Category: reading


book review, paranormal, reading March 31, 2016


Hello everyone! I’m back after a break during which my sprogs have been off school for spring break. Mixed feelings, people, mixed feelings.

I want to jump right back into the swing of things with a review of a book I enjoyed while we traveled to and from Austin (which was great fun and included much people watching).

Woman in White is not my first time reading the work of Kristin Dearborn. I enjoyed her debut novel, Trinity, loved her story Sacrifice Island (my review of it here), and I’ve had the privilege of listening to her read “Spider Cheese” on a couple occasions. Woman in White  maintains Ms. Dearborn’s reputation for weaving an excellent tale.


(I hate spoilers.)

At the beginning of the story, we accompany poor Dennis to his girlfriend’s house in the backwater town of Rocky Rhodes, Maine. A blizzard rages as he makes his way along an isolated road and, to his surprise, finds a woman in the storm. He offers the silent (creepy) woman help, and it’s the last we hear from Dennis. Remaining is a great deal of blood, but it cannot be linked conclusively to Dennis… nor anyone else.

When big-city forensic scientists arrive in Rocky Rhodes for what they think will be an open-and-shut case, they’re shocked by what and who they don’t find.

What follows is a story bathed in blood, missing men, a startling lack of forensic evidence, and women determined to stop the disappearances. Three women from differing backgrounds come together to solve the mystery and, possibly, save their town.

This is a different take on the classic “white lady” urban legend. Unlike a typical ghost story, Dearborn’s woman is tangible, in very surprising ways. I was delighted to find that Dearborn upends the trope with something new and fresh.  Her characterization brings the residents of Rocky Rhodes alive, and gives them authentic struggles in the small-town atmosphere.

Dearborn describes the blizzard raging in Rocky Rhodes to perfection. There’s something so effective about a horror story set in the snow… it muffles normal sounds and makes communication and travel difficult. The blanketed town feels stifled and claustrophobic.

I particularly liked the forensic angle Dearborn adopted by rendering the evidence unusable. If a substantial amount of blood doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, not even the person to which it is assumed to belong, then the presence of the blood merely adds to the mystery. What’s going on when fatal amounts of blood are found at crime scenes, but no one knows who the blood belonged to? Good questions, and ones that the scientist side of me appreciated.

Highly recommended read.

You can find Woman in White here for your Kindle. More information about Woman in White is available at DarkFuse.

Find out about Kristin Dearborn at her website:





Book Club for Horror Enthusiasts

book clubs, book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, reading, reading with a purpose February 7, 2014

Hey everyone!

For a last several months, I’ve been a member of the DarkFuse Book Club. For a flat fee, you receive many, many titles delivered to you for your ereader. If you enjoy horror, particularly horror that isn’t mainstream, and if you enjoy supporting a great publisher and its authors, please do check this out. This has been a really great bargain and I’ve received some titles I’ve truly enjoyed (I will be reviewing some of them in the coming weeks).

I am in no way affiliated with DarkFuse, nor did they ask me to write this. I’m just really pleased with what they’ve offered and I don’t want it to go away. If you love horror and want to support the community, check it out. It’s 100% worth it. I linked to it above, but here’s the link anyway:

Have a great weekend and happy reading!

Book review: Sacrifice Island

book review, genre fiction, paranormal, reading, Uncategorized January 21, 2014

Happy New Year intrepid readers! I hope the holidays treated everyone well and you all began 2014 refreshed and ready to go!


Me, neither. The holidays tend to drain me… so busy and too much food.

2013 was such a weird year… many good things happened for me (short story and novel release, conventions galore), some bad (I crashed my motorcycle), and it was difficult to watch a few close friends go through some really painful times. I can’t decide if it was a wonderful year or just one that will go down as a strange year. Either way, it’s one for the record books.

So onward and upward!

Let’s start this year right with a review and a recommendation. Sacrifice Island is a novella released last year by Kristin Dearborn.

sacrifice-island This novella takes a monster of myth from the Philippines and turns it into something new. A duo of paranormal investigators heads to a tropical island to write the next chapter in their book on haunted locations. They’re out to uncover a mystery left behind in the diary of a young woman driven to suicide. They get more than they expect.

