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The Final Box – Book Review

Matthew1Matthew Williams’ The Final Box is the third anthology of short stories I’ve read and reviewed from this author.

Such was my admiration for his short stories, I was delighted to be allowed to include two of them as guest contributions in my own debut anthology of short stories… Not What You Thought? and other surprises

 

Matthew Williams is a new and aspiring young writer who has been writing ever since he can remember. Like myself, he is a great fan of ‘twist in the tale’ stories, and tries to include them in his own writing. In his spare time he is working on a number new writing projects, including a new children’s book, and a Young Adult (YA) novel.

Further links to Matthew Williams and his writing can be found at: 

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Matthew Williams’ Amazon Author page:

www.twitter.com/williamsmatthe5

Author Matthew Williams Fb group:

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The Final Box

By Matthew williams

(Available from Amazon Kindle)

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mw1This is the third of this author’s short story anthologies I’ve read and reviewed, and once again I’ve not been disappointed in my expectations. Not every story worked for me in quite the same way as in the two previous anthologies but having said that, one of the things that impressed me here was seeing the way the author has taken his stories in different directions rather than relying on a tried and trusted formula in serving more of the same; whereas all of the author’s previous stories were humorously light-hearted with a definite twist at the end, some of the ones here are more abstract and open ended. A couple of the stories did leave me wondering at the end, but never was I failed to be entertained. As always though, I found I had finished the book all too quickly, and especially given the more abstract tone here, felt a longer collection would have been in order. Having said that, every story was well written and equally well crafted, and anyone who has read the author’s previous works will I think see a certain maturing in his writing, and a willingness to venture into new territory. Matthew Williams is a writer who is equally adept at making the reader laugh as he is at pulling the heart strings, and as I’ve seen here, getting the reader thinking, and I enjoyed the new direction he has taken in this latest anthology.

Another very entertaining collection, and one I would highly recommend to flash fiction fans as well as those of the more traditional short story.

Matthew Williams’ previous short story anthologies – click on thumbnails for details:

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* Two stories by Matthew Williams also featured in my own debut anthology:

Not What you Thought

Park Avenue to Park Bench – Book Review

 

Short story writer and poet, Mike Domino, is yet another very talented writer I discovered via my Indie Author Review Exchange Fb group. Previous to Park Avenue to Park Bench Michael Domino published three books of short stories and a novella: Wandering MindCadillac on the BoweryLoud WhispersTime to Pay the Rent

Author Michael Domino found his voice first as a writer of poetry. He composed two collections titled Cadillac on The Bowery and Wandering Mind.  From there he moved on to the art of the short story after realizing that many of his poems and prose were in fact stories in the miniature.  He is now working on his first Novel. Further information and links to the author’s works can be found at:

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http://parkavenuetoparkbench.com 

& at his WordPress blog: 

http://michaeldominowriter.com/

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Park Avenue to Park Bench

By Michael Domino

(Available from Amazon in both eBook & print formats)

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MD1We’ve all seen pictures and film representations of New York but here we have a collection of short stories that really portray the everyday life of its inhabitants and the character of the city, from the splendid sky scrapers to the dingy motels, of high flying business men to the street side bums. What impressed me most was the author’s ability to truly put me in the shoes of the characters, as though I too were walking those same streets and avenues of that great city. The language and terminology all had a distinct New York feel – even if you’ve never actually visited New York, you really feel as though you’re there; Michael Domino takes the reader into the heart of his world, telling tales that are a splendid mix of both the past and present, and of the changing face of the city as its many old buildings and enterprises slowly give way to the new.

Whilst there is a real and uplifting ‘feel good’ factor enshrined within the streets and character of New York throughout the book, every facet of the city and its varied inhabitants are explored here; a billionaire business man whose gone from rags to riches, hence the title of the book, second and third generation Italian/American pizza restaurant owners adding to the rich character of the city, the stereotypical private investigator meeting up with a client in a pizza place, ex-convicts living by their wits, a gypsy fortune teller giving a self-doubting writer a glimpse of the future, and above all, stories of everyday people going out of their way to help their fellow New Yorkers; any perception of New Yorkers as being too busy or too focused on their own lives to allow time for their neighbours are emphatically dispelled here.

The writing and descriptive elements were without doubt absolutely brilliant, and the dialogue was as rich and varied as the stories and people themselves. What was also interesting was that not one of the stories relied on any sort of twist in the tale or contrived ending to give them meaning, relying instead on the story as a whole to provide the reader’s enjoyment. I did feel a couple of the later stories in this collection veered away slightly from the character and feel of most of the early and midway ones, but not to the detriment of the collection, showing as they did a slightly different perspective. There’s no doubt that much of the author’s own life and experience has gone into these stories, as he clearly states in the introduction, giving each story a genuine authenticity. One of the best short story collections I’ve read in years, and as a committed fan of the genre, that’s quite something. Looking forward to reading more from this author…

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Michaels Domino’s other works: click on thumbnails for details

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Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads – Book Review

katerina1This is a book that came to my attention via my IndieAuthorReviewExchange Fb group. The author, Katerina Sestakova Novotna, was born and raised in the Czech Republic. She lived in New York where she went to college. Currently she is living in Hawaii. She holds a Masters in Philosophy; her specialties are ethics and comparative philosophy. She has written numerous essays on those subjects. Her first collection of short stories “Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads” is the subject of the following book review.
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Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads, by Katerina Sestakova Novotna
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)

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This debut collection of short stories is the absolute epitome of originality and dark imagination; although there are only five stories here, it’s important to note that they are somewhat longer than the average short story, placing them almost in the mini novella category. Set on the island of Hawaii each story gives the reader an insight into the mythology and traditions of the indigenous population there, mixing it up with all the darker elements of psychology, comparative religion, and vengeful gods, along with the all too human traits and motivations of its modern day characters.

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Among these stories there are tales of human and animal sacrifice, the bigotry and bitterness of an old war veteran, the untimely end of foreign prostitute, and the equally strange and horrific conclusion to another foreigner’s stay in Hawaii. Some of the stories are written as a narrative, cleverly imparting information about Hawaiian folklore whilst still driving each story forward. Although each of these stories might well be described as dark with a touch of psychological and mythical horror about them, each one is unique in its presentation and theme, but with the common thread of Hawaiian culture and folklore as the vehicle for each tale. There is some mention in one of the early stories of there being no written text of Hawaiian beliefs as there is for Christianity or Judaism, but rather an oral tradition of such beliefs being passed down from generation to generation; the narrative style is in each case perfectly in keeping with this oral tradition, reading very much as you might imagine a tribal elder telling of the ancient stories and myths to an eager young audience, and in this respect the narrative style works extremely well. In others though, the author switches to very convincing and well written and sometimes explicit dialogue to advance the story, and amid the esoteric names and language associated with Hawaiian culture, the author maintains an authentic credibility with her use of some modern terminology and reference to some of the darker sides of modern culture..

These five stories were highly original and imaginative in the way they used island folklore as the framework for them, yet cleverly interwoven into present day themes and settings, they achieved a real believability that is sometimes missing in similarly themed stories. I would have liked a more definitive ending to some though as I did think in a couple of the stories, the endings were a little too open ended, leaving a tad too many unanswered questions, but overall these were five extremely entertaining and well written stories, well researched, and due to their longer lengths than the average short story, were able to really engage me in a way that that I find quite rare with short story collections. Highly recommended!

The Room – Short Story Review

This isn’t one of my normal book reviews as such, being a review of a single short story instead. One good thing about about Amazon is that it allows authors to upload and publish individual short stories that for practical reasons would not be viable via the more traditional or mainstream publishers. The Room by John Brunton is an excellent little short horror story I discovered when he joined my Fb book review group. John Brunton doesn’t have a blog site (yet), but I’m sure he’s a writer we’ll be hearing more of in the future…  

 

The Room, By John Brunton 

(Available for download via Amazon)

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This is a short story that might well appeal to fans of both the more traditional horror genre as well as those who like their horror dosed with a fair degree of psychology and mind games – think ‘Stephen King meets the Twilight Zone’ and you’ll be pretty close to what kind of story this is.

As the author rightly points out, there is some strong content here in terms of what is happening and the language, but it’s all within and essential to the context of the story. In a short story such as this, it’s difficult to say a lot without giving too much away and possibly spoiling it so I’ll keep it brief: What we have is a man, Paul, who finds himself in some strange room, plagued by whispering voices and the sight of a bloodied dead woman, and those same voices urging him to harm himself too. Right from the start the story poses questions to the reader, drawing them in as to why and how he came to be there, whether any of it is actually real. The author creates a good sense of urgency, fear, and grief in the early part of the story, and as the story moves on, skilfully portrays the changes in the Paul’s perception of what‘s happening most effectively.

