents and teachers. From the mother who spoils Dakota rotten to the coach who goes into graphic detail about kitten innards, they are a disappointment which explains a lot about these kids who are in desperate need of a conscience.

Overall, the writing is very basic and unengaging. It reads like something a teenager wrote and fits perfectly with Dakota’s bipolar thoughts. Don’t let the title fool you; this is not a horror story. This is baby Dean Koontz and lacks suspense completely. I was so disturbed by these teens that the “evil acts” took a back seat. This series came highly recommended, but the only redeeming moment I found was when Dakota ponders why her mother’s sandwiches taste better, just because she makes them. The fact is food made by others, especially a loved one, always tastes better. This was the one poignant moment.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – It’s hardly suitable for teens. I’m thinking more along the line of tweens. Adults should definitely steer clear. As for genre, it’s supposed to be horror, but it falls into the category of underdeveloped stories for teens.
  • Level of sexuality – Zero. If there had been any, I would have been very concerned. I was relieved that they were too busy being jealous and mean to even think about it.
  • Is there graphic language? Nope. They think and act like children, which leaves the dirty words out.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Did I cry? Tears of frustration and then tears of joy when I finished.
  • Is this part of a series? Sadly, yes. It is book one of Horror High.
  • Level of character development – What character development? Not only did this book lack plot, suspense, and relatability, it lacked actual characters. Dakota is spoiled and thinks only of herself. That is how it starts and how it ends. Everyone else is a varying level of a clichéd, boring character who lacks a real personality.

I had looked forward to this book. It has great reviews and I was hoping for something to keep me on the edge of my seat. It does have the word horror in the series, after all, so how could it not. The book is tiny, but it took me days to finish. Every time I picked it up I couldn’t bear it and down it went. Finally, I forced myself to finish. The last seven or so chapters are dedicated to the so-called ending and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Then, as an afterthought, the author tosses in a little epilogue that makes the reader rethink what they just read. It was a weak attempt to gain interest and took ten seconds to read. Needless to say, it did not entice me to continue the series. On the other hand, more than a few people have rated it highly. I suspect they might be about twelve years old, don’t have children, don’t know the actual definition of sociopath, are void of real empathy, or more than one of the above. I am sorry to give this ⭐️ star. I’d like to think that the author put forth some effort, but it was dry as beef jerky. One redeeming quality that many amazing indie books lack and I’m happy to point out here – I didn’t come across any typos.

Available here on Amazon

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The Cellar by Richard Laymon – Beast House Book 1

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Donna Hayes is a sweet-natured woman with a monstrous ex-husband and an entertaining teenage daughter, Sandy. The day Donna finds out he is freed from prison she hits the road, taking Sandy and running as fast as she can. Roy Hayes truly is an undisguised horror, released upon the world and is now hunting his wife and daughter.

Malcasa Point may not be the typical tourist stop, but it is not unheard of. How can it not be known, when its main draw is a place of murder, called the Beast House? There have been eleven mysterious killings since it was built, in 1903. Those few who have survived talk of a hideous beast with claws. The current owner, Maggie Kutch, left the house in 1931, after the murder of her husband and children. She makes her living by displaying the house to those who are curious and not overly disturbed by monsters and murder. She is a seriously creepy woman with a cold attitude towards death, uncaring of how her tour is perceived, and takes far too much enjoyment of her mannequins who mimic death. I didn’t care for her one bit; she is definitely an unsympathetic character. However, she is perfect for this story.

As Donna and Sandy drive away from their home, Donna prays she is leaving Roy Hayes far behind; he can’t possibly know what direction she has chosen. Unfortunately, it is at Malcasa Point that she loses her way in the fog and drives off the road. She and Sandy are okay, but the car is not going anywhere anytime soon. They find a hotel with the help of another creepy character, Axel Kutch. Donna discovers that the creep factor of Malcasa Point is off the charts.

When Sandy talks her mother into taking the tour of Beast House, Donna is fortunate to meet Judgment Rucker and Larry Maywood. She would be stunned to find out the real reason Jud and Larry are taking the tour. Jud’s calm demeanor provides the courage needed by Donna to pursue her interest in him and gives her strength when she finds his interest in Beast House has dragged her right through its door in the dark of night. Gradually, several people are drawn into the story of Beast House and they will never be the same.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book. Horror gives me the willies, which is the point of reading one. As I read, I was intrigued and completely drawn into the tale of ignorant people rushing headlong into danger and the fact that they truly thought they could conquer anything.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Horror for older teens and adults.
  • Level of sexuality – High.
  • Is there graphic language? Yes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? Not until the end.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, the Beast House Series.
  • Level of character development – I thought the characters were well-developed and I enjoyed most of them and the parts they played in moving the story along.

