Title: The Skull Ring
Author: Scott Nicholson
Number of Pages: 160 (PDF)
Summary: Julia Stone will remember, even if it kills her. Many years after the night her father disappeared, a night of chants, pain, and strangers in robes, the past follows Julia tot he North Carolina mountains when a mysterious silver skull ring makes her the focus of a shadowy, sinister cult. Walter, a local handyman, tries to help her, but he has his own secrets. And the ring is closing in…
Price: $1.99 – $14.95, depending on format
Author Bio: Scott Nicholson is the author of seven novels, including The Skull Ring and The Red Church. He’s also written more than 60 short stories, most of which are collected in Flowers, Ashes, and The First. He’s written six screenplays and several comic book series, including Dirt and Grave Conditions. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and operates the interactive writing manual Write Good or Die. His Web site is www.hauntedcomputer.com and his blogs are at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com and http://writegoodordie.com.
Julia Stone’s locked door is unlocked. Wood blocks spelling out her nickname are on her coffee table. Her digital clock is stuck on the same time; 4:06. Her shut window is wide open. Eyes stare at her from the darkness outside. Someone is obviously trying to gaslight her. Or maybe she’s just crazy. After years of therapy, Julia is having trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what isn’t. And she doesn’t know whom to trust. Her therapist who’s trying to help rid her of panic attacks? The local handyman who keeps showing up at her door? Her long-time boyfriend who is anxious to get married? Her nosy old neighbor? Or are they all just creeps like the nameless, faceless entities she conjures in her mind?
The Skull Ring is a psychological thriller, one that had me hooked from beginning to end. In fact, I stayed up till 2:00 a.m. reading the last six chapters because I just couldn’t put it down! I particularly liked Julia Stone; she keeps fighting to maintain her sanity, and rather than act like a helpless victim, she uses her background as a reporter to investigate her own past. She’s determined to overcome her panic attacks through therapy rather than drugs, and once she realizes the true character of someone she trusted, she doesn’t hesitate in rejecting him. She has moments of wanting to give in and give up, but she doesn’t. She keeps trying to overcome whatever obstacles are holding her back, whether they be real or imagined.
The Skull Ringis well written, highly suspenseful, and avoids being preachy despite its religious undertones. The ending was fairly satisfying, because I totally believed the methods and motives of some characters; for instance, the sheriff and the therapist. They had vastly different outlooks on how they wanted this story to end, but I believed them both. I liked the idea of a “long con” being played, and I like the idea of one (or more) fanatical true believers in a cult. But I don’t buy big decades-long conspiracies, especially one that leaves mutilated bodies in its wake. No one notices a pattern? Really? I won’t go into any more detail because I want to avoid spoilers. But I was a bit disappointed in some of the concluding reveals.
I also felt a few loose ends were left hanging, such as Julia’s aversion to a barn near her childhood home. She has a horryfiing memory while in the barn, but it’s never clearly explained how she came to have that particular memory. We’re left to our own conclusions about it, but I prefer things more clearly spelled out at the end, especially when the story has us constantly guessing between the reality and fantasy of the main character’s experiences. We also never find out specifically what happened to Julia’s father–we pretty much know what, just not the how and where. I would like to have known. Morbid curiosity, I suppose. And how the heck do you get a digital clock to stay stuck on the same numbers?
But despite my complaints here, I did enjoy the story overall and look forward to reading more from Scott Nicholson. Be sure to read my interview with him.
Click here to buy the paperback or Kindle version.from Amazon
Archive for March, 2010
The author of seven novels, Scott Nicholson used traditional methods in finding publishers for his first few books. That is, he racked up rejection after rejection from both agents and publishers until one agreed to accept his latest manuscript. Recently, however, he decided to try e-publishing. He released a novelette, Burial To Follow, in late December to test the waters, and followed up with an ebook version of his first published novel, The Red Church. Pleased with the results and the positive feedback from new readers, he released his latest ebook, The Skull Ring, earlier this month. The Skull Ring (read my review here) was originally slated to be released by a publishing company, New Moon Press, that folded the beginning of this year. In an email interview, I asked Nicholson to give his thoughts on publishing in the digital age:
When you decided to self-publish, how did you determine which websites should sell your ebooks?
I didn’t know much about e-books until the end of last year. I’d had some on Fictionwise in the early part of the decade but didn’t think much about them or get many sales. I had been doing the agent hunt and it had been too long since I’d had any sort of market presence and I wanted to stay connected with readers and stay inspired. Amazon is the simplest and best place to publish ebooks because millions of people shop there. I eventually added my books at Smashwords and a couple of smaller sites, and I’m staying on top of any new markets that might emerge because of the iPad and other e-book readers. Amazon is still the champ by a knockout.
Has it been more difficult to promote your self-published works vs. your traditional print books?
It’s simpler. I never had any promotional budget, but I did a lot of store signings, spending my own money and time to drive all across the region. Of course, I also used the Internet for my paper books, but it still was a case of hoping people would remember you as they walked through the bookstore. With e-books, the reader can make the decision instantly, and e-books are cheap enough that they qualify as an “impulse buy.” Since by its very nature it’s on the Internet, you are already connected to your potential audience. And the feedback can be instant as well. It feels like a more intimate and immediate way to connect with the reader, because I fully believe the writer only presents half the book and the reader completes the other half.
What advice do you have for writers who are looking into self-publishing?
Make sure you have tried every avenue in New York, tried every good agent and publisher, though of course fewer are open to new writers. Don’t do it for instant gratification or the “easy way,” because you should challenge yourself to improve and compete with the best, while staying true to your vision. I had over 400 rejections before I sold my first novel The Red Church, which is now getting a second life as an ebook and doing well. I’m a much better writer because of it, and I work hard to give the reader a book that has a lot of heart and craft and time in it. I want the reader to trust and rely on me, too.
Do you write full-time, or in addition to another job?
I am a reporter, so I do write all the time, just not always fiction. I’ve been very lucky and get to meet a lot of cool people and get in weird situations. So it helps my novels and stories. Julia Stone in The Skull Ring is a reporter, and there are cops and lawyers, people I’ve worked with. I was also a carpenter and maintenance man for apartments, so that goes into the character of Walter.
Do you have a regular writing schedule?
I try to write every morning and get two pages done. If I don’t, then I work on it at night. Sometimes I can get six or eight pages done in a day, but I also have revision, promotion, and other aspects of a writing career to address. If I need a break, I go out to my garden or pick up a guitar. I love all of it and I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.
Scott Nicholson is the author of seven novels, including The Skull Ring and The Red Church. He’s also written more than 60 short stories, most of which are collected in Flowers, Ashes, and The First. He’s written six screenplays and several comic book series, including Dirt and Grave Conditions. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and operates the interactive writing manual Write Good or Die.
Title: No Date for Gomez!
Author: Graham Parke
Format: Ebook: Epub, Kindle, PDF, Custom PDF
Number of Pages: 38 (PDF)
Summary: Gomez’ attempts to secure a date with the new girl in his building are nothing if not unorthodox and alarmingly awkward. But, as fortune would have it, this is not your typical girl next door. This strange creature hides a dark secret, one in which Gomez may well find himself caught up.
No Date for Gomez! is a prequel novella to the No Hope for Gomez! series. It is a complete and stand-alone story. No Hope for Gomez! is now available from Amazon.
No Hope for Gomez! is Graham’s fiction debut. You can visit his website at www.grahamparke.com.
When Graham Parke sent me an email requesting a review of No Date for Gomez!, my initial inclination was to turn him down. The description of his novella didn’t quite appeal to me, and neither did the cover. (I know, I know, don’t judge a digital book by its cover*.) But since I like to give authors a chance to win me over, I looked to see if by chance there was a preview of the first chapter to read. (I like to read a snippet of any book before I pass final judgment.) To my surprise, the entire ebook was a freebie! I downloaded the PDF version, figuring I’d read the first few paragraphs, hate them, and thus feel no guilt in sending a kindly rejection email.
But the first sentence got me interested, so I read more, then a little more, and by the time I finished the first chapter–a mere 2½ pages later–I was hopelessly hooked. I had planned to do some productive work on the computer (paying bills, working on taxes, etc.), but instead I spent the next hour or so reading the entire story, smiling and laughing practically the entire time. No Date for Gomez!is absolutely hilarious.
Gomez is a nerdy, nice guy (sort of like Peter Parker at the beginning of Spider-Man, before he gets his spidey superpowers) who is completely clueless when it comes to people of the female persuasion. He falls for the beautiful new girl in his building, Gretchen, and immediately tries to come up with schemes to get her to go out with him. His priority is to show her how cool he is, so that when he gets around to asking her out, she’ll say yes. Unfortunately, he becomes tongue-tied whenever he runs into her, so their conversations typically go something like this:
Gomez soon becomes convinced Gretchen is annoyed with him, which turns out to be true, but not for the reasons he imagines. My only confusion after finishing the novella was that the dark secret Gretchen is hiding isn’t revealed or even hinted at. When I asked Parke about that, he said that there is more to come. I can’t wait!
No Date for Gomez! is the most fun read I’ve had in a long time. Do yourself a favor; turn off the depressing news, skip the latest episode of Lost, and read this instead. It’ll put you in a better mood.
*Update: Parke provided a new cover that I like better; that’s the one posted here.Disclaimer: “No Date for Gomez!” is a free download. My reviews are not influenced by receiving free review copies, nor am I compensated any other way for reviewing books. I may provide affiliate links where books can be purchased, but I do this on my own.
Title: Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
Author: Beth Pattillo
Number of Pages: 272
Summary: Claire Prescott is an unemployed office manager from Kansas City who leaves behind her nice, if somewhat neglectful, boyfriend to attend a Jane Austen seminar in Oxford, England. There, she discovers the original manuscript for Pride and Prejudice titled First Impressions. Rumored to have been destroyed centuries ago, it reveals Austen’s secret struggle to find the right leading man for Elizabeth Bennet. Was she really supposed to end up with Mr. Darcy after all?As Claire pieces together Austen’s original story, she crosses paths with a dashing stranger—her own Mr. Darcy—who causes her to question the direction of her current relationship. But Neil’s unexpected arrival in Oxford complicates Claire’s quest to find her leading man, and she realizes that a true hero can appear in the most unexpected places. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is a lively mixture of humor, romance and intrigue perfect for the Jane Austen fanatic to the hopeless romantic.
Author Bio: Beth Pattillo currently resides in Nashville, Tenn., with her husband and two children. Her passion for all-things Jane Austen began when she studied abroad for a semester at the University of London, Westfield College. She has made regular trips across the pond for the past 20 years, the most recent of which took her on a pilgrimage through Hampshire, where she visited many of the sites featured in her popular book, Jane Austen Ruined My Life. Pattillo is also the author of The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society (WaterBrook Press, 2008), Earth to Betsy (WaterBrook, 2006) and Heavens to Betsy (WaterBrook, 2005), for which she was awarded the RWA RITA (Romance Writer’s Association) award for Best Inspirational Romance. Visit www.bethpattillo.com for more information.
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart isn’t your typical paperback romance, and for this reason alone I loved it. First of all, the heroine, Claire Prescott, isn’t perfect. Through the course of the novel she realizes her own frailties and flaws and by the end of the book she has made steps towards becoming a better person. She doesn’t blame everyone else for her problems. She learns that having a dashing “Mr. Darcy” sweep her off her feet doesn’t heal all hurts, nor does it rescue her from the realities of life. Her character’s motives and actions rang true for me, and it was refreshing to read a romance that didn’t espouse the notion that all a woman needs is a rich, handsome guy to magically wave away her neurosis by marrying her.
The secondary storyline, that of Claire meeting a slightly daft elderly woman, Harriet Dalrymple, whose greatest secret is ownership of the original First Impressions manuscript (which was destroyed after Jane Austen reworked it into Pride and Prejudice), was a delightful twist in the story. Pattillo imagines how the original plot may have differed from the story we all know, and treats us to her version. I was just as interested as Claire in reading the scraps of manuscript pages doled out to her over the course of a week’s time. For me it was a fun diversion from the main story; for laire it helped provide insight into how her life got off track and the motivation to correct it.
Amidst Claire trying to help Harriet with the secret manuscript and becoming ever more attracted to the dashing James Beaufort, her boyfriend unexpectedly shows up, threatening to ruin the little house of cards she’s built for herself during her week-long excursion in Oxford. Claire has to figure out what to do with an angry boyfriend when she’s got a chance to snag a Mr. Darcy of her own. I was completely satisfied at her solution—and the conclusion of the novel itself.
Overall, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is a fun and breezy read. I loved the humor and the light-hearted tone. The only thing I didn’t like is that due to my schedule I could read it only in bits and pieces over the course of a month. I hated having to put it down to attend to more pressing matters–I felt like Claire having to wait for the forgetful Harriet to find another section of the First Impressions manuscript! I recommend this book, especially if you’re tired of reading the same old retread romances.
Title:The Side-Yard Superhero
Author: Rick D. Niece
Number of Pages: 260
Summary: “I know where Bernie Jones is.” With one late-night phone call, Rick Niece is transported back over forty years to cherished childhood memories of small town DeGraff, Ohio. His daily newspaper route, the sights and wonders of a traveling carnival, the sounds of Christmas caroling-the idyllic memories all circle back to one special relationship.To Rickie, being friends with Bernie Jones was no different than being friends with any other boy in town. Bernie’s physical world was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from being an intrepid daydreamer, adventurer, and hero to Rickie. The unique friendship the boys forged defined an era in both their lives. When he left for college, Rickie promised Bernie they would meet again. Now, decades later, he is making the pilgrimage back to Ohio to fulfill that promise.
Author Bio: When he was four, Rick Niece’s family moved to DeGraff, Ohio, a town of 900 citizens. Life in DeGraff was good, and the lessons learned from treasured friendships still inspire him today. As president of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, Dr. Niece and his wife, Sherée, are the proud parents of 675 students.
In The Side-Yard Superhero, Rick Niece recalls his childhood friendship with Bernie Jones, a boy in a wheelchair who is confined not only by his own body, but by the limitations imposed by the 1950’s and 60’s small-town society. When Niece becomes a paperboy in DeGraff, Ohio, population 900, one of his customers is Bernie Jones’ parents. Bernie doesn’t attend school–special needs children had few opportunities for education in those days–but he does spend a lot of time sitting outside in his wheelchair. Niece is afraid of Bernie at first, and has a disasterous first meeting with him. But after a pep talk from his father, Niece takes the inititive to try again, and so begins a long friendship. After Niece leaves for college, he loses track of Bernie. Decades later, he discovers where Bernie is, and sets out to see him, as the happy and bittersweet memories come flooding back.
I admit to being predisposed to like The Side-Yard Superhero, simply because I grew up in a small town myself (and still live here.) But even if you didn’t grow up in a small town, this book is a delight to read. The Side-Yard Superhero is a mixture of humor, adventure, and memorable characters. Rick Niece has fond memories of the people and events that shaped his childhood, and it shows through the way he tells his story. Although the main theme of the book is Niece’s friendship with Bernie Jones, many chapters describe other people Niece grew to know during the years he delivered newspapers. One such person was Fern Burdette, a “brassiere wearing, hard drinking, wooden leg walking, frequent spitting, world interesting” retired newspaper jounalist whose best friend was a dalmation named Duke. Another was Miss Lizzie Moore, a recluse whose fiancé had been killed in France during World War I. Then there was Mary Waite, an invalid who requested Niece read the obituaries to her when he delivered the paper. These and other colorful characters weave through Niece’s tales of childhood exploits and revelations of universal truths.
Funny and poignant, The Side-Yard Superhero is well written, and my only quibble is that the chapters aren’t perfectly chronological. For instance, one chapter takes place during Niece’s teenage years, while the following chapter takes place during his childhood. This made me a bit confused at times, because afterwards I wasn’t always sure of his age when he started a new tale in a new chapter. However, I can’t think of a better way he could have organized the chapters/stories, so I really have no cause to complain.
Niece calls his book an “automythography” which he defines as “A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact.” Whether or not everything happened exactly as Nieice recalls it, he tells it well, and I loved reading his “iridescent” version of life in DeGraff. I highly recommend reading it.Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Side-Yard Superhero for review from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists. I subsequently lost the book on a trip to Rapid City, SD, so bought a replacement copy from Amazon. My reviews are not influenced by receiving free review copies, nor am I compensated in any other way.