The Summer holiday/Halloween Bonanza!
As another Austrian once said in a famous film one-liner - "I'll be back".
And here I am after an extended radio silence.
I needed time away from reviewing to read, write and live my life, and now I'm here to give you some of the benefit of that time spent to myself. Over my summer holidays in Croatia, I got some serious reading done, and I include in this post the books I've read and finished since that time, in one big Halloween/Summer Bonanza (TWENTY books). There really is something here for everyone, no matter your horror tastes, there are some "as yet unpublished" books and some recent releases I was lucky enough to get ARC's for.
Thanks to those people who sent ARCs to me in good faith, I've tried to stay true to the spirit of honest commentary! By posting all of these links in one thread, I'm hoping to make it easier for Indie Authors to get more eyes on their books through multi Author linking and retweeting. There's some absolute gold in here. To the Authors - You are all awesome. I would love to help nudge more people your way.
Ok, enough! let's cut straight to the links, click on the book title to jump to the review, or scroll down to your heart's content. Amazon buy links at the bottom of each review. Books are listed in order of my reading them.
Spread the word, retweet, share, get these books some Halloween love.
Parachute - by Holly Rae Garcia
I remember picking this up based on the premise of the blurb – I’m pretty much a sucker for variants of the Multiverse theme, and this appealed to me through Holly’s clever use of the medium of transfer – A Parachute. There are enough reviews here to cover what happens in the novel, also enough explaining the backstory, and failing that, the book blurb pretty much covers the essential points, so I won’t regurgitate that info here.
Honestly, I had a blast with Parachute. I know some reviewers didn’t like the abrupt ending – which effectively sees all of the main characters abandoned, lost within the various worlds they found themselves within. Not so myself – I thought it made perfect sense. That inability to stop oneself from exploring, be that due to inquisitiveness or through a sense of duty to others – is the thing that kills off all of the characters.
I loved that the individual worlds exposed through the Parachute are not the thing that endangers the MCs – it is through each other and through their own stubbornness that all are lost. It’s not often that a writer lets the bad guy (or in this case – phenomenon) win – but that event also deserves a voice. Like all good forbidden fruits, a clear and concise message is delivered from the parachute, that it is not safe to explore unknown lands – but also like all good forbidden fruits, the potential payback is just too enticing. Just like the MCs – I wanted to roll the dice just one more time. Gamble their lives for my pleasure, and see what other worlds were in Holly’s imagination.
She didn’t disappoint.
The potential here is never ending, with as many different worlds as colors in the spectrum. All it needs are idiots enough to try them out, and I, just like the MCs, was trapped in the loop of “just once more…”.
This is a blast, I read it in one sitting and could have read it a whole lot longer.
I’m giving this 5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s. Great Novella, Holly!
Ashthorne - by April Yates
A same-sex romance-horror novella, set in wartime Derbyshire, anyone? Absolutely.
I’ve been aware of April’s presence in the community for a while now, not least from having read a short from her in the same anthology I also appear in, “Beneath, a 100-word horror Anthology” produced by Ghost Orchard Press. So, when I heard that her debut Novella was hitting the stores at approximately the same time I was on holiday – well – it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Ashthorne is named after the place where the novella takes place. It’s a story of young blossoming love which spans cultural and social divides. A young female nurse arrives at a manor house in wartime Derby, placed there to help nurse a selection of recovering prisoners. Yates quickly establishes peculiarities in the house that hint at the paranormal or supernatural, and the workings of the head doctor are highlighted as a possible source. Things boil to a head at about ¾ of the way into the novel with the emergence of a hidden identity, and the last ¼ of the book is a rush to get everything lined up quick enough for you to devour.
Ok. What did I think of it?
I liked it. I think April aimed high here, there are so many threads competing with one another in such a small number of pages that I wish it had been extended. The romance happens very quickly – I felt there was just enough time given to establishing it, and then it went full-on. Subtlety and nuance aren’t playing a role here, there isn’t space. There is a person that appears in the book after about ¾ of the way through, who was honestly a surprise, but my emotional attachment to that character wasn’t given any chance to play a part due to not having any context to that character – trying not to spoil anything here – there was only one clue to there being a hidden person, but it was downplayed, and as we had no moments with that character, the reveal felt somewhat distant
The downplaying of the clues were a little obvious – it felt as if we were being told to “move along now, nothing to see” – every time one landed, which of course made them stick out, but this IS a novella, space was limited, and the pace breakneck. If I can see the author hiding the clues then the characters should have too, in short.
I’d have liked this slowed down a little, with more dialogue. I think Yates got the two main characters down well, but we had so little time with them. To summarize, it feels like this needed slowing down, extending, and methods employed that were more subtle than asking us to forget what we just read. Still, the same-sex romance was lovingly rendered, and the dialogue was real and grounded.
I’m giving this 3 out of 5 ⭐’s, and I’ll be watching April’s upcoming works with interest.
Prince of the wasteland - by Joseph Sale
I saw Joseph advertise Prince of the wasteland as part of his re-released 6 book series entitled “The book of thrice dead”, with stunning new covers from Dan Soule (who himself has been reviewed here as a part of my summer holiday/Halloween review). Honestly, I bought the first book on the strength of the cover alone, but it also seemed that Joseph was a nice guy, so other than a general buzz about the book, I went into it blind.
Now I love superpowers, especially ones gone slightly wrong or just plain evil, and this book runs along those lines. It’s very similar in setup to Marcus Sakey’s "Brilliant" Trilogy (of which I am a huge fan), so Joseph had me right from the beginning. This is an antihero story, with a protagonist that has the grimdark grey attitude that is the perfect hallmark of the genre. There’s goodness there, but the history and lifestyle of the character make it so blurred you really have to stretch to see it. But that glint, that hope, is what makes the character so satisfying.
That we follow a character that kills with knives is incredibly gratifying for some reason known only to my Austrian pleasure ego, and that he goes out of his way to protect a young child completes the picture, responsibility colliding against self-interest.
I loved it.
The world-building is great, Joseph’s voice is hypnotic, and the character perspectives and backstories are wonderful. You can really see why this was expanded into a series, and furthermore, why someone of Dan Soule’s remarkable talent came on board to help market the series with lush covers.
Consider me a fan – I’m in for the long haul. Can’t wait for February to get my hands on the second in the series. This, then, is one of the highlights of my summer reading.
Buy it, folks!
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s
Infested - by C.M.Forest
Ok – this was a blast. Forest (Christian) is a new author for me, but I’ll certainly be checking out his ongoing works. Infested starts with a somewhat over-played “hangover” scene, the author emphasizing the point due to events that tie back to that moment later in the book – so the world-building is well thought out – it starts from the very first moment.
This reads like a mystery – yes, it’s horror – no worries, you’ll twig to that immediately with the gore Forest smacks you with right up front – you know this is going to be a survivor story, and there isn’t going to be much surviving going on. Back to the mystery, Forest layers on clues in a logical progression, like in real life, clues are not provided in a nice orderly fashion, and the way to the truth is hard won and an uphill battle. Infested reads like a zombie novel – but its heart is a film. The descriptions are vivid, brutal and in your face- humans overrun by massive earwig-like insects that crack open your jaw to slide down your throat and connect to your spine/brain to become walking killing machines. It’s gore galore, and you lap it up. Every single word.
I like brutal, I like occasional gore, I loved the pace, the mystery, the world-building. Forest ticks all the right boxes off, and rightly concentrates upon the story and characters in his madhouse – his world-building is set, solid, and provides the perfect background to what we all love – characters that start off humble and transform through adversity. This might start out as a survivor's story, but through the mystery and the motivation of the main character – Olivia.
The bad guy reveal is well delivered, the end scene a little too film-esque for me, but by then Christian had won me over and I was just riding along on the speed of the flow of the book. This is fast horror – the adrenaline high here is the payoff, this flew past before I even knew what was happening, and Forest keeps you hanging on every word.
This is sold on Christian’s voice – get through that first chapter, which IS slow, and IS unlike the rest of the book, and you’ll discover, like I did, a voice to follow with rapt attention.
Forest is one to watch. A magnificent introduction to your work, Christian. My thanks to both you and Eerie river for the promotional copy for consideration for the Stokers. I hope you do well there, you have my vote.
Great stuff. 5 out of 5⭐ ‘s.
Noose - by Brennan LaFaro
I’ve shamefully had a copy of Brennan’s Slattery Falls on my kindle (staring at me) for about half a year now. It’s one of those books that appealed to me through other people’s reviews, notably Tyler Jones’, Tim McGregor’s, and Steve Stred’s praise established that I needed to read it – So I snapped it up and – nothing. It sat patiently waiting for its turn (It’s coming!) whilst my attention was bedazzled by other glittery sparkly read-me horror novels.
So, when I was offered a review copy from Dark Lit press for Noose, a horror western (a genre I am coming to love, through Kenzie Jenning’s Red Station, Coy Hall’s The Hangman feeds the Jackal, amongst others), I about bit Andrew Fowlow’s hand off trying to get to it as quickly as possible. I remember feeling massively lucky when I got that email, so thanks, once again, to Brennan and the Dark lit crew. You made me very happy.
The setup of Noose is fantastic. Right from the supernatural start, you get the feeling the book is going to be outstanding. The introduction here is great. We know that the main character is going to have to battle his way through 4 gang members before confronting the main bad guy, and each of them brings their own skills and attack style into play. I guess you could liken it to battling your way through mortal combat, or double dragon – you can guess from the description how bad it is going to get, but can’t wait for it all to happen.
The ending comes way too quickly. I have to say that. This is read in a single sitting, and before you know it, the lieutenants are dealt with and the main event has finished. The sugar plaster at the end of the book is a short story that explores the origins of the bad guy, lending him character, motive, and humanity, and add to the lore that Brennan is building – and building he is. This flit into his world was woefully short – the author says that more books in his world will be forthcoming, and I’m in for all of them. At least two have been confirmed to DarkLit this week. Keep them coming, Pardner.
I loved this. Absolutely loved it. It was way too short – as I explained earlier, and I wanted at least twice as much. In fact, I didn’t want to go home to reality. But the fact is that the idea here is the seller. Great setup, great concept, well-executed storytelling, wonderful cover from Donnie Goodman, and a well-thought-together package all round.
5 out of 5⭐ ‘s. And Slattery Falls’ day is soon coming. I promise.
Soaking in strange hours - by Erik Hofstatter
This 20-page short story was sent to me by the author in return for an honest review. If you read any of the reviews on Goodreads, they quite rightly focus on the poetic lyricism of the prose, and its metaphorical quantity and quality. The fact that that is the case is because it’s the bulk of the story. Within twenty pages, not that much can happen, so the story here is pretty straightforward – a man searches for a lost person.
The WAY that that story is told is what Erik is selling here. His writing is exemplary, certainly a massively distinctive voice. I don’t know that I appreciated it fully through (and after) twenty pages – I can’t imagine reading a whole novel written in such a style – it is fascinating, but you are also aware of the weight of it all. Hofstatter plays with vocabulary and imagery, the rest falls somewhat to the side. The plot is small, and at times confusing. Character development doesn’t happen (there’s no time). The series of scenes is limited to page count and sweeping prose. Nope – this is a celebration of language. I don’t think I could say you read it for the story, you read it because you want to see where the mind that wrote it is going to take you.
At the end of the story, I admired the art of the book, but I can’t say I enjoyed the destination. It’s art, make no mistake. This is something to read and break into constituent parts, to marvel at the word play, to find contentment in the construction of sentences and paragraphs, to wonder at allegory and the mind of the man that created it. It’s something to ponder, not the story itself. It’s a glimpse at another construct of expression. I don’t think there’s a message here, it’s simply the act of breathing life into something beautiful which is being correctly celebrated in people’s reviews.
As to the story? Not so much.
It’s fascinating, though slow progress as one reads, ponders, absorbs, and contemplates, examining each sentence for meaning.
I have to give it 3 ⭐ ‘s out of 5. This wasn’t a story for me. I know there’s one there.
But it’s a pretense to showcase Erik’s magnificent prose and make no mistake, it’s literary, beautiful, genius – I suppose (always hard to judge genius because it is relative to the awareness of one’s own limitations).
Is it Art? – Yes.
Is there a story? – The bones of one.
Still worth buying? – Absolutely.
The cursed clones - by Adam Hulse
The culmination of the Tupuqa trilogy begins sometime after the events of The Cursed Creatures (the second book of the trilogy) ends – One of the creatures from the previous books has been spirited off the island and sent to a secret military base where it has been repeatedly cloned, each successive creature showing more mutations and powers – be it strength, speed etc. Meanwhile, the characters from the previous books have either tried to reassemble their lives, or become ghosts of their former selves due to their experiences.
It’s clear Hulse sought a sense of completion to the trilogy here – the re-introduction of the same characters to solve the problem of the cursed clones did (for me) stretch plausibility somewhat – whereas in the first series the survivors of the creatures did so through a mixture of luck, good timing and heroics, here I felt that they were employed more as problem solvers – who better to eradicate the menace than those people that had survived the first time? Hmm... Soldiers, perhaps?
I get it – there is a feeling of familiarity and warm fuzz that goes with recognizing characters from past books, once again facing down a threat. The difference here then, is deliberate – I got the feeling in the last two books that the characters just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here, they’ve been brought back to fight, so intention plays a role.
What can I say about the novella? It’s a straight-up action story. The characters are quickly assembled and attack the military base, which is thankfully under attack from within by the creatures inside, breaking out from their cells and creating mayhem – luck is on the MC’s side – the military soldiers are fighting for their lives and distracted, enabling the civilian’s entry to the base. Hulse once again doesn’t allow favoritism, his characters die in situations they are confronted with, and the novel cleanly narrates the deaths of both creatures and humans. I wouldn’t say it’s a gore fest, but it’s pretty much what you would expect going into the book – a long fight all the way to the finish line.
From a plot perspective, this book in the trilogy is, for me, the most basic – Adam has brought characters in such as Erdogan, who really didn’t need to get his hands dirty when he can employ other people to do that, but there is a sense of comradery in seeing him there along for the ride. The Major and his favorite subject are a little 2D, there are no hidden motives here, and they are painted quite clearly with the bad guy brush, but it's satisfying, they get their comeuppance and there is a sense of closure to it all at the end, despite the epilogue Hulse dangles in front of the reader.
I’ll say straight up I enjoyed this, but I’ll also say that it’s a military fight book, with graphic descriptions. The pace is fast, it’s action, action, action all the way. Because of that, character work, plot, overall story arc and meat of the book, all tend to be left a little on the sidelines, but you’ll be happily floating along on Hulse’s enthusiasm and the character’s commitment to saving the world from a mad major and his army of horror.
Anyone that has read and enjoyed the first two books will enjoy this, read it quickly, and feel Adam rounded the series off – job done. I don’t think this could be read as a stand-alone, but that was never the intention.
I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, because it provides closure to the trilogy and it’s a breakneck speed ride through Hulse’s world, and it was nice to see the gang together for one last outing. I enjoyed this.
Marionette - by Antonia Rachel Ward
When Brigid’s gate and Antonia announced the upcoming release of Marionette, I was thrilled – both Birgid’s gate and Antonia herself rank highly with me – I know Antonia’s work through a writing website we both frequent, and Brigid’s Gate press are favorites, with two anthologies I’ve read, plus they picked up some fantastic books with the demise of SS, including Stephanie Ellis’s Five turns of the wheel, Paused, Bottled and Kev Harrison’s Below. So obviously I pre-ordered this and honestly, the cover itself was worth the cost. Fantastic illustration, folks, it really nailed the mood and the direction of the novella.
The genre intrigued me, Gothic Erotic horror. Sex, in horror, can be done well, done poorly, or skipped over. Most of the time it’s fade to black, and here, I would say it’s a mixture. There’s a bit of S&M, some spanking, fetish mild stuff – you aren’t going to lose your dinner over it – it’s, for the most part, well written. It fades to black once the point is made, you aren’t going to "arrive" with the protagonists, that happens off-screen, but there are not just hints, there’s some stuff.
The stuff itself is the problem, for me. The concept here is that, through hypnotism, a person can be placed under a trance, and if that person is wearing a specific item that belonged to a dead person, that dead person’s ghost can break through the barriers and possess that hypnotized person. With that body under the ghost’s control, the ghost goes on a sensation orgy, reveling in the body of the possessed. So, they have sex, obviously, and the more sensation they receive (pain, for example), the more they achieve ecstasy.
Simple premise, until you stop and accept that this is rape. In no uncertain terms, at least to this reader's mind, any sexual satisfaction one can glean from reading the erotic scenes is destroyed by the knowledge you are witnessing a rape, and any sexual satisfaction you might have gotten from the erotica is turned on it’s head into horror.
Which is totally the point. I get it. But that aspect of the book is ignored. The nearest we get to that being explored is the battle of consciousness the MC goes through watching his beloved being sexually molested by other men, all whilst she is being held a captive in her own body. So he’s having a battle of wills between being aroused by other men fucking the possible love of his life and finding it arousing, and wanting her for himself but trying to restrain himself to be a gentleman. So the struggle for him is internal – he likes watching her nude and in sexual positions, likes the acts the other men do his love, but wishes it was he himself doing it.
The actual issue of rape here is kind of gleaned over. She “Enjoys” the sex – the ghost is having a great time, and after she “awakes”, she feels great. Job done, kind of thing. But I was looking at the page thinking – She’s been made to do something against her will, trapped in her body whilst another person used it for their sexual pleasure. That’s rape. Pure and simple. Think of it as date rape if you will. She's not in control, but let's just get to the good bit and hump away? Or watch someone else hump and wish it was us? Hmm.
So for me, the sexual content of the book turned immediately from erotic to voyeurism to watching rape. And yes, that’s horror. I get that the horror here is the paranormal ghost possession. But for me, at least, my interpretation of the erotic scenes made it difficult to read. Not because I avoid rape scenes, but because the rape scenes were written in a way that was supposed to be erotic. It’s fascinating to talk about in retrospect, but uncomfortable to read at the time.
Make no mistake, the idea here and its execution are great. Antonia’s writing is wonderful, her voice as readable as ever. The editing is perfect, and the arc of the story is good. It’s just uncomfortable due to the fact the rape issue is not addressed at all. My interpretation of the events seems, to be honest, a lone interpretation that no one else is addressing in the reviews of the book. But I believe in that interpretation, it’s as fundamental a principle of my upbringing as anything else that guides my moral compass, and this, for me, was rape-mild porn. So, whilst I appreciated the horror of that, I am not sure many other people got that interpretation, or if they did, chose to ignore it to appreciate the sex scenes.
That issue was so fundamental for me, I have to address it because it is still the lasting memory of the book that I have a month after finishing it. As I wrote when I read it, I needed time to process my thoughts, so there they are, as clearly as I can express them.
There are other issues, such as continuity plot holes – the necklace that is used to attract the possessive ghost, used to belong to the ghost, yet in the finale, a horde of ghosts possess the bodies of women to exact their revenge on men (in general). No other personal items are mentioned or brought to the event – so ghosts can possess whoever they want whenever they want regardless of items of jewelry – yet Cece’s soul – the female MC – is trapped in the necklace when her body is possessed because
– um –
Hmmm. The necklace had nothing to do with her personally, and the other ghosts aren't trapped in anything whilst they wait to be called forth, so when they come forth, she should likewise come forth? Why should she be trapped?
Now those issues aside, this still was a good read.
I liked the book, I liked the story, I loved Antonia’s voice, I felt massively uncomfortable reading it despite liking more visually described sex scenes in books (it wasn’t the sex itself that made me uncomfortable). I liked the mix of sex and horror, just not the obvious connection I made.
Overall, this gets an uncomfortable 3 ⭐ ‘s from me, and I hope I explained why, it feels weird, given the subject matter, to rate it more highly, despite the fantastic prose Antonia brought to the table. The other reviews on Goodreads don't address this, so it may very well be my personal misinterpretation. But that's who I am.
True crime - by Sam Kolesnik
This was one of the highlights of this summer’s reading. True Crime is a nasty little thing. It shows its warts from the first chapter, with morally repugnant characters and relentless nastiness.
I am not going to say much about the story because I avoided any review or description before reading it, I just knew lots of people had raved over it, and so I blissfully went into it blind. And that’s the way to do it, folks, so don’t worry, there’ll be no summary to be found here.
The MC Suzy and her brother/protector Lim are a perfect couple, a case of nurture over nature, you become what you are taught to become. The book follows them as they travel away from their home and their past, and ends as nastily as it began, the true colors of the MC as fascinatingly hypnotic as they are horrific.
The reader desperately tries to connect with the MC, feel empathy for her, and feel her actions explainable, yet there’s the monster lurking underneath it all. One that has no shame or fear of being released when required. An unemotional nightmare that makes the reader squirm. There are true “oh no” moments when she says something or does something, that is unthinkable.
I lapped it up.
The mood is perfect. The prose is eminently readable. You are caught up as a fly in a spider web, wanting it all to be over but watching the spider slide closer, toying with you as it nears.
Yeah. You’ll want to buy this if you haven’t already. Superb stuff.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s and solid entertainment. Bravo!
Faces of Beth - by Carver Pike
This was my first Carver Pike book, I’d bought it because of two factors, the lush cover and the fact I really wanted to read Carver’s voice, and this seemed a well-loved starting point.
I think it fair to say that the “twist” that comes in the book about a third of the way through, was obvious. What I loved here, was that Carver accepted that that wasn’t the selling point of the book. The twist itself was hinted at, and alone from the cover, one gets a hint of the direction of that reveal. Given that it was a twist the reader expected, it was perfect for the author to reveal it after only a third of the book. It left me thinking – so where is this going to go now, then? And Pike provided the answer with the paranormal.
That was fantastic. Instead of the book being about one element, it turned that element into just a portion of the whole. As a result, the book was a lot more satisfying than If it had been handled any other way.
Carver’s voice is good, readable, the characters relatable and interesting. It’s an easy read, I finished it in a day and a half, and I liked the mad rush at the end for the completion of the grand finale. It deals with real-life horrors, crouched in a paranormal bent, and I think it presented them well, the full horror of child abuse is attended to tastefully, and Carver certainly shows his writing chops with the full package.
I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 ⭐’s, and am already looking forward to reading Carver again.
Savage - by Dan Soule
I’m going to say straight up that this was one of my favorite reads this summer. Dan Soule is shaping up to be a solid hit machine in my experience, I gobbled up The Ash and bought both Savage and Witchopper on the strength of that writing. Savage lived up to my expectations and was a thriller of a read. I couldn’t get enough and was devastated when it was over.
The character work is outstanding, Dylan Savage is a total victim of circumstance, and the reader is endeared to him from the first page to the last. Soule’s reworking of the Jack the Ripper mythos and his combination of that and Egyptian deity worship is such a solid backstory, the whole fun and gore of Savage have such an infectious feel about them.
You are totally swept along by the storyline.
As ever, Soule pulls no punches. The gore and violence, when it arrives, are detail-rich and HD clean, the descriptions visceral and alive. Your heart is jackhammering along with the thrill of the pace of the story, as both supernatural and human-based threats fight it out for domination, with our MC slap bang in the middle of it all.
I loved the concept of the house. I loved the powers of the supernatural villains. The whole nastiness of it just lurking there – I couldn’t get enough.
By the time we had arrived at the room of the talking heads, I was ready to believe anything Soule presented. His take on the whole Vampire legend is wonderful. It breathes life into the genre in a way I hadn’t expected. It’s as vital as Keene’s “With teeth”, albeit the vampires aren’t as Rabid!
Honestly, this is an automatic 5 ⭐’s hit, and well worth your money. Can’t recommend it enough.
