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As much as Stephen King is known for his books so big they could kill a man, I always feel like his short work is his best work. If It Bleeds is just the latest example of this. 

A collection of four novellas, If It Bleeds was easy to pick up and hard to put down. I’ll be honest, I originally got this book for the cover story, which is a loose follow-up to The Outsider. I was half tempted to skip right to that story. Having managed to avoid that, I highly recommend you don’t skip them either.

Let’s start first with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. 

Craig is just nine years old when he gets a job from a wealthy old man named Mr. Harrigan. It’s just watering plants and reading to the old man. But when Craig gets a scratch-off from Mr. Harrigan for his birthday, he finds himself with a great deal of money. Feeling grateful, Craig buys Mr. Harrigan a smartphone. When the old man passes, Craig slips the smartphone into his jacket pocket. When he calls the phone, thinking to just hear Mr. Harrigan’s voicemail, he’s shocked to get a response.

Some other people get shocked too. 

This story was predictable. I have to admit that. I saw almost every twist coming. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying. The characters, especially Craig, were likable. I appreciated it when people who did him wrong got what they deserved. I was happy to see a good kid, who turns into a good man as the story goes on, get lucky on more than one occasion. It was an enjoyable story with a satisfying ending. 

Story two was called The Life of Chuck. I wasn’t expecting this, but it’s three short stories that blend to tell a novella in reverse. And it was honestly one of the more unique stories I’ve ever read. It starts with a lonely teacher at the end of the world. His world is literally crumbling around him. And as it goes, he sees the same message all over. On billboards, on the tv, even in windows of homes that surround him, is a retirement message for a man named Charles Krantz. 39 Great Years! Thanks, Chuck!

It’s hard to explain this story further than that without giving it all away. Suffice to say, King is stepping up his game with this story and it’s well worth your time. 

Now we come to the title story If It Bleeds. This is the story of a school bombing, and what came of it. Holly knows that there’s something deeper going on here than just a sick man destroying the lives of hundreds of families. As if that wasn’t horrifying enough.

I love Holly. I will read any story that includes her. She’s so sweet, so clever. I love everything about her. 

Finally, we come to the final story, Rat. I thought this was going to be skippable. But I’m above all else a completionist, and I couldn’t let myself put a book down that I was almost finished with anyway.

And I loved this story. It’s about Drew, a short story author and professor who’s always wanted to write a novel. He’s tried before, but he had a bit of a nervous breakdown and almost set his house on fire. As an author myself, I can relate. But he has a new idea now, and he’s decided to spend a few months at the family cabin to write it. As you can imagine, horror ensues.

I did like this story, but I also felt it was the weakest of the four. Several plotlines just seemed to fizzle and go nowhere. There was also a lot of fluff. A lot of extra information and characters that the story just didn’t need. If Rat had been half as long, it would have been twice as good.

That being said, whatever weaknesses Rat has, they’re surpassed by the merits of the other three stories. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth your time. 

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Read it yourself by clicking below!

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