Anthology-Twisted Sacrament

These stories are dark, dark, dark, dark, and even darker than that. There are no happy anythings here, there’s no light. There’s nothing that will bring you any kind of hope. I’d say abandon all hope, but even just abandoning it isn’t enough. You have to completely scour any kind of hope from your soul. You have to erase the word hope from your memory. Then you might, just possibly might, be ready to read Twisted Sacrament. Consider yourself warned.

The anthology consists of 7 authors who write dark anyway, but then they got let off the leash. Not only that, they were given the brief of writing the most sacrilegious and blasphemous story possible. And let me tell you, SJ Cole, Zoe Blake, Addison Cain, Jennifer Bene, Celia Aaron, Ashleigh Giannoccaro, and Alta Hensley fucking delivered. These 7 stories are depraved, twisted, desolate, full of mindfucks, horrifying, and darker than fuck. They are disturbing. And yet. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading them. I couldn’t get enough of them. I loved everyone one of them, even the ones that left me shaking at the end. (I’m looking right at you, Jennifer.)

They are all short stories, none of them much longer than 30 minutes to read. I wouldn’t recommend reading them at night before bed though. You might not sleep well. But because they are short, you’re only going to get my reactions, as is my usual practice in this situation. I got ARCs for 4 of them, but like I said, they are short, so I had no problems reading the rest of them.

Addison Cain-She Came Before God

There is a period of Catholic and Italian history where the high ranking clergy weren’t as… celibate as they should’ve been. During that time, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope. There are all kinds of rumors about orgies in the Papal palace while he was there, and it is historical fact that he had children, born when he was a cardinal. You know, when he wasn’t supposed to be dicking around. Lucrezia Borgia, who you may have heard about as a poisoner, was one of his children. So, what does this have to do with Addison’s story? Well, her story involves a pope and some fucking.

Addison’s story really just was straight up horrifying. Our poor little heroine learns that she’s part of a horrible family tradition, and everything that she thought was true isn’t. This story stuck with me. I mean, I dreamt about it. Even days later, I’m still trying to get a total handle on certain things. I really wanted to scream at the end of it, and maybe sit and cry in despair.

Zoe Blake-Lilith’s Revenge

Lilith comes out of Jewish mythology. She’s generally considered to be Adam’s first wife, but when she wouldn’t behave the way that they wanted, she was kicked out of Eden and Eve came in in her place. Lilith then went on to become the mother of demons. In her demon partying and fucking days, she fucked everyone she wanted to, including some angels.

In Zoe’s story, she is back in her demon party girl aspect, tempting a priest. Now, here’s the thing. She and her priest get it on in all kinds of ways and do all kinds of depraved things, but… The question is, is what they are doing real, or is the priestly part real, or is anything real? Zoe has written an incredibly mindfuck and my mind is still fucked from it. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and what was going on in the story. I have theories as to what’s going on, but they vary from minute to minute.

I recommend following Zoe’s instructions when it comes to her story.

Alta Hensley-Last Rites

I personally think that the end of the world is going to be some kind of plague. In this jet-setting world, it’s going to be too easy for something to be across the world before anyone gets diagnosed with it in the first place. Why do I mention this? Because Alta destroys the world with The Itch, an illness that makes people want to scratch their skin off, makes their blood foam, and makes them pretty fucking crazy. There are rumors of a safe place for women to go (and only women), where they won’t be exposed to The Itch.

This is so disturbing. It’s short, it’s brutal, and it’s dark as fuck. I kind of wanted to take a very, very hot shower after reading this one. And maybe scrub for about 30 hours.

Jennifer Bene-Baptism in Eden

If you look at my GR/Zon review, it says “Oh my fucking god. That is all.” Yeah, that’s about all I could say about this one on there. Jennifer writes dark at the best of times, but let her off the leash, she’s simply dazzling. And dazzle she does.

You may think of Eden as paradise, but Jennifer’s Eden is as far away from paradise as you can possibly get. It’s so dark and so twisted. I know I’m saying that a lot, but there aren’t words in the English language to describe it. But the fact remains that this story is Stygian. It’s also a very Jennifer Bene story. If I were given all the stories in this book and asked to pick out which one Jennifer had written, this would be the one that I choose. When I was done reading it, I was literally sitting on the couch and shaking. I had to go read something else to calm down. I may be traumatized.

Celia Aaron-Communion

I know that I’ve raved about Celia on here before. She totally deserves every good thing I have ever said about her.