I cringed every time Roy Hayes showed up. He is a totally evil individual and I hoped he’d drop dead, or meet some other detestable fate. I’ll leave that to you to find out, but his story heightens the tension in the book. The other characters are drawn to Beast House and the monster, which provides a terrific storyline. Overall, I really like the book, however, the ending was heavy-handed and earned ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Survive at Midnight by Kayla Krantz

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This is an amazing book to follow after the first two. Personally, I didn’t read either, but I didn’t need to. This is one book that gives you all the details you need to truly enjoy it. There was plenty of back story and the history was easy to follow. While I wish I had been able to start from the beginning, I’m still excited that I got to read this one.

Luna is probably the loneliest girl on the planet. Only a few years out of high school and pregnant with no friends. Why? Because mostly they are all dead. Murdered in numerous and vicious ways. Even the relationship with her mother, Rose, is painfully strained. She spends her days lamenting the loss of her loved ones and developing a connection with her baby. The father is her mortal enemy, so it’s not an easy thing to do, but she grows to love her baby immensely.

So much happens in this book that it is hard to discuss it without giving anything away. Suffice it to say that it’s a roller coaster of emotions and jumps from one “No way!” moment to the next. I wondered through the entire book whether what was happening was real. It seems her enemy is not exactly who she thought he was and that revelation has dire consequences. Chance, the villain from the previous books, did a marvelous job at isolating her and destroying everything of meaning in her life. He had a grand exit in the second book, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of Chance.

The story does an incredible job of taking someone who is despicable in every way and whose past behavior can only be described as pure evil, and turning them into someone human and a person to sympathize with. It is not a task accomplished right away, though. So much goes on that the reader must grow along with the character to get the real emotion behind it. At times it is very difficult to read and disturbing doesn’t quite cover it. The question is who is Luna really. Who is she becoming? Was she always destined to become an extension of Chance? Can she turn around from the path she has started down? The answers are only found at the end of the book, when your jaw is on the floor and you feel Luna’s pain and desolation.

From the very beginning I was sucked in. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and I only saw three ways out: prison, asylum, death. The author proved that I wasn’t thinking outside the box and I was relieved to discover that it had the perfect ending. The story remains consistent from start to finish and carries you through Luna’s journey as she evolves. There were several issues that caught my attention. The story is definitely not your everyday tale with realistic interactions, but the fantastic never bothers me. It was the little things, like Rose expecting her daughter to pull herself out of her grief in a matter of weeks, or an obstetrician doing house calls in the matter of fifteen minutes. If only that was true, then a pregnant woman’s experience would be much easier. It was only these moments of un-believability that interferred with the flow of the story. Keep in mind, though, that I’m a stickler and pay attention to the little things.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Paranormal for adults. Definitely not for teens.
  • Level of sexuality – None. Her pregnancy is already a done deal when the book begins.
  • Is there graphic language? Nothing that impacted me or my reading experience.
  • Did I cry? No, but I felt her sorrow and her confusion acutely.
  • Did I laugh? Absolutely not.
  • Is this part of a series? You bet. This is book three in The Rituals of the Night series. Book four is due out later this year.
  • Level of character development – Luna has a complete makeover. Throughout the course of the book she becomes an entirely different person. It is a fantastic example of how a character can start out as one person and, through internal and external forces, do a one-eighty.

This is a suprising and chilling tale. Do not approach this book lightly and prepare yourself for many shocking moments. I love Luna and the way she is torn between her old life and her new. At times it felt like Stockholm syndrome, but she ultimately chooses who she becomes. The ending is satisfying and this is a book that I would gladly read again. I was so engrossed that I cannot give it anything under ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars. Well done, Ms. Krantz.

Available here on Amazon

Infected by Scott Sigler

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Originally, this was a slow read and took me several days to finish. It’s not bad writing, just wordy with a high page count. I would get bored and wander away – for the whole day. But that’s only for the first half. It gets better.

The writing is somewhat centered on Margaret and Amos, who are the only scientists in the nation that are allowed to know about the infection (the title gives that tidbit away) and will hopefully soon understand how to defeat it. This requires a good amount of guesswork and fiddling with disintegrating, goopy bodies. Overall, they’re almost as clueless as I am. I did grow to like them, but not a whole lot. They are trying to save the nation from this horrible infection, so I would expect to see a little more drive and ambition. Definitely some demands made upon their employer; they have very little to go on and a small amount of help or tools.

