Michael A. Greco’s novel A Labyrinth for Loons first appears as a retelling of 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic; however, something much more sinister is happening below the surface.
Trapped on the 22nd floor of his condo in Malaysia, Leonard Smith deals with the global Covid-19 pandemic on his own. With brief facetime calls from his wife and daughter, who are hundreds of miles away, an ill-tempered teenager Chuckie and various neighbours, Leonard is isolated and desperate to leave. When two individuals show up with a manuscript and insist he help return the deceased Leonard Smith’s belongings, the mind starts to play tricks on itself, and he begins to question his sanity.
While the story is based around the Covid-19 pandemic, the story still felt fresh while remaining relevant. The more I read, the more intrigued and entranced I felt. The main character is isolated in urban Malaysia, first appearing as an arrogant and stereotypical American, despite his insistence he is not, but then he morphs into other personas. While his narration and point of view are not trustworthy, I found myself enraptured by his inner monologue and the world of the Tomato Frog Building above the mall.
One would think you are reading about a dystopian world, but for those who experienced quarantine, the events of the book are undeniably plausible. As Leonard (aka Leon or Leoni) gets drawn into chaos, the readers find themselves falling deeper into the madness, as if following the white rabbit down its hole. This book captures every critical moment of the world’s time in quarantine, from Tik Tok to the troubles with face masks. It will serve as an important literary marker for society, most notably for its remark on the human mind in a state of psychological stress. Comparable to Stephen King’s The Shining.
“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”
Pages: 193 | ASIN: B09BKL3XLJ
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When Dr. Angela Morrison agrees to facilitate the women’s meeting at her church, she discovers the women’s shocking traumas are more than she bargained for. As she analyzes the intricate life-style situations of four women, she is lured into the horrors of her own past.
Anita, the pastor’s wife, lives a fantasy created by her parents, her husband, and the congregation. She is a character in a play, and her husband is the director. Unlike the theater, the action is real, the beatings are real, and her fear is real.
Ernestine Johnson is a woman driven by her quest for love. At the age of ten, her world is turned upside down when her father goes to prison, and her mother becomes a drug addict. To survive, she quickly learns the value of her body and before long she knows how to get whatever she wants except love.
Toni Brown is a woman trapped by hate and vengeance, and she is determined to punish the man who stole her life. Trapped in a basement for three years where she is raped, beaten, and tortured until she is totally defeated.
Candace Carter, the youngest of the four women, is trapped in a world of sex, pornography, and prostitution. Abandoned, molested and abused from the age of five, she is vulnerable to manipulation, and there is one man all too eager to exploit her to death.
Eventually, all the women, including Dr. Morrison, confront the horrors of their truths, but not all of them survive their realities.
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The Condemned follows a college kid who starts to have horrific dreams and discovers a chilling new underworld. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?
I started writing this story when I was in college in 2000, so the main character was inspired by myself at that age as well as my experiences at that time with regards to the college experience, social interactions, etc. The dreams and the landscapes that they take place in, were inspired by books like Dante’s, Inferno and Richard Matheson’s, What Dreams May Come, but also from some of my own nightmares. For example, the jungle and city environment nightmares were inspired by dreams I had in similar locations. My goal, when I started writing this, was to mix the current environment that I found myself in everyday as a college student and then delve deep into some of the more dark, horrific places that my imagination would take me.
Michael is an intriguing and well-developed character. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?
When I started writing Michael as a character, I tried to channel some of my own personality into Michael. At that point in my life, I was dealing with a fair amount of stress. A friend of mine named Walter had recently crashed his car and died, all my close friends had moved away, I broke up with my high school girlfriend, and my parents were getting a divorce. I was in a very emotional and lonely place with an uncertainty weighing down on me. I tried to channel that emotion into Michael as a character as he goes through the story and reacts to the events unfolding around him. My hope is that many readers will see a bit of themselves in Michael and feel his humanity, love and struggle as he responds to the world around him.
What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?
