Four Found Dead
Natalie D. Richards
May 2, 2023
December 30, 2022 - January 29, 2023
At the movie theater where Jo works, the last show has ended. But the nightmare is just beginning.
Tonight, Tempest Theaters is closing forever, the last remaining business in a defunct shopping mall. The moviegoers have left, and Jo and her six coworkers have the final shift, cleaning up popcorn and mopping floors for the last time.
But after an unexpected altercation puts everyone on edge, the power goes out. Their manager disappears, along with the keys to the lobby doors and the theater safe, where the crew's phones are locked each shift. Then, the crew's tension turns to terror when Jo discovers the dead body of one of her co-workers.
Now their only chance to escape the murderer in their midst is through the dark, shuttered mall. With its boarded-up exits and disabled fire alarms, the complex is filled with hiding places for both pursuer and pursued. In order to survive this night, Jo and her friends must trust one another, navigate the sprawling ruins of the mall, and outwit a killer before he kills again.
This is my third book by Natalie D. Richards so I was really sad that this was a 3 star read for me. Granted, the other two books I read were in 2016 (My Secret to Tell and One Was Lost), and maybe I’ve changed as a readers since then. That could be a part of it, but I do think there’s more to it than that.
While Richards’ previous novels were mystery/suspense… Four Found Dead reads more like the plot to a teen slasher flick. Because that’s what it is. A group of teenagers trapped in an abandoned mall with a killer. There were no real surprises and it all felt pretty repetitive.
One thing Richards’ does that I enjoy is include little snippets that don’t belong in the story, sort of as clues to something else that’s going on. And in the other two books I really enjoyed those. I enjoyed them in this book as well, but in the end they didn’t have the same impact as the previous books I read.
This book is told through the eyes of Jo. The movie theatre she’s worked at for years is shuttering its doors for the last time, and all she and her friends/coworkers want to do is close things up and head out to enjoy some late night pancakes. But then things get weird and before they know it, one of Jo’s friends is dead. Together, the group must illude a killer.
This could be awesome. But we know who the killer is from the get go. And we’re never truly given a solid motive for their actions.
What I did enjoy was the nostalgia, for me, of movie theatre employment. I sold popcorn and movie tickets myself as a teen my senior year of high school through college. To this day, it was probably the greatest job I’ve ever had. Movie theatre friendships are built to last. Alas, that nostalgia wasn’t enough to save this book for me.
I just needed…. more. More motive revealed. More build up to the start of the killing spree. And more variation of what happens while they’re on the mall.
I’m willing to give Richards another chance. She has plenty of books to choose from!
Have you read Four Found Dead? Did it work for you?
Tonya has an unusual passion for books, even for a librarian. When her books are harmed she takes it personally. When people turn up dead over damaged books, there are questions to answer. When the killer is a weresquirrel, the questions become more confusing.
There is a certain pretentiousness in classical literature. Elegant writing filled with meaning both astounding and sublime. This is not that. Not horrific enough to be horror, nor humorous enough to be comedy, welcome to Chip’s Dollar Dreadfuls. There may not be any fundamental truths, but there will be blood…so much blood.
So, I kept hearing about this book. Chip Davis is a notorious presence on a Facebook page I often frequent (usually on Thursdays) so I went ahead and finally purchased and read his short novella, Squirrel Bait.
This is the story of a library. Well, sort of. You see, when people damage the books in the library, librarian Tonya gets very upset. She doesn’t go into homicidal rages, no, she just becomes very emotional. Her books are her precious. I’m not sure what’s wrong with this town Tonya lives in, but people just seem to walk into the library and damage books for no reason other than they want to. It’s a little odd, but in a book like this, we forgive things like that. Anyway, police reports are filed and the punks names and addresses are logged at the library. But at night, the punks have begun being murdered. Obviously Tonya is the #1 suspect. Oh yeah, and her boyfriend is a cop, so of course that makes things especially awkward.
The way this book started, I honestly thought there would be no plot. That it would literally just be squirrels killing people. However, I was pleasantly surprised when there was a small twist around 20%, and then there was a full backstory as to where the Weresquirrels came from and so on.
This isn’t a deep thinking book. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece, Chip Davis will probably be the first to tell you that this is not it. This is a humorous horror book, in line with something the Sci-Fi (or is it still Sy-Fi?) channel would produce. But it’s better than Sharknado. I mean, there are murderous squirrels. SQUIRRELS! Tiny, furry, scurrying squirrels. Desecrating people! If you can’t handle comedic violence, stay away.
There were some minor errors that would have been caught by a good proof reading of the book prior to publication, but nothing that will really pull the average reader from the story. It’s a quick read, and for those who like B-movies, this novella will be well worth your 99 cents.
Since 2011 I have been honing my talents as a cover designer for a small press called Melange Books, LLC, as well as their subsequent imprints, Satin Romance, and Fire & Ice YA Books.
It’s been five years and hundreds of covers, and I’m still evolving as a digital artist.
As a cover artist, I am charged with creating an eye catching cover design that accurately represents the theme of the book, while remaining visually captivating to the potential reader, and satisfying the author.
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to showcase some of my cover designs and explain what inspired them; why I chose the elements/images I did, and how they relate to the books theme or tone.
I’d love to hear your questions and comments below!
I did not intend for so much time to pass between my first Behind the Cover feature and the second, yet here we are.
I’ve been busy as a bee with my (not so new) part time job, plus my work for Melange Books. Last night I added more to my plate, starting a new in depth revision on my teen paranormal novel, Blood & Magic.
But enough of all that, today I’m here to talk about the process that went into designing the cover for Unhinged by Shelley Pickens.
This cover was created using 2 pieces of stock art; the girl, and the tornado.
Unhinged is another cover I had the opportunity to read prior to publication, due to my job as acquisitions editor for Fire & Ice YA Books.
This is the second in a paranormal/horror series about a girl named Aimee with the power to absorb ones memories with only a touch. In this particular book in the series, Aimee’s loved ones are being trapped in their own minds, poisoned by horrific memories that have been placed there by the story’s villain. Aimee must save her friends by going into their minds herself and removing the memories.
The girl on the cover is, obviously, Aimee. Her powers are being tested to their limits, she’s and she’s not really in control, which shows in the girls pose. She’s becoming Unhinged.
The tornado in the background is both metaphorical and literal. Metaphorically, Aimee’s life has turned completely upside down. It is in total upheaval. The tornado represents the chaos that is taking over her life. On the literal end, when Aimee travels into her loved ones minds, she encounters a literal tornado that she must face in order to save them.
I chose to give the cover that sepia toned look because storms are often devoid of color, and visually it is easier for the eye to focus on the basically two-toned elements.
As for the text, the font was an easy choice because it had already been chosen for the first book in the series. I opted to use a white font with a slight drop shadow / glow because the sepia color pallet was so dark I wanted the text to pop.
I love this cover, and it’s honestly one of my favorites I’ve designed to date.
I’m also available for hire. Shoot me an email or Facebook message!
UNHINGED by Shelley R. Pickens
Being normal isn’t always a good thing, especially if it ends up killing you.
Aimee, the sixteen year old girl who can see your every memory with just one touch, is fresh out of the torture room after risking everything to capture a killer. Despite her instinct to avoid contact with others, she tries her best to find a new normal at school—perhaps even a boyfriend. But for those who are cursed, happiness and normality aren’t easy to obtain. A bizarre illness spreads like wildfire through the school and causes those around Aimee to lose their sanity before falling into a coma. Slowly, all the people she loves succumb to this strange disease.
Alone and terrified, she must use her curse to find a way to save her family and friends. As she delves deeper and deeper into their memories, she realizes David, a delusional person from her childhood, is the bigger threat that could destroy her. Despite the danger that surrounds her, she struggles to solve the puzzle before it’s too late to help those she cares for the most. But as David moves closer to eliminating her, one puzzle still remains. Will she be able to save herself?
I wouldn’t say Mary is a delicate flower per say, but her stint in the hospital almost dying from smoke inhalation has definitely made her more fragile. Hell, it would soften most people. Most normal people at least. For a freak like me, facing death and coming out the other end damaged but alive, changed me. It has made me hard, unbending, and unwilling to let anything I love come to harm. Some would call that strength. Most would call it stubborn. I just call it my life.
“Mary, are you okay?” I ask in a soft voice, careful not to startle her.
Her eyes are vacant as they stare off into space. She begins to rock back and forth in her chair, both hands cradling her head. She begins to murmur to herself, but I can’t make out what she’s saying. The scene from the lunchroom today comes flooding back. I have never been more scared in my short life than I am right now. I have no idea what to do; helplessness consumes me. Then I remember what happened to Logan in Dejana’s basement and how my touch brought him out of his trance. I get up out of my seat and slowly approach her. I gently put my hand on her shoulder, hoping it comforts rather than startles her.
“Mary,” I repeat in a soft whisper. “Please, tell me what’s wrong. What can I do to help you?” I ask, desperate to find a way to get through to her. I’m not sure if she feels my hand on her or not. She doesn’t try to remove my hand, but doesn’t acknowledge it either. Panic boils up inside me. Okay, enough of the careful approach; time for more desperate measures.
“Dammit, Mary, stop it this instant!” I scream in the best scolding mom voice I can muster. I even stomp my foot on the floor for good measure. My voice must have gotten through to her because she stops rocking, removes her hands from her head, and begins to look around. Confusion marks every feature of her face. When her eyes land on me, her sweet smile returns as she pats my gloved hand still resting on her shoulder.
“Aimee, dear, why are you up from your seat? You know you can’t be excused until you’re finished with your food. Is everything alright? Do you need something else to drink, sweetie?” she asks, clearly unaware that five seconds ago she was murmuring to herself like a lunatic.
“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’m not very hungry right now. Can I be excused please?” I ask, hoping she doesn’t notice how my voice shakes.
“Well, of course dear. I’m not feeling well myself, either. I think I may go ahead and go to bed. Do you mind cleaning up the kitchen for me?” she asks, her voice normal with no hint of confusion or idea that something was off.
I nod, still confused by what just happened. Maybe I just imagined it. There’s that avoidance therapy again, rearing its ugly head.
“Thank you, sweetie,” says Mary, giving my head its usual pat since she learned from the beginning I don’t like to be kissed, even if she’s never understood why.
I watch her walk away, my heart heavy with worry for her. I have no clue what’s going on today with people acting so strangely. I am no fortuneteller but I have a bad feeling that something terrible is coming. And I have no idea how to stop it.