Jemma’s character grabbed me first. The reader learns early in the story that something’s not quite right with Jemma, but I couldn’t tell exactly what or where it would lead. I was intrigued with Jemma… she’s very cold despite the friendliness of her companion, Alex.

Jemma certainly grabbed me, but it was the setting that kept me reading. Dearborn uses vivid descriptions and lots of detail to really make the island stand out. I know she visited the area, and her familiarity with the tropical setting shows.

Once the investigators reach the island, there’s a lovely slow burn to the climax. Dearborn builds the suspense subtly and the puzzle of what’s happening on the island is in the forefront. Can Jemma and Alex find out what happened to the writer of the diary before the island claims another victim?

I give Sacrifice Island five stars for the intriguing characters, the lush setting, and the awesome monster.

End of the year and plans for next year

reading, reading with a purpose, writing life November 19, 2013

So it’s mid-November. I’m thinking about wrapping up 2013 and moving to 2014. This year has been momentous in a lot of ways… some good, some not so good, some devastating, some amazing. A crazy ride all the way.

For the remainder of the month, I’ll be finishing up a rewrite of my thesis novel. I hope to finalize plot elements for the sequel to Habeas Corpse and get another 50 pages or so of it written by the end of December. The sprogs will be off school for half of December, so that will make it challenging.

Looking forward to 2014, I’ve got a few conventions and retreats on my schedule and lots of writing to do.

This is actually my work planner, but the calendar will be different for next year. Geeks unite!

This is actually my work planner, but the calendar will be different for next year. Geeks unite!

One thing I’m putting in my schedule for next year is to read more books, novellas, and short stories. I’m a paper-and-pen planner, so there will be a spot designated in my calendar for weekly titles. I think I’ll try for two novels a month and at least a novella or a couple of short stories a week. I’m going to try for one new movie a month as well, preferably something off the mainstream radar. I’d like to be more active on Goodreads and posting reviews here, so this is my way of getting those goals underway.

Have you done anything like this? Do you have any suggestions for me? Is planning my reading material one month in advance adequate, or should I go further out than that? Thoughts, opinions, suggestions, additions to my to-be-read list?

Let me know! Leave me a comment and tell what I should be reading (remember I want short stories, novellas, and novels) and watching (something out there) in the coming few months. I hope everyone is enjoying Habeas Corpse!


Special pre-release sale and pre-orders!

editors, genre fiction, Habeas Corpse, marketing, publishing, reading, release, SHU WPF, zombies October 23, 2013

I started to type the title of this post as BIG NEWS! HUGE NEWS! and then realized that I *might* want to retain a smidge of dignity.

I don’t know why, because I am truly excited for you to finally meet Theo!

First thing, here’s the cover in its entirety… and seriously, Mike Arnzen wrote the most awesome blurb ever.

Habeas Corpse final cover

Here’s the whole blurb:

“Dexter meets Deadite in Nikki Hopeman’s HABEAS CORPSE — and what a treat this novel is. It’s rare that a debut novel can reignite a subgenre, but Nikki Hopeman’s book just might be the most clever zombie story to hit the shelves in quite some time. Hopeman writes a book with brains, in every way:  fun and funny, gory and glorious, this witty tale of an undead ‘Riser’ who bends his unique talents toward investigating crime has single-handedly resurrected my interest in brain-sucking freaks.  Such a clever premise.  I can’t wait to read her next one… but till then I think I’ll happily just read this one again!” — Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Play Dead.

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Arnzen at Seton Hill, and he’s amazingly talented and a really wonderful teacher. I was floored by the blurb and am humbled.

So, on to business!

Habeas Corpse is available at a special pre-release price of $2.99 for the Kindle only for a few days. Get yours here. You can also preorder the paperback edition here.

This has been such an incredible journey for me. I owe a huge shout-out to RJ Cavender, who helped make the book what it is and Marc Ciccarone and Joe Spagnola of Blood Bound Books for seeing the potential in Habeas Corpse. They’ve been so great to work with.

And now it’s up to you, my lovely readers. I hope you love Theo in all his zombie dorkiness as much as I do.

Out with the old, in with the new

publishing, reading, releases, writing and technology, writing life December 31, 2012

Happy New Years’ Eve to all my friends!

I finally convinced my webmaster to update my website. He’s still cursing over adding cover art, but he’ll get there. Or I’ll take his cookies.

