the ruin of the watcher by Collings MacCrae is the first installment of the Fox Argall Mystery series. I’m obligated to start there because you need the link to this amazing serial which is currently only available on Amazon and Kindle Vella.
But where do I start? This Vella made the top favorites for the month of August and so far it is still holding on for September which is an amazing feat as additional episodes of Fox’s tale aren’t posted on this vella itself. I’m fighting tooth and nail to see my own work on that list so I can appreciate the hard work and engagement that goes into keeping your work not only relevant and current, but on a best sellers list. It is especially difficult to make an overall list writing in a genre that isn’t romance or romance adjacent, one where there is a smaller reader pool.
How well MacCrae is doing over all is something that I had to touch on now that numbers for last month are it.
It is a well deserved placement for a mystery that is more than worth the tokens you may need to spend to access it. Read this last statement as as the following: If I was not reviewing this Vella I would still read, subscribe, like the episodes and spend my top fav token on it.
One of the most impressive bits and of ruin is the fact our character lead is a nuerodiverse man well on the autism spectrum. This is one of those topics that can cause knee jerk gut reactions by those who don’t experience such differences in themselves or their immediate family.
There are so many shows, books, movies, comics, etc. where you have that one token character who’s nuerodiversity is almost always seen as a handicap. The truth is that amazing examples of nuerodiversity in the media that are well done, well balanced are few and far in between because they’re simply lack luster and unremarkable outside of being that token presence. Examples include Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Shaun in The Good Doctor, Ato Essendoh’s portral of Isadore Latham on Chicago Med and even Julia on Sesame Street. I know that there are more, but these are ones that stand out because they came to me without the need of Google or determining if the portrayal is genuine. You don’t question the value of these characters in their individual stories and know for certain that they have an impact on the lives of the characters around them and viewers alike.
Knowing these things, and knowing my own nuerodiversity and where I fall just outside fo the spectrum, automatically means I was drawn to this story and sucked in. It wasn’t just because Fox is diverse. It’s because Fox is diverse, successful and his behaviors and actions are genuine and real to anyone who is or knows or loves someone who faces the challenges of nuerodiversity. This isn’t just what sets MacCrae’s work a part from other crime thrillers and mysteries. It sets them above the rest.
Outside of a nuerodiverse character what is it that sets ruin above the rest? Is it the free discussion of menopause in a realistic way that makes me as a woman go ‘My body did that!’ and I want to read more about Grace? Realistic family and professional interactions? An amazing first case in which we get to meet Fox while dealing with crime directed at tender aged children in a way that isn’t just compelling, it’s tasteful and well done? Is it that we are given a nuerodiverse character who is still an incredible hero for those of us who struggle with our own differences from the ‘mundance’ world?
The fact is that Collings delivered all of this and more in a well paced who done it with the perfect bread crumbs, right amount of spice and realism that keeps readers coming back for more.
If you love mysteries that you can binge your way through in one sitting, then the ruin of the watcher isn’t just for me, it’s for you!
If you have or know someone who has fought against the norms as a nuerodiverse individual who needs a character to look up to like so many young people do so with characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Superman, then not only is ruin for you, ruin and the Fox Argall Mysteries are that and more.
Like Briardark, Chew, and Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns, I’m checking first thing every day for new episodes and may or may not have finally turned on the banner notifications for Kindle on my iPhone. I look forward to seeing how MacCrae’s work will impact the lives of others as we see technology updates for Kindle apps outside of iOS in addition to a more widespread release of the platform.
Why? Because I know that there are other readers out there that need characters like Fox in their lives.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a look at what other readers have had to say about the ruin of the watcher:
And now! For my favorite part! While I love telling all of you about the stories that I’m reading, one of the best parts is the author interview where I have a chance to ask our amazing writers about them and their craft. The more I read and the more reviews I write, the more questions I have!
I am thankful that Collings took the time to tell us more about their life and their writing.
Kitty: Who is your favorite mystery/thriller author?
Collings: Agatha Christie. I read everything CJ Sansom and Charles Todd write. I also love Stephen King and Kristin Painter. CS Lewis, CS Harris. Oh! Sarah Woodbury! I better stop.
Kitty: Which crime thriller is your current favorite?
Collings: I’m reading A Fatal Lie by Charles Todd. I just finished the Gareth and Gwen series by Woodbury.
Kitty: What drew you to writing murder mysteries?
Collings: The first in the Fox Argall series — The Ruin of the Watcher — was one of those lightning strike “head-videos” of a new story. It just played in my head. That was over ten years ago. I wrote the first draft in 4 days and fell in love with the characters. Now, those characters just keep telling me their stories and I’m compelled to write them down.
Kitty: Will Fox return in future installments?
Collings: Oh, yes! Two more are in process: The Sweater Case, currently being published to Vella with 5 episodes live and The Case of the Reluctant Whistleblower, in draft.
