7 Days in Hell: A Halloween Vacation to Wake the Dead

A review by Joey Madia

Right along with serial killers, Satanic cults are a cultural fascination. Going back to Hammer films like The Devil Rides Out and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and other demon films of the 1960s and 1970s, to the various versions of Wicker Man, to the tongue in cheek cult classic (pardon the pun) The Burbs, to last year’s very intense limited series The Third Day starring Jude Law, there is something about goat-heads, goblets full of blood, and campfire cannibalism that draws our attention and keeps it.

Inspired by a real-life vacation with her sister and dog, Iseult Murphy drills deeply into the core of this zeitgeist to deliver a novel structured according to the title—with chapters broken down by each of the seven days (plus a bonus eighth), along with an illustration for each by the author. If you are a fan of Secret Window, you might find the illustration of the screwdriver as ominous as I did.

The main characters are twin sisters, Irene and Vicky—one a button-down teacher, the other an adventurous university student with an eye for the guys; a priest (who, refreshingly, finds bravery in his faith, which is rare; usually priests are in some kind of crisis in the face of evil); a mysterious local family; and, in town, an interesting array of mechanics, tavern owners, police, and citizens.

Like all stories in this genre, it is very much “stranger in a strange land”—the two sisters, on break from their schools, have booked a quaint country cottage outside of Dublin to relax and bond, along with a miniature schnauzer named Ronnie.

Almost immediately, the two sisters know something isn’t right, after an encounter upon arrival with two vicious dogs appropriately named Thorne and Pilot and the teenage daughter of a local with some strange physical and mental afflictions. Continue reading

Tell Me a Story, Babushka

“Knowing Where Our Roots Are”

A review by Joey Madia

Beautifully illustrated, with a strong sense of culture and family, Carola Schmidt’s wonderful children’s book gives us a glimpse into life for those in pre-independence Russia under the soviet communist party (the author chooses not to capitalize the scp, and I shall honor her choice).

A few things to know. Babushka is Ukrainian for “little Baba” and “Baba” means Grandmother. Like many Europeans (my family’s from Sicily and southern Italy), I have experienced the primary role of grandmothers in the family. Both of my grandmothers were very strong women who dealt with countless adversities—immigrating to America, helping their families with their businesses in New Jersey, suffering losses during World War II and Vietnam, raising children, taking care of their parents, and often managing the money and, of course, cooking enough delicious food for three times the amount of people present on holidays and for Sunday dinners.

Given this connection, I was immediately fond of Babushka, with her squat body and grey hair (again like my grandmothers) and her baby blue headscarf.

Babushka’s conversation partner is her granddaughter Karina, who, as the title tells us, asks her grandmother to tell her a story while they are making bread. When Babushka asks if Karina wants to hear a story about a princess, Karina agrees, asking her grandmother to also include some monsters. Continue reading

Life at Hamilton: Sometimes You Throw Away Your Shot, Only to find Your Story

“There isn’t just one type of genius”:

A review by Joey Madia

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. —Joseph Campbell

As a writer and teacher of writing for the stage, page, and screen and avid reader and researcher, my tastes are pretty eclectic, so it’s not unusual for a book that I review to resonate with me on some very personal level.

That said, the overlaps, resonances, and synergies with Mike Anthony’s Life at Hamilton are nothing short of remarkable.

I believe that the Universe, if you trust it, has an intelligent design that helps us find our bliss. To connect with the people that we are supposed to in this life, so that we can fulfill our potential. Our mission. Call it Source, or God, or even your Higher Self. And that fulfillment might just be what some have termed our Soul Contract.

Regardless of what one calls it, one of the keys to not only finding, but following, our bliss (a concept brought to the West by Joseph Campbell) is to embrace the quote that opens this review, also by Mr. Campbell.

Campbell knew what he was talking about, and so does the author of Life at Hamilton. Continue reading

Orange City

“A Little Fact in All the Fiction”:

A review by Joey Madia

What a weird thirteen months it’s been for writers of dystopian fiction.

Between a pandemic whose origins are heavily debated; a fractured political system and radical electorate featuring the storming of the US Capitol, outcries of false-flag ops and conspiracy theories fueled by the mysterious Q; increasing evidence that social media is more Big Brother and psychologically/economically invasive than we feared; a sizable portion of the populace dependent on prescription drugs and illegal opioids and somewhat distrustful of a rushed-to-market vaccine; and the ongoing Cult of Trump, so-called Real Life has all the makings of what used to crawl with clicking nails and crooked limbs solely from dystopian writers’ minds.

So I spent a lot of time while reading Orange City—well… the entire time—whispering to myself… this could really happen… yes, it really could…
Which admittedly puts more weight on the quality of the writing.
No worries here: Goldberg is up to the task.

Like any genre writing, Orange City draws on plenty of established symbols and tropes and pays homages aplenty. To me, it’s value added.

Take the cover, designed by Christina Loraine, featuring a building shaped (fittingly) like a medicine bottle with an eye atop. Take your pick: Sauron’s tower, Barad-dûr; the optician’s eye on the billboard in The Great Gatsby; or the all-seeing eye prevalent in the ancient mystery religions and the architecture and symbolism of the Freemasons. Continue reading

The Ghost of Villa Winter (Canary Islands Mysteries Book 4)

A review by Joey Madia

It should be said up front that this is the fourth book in a series, and I have not read the prior three. Rest assured there is plenty of context to the prior installment and, should you like this one, you’ll know there is plenty more.

Place-based thrillers, especially a series that digs deep into the history of a locale, fictional or not (the latter represented best by Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine), invite the reader into a detailed world full of mysterious characters and a cumulative lore that one-offs and stories less tied to place often do not.

In this case, the acknowledgments indicate that the author spent considerable time on the islands and used a real-life apartment where she stayed as the model for the one in the novel (with permission of the owner). Blackthorn also indicates that the history presented about the islands and the villa are, to the best of her knowledge, true.

As a writer of historical fiction with thriller and paranormal elements, I appreciate the amount of work that went into the world-building in this book. Almost Dickensian in its detail, The Ghost of Villa Winter invites the reader to step in deeply into this at-times dire and deadly locale and explore the nooks and crannies with the heroine.

Further, given the popularity of Escape Rooms and the way they have infiltrated storytelling on television and in film, and to some degree in novels, the amount of detail Blackthorn employs in the layout of buildings, landscapes, and living spaces allows the reader to participate vicariously in a popular form of puzzle-solving. Continue reading