2012 was a good year for me… books were completed, short stories written, submissions sent, my first professional writing contracts were signed. As I sit here with my trusty laptop and a cup of coffee, I think back on a year that wasn’t bad at all.

On the horizon is 2013. I’m so excited to move forward and see my projects in print and continue these fabulous professional relationships. I see many good things in the future, and I wish the same for all my readers and friends.

Guest blog: The importance of choice in creating readers

genre fiction, guest blog, reading, writing life, writing parent August 29, 2012

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series so much is that it provides choice for young male readers. In a bookstore filled with female protagonists, Maberry offers a cast of strong male protagonists alongside the strong females. Benny is so identifiable and Tom is a great role model.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Sara Kajder. Sara has worked in both university settings and in grade schools, but has loved working with middle school learners. She has a background in English literature and received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Also important to this blog series, she’s the mom of two boys. As an educator and a parent, she understands the unique challenges in fostering interest in reading among the boys. In this guest blog she tackles the gender gap in literacy. As she points out, examining the choices that our kids are making in reading material is key to fostering their interest. Maberry’s books have been a great choice for us.

“I teach eighth grade English in a curriculum that is chock-full of the standard-faire… Grammar.  Vocabulary.  Etymology.  Writing.  And, oh yeah – reading.  Lots and lots of reading.  For some reason, this seems to be the area in which I receive the most “Bless your heart” comments when catching up with old friends or describing my work when meeting new ones.  This is followed by a nod of a head, a sigh, and the lament that “Those boys just don’t read…”

Looking across my summer reading list last night, some bits of that did look to be true.  In a randomly chosen class of 18 (with 12 boys and 6 girls), the female students out-read the boys by 3 books to 1.  According to their initial reflective writing, 3 of my 12 boys were gregarious readers with the other 9 quick to embrace the title of “non-reader.”  Their entries describing their reading were notably brief, as was their list of favorite authors, books re-read, and time, on average, spent reading each day.

Here’s the thing… None of this surprised me.  And, bigger – I, and loads of reading scholars and researchers, believe that a real literacy gap doesn’t exist.  Yes, some boys can take longer to learn how to read.  And, yes, significantly more boys than girls, especially adolescents, will label themselves non-readers.  However, given the opportunity to self-select titles from lists which understand their interests, my male students will rise – and quickly.  ALL readers become better readers by reading more, whether they are girls or boys.  I work hard as an English teacher to build reading communities in my classroom, so boys have the opportunity to recommend books to one another (as we all know that peer to peer connections are infinitely powerful).  My role is to support, to facilitate, to know students (and books) well enough to know what might ignite a particular fire in a reader, and to constantly seek out model readers with whom male students (and female ones, too) can see, question, hear, and emulate.

Readers who are skillful, passionate, habitual and critical grow from powerful interactions with texts that actually act on them.  My boys don’t usually get that from the now abundant female-protagonist, post-apocalyptic YAL that line the shelves of our local bookstore.  Their choices do fall into some of the patterns/myths that you’d expect – nonfiction abounds alongside graphic novels, science fiction, and the growing list of series about sports and adolescent athletes.   Independent (read: not on the school-approved list) choices this summer ranged from Conan-Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville to Meyers’ Fallen Angels to Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  They weren’t drawn to Sarah Dessden’s approach to writing about relationships, but they did connect with Walter Dean Myer’s work that does explore relationships between men across contexts ranging from scenes of combat to competition the soccer field.

We discussed their choices in class today, and the predominant message was one that centered on the power of choice.  Building life-long readers is about helping students to make smart choices about their reading.  Adult readers revel in our idiosyncrasies and expect the freedom of choice.  The boys in my classes need to do the same.  Students talked about making reading easy and inviting, which often means backing off of our expectation that all texts be “literature” and making room for alternative modes and media.  Even bigger, my students talked about time.  We live in a time that is marked by speed and an odd push to make sure that we schedule every second of our children’s time.  Malcolm Gladwell talks in Outliers about expertise as something that can only happen once we spend at least ten thousand hours engaged in a particular practice.  From school, most of my students head to at least two athletic practices (or a game) per evening, not counting the time needed for homework and other commitments like music and rehearsals.  Reading stamina is important. You can only get it by reading regularly and building the “muscle memory” that helps students identify what makes good writing work.   Summer seemed to provide the single space for the majority of my boys to slow, to pick up a book, and to get lost in story.