I really wanted to tap into themes like the bonds of friendship, emotions like fear, isolation, as well as loss with regards to losing people close to you as well as your own self, but also examine strength. Specifically, how someone deals with finding their own strength in challenging situations. I also wanted to explore vampires, but in a unique way while trying to tie to some more common mythology. That desire to do so comes from my love of the horror genre as well as vampires. I do believe that I found a unique way of approaching that, which readers have told me is refreshing to see.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I actually have several projects in the works right now. There is a podcast episode that I wrote for The Bane podcast, which is the premium content podcast for The Grey Rooms podcast, and that story should be coming out toward the end of this year or the beginning of 2022. I don’t really have any insight into the release date yet, but once I know, I will be announcing it. As for my next book, I am in the process of finishing a short story anthology, which at current will contain eleven or twelve stories. I have two publishers interested in that anthology and I have to review the final details before deciding on which publisher to work with, but based on my discussions, it would be due out during the spring or summer of 2022. After that I will continue work on my next full novel, which is a horror story about a group of amateur paranormal investigators who get in way over their heads in Texas. I have already written three chapters of that and have done extensive research. I also have some ideas for more podcast episodes that I will submit to some shows that I really like.
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In the Beast’s Cage is an intriguing paranormal thriller written by Mac Altgelt. The story follows multiple characters as their lives intersect and collide, from the mysterious Ainsley Blake to the gentle Virginia Harrison, as well as others, whose part in the story become clearer throughout the pages. Arriving in a small coastal town in Georgia, Blake sets off a chain of events that none in the town could have predicted, and one that surprises him as well.
The characters were absolutely riveting, with personalities and quirks that made them feel like real people. I had a particular affinity towards Ainsley Blake, whose story was revealed to the reader in small bursts that made his character each time clearer and more definite, akin to a sketch being slowly polished into a painting. But ever side characters are granted their own moment in the sun, bringing the story to life.
While I enjoyed the story and the characters, I felt that the number of characters and locations made the the story a bit hard to follow at times. I think this has more to do with the scale of the story. If you like deep and complex stories then this is definitely the novel for you as I can tell that a lot of care went into crafting the details of this story.
I also liked how mundane things, often overlooked, are given importance throughout the story. Books are a prominent example of this: throughout the story, they move from being mundane and common, to being prized and beloved. This romantic view of the mundane, of love and friendship, was well incorporated.
In the Beast’s Cage is a suspenseful supernatural story with a satisfying ending and was thoroughly enjoyable. The story has some creative supernatural elements and an organically high level of intrigue that will satisfy any fan of dark fantasy.
Pages: 176 | ASIN: B09819FRZP
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The Return of the NY Villains for Justice is Marta Nater’s second book of the Villains for Justice series. The story is centered around the villains that were introduced in the first book and the social causes each of them were fighting for. Nina Dansk returns to punish predators and sexual abusers alongside Cora Rollins. Jerico Raven and Danny Rojas team up to help the security forces fight crime and corruption. Shadow Claw on the other hand, the most powerful of all, finds out a secret about his family that will make him want to remain neutral amidst the turmoil that starts to rise in the streets of New York, but it is a neutrality that will be challenged as he starts to feel the safety of his family and friends threatened. Furthermore, inspired by the older villains, a new villain, Amadou, appears in New York with the main goal of bringing an end to the constant racism and discrimination that certain races were experiencing in society, and combating the police brutality that brought an unjustified destructive force upon them.
The villains inevitably team up, which was fun to see, considering the first book only told their stories separately. Many of these villains end up confronting one another, since they disapproved of the way in which some of them were punishing criminals, which brought some interesting interactions to the story. Despite the hatred that some of these villains had for other villains, friendships are made and a group of vengeful vigilantes is formed. Wanted by the police and security forces of various countries, while also being loved and supported by the public, these villains carry their mission of taking justice into their own hands, escaping the law and fighting the most vicious criminals.
The story is highly entertaining. Even though they are trying to bring some level of justice to society and mostly punish the most horrible criminals, they use some violent tactics to achieve their goals, which at the same time stands in their way and doesn’t allow them to get the support that they need from the police force. However, one can’t help but cheer for them despite these flaws. Throughout the story, one can see how some of them even get to change their ways and soften up a bit, trying to find a good balance in the manner they carry out their plans. The story also has some important things to portray about the current state of the legal system, a system that often allows the criminals to get away with their crimes while the victims are left unprotected, which is something that demands some reflection.
The characters are intriguing and it’s interesting following their thought processes and motives, they definitely have some conflicting views about the world. The story is gripping and full of action: the villains are constantly moving around, running away from the police and fighting criminals, so it’s impossible to get bored while reading what each of them are up to. The writing needs a little more editing to improve some aspects of it, but nevertheless the plot is interesting enough to keep the readers glued to the page, eager to find out how the adventure of these New York villains will end. The Return of the NY Villains for Justice is an entertaining story full of fun scenes that will make you wonder, through its social commentary, what you would stand for if such villains were on the loose in your area.