Kitty: If there was one thing you could go back in time and tell yourself about being a writer, what would it be?
Collings:You can do this. Step in and get going, only practice will push you forward.
Kitty: If you could give new or aspiring writers a piece of advice, what would it be?
Collings: Practice your craft. Learn to write better; your book is your product. Make it as great as you can.
Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about your books, what would it be?
Collings: I want to combine my lifelong love of mystery with a story about a family. It’s not strictly “to market” to spend so much time in a gritty detective mystery talking about relationships, so there’s that. Fox’s neurodiversity is a big part of his stories, and his relationships all revolve around it. I want to show neurodiverse characters organically, not making a just a banner about it, but showing real life. Good and bad, everyday real life.
Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Collings:I’m a neurodiverse Nana with a fabulous, three-gen neurodiverse family.
There are a lot of things I’m a sucker for when it comes to reading. One of those things is a good horror story that changes my perceptions of the world around me. The other is my favorite relationship trope, enemies to lovers.
You may look at my previous reviews and think that I only read horror stories, but like that FAQ says, I read pretty much anything and everything that can hold my ADHD brain’s attention for more than fifty seconds. That is where Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns by USA today best selling author, YouTuber and PostCaster Joanna Reeder comes in.
I have to share the blurb and my reactions to it and reading the start of this amazing serial which is currently twelve episodes strong.
1 prince + 14 hopefuls to win his heart + 1 thief-turned-spy employed to ensure the right fae gets the crown. Fans of The Selection and Throne of Glass will love this binge-worthy story of deep secrets, and cunning fae. Half-fae Amberle isn’t competing for the swoon-worthy Prince Rion’s heart or a crown, she’s a hired mole who just wants to save her family. But Rion is charming and stubborn and he’s making her task impossible. And when girls mysteriously turn up dead… she questions everything.
So we have the Bachelor with spies, fae, and the death that makes you think The Hunger Games type competition. In a lot of ways, this reminded my of a Bachelor-esque The Reckoning by Kayle Knue which I reviewed back in April, just without the crazy competition life and death scenarios. Oh wait, there are going to be crazy life and death scenarios as contestants on this episode fo the Bachelor, I mean Courting, start turning up dead. Nothing like a healthy dose of mayhem and murder to suck you into a story!
I think this image that I posted to Instagram says it all.
Then again, these thoughts came to me in the middle of the night when I do most of my reading.
So, what can I tell you about Courting without spoiling so much of the story that you want to throw things at me? Spoiling serials is the worse thing that can happen.
It took a few minutes to put my thoughts into writing without rambling on about the story itself in a way that gives away the plot to date.
This is what came to mind and will be found on my Amazon and Good Reads reviews.
Well paced, with characters you can’t help but root for, Courting is amazingly post and foreshadowed.
We learn just enough about Amberle’s life before her she became a thief and her drive and promise to rescue her father from the clutches of a King who could be described as nefarious.
As readers we know not the reason her father was imprisoned, only that he was. Because the man is trapped the reader can’t help but wonder if the man is alive. When the King offers to return her father to her in exchange for her taking part in the Tourney as his spy, what daughter would say no?
We cannot help but wonder if the hair pulling teasing Amberle experienced as a child was misplaced hormonal playground hair pulling between a young girl and a boy who didn’t otherwise know how to show affection. Better yet, knowing murder could happen at any moment I know that I can’t wait to see Courting devolve into intrigues, murder and mayhem.
Yes! Murder and mayhem because the author’s own words tell us that this is going to happen before we even click on the first episode..
Will Amberle fall in love with the prince, her childhood tormentor as the trope tags suggest? Will Orion fall in love with the girl he thought abandoned him or will she turn back to adorable thieving Clay in search of familiarity once it is all over? Will the Prince live to find love only to have it ripped away by the clutches his own death? Will his chosen queen be ripped away from him by a jealous suitor who survived the Tourney and wasn’t chosen? Or is there an unknown fae woman who wasn’t chosen waiting to swoop in and destroy them all?
Who will be crowned queen? Who will escape with their life?
At this moment, only Joanna Reeder knows and I for one cannot wait to find out!
If my thoughts aren’t enough to convince you to spend some tokens on Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns, maybe the reviews of others can help convince you to give this amazing Vella a shot.
Here’s what Katie had to say about this bing-worthy vella:
And now for one of my favorite parts of these reviews! I’ve asked the author a few questions and would love to share their answers with you.
Kitty: What was your favorite book growing up?
Joanna: I have several, especially because this has changed as I grew up. Elementary age, I loved Half Magic, by Edward Eager. But when I was older, my favorite was Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card.
Kitty: Do you believe that this book influenced your writing style?
Joanna: I wouldn’t say either of them influenced my writing style. My writing style is heavily influenced by YA authors. Specifically By Maggie Steifvater (who is my favorite author now), also maybe a little of Richelle Mead and Cassandra Clare and also by my critique partners and author friends such as Kristin J. Dawson.
Kitty: If you could tell your younger self anything about being an author, what what it be?
Joanna: I would tell myself that I did it!! That I made it and I became a published author!! It was my dream since the 4th grade, so it was a long time coming.
Kitty: What drew you to write about the fae?
Joanna: Long story short, a group of authors and I studied the fae market a little over a year ago with the intent to learn how to write a series to market. And while all of us studied the same genre, read a lot of the same books and incorporated the same tropes, each book/series is VASTLY different.
Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns, what would it be?
Joanna: Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns is a prequel story set two generations BEFORE Imitating a Fae Queen. To my readers who are following my Kindle Vella journey and have also read the books available in my Raven Court series, Rion has already been mentioned. And this KV story will eventually lead up to a major event that is mentioned many times in the Raven Court series.
But this series seriously has my heart because I’ve always wanted to write a Bachelor style, The Selection, type book and I recently fell in love with Throne of Glass. So I mixed the two and set it in my Raven Court, Faerie world. And I LOVE this way of telling a story.
Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about yourself what would it be?
Joanna: I’m married with three kiddos (my youngest began kindergarten this year, so I have more time to write!), I’ve witnessed legit paranormal experiences, and I may or may not be addicted to Dr. Pepper.
I’m not what more I can tell you at this point other than I have the Raven Court series queued up for reading while we’re at Glacier National Park. We won’t have cell signal so I’ll need something to keep me entertained during the hours I’m normally crawling through Vellas.
Is Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns worth spending your free tokens and maybe even purchasing more? Yes! Do it! And maybe give the Raven Court series a try. Book One, Imitating a Fae Queen and Hiding a Fae Queen are both available on Kindle Unlimited. I encourage you to check them out.
Okay, so what’s coming up? If you’ve missed my announcement on Instagram, we’ll be stepping away from fantasy and into crime drama with a review of TheRuin of the Watcher, a complete serial by Collings MacCrae. With twenty episodes, I am alllll set for the binging of another amazing story.
Until next time, may your adventures be exiting, but not as exciting as X’s!
I’m so excited to tell you about what I’ve been reading over coffee while getting Exile ready for launch. You’ve already seen a review for BRIARDARK by S.A. Harian. Today I am so excited to bring you a review for Chew by Naomi Ault.
There’s just something about Zombies that catches the attention and makes your mind race away with all the possibilities. From the first appearance of the undead in the Book of Ezekiel where Valley of Bones literally comes alive to World War Z, The Walking Dead, and the Santa Clarita Diet, the types of zombies and they way that they are portrayed varies. Some zombies stories aren’t my cup of tea, but others are. As a creator and avid reader, I honestly feel that zombies are like suishi. If you haven’t found a zombie story you don’t like, keep looking. There’s one out there for you that caters to your taste and preferred reading tropes.
Today, I get to tell you about one that leapt out of Kindle and grabbed my by the ankles before dragging me in. There is even a series of TikTok trailers which tells me that the author loved creating this world as much as I have enjoyed being immersed in it.
One of the reasons this Vella is so compelling is that it opens discussing a pandemic, a biological emergency where everyone blamed each other for the fact the illness existed and spread.
Considering the Covid era that we live in, it isn’t hard to reimagine the existence of finger pointing that comes along with the blame game of why people got sick and how. With Covid, we don’t know all of the mechanisms of illness, infection and reinfection. We’re only just learning the possibility that like with Chicken Pox, Covid can go dormant. While we can see a resurgence of the virus that causes Chicken Pox in the form of Shingles, Covid is known to emerge and reinfect a patient who has not had an additional Covid contact.
Where are these few tidbits of science important? The answer is easy. In most zombie stories we don’t have a viable mechanism of infection. We don’t know how the disease came to be, only that it started in a lab or was already here awaiting the right circumstances. In the early episodes of Chew, our author gives us a plausible course of infection. We learn how the illness spreads and what it drives the living, the undead, and even the cured to behave. Our story follows the aftermath of infection for several who have been cured in addition to one doctor who managed to fight the disease and keep his hospital open in the face of the Zombie Apocalypse in a way that would have a reader quickly turning pages if this serial was published in book format.
Like I said, Zombies aren’t normally my thing, so I had to acquire the assistance of my developmental editor for this review. He’s an expert on all things Zombie. So, I’ll let him take it from here before I wrap things up..
Warning! The additional commentary below by ZombiePhreak may contain spoilers of Chew by Naomi Alt. Reading further should be done at your own risk. If you don’t want to read spoilers, you can scroll down to the images of other Amazon reviews and continue reading. If you want the gist without spoilers:
I have been reading zombie literature for a very long time. How long you ask? Well I can safely say for the past fifteen years of my life I have read or watched something zombie related practically every day.
From well known works such as the “Walking Dead” comics, to “World War Z,” to much lesser known works such as “Snatchers,” “Good Boy,” “Dead World,” and even a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves where the Dwarves are zombies, (Yes that actually exists, I am not making it up).
Before I dive in, some people online and face to face have asked me, what’s the appeal of the zombie genre? Why do so many people like it so much? Well to be honest I think it boils down to two things.
1. It’s the one monster that the average person feels they stand a chance against in a real life situation. It’s just a slow moving weak human with a very big weakness
2. In this genre the world has often ended and that gives the feeling of a fresh start where you can do anything you want because there’s no one to stop you. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to live in an abandoned mall and be able to drive around in a sports car or sleep in a different house every night? It’s something we all can see ourselves doing if we were the last person on Earth. And that often is the case in a zombie story.
For the most part the stories in the zombie apocalypse genre are all very similar, the zombies rise, humanity can’t seem to get it together and we are quickly overwhelmed by the tide of the mindless hordes of the undead, and we are left with our main characters as they try to survive in this brave new world. It’s a pretty tried and true formula that has worked well for many masters of the genre and even for authors just starting out in their very first foray into the world of zombie fiction.
What really sets a story apart in this genre is when an author decides to deviate from this formula. This is where many readers will call foul, stop reading and go off in search of other things to read.
By taking this route I feel that Chew took that risk and it paid off well for the author. In this story we have our usual zombie apocalypse happen, the zombies rose, humanity fell and we fought back and came out victorious. However this all happened off screen and we come in afterwards to find our main characters in a military camp that has been built to help study and rehabilitate the zombies into human society.
Right away this is a move that is rarely done, giving the zombies back their humanity and re-integrating them into regular society. Sure we’ve seen it in “Warm Bodies,” and “They Came Back,” (A lesser known French zombie film), and the works of David Wellington in his Monster Island series. And to an extent the film, “Shaun of the Dead,” where the zombies are able to hold simple jobs and also be put onto network television. Sometimes it can work, but it takes a very skilled author with a truly unique story to tell in order to make it work.
Plus, what I really like about this route is that there is always that fear in the back of a person’s mind about the rehabilitated zombies. Sure they are once again human, but… could they return to their previous flesh cravings? If so, what could set them off, and when is it going to happen? Are these people truly human once again, or are they a ticking time bomb? By deciding to go down this road, Chew puts this in our mind and it’s a perfect way to slowly build tension in the reader.
So our main characters are Will, a large man whose past is unknown to us, and who seems to have goals that are unknown to us the reader at this point. We have Allison, a confident young woman who seems to have a unique sense of smell that hints towards an ability that may unfold later. And “Kid,” a young girl who does not speak and has been taken under Allison’s wing in order to be kept safe.
These are our “Biters,” (What this book calls the zombies), they had been zombies and were saved by the military by their cure. In this facility they are kept in what I can only describe as prison-like settings. This setting works perfectly for this story as it makes the reader feel like they are confined to this dreary place along with our three Biter friends.
And that my friends is how you set an atmosphere for a zombie apocalypse story, you make your reader feel like they are there. Chew makes you feel like you can feel the closeness of the many people crammed into this pre-made building among the rows of bunk beds. It makes you feel like you can almost taste the boring food they are serving these people. It makes you feel like you are there sitting on your bunk, darting your eyes around the room, trying to keep your eyes open for potential threats. This is where this author truly shines and shows how she can set a scene for her reader.
Later as time goes on, we meet another character who is introduced into our group named Luke. (This where more spoilers are given, so if you want to be unspoiled, please stop reading now).
Luke is a medical professional who was in Brooklyn when the zombie apocalypse happened. The character himself is interesting and you grow to like him and you want him to survive, and we’ll touch on him more later, but first I have to address again where this author does a phenomenal job in setting a scene.
The hospital is an incredible part of the story. I’m serious, the hospital itself could be a character, the whole place came to life in my mind as I read how she described it. The author took a building that is usually full of life and the daily hustle and bustle of medical professionals moving through hallways on their way to heal those who are injured, and she turned it into a silent tomb. As people stop trickling in and patients along with most of the hospital staff flee for their safety, the hospital goes from being a place where you feel safe, to a dark desolate maze that makes you fearful for what could be down the hallway or just around the next corner.
