Shannon’s Horror Review

Today I am featuring two works by Dale J. Young. Both are 2015 releases published by Niner 8 Books and available for Amazon Kindle. Read on!

The Curious Midlife Crisis of Barlow McSwain

by Dale J. Young

Though I liked Dale J. Young’s short story, “The Curious Midlife Crisis of Barlow McSwain”, it was difficult for me to find sympathy for Barlow McSwain. In fact, I disliked him to the point where I kept reading because I wanted to know what was in store for him.

We first meet this McSwain as he contemplates a Harley Davidson Fat Boy. He is convinced that this particular bike will help him to regain his manhood and change his life. He feels that the bike will help him to remake his image as a masculine man, and that it might get his cheating wife’s attention and save his crumbling marriage.

Though the Harley dealer and McSwain’s buddy, Jerod, try to talk him out of buying the bike and convince him barlow mcswain coverto start with a smaller Sportster, McSwain is dead set on the Fat Boy and doesn’t want to spend his money on a beginner’s bike.

His dream comes true when he purchases the $17,000 bike against his wife’s wishes and he embarks on his journey to “reinvent” himself.

I didn’t sympathize with Barlow McSwain’s character because he is presented as a self-centered individual who thinks only from his own perspective. When his wife relents and asks him if he would like something before she leaves for her evening out with the girls and all he can think to do is unzip his pants, it is obvious to me why his marriage is crumbling. He has no idea how to treat a lady, much less woo his wife back.

He stops at the local diner, where he impresses the waitress, Jessica, with his newfound manhood. She never looked at him twice before, but now he is a Harley man, with new leather chaps and a chain attached to his wallet. He picks Jessica up later that day when she gets off work, and the two go riding around for hours on McSwain’s new bike. They make arrangements to get together the next day.

McSwain can’t believe his luck as he powers his Fat Boy up into the mountains in search of the perfect vantage point from which to present the sunset to Jessica the next evening. He is getting a little cocky after the time spent on his new bike, and he starts taking the mountain curves a little fast. He doesn’t realize it at the moment, but his entire life changes irrevocably when he nearly collides with a diesel truck.

Despite these few heart-pounding moments, McSwain has been having the best day of his life . . . which gets stranger as he progresses up the curvy mountain road. He meets other bikers, stops at a gas station that looks like a blast from the past, and ends up at a biker bar where he is served drinks by a most notable bartender. Here, he learns the true consequences of his actions.

I can’t really say much else without spoiling the story for the rest of you! Go read the story if you want to find out what happens!

Dale J. Young does a good job of capturing vivid scenes for the reader: the mountainous backdrop with its dangerous winding roads; McSwain’s feeling of freedom once he has mounted the Harley and takes it for a spin; the tense moments of fear he nearly collides with the diesel truck; the mysterious red El Camino that appears everywhere he goes; and his surprise meeting with the Devil, himself.

Dale J. Young’s additional works include The Summerland Trilogy, Hanging the Artificial Sun, The Ghost of Tobacco Road. Check out these titles, read The Curious Midlife Crisis of Barlow McSwain, and find out more about Dale J. Young by visiting http://dalejyoung.com.

The Ghost of Tobacco Road

by Dale J. Young

The main course of this double-feature is The Ghost of Tobacco Road, a full-length historical fiction novel set in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. Written by Dale J. Young, The Ghost of Tobacco Road is a tale of suspense and mystery where the sins of the past continue to visit throughout a span of 80 years to the present.

The opening acts as both prologue and flashback on a September evening in 1937, in the shadows of  a North Carolina tobacco field spread out beneath a glowing harvest moon. We witness the murder of Franklin Cain, who is brutally cut down by an axe-wielding killer while he walks the fields at the end of the day.

Thereafter, we jump forward to 2014 and Logan Shaw.

Shaw, a used car salesman, lives in a single-wide in a trailer near a North Carolina industrial seaport. He sells barely enough cars to keep himself going and lives a frugal lifestyle. He is trying to slow down on his alcohol consumption, but we get the sense that the alcohol is what helps him to get through each day.

Logan Shaw becomes clear as the underdog type of character I like to root for.  One might initially peg him for a pathetic loser; especially being a so-called “slick” used car salesman. Except that he isn’t a pathetic loser, not really. He’s simply a man alone, living in less than stellar circumstances. Shaw doesn’t excel at his cars sales. He doesn’t even like it all that much. It is the only thing he knows, so he just keeps dong it.

Dale J. Young successfully conveys the utter loneliness inherent in Shaw’s existence, but also that Shaw continues to get up every day and live his existence without complaint. He celebrates his small victories with a simple meal he makes himself and an extra beer or shot of whiskey. He is aware of his own shortcomings and doesn’t blame others for his lot in life.

I am able to feel sympathy for this character, whose life is so empty that I can’t help but think, “This is like torture. It has to get better.” Shaw’s life is a giant change waiting to happen.

A mysterious letter from an attorney in Starlight, North Carolina, is the catalyst for the change. The discovery that he is the beneficiary of an inheritance, including a plantation house accompanied by over 300 acres of tobacco land, is just the beginning of an adventurous journey for Shaw.