Pages: 91 | ASIN: B09CDWR7YX
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Ninety-Five follows a college student who uncovers an on campus scam that’s connected to a larger criminal underworld on the dark web. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?
From an investigation perspective, most crimes are like icebergs. What you see sticking out of the water often has nothing to do with what’s really going on, with the deeper crime and the layers of secrets protecting it. Zak was a transfer student trying to reset his academic journey and an on-campus party led him down a rabbit hole and, ultimately, a one-way trip to hell.
Zak is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?
Duality was one of the ideas I wanted to explore with Zack – bravado and vulnerability, he’s jaded yet innocent, and I was very curious how he would react to not only challenges in his immediate environment but to things that challenged his view of the world, of reality itself.
What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?
Ninety-Five is my seventh published book and I think I’m addressing the same themes as an underlying commonality – abuse of power, secrets, corruption, and family connections. But for this book specifically, I found the dark web, crypto, and Pharma elements pulling me deeper into the story.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
This year I finished writing my first series – a three-book private investigator series. I’m hoping the first book in that series will be published in 2022.
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Unseen, Evil Lurks Among Us, is a gripping thriller written by Jeffery James Higgins. The novel has a strong line up of characters, an interesting plot and enough action to keep the reader glued to the book.
There are two main characters in this story, Malachi and Austin; the traditional hero and villain. Rookie Homicide Detective Malachi is a former economics academic, turned detective after the death of his father in the Boston Marathon bombing. Austin is a man hell-bent on revenge after he lost his girlfriend at the hands of an Islamist infiltrator. An ex-solider, he plots his revenge whilst keeping up his appearance as an innocent bachelor who lives with his beloved dog Sophie. These are complex characters, as both show that they have both good characteristics and traits, as well as more disturbing aspects to their personalities. At times both fight their own inner demons. These two characters are well developed and are supported by a range of minor characters including a girlfriend, children, an ex-wife and friends and colleagues. Although they aren’t as well developed, all the minor characters are an integral part of the story.
Unseen, Evil Lurks Among Us is set in present day Washington. Higgins draws the readers into the story by describing the setting in detail. Opening the story with a scene in a bar, the action moves quickly to the outdoors, where even the oppressive humidity is described. Numerous sounds, sights and smells are described throughout the novel, as the story unfolds across various parts of Washington.
This is a fast-paced thriller that follows the typical structure, but the story is told from two points of view (Malachi and Austin’s). It starts with an action packed first chapter, with numerous clues and red herrings. Jam packed full of adventure; it keeps the readers guessing right until the end!
Unseen, Evil Lurks Among Us is a fast paced and enthralling novel. The characters are well developed and interesting, and the storyline, while complex, is still easy to follow. But most importantly for this genre, the plot just keeps you guessing with many twists and turns along the way.
Pages: 377 | ASIN: B09BLN26MG
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Hidden Demon by Fish Phillips is a fast-paced crime thriller following Dee Johnson, a US Secret Service Agent who is shot in the line of duty, while trying to save the president of the United States. While healing from the wound, Dee learns she’s fired. The account of Dee going from government agent to civilian life becomes more complicated when she learns a comrade and superior sabotaged her career, and then cold-heartedly fired her. Now Dee needs to restructure her life for the civilian world and heal not only from a gunshot wound but from the betrayal of a trusted friend.
Author Fish Phillips cleverly hides the demon among friends. He creates a military bond of secret service agents who trust each other explicitly. The action is gritty and hard-hitting, and the reader never suspects a mole among the group of trusted comrades because the characters all feel authentic.
This is a detailed and fast moving political thriller woven with realistic action and dialogue. The novel begins in Japan, 2044, as an unsuccessful Secret Service mission is underway, where many soldiers die, and Dee is wrongly held accountable. Dee returns to Washington DC where she accepts another mission, but this time it’s a covert op. This request comes from a phone call straight from the President. I loved the setup to the missions and deep political intrigue embedded in the story because I always felt the importance of their missions, which ensures readers are completely invested in the characters and the storyline.
The narrative is concise and consistently moving forward. This is quite a lean novel, with a solid understanding of the path its forging for readers. However, though the novel is packed with exciting scenes, it took me a few chapters to get a grasp on what was going on because of the fast pace, but I’m sure other readers will enjoy how quickly things move.
Hidden Demon has readers questioning everything in this exciting action-adventure novel. Fans of complex but well conceived plots that come together in entertaining ways will have plenty to enjoy in this slick thriller.
Pages: 346 | ISBN: 9781733865630
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