There are some good transitions in the story, and overall the writing is very professional. Just a couple of minor points on that though – there are a couple of times, particularly early on, where there’s some repetition of words and phrases, and I would have preferred a more consistent and traditional approach to how the dialogue was presented, but apart from that, the storyline and its conclusion was first rate. For entertainment value it would definitely warrant a 5* rating but as I said, a couple of stylistic preferences didn’t quite work for me hence the 4* rating instead. But would I buy/read anything else by this author? Absolutely!

 

 

 

 

Not Like Other People – Book Review

LesleyHayes1This is the second of Lesley Hayes’ books I’ve read,  having already reviewed ‘A Field Beyond Time’.  I first discovered this author’s books by way of Twitter (who says Twitter doesn’t work?), and after some initial chat, emails, and taking a look at her blog I added ‘A Filed Beyond Time’ to my read & review list. This is however the first short story collection of hers that I have read and reviewed.. again, it won’t be the last….

Lesley Hayes has been writing ever since she was a child. Since then she has been published in several woman’s and literary magazines, read her stories on BBC radio, and in 1986 had her first novel, ‘Keeping Secrets,’ published. In addition to that and ‘A Field Beyond Time,’ Lesley Hayes is the author of several more successful and well received novels. Further information and links to her writing can be found at:  

http://www.lesleyhayes.co.uk

http://blog.lesleyhayes.co.uk

https://twitter.com/hayes_lesley

 

 

Not Like Other People, By Lesley Hayes

(Available in eBook format from Amazon)

LesleyHayes1A truly fascinating and poignant anthology of ten short character driven stories that centre on the lives, loves, and emotions of its characters; just as in real life, not every character here is one we sympathise with, and nor does every story end with a ‘happy ever after’ conclusion – stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, occasionally heart warming, but which never fail to captivate the reader’s full attention.

In addition to the stories, there is an informative preface outlining the author’s approach to writing these tales, and how they differ from writing from that of a novel, giving the reader a real insight into them right from the start.

Although each story is entirely different in its theme, scenarios, and characters, the writing style remains consistent, characterised by crisp sharp sentences and dialogue, with just the right balance of description and dialogue to drive each story forward and keep the reader intrigued and entertained throughout. What was especially impressive about the dialogue was that despite there being ten different stories, and many more characters to contend with, each character still possessed their own unique voice, personality and attributes, and the imagery and descriptive prose of each never fell into any sort of predictable pattern.

Many of the stories don’t follow the usual short story format of a clever plot-line followed by the customary twist in the tale ending, instead concentrating on the subtle interactions between the characters, and whereas many short stories rely on the reader’s imagination to ponder on the ‘before and after’ of the story, here the reader is treated to brief yet fascinating self-contained interludes of the character’s lives, which allow you to really enjoy and immerse yourself ‘in the moment’ so to speak. Yes, each story ends in such a way as to either enlighten or surprise the reader, but the endings are mostly of the more subtle or gentle ‘aha’ moment.

Anyone who likes their reading to challenge their perceptions as well as entertaining them will not be disappointed: Intelligent and well written, highly entertaining and thought provoking, I cannot recommend this anthology more highly!

 

Other Short Story collections by Lesley Hayes:

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13 Strange Short Tales – Book Review

This is a great little anthology of stories I discovered via a retweet on Twitter. The author, Charles E Wells, is a prolific writer and author, having written some twelve books. As well as creative writing, Charles Wells has in the past enjoyed a varied career that has included both print and online journalism. Although not a blogger, he does have a very impressive website and portfolio of his writings and background at:

http://www.charleswells.us

 

13 Strange Short Tales, by Charles E. Wells

(Available in both eBook and print formats from Amazon)

 

13 strange talesThis anthology of strange tales is one that effortless blends the genres of science fiction and the paranormal. In many of the stories the author cleverly settles the reader into a world of complete normality, often just before plunging them into another dimension, the afterlife, or some other place in-between. There is good use of authentic dialogue and detail to both drive the stories forward, and to convey character. I would also say that many of the stories here are among some of the cleverest and most original I’ve read in these genres, covering such topics as inter-dimensional travel, heroism, destiny and fate. Some of the stories employ the tried and tested ‘twist in the tale’ style, whilst in others the author allows the conclusion to simply speak for itself, and to set the reader thinking. Although there was a running theme of Sci-Fi and mystery, there was a great variety of settings and scenarios, and no two stories were alike, thus ensuring the reader was kept entertained throughout every tale.