All readers deserve the opportunity to become better readers.  Choice, time, and stamina… I’ve written all three into a heading for my planning book for the term, and, just as importantly, I  have them saved as a prompt to remind me as a mother of two boys to foster growth in my own sons.  It’s amazing what we can learn from kids when we listen to their practices, their choices, and what they have to say.”

Many thanks to Dr. Kajder for taking the time to talk with us!

Guest Blog: Dystopian fiction with author Jenn Loring

guest blog, mixed genre, reading August 22, 2012

My love for Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series is firmly established. While I’m thrilled that my son also loves the books, I’m also curious as to what makes these kinds of settings so universally popular across generations. While I appreciate the dystopian setting for my own adult reasons, what attracts a younger reader to such a depressing world? It’s lots of fun to create our family’s zombie apocalypse survival plan over dinner, but by reading Maberry’s series with my son, we’ve been able to broach some heavier subjects like bullying and grief. What draws a carefree twelve-year old into dystopian stories?

Jennifer Loring, fellow author and my guest blogger for today, has some excellent thoughts on this subject, as follows.

The dystopia has been a fixture in science fiction and horror almost since the inception of those genres. Wikipedia defines a dystopia as “the idea of a society, generally of a speculative future, characterized by negative, anti-utopian elements, varying from environmental to political and social issues.” A number of the 20th century’s great works of fiction, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, are dystopias that explore the political and social issues present in a society ruled by an autocratic government. In recent years, however, dystopian fiction and its close relative, post-apocalyptic fiction, have enjoyed their greatest popularity in young adult novels. What draws countless teens to depictions of an utterly dismal future, and what can we learn about the modern young reader from the success of these books?

While Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series preceded it, the success of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy thrust the YA dystopian into the spotlight, where it has continued to thrive ever since. As the YA market in general evolves, darker and edgier themes have become the norm, and nowhere is this more evident than in the dystopian. A number of reasons for the genre’s popularity have been debated by fans, critics, and scholars alike; here we will examine several of the most prevalent theories. The first is that teens today are more aware of current social and political problems, and that YA dystopians are a warning of danger to come. In the age of the Internet and instant news, few teenagers can claim ignorance of the world around them. The YA dystopian speaks to the notion that there may not be a future if teens are not proactive in recognizing the problems that affect all of us and doing their part to help steer us away from the cliff. The choices a teen makes can have just as much impact as those of an adult. It can also warn against the perils of unrestrained technological advances, an important point to make for young readers who frequently believe they cannot live without smartphones, iPods, and video game consoles.

The protagonists of both YA and adult dystopias often rebel against society and its oppressive rules. Teens naturally find this appealing, as they typically live under their parents’ roofs and spend most of their days in an overbearing high school environment. Dystopian protagonists act out teenaged rebellion on an epic scale, and in the service of freeing their fellow citizens from repression; thus teens can live vicariously through them. In these books teens are the heroes, the possessors of the knowledge and power to reshape society, whereas in their daily lives they may feel like powerless children subject to the rules of parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Jana Riess notes in What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, “…sometimes people reach heightened maturity more by questioning authority than by obeying it” (73). Authority itself is not evil, but blind obedience to and abuse of it is, and dystopian authors instill in their readers a healthy distrust of anyone who claims to have one’s best interests at heart. These young protagonists have become their own moral agents, and they must overthrow that which conflicts with what they know to be right and wrong. In school teens contend with bullying, peer pressure, violence, and many other concerns. At home the issues may be even worse. Novels set in repressive societies in which only teens have the strength and wisdom to topple the socio-political order become powerful metaphors for the daily struggles of modern teenagers.

That said, the final reason so many teens have embraced YA dystopian may be the simplest: these books illustrate how much worse their lives could be. Whatever the challenges posed by school, parents, or peers, the teens reading YA novels are not forced to kill each other, harvested for body parts, retroactively aborted, exiled from their communities, imprisoned in fortresses, advertised as sexual objects, or experimented on, all at the hands of their governments. YA dystopian stories lend perspective to teens who are so often tempted to melodramatically declare that their lives “suck.” The imaginations of YA dystopian authors can envision far greater horrors than the average teen reader is likely to ever encounter, thus engendering a sense of sympathy for those less fortunate, whether it is for a teenager in a fictional future world, or a child on the other side of the planet who does not have enough to eat. YA dystopian’s greatest strength lies in its ability to make readers think about the world in a way they may not have before and, most importantly, to recognize that what truly matters comes from within.

As global crises such as climate change, war, or the possibility of a new pandemic loom ever larger, the market for YA dystopian fiction shows little sign of slowing down. Whether the events depicted in these books ever come to pass remains to be seen, but they have much to teach us about ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, the generations who will inherit the world we leave behind.

Riess, Jana. What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

Jennifer Loring has published nearly 30 short stories and poems in various webzines, magazines and anthologies, and received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for her short story “The Bombay Trash Service.” She holds a BA in studio art from Mercyhurst College and is studying for her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Jenn also works as an editor for Musa Publishing’s YA imprint, Euterpe, and writes for You can find her online at

Book review: Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, reading, writing parent August 15, 2012

I love to see my kids read. Creating a reader requires material that excites them, that keeps them interested. In today’s world of fast-paced video games and thirty-minute cartoons, this isn’t easy. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series fits the bill and then some. It engages young male readers with a dystopian story of survival in a zombie wasteland, and fills a void left by many of the YA dystopian books on the shelves.

Last week I offered reviews of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin from both myself and the target audience. Today I have similar reviews of the second installment in the Benny Imura series, Dust and Decay.

I loved the second book as much as the first. We return to our favorite characters, Benny, Nix, Tom, Chong, and Lilah as they prepare to leave Mountainside for good in search of an elusive vision they hope will lead them to more humans and some semblance of civilization. New characters join our merry band along the way, including a pair of 30-something surfer dudes who made me chuckle. I’m not sure the target demographic will appreciate J-Dog and Dr. Skillz the same way I do, but that’s okay. I always appreciate the kids’ movies that include humor for the adults, so this just added a little something for me. Sally Two-Knives became a solid favorite for me– a strong female character with a wry and wicked sense of humor.

The journey, which begins as a short test of their ability to survive in the great Rot and Ruin, quickly turns into the fight of their lives. A nightmare returns, a wicked place surfaces, and Benny and the crew must banish their demons once and for all. A price is paid, and we’re left wondering where our friends will go and how they will get there.

This book offered many of the same discussion opportunities with my son as the first. We talked about trust, since Benny and the crew find themselves in several situations in which they have to choose whether or not to trust someone they don’t know. We touched on personal responsibility even in the face of humiliation when one of our characters makes a choice that endangers the entire group. These are excellent discussion points for kids, and the subject matter helps to get boys talking.

Here’s our guest review for the day:

I am Jacob Hopeman and I’m back to write this review of Dust and Decay from a young readers standpoint.

Benny Imura, Nix Riley, Tom Imura, Lilah, and Chong want to leave the town and search for a jet that they had seen earlier. Also Gameland is back and working so they have to destroy it once and for all. Plus Charlie Pink Eye has come back to haunt them in a zombified form.

The book is different from Rot and Ruin because they don’t just go out and back in town. They want to leave town so they are always in danger and they are not just learning to fight, they have to use the skills Tom taught them.

Benny Imura is my favorite character again because in this book he takes a part time leadership role in my perspective. He also has to do most of the thinking because he isn’t the best fighter in the group anymore. He also leads them through a bunch of twists and turns. All of this I like a about a certain character.

I like the book because it has a definite amount of suspense like when the thousands of zombies come pouring down the hill right to where Benny is. Also because, like Rot and Ruin, Dust and Decay has happy and sad parts. Examples are: Sad: Lilah has been living alone on her wits for so many years and its kind of sad that she had to be alone. Or, Happy: they live through the giant zombie attack.

I would most certainly recommend it my friends because the book itself is a very good read.

PS: Thanks again, Mr. Maberry!

In the coming weeks we’ll feature two guest bloggers discussing both the recent popularity of dystopia fiction and the importance of creating young readers. We’re most excited to offer a prerelease review of the upcoming installment to the Rot and Ruin series, Flesh and Bone, due out on September 11, 2012.