TV Binge: The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

*This is a mostly spoiler-free review however, some elements discussed may take away from the viewing experience so feel free to return after you’ve seen the series.*

The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Dong-hyuk Hwang

Cast: Jung-jae Lee, Hae-soo Park, Ha-jun Wi, Young-soo Oh, Ho-yeon Jung, Sung-tae Heo, Joo-ryoung Kim, Tripathi Anupam, Seong-joo You, You-mi Lee

Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 40-million-dollar prize at stake. – IMDB

Survival games in TV series, movies or books aren’t really unseen or uncommon at this point. The Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix thriller series which sets up a survival game where an initial 456 players are invited from their hopelessness in life and desperation for money with no clue of what to expect until the first game starts and it becomes a do or die situation where it claims to provide a fair and equal world where as long as they follow the rule, they will be able to get out with the prize money.

This is the case for most of the characters here as they meet up during the first game: Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), Sang-woo (Hae-soo Park), Ali (Tripathi Anupam), Player 1 (Young-soo Oh), Sae-byeok (Ho-Yeong Jung) who end up teaming up while the players also have those who are much more ruthless lead by Deok-su (Sung-tae Heo) and the more uncertain factor with a woman called Mi-Nyeo (Joo-ryoung Kim). These players are core as each of them represent something different in the society and each have their own personality which sees them making it to certain phases as the teams start forming after the lesson of the first game with a very obvious turning point where they need to change. Its not hard to see who will be the changing factors however, these characters do truly grow on the audience throughout that some scenes that struggle between a selfish desire to survive creates these moral dilemmas between the characters that show the wear that it has on them.

The main character Gi-Hun being constantly in that spotlight as his character has some of the biggest changes from the beginning to the ending that feel subtle but can be seen in his decisions and struggles. Much like the cold Sae-Byeok who is judged by her North Korean background but also changes throughout as she starts to find trust in her alliances. Much like a very naive Ali who wants to win this for his family but ends up being constantly used to forward others plans unknowingly. Each game dives into a different moral element and strategy which takes an profound and poignant turn in the 4th game especially with the old neighborhood setup that isn’t as big as the other game settings but manages to create a significant contrast especially after the previous game’s focus on strategy and teamwork.

While it focuses on the players for the most part, the show also has the flip side with a cop Jun-ho (Ha-Jun Wi) that is investigating the disappearance of his brother which leads him to sneaking around the game headquarters undercover blending into different people from the game. Having recently been impressed by Ha-Jun Wi’s performance in Midnight (review), it was such a pleasant surprise to see him in this very different role and doing a fantastic job. Even if the dialogue isn’t quite a lot, his character is very well-executed. With that said, his side of the story shares the operational elements of The Squid Game of what the whole deal is. This element brings in a lot of twists and turns with a lot of unknown elements seeing as the guards and Front Man are all masked for the majority of the film. Having both the players and operations both being shown gives the audience more knowledge than the players to a certain extent and keeps the story balanced with not just death and survival but also mystery and suspense.

There is no doubt that the survival elements of the game is the most thrilling to watch especially with the use of Korean childhood games. Some of which are more familiar to the outside world and some which give it that Korean twist especially with the title game, The Squid Game which adds a cultural element. The sets are fantastically designed and every single one levels up from the previous both in how they creatively add in the danger element and incorporate the strategy while also revealing the characters for their true personality. The set-up is rather brutal to watch for the most part and is done incredibly well. As the games get worse and more unpredictable, the true purpose of The Squid Game is gradually revealed as the operations gets tracked down by the cop character which adds another layer to the story that leads right up to the ending that keeps it wide open for a second season with a lot of unanswered questions and many more possibilities. That ending though does leave a lot to think about whether about the whole plot, the clues that lead to the big reveal and ponder on trust and faith in humanity in general.

Book Review: The Visitor by Terry Tyler

The Visitor
By: Terry Tyler

Genre: Mystery/Post-Apocalyptic

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and a hundred per cent lethal.

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or someone from outside? As the body count rises, paranoia sets in; friend suspects friend, and everyone suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that no one knows who’s next on the list… – Goodreads

Having read two books before by Terry Tyler, The Visitor continues on being able to showcase her ability to craft engaging murder mystery thrillers. The Visitor’s plot benefits from our current pandemic situation as it sets itself in the future after another pandemic has struck the world which is 100% lethal and much more brutal but sets it in a little village where another threat has hit them simultaneously in the form of a murderer which causes the fear to grow in its inhabitants. The backdrop is one that feels almost like it could happen in our current landscape with variants popping up in our current landscape, making it hit home a little more.

There’s a lot to love about The Visitor other than its familiar backdrop. One of them is a familiar form in Terry Tyler’s books which focuses around the point of view from a few of its core characters. In this one, its from the view of the few inhabitants living in the cottage and bunker who ends up there through some connection whether it is the leftover family and companions of friends that had gotten the invitation. As they gather in the bunker and keep it secret, they observe the people around them and get to know the different members of the village. As they each struggle with their own loss and current situation, they each have their own speculations. The benefit of jumping between characters is that it leaves some blind spots and blank spaces giving the unknown to spark. At the same time, who actually knows the depths of someone’s mind although the killer’s perspective usually does draw certain clues from one chapter to the next and slowly does give an idea of who is behind it by the end.

The Visitor also crafts really good characters. The group in the bunker themselves having their own differences and backgrounds and how they get there is one that definitely sets their own character as much as what they do after the settle into the village and each having their own pursuits and responsibilities. Two of them being best friends but also old flames, one of them being a survivalist (but also could be viewed as selfish), one dealing with her massive loss but navigating through being more of a loner: add in their own sort of purpose and personality that grows throughout the story as they get more involved into the village’s affairs and the villagers themselves, human nature is a tricky thing to say the very least.

The great part is how the focus of the novel smoothly shifts from its beginning of the big threat with this mystery virus which takes the front seat and determines their own means to survive and the desperation of the whole situation due to its lethal nature. However, subtly the story shifts to the murder and slowly the routine of surviving through this “post -apocalyptical” world becomes secondary as the murders become more frequent. It almost blends the two together so well that the story and character plot shift is done incredibly well.

Overall, The Visitor is a fantastic murder mystery. Not only does it have well-developed characters but it also builds a great post-apocalyptic world that is not only relatable in the current age but also pushes it further. Perhaps at times it feels a little bit too soon to be already diving into it but it also adds to the unsettling and uneasiness. Smooth plot transition and executed well, The Visitor is a well-paced and engaging thriller to dive into.

TV Binge: Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Director: Sam Quah & Dai Mo

Cast: Roy Chiu, Janine Chang, Zhe Yuan Chen, Yi Shang Sha, Xiao Cheng, Victor Ma, Ming Shuai Shi

Strange crimes occur in Thailand as the ranking for the world’s best detective sees a shift. New detectives come into the picture to tackle three difficult cases. Lin Mo is the student of Chinatown’s number one detective. Lin Mo pursues two cases: Four-Faced Buddha and Name of the Rose that not only takes place in Bangkok but also in Kaoshiung. The third case about the Ghost’s Invitation takes the story back to Bangkok and then to Tokyo. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: iQiYi

Detective Chinatown is adapted from the Detective Chinatown movies (which I have yet to see). However, this series is really three cases wrapped up as a series. Each case being 4 episodes. The first two revolving the detective Lin Mo played by Roy Chiu and directed by Sam Quah who also directs Sheep Without a Shepherd (review). I mention this because he uses a few cast members that make up the cast from that movie. The third case goes off in a completely different direction: set on an island in the middle of the ocean, about e-sports competition and starring a five person team lead by Noda Koji, played by Zheyuan Chen.

In many ways, Detective Chinatown should be seen as three separate stories as the timeline becomes a little fuzzy. The first case feels the most recent as Roy Chiu’s detective and high school substitute teacher character Lin Mo takes on almost this modern day Sherlock Holmes sort of role cooperating with policewoman Sa Sha (Yi Shang Zhang). There’s a level of quirkiness that makes him rather charming to watch. The first case, Four-Faced Buddha is rather intriguing as it investigates a group of girls after one of their friends commit suicide. The case gets quite a bit of twist and turns and gives Lin Mo a fun look at how he is plus there’s a decent amount of comedy with the other inspectors in the police HQ getting involved. Its probably my favorite of the three. The second dives back in the timeline before Lin Mo is part of the Detective Chinatown agency and first encounters the police woman in the first case Sa Sha but actually tells the story of his connection with this mystery assassin group that wants to kill him for some reason and he gets entangled with this flower shop owner Ivy (Janine Zhang).

Where the series feels the most disjointed is the third case where Lin Mo is not part of the story and it switches over to an esports tournament and five people team who gets lured to the island for this tournament as a final battle before this online game shuts down the server but becomes a rouse for a disappeared legendary player setting up an elaborate game. As an individual case, its pretty decent but just doesn’t seem to correlate well with the first 8 episodes. It feels like a completely different world with just a hint of connection at the beginning when Sa Sha is sent to handle this case. It definitely feels like an attempt to promote a new direction for this franchise, maybe a second season especially since the five people team includes a few up and coming celebrities like Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng along with Zheyuan Chen. These young cast lack the acting experience so they don’t reflect as well especially since Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng gained popularity through music and the third story has a lot of characters and a lot of the supporting cast are much more seasoned actors.

Overall, running at 12 episodes, Detective Chinatown is very bingeworthy. The three separate stories is a good way to execute this series and the pacing is pretty good. Sure, the third case is a little odd and its a bit overacted but the set up and case development is pretty good. Roy Chiu is honestly fantastic as Lin Mo and well worth a watch just for his performance. Plus, the first 8 episodes are directed by Sam Quah who has a great eye for capturing the atmosphere and how some of the shots are done are very well-executed. Its rare that I watch series like this which is focused on investigation and twisty cases that its a breath of fresh air.

Blog Tour: Nothing Good Happens After Midnight (Review/Giveaway)

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

Publication Date: November 17th, 2020
Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Anthology
Publisher: Suspense Magazine

The sun sets. The moon takes its place, illuminating the most evil corners of the planet. What twisted fear dwells in that blackness? What legends attach to those of sound mind and make them go crazy in the bright light of day? Only Suspense Magazine knows…

Teaming up with New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, Suspense Magazine offers up a nail-biting anthology titled: “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight.” This thrilling collection consists of thirteen original short stories representing the genres of suspense/thriller, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and more.

Readers’ favorites come together to explore the mystery of midnight. The ‘best of the best’ presenting these memorable tales include: Joseph Badal, Linwood Barclay, Rhys Bowen, Heather Graham, Alan Jacobson, Paul Kemprecos, Shannon Kirk, Jon Land, John Lescroart, D. P. Lyle, Kevin O’Brien, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Take their hands…walk into their worlds…but be prepared to leave the light on when you’re through. After all, this incredible gathering of authors, who will delight fans of all genres, not only utilized their

award-winning imaginations to answer that age-old question of why “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight”—they also made sure to pen stories that will leave you…speechless.

“NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT is a treat—dark, chilling, and delicious. Grab it.” —Meg Gardiner, Edgar Award-Winning Author of The Dark Corners of the Night

“Something very good happens after midnight…just pick up this brilliant book and be transported—and very afraid!” —Peter James, UK #1 Bestselling Author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series

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REVIEW

Anthologies are a great way for authors to share some short stories and to show off their writing style. With any anthologies, its always a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing Good Happens After Midnight is also somewhat of a mixed bag however as a lot of the writers are much more experienced, they all showcase an array of suspenseful stories that have rather good premises. The stories offer a different set of characters that range in age and the context which gives it a different setting and spin showing off each of the author’s different approach to their writing and story ideas. Across 13 stories from 13 different authors, there is quite a lot of creative ideas. Overall, its a rather enjoyable read.

As with any anthology, there are its own standouts. This will be probably different for each reader. For myself, the standouts are the stories that are more memorable than the others whether on story structure/execution preference or decent angle or the characters itself as well as the ideas all coming together along with a good setting. The first that comes to mind is Easy Peasey by John Lescroart which structures its story in an engaging way about a home invasion plot and jumps from one point of view to the next via its different characters and their different intentions. Night Shift by Linwood Barclay is a type of story that plays on a call that turns into a “negotiation” sort of deal as the characters work with police to try to talk a man out of their killing spree plans all culminating to a fantastic ending (the type of ending that I particularly enjoy).

Midnight in the Garden of Death by Heather Graham, A Creative Defense by Jeffery Deaver and All Aboard by Hank Phillippi Ryan also craft some brilliant stories. The first one crafts a story in a great setting, the second takes a fantastic musical angle of a musical piece that has the power of hynopsis and the third is set on a train as someone overhears a phone conversation. The final story of the anthology called ATM by Jon Land is also a decent one mostly for its unique angle of taking it on a suspenseful route but having a different approach.

A rather successful compilation of short stories in this anthology. While I listed six of the thirteen stories as more memorable. The others not mentioned are also fairly decent. Perhaps the only one that didn’t appeal to myself as much was the first short story since it felt a little familiar. Overall, a fun little suspense anthology. For a fan of suspense stories, this one fulfills.

Score: 4 out of 5

Purchase Links
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JEFFERY DEAVER is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into twenty-five languages. He has served two terms as president of Mystery Writers of America.

The author of forty-three novels, three collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, and a lyricist of a country-western album, he’s received or been shortlisted for dozens of awards. His THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND was named Novel of the Year by the International Thriller Writers association, and his Lincoln Rhyme thriller THE BROKEN WINDOW and a stand-alone, EDGE, were also nominated for that prize. THE GARDEN OF BEASTS won the Steel Dagger from the Crime Writers Association in England. He’s been nominated for eight Edgar Awards.

Deaver has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the Strand Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award in Italy.

His book A MAIDEN’S GRAVE was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin, and his novel THE BONE COLLECTOR was a feature release from Universal Pictures, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Lifetime aired an adaptation of his THE DEVIL’S TEARDROP. NBC television is airing the popular prime time series, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector.

His latest novel is THE GOODBYE MAN, a Colter Shaw thriller.

Website

Author Bios

JOSEPH BADAL grew up in a family where storytelling had been passed down from generation to generation.

Prior to a long business career, Joe served for six years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army in critical, highly classified positions in the U.S. and overseas, including tours of duty in Greece and Vietnam, and earned numerous military decorations.

Joe is an Amazon #1 bestselling author, with 16 published suspense novels. He has been recognized as “One of The 50 Best Writers You Should Be Reading.” His books have received two Tony Hillerman Awards for Best Fiction Book of the Year, been top prize winners on multiple occasions in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards competition, received gold medals from the Military Writers Society of America, the Eric Hoffer Award, and Finalist honors in the International Book Awards.

He writes a regular column titled “Inspired by Actual Events” in Suspense Magazine.

To learn more, visit his website at http://www.JosephBadalBooks.com.

LINWOOD BARCLAY, a New York Times bestselling author and with nearly twenty novels to his credit, spent three decades in newspapers before turning full time to writing thrillers. His books have been translated into more than two dozen language, sold millions of copies, and he counts Stephen King among his fans. Many of his books have been optioned for film and TV, a series has been made in France, and he wrote the screenplay for the film based on his novel NEVER SAW IT COMING. Born in the US, his parents moved to Canada just as he was turning four, and he’s lived there ever since. He lives near Toronto with his wife, Neetha. They have two grown children.

RHYS BOWEN is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of two historical mystery series, as well as three internationally bestselling standalone novels. Her books have won multiple awards and been translated into over twenty languages. A transplanted Brit, Rhys now divides her time between California and Arizona, where she escapes from those harsh California winters.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, HEATHER GRAHAM, majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare.

She is pleased to have been published in approximately twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels and has 60 million books in print. She has been honored with awards from booksellers and writers’ organizations for excellence in her work, and she is also proud to be a recipient of the Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers and was also awarded the prestigious Thriller Master in 2016. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA. Heather has had books selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild, and has been quoted, interviewed, or featured in such publications as The Nation, Redbook, Mystery Book Club, People and USA Today and appeared on many newscasts including Today, Entertainment Tonight and local television.

Heather loves travel and anything that has to do with the water, and is a certified scuba diver. She also loves ballroom dancing. Each year she hosts the Vampire Ball and Dinner theater at the RT convention, raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society, and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the stricken Gulf Region. She is also the founder of “The Slush Pile Players,” presenting something that’s “almost like entertainment” for various conferences and benefits. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift, and she is grateful every day to be doing something that she loves so very much for a living.

ALAN JACOBSON is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of fourteen thrillers, including the FBI profiler Karen Vail series and the OPSIG Team Black novels. His books have been translated internationally and several have been optioned by Hollywood. Jacobson’s debut novel, FALSE ACCUSATIONS, was adapted to film by acclaimed Czech screenwriter Jirí Hubac.

Jacobson has spent over twenty-five years working with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, the DEA, the US Marshals Service, SWAT, the NYPD, Scotland Yard, local law enforcement, and the US military. This research and the breadth of his contacts help bring depth and realism to his characters and stories.

For video interviews and a free personal safety eBook co-authored by Alan Jacobson and FBI Profiler Mark Safarik, please visit http://www.AlanJacobson.com. You can also connect with Jacobson on Facebook (Facebook.com/AlanJacobsonFans), Instagram (alan.jacobson), Twitter (@JacobsonAlan), and Goodreads (alan-jacobson).

PAUL KEMPRECOS is the author of eight novels in the Aristotle “Soc” Socarides private detective series, including COOL BLUE TOMB, winner of a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America for Best Paperback, and SHARK BAIT, nominated for a Shamus in the same category. Grandmaster of Adventure writer Clive Cussler blurbed: “There can be no better mystery writer in America than Paul Kemprecos.” Paul became the first fiction co-author to work with Cussler when they created and wrote the New York Times bestselling NUMA Files series. After collaborating with Cussler on the first eight books in the NUMA Files, Paul wrote two adventure novels including THE MINOAN CIPHER, nominated for a Thriller award by the International Thriller Writers. Paul lives on Cape Cod with his wife Christi, a financial advisor.

To learn more about Paul Kemprecos, check out his website at http://www.paulkemprecos.com.

SHANNON KIRK is the international bestselling and award-winning author of METHOD 15/33, THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, IN THE VINES, GRETCHEN, VIEBURY GROVE, and short stories in four anthologies: THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD, NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT, and BORDER NOIR. Shannon is also a contributor to the International Thriller Writers’ Murderers’ Row. Growing up in New Hampshire, Shannon and her brothers were encouraged by their parents to pursue the arts, which instilled in her a love for writing at a young age. A graduate of Suffolk Law School in Massachusetts, Shannon is a practicing litigation attorney and former adjunct law professor, specializing in electronic-evidence law. When she isn’t writing or practicing law, Shannon spends time with her husband, son, and two cats. To learn more about her, visit http://www.shannonkirkbooks.com.

JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 50 books, including the award-winning, critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which is STRONG FROM THE HEART. He has also penned six novels in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series and has recently taken over Margaret

Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series as well. He’s a 1979 graduate of Brown University, lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be reached at jonlandbooks.com or on Twitter @jondland.

JOHN LESCROART is the author of twenty-nine novels, nineteen of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Libraries Unlimited places him among “The 100 Most Popular Thriller and Suspense Authors.” With sales of over twelve million copies, his books have been translated into twenty-two languages in more than seventy-five countries, and his short stories appear in many anthologies.

John’s first book, SUNBURN, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for Best Novel by a California author. DEAD IRISH, THE 13TH JUROR, and THE KEEPER were nominees for the Shamus, Anthony, and Silver Falchion Best Mystery Novel, respectively; additionally THE 13TH JUROR is included in the International Thriller Writers publication “100 Must-Read Thrillers of All Time.” HARD EVIDENCE made “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List.” THE SUSPECT was the American Author’s Association 2007 Book of the Year. THE MOTIVE was an Audie Finalist of the Audio Publishers Association. THE MERCY RULE, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, THE SUSPECT, THE FALL, and THE RULE OF LAW have been major market Book Club selections. John’s books have been Main Selections of one or more of the Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, and Book of the Month Club.

P. LYLE is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 22 books, both non-fiction and fiction, including the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, Jake Longly and Cain/Harper thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in novels. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears in THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS, his short story “Even Steven” in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER, and his short story “Bottom Line” in FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME. He served as editor for and contributed the short story “Splash” to SCWA’s anthology IT’S ALL IN THE STORY.

He hosts the Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog and the Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction podcast series. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.

Learn more at http://www.dplylemd.com.

Before his thrillers landed him on the New York Times bestseller list, KEVIN O’BRIEN was a railroad inspector. The author of 21 internationally-published thrillers, he won the Spotted Owl Award for Best Pacific Northwest Mystery, and is a core member of Seattle 7 Writers. Press & Guide said: “If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today and writing novels, his name would be Kevin O’Brien.” Kevin’s latest nail-biter is THE BAD SISTER.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. A USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Critics call her “a master of suspense.” Her highly-acclaimed TRUST ME was an Agatha nominee and chosen for numerous prestigious “Best of 2018” lists. Hank’s book THE MURDER LIST is an Agatha, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Her newest standalone is THE FIRST TO LIE (Forge Books August 2020). The Publishers Weekly starred review calls it “Stellar.”

Publisher:

SUSPENSE MAGAZINE was founded in 2007 on the premise that every author in the genre needed a platform to have a voice. From that original concept, Suspense Publishing was born in 2010 to publish high quality books in the suspense/mystery/horror/thriller genre. Suspense Publishing’s goal is to be a leader in producing the highest quality books in the genre.

Website

GIVEAWAY: Print copy of book (International)
Enter HERE

Blog Tour Schedule

November 16th

Reads & Reels (Spotlight)
I Love Books & Stuff (Spotlight)
Cocktails & Fairy Tales (Review)
Sadie’s Spotlight (Review)

November 17th

Jessica Belmont (Review)
Meli’s Book Reviews (Review)
@the.b00kreadser (Review)
Tranquil Dreams (Review)

November 18th

Horror Tree (Guest Post)
Breakeven Books (Spotlight)
Tsarina Press (Spotlight)
What Emma Did Next (Review)

November 19th

Rambling Mads (Spotlight)
Bonnie Reads & Writes (Review)
Book Review Crew (Review)
Stine Writing (Review)

November 20th

@BrendaJeanCombs (Spotlight)
@52weekswithbooks (Review)
The Faerie Review (Review)
@thecrookedhouse (Review)

Blog Tour Organized by:

R&R Book Tours

FNC 2020: The Tremor (2020)

The Tremor (2020)

The Tremor

Director (and writer): Balaji Vembu Chelli

Cast: Rajeev Anand, Semmalar Annam, Sasikumar Sivalingam

Following a tip-off, a rookie photojournalist sets off to report on a destructive earthquake but soon finds himself on a mysterious journey that questions the line between fact, myth, and sensationalism. – IMDB

The Tremor is one of those movies that is very hard to sell. The plot of it (just like described above) is rather intriguing but the execution is one that is going to test a lot of the viewer’s patience. The Tremor follows an unnamed photojournalist who spends most of his film driving in his car through mountain paths. The movie starts with scenes of the aftermath of an earthquake in first person as it sees trees fallen down and people being carried out in stretchers and there’s this brewing sound effects in the background that gets louder and louder and yet, back on the road, the movie spends a lot of time with a GoPro or dashcam bouncing around in first person of the mountainous roads that he drives on or close-up of his face whether trying to figure out where to go next or smoking.

The few encounters he has turns out to be fairly cryptic with different information being shared about whether an earthquake did happen and where it is exactly. That is where the suspense lies: in the unknown and whether this did happen and whether the tip-off was a real thing because it starts feeling a lot like its misinformation at a certain point. Its what keeps the plot going and the intrigue of following this man drive around the movie and visit different places and climb through mountainous locations and these little villages along the way looking and questioning the people that want to talk to him. Its these little conversations that much like him, the viewers are learning about the location and what happened or has happened.

In reality, what does give The Tremor the most style is the setting. The mountainous roads and the forest along with a deep fog that creeps in from the valley that starts covering up what is going on. It seems to come in slowly and unexpectedly, following him around. The isolated roads and the vast mountain range and valleys and just the emptiness of the whole location gives it so much suspense. As the past is revealed and almost always constant denial, much like the main character, its easy to wonder what is real or myth. If it wasn’t for the mountainous roads that feel like they loop (or maybe they do) and the unknowing direction of just moving forward and keep hitting figurative dead ends of this situation either having never been heard or the connection of a past earthquake that has been lingering in the village’s memory, it all gets a little uncertain and unclear.

In some ways, The Tremor really is quite an outstanding movie. The cinematography, the setting, the soundtrack all give it the suspense and mystery to keep the viewer intrigue. But at the same time, its a grueling experience where it ends and its a wonder how it was one to get into because in reality, its the most basic elements of watching one man drive through a mountain constantly going forward with almost always fruitless effort and it lies on whether the endgame is one that is satisfying enough. For myself, its a little half and half.

*The Tremor is currently playing virtually for Festival du Nouveau Cinema until October 31st, 2020*

Fantasia Festival 2020: Shorts Round-up

Like every year, the final post for Fantasia Festival 2020 is going to be a short film round-up.

Abracitos (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Tony Morales

Cast: Virginia Gomez, Beatriz Salas, Carmen Salas

This Spanish horror short running at 11 minutes is set in the bedroom of a little girl when a phone call rings and the two sisters picks up the phone to realize that there’s something outside the little hideaway. While there is a little bit of campiness in the design of the “monster” on hand, the execution and atmosphere is done so well that it is very creepy and unsettling of tension build-up as anticipation of something happening builds up more and more of what will appear and all ends in a startling ending.

Abracitos is an incredible short executed with such a strong sense of horror that just makes you cringe in your seat waiting for what will happen next but never actually knowing when it will happen.

Downs of the Dead (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Even Husby Grodahl

Cast: David Vekony, Svein Andre Hofso Myhre, Eili Harboe, Ivar Lykke, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Elg Elgesem, Giulia Hellesdatter Roi, Trond Halbo

Running at 23 minutes, Downs of the Dead is a horror comedy set in a home for the intellectually disabled when the zombie apocalypse hits. The nurse tries to find a way out with the residents as the people around start turning one by one. The comedy elements of Downs of the Dead is pretty good. The incorporation of the different character groups with both the residents and the nurse’s collaboration to escape taking a different angle while using the visiting music band and the boss who gets turned into another element of added danger. Its all rather entertaining to watch and runs at a decent pacing. Horror comedy set during zombie apocalypse is really a been there done that sort of premise however its characters and setting is really what gives it the unique edge.

Suspense (2020)

Director (and writer): Ben Burghart & Jacob Burghart

Cast: Robert Coppage III, Jelani Talib

Running at a swift 7 minutes, Suspense starts off with an army pilot caught in the canopy of trees after he escapes the crash. As another army pilot reunites with him on land, they realize that something is chasing them in the shadows. Playing a little like Predator, this story takes a turn for the worse really quickly as the invisible enemy is tracked mostly by its sound with the aid of the camera. Its a fast-paced and excitingly intense short film that delivers on executing some thrilling build-up.

Dead Birds (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Johnny Kenton

Cast: Shannon Tarbet, Tara Fitzgerald, Luke Newberry, Synnove Karlsen, Lydia Wilson

A failing teenage badminton player at a Catholic Girls School is visited by a Saint – who agrees to help her if she’ll complete three tasks for him. Dead Birds is a twisted Super Natural Black Comedy about competitive mother daughter relationships, losing your religion and learning how far you’d go to get what you want. – IMDB

Running over 30 minutes, Dead Birds is one of the longer short films in this batch and also that I’ve seen to date. Its a dark comedy that elevates in its intensity gradually and also a horror comedy that doesn’t use zombies but rather the psyche of a badminton player striving for success and recognition to move up before a big competition. Its quite a wild ride with a good execution on the humor (at least for myself) and all builds up to this fairly alarming twist ending that becomes a little apparent by the final moments right before it as things all piece together from the various conversations. Its a fun and engaging short film that feels very different from any that I’ve seen before.

Homo ErecTattoos (2020)

Director (and writer): Kim Tae-woo

A terrible accident leaves a young soldier horribly scarred, but his rediscovery of art heals his wounded soul, in this brief but powerful animated documentary. – Fantasia Festival

If there was any short film that’s unique, it would definitely be this 8 minute South Korean animated short film. One of the most standout points is how it uses its black and white art style to execute each of its scenes as the pictures morph into one and another to progress through the story of a soldier recovering. There’s such a powerful story told here while still keeping it stylish and visually gripping. Its a movie experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Perdida (2019)

Perdida (2019)

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Cast: José Maria de Tavira, Cristina Rodlo, Paulina Davila, Juan Carlos Colombo, Sonia Franco, Paulette Hernandez, Luis Fernando Pena

Shattered by the unexpected news of their irreversible break-up, an aspiring orchestra conductor is puzzled by his girlfriend’s mysterious and seemingly inexplicable case of disappearance. But, can he look beyond the facts? – IMDB

Perdida is the 2019 remake of the 2011 Columbian thriller called La Cara Oculta aka The Hidden Face (review). The source material itself is an outstanding piece of psychological horror thriller kind of deal with great execution and a stellar twist. It comes as a surprise after some research for this film that there was a remake before this one which was Bollywood film Murder 3. Its always been somewhat of a mystery in my mind whether knowing the twist of this plot would change its value in a second viewing and its probably one of the reasons that I haven’t revisited the original since I saw it years ago in the early days of the blog. Its also a movie that is very rarely talked about and it makes me wonder whether people actually have seen the original. Putting all that aside, Perdida was one that had a lot to live up to and one that is hard to not at least compare it to its original a little especially since movies that live in my brain years after its viewing is a rarity.

For the most part, Perdida stick fairly close to the source material especially in structure. Its atmosphere and the characters all come together quite well. Its interpretation of the suspense and the thriller also works well. What it does really well is the cinematography as it creates all the tension with ambiance as well as making some visually appealing scenes using the dim lighting and shadows. There are some passionate sex scenes and then the music score is probably what blends the best with the film which pulls together the orchestra conductor profession of Eric. The score builds up a lot of the scenes. At the same time, the contrast of subtlety in sound also crafts the suspenseful side of the story.

Where Perdida might not quite work so well is that the characters feel a little empty. The main leads between Eric, Fabiana and Carolina do a good job as their dynamic and the scenes sees the shift in those relationships. However, the need to cast suspicion on the husband being responsible isn’t as prominent and that has to do with a lack of the police officers presence in the story. There’s a bigger focus on the passionate love between Eric and Fabiana, a little bit of Eric’s obsession for this conducting career and a bit of his darker character perhaps, while Carolina is a someone who seems very resourceful but also having some extremes in her character.

Overall, Perdida on its own is a decent thriller. It follows the source material a lot and that originally had a very good story to begin with. The three main leads as Eric, Fabiana and Carolina all do a decent job while the other elements also come together fairly well. They also make the new home as a setting some kind of life as well with the little things that happen. In case anyone hasn’t seen The Hidden Face or Perdida, I’m going to avoid talking about the twist here which is executed fairly well. However, on a personal level, Perdida didn’t quite live up as a remake of La Cara Oculta since in my memory, the original still seemed to have a better control of a lot of these elements but that’s all comparison which if you haven’t seen it, Perdida is done pretty well overall.

Blog Tour: The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel

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From June 29th to July 5th, you can purchase her book for ONLY $0.99 on Amazon! You can also try to win a digital copy of The Memories We Bury by entering the giveaway below!

The Memories We Bury
By: H.A. Leuschel

The Memories We Bury

Publication Date: April 17, 2020
Genre: Contemporary/Psychological Suspense

SYNOPSIS

An emotionally charged and captivating novel about the complexities of female friendship and motherhood.

Lizzie Thomson has landed her first job as a music teacher, and after a whirlwind romance with Markus, the newlywed couple move into a beautiful new home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Lizzie quickly befriends their neighbour Morag, an elderly, resourceful yet lonely widow, who’s own children rarely visit her. Everything seems perfect in Lizzie’s life until she finds out she is pregnant and her relationship with both Morag and Markus change beyond her control.

Can Lizzie really trust Morag and why is Markus keeping secrets from her?

In ‘The Memories We Bury’ the author explores the dangerous bonds we can create with strangers and how past memories can cast long shadows over the present.

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REVIEW

The Memories We Bury is a psychological sort of novel that alternates between the first person narrative of its two main characters: Lizzie, a new mother and her elderly neighbor, Morag who has a strong desire to be needed and control and views this opportunity to be a chance to nurture another child. The first person narration style gives these two characters a slowly building development and very much suited as in many ways, this story is something of a character study, especially in terms of Morag who gradually reveals the reason why her children have left her and the other secrets that others have hinted at but never mentioned as it builds up to the big finale where she truly oversteps. On the other hand, Lizzie’s side of the story is much more about motherhood and the suspense behind her suspicions of Morag and her intentions. As their friendship develops over the course of the story, the dynamic changes and it moves between control and manipulation. In that regard, both of the characters are very well-written.

The flow of the story is probably one of the elements that is much  more of a slow-burn. Just like the chapters move through a timeline to give an idea of the progression of time, which didn’t really impact my own reading experience too much. The story unravels very slowly. It could definitely have been paced a little better. As mentioned before, the characters did need the time and events to develop however, it did also feel like it dragged on a little in the middle bits between the beginning build-up which was intriguing to introduce and set-up the two characters and the big climax that was quite scary and shocking overall.

Overall, The Memories We Bury keeps in line with the strong psychological elements of H.A. Heurschel stories. Much like some of the previous works that I’ve read, this one also delivers with another completely different sort of relationship as it jumps into the topic of motherhood as well as friendship. The characters are intriguing to watch and even manages to add a little uncertainty at the end. Its an impressive way to end the story which leaves a little space to contemplate.

Score: 3.5/5

Where to buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo - Helene edited

Helene Andrea Leuschel gained a Master in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She later acquired a Master in Philosophy, specializing in the study of the mind. Helene has a particular interest in emotional, psychological and social well-being and this led her to write her first novel, Manipulated Lives, a fictional collection of five novellas, each highlighting the dangers of interacting with narcissists. She lives with her husband and two children in Portugal.

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BITS 2019 Shorts: Sky So Blue/One in Two People/Songs My Mother Taught Me/Break In Break Out

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As we continue the Blood in the Snow Festival coverage, these are the next batch of films that were paired with full feature films screened. This time, we’re taking up four films: Sky So Blue, One in Two People, Songs My Mother Taught Me, Break In Break Out. Four very impressive horror shorts!

Sky So Blue (2019)

Sky So Blue

Director: Tyler Williams

Cast: Jeff Sinasac, Daniel Park

After being attacked and imprisoned in his own home, a man stands accused of creating a strange piece of music that may or may not have the power to kill anyone who hears it. – IMDB

Sky So Blue is a 15 minute short that is a psychologically unsettling and suspenseful interaction between two people: a man being accused of creating a deadly music piece that has gone viral and since then killed a lot of people and the other a man who has lost his family because of it. The interaction leads to a whole did he or did he not do it. Is the accusation right? Is the other one just acting innocent? The questions constantly rise as the man asks him questions to get the reason of why and how he created this music. Its a little bit of a cat and mouse sort of conversation with not a whole lot of resolution but as revenge seems to get stronger between them, its a rather “shocking” sort of ending that still manages to keep it slightly ambiguous. Those types of endings are the best as they can spark up some nice afterthought and reflection.

*Sky So Blue screened at the Blood in the Snow Festival with Dead Dicks on November 23 at 7pm*

One in Two People (2019)

One in Two People

Director: Ali Mashayekhi

Cast: Ashley Leggat, Katie Boland, Karissa Strain, Jade Hassouné, Katie Strain, Adam Tsekhman, Matt Murray

Emily is surrounded by her friends as she reveals her dark secret. – IMDB

One in Two People is a 7 minute short that plays with the unseen and the unknown. This one is executed really well as it leaves a lot of suspense and guesswork that only be deciphered through the conversation between the friends and their different position in Emily’s life and how they view her. It all becomes a question off deciphering both the character of Emily and whether she is to be believed. Of course, being a short film, it wouldn’t possibly be nothing but rather how this something will be presented. One in Two People uses the reactions of entering into this locked and the aftermath that builds up the unsettling horror feeling and giving this well-executed finale that honestly was rather creepy. As an addition, Jade Hassouné who played Meliorn in Shadowhunters plays the boyfriend of Emily in this short which was pretty great.

*One in Two People screens at Blood in the Snow Festival with The Nights Before Christmas on November 23rd at 9:30pm*

Song My Mother Taught Me (2018)

Song My Mother Taught Me

Director (and co-writer): Doug Cook

Cast: Julian Robino, Ace Hicks, Brock Morgan, Jane Moffat, Farid Yazdani, Allison Dawn Doiron, Blake Johnson

After Bobby and Lydia lose their mother to cancer, life becomes a difficult feat, especially for Bobby. In an attempt to cheer up her brother, Lydia throws a Halloween party with a close group of friends. It is on this night that they will discover what they mean to each other and learn an important lesson…the dead should always be left alone. – IMDB 

In some ways, Songs My Mother Taught Me starts in a rather generic rundown especially with the recent overuse of Ouija as a central focus however, this short film takes it for a refreshing new twist as this Ouija channels something very different from the moment that the literal countdown starts. From the first moment of how they present what this group channels that causes from a lot of craziness that ensues. It builds up the tension very well and adds in a different element of surprise of what is actually going on, leaving a bit of mystery of the whole situation. Its a fun, tense and quick-paced spiral of events executed with a lot of heart to give this premise a refreshing take.

* Songs My Mother Taught Me is screening with Majic on November 24th at 4:30pm at the Blood in the Snow Festival.*

Break In Break Out (2019)

Break In Break Out

Director (and writer): Michael Driscoll

Cast: Athena Karkanis, Nick Smyth, James Rejent, Robert Morse, Tara Yelland

Break In Break Out is a 7 minute short about a routine burglary goes terribly wrong. This short is probably the one which is the most daring in its execution as it keeps it silent with no dialogue. Its hyper focused on the actions and the sound effects around the scene to build up the interest. Its a awesome and unique way to present this story as within the few minutes that it is presented, it adds in two surprising twists, flips the typical story that you’d expect around and then adds in so much style to its execution. Its a lot of awesomeness to this one that gives it a wow actor. Its one that shouldn’t be missed!

*Break In Break Out is screening with Hunter’s Moon on November 24 at 9:30pm in the Blood in the Snow Festival.*

Double Feature: Murder on the Orient Express (2017) & My Teacher, My Obsession (2018)

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My Teacher, My Obsessions (2018)

My Teacher My Obsession

Director: Damian Romay

Cast: Rusty Joiner, Lucy Loken, Laura Bilgeri, Jana Lee Hamblin, Alexandria DeBerry

Riley struggles to meet friends after transferring to a new high school where her father is an English teacher. When she meets Kyla, a fellow loner, they become close friends until Riley learns that Kyla is obsessed with her father. – IMDB

I had zero expectations when I started up this one. Frankly, this whole subgenre has me quite sad that there aren’t better films and My Teacher, My Obsession is no exception. It had a lot of bad dialogue and that really does make it hard to digest the whole thing better. Not to mention the execution is not too good either. Its hard to understand what movies, especially thrillers try to achieve in starting the film from a scene from the finale and then going back in time to meet up with there and then make the big reveal. There is no reveal when its already obvious from the start who is doing the obsessing and how it will get worse and worse. Not only that but the teacher in question is a rather well-built good-looking gentleman who happens to be the father of one of the girl characters that gets befriended by the girl who is attracted to the teacher and the daughter.

There’s just a lot of hard to understand decisions here. However, I am not one to only talk negatives so to wrap this up on a positive note, the cinematography was actually pretty good here and some of the scenes with Kyla, the girl obsessed was also done pretty well plus she did pretty good with the material she had to work with.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on Orient Express

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench

When a murder occurs on the train on which he’s travelling, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case. – IMDB

Murder on the Orient Express is a great choice among (the few that I’ve read) the Agatha Christie books to adapt. Kenneth Branagh is a director and actor that I have alwayd rather appreciated. He can usually put together very competent pieces cinema and while we can all complain about all the adaptations being done nowadays, this one is really good. It has a stellar cast with some biggers stars like Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad. Then Hercule Poirot is played by Kenneth Branagh who does capture the role so well.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries (probably much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes) has so much depth and big twists that make them almost perfect for adaptations. However, it has those moments of whether these stories are as thrilling for those who have read it and how it executes it for both connoisseurs and those who are new to this character. It was one of the few concerns I had before I started up this film to be honest. However, the characters each played together so well and the experienced cast brought of them to life in turn so did the mystery. It had great visual style and lovely cinematography. There’s a lot to love here. It set the tone right from the opening act right to the end. I honestly can’t wait for the next movie, Death on the Nile.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen Murder on the Orient Express & My Teacher, My Obsession?