For anyone who remembers watching and enjoying the ‘Twilight Zone’ or ‘Outer Limits,’ these stories will definitely appeal to those fans, as well as to all those who enjoy a sense or originality and mystery in their Sci-Fi. Extremely well written, and for an eBook, well presented and formatted too. Will certainly be reading and reviewing other books by this author in the future. Highly recommended!

 Further links to other books by Charles E. Wells: 

The Whispering Pines series –

book1

book2 book3book4book5book6book7book8book9

 

Hear The Sunshine

HearinglossSee also:   https://twitter.com/Charles_E_Wells

 

Whacky Stories with Twist Endings – Book Review

This is a four book collection of short stories by John M. W. Smith, a writer who has had many stories published in the women’s weekly magazines and literary journals. The author originally contacted me after reading one of my previous reviews offering to send me a preview copy of Volume One of his Whacky Stories series in return for an honest review. Having looked at the freebie pages of a couple of his books on Amazon, I was sufficiently impressed to actually buy the first book in this particular series, and after having enjoyed the first one was more than happy to buy, read, and review the other three in this series.

I think any aspiring writer who writes or would like to write short stories with surprise endings would do well to take a look that at the style and technique of John M. W. Smith.

His website is:  http://jmwsmith.webeden.co.uk/

Blog:                    http://johnmwsmithswackyweeklyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter:              https://twitter.com/wackyscribe/

 

Whacky Stories with Twist Endings  – Volumes  1 to 4

(Available in eBook format via Amazon Kindle)

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Volume 1:

This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the latter stories the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.

The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.

By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.

Volume 2:

Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.

For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.

Volume 3:

Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.

Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.

What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such technique, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.

I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended…

Volume 4:

This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘whacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.

One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.

Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership, but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…

Twilight – Book Review

Twilight: Short Stories

by Maurice Northmore

stars5A great variety of stories here, many treading a fine line between the mainstream and the surreal. Loved it!

694b4bdf7183a2d82767668a9580d9bbe9922491-tinyThis anthology is aptly named; the stories tread a fine line between the mainstream and the surreal. The variety of settings and scenarios never fail to hold the reader’s attention and take them somewhere new with each story, whether it be during a storm aboard a transport ship or the cells of a Bangkok jail. In each story the author skillfully manages to set the scene and atmosphere to such an extent the reader really does feel like a fly on the wall of what’s happening, which is quite apt as in one of the stories, a very clever and original idea, the narrator is indeed, ‘a fly on the wall.’

At nearly sixty thousand words, this is no throw-away effort of slightly elongated flash fiction, but a real collection of well written and thoughtfully developed stories that keep the reader thoroughly entertained, effortlessly combining elements of the adventure genre with that of the thriller and suspense.

Some of the stories follow the tried and trusted short story format of providing the reader with a clever and unexpected ending, whilst in others they simply draw to a logical and satisfying conclusion, thus keeping the reader guessing and intrigued right to the end.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of the short story and novella genre, and indeed anyone who enjoys reading well-written stories of any length.

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See HERE for Amazon links to all the author’s works …

Twist in the Tale – Book review (& ebook article)

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Twist In The Tale, by Mathew Williams (available on Amazon kindle)

A great little collection of short stories, each with an unexpected ending that surprises or makes you smile, or both. There’s a nice variety of stories here, from the heart-warming to the slightly dark, so the reader is never quite sure what they’ll be getting next, but is never disappointed. One particular story, ‘Only Make Believe’ was as gentle and heart-warming as is hard to imagine, and, without giving anything away, the final line brought as wide a smile to my face as I can remember.

