Friday, January 19, 2024

Review: The Silent Companions

It's not often that I run across a book that irritates the hell out of me, but The Silent Companions was one of them. I bought the book because it was part of a list of top horror novels, so I figured it was a safe bet. But tastes vary, and this one didn't melt the butter for me.

In short, The Silent Companions is a Gothic/Historical Horror about a house haunted by evil dwelling inside dummy boards. What are dummy boards? These are dummy boards:

The concept itself is brilliant. Dummy boards are creepy, and who in their right mind would want them hanging out in their house?

In addition to this fascinating concept, what else did the novel get right? The ending. Endings of far too many stories disappoint me for a variety of reasons. This one stuck with its Gothic Horrorness to the end and didn't pull any "happily ever after" or "there's hope for the future" crap.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT: evil wins, yay!

Now for the reasons this book drove me nuts.

This story had soooo much potential. The opening couple of chapters had me hooked. A woman in an 1860s asylum who has suppressed the horrors she's been through and a doctor who must help her remember to save her from the gallows. Did she commit the crimes she's accused of or not? Then a dive into the past to learn what happened. A rundown estate, a village of people who fear said estate because of its "witch," creepy painted cutouts of people moving around on their own, a 1630s dairy full of secrets. What's not to love here?

But I was surprised to find the book was so skinny when I pulled it out of the box. Hmm, must be tight writing, I thought. And I love novellas, no problem. But after those opening chapters, I started realizing the issue. Actually, 4 main issues that had me gritting my teeth:

1. TELLING. Soooo much telling. That's why the book is shorter than it probably should be.

About a quarter of the way through I started circling all the uses of "felt/feel." In fact, there are lists of emotions that the POV character was "feeling" from one moment to the next. This is one of my major pet peeves. Mainly because we're instructed OVER AND OVER not to do this, to find ways to SHOW how a character feels, with minimal TELLING of emotion words. How did this author get away with this? Who the hell is her editor that she/he didn't say, "Hey, this is annoying. You can dig deeper than this."

Because of this main issue, when the shit starts hitting the fan and the "companions" start showing up en masse, I started ROLLING MY EYES. Never what a writer wants their reader to do, right? (And this book is published by PENGUIN, who I expected to have elite standards and tastes, for the love of ARGH!)

Example, from page 124:

Sarah: "I don't mind telling you, it gave me the collywobbles."

Elsie: "I must admit, I felt a little strange myself." (my margin note: that's the best she can come up with?) She looked down. Strange was an understatement. Unravelled, opened up, exposed: they were more accurate words. (my margin note: please use them, author) Fear pushed so much out of a person...

(I got the impression that the author is feeling out this scene as she writes it, and is nailing down what the character Elsie feels as she goes along, and leaves that meandering in situ, rather than editing it later for stronger wording.)

I admit, there was ONE scary chapter where the POV character is running down a dark corridor with these dummy boards pursuing behind her, but writing that out causes me to laugh out loud. Just imagine it: People painted on wooden cutouts, so lifelike they are mistaken for real people until they're seen up close. "Oh, it's a painting!" Creepy and cool and unique, right? But then imagine these the things scraping along the floor, joggling side to side while chasing a human with legs--and somehow catching up with her. I can totally see how this idea might be inspired by a nightmare that woke the author up in a heart-pounding cold sweat. But it doesn't translate too believably into fiction.

(So I'm tempted to conclude, as Elsie's doctor did, that these were figments of her imagination from the beginning.)

2. modern language

The decades we're dealing with here are the 1860s and the 1630s. The diary entries (that explain the origin of the family curse) from the years before the English Civil War were especially annoying. Anne (the diarist) woulda been speaking/writing almost like Shakespeare. Certainly more like the characters in Dafoe's novels. As a lit major, my studies in these eras are so thorough--I know what to expect! But the diary entries are written in modern style with a few words thrown in like "Fie!" "Perchance" and "aye" thrown in to remind us we're not in modern times. (at least Purcell didn't go so far as to use "okay" throughout the book *coughLydiaKangcough*).

This issue leads to everyone sounding the same. Should two characters living centuries apart write their stories with the same writing style/voice? Absolutely not. Elsie and Anne sound identical. Seriously? This lack of authenticity causes my suspension of disbelief to wither. I get it that writing in that antiquated style would be so difficult, so let's not make the attempt and slow down the presses, okay? Time is money.