The boulevard monster - by Jeffrey Helper
This is my second Helper book, and certainly not my last. Though I read them in the wrong order, it was wonderful to discover Jeremy’s voice, with all its trademark features, ringing through this debut novel. All of the elements that I enjoyed from Sunray Alice were again on show – Jeremy’s wonderfully beguiling voice (though first person present here – something I’m not a massive fan of, but which worked), the world-building, the inescapable twists and turns as the story pulls you into the logic of his characters. It’s unputdownable.
I loved the trap the MC falls into, in a desperate attempt to do good. The moral conundrum the writer lays down is wonderful – how to corrupt a good person into aiding and abetting murder – it’s a fantastic premise, made all the more wonderful with supernatural twists – and by that, I am of course referring to the birds. There’s something nefarious about the beady eyes of birds. I’ve always thought that the way that only one eye can look at you at a time… that’s something I find unsettling….
Helper spins his yarn and drags the reader along merrily, and we are in it for the ride. This was just popcorn. I loved every second of it. I wish it had been longer.
The ending ties in neatly with the beginning, it all feels so simple and easy that you'd be forgiven for thinking this must be a tenth book, or a fiftieth book.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s. Helper is one to watch.
The Growth - by Adam Hulse
When Adam posted the cover on Twitter a while back, I bought it more or less on the premise – a blob that eats people, England being overrun, and it’s Adam – his previous series was highly enjoyable, and he’s a down-to-earth decent bloke. So obviously, The Growth poured into my kindle, waiting for me to bite. Which I did this summer.
The setup here is very movie – it wants to cut you to the action right from the word go. Adam hit his happy place with the Tupuqa trilogy and found his voice in Horror Action, and this continues the trend, giving the reader full-on action from the get-go. There are more perspectives to follow in this one, the opening chapters all deal with different characters, who are slowly drawn together to fight for their survival.
How did it read? I’m a fan of Adam’s writing, and I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for the sake of entertainment, so I think that most people are going to enjoy this one for its cinematic quality. It’s very much visual storytelling. It’s like reading a script for a horror movie that needs to be made. I can’t say I follow the logic of the characters, who are ready to drop everything they are doing on the premise that another person is telling the truth and can deliver the world from a chemical intelligent menace, but there we are.
There’s not going to be much character development because the characters themselves are fighting every minute for survival – introspection, contemplation – that’s to be found in other books, but the pace here is what sells the book. Though some of the elements in the book seemed rather more far-fetched than others, it still unfolded pleasurably – I was caught up in Adam’s voice, the action, the pace, and the style of the book.
This is a nice summer read. It isn’t going to have me contemplating for too long, but it does have me eager to buy and read the second part as quickly as possible – and that’s surely a win. The Growth lives? Count me in.
I’m giving this 4 ⭐’s. I don’t think you can really go wrong here for the price, 1 dollar or a Euro is nothing – the relation of entertainment to money spent is fully in Adam’s favor.
The Road - by Cormac McCarthy
Phew. So. Where do I start with this one? Well obviously, the lack of speech marks, commas, or question marks/exclamation marks. Cormac has removed almost all of them, to focus the reader on the story. It’s a specific reading experience, and makes the reader concentrate on every word, in order to better focus on the minute.
It works, but it’s work.
It’s akin to driving a manual car for the first time after driving an automatic for ten years solid. Everything makes sense, but you are hyper-aware of what your hands are doing and when they are doing them. If that makes sense.
It DOES detract from the text somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, but it means that you are focused so highly, the text itself passes by somewhat. McCarthy focuses on the mundane, on the rhythm of normality in the face of apocalypse. It is this detailed description of everything that narrows your attention to the believability of the situation.
Massive backstory holes are left as holes – we are left to fill in the blanks about the mother – how she went crazy or suicidal. How she decided the lives of her son and lover were worth less than peace. And how that defined the man in his attention to their son.
This is a grim tale, make no mistake, and the story does float along in bleakness. But the love the man has for the boy bleeds through the page.
Worthy of the Pulitzer prize? Phew. I mean, the removal of those typical elements of storytelling IS genius, but there are whole sections of text that describe, in pretty boring and repetitive detail, how the man opens a can of beans and cooks them. I mean – is that great writing, or a travelog? I think the concept here is the winner. The simple tale of a man looking after his son and trying to bring him up properly in an apocalyptic wasteland is fantastic, and the human condition for undying love is evident here. But the writing in general? Stripped of that clever gimmick? I hesitate to use the word gimmick there – don’t get me wrong, it’s genius. But the actual writing as we get further into the book becomes more like a notebook of everyday activity, written step by step. Great writing it isn’t.
The concept, the execution of the idea, and the love story of a man for his son are the prize winners here, and deservedly so.
I’m giving this 4 ⭐’s out of 5. Good, but there’s work here to be done to enjoy it properly.
Counterpoint - by Michelle Cook
Counterpoint is the second book in the Tipping point series, set in the dystopian arena of England, as Global warming and air pollution have encouraged a big brother-type state, where the inhabitants are under constant surveillance and are oppressed into compliance with normality and subdued behavior.
I know Michelle from a writing group and read Tipping Point in its earliest forms until its eventual publication. I loved Tipping point for Michelle’s character work and English undertone (you can tell Michelle is English through the language and English isms she brings into the fray – nothing can’t be made better by a cup of tea! :D ).
How does it read? Tipping point - the first book - was based on underlying menace. The fear that something was always going to catch you, and take you away from all you loved. Counterpoint has the subtle difference that the threat is known, it has been revealed, and now, years later, is going to track you down and exact its revenge. This second book is all about survival. All of the characters find themselves hunted. The pace of the book is encouraged by its focus switching from one character’s plight to another until all of the pieces fall into place for the finale.
Michelle’s voice is very readable. The chapters are short, the tension dial is turned all the way up. I had the feeling the Main character Essie was reactive this time more than proactive – things happened to her and she reacted as best she could, from one scenario to the next until there wasn’t anywhere else to run to. In that respect, it feels more desperate, it’s as if the reader knows the character is going to be boxed in, right from the start. That the trap is enabled through the capture of her husband and child was quite clear, I think. Any parent knows the worth of their child and partner, Essie is no different here than we would be, and that makes it all the more personal, of course.
There’s a mild torture scene (Hey – I’m a horror writer, it is probably not so mild for others) and a satisfying conclusion, and everything works out for the best, and the issue of greenhouse gasses is solved to the satisfaction of everyone – though the details of a global energy grid share scheme will be left for an open debate the next time I meet up with Michelle :D
I’m giving this 5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, it’s not often I read thrillers, but Michelle provides, and it’s a great follow-up to the original.
Helpmeet - by Naben Ruthnum
Phew. Where to start? Helpmeet is a breeze to read. It’s 69 pages long, and you couldn’t fit more story into that much space. The setup of the whole story is sublime. We are introduced to a dutiful wife, tending to her husband who has a literal rotting disease. The descriptions of the state of his body, his face, his hands – it's wonderful, if, like me, you find horrific detail mesmerizing lol. I cannot emphasize how well Naben has described the husband and his suffering. Set mainly under the cloud of morphine, the husband endures, and we endure with him.
Ruthnum layers on detail after detail, outlining the husband’s infidelity, the character flaws of our protagonist’s charge, showing the man to be as equally diseased in thought as in body, yet she remains stoically by his side, performing her duties to him and genuinely caring for him.
So – spellbinding – I really didn’t want that to end. But of course, all good things come to an end, and this ending rushes at us from an unexpected direction – cosmic horror!
It would be a disservice to reveal any element of the big reveal that comes at the end of the novella, so I won’t, but I do have to say it fell a little flat for me. The ending is ok, I was surprised at the solution the MC agrees to, and cannot really believe she would do what she does, but I am too openly independent to speak on her behalf.
Regardless of my own feelings on the matter, it’s still fantastically unique, and that setup is divine.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s and I wish more people would read this for the details on his face. His nose! His Tongue! Man!
This is where we talk things out - by Caitlin Marceau
This novella succeeded in making me want to punch the MC's antagonist in the face repeatedly until she would be unconscious. The level of passive-aggressive trauma inflicted upon the healthy balanced mentally aware MC is staggering, and the MC’s PC attitude is beautifully worked against her.
What can I say – you need to come to this book with an open mind, to fully appreciate the horror of an overbearing mother. The horrible thing here is that even at her most manipulative, the mother is working towards what she truly believes is the best for her daughter.
This is a car crash waiting to happen, a build-up of tension that allows no pressure to escape. The reader is driven along on a route that can only end in a multiple pile-ups with all limbs severed and a rage-filled hate crime at the end of it. Caitlin pours on the terror of clothes, worn as a child, and forced onto a grown adult, rooms that have been recreated to emphasize the dependence of a child on her mother, and emotional blackmail to create her own brand of psychological warfare. We all know exactly what the mother has locked up in her bedroom that is smelling so much…
Yep. This was a blast. It frustrates in the most perfect way, illustrating the terror of motherly love and subjugation to an unhinged family figure. I couldn’t get enough. I might have to read it all over again to watch how badly the MC misjudges every element.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s. I wish I could have given it more.
Taboo in four colors - by Tim McGregor
Tim’s work is a thing of beauty, I have to say. I fell in love with his predominantly readable voice in “Hearts, strange and dreadful”, and was further ensnared by both “Lure”, and "Wasps in the ice cream", all 5-star reads, so when Mother Horror sent out the call for ARC reviewers, I jumped at the chance. You really can’t go wrong with Tim, no matter the topic or genre. Case in point, the horror noir novel “Taboo in four colors”.
Prepare to fall in love again with rot.
Tim does phenomenal work here, his descriptions of the decay of a body are breathtaking. The smells, the purification, the whole nasty mess that we become is gloriously center stage in this wonderful study of the lengths people go to in the name of new love. Not only does he captivate you with the very real (feeling) budding of a relationship under duress, he manages to do it beautifully framed against body horror, and adds the threat of paranormal horror to boot. I couldn’t look away, he had from the brilliant false start (which had me thinking – “Tim? What the hell?” – quickly followed by “Aha. Of course. You sly dog, you.” I don’t want to spoil it – but this is wonderfully planned.
The characters are sublime, totally rounded, and believable. I loved all of them. Every single one came fully formed to the party. From the office hot girl to the editor-in-chief to the policeman who interrupts a nefarious act, I believed in all of them. The ending is reminiscent of Shawshank redemption, of course, Trogir replacing Zihuatanejo, with Wally replacing Andy Dufresne, but that’s probably me feeling happy for both of those characters, and wishing them a happy ending.
I couldn’t read this fast enough, and I will read it again, it is a mark of Tim’s work that I do not wish to leave the worlds he creates, and find myself at home wherever that may be.
Absolute money’s worth. Superb, Tim. You had me from the first page.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s. My thanks to Mother Horror and My Dark Library for the ARC.
Citizens of shadow - by Nicole Eigener
I had read Beguiled by night from Nicole Eigener, and remember asking to be beguiled again, and that is exactly what Nicole has achieved, against my will.
Let me explain – I’ve gone on record repeatedly about Vampires. I don’t really like them. I mean, they are ok, but we’ve read about them so many times, it’s hard to breathe life into such a well-known trope. A few notable cases have impressed me – Nicole’s Vauquelin, Brian Keene’s rabid mongrels in “With teeth”, Dan Soule’s “Savage”, Beverley Lee’s trilogy Gabriel Davenport…
I know, this totally looks like I love vampires, but bear with me. All of the above, are, for me, exceptions to the general trend of “immortal show-off”. I know. I’m in the minority. Anne Rice’s Lestat, for example, is a great example of typical vampire for me. There’s not a lot in the world that is going to be a threat to the guy. It’s rather like a semi-evil superman. With that kind of power, can I be convinced to care about his/her problems?
Not often. I get the writing is great, I get the plots are good. Nevertheless, I find it hard to care about something so powerful.
So why was I biting at the bit to read Citizens of Shadow?
Probably because Nicole cares so much.
You can read it in her prose. The detail, the atmosphere, the introspection. Nicole is a connoisseur of facts, immerses herself into the timeline of her stories, and fills them with nuggets of trivia that make you run to google to look up her facts and wonder at their inclusion.
You get cleverer just by reading her.
Holywoodland, for example. Who’da thunk?
That her vampire series also have killer plots also kind of helps, but that craft she injects is what brings me back to her work.
So. How does C.O.S. compare to Beguiled by night?
Very well. I have to say that I hadn’t expected the direction of the second book to go the way it went. It’s a smack to the face (to say the least) when you realize that everything Vauquelin fought for in the first book is rendered useless by his love’s reaction to her own immortality. From there springs Eigener’s sequel, and it’s everything you would expect from her.
The book is lush, lavish, resplendent. The prose is rich, sensuous, and violent. The main character remains as torn by his inner turmoil as ever. Themes of finding yourself and accepting yourself take the spotlight, and Eigener’s voice demands that every step of the way is validated by the realization of self and self-worth and finally acceptance.
I enjoyed it immensely. The world Nicole has created is Gothic in overtone, the decadence of the main character overlapping all of his experiences. You'll want to add this to your collection. I have to say, it was hard to read Maeve's fall after wanting her to be with V the entirety of Beguiled By Night, but that's the game.
5 out of 5⭐ ‘s
Co-exist: Rise of the Zombies - by Cyra King
Co-exist is a YA (I think I can say that – I don’t count myself an extreme horror reader, but this had YA feel to it all for me) zombie horror novel, that plays around a similar theme to the twilight representation of Vampires – Vegan Zombies! Yep, a newly created Zombie decides that eating humans is bad, and instead she is going to eat anything but, and master her zombie-ism. That can be meat, dogs, cats, name what you will, but humans are off the table. She even has a name for her Veganism – Zegan!
This is a book that I just found myself comfortable in. It doesn’t take its own Horror Genre too seriously, and that’s reflected in the humor and sex, and general fun of the book. Yes, there are tense moments, the chapters are kept nice and short which increases the tension for each chapter, and the chapters tend to end on stress or tension, but that’s also a part of the genre.
It’s well written, sometimes funny, there are supernatural elements, and is one of those books where the word “romp” has an appropriate ring to it. There’s a big bad boss and zombie boyfriend love, and sex with biting involved. There are even Zombies in tanks, so honestly, you don’t really have to think twice about this one. You just need braaaaainnnsss...
I’m giving it 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, and it was a pleasant fun sprint in my generally macabre holiday!