Saturday, July 20, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #175 - The Advent Calendar

 The Advent Calendar

Once a graceful dancer, Eva (Eugenie Derouand) has been a paraplegic for three years. Her job and her boss are terrible and her love life nonexistent. For her birthday, her best friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) gives her a gift she brought from Germany, where she is working - an unusual wooden Advent Calendar. But this calendar is not your typical advent calendar - it comes with rules. One is that if you eat one candy, you eat them all. Another is you obey all the rules, or you will die.

As she opens the candy for each new day, Eva is finding that the effects are both good and bad. Is it 

possible they will eventually lead to her walking again?

I found this French movie on Shudder and wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The calendar says sacrifices must be made if she wants to walk, and Eva very badly wants to walk again. At first she is determined not to hurt anyone, but as the days go by, she is forced to continue to open the calendar at midnight, and she finds herself on the slippery slope of a dark descent. Into what? See for yourself.

I thought Eugenie Derouand was excellent as Eva. The writing was good, so was the direction of Patrick Ridremont. It's definitely worth watching. I'll give this film 4 Stars.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #23(5.6)

  Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Dracula has good reason to be uncomfortable with the current situation, whether he is willing to admit to it or not. Avram tries to understand what is wrong with him, but they are interrupted by Gunther's return. See what is happening in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the  other Briefers and see what's up with them. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #23(5.6)

Dracula awakened with a start, the images of the past retreating, melting back into the furthest reaches of his troubled soul.

Was ist lost?” Concern was evident in Avram’s voice.

Dracula glanced up. Apparently, at some point, he had slid down from his previous position leaning against Avram so that his head was pillowed in the other man’s lap. Avram’s troubled visage looked down at him from above, his curly forelocks almost hanging in the vampire’s face.

“Nothing is wrong,” Dracula insisted with a gruffness he was far from feeling. He sprang to his feet in one move, shaking off the remnants of the unpleasant dream. Avram didn’t appear to be offended, having long ago become used to his employer’s ways. Dracula sometimes felt as though he understood far more than he should, which was a little unnerving. He smoothed down the creases in his clothing as well as he could, taking into account their current circumstances, and frowned. Where had his coat gone? And then he remembered, and the memory stung. Perhaps he would rid himself of this entire suit, once he had a chance to do so. It would forever be associated in his mind with things he’d rather not be reminded of. A shame, since he found it attractive.

The candle the priest had left hanging on the wall was surprisingly still lit, although barely, only its feeble glow preventing them from being plunged into total darkness once more. Although the darkness no longer frightened him, he had never been able to shake his fear of small, enclosed spaces. Once his father had perceived the effect this form of punishment had on his son, he had utilized that knowledge fully and as often as possible, especially after Nico’s mother died.

Dracula turned his attention to pacing once again, more to keep himself occupied than anything else. He wanted to say focused on the situation at hand, not dwell on the immutable past. Rather than attempting to stop him this time, Avram fell into step beside him.

“For what it is worth,” he began as they finished the length of the enclosure and turned back in the other direction, which was a short trip at best, “I am sorry I yelled at you about… you know.” He indicated the church above them with a motion of his head. Of course Dracula understood what he meant. “I know that was never your intention, and that you would not have brought harm to… to her.”

Although Dracula was not one to seek validation for what he did, he appreciated Avram’s words. They served to assuage some of the pain he felt, although if he was being honest with himself, this was not just about her. He could not have said exactly why he was so upset, but he knew the reason was greater than the death of one woman. He felt unsettled in ways he could not describe or understand. Change did not come easily to him. It had to be experienced over a long period of time. But now… although he knew they had to leave, he wasn’t sure what awaited them on this journey. And, more importantly, would they ever be able to return? During his lifetime, if not Avram’s? How did he feel about possibly taking Avram away from everything he knew, the only life he knew… and for what? Questions he could not answer and didn’t want to consider at this moment, so he pushed them away. For now.

Pausing in their perambulation, he faced Avram, who had stopped when he did. “Are you sure you want to—” But the sound of the floor grinding backward interrupted his question.

“Sure I want to want?” Avram asked, but Dracula made no response, and moments later they were joined by the less-than-cordial priest.

* * * *

Avram had no idea what Nico had wanted to ask him, but it was a moot point now that Gunther had returned. The vampire was not likely to open up in front of the priest. He’d have to see if he could draw the question out of him later, assuming it was of any importance.

“What news?” Dracula barked. Avram mentally rolled his eyes and sighed.

Gunther paid him no attention, turning toward Avram instead. “I have found you a way out of Bistritz.”

For once, good news.

“Both of us, right?” Avram asked cautiously. All right, so Dracula was far from helpless. And he’d lived for many years before Avram came into his life and could do so again. But this was about more than their survival. The Turks had a word for Fate—they called it Kismet. Something deep inside of Avram told him that his and Nico’s Kismet were intertwined. He wanted no harm to come to the vampire—he legitimately cared about him. The man might not be perfect, but he was a far better person than he was ever given credit for being. Avram had heard the stories about his ancestor, the one they called Vlad Tepes—the Impaler. Not someone you wanted to anger.

“Both of you,” Gunther confirmed, to Avram’s relief. He stole a quick glance at Dracula, who seemed calmer now and offered no scathing retort. Perhaps Avram would get lucky and he would actually hold his tongue for once. That remained to be seen.

“How will this happen?” Avram cautiously asked.

“You know of Andrei Ionescu, yes?”

Avram nodded. Of course, he did. Smuggling was an open secret in Bistritz that everyone knew about but no one discussed. Staples such as salt and grain came in, whether to avoid duties or because they were prohibited from import, while outgoing items included local wines and beer as well as handmade clothing which would fetch a better price elsewhere.

And now Avram understood how they would leave Bistritz. The question was, how would Dracula take to this news? And what would this journey cost them?

 to be continued

Now go see what's up with the other Briefers!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb






Sunday, July 14, 2024

Book Review: Isabel and the Rogue (The Luna Sisters Book 2) by Liana De la Rosa


Isabel and the Rogue (The Luna Sisters Book 2)    

Author: Liana De la Rosa

Publisher: Berkley

American release date: June 4, 2024

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Multicultural & Interracial Romance/352 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★


A couple of years have passed since the arrival of the Luna sisters in Great Britain. Ana and Gideon are happily married, the civil war in the United States is over, but the French are still harassing the people of Mexico, at the behest of the faux Napoleon who has wangled his way into power.

Isabel Luna is the middle sister - the bookish, quiet overlooked sister. The wallflower.  Few people ever seem to notice her, especially when she’s in the company of her far more beautiful sisters. But that can be an asset, as Isabel discovers. Far from home, and the turmoil that is taking place there, she has received a request from her sister Ana’s former fiancé prior to leaving Mexico. He wants her to look for any information she can find regarding the French and their movements inside of Mexico. She readily agrees, knowing her parents’ fate is linked to that of the nation through its president, Juarez. Having entrée to the best homes in society, she is often invited to their gatherings. Being virtually invisible makes it easy for her to steal away unnoticed and peek into certain gentlemen’s studies, searching for whatever she can find.

Captain Sirius Dawson is a veteran of the Crimea and has a great deal of PTSD to show for it. Guilty for having survived what many of his men did not, he does what he can to aid their families as well as those who came back with him. He also has his work with the Home Office, which is looking into what the French are up to, particularly in Mexico. He too knows everyone and is invited everywhere. He met Isabel when she and her sisters took refuge in his home, fleeing from a traitorous nobleman. He gave her little thought then but suddenly she is on his mind a lot. And he is watching her. So it is with some surprise that he sees her steal away to what should be rooms without interest to her, and he follows her.

The second book in the Luna Sister series is every bit as good as the first. Despite her thinking otherwise, Isabel is a wonderful protagonist – she is intelligent, witty, beautiful, brave and very strong. All attributes she comes to realize she possesses in the course of this book. Her attraction to Sirius Dawson baffles her. Sure, he’s very good looking, very charming, and very well-spoken. Not to mention they have similar taste in books. But he is also a rogue, and he goes through women without a second thought. On the other hand, Lord Westhope is also nice looking, kind and sweet, and he has a title. So why can’t she feel the same way about him as she does about Sirius? It would certainly make life easier. Plus, she feels a little guilty about spying on him, taking advantage of his kind nature.

Sirius survived the war, but his wounds are not readily visible, and he carries a great deal of guilt. He is attracted to Isabel, even as he wonders what she is up to and why he keeps finding her in the unlikeliest of places. But he also realizes that he doesn’t see her the same way as the other women in his life and there is the problem – he can’t treat her the same way. Love’em and leave’em will not do for Isabel.  Furthermore, he doesn’t think he is nearly good enough for her, as he considers himself to be damaged.

Watching these two characters grow and develop was wonderful. Their blossoming romance is heart-fluttering, and the sex scenes are hot, hot, hot! I loved every minute of it. And now that the second sister’s story is done, that just leaves Gabby for a third book. I have my suspicions as to  who her love interest will be, but I’m not saying. If you want to know, read this book for yourself. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #174 - MaXXXine


Maxine Miller (Mia Goth) has dreamed of becoming ever star ever since she was a small girl, coached by her preacher father Ernest (Simon Prast). She began her journey to stardom by acting in porm films, determined to do whatever it took to get to the top. No matter what. She put the unfortunate events that occurred in Texas in 1979 behind her and she was Hollywood-bound!

It seems she's about to get her big break, as she reads for a part in Puritan II, the sequel to a film which has 

the Christian community up in arms. Los Angeles is currently being terrified by a serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker. But when Maxine's friends and co-workers start to turn up dead, the police arrive at her door to question her as to what she knows. But she refuses to talk to them, having no wish to be in their radar, or to give them cause to check into her background. A mysterious VHS tape arrives for her, showing scenes of the ill-fated porn film that was never finished. She asks her best friend Frankie (Brad Swanick), who owns the video store next to her apartment, to see what he can find out.

A private detective turns up, John Labat (Kevin Bacon), and tells her that his employer wants to talk to her, although he won't name him. Reveals that they know things about her past she wouldn't want revealed as they might harm her image and her career. Maxine turns to her agent Teddy Night (Giancarlo Esposito) for help. Good thing he is also her lawyer.

Maxine lands the role, but she learns that her new director, Elaine Casting (Deborah Geffner) is not 

easy to deal with. But Maxine doesn't mind. Her dream is about to come true, and besides, she's a tough woman herself. But more people are dying and the two police officers are putting pressure on Maxine to work with them. How can she take care of this situation once and for all?

MaXXXine is the third part of the Ti West trilogy that began with X and then went on to the prequel Pearl. I actually got to see this in the theater, as it just opened, and I am glad that I did. West has come a long way since X and even Pearl. Clearly a bigger budget. Lots of recognizable 80s music. He got composer Tyler Bates on board. And Giancarlo Esposito and Kevin Bacon! How often do you find yourself rooting for a serial killer? At least, not since Hannibal Lecter stole our hearts lol As the titular character, Mia Goth is awesome, and it's hard not to cheer for her to succeed - both in her film career and in taking care of certain bad people. I liked this one almost as much as Pearl, which is my favorite film of the trilogy. I highly recommend seeing it, but only after watching the first two. I give this film 4.5 Stars.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #22 (5.5)

 Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

This week, we get a glimpse into the past and the horrors that lie there. See what's happening in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #22 (5.5)

A woman lies in a large elaborately carved bed piled high with thick colorful blankets—maroon and black and royal blue—decorated with elaborate designs intricately embroidered. Her thin figure is dwarfed by the mound of bedclothes as well as the thick pile of pillows where she lays her head. A young boy sits by her side, on the edge of the bed. He grips her hand, as if he can transfer his own strength to his ailing mother. His hazel eyes are anxious as he scans her pale face.  But he doesn’t speak aloud his apprehensions, simply holds on for dear life.

Another spasm seizes the woman. She half-rises from the bed, fighting for breath. For several long moments, she is racked with obviously painful coughs. She grips the boy’s hand tightly until the paroxysm passes and she relaxes back into the pillows once more.

“Nico, you should not stay. He will be cross with you.” Her voice is barely audible, a thready whisper that requires too much of the little strength she possesses. Although she is warning him to go, she never releases the hand on hers.

“I don’t care,” the boy says stubbornly. “I want to stay with you, mamă. I need to take care of you.”

The woman’s smile is wistful, as if she is thinking of other times, or maybe what could have been but never will be. “You’re such a good boy, Nico. Please remember that when I am gone.”

“Don’t speak like that.” The boy’s voice is distressed now. “You aren’t going anywhere. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t leave—” His words halt abruptly, as if he has said more than he intended to say. But they both know what lies unspoken between them.

“I’m sorry.” The anguish in her voice is palpable. “I’ve tried to keep you… safe… from—”

Her words end abruptly as the door to this chamber bursts open. A tall dark man stands upon the threshold. He might be considered by some to be handsome, but the fury in his eyes is frightening, lending to an almost demonic expression which overshadows any good looks he may possess.

“Radomir...” Her voice is pleading now. She raises her thin hands in supplication, although she knows this will not appease her husband’s anger. But it is all she can do. All she is capable of doing now.

“Silence!” he bellows as he turns his attention to the boy, who refuses to cower before him, even now. “What have I told you, Nicolae? How dare you disobey me like this.”

“Mother is ill and I want to stay with her.” The boy’s voice never wavers, although inside he quivers with fearful anticipation of what new cruelty his father might devise for him. He has been beaten before, he can endure it again, if he must.

“Such a weakling you have given me,” Radomir Dracula snarls. “Just this one insolent brat who lives when all the others have died.”

“He is our blessing, husband.” She squeezes Nico’s hands as if to enlist his silence. He obeys her wish, although he knows this will not end well for him. But he endures, for her sake.

“He is a curse.” The man spits upon the floor. “This marriage is a curse. Once I am rid of you, I shall find a young wife. A beautiful wife. One who will give me strong sons, not useless ones.”

Anger surges through Nico at his father’s cruel words. How dare he talk to her in this way? Even Nico, as young as he is, knows his father has other women. That is no secret in the castle. Even the servants speak of his escapades, some with admiration, others with disgust. He isn’t sure if his mother knows, but he will not take a chance on harming her with the knowledge, in case she is blissfully ignorant of his infidelities.

“Your son is a good boy,” she protests. Another fit of coughing ensues, and by the time that passes, her breathing is too stertorous to allow her to speak.

“I will not allow him to stain my good name, shame our ancestors. He will be a soldier,” the elder Dracula lashes out. “I will make him stronger, whether you like it or not. Whether he likes it or not. Even if it kills him. I will not tolerate such weakness in my heir. He is a Dracula. I will not allow him to disgrace my proud name. Once I have other sons, he will not matter anyway.”

Nico remains stoic, despite the way his stomach roils. He refuses to demonstrate to his father that he is indeed as weak as he claims him to be. But his silence does not stand him in good stead. His father swiftly crosses the distance between them and lifts the six-year-old boy by the scruff of his neck as if he were no more than a kitten, shakes him fiercely. Without another word, he carries the boy from the room, ignoring his wife’s pitiful cries.

Nico attempts to claw at his father’s hand, to force his release, but to no avail. He is powerless to do anything as his father drags him deeper int the castle. The servants shrink back at their approach, knowing better than to intervene on the boy’s behalf. Nico expects no less. As he’s learned in his short life, only his mother protects him, and she is no longer able to do so.

It isn’t until they reach a particular set of stairs that he realizes where they are going, and he is afraid. “No, please no,” he begs.

The family crypt. A place of infinite death and dark tombs.

Radomir stops before his father’s tomb, slides back the lid and tosses the screaming child inside without a word and closes him in.

Nico’s worst fears have just been realized.

to be continued

Now go see what's up with the other Briefers!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb







Saturday, July 6, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #173 - Christmas Bloody Christmas

 Christmas Bloody Christmas

The hottest item this Christmas is a life-size robotic Santa Claus, a fun AI for kids of all ages, with a vocabulary of over 90,000 words! Who wouldn't love to see this standing beside their tree Christmas morning?

Tori (Riley Dandy) owns a bar which has become her whole life, and her sex life has become nonexistent. 

It's Christmas eve and all she wants to do is get drunk and get laid. As she closes up the bar with her employee/friend Robbie (Sam Delich), he keeps trying to get her to go with him but she says she has a date, although she sounds less than enthusiastic over this particular prospect. It isn't hard for Robbie to talk her into going to a party with him, where they hang out with mutual friends (it is a very small town, so everybody knows everybody).

Afterwards, as Robbie walks Tori home, having a lively discussion along the way, things begin to heat up - and I don't mean just in the bedroom. The robotic Santa has suddenly gone amok, and he's targeting everyone in town on his murderous rampage. Ho, ho, ho!

I had high hopes for this one when it started, photography looked good, and the soundtrack is a driving sort of techno/metal. And playing the demented Santa is one Abraham Benrubi, probably best known for playing Jerry on ER. Yes, there is blood, plenty of it. I was confused as to why Santa went bad, so I looked it up. It is actually explained at the beginning, so pay attention (unlike me). However, that is offset by the continuing banter between Tori and Robbie, discussing and arguing about music and bands and whatever. While they do sound like a typical couple, this went on for so long, I rapidly began to lose interest and not pay as much attention.