The main story is interspersed with flashback scenes of axe murders that play throughout the history of Shaw’s newly inherited tobacco fields: 1937, 1941, 1965, to 2014. The killings are intermittent and lack any kind of pattern – except that they all take place on nights of the harvest moon in Shaw’s inherited tobacco fields. It is a belief in the surrounding community that if anyone goes out into the Shaw tobacco fields on the night of a harvest moon, he is putting his life in danger.

The present-day story unfolds right around harvest season in North Carolina. Logan Shaw’s fortunes have done an about-face in his favor, presenting him not only with a mansion, land, and wealth, but also – surprise! – a love interest: local sweetheart, blonde, blue-eyed Colby. Good for him! His life is finally headed in the right direction . . .

Except for the unwelcome complication of his crazy redneck neighbor, Chip McPhale, who has an unhealthy obsession with Colby. Chip believes that Colby belongs to him. This is no surprise, as he also believes Shaw’s tobacco fields belong to his family, not Shaw’s. Chip’s stubborn jealousy drives him to enlist his younger brother, Ethan, into a dastardly plan to kidnap Colby and use her for bait to lure Shaw to him so that he can do bad things to him – and then do bad things to Colby.

Meanwhile, a series of strange events erupts in Shaw’s new mansion: mysterious sightings of a strange little girl who disappears into nowhere; shifting views of the tobacco fields, presenting Shaw with flashbacks that seem like hallucinations; and curious old photos and toys that Shaw and Colby find in the attic of the mansion.

Logan Shaw’s adventure culminates as he pits himself against Chip McPhale to rescue Colby, and finds himself in the tobacco fields face to face with a vengeful, axe-wielding spirit.

Will Shaw get to Colby in time to save her? Will he be able to quiet the ghost in his fields and the shifting scenes in his house without becoming a victim, himself? Will he live happily ever after with the sudden turn of fortune that has come his way?

I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to read the book, yourself.

Dale J. Young delivers a richly detailed, colorful tale which contains well-rounded characters, suspense, history, and romance. Both the characters Colby and Shaw’s attorney, Harmon Blackwell, are a wealth of information when it comes to portraying a vivid example of how the tobacco industry might have looked in its early days. The scenes in the shadowy tobacco fields beneath the harvest moon are well-written and add a spooky ambiance to the story, as do the ghost of the little girl who wanders through the mansion and the one that wanders the fields.

I do, however, find fault with a few basic issues within the text.

First of all, though they may appear in the book somewhere, I missed learning Colby’s last name or Shaw’s age.

Other issues are more technical, such as run-on sentences and a prevalent use of passive voice. Passive voice uses too many chunky extra words, adding weight to the flow of the story, slowing it down and making its presentation less efficient and smooth than it could be. Young’s work could benefit from a good final proofread/copyedit from an individual with a fresh pair of eyes; or from being reviewed by a small pool of beta readers that are fellow professional writers.

Overall, I believe The Ghost of Tobacco Road is a good book by a promising author who clearly demonstrates his ability to weave the folklore that is familiar to him into the modern world.

Dale J. Young’s additional works include The Summerland Trilogy, Hanging the Artificial Sun, and short story, “The Curious Midlife Crisis of Barlow McSwain”. Check out these titles, read The Ghost of Tobacco Road, and find out more about Dale J. Young by visiting http://dalejyoung.com.

Line of Descent

by James Derry

Today, I am horribly proud to bring you a review of James Derry’s 2015 full-length horror novel, Line of Descent.

This is the story of Elise Gardener, and recently befriended Mallory Herring, who offers Elise support as she struggles against an entity that attempts to usurp her mind, body and soul.

In Chapter 1, we are introduced to Regina Gardener, one of our supporting characters, as she contemplates walking into the ocean and ending her life – that is, her current life. We learn that somehow, she is ancient, and has lived for thousands of years.

Regina’s husband, Pierce, meets her on the beach, and the two engage in conversation. As their dialogue proceeds, we get a sense of who these characters are. Regina comes across as cold, arrogant, demanding, and unlikeable, while Pierce seems to be weaker, somewhat wishy-washy, as he attempts to dissuade Regina from a “choice” she has made from a pool of the younger members of their family. Regina is adamant that her choice has always been their own daughter, Elise.

As the scene unfolds, we learn that Regina is afflicted with cancer. She has a brain tumor, and her body has slowly been wasting away; she is no longer even able to eat. She knows that it’s time for her to go. She tells Pierce to be strong, and then walks into the ocean, where she covers herself in sand to weigh her body down below the water. She tells the small fish that nibble at her heels, “I see you. Let me be. I’ll be back.”

Thus we get a little foreshadowing that this death isn’t really the end for Regina; and though the manner of her return is still shrouded in mystery, we have some small sense that it has something to do with her daughter, Elise.