When Perry Dawsey was introduced, I was fascinated with his character. He’s full of emotion, a need to be the best, and the ambition to overcome his childhood raised by a highly abusive father. Fortunately, he has his best friend, Bill, who is the only source of stability Perry has ever had in his life. They met in college where he had earned the name of “Scarey Perry” as a football player. It’s safe to say that he’s got some anger management issues. He’s also the main character who is infected. I believe that it is his mental hang-ups that make him a man who will not go down without a fight.

Perry, along with several others, has no knowledge of being infected and when he starts having a most amazing case of itching, he thinks he can wait it out. When this turns into a continuous distraction and hinderance, he is finally sent home by his employer. Perry sees no purpose in doctors or anti-itch creams, but comes to think that he just might need both. Pulling up his sleeve, he sees a blue triangle under his skin and soon discovers others on his body. I found the triangle intriguing, but the itching business needed to be dealt with straightaway. Fortunately, it does subside, but the triangles don’t. In fact, they’re rather busy making themselves at home in his body.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, but the second half of the book is where I got caught up in the story. We follow Perry as he battles physically and mentally against the infection. Also, the other characters come into play and, finally, we have a fascinating story. Suddenly, everyone, including me, is enlightened and we get an inkling as to who, what, why, and maybe when. I couldn’t tear myself away from it and finished the last half in one day. My final say on this book, is give it a try.

Now, the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Science fiction and for adults.
  • Level of sexuality – There wasn’t enough room in the plot for sex.
  • Was there graphic language? Yes. If I had uncontrollable itching and blue triangles I’d swear too.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No, it’s not that kind of story.
  • Is this part of a series? This is a cliffhanger. The second is Contagious, which is followed by Pandemic.
  • Level of character development – They developed slowly and not fully to my satisfaction, except for Perry.

Because I found the first half of the story slow, but a powerhouse of action in the second, I have to give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars. Perseverance paid off. The last half was powerfully written, grab your skirts (ladies) and go, go, go!

Available here on Amazon

Arisen: Nemesis by Michael Stephen Fuchs

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Staff Sgt. Kate Dunajski is military through and through. Eighteen months ago she was in the reserves, hoping to pay for school. Then she was called upon to serve in Afghanistan and finds, after three deployments, that her niche is helping the people of that country. Instead, the military decides she belongs in Somalia, Africa. This is where it starts.

Her arrival is met with utter chaos, spilling throughout the town and a certain amount of confusion at Camp Lemonnier, her station. People are firing guns and fighting to get through the gate, onto the base. Helicopters are bringing in wounded soldiers and suddenly the bullets are coming her way. About this time I was able to put myself in her shoes and wonder, “What would I do in this situation?” She does the same thing I would have. She ducks and hides. After that she makes the decision to run for the JOC, or Joint Operations Center. FYI: There are a ton of acronyms in this book, so you might want to jot them down for reference.

At first I was completely confused, until I realised, just keep your eyes on the people; that’s where the action is. Bullets herald her boisterous entrance into the building, but the numerous people around her, sitting at tactical stations, hardly take notice. Each person has a specific job and each is utterly absorbed by it. Thankfully, she is approached by a soldier who introduces himself as her teammate, Elijah. He takes her under his wing and she is able to observe, without the fear of being shot.

From this point on, the story becomes more about the team. All, except for Kate, have been together for a long time and know each others’ quirks, vices, and aspirations: the fun they have quoting movie lines that fit any given moment in their daily lives, to knowing that when times are frighteningly serious they can count on each other to have the primary goal of protecting the team.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There is a lot of action and it’s not just about Kate. It’s about her blending into the unit and being a soldier just as much as anyone else. It’s about these capable men realizing that she is as driven as any other soldier when it comes to the fight. The title alone informs readers that there is a nemesis. However, is it Triple Nickel or is it someone else? That question is part of the excitement of the book. Even though there is an epidemic and, unfortunately, there are zombies running around, that is not the focus of the story. This is a large series with plenty of room for zombies and everybody else. The undead do affect how some things get accomplished or not, but I recommend this book for several other reasons. First, the action is a huge draw, then there are the exhilarating wins and devastating losses, and overall, I wasn’t bored for a single minute. The characters were engaging and the ending was a surprise. Although, I did find that the epilogue is just a lead-in to the next book and it was not particularly interesting.

My rating:

  • Genre and reading age: Definitely action. I think a teenager interested in military action would enjoy this book and, of course, adults.
  • Level of sexuality: Very little.
  • Was there graphic language? Some, but not too bad.
  • Did I cry? No. It’s almost as if the story prepares you for the fact that there are losses in battle. Was I saddened? Absolutely.
  • Is it part of a series? Yes, there are several other Arisen novels, including a prequel.
  • Level of character development: It was very well done.
  • Did I laugh? The subject was serious, but there were a few grin-worthy moments.

Overall, I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon