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  • Writer's pictureCandace Nola

Random Reviews Friday-Guest Author Reviews

In another random review Friday, we have several reviews to share with you. The first is a review of IN THE TALL TREES written by Angel Van Atta and reviewed by Deven VanKirk.

The second is a double review of the paired books, THE TALES OF TIME & THE OPEN BOOK, written by L. Marie Wood, and reviewed by Craig Brownlie.

At the end of each review, you will find links to the books and a brief bio about the reviewer. Let's get started.

Big thanks to both Deven and Craig for sharing their reviews with us today!



Written by Angel Van Atta.

If you're looking for an emotionally charged read that will have you feeling all the feels, including anxiety, terror, fear, anger, more anger, and such an intense sadness that I can't even put into words right now. This is the book for you.

Mella, her mom, and baby brother, Peter, are trapped in a house in the woods. They're living in deplorable conditions. They're unable to leave. The only visitor they get is the Bad Man, who occasionally brings them food.

This man is a monster in the truest sense.

When an extreme situation takes place, Mella is tasked with making it to safety and finding help. Can she make it, or will the Bad Man get to her before she gets to safety?

This is the first book I've read by Angel Van Atta, and it definitely will not be my last. I felt like I was there beside Mella every word of this story. It was heartbreaking to read about what she was experiencing. The tension in this book was palpable, and you can feel it increasing with every scene. The last quarter of the book was so fast-paced and so intense.

I would have liked to have found out what happened after. At the same point in time, I'm glad it ended the way it did. Mella is a superhero.


Bio for Deven VanKirk:

Deven VanKirk was raised in the Midwest and has lived all over the eastern half of the US. He enjoys hiking and camping. Currently, he resides in southern Illinois with his wife, son, and two dogs. Writing on the Walls is his first published work.



By L. Marie Wood

L. Marie Wood asks the eternal question: which came first, the fiction or the meta-fiction? You might decide the answer is self-evident, but then you’ve never peeked inside the mind of an author. Wood’s answer moved me from curiosity to frustration and bewilderment to wonder and… well, some mind-fuckery.

I’m claiming authors who play games when they write fall into two categories. You have your Kings, Keenes, and Wilsons (among many others) who intertwine their tales, crossing characters over and planting Easter Eggs. They create cosmologies and, when blessed with long enough careers and incredible work ethics, they create a semi-cohesive universe which kindles wonder over the long haul.

Then you have the authors who play literal games: your Joyces, Carrolls, and Nabokovs. They write phenomenal stories while weaving in word games and internal references and just plain nonsense which will practically write your Ph. D. thesis for you. (Definitely not.)

This is not a mainstream literature/genre literature dichotomy. Canonized authors like Balzac and Faulkner built worlds and every mystery writer plays the great game, just like every horror writer dares the reader to play.

L. Marie Wood has granted me a third category in which the author provides their own meta-fiction. (She may not be the progenitor, but most other writers attempting their own meta-commentary manage little more than self-indulgence.) Wood stands toe to toe with the above-mentioned authors when it comes to incorporating gamesmanship to make art.

When I bought Wood’s paired books, I had one thought: this sounds like a fun riff mixing Lovecraft, 1,001 Nights, and meta-fictional conceit. I was not wrong, but also found so much more. The Open Book is about what happens to people who read The Tales of Time as it passes from hand to hand. On its own, Tales reads like a short story collection of cosmic/body/trad/bizarre horror. Open plays like a movie where a gun or another unifying prop passes through each story, except here whole stories and excerpts from Tales are peppered throughout as characters read the book.

Not all the stories from Tales appear in Open, nor do they appear in order. Here lies the rub for my approach of reading a chapter from each in turn. I am not complaining because I changed my method to skip about and finally settled in to finish Open before finishing Tales.

Then, the resonating started in my brain. Subtle moments of going “Wait!” “Was that a story in the other book?” “Am I missing a reference here?” “Oh, shit, that’s cool.” “What did I just read? And am I reading it for the second time? Or was that the character reading over my shoulder?” “Shit, I think I might be sucked into this open book…”

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Bio for Craig Brownlie:

Find Craig on Facebook, Instagram, and who knows? He has a website at, but he's been busy lately submitting stories and books. Find a sampler on Godless and read his stories in Haunts Magazine (Nightshade Publications), Unspeakable Horrors 3: Dark Rainbow Rising, Jersey Devil Press, Lovecraftiana, Stranger With Friction, and Demons & Death Drops. Or talk to him at a convention. He hopes to be at Scares that Cares Authorcon III and IV.

The link to his blog is below:

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