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Publisher's Summary

Welcome to the bloody end of bleeding Kansas....

Based on true events, this unforgettable novel tells the story of the Bloody Benders, a family of grifters and thieves running an isolated feed store on the Kansas plains, boarding travelers along the Great Osage Trail.

Beautiful Kate Bender was mysterious and well-versed in the dark arts; Ma and Pa were quiet and foreboding, speaking in guttural tones; and young John Bender was thought to be insane. On land soaked with the blood of conflict, the Benders made their home. And one by one, prairie travelers began to disappear....

Rooted in history, this is a vivid tale of the Benders's origins and how they became some of the most horrific figures in early post-Civil War America.

©2015 Nicholas Nicastro (P)2017 Nicholas Nicastro

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

awesome old Western style

the author really captures the imagination and grips the reader. the audio presentation was supurb. the style of writing and the quality of the story are excellent, the ending was so so.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Macabre Story of the Benders

Hell’s Half Acre, written by Nicholas Nicastro, is a fictionalized tale of the true story of The Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers living in Labette County, Kansas from around 1869 to 1871. The protagonist is Kate Bender who comes to be a part of the Bender family after her real father loses the 6-year old Kate to a better gambler named Clarity. Clarity takes Kate to live with Elmira, a woman he knows in some unsavory way. There are innuendos about the abuse that Kate suffers in Elmira’s care, but it is not developed in the story. Kate is apparently a replacement for Elmira’s lost daughter, although we never learn what happened to her.

As Kate gets older, she and Elmira hook up with John Bender, Sr. and his “son,” John Bender, Jr. and their bloody killing streak begins.

There is one point where Kate becomes Miss Professor Kate and does tarot readings, collecting a dollar per reading. She then evolves into a healer. There was not enough if any, explanation of how she went from a six-year-old replacement daughter to a twenty-something who knew how to read tarot cards and perform healings – nothing connected the dots for me. Also, there was no definitive explanation of why the family killed people – whether it was for money, or for the thrill. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I found it implausible. The idea of the ending was good but it needed more information earlier in the story to weave it in.

I didn’t view the book as a horror story, like a Stephen King book, but more a macabre story because of the cold brutality of the Benders. I enjoyed the story, and I didn’t realize it was based on a true story until after I finished the audiobook.

Aven Shores’ narration was nice for the voice of Kate, but it felt like all the men had the same voice. When I first heard Kate’s real father’s voice, I thought he was Irish, then realized it was supposed to be a German accent. She also uses the British pronunciation of the word shōne as shŏn enough that it distracted me because it seemed out of character for Kate to pronounce it that way. When a word seems mispronounced to me – I look it up and find it is a perfectly fine, as these two pronunciations are, so I try to get over it! Aven has a beautiful, melodic voice, that reminded me of Dakota Channing. Her voice is very soothing and I would like her to read me to sleep every night.

I’m not a fan of the use of music to differentiate between the prologue and chapters. It was only used twice and I was happy it stopped early on. I had a few technical difficulties in listening to the book. My copy randomly stopped and wouldn’t start again multiple times. Because I listened to it on something other than Audible, I couldn’t tell where I was in the book, and even though my mp3 player was set to return to the place I left off – it almost always took me back to the beginning. The copy I listened to also repeats chapter 4. These may be things that could have been repaired by deleting it and re-downloading, and this is the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook on something other than Audible so it may just be the app I was using.

Bottom-line: In chapter four when they are on the train, it is so expertly written that I felt like I was sitting in one of the seats on the train, experiencing everything the other passengers did. But there were also parts of the story that needed more development to fill in the gaps. Overall, it was a story that I’m still thinking about – I just wish there was a little more meat!

Audiobook was provided for review by the author/narrator/publisher.

Please find this complete review and many others at my review blog.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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Expected more from a novelization

This is the story of the Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers who lived in Kansas between 1971 and 1973. I confess that I didn’t know about their existence before listening to this book, and I am surprised that they did not become more famous. They ran a small store and hosted guests that passed through, killing them and burying them around their property.

Novelization of historical events implies several things: Historical accuracy, attention to details, enrichment of the language, character development, and enough imagination for filling the gaps. Nicastro has excelled in the first three aspects. He has taken the official version of the events and has written a story full of details, using a beautiful and elaborate language. But a novel requires a bit more than that. I really missed some more character development, especially regarding Kate, the supposed daughter of the family and the main character that we follow from beginning to end. The Bender’s motivations to kill the travelers are not clear or specified; it could have been pure greed, the joy for killing, or a mix of both. I would have just liked for Nicastro to explore this further. And this is the ‘filling the gaps’ that I have mentioned before. Without character development and completing the story to form a novel, this could have just been a biography. I missed more fluid dialogs and seeing into the characters’ psyches. We guess Kate had some issues with these kills, but just because she tries to seek a different way of income. I think exploring her thoughts and intentions would have made this book so much more interesting. I wanted to connect to Kate but I was not able to.

Aven Shore’s narration was mostly correct but a bit monotone. There were interference noises at several points in the audiobook , and some words were mispronounced (‘whore’ sounded like ‘wore’ the first two times it appear in the book, and instead of ‘breast pocket’, Shore said ‘best pocket’). There was music at two points in the audiobook that did not seem necessary. I’m just not a fan of music nor fx in audiobooks.

Despite the minor setbacks, this was an entertaining book that I would recommend to anyone into western stories and with curiosity about historical events.

I received a copy of this book in audio format from the author in exchange for an honest review.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Skillfully told story filled with chills & thrills

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I highly recommend Hell's Half-Acre. It's a fascinating, entertaining, well told tale.

What did you like best about this story?

It's a perfect blend and balance of historical fiction that kept me interested and entertained from beginning to end.

What about Aven Shore’s performance did you like?

Her performance kept me riveted and on the edge of my seat.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes, I did have an extreme reaction to this book.

Any additional comments?

I highly recommend this book to anyone fascinated by historical fiction, thrillers, and serial killers.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful