ARC REVIEW: Manipulated Lives – by H.A. Leuschel

Title: Manipulated Lives
Author: H.A. Leuschel

Genre: Short Stories, Realistic Fiction, Psychology
First published: June 8th 2016
Finished reading: May 14th 2017
Pages: 274

“Can there be only one truth? What if we are all creating our own truth, as we often need to, on a daily basis?”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have a weak spot for realistic fiction stories with a psychology angle, so I was immediately intrigued when I first read about Manipulated Lives. This is actually a collection of five short stories about five different characters who have had to deal with manipulators at different stages of their lives and the damage this experience has done to them. I enjoy reading short stories every once in a while and it definitely takes a whole different set of skills to write them properly. Manipulated Lives is without doubt an example of excellent short story writing. The stories were both intriguing and did an excellent job of describing the complex emotions and reactions to the manipulations. Without doubt a great read if you like the genre!

I will be doing this review slightly different than usual and both give a quick summary and my thoughts on each of the five short stories below instead of having a separate summary section.

The Narcissist
This collection starts strong with a story about a manipulator with Alzheimer not longer remembering why he is incarcelated or what he was doing to his family and others during all those years. This memory angle made the story into a truly fascinating read and it was interesting how the main character reacted to certain things and learn more about what he did in the past in the first place. Not my favorite of the bundle, but without doubt one of the better ones.

Tess And Tattoos
The second story was one of my favorites and a really accurate, intriguing and heartbreaking description of how manipulators can truly ruin someone for life… Tess is an interesting character and an older woman who now lives a lonely life and never has anyone visiting her. Her friendship with Sandra is touching and I love the symbolism of the tattoo. Interesting ending as well!

The Spell
The third story is probably one of the most detailed ones and one of my favorites. It’s impressive how many twists and how much character development is included in this short story.  It’s about Sophie meeting a little boy Leo and later his father; she is charmed by Leo right away and that connection makes her blind for the strange vibes his father David gives off. It’s true Sophie is a bit naive, but I guess manipulators always look for ‘weak/easy’ victims and it’s truly interesting how David is able to worm his way into her life that fast.

Runaway Girl
The fourth story is about a younger manipulation victim; the teenage Holly. This one is probably my least favorite of the bunch even though it is an accurate description of a situation that happens all too often at high schools (unfortunately). What I found less credible is that the main character Holly was first described as an independent and smart teenager and then seemed to be completely blind around Luke even though he’s basically a classic manipulator. But it’s definitely another eye-opener when it comes to how one manipulator can damage a lot of victims when not stopped on time…

My Perfect Child
The last story is about a woman thinking her child is perfect and overprotecting him ever since he was born; indulging him in everything and turning him in a skilled manipulator. She didn’t want to see her child as anything less than perfect and ignored all the signs for so long that it was already too late to change direction… Not one of my favorites, but without doubt a great example how love imakes someone blind and can change perception of both daily situations and their consequences.

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I have been wanting to pick up this collection of short stories about different characters dealing with the consequences of manipulators for a long time now, especially since I’ve seen various glowing reviews in the past. And I’m definitely glad I finally picked it up, because I really enjoyed reading them. Every story deals with a different angle and they are truly fascinating. My favorite story would be between the second and the third story; my least favorite probably either number four or five, but this doesn’t mean they weren’t still good. If psychology fascinates you or you enjoy realistic fiction in general, Manipulated Lives is definitely a great read.


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ARC REVIEW: Silence Under Screams – by Collin Henderson

Title: Silence Under Screams
Author: Collin Henderson

Genre: Short Stories, Horror, Thriller
First published: October 19th 2016
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Finished reading: March 30th 2017
Pages: 108

“I could hear the sound of my own breathing over the humming in the room. It filled my ears, quickened my heart, took control of me and didn’t let me go.”

*** A copy of this collection of short stories was kindly provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’m a bit ashamed it took me this long to pick up this collection of short horror stories, but I’m glad I finally gave Silence Under Screams a go. I was in the mood for a proper horror read to inaugurate the upcoming Autumn months, and this was just what I was looking for. This collection by Collin Henderson is a real treat: you get to have FOUR different horror subgenres/styles all in one bundle!

I will be doing this review slightly different than usual and both give a summary and my thoughts on each of the four short stories below instead of having different sections.

 Silence Under Scream starts out strong with a short story called Old Strings… Basically a tribute to every B horror movie out there and delightfully creepy! It’s about a crazy Hollywood director coming back as a puppet and has all the classic B horror movie moments. A lone cabin in the woods… Check. Creepy creature attack moment… Check. Lots of graphic scenes… Check. Classic surprise moment… Check. Do you need more? A little warning for swearing and graphic descriptions, but Old Strings was one of my personal favorites.

The second story is called Deus Ex Corpus, and is without doubt something completely different. It belongs to a genre called bizzaro and partly inspired by an author called Jeremy Robert Johnson. I have to admit it might have been a bit too much for me to handle… This story is about a strange sect worshipping a strange god and an undercover journalist trying to get her next article, and it was without doubt nothing like I have ever read before. It’s a bit too weird to my taste and is packed with heavily graphic scenes… Don’t read it if you are grossed out easily or don’t tolerate for example the mention of body fluids. It does seem to be a good example of the genre though.

The third story is probably the most ‘light’ horror read and is mostly phsychological. It’s called Stranger and sort of a coming of age story where a trauma/scary childhood moment keeps haunting the main characters as they grow up. I liked the fact that the ‘monster’ appeared in their nightmares and how things evolved. It’s not too scary, but without doubt still an interesting read (and maybe a welcome little break from the graphic scenes as well.)

The final story is called Fake Man Watches and is without doubt fascinating. It shows that the author is trying to give the story a ‘Stephen King‘ feel, because I had exactly that impression while I was reading it. It’s probably my favorite of the bunch and it is also the longest story of the collection. As in most of King‘s stories, Fake Man Watches talks about a very realistic situation and adds a surreal element to it with just the right dose of creepy… The abusive situation at home both Stephanie and Justin have to endure is something all too real unfortunately, and is very well described. I also liked the ‘fantasy’ element and the whole final scene in the cabin in the woods. Lots of twists for such a short story as well!

As you might have guessed already, I really enjoyed reading this collection of horror stories. My favorite would be between Fake Man Watches and Old Strings for completely different reasons; the first for the mix of different elements and just the right dose of suspense and terror, the second for the entertaintment factor and tribute to B horror movies in general. My least favorite would be Deus Ex Corpus, but that’s more due to the fact that the genre and me simply aren’t a good fit. In short, if you are looking for a proper horror read, enjoy reading short stories and appreciate a variety of different horror (sub)genres represented in the same bundle, Silence Under Screams is an excellent choice. Just be warned that especially the first two stories can get really graphic!


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ARC REVIEW: Americosis Vol. 3 – by Haydn Wilks

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Title: Americosis Vol. 3
Author: Haydn Wilks

Genre: Short Stories, Science Fiction, Dystopia
First published: September 21st 2016
Publisher: Dead Bird Press
Finished reading: January 6th 2017
Pages: 60
Rating 3,5qqq

“Disuse. Disrepair. Despair. Three words that sum up the country three-and-a-half hundred million Americans are now living in.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I read the first two parts of this ongoing short story series by Haydn Wilks some time last year, and in the month in between I had forgotten just how weird and messed up they were. Because there is just no other way to describe Americosis other than call it absolute MADNESS. This third part follows yet again the various different storylines and is literally packed with action and descriptions of this crazy dystopian world. A bunch of different things are happening all at once in this extreme version of the US: a weird sexually transmitted disease taking over, aliens, time travel, violent attacks… The writing is very explicit and direct, and the sheer crazyiness of it all just draws you into the story straight away. The Savior bit of this third volume didn’t feel as strong as the previous two, but maybe it just was because he didn’t feel as present. If you are looking for something different and fullblown crazy dystopian, definitely check the Americosis volumes out. Slight warning: it is an ongoing series and the volumes have no proper ‘ending’, so you will be left wondering what happens next after each volume.

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Things are just getting more and more out of hand… Detroit is currently burning, and crazed buck naked freaks with crescent moon scars carved into their cheeks are everywhere, attacking people and biting whole faces off. The police and government are having a hard time keeing things under control… Is the madness finally winning? And what about the Savior and Libby, currently stuck in a time loop and lost in the desert?

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Americosis is without doubt the most crazy and messed up series I’ve been reading to this date. It is so full of madness and crazy events that the story is starting to grow on you, although I wish each volume wouldn’t stop right in the middle of the action without proper ending. The cliffhangers do help making you wonder just by how much the madness will increase next time… This story isn’t for everyone and you have to be in the mood to absorb such a high dose of crazy, but the right person will fall in love with the Americosis volumes.


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ARC REVIEW: Environmentally Friendly – by Elias Zanbaka

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Title: Environmentally Friendly
Author: Elias Zanbaka
Genre: Thriller, Short Stories
First published: March 5th 2016
Publisher: E.Z. Entertainment
Finished reading: July 24th 2016
Pages: 19
Rating 3,5qqq

“They could’ve done this when he was still a guest at the psychiatric ward, rather than waiting for him to escape and unleash this shit storm on the city.”

*** A copy of this short story was kindly provided to me in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I always enjoy a good action-packed thriller even if it’s a supershort one like in the case of Environmentally Friendly. This short story written by Elias Zanbaka has only 19 pages, but has action scenes for a novella at least ten times that size. In fact, the plot would work great as a full length novel as well and the story left me wanting for more. The idea of this kind of ‘extreme’ therapy is definitely intriguing and I liked both the title and the ending. Enviromentally Friendly starts with a bang and you are right in the middle of the action from the beginning. It takes some time to figure out what the story is about, but there is no doubt that this short story has an impressive amount of action, suspense and plot twists. The prose is well written, very descriptive and almost graphic; it was almost like watching a movie instead of just reading it. There isn’t a lot of character development, but that is mostly because of the size of the story. Schaefer has a lot of potential though! All in all it’s a very entertaining, fast-paced and action-packed thriller with an interesting twist.

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After a traumatic experience, a war veteran has declared war on Mother Nature and plans to bring it to its knees. He is determined to destroy what caused his mission to fail in the past, and he is now chased by the LAPD in a great man hunt throughout Los Angeles. The veteran is dangerous and he is the number one target that night, but what the veteran doesn’t know is that he is actually part of something a lot bigger. Something that might help him finally complete his mission… And officer Schaefer is determined to do just that.

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While Environmentally Friendly is supershort, it does offer a lot for its size. This short story is fast-paced, well written and full of action; it’s detailed descriptions making it feel as if you were watching an action movie instead of reading it. The idea of ‘extreme’ therapy is intriguing and I would love to see a larger story focusing on that! But this short story is definitely worth reading if you enjoy action-packed thrillers.

BOOK REVIEW: Ruler Of Beasts – by Danielle Paige

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Title: Ruler Of Beasts
(Dorothy Must Die #0.6)
Author: Danielle Paige
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: February 16th 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins
Finished reading: July 20th 2016
Pages: 84
Rating 3,5qqq

“You are not Wicked, dear Lion. But sometimes you put what you want over what is good for Oz.”

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Although I still think the novellas are not as good as the actual series, I do think Ruler Of Beasts is one of the most entertaining prequel short stories of the bunch. Unlike some of the other novellas, this one actually adds a whole new possible angle to the actual story. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed the Nome King will make another appearance in the actual books, because his character is without doubt an interesting one! Like with the rest of the series, Danielle Paige‘s prose turns Ruler Of Beasts into a really easy and fast read. The beginning is a bit slow and Glinda is annoying, but I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this particular novella so much is the huge part both the Lion and Ozma play in the story. Lion can become a bit whiny, but he does know how to spice up a story. If you have read the previous novella, you will surely enjoy this one as well. I can’t wait to finally start the third book though!

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When the Cowardly Lion first started his journey with Dorothy and the others, he wanted to have courage above all else. The Wizard gave him what he has always wanted, and now we find out what happens afterwards. The Lion’s wish has finally come true, but his life is not how he had imagined it. Sure, he is the courageous ruler of the forest and the beasts, but with Ozma ruling and Oz this peaceful, the Lion is bored. He misses the days of his adventures with Dorothy, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow, and now he is desperate to find something to liven up his day. Then Glinda shows up on his doorstep with a mission, and even though the Lion is not sure if it’s wise to accept, he jumps at the chance to do something exciting anyway.

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I think Ruler Of Beasts is one of my favorite novellas so far. I really enjoyed the fact that Ozma played an important part in the story and the Nome King surely is a great new character! I’m keeping my fingers crossed he will make another appearance in the future, because it will definitely add a nice plot twist to the main story. Like I said before, if you enjoyed the other novellas, definitely make time for this one as well. It’s not a must-read, but Ruler Of Beasts is without doubt entertaining.

BOOK REVIEW: Heart Of Tin – by Danielle Paige

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Title: Heart Of Tin
(Dorothy Must Die #0.4)
Author: Danielle Paige
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: July 28th 2015
Finished reading: June 13th 2016
Pages: 93
Rating 1,5qqq

“Think about the first time you really fell in love. No, I mean, really think about it. How it was like your whole life before that moment was a black-and-white movie, and suddenly you stepped into Technicolor.”

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I wasn’t going to read any more Dorothy Must Die prequel novellas because the first three mostly disappointed me (especially the third one), but I decided to give them a go anyway before reading Yellow Brick War. And I don’t like to say this about any book or novella, but reading Heart Of Tin was simply a waste of time. I REALLY didn’t like this sappy romance story where all that happens is that the Tin Woodman pines for Dorothy all the time and tries to win her over…My feelings went between feeling annoyed and wanting to vomit, and honestly I still wish I would have just DNFed it. I will still read the next two novellas though, since various bloggers have confirmed that Heart Of Tin is the worst story of the bunch and the others are a lot better. But if you ask me, definitely stick with just the main Dorothy Must Die series and skip the novellas unless you REALLY love the series in the first place. They don’t actually add a lot to the main plot…

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The Wizard finally gave the Tin Woodman a real heart, but he didn’t live happily ever after just like in the original story. In fact, the new heart of the Tin Woodman has it bad for Dorothy. What was onces a gift now turns into torture as the Tin Woodman pines for Dorothy and she doesn’t seem to return his feelings… And he is determined to do whatever it takes to show his loyalty, win over her heart and make her his. Even if this means ignoring the fact that Dorothy seems to have a completely different agenda since the last time she was in Oz.

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Like I said before, I enjoyed the the actual series a lot better than the prequel novellas, and Heart Of Tin has to be the worst one by far so far. This novella doesn’t add anything new to the main plot and is mostly VERY annoying. There is no real plot and the story is mainly about the Tin Woodman repeating on and on how wonderful Dorothy is, hearing him pine for Dorothy and him feeling rejected when Dorothy doesn’t seem to respond to his feelings. Even if you loved the main series, I would recommend just skipping this novella and continue with the fifth one.

BOOK REVIEW: The Opposite Of Loneliness – by Marina Keegan

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Title: The Opposite Of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Short Stories
First published: April 8th 2014
Finished reading: June 11th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 3,5qqq

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.”

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Those who follow my blog know I like to read a non fiction book or memoir every now and then, so I was excited when The Opposite Of Loneliness came up as one of my TBR jar picks. The story behind this memoir is actually quite tragic: the author Marina Keegan sadly passed away in 2012 after a car accident, and this collection has been created afterwards in her honor. Reading about the actual details is truly heartbreaking, but it doesn’t mean that this memoir gets a free pass to a full 5 star rating. Because if I have to be honest, I expected something better/different out of this short story and essay collection. First of all, I didn’t realize that part of this book is actually a collection of short fictional stories. I don’t mind reading fiction, but it wasn’t what I expected and most stories were a bit too cheesy, romantic or awkward for me. Especially since knowing about the author’s tragic end makes you read some stories under a different light (for example: in Cold Pastoral I felt awkward reading about a main character where her boyfriend dies, while her own boyfriend had to go through a similar situation.) Another story I found slightly disturbing is Reading Aloud, where an older woman reads aloud to a blind young man while she is completely naked. I know it’s fiction and all, but I think I could have gone without that mental image. My favorite of the fiction stories would probably be The Emerald City, since it’s not the typical contemporary romance story. It’s about an officer in Afghanistan who tells about his daily life and concerns to a girl back home. Challenger Deep was also really good. The non fiction section of this memoir is a little too short if you ask me, but provides some very interesting essays and is a satisfying ending to this read. In fact, I would probably have given The Opposite Of Loneliness a higher rating if it would have been just the non fiction essays… This memoir is without doubt still worth reading though.

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The young Yale graduate Marina Keegan was without doubt talented and it shows in this collection of essays and stories. Her essay The Opposite Of Loneliness is probably one of the most famous ones and is without doubt inspiring.

“Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…). We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.”

Only five days after she graduate magna cum laude from Yale, Marina died in a car crash. The people close to hear joined together to create this collection of her best short stories and essays. They are a mix of fiction and non fiction and explore different genres and writing methods.

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Like I said above, I really wanted to like this memoir even better, but there were quite a few fiction short stories I can’t say I enjoyed. Some were a bit disturbing, others made me feel awkward or were too much like a typical cheesy romance story (one even with a love triangle!). There were some exceptions though: especially The Emerald City and Challenger Deep stood out from the rest. The non fiction essays were excellent as well, and most likely ended up improving the rating. I would definitely recommend reading The Opposite Of Loneliness, just make sure to remember it’s not actually just a memoir and also included fictional short stories. That may avoid a similar reaction to the one I had when I was reading the fiction section….