fiction · horror · indie

Welcome to Halcyon (Dead Mawl #1)- S.G. Tasz

This is the year of trying to expand my reading genres, and when I was asked to review Welcome to Halcyon by S.G. Tasz, the first novella in the Dead Mawl series, pitched as a read for fans of Buffy the Vampire SlayerSupernatural, and Ash vs. Evil Dead, I was in. My husband and I watched Supernatural in its Netflix entirety over a period of four or five months during this fall and winter and I loved it, despite it not being something I’d normally choose to watch. Welcome to Halcyon‘s comparison to that series is dead-on, and this novella had me hooked from the very first page.

Edensgate Shopping Center, located in half-dead Halcyon, Nevada, is on its last legs. The town’s mining industry collapsed years ago, and Edensgate is doing its best to follow suit. Its last anchor department store, Suttermill, is closing for good this afternoon, which means today is sixteen-year-old Cari’s last day at work. She’s only been there for a few months, but this job was the escape she needed from her flaky religious mother and her weirdo pastor/guru boyfriend, and the only place she could see her friend Rex the movie theater employee now that Mom has pulled her out of public school. Cari’s not sure what she’s going to do now that her only relief from home is disappearing, but she’ll do her best to enjoy her last day of freedom.

Not so fast. After watching her boss’s eyes turn disturbing colors, Cari freaks out, then eventually curls up under a desk to sleep off her panic-induced exhaustion. And when Rex finally manages to shake her awake, it’s obvious that something abnormal, something horrible, is happening in the darkened mall where Cari and Rex are now trapped. Does this have something to do with what happened to the mall employee who bled in the fountain last night? Cari and Rex are going to have to think and move quickly if they want to stay alive, because Edensgate is under attack by creatures they’ve never seen before.

Holy crap. This was good. And not just good-for-an-indie good, good because it’s GOOD. Ms. Tasz’s writing flows amazingly well and she does a fabulous job at ensuring that the reader is invested in the characters early on, so that when the attacks begin, you’re absolutely on the edge of your seat with your heart racing. I bolted through the pages where a character had a close call, all the time thinking, “NO! Not (character’s name)!!!!”, but to be honest, I was all in from the well-written first line, because there’s nothing in this novella that doesn’t absolutely shine. This is beyond impressive for a debut.

I absolutely loved Welcome to Halcyon. Ms. Tasz’s descriptions of the Edensgate Mall were just enough so that I could picture it perfectly- the columns, the statues, the shuttered storefronts, the blood-filled fountain, the creeping terror that settles over Cari and Rex. Cari’s desperation and Rex’s past serve both characters well to make them extremely empathetic; reading this is like watching an episode of Supernatural with all its trepidation and breathless anticipation (maybe could use a little more Jared Padalecki. Just sayin’). If you’re at all into horror or supernatural phenomena that go bump in the night, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this. If Ms. Tasz can continue the series with the same prowess with which she began it, she’s got a long, healthy career ahead of her.

Huge thanks to S.G. Tasz for allowing me to read and review her work. This was phenomenal and I look forward to reading more about the horrors that take place in Halcyon in the future.

Visit S.G. Tasz’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Call Numbers- Syntell Smith

When I was asked to review Syntell Smith’s novel Call Numbers, a workplace drama set in a branch of the New York Public Library, I was intrigued. What kind of drama could librarians and their staff possibly have? A LOT, as it turns out!

Robin Walker has just been transferred to the 58th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. What he doesn’t know is that he’s been placed in the open job that was supposed to go to a page, a pregnant teenager who desperately needs the money and benefits. This immediately sets Robin at odds with quite a few of the other employees, who set out to enact their revenge. Robin’s fiery temperament ensures that he won’t make things easy for them, and the drama will touch every part of the library and every member of the staff.

If you only ever pictured librarians and library staff as cardigan-wearing noise-hushers, this will definitely expand your perception. Call Numbers features multiple fistfights (that result in collarbone fractures and shattered kneecaps, cracked ribs, concussions, and head and spinal trauma, among other injuries), a scheming head librarian who’s not afraid to game the system and elbow his way into monetary success for his branch, and the enemy of a library page being dangled off a roof. There’s an employee committing insurance fraud, multiple verbal altercations between staff, backstabbing, scheming, strategizing, and at least three minor characters who are at or close to seven feet tall. You’ve never met library workers like this before!

Mr. Smith has created an elaborate world in the rowdy 58th Street Branch. There’s little character description in the beginning, and at times I had some difficulty keeping the characters straight, especially since quite a bit of the novel is heavy on dialogue. It took until I was over halfway through the book before I could keep everyone straight, which was the point where I could relax while reading and appreciate the over-the-top behavior of Robin and his fellow coworkers. I welcomed the truce and eventual reluctant yet sincere friendship between Robin and Tommy in the weeks after their fight, and the crush Lakeshia, a young page, had on the several-years-older Robin was especially well-handled, both in terms of sensitivity to Lakeshia’s youth and her blossoming emotion. Her constant peeking across the room at Robin, peering around the corners of shelves, and nervousness every time she came near him was true-to-life and treated respectfully, which made her character enjoyable to read and probably my favorite.

Tucked in between the massive power struggle of the employees at 58th Street are literary quotes and bits of history (the story takes place in 1994), both from the past and current day to the story, which added a little extra to my reading. I had to take a quick Internet break when one character, in an attempt to intimidate another, dropped a name I didn’t recognize. While I knew about the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen specific names named, so I appreciated the detour this took me on so I could learn more. Call Numbers ends in a cliffhanger, so expect more from Syntell Smith and his boisterous band of library staff in the future!

Call Numbers will be available on June 21, 2019. Huge thanks to Mr. Smith for allowing me to read and review his work!

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