I have to say, I was put off a bit by the cover on this book at first. It is fairly disturbing! The image haunted me, and it reminded me of when I was younger and I would see posters for scary movies at the movie theaters, especially all the Child’s Play sequels, and I was so scared of that creepy doll on the poster that I didn’t watch those movies for ages. Turns out I really like the Chucky movies.
This book was like that for me. The cover is scary, and the stories inside, though they too are scary and dig into different kinds horrors and fears, I found that most of them resonated for me and made me want to read more, want to be a part of the scare instead of running away from it.
Before this, I hadn’t yet run into Christa Carmen’s work, which is a bit surprising seeing as she has had her short fiction appear in places almost too numerous to count. This debut collection is well-earned.
Perhaps this is true of most stories, but as I read this collection, I was often drawn to how the stories revolved around relationships—a marriage just begun, young friends who trust each other, a misunderstood woman cast out from society, a girl trying to get her boyfriend to believe her, a babysitter and the kids who trust her. How these relationships evolve, bend, and sometimes break is the crux of each story, and Carmen offers an interesting peek into the minds of her characters through their interactions and reactions. I found the characters to be mostly believable even when the shocking turns were revealed because of how their personalities had been crafted.
Favorites for me included “Red Room,” “Lady of the Flies,” “Liquid Handcuffs,” and “The One Who Answers the Door.” Overall, I’d probably give the collection 4.5, but I’m rounding up!
This one needs to be added to the list for anyone who is looking for new and interesting voices in horror fiction. I think it would also be a great book for the Halloween season as some of the stories are geared toward that theme, so I’ll be recommending it again at that time next year. Overall, it is a heartfelt, dark, striking, and original collection.
My thanks to Unnerving Press for sending me and the Night Worms copies of this one to read and review.
My first foray in Michael McDowell’s writing and I can say I am impressed. In this slim volume, McDowell manages to create a unique haunted house, fold the reader into the inner workings of a strange pair of rich Southern families, and truly chill and terrify though the weather is boiling and the sun is harshly beating down.
This book isn’t a perfect narrative by any means, but I think I’d consider it one of the great haunted house stories, especially on the conceptual side.
I found McDowell’s colloquial writing to be very inviting and loved the characterization of several of the characters, though they do have unusual names. Luker has great dialogue and is rather humorous, and I felt I instantly understood his relationship with his precocious and worldly young daughter, India. Their rapport is strongly established, and they make quite an interesting pair. Similarly, Big Barbara is quite the character—the opening scene really sets her up as this strong personality who speaks her mind and expects things a certain way.
Beginning with a strange funeral, the plot then progresses slowly toward the haunting, but the investment in the characters is well worth the while. McDowell also sets up the themes of the book very early and layers on them over and over, his knack for throwing in bits of darkness adding an interesting level of contrast and foreboding.
Enter three Victorian houses on a solitary beach, and one of them is being slowly eaten by the encroaching sand—that’s the third house and no one really talks about the third house.
It seems a strange setting for a horror novel (unless, I suppose it’s an aquatic one), but the beach at Beldame becomes chillingly oppressive with its pitch-black nights, complete isolation, strange tides, strange stories from the past, and the ever-present third house that starts to become a character of its own; the black sheep of the family.
Why does everyone ignore the third house, not able to admit their fear of it even as its strange power seems to grow? What really happened to the people who have gone missing at Beldame? What exactly are the Elementals?
I kept imagining this as a movie or show adaptation—it has a very cinematic quality, especially the idea of a house everyone is mysteriously afraid of slowly filling up with sand, and I’d love to see what might be done with it on the screen.
If you are a haunted house fanatic like me, this one is required reading. I’m looking forward to trying some more McDowell too, and I can’t say enough good things about Valancourt Books for bringing this one back out of obscurity.
There are books you read and then there are books you feel—ones that get under your skin and become a part of who you are. Gwendolyn Kiste is a writer like that, one who creates stories that live and breathe, and when they shift into strange darkness, you go with them willingly, almost not realizing you’re leaving reality behind.