The last portion of the film went on too long, with Tori against the robot Santa, and again I found myself losing interest and wishing she would stop screaming and stfu. I had stopped caring for any of the characters long before. So okay, it makes more sense now, doesn't save it ultimately. I'll give this film 2 Stars.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #21 (5.4)

 Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Avram and Dracula are forced to hide in an underground area beneath the church, while Gunther tries to find a way for them to leave the village safely. Avram has to keep Dracula calm for both their sakes. See what's happening in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #21 (5.4)

Avram was impressed. Gunther was possessed of a great deal of chutzpah to dare to talk to the vampire in that manner. Of course he didn’t realize what Nico was, but he knew enough to not antagonize him, and normally he was the mildest of men, filled with priestly goodwill and all.  The interactions between Gunther and Dracula over the years had been limited, and usually concerned with Avram, but Dracula had not always come across as someone of infinite patience. Rather, one might even say he was demanding. Not surprising that the villagers steered well clear of him on the rare occasions when he came to Bistritza, and why he seldom came anywhere near them.  Gunther was a very protective friend… and Dracula was a very protective guardian. They clearly had not liked one another almost from the beginning but had tolerated each other for Avram’s sake.

Avram understood Gunther’s frustration over the current situation—Dracula’s ill manners weren’t helping anything—and he couldn’t fault him over that. At the same time, he was well aware that Dracula could have flown up the stairs and ended Gunther’s life with little to no effort. He was grateful, albeit surprised, that the vampire had not done so, considering how angry he was. That showed he was still in control of himself, for which he was grateful.  At least they still had the candle Gunther had provided, for as long as that lasted. Perhaps the illumination would help to pacify Nico.

He didn’t even have the heart to chastise the man for his lack of manners. If only he knew what was causing such stress, perhaps something could be done about it.  Other than the obvious reason, which was that he wished to leave this small space immediately. Who didn’t? But that didn’t seem to be happening now, and perhaps wouldn’t be possible for a while. Avram could only hope their confinement would end before Dracula’s hunger began. He didn’t know what the vampire would do should that occur, and he had no real wish to find out.

Dracula began pacing again, but not with the almost frantic stride he’d employed before. Once he reached the farthest limit of the space, he suddenly and without warning slammed his fist into the stone and howled, not with pain but vexation. Avram started to ask him if he wanted to be heard but thought better of it.

“Nico, don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself,” he fussed. Hastening to the vampire’s side, he took his hand and examined it. No real damage, but he’d managed to tear the skin a little. Blood seeped from the barely visible wound. Avram reached into a pocket and drew out a square of linen which he wrapped about Dracula’s hand. He could hear the vampire struggle to control his breathing. Considering his poor circulation, he needed to be more circumspect with respect to his blood pressure. His energy was not infinite, either, which was why he usually rested during the day.

“I’m fine, Avram,” Dracula protested, but he made no move to remove his hand from Avram’s.

Avram peered into Dracula’s eyes, as well as he could in the limited light of the flickering candle. He could sense a great pain there. At some point in his life, Nico had clearly suffered a trauma to his soul. A scarring of his psyche that had left indelible marks, although he usually kept these well-hidden. But to be fair they’d never found themselves in this type of situation before. Avram’s heart ached for him.

There was so much he wanted to ask, so much he wanted to know. But he didn’t think he’d receive an answer to his questions and only risked upsetting Dracula more. They would have time to talk later, on their travels, under less stressful circumstances.

“We’ll leave here as soon as possible,” he finally said. “Gunther will find a way, I am sure of it.”

Dracula withdrew his hand. “I hope that your trust is well-founded. If not, there will be consequences.”

Discretion being the better part of valor, Avram wisely held his tongue. “In the meantime, Nico, you should rest. Once Gunther returns, I will be able to find you blood, but until then, you should conserve your strength.”

Unfortunately, in this limited space, there was nowhere for Nico to stretch out, as if he were in his own bed, and he knew better than to ask him to lie upon the dirt floor. As fastidious as the vampire was, that was not an acceptable option.

“Why don’t we move the trunk closer to the wall?” he suggested.

Dracula glanced at him inquisitively. “Why would we do that?”

“So I can lean against the wall, and you can lean against me.” He hoped that was a more acceptable alternative to placing his own head against the undoubtedly cold stone. He could endure it better than the picky vampire.

“Very well.” Dracula moved the chest without further questioning, to Avram’s relief, and they situated themselves upon it. The slop of the lid didn’t facilitate matters, but there was nothing he could do about that. Dracula leaned back against him and closed his eyes, lapsing into his version of sleep.

“So you can be reasonable if you want,” Avram said softly. His companion made no response.

 to be continued

Now see what is up with the other Briefers!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb