Kindle Vella Reviews

the ruin of the watcher by Collings MacCrae

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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:

Review by Kerri Griffith
Review by Patrick

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. 

Collings MacCrae can be found on Instagram, FaceBook, Twitter, and Good Reads.

Now that I’ve cried my way through writing a review, what’s next? It’s Dinos of the Old West. Because I saw the logo and read the first episode and I just can’t help myself.

Until next time, may your adventures be exciting! Just… not as exciting as X’s.

Kindle Vella Reviews

Briardark by SA Harian

BRIARDARK Kindle and Coffee
Take a look at what’s in my coffee cup this week!

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, LostAnnihilation 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.

You can also find SA Harian on Instagram and on their website: http://sa-harian.com.

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.