If I had to make one tiny criticism, and it’s nothing to do with my enjoyment, it would be that I would have preferred a slightly more informative description in the amazon blurb as there really isn’t enough grab the ‘potential’ reader’s attention. And on a purely selfish note, I would have liked a few more stories to make for a longer read. Well worth reading…

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 Ebook & Self-Publishing?  Some personal thoughts on the matter…

Despite its success, the whole ebook and amazon kindle phenomenon has not been without its critics, and concerns about its effects on the more traditional publishing industry. It’s true that the advent of the internet and the rapid expansion of free or relatively inexpensive self-publishing via Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and a host of others has resulted in a lot of, shall we say, ‘less than professional’ writing to be made available.

Proponents of traditional publishing might well argue that with a traditional and well known publisher, the reader is assured of the quality of the writing in advance? I don’t know about your experiences but for myself, I’ve read some pretty awful stuff in traditional print too, long before Amazon was little more than a barely known webpage.

In answer to the last point though, if a title and cover grab your interest, then both Amazon and Smashwords provide the facility to browse through free samples of whatever you’re considering buying. And since many of the books, including most of the classics on both Amazon and Smashwords are either free or in many cases, less than a few pounds, such arenas have made reading a lot more accessible and affordable for a lot of people. I know my own reading has doubled, if not trebled, in both quantity and variety since I got my Kindle.

Much of the early criticism of self-publishing was by way of comparison to ‘vanity publishing’, where hopeful writers might be lured into parting with thousands of pounds following exaggerated praise of their work and promises of best-selling success. But today? Self-publishing is completely free with little more than a few basic internet skills, and even without those skills, it can still be achieved with for little more than a hundred pounds or so. Yet still there is criticism that any amount of money aspiring writers might spend promoting their work is at best, optimistic, and at worst, delusional. But why? Not every amateur writer has aspirations of becoming the next Zadie Smith or Harold Robbins. For many, it’s just an enjoyable hobby, so why shouldn’t they spend whatever they like on it if it brings them satisfaction? Apart from writing, other hobbies of mine include cycling, outdoor pursuits, keep fit, sports, all of which I’ve spent money on over the years; if it’s acceptable for golfing and motor cycling enthusiasts to spend hundreds, if not thousands on their hobby, without the slightest hope or intention of profiting from it, why not writers too? Even bloggers, for whom their writing platform is the simplest and freest of all, might well spend a small amount for a premium theme to improve the look of their work.

The evolvement of the self-publishing arena can in many ways be compared to that of the music industry. In the past ten or fifteen years we’ve seen the virtual disappearing of all the traditional mediums of music. Vinal and cassette tape are now largely collectors items; even the CD is losing ground to the ipod and digital downloads. Many of today’s biggest recording stars started their careers building their audiences on the likes of Youtube and Myspace. And even the traditional method of ‘gigging’, is that so very different from blogging?

Whatever one might think of ebooks, the Kindle, Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and many other forms of self-publishing, they’re all here to stay in one form or another. Let’s embarace and make the very most of them….

A to Z Stories of Life and Death, by D.Biswas – Book Review

AtoZ

A to Z Stories of Life and Death, by D. Biswas  (available on Kindle and via Smashwords.com)

This anthology of flash fiction / short stories is one I discovered while blogging, and certainly glad I did. For any aspiring writer who enjoys both reading and writing in the flash fiction / short story genre, this is well worth reading, not just for its enjoyment value, but as a lesson in literary writing.

As delightful and thought provoking an anthology as I’ve read in a long time. The stories themselves fall largely into the flash fiction genre and occasionally the vignette, though to pigeon-hole them this way hardly does them justice. The settings span the globe but are set mostly in the Asian sub-continent and the far east. The topics and social issues they deal with are both difficult and provocative: domestic abuse, poverty, sexuality, and exploitation to name but a few.

As a European reader, I was captivated by the author’s accounts of life in other cultures, many of which are saddening and hard to comprehend; our (European) notions of poverty and deprivation are quickly turned on their heads by the honest and sensitive way in which they form the backdrop to the stories. Elements of the storyline in each case often deliberately remain unwritten, i.e. implied or hinted at, forcing the reader to use their imagination and interpret each story in their own way and really think about what they are reading. Some of the stories conclude with a glimmer of hope for the future set against the harrowing circumstances of what’s gone before; others do not, which for me really gives them added authenticity – life isn’t all about happy endings.

If all the reader is looking for is light entertainment then this book probably isn’t it, but for stories that really engage the reader, gets them thinking, challenging their own perspectives and thinking, then these twenty six literary jewels would be hard to surpass.

Nicholas C. Rossis

dream-protecting author

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