Every once in a while the text would include a teeny-tiny historical factoid to back up what was going on, and I'd be like "Oh, look, the author did a some research." Seriously, I thought that at one point. (So unlike Fingersmith where the details are so rich and entwined with the whole that you are THERE with the characters, you believe absolutely that you are in the 1800s.)

3. floating body parts

"Her eyes flew about..." p. 263

"Her eyes shot back down the staircase." p. 229

When read in the frenzy of the action, things like this can be overlooked, but separated out and read on their own, they become ridiculous. This is why a diligent editor will point out cases of floating body parts. The one I come across most frequently is "his head twisted around" or "her head swiveled." Why not just "looked" instead of reminding us of that scene in The Exorcist? Honestly, I'm relieved Purcell didn't include this particular ickiness along with the flying eyes.

I think this happens when an author is searching for an interesting way to say something ordinary and probably to avoid starting yet another sentence with "She" as in "She looked over her shoulder" and "She searched the room."

4. withholding

I get the repressed memory thing, but when a POV character is repressing memories and ALSO alludes to certain details she knows happened during that event but the detail is so disjointed that I'm left saying, "What does that even mean?" until the BIG REVEAL, there's withholding so that there can BE a big reveal, and it's contrived and irritating as hell. (No spoilers here though, because that would ruin THE BIG REVEAL.)

For the love of all words holy, just tell me! So I can share the character's agony and understand the stakes underlying the secret. When a reader can't share in the characters' stakes, and in the feelings they're obviously feeling (because we're told they are), the reader may start doing that eye-roll thing. 

MY CONCLUSION: this novel HAD to have been written in a rush, without time to triple-check the prose and catch the crutches lazy/rushed writing employs. And then Purcell's well paid Penguin editors didn't catch this stuff and request corrections. Or maybe they did and Purcell declined. Whatever. 

Point is, I feel frustrated, so I feel the need to skip Purcell's other works in future. That will leave me feeling quite satisfied.

Still, in the words of LeVar Burton, "Don't take my word for it." Here are the purchase links: GOODREADS

Friday, January 5, 2024

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

 I just finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015).

I'm used to reading Horror short stories, so reading a full-length horror novel feels like a step forward (or downward into the dark). My first impression is that A Head Full of Ghosts is "a comfortable horror story." Given the title, I expected ghost possession, in the tradition of A Turn of the Screw. But this is a modern cousin of The Exorcist.

And after having survived watching that film and reading that book (as therapy after watching the film), it's hard to scare me with demon possession stories. That's why this was a "comfortable" read. It was packed with enough familiar things that I wasn't pissing my pants every five minutes or having nightmares. In other words, it didn't offer much new in the way of possession stories. Comfortably classic. It even pokes fun of the whole concept of possession literature in the form of "blog posts" that break down the possession genre and the reports of this story's particular possession in modern terms, which, honestly, give much needed breathing space between the violent, disturbing moments of the possession itself, while drawing out the tension and providing shocking foreshadowing.

The other breakaway from The Exorcist was the ending. In a priceless article that follows up the novel (in which the author explains what horror is or ought to be, in his opinion), he poses the question "what happens to these people after the event? how do they get on with life after surviving such horrible things?" (paraphrased) And that's how this story ends, with more horror of a different kind. No spoilers though.

The characters were perfectly believable and realistic in their reactions and behaviors, as were the explanations/hints as to why Plotpoint XYZ was happening, which cast just enough doubt on the situation to keep the reader wondering: Is this real? Is she lying? Plus, the flow and structure of the novel made for an effortless read. There's no belaboring anything. And I couldn't put it down. So I finished the novel in about 4 days, which is hugely odd for me, as it generally takes me a couple of weeks to sit through a novel.

Given Tremblay's answers to the paraphrased questions above, I'll be seeking out more of his work in the future.

For more, visit the Goodreads page and links for A Head Full of Ghosts.

Friday, December 15, 2023

End of the Year Sale: "A Nocturne In Red"

Hey, hey!

The Smashwords End of the Year Sale begins today and runs through January 1. 

Now is your best chance to snatch up my novella, "A Nocturne In Red" for 75% off! That means this quick read (normally priced at $4.99) is now only $1.24 for the next two weeks. Find the download button at this link:  

Is this novella for you? Grab it and give it a go.


Sanjen Laurelius, a lute-wielding bard, is a rising star.

He's also wanted by the emperor.

When he calls upon his special brand of song-magic to fight off a rampaging harpy, he finds himself the object of unwanted attention: a powerful officer in the emperor's service hires Sanjen to find the cure for a curse that has transformed a favored concubine into a bloodthirsty monster. But Sanjen's past is catching up with him. Can he find a way to save the victim of the curse before his employer discovers his true identity—and returns him to the emperor in chains?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

End of 2023 BOOK Sales

Home for the holidays? Need a new something to read while basking in the warmth of a crackling fire? Something short that won't bog you down once the downtime is over? Novellas are the way to go. And it just so happens, I have one for fans of the fantasy genre.

I’m excited to announce my novella, "A NOCTURNE IN RED," will be promoted on Smashwords as part of their 2023 End of Year Sale starting on December 15! Be sure to check back for more updates and links about the promotion and support your favorite storyteller(s)!

What's better than books on sale? Nothing!

Look for this cover:

Until then, "NOCTURNE" is available at AMAZON and these EBOOK DISTRIBUTORS.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Getting ready to stuff myself and regret my life choices, but it will be so worth it. I am grateful for my family and friends. And taste buds. Let us not take the humble taste bud for granted.

Favorite dish to savor:  candied sweet potatoes

Favorite Thanksgiving activity:  napping to football

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Sanjen Performs Everywhere

It's time to move on from Kindle exclusivity. I weighed republishing my stuff through IngramSpark or Draft2Digital, and decided to go with D2D. At least, with my darling guinea pig novella, "A Nocturne In Red." (The process was so simple that I'll likely do the same with all the others a little at a time.)

As of this week, Sanjen's first adventure is available, not just at Amazon, but everywhere D2D distributes books. I cannot express how excited I was to be able to download my book from Apple Books. Yes, I was my own first sale there. 😋

So now my beloved messed-up bard is "booked" at Apple, Kobo, and Scribd, and will soon perform at Barnes & Noble and all other venues too. If you want to follow his rising career and fall under the spell of his magical music, this is the link to all his current bookings:

Crossing fingers that greater exposure widens his success with fans.

Here's the cover to look for:


Sanjen Laurelius, a lute-wielding bard, is a rising star.

He's also wanted by the emperor.

When he calls upon his special brand of song-magic to fight off a rampaging harpy, he finds himself the object of unwanted attention: a powerful officer in the emperor's service hires Sanjen to find the cure for a curse that has transformed a favored concubine into a bloodthirsty monster. But Sanjen's past is catching up with him. Can he find a way to save the victim of the curse before his employer discovers his true identity—and returns him to the emperor in chains?

Genre: somewhere between dark and epic fantasy

Length: novella (a quick weekend read)

Content warnings: drug use, gore, language, allusions to sexual content

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I'm A Proofreader at Fiverr

proofreading Gig has been approved at Fiverr. I'm so excited to toss my net over somebody's manuscript or website and snag those pesky typos and grammatical slips. I just need somebody to take a chance on my skills and click that Order button.

The link to my Gig can be found AT THIS LOVELY LINK.

Or THIS LINK. Both should lead to the same place.

So what is this Gig all about? I'll just quote the Gig description:

My job = final polishing by correcting the following: 
  • spelling 
  • grammar 
  • punctuation 
  • typos 
  • floating words 
  • omitted words 
  • word usage 
  • format inconsistencies 
  • broken links 
What this Gig is NOT about: 
  • changing your writing style, voice, or message 
  • editing for clarity, structural, or developmental issues (that's a whole other kettle of fish) 
  • working with early, unedited drafts 
  • beta reading for plot arc, character arc, etc. 
Genres I love to tackle: 
  • fantasy, sci-fi, horror and all related subgenres 
  • historical 
  • literary
  • mystery/thriller
  • middle-grade
  • nonfiction: including memoir, blog posts, articles, essays, website content 
Genres better suited for someone else
  • romance 
  • erotica 
  • religion 
  • hardcore military fiction 
My rate: $5 per 1000 words of any total length, be it 500 words or 150,000. 

Delivery times: 
  • up to 5000 words = 5 days 
  • up to 25,000 words = 14 days 
  • up to 100,000 words = 30 days 
  • over 100,000 words = 45 days


Once I get a few jobs under my belt, I'll be raising those prices a bit, so whoever comes along first will get the better deal.

For this Gig to work, I can ONLY be contacted about this job at the above links. Any attempt to solicit a job here on my blog or other social media outlets will be refused and the link sent to you anyway, so just follow the link.