Speed Dating With the Dead – A Review

Attention Everybody! God is temporarily breaking down the barrier between the living and the dead.  And that’s not all!  The Almighty is hosting the angelload of all social events – Speed Dating With the Dead!  I shall participate! Here I go…..

*** Sitting on a cloud. Waiting for my date to materialize. Waiting… Waiting…

DanMarylinCloudThere she is! Jack pot! It’s Marilyn Monroe!  I must be on cloud nine! Gee Marilyn, your halo is almost as golden as your hair!  My earthly beauty will never match your heavenly brilliance. Talk-talk-talk/Listen-listen-listen .  Uh oh., our time is almost up, the cloud is about to get me a new date. Hey Marylin I enjoyed our….


Lizzy Borden, uh…h-how interesting, you even have a “ghost axe”. Isn’t that, uh, something. S-shouldn’t you DanLizzyCloudbe part of the speed dating group that is being managed by, well, the people “downstairs”? You’re shaking your head “no”.  Hmm awkward chat/awkward chat/awkward chat.  Well gotta go, our time is up…



DanAmeliaCloudWow, Amelia Earhart! Nice to meet you! What’s that? You never died? You flew your plane into the clouds and broke through Heaven’s door, and you’ve been living among the angels ever since? Ha Ha Ha!  What a way to cheat death! Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me!

Yeah so,  regarding all those clouds and “dates”;  none of that has anything to do with Scott Nicholson’s book Speed Dating With the Dead. The novel has nothing to do with dating; speedy or slow, ethereal or substantive – none of that stuff.  It is, however, about a paranormal convention that convenes at a hotel that is supposedly a hot spot for ghostly activities. Turns out, this group of paranormal thrill seekers gets more than they bargained for.  They are expecting ghosts.  They will get demons instead.  The highly creative title comes from the observations of one of the ghost tour leaders, “Roach.” Roach suspects that the hotel is populated with entities that are far more dangerous than the residual spirit.  He is a trained demonologist and he frowns upon amateurs who trifle with paranormal sightings as if they were some kind of amusement park attractions. Thus, he terms this activity “Speed Dating With The Dead.”

From the book:

The Roach nodded while ignoring her. Paranormal tourism had all the inherent risk factors of traditional outdoor adventuring, with the same fear and response and endorphin rush. The Roach frowned upon speed dating with the dead, but he figured he could best serve on the front lines where meta-physical bullets flew hot and fast

The two main characters are Digger Wilson and his teenager daughter Kendra. Digger is the head of Spirit Seekers International and he arranges the paranormal tours at White Horse Inn. He has a special interest in this hotel. It is rumored to house several apparitions, but he is mainly interested in making contact with one specific specter – the spirit of his late wife Beth. On her deathbed, she promised to reunite with him at The White Horse Inn, the same hotel where they had celebrated their second honeymoon.

There are so many characters in this novel. The perspective is constantly changing and this jumping back and forth between characters is kind of like speed dating.  This is one of Nicholson’s styles. I have read five of his books and in all of them the story unfolds within the viewpoints of several characters.  On the one hand, this method widens the story. Readers come to understand different story angles and they meet some very interesting fictional people. However, it can get tedious trying to keep track of who is who.

Nicholson can be considered a craftsman of the modern ghost story. As much as I like the gothic tradition, this is not Nicholson. He’s not about prolonged descriptive atmosphere and hidden symbolism. His scares march to a faster beat.  He’s more about scenarios such as – You’re locked in the basement – There is no light – Sparks ignite from a broken down furnace – There are demonic things in there with you – people are panicking.  Look for this and other similar scenarios in Speed Dating With the Dead, a book that has the flair of modern horror films. It is The Conjuring and/or Insidious put into words.

As for the “whys and wherefores;” I’m not sure they exist. What is the meaning of the story? I have no idea. There is some kind of revelation at the end that makes no sense to me.  Parts of the story seem missing. Maybe the demons ate them, I don’t know.  But it is a scary book. The situations these ghost hunters get into when they break off into small groups and tour the many rooms and floors – wow!  Things might not always hold up plotwise, but there are some scary things hiding in the dark corners of this story.

Review of The Home – (From Author Scott Nicholson)

THeHome“The Home” is a modern day orphanage in rural Appalachia. Disturbing things are occurring within the resident buildings of the compound. There’s the God-fearing, fire and brimstone director who gets off on fantasies of spanking the children. Then you have a mad-scientist of a doctor who performs experiments on children. Let’s see, is there anything else unorthodox about this institution? Oh yeah! Ghosts roam around from time to time.

Some have seen a strange man in an institutional robe wandering the halls inside the buildings or wading into the pond at the far end of the complex. He is the subject of ghost stories – the stuff of institutional legend. All communities have such myths, spread through the overactive imaginations of children. Except the staff begins to see this man as well. People then begin seeing a woman with holes in her head where her eyes used to be. Her eyes are now embedded into the palms of her hands.

One ghost. Two ghosts. More?

By the book’s end there will be too many spirits to handle. While leading up to this plethora of phantoms, the plot peels away the layers of a conspiracy involving The Home’s administration and a mysterious organization called The Trust.

Let’s back track.

Freeman Mills, twelve year old, is Wendover Home’s latest charge. He has been diagnosed with a host of conditions: bipolar disorder, antisocial behavior, and on and on. One day one he meets with Francis Bondurant, the self-righteous director of Wendover, who, in lieu of treatments based on psychiatric “mumbo-jumbo” favors introducing the problematic children to the strong arm of the Lord. Like with all his charges, he believes Freeman just needs to “mend his sinning ways.” From the beginning, readers see this man for the rat that he is and feel for the children in his care. If only this were as bad as it gets. It gets worse.

Bondurant proves to be somewhat of an impotent weasel. The resident psychiatrist is the bigger threat. Dr. Kracowski takes children to Room 13 for “therapy.” His therapy is a bit unorthodox. It involves strapping the children to a chair and administering electrodes to the brain. He calls it Synaptic Synergy Therapy, and believes his treatment will realign and harmonize the neural pathways. He boasts that this SST can cure everything from bipolar disorder to anorexia. But it does more than that. It awakens as extra sensory perception within its subjects.

This is where The Trust comes in. They (whoever “they” are) want to be able to harness the power that comes from ESP. They fund and supervise Kracowski’s treatments. When readers are introduced to members of the Trust, suddenly Dr. Kracowski doesn’t seem so bad anymore. In the end, they unleash more paranormal mayhem than they bargained for. Machines in the basement generate electro-magnetic waves needed for the SST. Are these machines unintentionally breaking down the door between the living and the dead?

Though new to Wendover Home, this procedure is not new to Freeman Mills. His father was a forerunner in developing these experiments. He experimented on his own son. Accused of murdering his wife, Dr. Mills is taken away and Freeman is now a ward of the state. Due to a long history of these treatments, he has the keenest ESP of all the children. All except his friend Vicky. Two cynical kids with hatred for the adult world become the hero and heroine of this tale.

This is a page-turning novel. There are many interesting characters and readers get to know about the strange happenings at The Home from multiple points of view. There are many themes throughout the book, including the age-old war between science and religion. I’m guessing that some thin-skinned religious reader out there will whine about how religion is “negatively portrayed.” Likewise, I’ll bet there’s some hypersensitive secularist reader that will bitch about how this book misrepresents the goals of science. I’m making these assumptions based on some of the reviews of Nicholson’s Red Church. Some complained that the book was too religious while others moaned about how the novel was sacrilegious.   For me, any book that divides in such a way deserves a good reading, for it has enflamed the passions of readers. This is what good art does.

Review of Creative Spirit


The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is known for its haunted history. Freenlan Oscar Stanley and his wife Flora opened this lavish resort hotel in 1909. Stanley wanted a luxurious retreat in this otherwise desolate mountain region. It is still around today. In fact, it is rumored that Mr. and Mrs. Stanley still haunt this hotel. Paranormal investigators visit frequently, testifying that this hotel is indeed a hot spot for paranormal activity.

Does this hotel sound familiar? What if I told you a famous writer stayed at this hotel one night in the 1970s. He was so inspired by the environment that he wrote a novel about it. The novel was about a haunted hotel that was isolated from civilization in the snowy mountains. The writer renamed the hotel. He called it The Overlook Hotel. This writer is Stephen King. This book he wrote is called The Shining.

The Stanley Hotel offers all the luxuries of any high-class hotel and a whole lot more. For instance, it hosts night ghost tours and paranormal investigations. It is also the meeting spot for various ghostly conventions including The Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat. Horror writers converge for a long weekend. The 2016 retreat is being held in October. It will offer several packages, some if which include a meet and greet with other authors, editing workshops, tickets to a masquerade ball, and ample writing time. There are different packages at different prices.

I looked into the Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat of 2016. It is too expensive for me. The packages do not include travel, room and board. But it got me wondering – what would it be like to attend a writer’s retreat in a humongous “ghostly” manor? I think it would be wonderful. Quaint and inspiring.

Maybe author Scott Nicholson has attended such a retreat. If not, then he has done the next best thing- he was written about one. When reality fails the imagination prevails. Whether or not his story about an artist’s retreat in the seclusion of the mountains is inspired by a real life experience, it is a vivid telling nonetheless. It seems similar to the Stanley retreat in some ways. But in his tale it’s goodbye Colorado and hello North Carolina. Both manors are haunted by the ghost of its founder. Whereas the ghosts of FO and Flora Stanley are harmless apparitions that sometimes play the Steinway piano or watch over the billiards room, the spirit of Ephram Korban is calculating and malevolent and his presence is not always as obvious as the hall-roaming ghost. He hides within the many self-portraits that hang on various walls. He comes into being via the authors that write out ancient spells, the painters that capture his presence on the canvas, and the sculptors that bring his form to life.

Creative Spirit is a story about the coming together of writers, painters, photographers, musicians and sculptors. They are gathering in the picturesque setting of Korban Manor as a means of fostering their creativity in the company of like-minded individuals. Unbeknownst to them, there is more to this gathering. The spirit if Ephram Korban thrives on creativity. He siphons the “creative spirit” of others in the hopes that he may live again. He is assisted in his goals by some of the Manor’s staff. Some of them are ghosts. Others have outlived the average life expectancy, kept alive by the powers that lay within the Manor- the powers of Korban himself. Together they will all participate in the ceremony that welcomes in the Blue Moon of October. Hmm, now don’t you get the feeling something else will be welcomed in as well?

This is a chilling ghost story with insightful metaphors and colorful description. This description pays of well in the telling of the season. Autumn – a ghost lover’s favorite season! From the crackling of the fires to the layout of the land (“Nature’s greatest sculptor – Time”), Nicholson settles the readers in as if they were the guests of this retreat. Nicholson even fires up the often-neglected sense of smell as he describes the autumn aromas.   All this in an environment where ghosts haunt the fields and outlying forests, where witches dwell in nearby shacks. How can a lover of ghost stories ask for anything more?

It is a dream of mine to attend a writer’s retreat at a spooky old mansion. If such a dream is never fulfilled, that’s okay. I attended the artist’s retreat at Korban Manor vicariously and it was a fulfilling experience. Best of all, I made it out alive. Not all of the guests can say that!

Review of The Red Church


Somewhere within the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina The Red Church stands. A beast of Author Scott Nicholson’s creation haunts its surrounding community. Locals are found dead in the fields; their bodies mauled to pieces. It is tempting to blame mountain lions for such tragedies, but forensics clears these creatures. They just aren’t capable of doing the kind of damage.

There is another explanation. But it is rather farfetched. It is based on an old community ghost story involving the abandoned Red Church.   But ten-year-old Ronnie Day believes the legends. So does Sheriff Frank Littlefield. Both have seen witnessed strange occurrences at this church.

Think for a moment about this archetypal horror scenario: A beast or phantom nests within a hidden compartment of a familiar site. It could be a bat that dwells in the loft of a rundown barn – a bat that haunts the night! Or maybe it’s a raccoon that lives under your porch – watch out for those glowing eyes! More common is the raven that rests on the archway of the front door, or the troll that hides under the bridge.

Here’s a new one for you: how about a dark figure that appears inside a church’s belfry. It has wings and sharp claws. It has livers for eyes. Sometimes the bell rings when this phantom materializes, which is quite a feat since the church no longer has a rope to activate a bell. This is the legendary phantom of The Red Church. It is this phantom Sheriff Littlefield fears is responsible for the killings. Naturally the detective he works with is skeptical of this theory. But Littlefield has lost his younger brother to this beast many years ago when a prank at the Red Church went terribly wrong.

If this isn’t scary enough for you, there is creepy cemetery in front of the church. Also, there is a humongous dogwood tree that hovers beside the church. The ghost of a hanged preacher from long ago is known to materialize on a tree branch from time to time.

This is a chilling book. The reviews are mostly positive. However, you can’t please everybody, especially those who are easily offended. There is a strong religious theme to this book. The novel’s antagonist, Archer McFall, claims to be The Second Son of God. He reopens The Red Church and seeks to preach “his truth” – that Jesus is evil and he, Archer, is the true savior. There are some negative reviews on account of this “sacrilege.”   Strangely enough, there are negative reviews that go in the opposite direction, complaining the book is too “preachy” and that its hidden message is that “Jesus saves”. To both sides of the argument, I shout a loud and droning “Ohhhh please!!!!!”

I enjoyed this novel and I’m going to pay it a rather strange compliment – It’s a fun, cozy read. How, you may ask, can a novel that borders on “sacrilege” (“I thought it bordered on “preachy”. “I thought it…” Shut up! Your thoughts are stupid!)  be “cozy?” Furthermore, how can a novel about a bell tower phantom with wings and liver eyes make me feel “cozy?” For one thing, I’m a bit weird. Let’s get that out of the way. But there are other reasons. It’s a straightforward tale spun in the familiar setting of small town Americana. The characters are folksy but the ghosts are creepy. I can lie out in the summer and read this with a cool glass of lemonade or sit back indoors in the cool winter and take this book in with a warm cup of cocoa. It works on all fronts.


This is Scott Nicholson’s first book. (He now has over twenty novels). It is excellent for a debut novel. The reason for this is that Nicholson is obeying an old rule or writing: write what you know. Nicholson resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he is in command of his setting. In the nitty-gritty details of the story we see local politics in action and the god-fearing behaviors of religious folks. We learn of the speaking mannerisms of a chaw chewing farmer. We learn of the family clans. All this Nicholson writes with confidence. It’s his town and he’s welcoming us to it, which is another reason I say the book is “cozy”.

This is also the first novel featuring Sheriff Frank Littlefield. The second is Drummer Boy, which is about ghosts of soldiers that spill out from a cave on the eve of the annual civil war reenactment.  Drummer Boy is a good book as well, but I will not review it as part of this blog since it does not deal with a haunted house. However, I have read other Haunted House novels by Nicholson.  These are The Home and Creative Spirit.  I hope to write about these soon.