This is one for the gothic lit lovers.
With a blend of classic and contemporary short stories and poetry all centered around the theme of hauntings, there is a lot to love in the creaking old hallways, dusty bookshelves, and dark corners where sputtering candles don’t quite reach of this anthology.
Haunted house is just about my favorite sub-genre, so I knew I had to get this one when I saw the brilliant cover and some of the great writers featured in the collection. I was also really impressed with how many women horror authors were featured here.
But it isn’t just houses that can be haunted, it can be any and every place we inhabit, down to the very bodies we live in, the paths we take in life (and death), and even the other people we surround ourselves with. Hauntings are everywhere.
And this couldn’t be more evident than in the dark and stormy stylings of these stories. Taking up the mantle of the classic gothic style, I found that these stories and poems were often about relationships, love gone wrong and the haunted nature of human suffering.
Some stories build on classic tales, such as that perennial classic folktale “Bluebeard” or Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Some are set in modern times, some are period pieces, all are wholly original and will shock you with a cold breath of air.
I found the poetry to be a bit weak overall, but the few that worked really worked. The inclusion of this different format of writing was a nice touch, especially in between the stories.
My favorite pieces were:
“The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, a true gothic work I'd never read before.
"Bloodbuzz of Ravens" by Sara Tantlinger, an evocative and darkly brilliant poem.
“The Call of the House of Usher” by Annie Neugebauer, a nice homage to Poe in style and substance.
“Miss Emmeline’s Mirror” by Catherine Cavendish, it'll make you think twice about mirrors!
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection. If you like gothic works, this is a good way to get a broad scope of modern and classic pieces, and perhaps find a few new authors to love.
An anthology all about the most glorious of holidays for those of us who delight in darkness and revel in terror and frightful stories? You know I’m more than game.
These fourteen all-new stories feature a few writers I was familiar with, but mostly people I’d never read before—which I consider a plus, as one of the things I really enjoy about anthologies is finding new voices to love. I would have liked to see a little more balance between genders: there were eleven stories by men and only three by women in the collection.
This was a very fun-loving (in the darkest way possible) set of stories and I really settled in to reading each story just for the pure fun of it. Each one takes on different ideas about what makes Halloween creepy, from body-snatchers, to serial killers with a thing for decoration, to things that go bump under the bed, to creepy kids, and more.
The stories are not always well-written, often sliding into that “telling” instead of “showing” zone that inexperienced writers fall prey to. I ended up rating each story individually between 3 and 4 stars, which is why the collection as a whole gets 3 stars from me. But what it lacks in sophistication, it definitely makes up for in imagination and pure originality.
All the love seeping off these pages for Halloween is clear and these stories truly evoke the season: carving pumpkins, leaves crackling underfoot, never quite knowing who is behind the masks around you. . . It makes me want to seek out more Halloween-based stories and collections!
My two favorite stories in the collection were “Vigil” by Chad Lutzke—dark and compelling with excellent visuals, and one of the quieter stories—and “Masks” by Lisa Lepovetsky, which really pulled me in from the start and created believable characters and a tense, darkly delicious situation.
I definitely recommend this book to horror and Halloween fans. It is a lot of fun and a very enjoyable read that is perfect to get you gearing up for the big night later this month!
My thanks to Corpus Press and Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi for sending the Night Worms copies of this one to read and review.
Eleanor has a crap life. But I immediately was drawn into her self-deprecating commentary, her often impolite bordering on straight-up offensive behavior, and her startlingly clear insights into herself and human nature (though these thoughts rarely stop her from making bad decisions). She is a great character.
This book definitely lives on the speculative side of the tracks, though I'm not sure I would classify it as horror. For me, it didn't hit that point of creeping dread or terror that I reserve for horror novels. Instead it stays on the humorous side and slips into the weird with potentially a bit supernatural.
I am not quite sure how to interpret this book, and that's something I like about it. The book is set up as though you are reading Eleanor's private blog entries, and at the beginning they seem fairly normal, but as the book progresses and strangeness ensues, I wasn't quite sure if what was going on was what was really happening, if Eleanor was beginning to break away from reality, or if it was something more supernatural altogether.
Holding the reader suspended like this is one of my favorite techniques in fiction and I thought it was done superbly here, with a slow descent into the weirdness that, like the frog in water that's beginning to boil, you aren't fully cognizant what's happening of until it's scalding your skin.
The book is definitely a rumination on cancer, personal (and/or real) demons, expectations, and the paths our choices take us down. It has something of an allegorical feel to it, but I can't quite put my finger on what it all means. It is one I will be contemplating for a while!
Mostly I was just along for the ride. Eleanor is such a unique and interesting voice, and the narrative of the weird and creepy small town of Talbingo kept me involved and wanting to know what was coming next. This story won't give you all the answers and it definitely doesn't stick to a paint-by-numbers sort of narrative. You won't find conclusive endings here but you will find something completely worth reading.
Thank you to FSGxMCD for my copy of this one to read and review.