I loved this story. It wasn’t quite as dark as some of the others, but it’s by no means light. I love the byplay between Cate and Ted. It is very interesting to see how Ted talks to her and what goes on. I feel like this is very topical too. I have to wonder how much Celia was influenced by what’s going on in the world right now, because it really feels like there was some serious influencing going on. Frankly, I think it makes it better.

Ashleigh Giannoccaro-Say Yes

I’ve only read one other Ashleigh Giannoccaro book, but I own a couple of more. My TBR is totes ridic and one day I’ll get to them.

Ashleigh takes us for a tour through a cult. A very, very creepy cult. A very creepy cult that says men have to have 2 wives or they can’t get into Heaven. OK, I grew up Mormon, and there has always been the whole polygamy thing surrounding the church, and then the FLDS church around, which are a polygamous cult, so this one felt really close to home, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how much Ashleigh took from there, how much came from other cults, and how much came straight out of her head, but it was a fascinating read. It also looks like it’s setting up for a new series, so I’ll be all over that one.

SJ Cole-I’m Better Than You

SJ Cole is Stevie J. Cole writing under a new name. And OMG, her heroine is totally cuckoo for coco puffs. I mean, the cheese not only done slipped her cracker, it left the room, the house, the zip code, the state, and the country. Then it changed its name, cut its hair, and got plastic surgery. The cheese wants to have absolutely nothing to do with Violet anymore, and I don’t blame it. I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her either. I can totally get why she’s upset, but damn, girl takes it to another level. She’s creepy as fuck. She’s crazy as fuck. SJ says there’s more to the story, and I’m going to have to read it. Can’t fucking wait. I like creepy and crazy.

OK, there are my reactions to each of these 7 stories. I loved this book. But, trust me, don’t look for light. Don’t look for happy. Don’t look for hope. Don’t look for this book to last long. I recommend you go buy it soon if anything I talked about sounded good, because anthologies don’t tend to last very long and then the rights revert back to the authors.

No spoilers, but a picture I thought was great for this.

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Celia Aaron-Blood Prince

I guarantee that if Celia Aaron writes it, I will read it. Every.damn.time. I love her work so much. I’ve talked about before about how I think she’s a new chapter in Modern Southern Gothic fiction. She writes such layered stories with a lot of nuance. Her FMCs are strong characters in and of themselves, and she gives them a lot of smarts and stubbornness. Blood Prince fits in well with her style, even if it doesn’t take place in the South, unless, well, you consider the Underworld the South.

So, this is Celia’s take on the Helen of Troy story. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Paris, the prince of Troy is asked to judge a beauty contest between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They bribe him and Aphrodite offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. That just happens to be Helen, Queen of Sparta, wife to Menelaus. As the story goes, either he went and kidnapped her and brought her to Troy or Aphrodite spirited her away. Either way, Helen and Paris end up together in Troy and madly in love. Menelaus, understandably, is really fucking pissed, so he and his allies lay siege to Troy. Eventually, Menelaus challenges Paris to a duel, and Paris either dies or runs away, depending on which story you read. Then, the Trojan Horse shows up.

OK, that’s the way that Homer told it. Celia’s version is slightly different. In her version, Priam, Paris’ dad, is the vampire king, and the vamps aren’t bad. Menelaus is a demon lord, and demons are bad. Menelaus bought Helen, a daughter of Zeus and full of magic, at an auction to be his wife. He did terrible, terrible things to her. We don’t know most of what he did to her at any point, other than killing her brothers and torturing her mother, we just know that it was terrible. When Paris was there and saw Helen in a rose garden, lightning struck, and they fell in love. He took her home to Troy, where they lived happily ever after, at least until Menelaus showed up and tried to get her back. Paris went to fight Menelaus and he lost. Then when Menelaus came to get Helen, she killed herself so that he couldn’t have her anymore.

Flash forward a few centuries and Elena, one of the maiden warriors of Artemis and her chief strategist, is out wandering through the streets of Paris. She runs into a huge guy who ends up taking her and shoving her in his car. Right before that happens, she sees the vampire prince Paris teleporting towards her, with a really angry look on his face. Last she knew, he was dallying with Artemis, so she can’t figure out why he’s mad at her. When she gets in the car, the man sticks some silver bracelets on her which block her magic and then tells her that, oh, BTW, he’s her husband.

Paris manages to help her escape, and tells Elena that she’s actually Helen of Troy. Artemis rescued her body after death, took her memories, and turned her into one of her warriors.

Elena/Helen is pretty damn kick ass. She’s smart, tricksy, wily, and a master tactician. She pretty much strategically outthinks everyone. Paris is more than willing to go with her plans because he knows that she’s not only the best at it but that she’s already thought through all the possible steps and problems before she finalizes anything. It’s like she already has seen every possible outcome and knows what definitely happen. It’s pretty cool. I love that Elena/Helen is so kick ass and that she is seriously fierce. She isn’t necessarily a damsel in distress. She definitely causes the distress. She’s confident and sure of herself and her power. The nice thing is that Paris isn’t threatened by that. He values her, her powers, and her abilities. He knows that if she’s by his side then he can’t fail.

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Oh, Iphi. I love her. She and Helen are a pair. I think that she’s just super fun, and not quite right, but in a good way. I would love to see a story about Iphi because I’m pretty sure that she would get into all kinds of good trouble.

Apollo is such a horndog. So funny. I wonder how many upset husbands he’s left in his wake over the centuries, because you know he has. Or maybe he just managed to charm them all, who knows. I feel like he’s one of those jackasses who is such a huge asshole but you can’t help but like him because he’s a charming fuck.

OK, that’s all I have to say today. Go check this one out! Happy reading!

Celia Aaron-The Butcher

I can never get enough of Celia Aaron and her books. They tend to burrow under my skin and make me want to keep reading them. The Butcher is no different. It definitely got under my skin and I loved it. It gave me so many feelz. All the feelz. Allllllll the feeelz. When I started to read this one, I wasn’t aware that it was the 3rd in a series, so I’m now going back to read the first 2 books. But not knowing didn’t matter because this was enough of a standalone that you don’t have to read the first 2 books. I’m looking forward to reading them, because, well, Celia Aaron.

So here’s our story. When he was 16, David Raven and his younger brother, Peter, lived with a foster father who was just terrible. David was going out and doing what he could to make sure that they had the money to escape. Mostly that meant going out and acting as a collector and enforcer for the Genoa mob. He breaks kneecaps and noses and does whatever he has to. It’s not nice work, but he’s 16 and dropped out of school when he was in 7th grade, so what’s he going to do? When he’s out and about, he sees a beautiful girl. At first, he only catches glimpses of her from time to time, but then, he finally gets to talk to his mystery girl.

Angel was 15. She lived with her monster of a father, and her goal is to get out. So she’s doing what she can to get money. She can’t go out and break knees and noses, so she picks pockets, breaks into cars, sneaks in and out of houses, and does what she can to get money. She’d seen the boy wandering around before, so when he talked to her, she decided to talk about. They connected so nicely. One night, sitting under a tree at a park, they were each other’s first kiss. Then everything went to hell. David walked her home, but a black car that had been following her off and on showed up near her house, but she tried to talk herself out of worrying about it. However, after the bottom apartment door closed and she couldn’t see David anymore, it turned out that her dad had sold her off to another mobster. Meanwhile, outside the door, David’s friend Nate told him that he had heard a huge fight going on at his house and it sounded like Peter was getting the shit beat out of him. And that was that, for 5 long years.

One of the things that Celia Aaron does really well is to create layered characters. Her characters are never what you see at first or even second glance. You have to spend a lot of time in their heads in order to completely figure them out, and if the characters are broken, you have to slide in between the cracks and fissures to get to the real character. She’s also really good at creating broken characters who fit together at all the jaggly bits so that they can be perfect together. I really love Angel and David both on their own and when they are together. They are both fascinating characters.

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For our main couple, we barely ever see them together, which breaks my heart for them. I mean, they find each other, lose each other for 5 years, have a few weeks together, and then lose each other for 5 more years? How many love stories can survive that? And theirs survived that. That’s just amazing. I don’t know that I could do that.

I love Angel’s pseudonym, I was greatly amused by that. I was also greatly amused by her escapades in setting up a series of fences across Europe. She is a very resourceful young woman.

OK, that’s all I have to say about this one. Go check it out as well as the two other books in the series. Happy reading!

Celia Aaron-The Church

We have finally reached the last book in Celia’s Cloister series. It’s been a long, fucked up, twisted journey, and one that left me hanging at the end of the first two books. I mean, I would count down when the next one would come out as soon as I would finish the last one. I both blessed and cursed Celia’s name, usually multiple times in each book. But then we get to The Church, and damn. I was so satisfied when I got to the end of this book. It was perfect. Of course, being Celia Aaron, it wasn’t easy. Nor was it particularly nice. But, it had to be done.

And now, my precious ducklings, I have a warning for you. This review will contain spoilers for The Maiden and The Prophet. Because of the way the books have been written, with the beginning of the next book picking up immediately after the end of the previous books, spoilers are going to happen.  So, be aware of that. If you haven’t read the other books and you don’t want to be spoiled, this is the time for you to leave. If you continue on past this point and you get spoiled… Well, I warned you. Choices have consequences.

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Celia Aaron-The Prophet

I’m pretty sure that Celia Aaron has redefined Southern Gothic and made it something all her own. I’m also pretty sure that she’s evil. When she writes a book, she not only wants to find out how she can do terrible things to her characters, she also wants to figure out ways in which to torture us, her readers. And she does such a damn good job at it. The Prophet is proof of this. Prophet is the 2nd of the 3 books that make up The Cloister books. They are a continuous story, broken into three parts. Talking about Prophet will spoil the first book in the series, The Maiden, there just isn’t any other way to do it. If you haven’t read Maiden, then don’t read this yet. If you don’t like cliffies, then wait. The Church comes out in June. These books are dark af and mindfucking like you wouldn’t believe. If you have a trigger, the book will seek it out and pull it.

If you have read both books, or you aren’t worried, then come jump off the cliff with me.

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Continue reading “Celia Aaron-The Prophet”

Celia Aaron-The Maiden

I know that this isn’t the first Celia Aaron’s book I’ve had here, but the other one I had wasn’t dark. This one is dark. Dark af. And it’s a mindfuck. So, hey, that’s great. Hits a lot of my happy buttons.

Celia Aaron writes books that are set in the South. She’s kind of a modern Flannery O’Connor, if Flannery wrote dark, noncon, erotic, thrilling, suspenseful romance. I mean, you get a real taste of the places where she’s writing about, mostly because she’s from the places she’s writing about. That’s also why her lawyers are really authentic too, because she was a lawyer. Anyway, I love reading her books because of all the work she puts into creating her worlds and how they really enhance the story. So, let’s get to The Maiden.

The Maiden is the first book in The Cloisters trio. Well, I don’t know if trio is the right word, but that’s the one I’m going with. There are going to be three, The Maiden, The Prophet which releases in May, and The Church, which releases in June. If you don’t like waiting reading a duet or trio like this one at a time, I would probably suggest that you wait until Church releases. I won’t be, because I neeeeeeeeeed to have them in my hot little hands the second they come out.

So, here’s the lowdown. There is a cult, a church called Heavenly Ministries. The church is run by the Prophet, Leon Monroe. He used to be just a good Baptist pastor,  but then God talked to him and told him to create Heavenly Ministries. The church is basically an end-times are coming, the apocalypse is coming, the end of the world will happen, but if you are a member of our church and live in perfect obedience, you can be saved, kind of church. Things may not necessarily make a lot of sense, but if you have a charismatic leader, like it appears good old Leon is, you can hook people who are looking for something. There are always going to be people who are searching for something or someone or the right path.

Every year, there are Maidens who are accepted into the Cloister. The Maidens are beautiful young virgins. Some go back home at the end of the year and some end up married to someone rich and powerful. The draw of becoming one of the Maidens is that they are choice women, pure and chaste, and their year in the Cloister will keep them safe and pure. Of course, if that’s all there was, I probably wouldn’t have read this book and wouldn’t be talking about it here.

Delilah has been chosen as one of this year’s crop of 12 Maidens. She’s done everything she can to make sure that she was one of the chosen. She follows everything the Prophet says, she goes to church every chance she gets, she is meek, mild, and modest. On the night that she enters the Cloister, there is a big ceremony. The Maidens are led to a huge bonfire where there is a circle of men. They stand in between the men and the fire. The Prophet goes on and on about the story of Abraham and Rebecca. Then, each Maiden is given to a Protector who is going to help her, guide her, and train her for the next year.

Delilah looks at the man across the way from her, and it’s Noah Monroe, the Prophet’s younger son. She thinks that’s OK. Standing right next to him is his older brother, Adam. Adam sees something a little rebellious in Delilah and he trades places with him so that he can become her Protector.

The young women all think that wonderful things are going to be happening. But Adam, Noah, and the other guys all know that it’s not. The Protectors haul their Maidens to the Cloister, where they are told to take off their clothes and get a new name from the Prophet. When they are allowed to get dressed again, they get a birth control shot and a microchip tracker shot into their arm. That’s when things start getting real.

Delilah had an idea as to what would be happening, because she’s there trying to find out information about a young woman named Georgia. Georgia went to be a Maiden, but was later found dead. Delilah knows that the secret of Georgia’s death lies in the Cloister. The only way she could get there was to join the church and become a Maiden. She thought that she knew how bad it was going to be, but she really didn’t.

OK, this book is really intense. It’s dark. There is really no fucking light in this book. There are some lighter black parts, but yeah, not light. There is all kinds of fucked up shit that goes on. It’s all kinds of triggering. There are triggers on top of triggers with a side of triggers. I mean, seriously. Triggers. The Spinners, the women in charge of the Maidens, are sadistic bitches, especially Grace. The Protectors, well, aren’t. Terrible things happen to the Maidens. I would say that they are fucked, but that would probably be too nice to describe it. It is a really great book. I loved it. I couldn’t put it down. I quite literally read it until I was cross-eyed in the middle of the night and my Kindle was nearly falling on my face. That’s how much I got sucked into this book.

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It’s a cliffhanger. I’m not going to lie to you. If you’ve made it down here, you know that you’re going to see spoilers, so you have no one to blame but yourself to find out that yes, it’s a cliffhanger.

I don’t know whether to like Adam or to hate Adam. I kind of want to do to both. I know what I feel about his father, and I haven’t yet come up with something bad enough to happen to him. I’m sure I will. I’m pretty sure that Adam has some kind of long game he’s playing here, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t wait to find out what it is though. It’s going to be interesting to find out. Of course, Celia is going to keep us guessing right until the end.

So, that’s all that I have to stay about this one. Really, check it out, especially if you like dark and dirty. Happy reading!

Celia Aaron-The Elder

Celia Aaron writes stories that take place down in the deep South, Louisiana and Mississippi. I really enjoy her stories. You should go check out Blackwood. I cannot recommend that one enough. You get some dark and sexy along with mystery and intrigue. That’s a recipe I can get behind. But this review is about The Elder, the first book of the Mississippi Kings series. I’m sticking this in the romance section because it has a romance that runs through it, but it’s not the primary focus of the book, which is why it’s also under the mystery category. I would call it a murder mystery suspenseful thriller with some romance, instead of a romance with some murder mystery going on.

Anyway, let’s get on with the story, shall we? Benton King, the elder of the 3 King children, works in the law firm of King and Morris with his father. One morning, he goes to work and opens his father’s office door to find him sitting at his desk with a hole in his head. In their quiet, very small town of Azalea, Mississippi, the murder rate is something like 1/year. In fact, their police force was tiny, and only had 2 detectives on the entire force, Arabella Matthews and her partner, Logan. When Benton calls in the police, she gets the call, since she is the senior detective. The chief has been staying at the hospital with his daughter who is in a coma.

Benton, along with his brother Porter, who is the county sheriff and totally unsuited and underqualified for his job, is waiting for the police, and are both angry about the chief not showing up and sending in the “B team”.

Arabella knows damn good and well that she’s not part of any B team. She’s good at her job, determined, dogged, and stubborn. She wants to make sure that her town is safe, and she will do everything she can to do that. Arabella walks into the murder scene and takes control. She just lets the crap that Benton is spewing just pass her by. She gets that he’s sad and angry, but she’s there to solve a murder and she’s not going to let him derail her, no matter what. When he refuses to hand over information about what his dad was working on, she says OK, that’s fine, we’ll go see the judge in this kind of hearing and this, that, and the other, and I’ll get to look at them. Celia’s background as a recovering lawyer does show up in this.

When a second murder turns up, connected to the King murder, the stress that Arabella feels just gets worse. At least Benton has decided to stop giving her a hard time, and now he’s decided that he’s going to help her, and gets his brother to deputize him as part of the country department. This is when the romance really gets started too.

The story is really well written. The legal stuff is all well done, since see above recovering lawyer. I’ve never lived in a town as small as Azalea, but I’ve lived in small towns, and she sure got the politics and culture of a small town right. I do like Benton, although I want to pull his head out of his ass sometimes because he gets a little too me man, you woman, me protect at times, but I get why he did that.

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Vivi definitely steals the show whenever she’s on stage. She’s a force to be reckoned with when she’s 4. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with her when she’s 16. She’s going to give everyone a run for their money and then some.

I totally didn’t see the end coming. That was a total shock, I mean jaw hitting the floor shock. But, going back and looking, I can see some small hints of it, but not a lot, which is how I like my mysteries. I don’t like figuring them out before the author gets to the denouement. I like finding out as the characters do, in an organic way. Celia did really well with this.

If you like a healthy dose of mystery and suspense with some romance, then this is definitely a book you should check out. Happy reading!

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