This author was able to take something as mundane as the chirping of a walkie talkie and make me plead internally with Luke to leave the noise alone, don’t investigate it and get out of there! But like most horror stories, our main character presses on and goes towards certain danger and possibly death. And it is simply beautiful…
Another thing that this author touched on that you rarely see done in these stories is we see Luke dealing with PTSD after what he went through. For several weeks he was alone in the hospital with zombies locked in various rooms where they died from their wounds. Think about it, imagine yourself in the place that you spend eight hours a day working your own job. Now picture the power off, your food has run out, you haven’t seen another living person in practically a month, you and your clothes are filthy and reek to high heaven, practically every room you walk past has an undead creature in it clawing at the door and gnashing it’s teeth at you, eager to taste your flesh in it’s mouth. Being in a situation like that would drive anyone bonkers. However with Luke he manages to keep it together, and it isn’t until he walks away that he begins to realize what he went through and it takes a large toll on him menetally, when he realizes the people he tried to save couldn’t be helped by the cure.
This is something that I can only imagine is a healthcare professional’s worst nightmare come true. You thought you were saving people, but everyone you tried to save was killed and all your hard work and training amounted to nothing when it came to saving their lives. It takes Luke a while but he does come to terms with it, but I simply love how the author states that Luke sees that hospital in his nightmares every night. Because that place was his own personal hell.
Another way that I feel that this book stands apart from others in this genre is that the characters are for the most part average people. Sure we have Allison who it’s hinted at that she may have some sort of ability that will fully manifest later, but for the most part, these are just people. They don’t have black ops training, they aren’t MMA fighters, they don’t have an incredible knowledge of firearms, they don’t have super powers, they’re just average people. They could be just four average people you stand behind at the gas station while you’re getting a soda, or that group you passed on the street last night while you were out for your evening walk. And that is something that makes this foursome very relatable and easy to like as we the reader follow them on their journey.
One last thing I wanted to touch on, is the motivation of our zombies. It’s explained that the reason our zombies eat human flesh is that they are in constant pain and the only thing that alleviates that pain is the act of chewing.
As far as zombies go, that’s a good reason for them to be attacking people, so that they can get something in their mouths to chew on. Our zombies aren’t attacking people because they are hungry, they are doing it because they are so overcome with the excruciating agony that they are experiencing and this is the only way that they can get it to stop. And that right there, makes you, the reader, feel sympathy for the zombies. They just want to stop the pain. Any of us can relate to that.
So, if you take all of those terrific qualities and roll them into a story and you have “Chew,” by Naomi Ault. It’s a great Vella story that is well worth spending some time and tokens on to follow the journey of our four friends across post apocalyptic America as humanity struggles to rebuild itself.
Check it out!
Here’s what other readers have had to say about Chew:
And now for one of my favorite parts of these reviews! I’ve asked the author a few questions and would love to share their answers with you.
Kitty: What drew you to write about zombies?
Naomi:I love apocalyptic movies, every flavor. I was on a week-long binge of those when I came across a zombie movie that focused on the protagonist surviving alone, struggling with himself and his own fears. He eventually meets another character, and they discuss a possible cure. The other character is horrified by the very idea of a cure, saying that he couldn’t imagine how awful it would be for the cured, to have to deal with whatever they’d done while they’d been sick.
I immediately paused the movie and started thinking about it, because a lot of zombies movies touch on the idea of a cure at some point, but I didn’t recall any of them acknowledging what that might be like for the zombies. I was in the middle of working on a fantasy adventure series at the time, and before that moment I had zero interest in writing about zombies, but I went right to my laptop and typed up the prologue to Chew. I couldn’t think about anything else until I got it finished. And I didn’t get back to that movie to see how it ended for at least three days.
Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about yourself what would it be?
Naomi:I cheerfully write about crazed cannibals eating people alive while chair dancing to disco. I collect great opening lines; in fact, I collect opening lines for novels I haven’t even read yet. I got Mom jokes for days. I have a laugh track app on my phone for those times when my kids don’t appreciate my sense of humor, and for some reason, I have to use it a lot.
Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about Chew, the upcoming season, or another work in progress, what would it be?
Naomi:At the link in my bio, you can find my Patreon, where you can download a file for the entire first season of Chew starting at just two bucks, which includes the new updates plus OTHER STUFF (go look and see—I only get one sentence here and when the period lands, the pitch stops.)
How can you read Chew? If you’re on an Apple device and live in the US, KindleVella stories are already available for you in app. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can read Chew in any web browser.
Outside of the US, until the soft launch becomes more readily available, if you find an address that you can use for billing in the US you can use NordVPN to change your location and gain access to any KindleVella story available. If you don’t have a billing address in the US you can always use the free 200 tokens offered by Amazon to read as many episodes as possible.
Next week’s Kindle and Coffee will be stepping away from horror for a bit. We’ll feature Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns by Joanna Reeder.
I love myself an amazing horror story, the kind that sucks you in so deep that you can get tripped up in everyday life. I had one such experience back while working for Big Blue (The Gaming Company that Shall Not Be Named). At the time, our office on the Irvine Campus had a single long stairwell that took you up to the floor. There were no windows, just the single solitary door.
While reading House of Leaves by Mark D Danielewski, I found myself more than terrified of that stairwell. Working the overnights didn’t help and I found myself unable to get up and down those stairs on my own until I took a moving package to Texas.
If you’re an avid horror reader, you’ll recognize the name Danielewski and the title, House of Leaves. Why mention something like House of Leaves in a review for a serial on a new platform like Kindle Vella? The answer is this: SA Harian did to the forrest what Danielewski did to that stairwell. Considering I live in an RV fulltime and live parked in the forrest on BLM land for more than half of the year, that’s saying a lot.
Read the above as: The dog needed to go out at 3 AM and I was so freaked out that I turned on all of the outside lights, the lights on our truck, the dogs light up collar and my neck light. I also didn’t forget my phone or flashlight. I was prepared! Everything from that 3 AM trip out into the dark trees, with very little moonlight thanks to the smoke from regional fires, brought this trailer from the author’s instagram to mind.
Considering the serial content and the comparison to Danielewski it’s hard to give you a fair and honest review without offering spoilers that will either make or break this serial for you. What I will tell you is that there’s a story within a story and that both stories are intricately laid out for you as the characters and readers are fed pieces of an unexplainable puzzle piece by piece.
Have you ever found yourself staring at the TV or the screen in a theatre, wanting to scream: DON’T DO IT! WHY DID YOU?
That’s the feeling you get when you read BRIARDARK. The feeling of, these trees aren’t right. Where did this path come from and how did I end up getting where I was supposed to go when that wasn’t the way I got here before? Is someone watching me? Am I being followed? Is this a trap? Is this safe? Am I safe?
How do I explain to you that my 3 AM freak out has stuck with me every time I get into the Jeep only to find it augmented by the presence of fog and smoke?
There are elements of BRIARDARK that set it above other works in the genre and this is where I get to talk about them.
As a writer you can place characters in unrealistic situations and believe that the way you portray their reactions is realistic. Often, that realistic response isn’t realistic at all and can alienate the reader all together. Unless you’ve defined a strange world within a world where they aren’t exactly human, there are some expectations that need to be met. In this case, our author has provided us realism in a way that makes the characters not just relatable, but real.
Sienna’s experiences during their adventure leave her questioning herself and second guessing her actions in a return to trails she traveled before. Once a volunteer searching for those missing on a mountain, she finds herself caught up in her own adventure where time seems to be bending around her in aways she isn’t quite sure are actually happening.
Her fears and concerns are completely justified and her reactions to her journey have you nodding along with her decisions every step of the way (so far!). While your brain screams ‘don’t do it’ when it’s time to continue their journey, you know in your head that her reasoning is sound. There’s a radio that they can use to call for help, they need supplies that should be waiting for them and they have a job to do. It’s the best decision for their team in order to prevent another return to the mountain in the future.
I’d say more about the rest of her team, but I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read through the current episodes. I do want to take a moment to introduce you to Holden, our other main character. Simply put, a real person complete with his own canine companion named Francis. Have I mentioned that I’m a sucker for dogs and the roles that they play in print and on screen.
He’s experiencing life post break up. He has a crappy day job that is tedious and easily hated, something far too many of us experience. He’s trying to get over his ex-girlfriend, but like anyone who has ever loved, the sting of that loss follows him. It’s during this relationship recovery that he stumbles onto a bit of history that links him to Sienna while completing tasks for his normally boring day job. His day job is to scrub old data or return it to it’s owner in the form of hard drives and other media.
Luckily for us as readers, coming across a simple hard drive will change his life, and ours as we see the world through his and Sienna’s eyes, forever.
This is where our story draws parallels to House of Leaves. There’s a story within a story here. With house of leaves, we find a script about a murder about movie in a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. We see the lives of the family that discover that house and find themselves both in and outside of time.
Much like experiences on the mountain and the scripts and movie that we learn about in House of Leaves, we have a character being spoon fed a mystery piece by piece. Even stranger is the way it’s being provided to him. As Holden investigates what he found on the drives, more of the files seem to be playable where they weren’t previously.
Who or what is causing this to happen? Why? We don’t know yet and it could be some time before we’ll even begin to get the kind of glimpses into the tangled web of a tale that will give us any sort of hint.
I want to say more about these decisions and experiences, but all I can tell you is that the curiosity, drive and self doubt our characters experience feel genuinely real. In this genre that’s a rare gift for readers who don’t have to stretch their minds far to suspend their disbelief.
This is the moment where the announcer for a gameshow or host of an infomercial says: But wait! There’s more!
Not only have I been so utterly creeped out that it’s a bit difficult to function when the sun goes down (remember that we’re full time RVers and live in different forests all year round…), I’ve also laughed so hard I shot my morning coffee out my nose. Twice.
If you’ve ever shot cola out your nose, you know it burns. Coffee is worse. The crazy part is that happened twice. You’d think I would learn not to drink coffee while reading. I don’t know if I can explain to you why this was so funny to me, it just was. Seeing the KindleQuote while writing this review has me laughing again.
Luckily no coffee at the moment.
At the time of writing this review, I have rabidly consumed the fourteen available episodes of BRIARDARK and may or may not be obsessively checking my Kindle App for more.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is what others have said about Harian’s Vella so far:
And now for something that I think is a lot of fun for me and readers. I reached out to Harian and asked them three questions that I hope will give you some insight into BRIARDARK and it’s creator.
Kitty: What drew you to write about horror?
Harian: Much of my favorite media is sci-fi or fantasy that relies really heavily on a creepy mystery…
Think Alien, Lost, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, or Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant. Really good SFF horror has a ton of suspense and mystery (in my subjective opinion), and when I find a book, game, movie, or TV show that does it well, I become obsessed with it.
With Briardark, I’m writing the story that I want to read and loving every second.
Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about yourself what would it be?
Harian: I’m a total chicken in real life. Adventurous, but a chicken.
I definitely panic easy. Every time I think I’m even the slightest bit lost in the woods, I feel like I’m going to pass out. And yet I still love going on hikes and venturing into caves and then writing about horrific shit that happens in them–It’s sort of pathological, really.
Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about Briardark or another work in progress that you haven’t already, what would it be?
Harian: Briardark starts off narrow with transitions between the research group and Holden, but it’s actually an epic, I am SO excited for the world to expand and for readers to realize what’s actually going on. I have several seasons planned. Each will be episodically released on Kindle Vella first and the seasons will be released wide in all formats (ebook, audio, print) after they wrap up.
Finally, the most important question I can answer for other readers and for Harian.
Will I continue to read to read BRIARDARK? Yes. Every new episode will definitely be something I dig into.
Is BRIARDARK worth the token purchase? Yes! I actually had to buy more tokens when I hit Episode ten. What can I say other than the fact I’m an avid reader and since I’m normally the passenger when we drive, I have a lot of reading time on my hands.
How can you read BRIARDARK? If you’re on an Apple device and live in the US, KindleVella stories are already available for you in app. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can read BRIARDARK in any web browser.
Outside of the US, until the soft launch becomes more readily available, if you find an address that you can use for billing in the US you can use NordVPN to change your location and gain access to any KindleVella story available. If you don’t have a billing address in the US you can use the free 200 tokens offered by Amazon to read as many episodes as possible.
Next week’s Kindle and Coffee will feature the undead in Naomi Ault’s The Chew, where I’ll be accompanied by my Developmental Editor, David Cherbini who just so happens to be a rabid zombi aficionado known in the review world as Zombie Phreak. I’m so excited for it and more.
Until next time, share how you feel about Briardark by commenting below.
It’s so hard not to spoil what’s coming. I know that I’m being asked when things are going to start picking up in this slow burn.
They are! What I can tell you is that I’m kinda wishing it wasn’t such a slow burn. There’s a strange yearning to fulfill my editor and beta reader’s requests to have the bodies start hitting the floor.
What I can tell you, without spoiling things, is that things are ramping up. You’ll soon be learning why X and Z are the way that they are. It’s important to the story that everyone knows what happened and how and why this wound is lingering.
And to answer the question before it is asked, no! We have not gone Randonauting in Yellowstone or the Targhee National Forest. It could be an interesting thing, but considering what I’ve seen content creators wander into on YouTube and TikTok, I am more than happy to live out Randonautica and Scarenoia vicariously through my characters.
You can find The Explorers on Kindle Aps for iOS and on Amazon’s website. Like with Kindle Unlimited, we haven’t seen a wider released. I have a feeling we’ll see things open up to Android devices before we’ll see them open up internationally.
If you’re an international reader and looking for assistance accessing The Explorers, please reach out to me. There are ways to get around localization. *caugh caugh* NordVPN *wink wink*, though I do believe you would need a billing address in the US. That said, you can still access free Kindle Vella episodes and use some of those free tokens that they provide new readers. I believe the number is still 200.
Exile is the first installment of The Chronicles of Eden which take place in the Under a White Moon Paranormal Universe. There are more stories in this universe to told than Eden’s.
This universe is my Passion Project. It’s had years of background development due to it’s nature as urban fantasy. This world within a world serial takes place in modern times and it took a lot to figure out how the different supernatural creatures and their various species worked.
What I can tell you is that our heroine, Eden has an amazing sidekick. That sidekick isn’t Detective Sean Willingham, it’s her mastiff hound mix, Boscoe. I don’t know, there’s just something about dogs that draw me into a story.
Atticus had Oberon.
Timmy had Lassie.
Shaggy had Scooby.
Akamaru had Kiba.
Eden has Boscoe!
Who wouldn’t want a Boscoe of their own? I know I want one, though Mr Wizard has said no to larger breed, wet mouthed dogs. We loved our Little Joe Friday, but slobber was a thing that we never really were able to keep up with.
What should you expect from Season One of Under a White Moon Paranormal Mysteries? Werewolves, hunters, a vampire or two, a wicked step sister and serial killers. Don’t forget the serial killers.
Unfortunately, links to Exile won’t be available until they go live on August, 30th. I’ll make sure to post them with that day’s blog which will include something else that is also just as exciting.
This new series of reviews will pop up almost weekly. They’ll include a write up carefully crafted to give you an idea of what the story feels like without spoilers, information on where to read, how to find the author, and possibly a TikTok video reviewing the serial. We’ll see how well that goes. I’m not really the greatest at editing TikTok Videos or Instagram Reels.
I’m good at finding music to go along with the videos I’ve shot and I really haven’t put myself into the videos yet. So we’ll see how that goes.
I promise to put my NoBS pants on and do my best.
Is it possible that there may be a review that isn’t the greatest or that I might not enjoy a serial I’ve reviewed? It happens, but that doesn’t mean what I’m reading isn’t something else someone to enjoy.
For example, I’m not that big of a fan of things that include a lot of sex, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t enjoy it.
There will even be a quarterly Is Kitty Still reading It? Blog. But I’ll be frank. I gave up on Doctor Who for way too long after Billie Piper left. Kill or otherwise hurt a character I’m attached to and I may have to put something down for awhile. It wasn’t until two Doctors later that I went back to Doctor Who, still butt hurt over David Tennant’s departure.
That said, if there is a serial on Kindle Vella or another platform like Good Reads or Tapas that you want to see reviewed, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!
*yes, Kayla! I’ve got a lot of reading to do for you :D*
And finally, the question I’ve been asked more times than I thought.
Okay, I’m going to say my words. I’m a writer, it’s what I do. Hear these words, or see them. And pay attention to what I have to say.
When Kindle Unlimited soft launched it was a nightmare. Luckily this soft launch, while hiccupy hasn’t gone too terribly.
Was there frustration that free tokens were given to readers to entice them to the platform? You bet! Especially since part of the platform includes providing readers three free episodes.
But this is all part of the growing experience that Amazon will experience as they move the Kindle Vella to other devices and regions. At this moment, there aren’t as many readers as many of us would have liked. Let’s face it, serial readers are a different audience than those who read novels.
Some readers specifically chose to stay away from serials because they’ve been ‘burned’ by authors who embark on projects and then drop off the face of the earth leaving stories unfinished forever.
Can we all be real and understand that when something like that happens is pretty, well shitty. That’s the best way I can explain it.
That said, I don’t want to be an author that leaves people hanging. It’s one of the reasons I have so much work done on the serials I’m releasing. There are 40+ fully outlined episodes of The Explorers, twenty three of them written. The last five in a state of rewrite until I’m 100% happy with them. Luckily I have a little bit of time to work out the kinks before I continue on.
Under the White Moon Paranormal Mysteries has three full epic length novels complete. Each novel represents a season. That means I have a lot written material for all of you.
If something happens to me, I can promise that the rest of the episodes will be posted and in the worse case scenario, outlines will be posted of what wasn’t completed to give you an idea of what would have happened to your favorite characters.
Moving on… The good news is that the platform, like all things, will grow. The market for it author wise isn’t super saturated. Getting in during the early months is something that is great for writers looking to build or expand their brand. And we all need to face the fact that writers are their brand.
As the platform grows, there will be more readers. Authors need to do what they can to self promote and advertise. This isn’t any different from traditional publishing, self publishing or just dumping random poorly formatted work out onto KU in hopes of someone reading it.
I’ve got a few ads that I’m planning in order to increase visibility after Exile releases. It’s important to use social media and ads to drive readers to your work, even if what you write isn’t what they like. That’s why readers have three free episodes and that pocket full of free tokens to get started. In a sense, readers get to try before they buy.
Do I think the platform will grow? Yes!
Do I think it’ll be worth the risk to get involved in this new experiment by Amazon? Sure do. Worse thing that happens is the service fails and I take my work down while retaining my rights and release it again in novel format. Sure there’d be a bit of work involved, but that’s what happens when you’re self employed.
This isn’t a review of the service, this is simply a ‘it is what it is’ moment.
To be honest, we’ll need to wait and see what happens after the full roll out to be able to fully review and take a stand as to how effective a service it is.
What I can tell you is that I believe there will be a lot more to come.
Well, that’s it for today. If I don’t end things here, I’ll never stop.