ARC REVIEW: My Sweet Friend – by H.A. Leuschel @HALeuschel

Title: My Sweet Friend
Author: H.A. Leuschel
Genre: Novella, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: December 6th 2017
Finished reading: March 2nd 2018
Pages: 92

“Some people have a special antenna for detecting fears and weaknesses in others.”

*** 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’m aware of the fact I don’t read all that many novellas, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them. In fact, I think of them as taking the art of storytelling to the next level, because it is just so much harder to write a convincing story when you have a limited amount of pages to do so. After enjoying Manipulated Lives last year, there was no doubt I wanted to try the author’s newest novella as well. Not only is the psychological angle in her stories intriguing, but her writing style is really engaging and she makes it easy to connect to the characters. My Sweet Friend is no different, and is without doubt my new favorite. I found myself invested into the story right from the start and the writing was both engaging and flowed naturally. The introduction of the manipulative element is subtle at first, but very well and realistically developed. Despite its limited pages, My Sweet Friend is able to create a dept in both characters as well as creating a hint of suspense and several twists. The dual POV works really well and helps you understand and see both sides of the relationship. While I do think Rosie is a bit naive, I do think her character is very realistic. And that can also be said for Alexa, who is not exactly likeable, but fits her role perfectly. The psychological effect of manipulation is well described and also show the consequences for both sides. The plot itself is an interesting one and well fleshed out for a novella. I had a great time reading My Sweet Friend! One of the better novellas out there I’ve read to this date… Although it did leave me craving for more information about Alexa’s background.

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Alexa is the new member of a Parisian PR company and seems to be an energetic and charming woman as well as professional. She is quick to befriend her colleagues Rosie and Jack and seems to be the perfect match for her new team. Most of them seem to grow to her instantly, but is she really who she claims to be? And can first impressions ever be trusted?

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My Sweet Friend is the perfect example of a novella done right. With a well developed plot with interesting and fleshed out characters and a writing that simply flows it’s hard not to like this story. The manipulation element is incorporated in a way that feels completely natural and instead of it being forced on you, it shows up gradually. The switching back and forward between Rosie and Alexa helped set the right atmosphere as well as show the different sides of the effects of a manipulative relationship. The story will also have some surprises in store for you! Definitely recommended.


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BOOK REVIEW: Quirky Essays For Quirky People – Barbara Venkataraman

Title: Quirky Essays For Quirky People
Author: Barbara Venkataraman

Genre: Non Fiction, Humor, Essays
First published: May 13th 2014
Finished reading: June 28th 2017
Pages: 71


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Last year the author pointed out her collection of essays was available for free on Amazon I decided to add it to my collection, especially since I enjoyed her writing style in her cozy mystery series. The title and cover spoke to me and it sounded like a fun read, and Quirky Essays For Quirky People was just that. This bundle is packed with short humorous essays about quirky situations that will make you smile. They are very easy to read and perfect for whenever you feel like a light read. As always with short stories (even though I don’t read/review a lot of them), my review is different than usual. Below you can find a list of the 24 stories included in Quirky Essays For Quirky People in chronological order with a quote and short description:

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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.