This scene is our first introduction to James Derry’s writing style. It is a well-executed scene, and the characters’ individual personalities come across clearly. The first page or two, however, contain writing that is over-descriptive and uses phraseology that can be a bit confusing. It is as though he tries far too hard to paint a picture of Shade Island with an over-complicated mix of colors, instead of simple brushstrokes.

During the bulk of the remaining body of the novel, however, Derry finds his writing rhythm and calms down a bit. His writing gains a more smooth flow which makes the reading much easier.

The next chapters educate us a little more to Shade Island and its inhabitants. The main character, Elise, is introduced to the reading audience as a quiet, timid young woman in her twenties. Elise possesses the ability to see people’s auras. The auras convey to her a wealth of information about each person’s moods and thoughts. The barrage of information coming at her from many people all at once overwhelms Elise, so she tends to keep to herself and avoids certain people and crowds.

As our journey through the story progresses, we find out that her ability isn’t so unusual. She comes from a long lineage of ancestors that possess different abilities, such as the power to make people and animals perform certain actions.

Elise’s recently befriended companion, Mallory Herring, steps into the story as a houseguest at Shade Island. She is there by invitation to Regina Gardener’s funeral. Mallory’s presence on Shade Island decides the ending to this story, which I will not divulge. (Spoilers, you know.)

As we remember from the opening chapter, Elise was “chosen” by her mother for a certain function; which is to become the new vessel for Regina’s DNA and spirit, which is basically introduced to Elise’s body via a pinprick and the transference of a few drops of Regina’s blood into the open wound. The task of introducing Regina’s DNA into Elise’s body falls to her father, Pierce.

What ensues is Elise’s struggle against the takeover of her being by this other presence, which we find is not Regina Gardener’s essence at all. Instead, we find that it is an 8,000 year-old parasite that was once human, but has evolved over the centuries into a cold, cruel, and calculating entity. The line of descent has always been decided by the parasite, who chooses the next host based on the host’s special abilities, ensuring that the parasite becomes more and more powerful with every passing lifetime. The parasite also chooses the attendant that will facilitate the transference into the host.

Throughout the story, Elise is able to use the intruder’s memories to revisit an earlier time in France, where a similar struggle took place centuries before. The previous host is a Frenchwoman named Simona, who is coached for a time by her companion, Reynard, on how to try to fight the parasite. Simona loses the battle. However, through Simona’s memories, Elise gains insights about how she, herself, might fight the parasite.

Elise also finds herself with additional special abilities introduced to her by the parasite, which she uses to aid her and Mallory’s escape from the massive mansion where they have been imprisoned until the takeover is complete. Tension builds until Elise stands at the brink of losing her life to the thing that was once Regina Gardener – and it doesn’t looks like she’s going to make it. Like I said, spoilers! I’m not giving away the end.

As I opined previously, I did find the descriptions in the opening chapter to be a bit forced. The only other scene that I disliked was where Reynard attempted to do away with the parasite by getting rid of Simona, and he held what I thought to be a lengthy one-sided discourse with the parasite in which he explained himself and his actions. I found the characters Marta and Pierce to be annoying personalities, but I think they probably grew up that way, as some people do in real life.

Other than the few things mentioned above, it is plain to see that Derry has studied and practiced his craft. Line of Descent is professionally presented. The storyline is sound, as is the writing, except for a couple of technical errors (periods or other punctuation missing inside the ending quotation marks of some of the dialogue). I would recommend Line of Descent to anyone looking for an entertaining read to pass a few hours.

Feel free to visit James Derry at http://www.james-derry.com.

Just a Little Terrible

A Collection of Terrifying Flash Fiction

Vincent V. Cava

Greetings, horror fans! This week’s review focuses on Vincent V. Cava’s 2015 Kindle offering.

This was my first serving of flash fiction, ever, not just in the horror genre, Just a Little Terribleand I feel that I picked an awesome option for my first taste. I read this book in one sitting, which was about an hour long. When I was finished, I felt that I had just finished a sprint competition, trying to catch my breath. I am assuming that this is a normal effect of reading a flash fiction collection.

The title aptly fits this tight and colorful collection of horror tales. They are little, yes, and they are terrible. By “terrible”, I refer to the uncomfortable feeling you get when you see something not quite right – evil, grotesque, and just plain wrong. You want to look away, but you just can’t help yourself: you are compelled to stare. Part of you wants to see.

In this brief tome of fiction stories, Cava clearly demonstrates that flash fiction, especially combined with horror, is truly an art. Each story is painted in vivid imagery and well-defined characters, topped off with disturbing elements that made my skin crawl. In particular, I enjoyed Cava’s “punch-lines” – that is, Cava’s use of the last line as punctuation to sum up the true horror of that 60-second experience (or two-minute tale, as the case may be).

Just a Little Terrible is edited well, and the couple of instances I noticed where the wording may have been either a wee bit ornate and over-descriptive or a sentence may have lacked an essential word did little to detract from my overall enjoyment of this book. I would recommend this read to any true horror fan who has just a few moments here and there to digest a few short morsels, or with perhaps an hour to inhale the entire plate of hors d’oeuvres.

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