The Rust Maidens is set against the backdrop of a small Cleveland neighborhood in the 80s and the slow but inevitable decay of the factories that are the lifeblood for the families who live there. Told through the lens of the girl who saw it all and never recovered, this is the story of five girls who began to rust and inexplicably transform into something not entirely human.
Young girls, just graduating from high school, should have their entire future ahead of them, ready to face the world head-on and seize their dreams. That isn’t really the way it works for the girls from this town, a town where everyone knows everything about you and there isn’t a whole lot of room to breathe without someone gossiping about it. This is the kind of town you get stuck in, marry a mill worker, have kids young, and become your parents.
These girls don’t really have a chance, don’t really own their futures—or their bodies. And what’s the point, anyway, when the town is dying around them? So their bodies take things into their own hands, as it were.
So what is The Rust Maidens about? To me, it’s about choice. It’s about coming of age as a girl and facing every obstacle—no matter how difficult, horrific, or even close to home—to remain true to yourself.
The weaving of supernatural elements is effortless throughout and fuses all the elements of the plot, which is important to me; this isn’t craziness happening for no reason. Instead there is a deeper meaning to every strand of the story. And it will drag you under its spell.
Kiste also has a chilling and entrancing style: extremely atmospheric and unsettling yet with a strange compelling beauty that constantly pulls you in. I loved finding her unique voice when I read her collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, and this novel only develops on her strengths.
Kiste is a welcome voice on the horror shelves, the soft beauty of her words mesmerizing, beckoning you to come closer and see, but when you get too close, she smiles and opens wide—and the darkness swallows you whole.
I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Short fiction isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, any old monkey can bang out a couple thousand words and call it a story, but to make characters breathe, worlds come alive, and themes resonate is no short order. And flash fiction: to create a well-rounded story— beginning, middle, and end—in so few words is even more impressive. This slim volume of horror tales does all that, and at the end of each story, you’ll feel your heart pumping, getting that great rise of tension and release that we all come to horror for. I was more than impressed.
His stories dive right in, pulling the reader into a place and a character’s mind. They don’t meander; they get right to the point—and then, BAM! A curveball. Most of the stories swerved to places I didn’t expect, wrenching the knife in at the last minute and really getting to the dark depths of human nature, myths and lore, and creatures you’ll never see coming.
Each one was truly a treat, a delicious vision, a fully-realized story that I found myself wondering about and wanting to spend more time with. That’s how you know short fiction is doing its job and really getting to you.
If I had one nit-picky thing to say, I think the stories were sometimes a bit overwritten—too many unnecessary adjectives and over-explaining of easy things (sometimes you can just say, “he walked down the street” and it actually works better than a flowery, pretty sentence).
I definitely look forward to whatever Demmer writes next. He has a lot of talent as a writer and a great mind for horror. What a treat!
My thanks to the author and Unnerving Press for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
If the first chapter of this book doesn't draw you in, I'm not sure what will. It is a great set-up that immediately throws you in to an action-packed slasher sequence that could be straight out of a 90s horror film.
From there, the story, told from the first person perspective of an anxiety-ridden teenager, goes on to be a very different type of story, one with lots of slow-burn buildup and not so much to show for on the payoff side of the equation.
I also thought there were too many narrative threads going on. For example, I found the title and even the back cover copy, to be confusing, as the "reading buddy" part of the story was a minimal one. Though the narrative attempted to weave in this thread more, it got stuck on all the other story threads and the "reading buddy" really got lost. Which is a shame, because as the title of the book, you sort of expect that to be what the book is about, and I personally found the misdirection off-putting.
What really took this book to 2 stars for me was the ending. To be as vague as possible, it uses a technique to explain the events that set off the novel that I really find unfair and infuriating as a reader.
What I will say for this book is that the author definitely has natural talent as a writer. I found the book to be clean and well-crafted throughout. I think its main issue is that the narrative needed some ironing out and trimming.
My thanks to the author for sending copies of his book to the Night Worms to read and review.
I read a lot of Halloween-centric books this season and this one definitely tops the list. Lisa Morton is not only a great writer, but her intricate knowledge of the holiday, the myths, creatures, and then the pure imagination she spills onto the page makes this a perfect treat for the season we horror fanatics look forward to (and to be honest, celebrate) all year long.
Each of these stories goes deeper than your average tale of Halloween night. These are stories steeped deeply in the lore of traditional Halloween—where it originated, the different lore associated with different places and their Halloween night traditions, and what it has all come down to today. Where it really gets interesting is how she mixes that lore with today's Halloween, and what comes out is this strange, terrifying, and darkly magical confluence of legend and truth.
My favorites were "The Samhanach," "Summer's End," "Sexy Pirate Girl," and "The Enchanted Forest," but I don't think there's a dud in this collection. I really enjoyed them all and wanted to live in them as long as I could. I found the stories to have great empowering characters who succeeded, lost, and truly felt. And I felt along with them.
Halloween can't come soon enough again!
So choose your treat—fun size or full size—that is, if you're brave enough to walk up the sidewalk, past the grinning jack-o-lanterns, skirting the dark shadows. Or maybe you'll just get a trick instead...
I can't wait to read one of Morton's nonfiction books and learn more about Halloween. That's my goal for next year!
This is the type of book that begs to be read in one sitting. It draws you in not with a Michael Myers stabs-his-sister sort of scene that instantly shocks, but with a whisper around a crackling campfire, a story told in a low voice that makes you draw your jacket around you tighter, sit closer to the flames, and try not to think about what might be watching in the dark behind your back, beyond that bright ring of safety.
I really don’t know why I’ve never heard of this book before! I was completely enamored with the style, which I thought moved seamlessly between second and third person in a way that showed a clear talent for writing that is not as easy to find as you’d think.
It is also the perfect book for the Halloween season.
I loved the way the narrative took pieces of pre-existing legends, some classic Halloween tropes, and creepy small-town vibes and mixed them together to create something entirely new and original. The way the story builds to the ultimate reveal is paced so well and that makes it all the more thrilling and heartbreaking—I truly loved every page.
What I found most compelling about the book was the way the characters grew and shifted throughout the book. You begin the book thinking about everyone one way, putting them all in one specific box, but by the end, it’s all twisted around and no one was exactly who they appeared to be on the outside. I really like that as a storytelling and character-building technique.
This will probably become a seasonal re-read for me. There is just something so evocative about the setting and the characters—it is everything I want from horror and from a damn fine story, and I’ll definitely be searching out more of Partridge’s work.
Also, wouldn’t this make a great movie? Dang, I would watch this.
Thanks to Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi and Sinister Grin Press for sending the Night Worms copies of this one to read and review!
I am not against a good monster romp, but I think it might be one of the most difficult types of stories to really get right. Sure, they can be “fun” and “gory” but to me, it takes a lot more to fully be a horror story, and more importantly, a good story.
How do you get the reader to feel for characters who they know are going to end up as cannon fodder? How do you use story tropes without falling into stereotypes and clichés? How do you create an original monster that will be compelling on the page, make readers really see it and cringe and create a memorable experience?
They Feed didn’t make the cut for me.
If you like reading horror for those moments of just getting down and dirty in a gorefest, people’s skin coming off, eyes gouging out, screaming and running with a high body count and lots of weirdness—this book will probably hit your horror sweet-spot. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. One reason I love horror is how wide-ranging the definition can be. But I guess what I’m learning is that all that sideshow fluff, however grisly and gruesome isn’t enough for me.
I still want a good story, with characters who matter. Ones who aren’t just falling into the most obvious stereotypes and seem only to be in the story at all to increase the body count.
And I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but it does make me a little peeved when the twist turns out to be something that the reader couldn’t have guessed—not because they didn’t pick up on all the subtle hints and clues, but because the book obfuscated the truth or outright lied (as I’d argue this book does) to the readers about the intent and knowledge of the characters.
I can’t get through a review of this without mentioning how I was constantly distracted by the strange and off-putting metaphors and descriptions the author used throughout the book. And in talking with my other Worms, I know I wasn’t the only reader who felt that often, the examples the author used to describe what was going on were not only fairly repellent (not necessarily a bad thing by itself) but also wildly off-base to the point that they startled me out of reading rather than assisting my imagination with the scene.
All in all, this wasn’t a book for me. Jason Parent seems to have a pretty good fan base for his books, and I applaud that. I’m glad that there are horror fans who dig this, who want more of it—this is what makes us a great and unique bunch of weirdos. But if you’re looking for more story, with characters who will really make you feel something, this isn’t the place to get it.
I had to have this novel based on DeMeester’s dark story collection, Everything That’s Underneath, that is by turns disturbing and beautiful.
I wasn’t as impressed with Beneath as I wanted to be, but it is still a worthy horror debut that shows strong talent, a great imagination, and that the women of horror are here to make a name for themselves.
What I liked most about the novel was how many different types of horror it manages to weave into the narrative. There is the very real horror of sexual abuse and how that can impact a person emotionally and physically throughout their life. There is the horror of religion gone wrong, when beliefs become skewed toward something that was never intended. There is pure monster horror with gruesome description and cruelly inventive creatures. There is also great body horror, where it isn’t just the monsters outside, but the monsters inside that wreak havoc.
Those were my favorite scenes—the ones where the monsters and the humans were inextricable from one another. DeMeester has a definite skill for vivid and unearthly description of what is going on inside of people’s bodies. You can really feel it, and it is excellent writing and brilliant horror.
For me, the book dragged in the second half, and I had trouble understanding all of the decisions that the two main characters, Cora and Michael, made.
Rather than the characters making decisions that would direct the course of the narrative, it seemed like the narrative of this book was really the one in control. To me, that makes for a more amorphous, purposeless feeling narrative, which, while building on the dreamlike, ethereal quality of the writing (which I loved) left me feeling unanchored and waiting for something to grab hold of.
If you are a fan of strange monster stories, great writing, and body horror, this is a great book to pick up. I definitely recommend her short story collection too!
This novel is really more of an interconnected set of stories, each revolving around a different member of the Turner family and friend group, all African Americans trying to make ends meet during the Jim Crow era.
Each of them has a run-in with this Braithwaite character, a well-crafted and almost too likable villain if ever I met one, and they each battle with strange supernatural (and Lovecraftian!) situations, like alternate worlds, haunted houses, weird cults, oh, and not to mention constant racism and misogyny—but that’s just the horror they deal with every day.
Each chapter is a very distinct story, which threw me at first, as I thought we would continue on with the same characters and storyline from the first story, but eventually all the threads work together in a satisfying way.
This is definitely a great blend of historical fiction, cosmic and weird horror, pulp fiction, sci-fi, and action adventure. All the characters were extremely likable and well-crafted. It was especially big on independent, take-charge women—yes, I am a fan. In particular, I loved Leticia’s headstrong nature and how she dealt in such a no-nonsense way with the strange happenings at her new house.
I think that the point of the book is that as African Americans, the characters are able to take on the strange and fear-inspiring cosmically horrific situations without batting an eye, because once you’ve been under the type of constant scrutiny, vicious intolerance, and just flat-out hate they have, those supernatural things don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. They are pretty badass people. But it definitely makes me ashamed of my country and the lack of tolerance we still have to this day.
Lovecraft the man, in my opinion, is not wholly extricable from his works. But just because he was an overt and outspoken racist doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the stories he crafted, his contribution to the horror genre, and the influence that he’s had on many other influential storytellers. But we don’t want to glorify him either. Like Atticus’s dad explains to him, we need to read with our eyes open, knowing where his words and ideas may have come from.
So this book is a perfect representation of that, paying homage to a great literary contribution but also saying, “Screw you, Mr. Lovecraft.” And that’s just the way it should be.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.