Boy do I love a good slasher. A movie with a masked guy running around knocking off teens—does it get any better than that? And, what is it about this trope that so has so captured our imagination? The blood and guts and gore, yes, but there is something about that darkened figure, silhouetted in the moonlight voyeuristically watching frolicking teens in the woods, or their neighborhood, or any other environ, his grip tightening around some instrument of death. There is something that draws us in.
It is obvious from that start that Roubique is a fan of the '80s slasher trope. I'm sure he's seen all the flicks, knows all the cliches that we love (and love to hate), and boy does he nail the cover of this book, which he created himself—am I right??
He takes on that very visual medium in book form, something that I really haven't seen that much of. There are a few: Stephen Graham Jones has taken on the genre, perhaps American Psycho counts, though it's more of a social satire, and I can think of a few others, but none that are so steeped in the '80s slasher tradition, that truly golden era, as this one. (And please do direct me to slasher books if you know of them. But before you mention it, no, Final Girls doesn't count—that is a thriller, not a horror novel, and it isn't a very good one at that).
The story has a good setup: bored, older kids at camp go on a rafting adventure and wind up at a water park that seems deserted—but someone is there, watching them, stalking them. Our heroine is a quiet, Walkman-loving girl who has a hard time making friends, but thinks she might have found a few, finally. And so the blood bath begins!
Though I have a few questions about the functionality of water parks—is it really plausible that they hook up to creeks or streams and use that water instead of a more controlled water source? And later, (SPOILER AHEAD, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven't read it) they seem to be extremely trapped in this place, but I wonder why the fences are electric in the first place—that seems dangerous. Public places like water parks shouldn't, and I'm pretty sure they don't, have electric fences. Also, they never goo looking for the entrance/exit, which seems like a no-brainer to me.
But, those kinds of inconsistencies perhaps can be overlooked as plot convenience, which is par for the course in slasher films.
Slightly more egregious is the disregard for consistency with the films and songs used in the book. Though the author does acknowledge one of these in the afterword, that was not the only instance. And I feel like if the music was going to be so integral to the plot, it should have been consistent with the real-life pieces of the book matching the setting of the book. Perhaps a bit nit-picky, but still true.
I can say that I didn't know where the plot for this book was going. I knew there would be blood, but I didn't know who or when or exactly what was going on. The book definitely hit the beats of a slasher film and that was a lot of fun to read and envision.
The writing felt amateurish and underdeveloped to me, which had the effect of pulling me out of the plot. For example, the book is written in third person with multiple POVs, but I found it difficult to follow the thread between who was thinking what sometimes, as it switches back and forth with little warning and with little indication of which character is in focus. This needed to be smoothed out throughout the book.
I have to admit that this is a fun and enjoyable pulpy little read, but in the end, it doesn't feel like a finished book to me. It needs a round of edits to help breathe a little life into it, round out the characters (especially their dialogue and the transitions between each of their thoughts), and to correct basic errors. (I have a hard time ignoring basic copy editing errors in books. So sloppy.)
My thanks to the author for generously supplying the Nightworms with copies of this one to read!
Firstly, this book probably wins the award for my favorite cover this year, at least so far! I was instantly drawn in by the design, not even knowing what the book was about—and that is always a good thing. You can spout about not judging a book by its cover as much as you like, but it really does matter. And this one is a winner.
The basic plot revolves around an unnamed narrator who is a new arrival at a boarding school for orphaned boys. He has strange experiences at the school right from the start: no one seems to like him, but they act like they know him, there are weird voices in the night, the principal is definitely a wacko, and his assignment with garden duty turns out to be downright horrific.
But what is really going on at this school? And can he trust anyone to help him figure out the mystery?
Right from the start, this book is utterly disquieting. There is just something off, not quite right. The register is very erudite, but the narrator is supposed to be a young boy. The narrative begins quite abruptly. It is difficult to pin down exactly where this is occurring. And all the characters seem to know more than they are letting on, or perhaps it is our narrator that we can't trust. . .
You see where I'm going.
It gets under your skin. I just wanted to know what exactly was going on and who I could trust!
The book very much reminded me of Lord of the Flies--though there are a few adults, the boys seem to be the ones in control, making the rules, and there is an insular and heightened quality to the story, as though it is going on in a bubble outside of everything else.
It definitely is not a straightforward narrative. This book is more in the realm of a high literary fever dream. Though it has a (mostly) conclusive ending, there is not any hand-holding going on here. You are going to have to dig in and work a little to read this one.
I really enjoyed this book. It gave me vibes similar to I'm Thinking of Ending Things but with a dash of comic relief and some well-timed dialogue. Winnette has an interesting mind, and I'd love to see what comes out of it next.
My thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this to read and review.
This story follows three estranged friends as they travel to Tulum, Mexico on a sun-soaked vacation in hopes of rekindling their long-lost camaraderie.
But this is more than just a case of friends losing touch or having a little fight. Ashley and Natalie developed a hair styling brush together that has turned into a very profitable business, but they are currently arguing about whether or not to sell. And Lauren hasn't spoken to either of them in over a year, since her husband Geoff died and she had a major blow-up with Ashley.
Mexico is supposed to be about reconnecting. But they all have secrets they are keeping, hidden agendas for coming on the trip, and the fact that Ashley, the queen bee of their group, seems to want to spend more time with a flirty local guy than her supposed friends does nothing to ease the tension.
On the last day, Ashley turns up missing after a night of heavy drinking and Natalie, who was with her last, can't remember anything. Where is Ashley? What happened to her? And who was involved?
I would describe this book as a chick-lit/thriller. It is very invested in developing the relationships between the girls, explaining their past and how the tensions have developed, and offers, from each of their own perspectives, how they feel like the third wheel of the deteriorating friendship.
It vacillates between all three girls' perspectives, and also switches between before and after Ashley's disappearance. There is a great build-up of tension; I was never sure who to suspect, or if any of them should be suspects at all.
Sometimes the scene would even play out from one character's point of view, and then get recapped in the next chapter by another character, and it was really fascinating to see how they each thought about and responded to each situation. Of course, each girl thinks that she is in the right, but from an outside perspective, it is easy to see how they are all to blame for the state of their damaged friendship.
By the time these girls make it to Mexico, there aren't enough tequila shots or mezcal margaritas in the world to bring them back together. I can't say that I especially liked any of the girls, but their story is definitely compelling! And I still rooted for them to pull it together.
I think the ending didn't quite pay off to the way the suspense built up throughout the book. I think it lets the characters off the hook a little too easily. I don't want to say much more so there aren't any spoilers!
This will be a great beach read this summer, but don't forget your sunscreen, because you won't want to put it down!
My thanks to the authors for sending me an advance copy to read and review.
Man, there just isn't anyone writing novellas anymore, is there?
Longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel, these interesting specimens seem to get short shrift (no pun intended), at least in the publishing world. Maybe people are writing them by the boatload, but they just aren't a salable format.
Well, I am here to say, the novella is not dead—at least not the way Ahlborn is writing them.
These pieces, both around 150 to 200 pages, pack a killer punch, immersing the reader fully in the world of the main characters without all the messy and entangling structural work that a novel entails. Get right down in the dirt and make some mud, I say. Story, character, chaos—let the fun begin.
And boy, does she.
THE PRETTY ONES
This is a period piece set in New York City, 1977, during the reign of the Son of Sam, a real-life notorious serial killer who went around shooting people, mostly brown-haired women—when they caught him, he said his neighbor's dog told him to do it, no joke, look it up. Anyway, in this story, before he was caught, Nell is a stuffy sort of girl, not very stylish, held back by her brother's strict beliefs about the way girls should look and act, but Nell desperately wants to fit in and make a friend. When she decides to make a change, that's when it all goes wrong.
Of the two, this was my favorite. Don't get me wrong—they are both great—but I am such a sucker for a good period piece. I loved all the little details that made this feel like it was true to NYC of the late 70s, especially for a murderino like me, who happens to know a lot about Son of Sam. A serial killer backdrop for a story is beyond perfect; you know I'm on board from the beginning.
Nell is great character, all her motivations are laid bare on the table for the reader. She holds nothing back; it's like reading her constant mind diary. I enjoyed reading her after the introduction where the author discussed her aspirations of becoming a psychologist that eventually turned into writing instead. I was reading all the characters through this profiling lens and it was interesting to get inside Nell's (and possibly the author's?) head a little bit.
I CALL UPON THEE
Maggie got out of her family's crazy house where so much seemed to go wrong, but now when tragedy strikes, she's forced to return home and confront the shadows of her past and possibly the ones in her closet.
I wasn't surprised to read in the author's note that this story had some autobiographical bits in it—or perhaps I was just self-projecting since there were pieces that so mirrored my own experience in my middle school years. Ah well, perhaps it's a story for another day.
In any case, on the surface, this story has a lot of familiar elements (I am being vague here, but I honestly don't want to ruin it for you; the author goes to a lot of trouble to set up this story and I'm not going to be the one to just kick out that careful scaffolding) but what is unsettling is how she takes the familiar and dumps it on its head, putting the reader in unfamiliar territory—the unheimlich, if you like to get Freudian.
All in all, it is a story that is more intricate than it first appears. It has multiple time periods at work, and a lot of the revelations come late in the game, all stacked up on one another. It is a cathartic kind of read, one that would do well if you have a dark and stormy night to cozy up in bed with. Just hope the lights don't go out.
I of course, can't wait to see what's next from Ahlborn. There are not that many women writing horror and doing it well like she is. I love that, it is not only amazing to read, but highly inspiring. I would especially be interested in a short story collection. I have long held the belief that a writer who is a master of short form truly understands how to write—once you have to strip away all the fluff and are only left with the bare bones and stringiest meat of the story, you see what chops a writer really has. If these novellas are any indication, I'd say she has quite a collection of stories to share. And we'd be happy to devour them, raw beating hearts and all.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.