Book Review: Tribulations by Faith Hunter

Title: Tribulations
Editor: Faith Hunter
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

17 Vignettes and Short Stories set in Faith Hunter’s World of Thorn St. Croix

The Rogue Mage story began with the post-apocalyptic novels BLOODRING, SERAPHS, and HOST, when epic battles between Thorn St. Croix and the forces of Darkness were fought. TRIBULATIONS (Rogue Mage Anthology Vol. II) takes place during and after the series timeline. These stories and vignettes, set in Faith Hunter’s Rogue Mage world, are adventures with new characters and old, facing Darkness and an uncertain future.

The relationships between seraphs, kylen, second-unforeseen, mages, seraph-touched, spawn, humans grow deeper, and the battles with dragons and their creatures grow more dangerous. TRIBULATIONS features new short stories from five authors—including Faith Hunter—and vignettes from the Rogue Mage role playing game.

TRIALS and TRIBULATIONS will soon be followed by TRIUMPHANT—the paperback omnibus (both Anthology Volumes I and II in a bound format).

TRIBULATIONS Authors: Faith Hunter, Jean Rabe, Spike Y Jones, Christina Stiles, Lucienne Diver.

Tribulations is the second anthology set in the post-apocalyptic world of Rogue Mage. I previously read and reviewed Trials, the first anthology. I didn’t read the Rogue Mage series itself yet, but look forward to picking it up once I have some spare time.

The collection exists of stories by five authors, and several vignettes from the roleplaying game accompanying the series.

These anthologies really have some quality work. I was shocked by the depth and detail that went into the worldbuilding, the creative cast of characters and the quality writing all authors possessed. I have to admit I liked this anthology even more than the first.

Book Review: Suspended in Dusk by Simon Dewar

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23204395Title: Suspended in Dusk

Author: Simon Dewar (Editor)

Genre: Horror, Anthology, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

DUSK
A time between times.
A whore hides something monstrous and finds something special.
A homeless man discovers the razor blade inside the apple.
Unlikely love is found in the strangest of places.
Secrets and dreams are kept… forever.
Or was it all just a trick of the light?
Suspended in Dusk brings together 19 stories by some of the finest minds in Dark Fiction:
Ramsey Campbell, John Everson, Rayne Hall, Shane McKenzie, Angela Slatter, Alan Baxter, S.G Larner, Wendy Hammer, Sarah Read, Karen Runge, Toby Bennett, Benjamin Knox, Brett Rex Bruton, Icy Sedgwick, Tom Dullemond, Armand Rosamilia, Chris Limb, Anna Reith, J.C. Michael.
Introduction by Bram Stoker Award Winner and World Horror Convention Grand Master, Jack Ketchum.

Suspended in Dusk is a quality anthology of dark fiction and horror stories, all of them centered around dusk. The anthology hides some gems and some mediocre stories, and they strike a good balance.

“Shadows of the Lonely Dead” starts off the collection, a story about a woman who takes in the death of all the people around her and the elderly she takes care off. An intriguing concept, and the other develops it nicely, although it packs a little much for a short story, especially with the storyline of the boyfriend thrown in. 4 stars.

The next story, “Taming the Stars” focused on two protagonists, Michele and Esther, and it had some twists I did not see coming. I found Esther especially intriguing. This was one of my favorite stories of the anthology.  4 stars.

“At Dusk They Come” was another favorite. Strange creatures appear at dusk, and leave a man with a terrifying choice. Some cool twists, and although I figured out most of them before they happened, it was still entertaining. 4 stars.

“A Woman of Disrepute” had a Jack the Ripper-like feel to it mixed with some Dorian Gray since it also focused on artists and painters. An interesting story, but not on of my favorites. It wasn’t really as creepy as I’d hoped. 3 stars.

Next up, “Burning”. I wasn’t sure what to think of that one. It showed the horrible side of humanity, but it didn’t really scare me. 3 stars.

“Ministry of Outrage” was another good one, an original, interesting concept and the execution worked well too. The ending didn’t come as a surprise, though. 4 stars.

I liked “Maid of Bone”. The protagonist was so tragic, and the scenes of her visiting the graveyard were haunting and atmospheric.  4 stars.

“Shades of Memory” wasn’t a favorite of mine. I didn’t mind the concept, which was good overall, as was the setting, but the protagonist bothered me and his choice at the end just wasn’t believable to me. 2,5 stars

“Reasons to Kill” gave an interesting spin to the whole zombie/vampire lore in a post-apocalyptic world. Loved this one. 5 stars.

“Digging Deep” is one of my favorite premature burying stories I’ve ever read – the author does an amazing job describing the main character’s panic, and the ending was just wow. The writing was excellent, and this was my favorite story from the collection. Stories about premature burials have been attempted by hundreds of authors, but it’s tricky to pull it off in a believable way. 5 stars.

“Outside In”. I didn’t like this one. I didn’t finish reading it either, the whole mixed up order of chapters confused me and I couldn’t connect to any of the characters. DNF.

“Hope is Here”. Loved this concept, unfortunately I saw the ending coming from miles away, and I kept on wondering how Many would be involved. A little dissapointing that she wasn’t then. 3 stars.

“Would to God That We Were There”. A story set in outerspace is always interesting, and I felt the protagonist’s fear and insanity seeping through the pages. 3,5 stars.

“Negatives”. I want to see this one as a book. I loved it, an amazing story about twin sisters and an abandoned theme park. I’d love to visit an abandoned theme parks, and this made me only slightly scared to visit one, hehe. 5 stars.

“Fit Camp”, also known as “Fat Camp” and the scary things that happen there. An entertaining story but not genuinely scary. 3 stars.

“Quarter Turn to Dawn” was an all right story, but I struggled to get into it. 2 stars.

“A Keeper of Secrets” was another winner for me. I liked the concept of a keeper of secrets stuck on attic. The ending was thrilling and horrifying at the same time. 5 stars.

“Spirits Having Flown”. This book deserves to be a full-length novel too. A good concept, well-executed, and great writing. 4 stars.

“The Way of All Flesh” had an interesting spin. Didn’t expect that one. 4 stars.

So all in all, I enjoyed most of the stories in this collection, some of them were amazing. I’ll definitely be on the look out for more anthologies put together by this editor.

 

Book Review: Mysticism & Myths

M&M CoverTitle: Mysticism & Myths
Genre: Paranormal Collection (Sampler)
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

A MUST READ FOR FANS OF THE MYSTERIOUS WORLDS OF GHOSTS, SEA DWELLERS & SHAPESHIFTERS!

Have you ever wondered about different myths of the world? These include the stories that so many cultures live by and the ones that of the best movies are based upon? You do know that these interesting concepts haven’t just appeared out thin air, right?

Introducing Mysticism & Myths, a sampler by six authors of varying genres. Each author has chosen a legend or culture from various regions, and embellished the details. Webs have been spun, and fantasies have been built in an effort to deliver to a collection that is sure to be entertaining.

The worlds captured in these stories are many! From ghosts and vampires to sea dwellers and shapeshifters, and even ancestral rebirths! There’s something for everyone.

For detailed synopsis, please visit: http://mythsandmysticism.wix.com/mam1

Mysticism & Myths is a paranormal sampler collection, offering samples from six books. The first is “Bound by Blood” by Margo Bond Collins. I’ve read several books by this author before, so I was excited to find a new one here. Lili, from Filipino origin has tried her entire life to adjust to the American ways When children in her area start growing ill, and nobody seems to find a cure, Lili, who has since become a doctor, tries to save them. This novella was very intriguing. The writing flowed fluently, the characters were engaging, and the ending came as a surprising twist. I also liked the inclusion of an aswang, a mythological monster not many people know about.

The second story, Isa: Gift of the Baloma by Perri Forest is a fantasy story about love, and finding it in the most unlikely of places. The chapters included here are just the start of a full-length novel. It ended rather abruptly, and I would’ve liked to read more, but as far as a start to a book goes, this was pretty interesting. The author does a good job crafting the characters and the world.

Micco, Anguta’s Reign by Dormaine G. is the story of Micco, a native American who wakes up one day at a crime scene and then laters gets chosen to work the case along with the local detective. The murders keep piling up, people start seeing wolves, and Micco’s behavior changes dramatically. A supernatural murder mystery with enough surprises to keep on being entertaining, I particularly enjoyed this one. It’s my second favorite story in the collection. Seeing Micco struggling with grasping what’s going on is intriguing.

In Cursed: A Yorkshire Ghost Story by Karen Perkins, a skeleton is dug up. The skeleton belonged to a witch, Jennet, and she’s out to get revenge. Since I’m a huge fan of ghost stories, this was my favorite story in the collection. The writing was great, the characters stood out, especially Old Ma Ramsgill.

Carnem Levare by Jaxx Summers focuses on Stefano, a man who tried to commit suicide only to find out he couldn’t die. He’s cursed, heartbroken over losing the love of his life, and now he’s forced to relive through that pain over and over again. While madness sinks in, he keeps on believing in love. The character development in this novella is the strong part of it, although the plot is original too.

The last book in the collection, The Life Keeper by Abby L. Vandiver, is another interesting one. Jessica does whatever she can to help out her family, but when her cousin shows up looking for a strigoi – some sort of vampire – her household is turned upside down while her cousin suspects the strigoi might be one of their relatives. It’s an interesting story to wrap up the collection, and while I figured out early on how it would end, I did enjoy it.

Each story has its merits, and the writing is strong throughout. If you’re in the mood for some fantasy novellas, ranging from horror and ghost stories to murder mysteries and romance, I would recommend this collection.

Book Review: Evil Imminent by Maryann Weston

Evil Imminent frontTitle: Evil Imminent
Author: Maryann Weston
Genre: Horror / Paranormal Short Story Collection
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

A horror/paranormal anthology that lures, grips and exhilarates, leaving the reader demanding more.

‘Normal’ will never be the same after reading Evil Imminent.

In Maryann Weston’s exciting new anthology, mundane becomes extraordinary.

  • Nate is unable to cast off his past;
  • Gabby is devastated by grief;
  • Sal will do whatever it takes;
  • Sybilla’s arrogance leads her to a deadly risk;
  • Dutton’s yearnings become an obsession;
  • Bella is consumed by her disrespect for culture;
  • Michael searches for redemption.

Unresolved dysfunction can have terrifying consequences.

“She fled back through the house and out the front door into the comfort of the suburban street. She gulped in the cool air and focused on one thought. Something had gone wrong. It had gone horribly wrong.”

Is anyone surprised my first read for the new year is a horror collection? Since it’s my favorite genre, I can’t say that I am.

Anyway, Evil Imminent proved to be an interesting collection of short horror stories, and if you ask me, a great read to start the new year. The collection starts out with a short introduction where the author explains the appeal of writing and reading horror. Then starts the first story, “Monsters in the Mist”. The story is about Nate, a single man with an unhealthy relationship with his mother. The construction company he works for just unearthed three bodies, and he witnessed the gruesome discovery. What happens next was definitely surprising and scary – but I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say it was my favorite part of the collection, and a great start for the book.

The second story, “The Bonding” talks about Sally who bought a large, historical mansion, rumored to be haunted, and finds out for herself what secrets the mansion harbors. “Love Outlasted” is about Gabby, a woman devastated by grief after her husband went missing in action. This story wasn’t that scary, but it definitely qualified as dark fiction. “Dark Star” is about Dutton’s yearning to find his mother, “Trinity of Terror” talks about an overconfident ghost hunter and what could go wrong by being too arrogant, “On the Edge of Darkness” talks about Bella, who disrespects other cultures and may get punished for doing so, and the collection ends with “From the Book of Redemption”, the story of Michael, who seeks redemption but might never receive it.

The stories are all vastly different, yet they match well together. We get psychological terror as well as supernatural horror. My favorite story, as I mentioned, was “Monsters in the Mist”. My least favorite would be “From the Book of Redemption”, since it wasn’t that scary. Overall, all the stories were enjoyable and they make for an intriguing collection.

Book Review: DarkFuse #1 by Shane Staley (Editor)

20513038Title: DarkFuse #1
Author: Shane Staley (Editor)
Genre: Dark Fiction, Novella, Anthology
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 3,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Anthology including the following short stories:
“She Sleeps in the Depths” by William Meikle
“Better Heard and Not Seen” by Michael Penkas
“Carrion Fowl” by William R. Eakin
“Jaws of Life” by E. G. Smith
“Netherview” by Gary McMahon
“Children of the Horned God” by Christopher Fulbright

This anthology of short stories by DarkFuse, the first in what I suppose is an anthology series that’ll reflect the quality DarkFuse has embraced in its novels and novellas, is a good start to an anthology series, although some of the stories suffered from a lack of originality.

Let’s start with “She Sleeps in the Depths”. This was one of the more original stories. A man starts hearing a weird noise. He’s unable to escape from it, and chases the noise out to the open sea, where he and a woman he meets along the way, discover a Lovecraftian type of monster slumbering in the depths. Strong writing, solid characters, and a brush of originality make this an outstanding story.

“Better Heard and Not Seen” tells a familiar story. A boy believes there’s a monster living in his closet. He tries not to wake up his Mom though, afraid she’ll get upset again, but when something crawls out of the closet, and gets in bed with him, and that something turns out not to be the monster…That’s spine-chilling. I loved how the author picked a familiar trope here, then added in this original elements, and left me scared to go to sleep. This was, hands down, the best short story in the book, and definitely the creepiest.

“Carrion Fowl” was…disturbing. For some unexplained reason, people start turning into cannibalistic flying monsters. The main character is turning into one of these terrifying beats as well. He’s already lost his wife to this strange illness that turns people into some type of dinosaur. The story is strange and surreal. The writing was okay, but didn’t really stand out. There was no real plot either, just the main character as we follow him during his descent into madness. It was an okay story, but not more than tht.

“Jaws of Life” is a traditional, yet horrifying story. A salesman’s car gets stuck upside down on an abandoned stretch of road. He’s found by gauntly-looking children. The oldest of them, who seems the nicest of the bunch, refuses to tell the grown ups that the salesman is there. While the salesman keeps begging, he’ll soon find out why the kid didn’t want anyone else to know. I found this story predictable, and it also lacked originality. Without trying to spoil things, I saw the ending coming from miles away, and it reminded me of those “lost in the woods” horror stories we see reworked in B-rated horror movies every now and then.

“Netherview” was simply confusing. A couple goes to look at a home showing at the site of an old asylum, and then get locked up. But why, to what purpose, and how, are all questions left unanswered. I’m okay with having some questions left at the end of a story, but if I’m still wondering about the most basic of things, that bothers me. However, it’s clear that the set up here, and the character’s fears and worries, and the choice they make at the end, is far more important than the setting and the reasons why. A nice try, and I certainly felt appalled by the end.

“Children of the Horned God” was meh. Some horned creature grabs a man’s wife, he starts to hunt for the creature, and finds out a bunch of secrets about his community he’d rather have left buried. Nothing too special, a tad predictable, not too scary.

All in all, the anthology had some definite top-notch stories, and some mediocre ones. None that were particularly bad though. I hope the next anthologies do a bit more thinking outside the box, and embrace new concepts in horror. I missed originality in some of the stories here.

Book Review: Talking Walls and Cigarettes (And Other Dark Tales)

Talking Walls and Cigarettes coverTitle: Talking Walls and Cigarettes (And Other Dark Tales)

Author: Erin Beck & Kelli Beck

Genre: Horror, Short Story Anthology

Rating: 4,5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

Talking Walls and Cigarettes is a collection of seven dark short stories that deals with both real life monsters and those that dwell within us. A bartender still grieving the tragic death of her brother, shunning from her family, and the whispers in the street is visited by a man who appears out of thin air to offer her a way out of her own personal hell in The Salesman. A poor family is cursed by a mysterious old man in the woods and the children are at risk for falling victim to their parent’s unspeakable acts in Porcelain. The title story follows a man as he is tormented by demons in his own mind. In Homecoming, can a young woman find what she’s looking for years after her father’s abduction by other-worldly beings?

In this horror short story anthology, authors Erin Beck and Kelli Beck provide a varying palette of horror – from the disturbing appearance of a ghost to alien abduction to demons to terror only present in the protagonist’s mind. The themes of the stories vary greatly, but their quality is consistent.

The first story, “Cough Syrup” was by far the most complicated story to understand. The main character is dealing with grief, comes from a dysfunctional family, and eventually starts making some bad decisions. It was dark fiction more than horror, but definitely set the right mood.

Next up came “In His Cellar”, which I thought was hands-down the best story in the anthology. Dark, bleak, with no way out. There are no good guys, there is no redemption, no hero saving the day. The main character falls prey to a sadistic serial killer. The only outcome is evident, and pain necessary. The story is strong, to the point, and terrifying.

“The Air in Venice” had a good premise – a boy turns up in a city and brings along the Plague – but I felt like parts could’ve been explained better. The story jumped from one thing to the other, as if it didn’t really know which direction it wanted to follow.

“The Salesman” was an okay story, but it wasn’t really scary. All in all, it seemed to have a pretty upbeat message. I liked the premise of it, but it could’ve been darker. A woman is visited by a ghost, which may not be a ghost at all, and they end up making a deal.

“Taken”, the next story in the anthology, talked about alien abduction. This was probably the weirdest story, and I’m generally not a fan of alien abduction stories, but I ended up really enjoying this one. I could’ve easily seen this story turn into a novella though – there was sufficient back story and plot to fill a novella.

“Porcelain” was another hit for me. A mysterious man curses a family, and what follows is so random and horrific that I absolutely enjoyed it. If it happened in real life, I’d scream my head off, don’t get me wrong, but in fiction, this is the kind of story I like. Surprising, different, with an ending you don’t see coming by a long shot.

“Talking Walls and Cigarettes” is the last story in the book. A man is slowly losing his mind, hearing voices that aren’t there and seeing demons. When he suspects the nextdoor elderly lady may be a demon, things start to go terribly wrong. A story about what happens if your own mind turns against you. Dark and disturbing, and a very enjoyable read.

My top three stories, in order, are “In His Cellar”, “Porcelain” and “Talking Walls and Cigarettes”.

All in all, a balanced anthology offering a lot of variation in theme, with some truly dark and disturbing gems.

Book Review: The Awakening & Other Stories by Emma Meade

Cover ArtTitle: The Awakening & Other Stories
Author: Emma Meade
Genre: Short Story Collection, Horror
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

Put on the kettle, close the curtains and curl up by the fire. Dive into 8 short tales, each with a slice of the paranormal.

Ghost Story – Who is the shadow in the window of the abandoned house, and what or who is he waiting for?
The Awakening – It’s time for Sabrina to wake up and face the light.
End of the Line – Cassie wants to die. When midnight rolls around, she stands on the tracks waiting for the train to come.
Milsa Loris – The once magnificent kingdom of Milsa Loris comes alive one night each winter. The King’s witch is brewing up a little magic, sure to make the soup all the tastier.
The Old Vampire – Hailey spent her life dreaming of a dark prince falling in love with her. He never showed up, until now.
The Knocking – Alison’s grandfather has one eye on the next life. After all, he’s heard a lot of rapping at his door lately.
The Boy on the Beach – Kate’s grandmother warns her about the boy with the green eyes. Will she pay heed?
Snowglobes- It’s busy at Calvin’s Cabins this Christmas. Eddie and Maggie are a young couple in trouble. Not to fear, Calvin is always ready to lend a hand.

The Awakening & Other Stories is a quick, deliciously scary anthology to read through. It comes up at around 70 pages, and offers eight stories. I think I finished it in under an hour. The stories fit nicely together. They’re all themed around horror, paranormal horror in particular. I like anthologies that have one central theme or topic, and that was certainly the case here. I’m going to talk about all the stories in detail, and then give a general opinion at the end.

Ghost Story – This was one of my favorites. Like the title suggests, it revolves around a ghost. Two girls, Jessica and Michelle, go into a haunted home, where supposedly a man killed himself. While Jessica’s grandma warned them not to go in, they go in anyway, and there Jessica has a heartfelt, although slightly creepy encounter with the ghost. I loved this ghost story, although it was a tad bit predictable, it reminded me of what ghost stories used to be like before Hollywood entered the scene. A nice read.

The Awakening – This was more like a kind of vampire / Sleeping Beauty story. Sabrina dreams about being another girl, but the lines between dreams and reality shift, and the ending is pretty creepy. This was one of my favorites as well.

The End of The Line – Cassie has been trying to commit suicide for a while now. She’s depressed, and she can’t seem to snap out of it. She jumps in front of a train, but instead of dying, she ends up on board of “The Death Train”. It’s inhabitants are people who died on the train racks, and they tell her their stories. By the end of the night, Cassie has two choices: go back, and live the rest of her life, or stay dead. I loved the concept of this, but felt like the execution was a little rushed at times. This story had enough meat to be turned into a novella;

Milsa Loris – I wasn’t too fond of this one. It’s different all right. A city is captured by tragedy, death and despair, and an old witch tries to stop the inevitable from happening. It was a nice read, but I couldn’t grasp the characters.

The Old Vampire – I actually liked this one. Hailey has always been a fan of paranormal romance books, and she’s dreamt her entire life a vampire would come and grant her eternal life and beauty. Now she’d old and withered, and the vampire has finally come…But is it too late? I liked this take on vampire stories. Very original, and I liked Hailey’s voice.

The Knocking – This was another win for me. Alison is taking care of her old grandpa, who’s suffering from illness, when she starts hearing knocking sounds on his door. When she opens the door, there’s no one there. The knocking continues, growing in intensity…Who is coming for grandpa? I loved this story, it gave me goosebumps, and had a nice build up.

The Boy on the Beach – Not too fond of this one. I liked the beginning, but the story fell a little flat toward the end. Kate has been warned to stay away from him, but she’s drawn to him all the same, and well, things go haywire from there. I didn’t like Kate, she was too superficial for my liking.

Snowglobes – Another winner. I thought this was perhaps my absolute favorite. Calvin rents cabins to young couples, some of them trying to work on their relationships, others happy with each other. When another young couple arrives, Calvin believes he has to save their love, before it ends. This was an original, intriguing, delightfully creepy story.

Overall, this anthology had a decent collection of solid stories. Most of them are related to ghosts or supernatural powers, and one to vampires. I liked the variety, and that even though the stories vary you can still see the theme. The writing was decent, although here and there the pacing was a little off. Like “The End of the Line” for example. It was a great concept, but the build up before the suicide took too long, and afterward everything was rushed. This story could’ve easily been made into a novella. My favorites are Snowglobes and The Old Vampire, but really, I liked all of these stories. Milsa Loris would be last on my list.

If you’re looking for a quick, ghostly, creepy read, then The Awakening & Other Stories is a great choice.

Book Review: Shades: Eight Tales of Terror by D. Nathan Hilliard

16187498Title: Shades: Eight Tales of Terror
Author: D. Nathan Hilliard
Genre: Ghosts, Horror, Short Story Collection
Publisher: Amazon
Publication Date: March 18th, 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon (Paperback) | Amazon (Kindle)
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

Here there be ghosts…
Within these pages lurks a cast of phantoms who have returned from the grave with a vengeance. You will find no friendly ghosts here, just eight deathly horrors with their own personal bones to pick with the living. These are the ghosts of our nightmares. Whether driven by madness, vengeance, pain, bloody evil, or primordial rage…they are all specters that are as dangerous as they are frightening. So get comfortable, get that night light ready, and find out who survives and who doesn’t in this anthology of the baleful dead. Stories within include…
Death and White Satin – A young bride-to-be unearths the wrong wedding dress and discovers that horror and madness can echo down through the decades.
An Echo of Blood and Mirrors – A young man is surprised in the boy’s bathroom by the head cheerleader. But things quickly take a turn for the worse as he discovers she’s on the run from a triple murderer who has been dead for over a century.
Dance of the Ancients – Three lawmen search for a missing state trooper on a hill doomed to disappear under the rising waters of a new lake. Fearing the worst, they find something even worse than they feared.
A Memory of Me – A night spent in a forgotten graveyard lands three college boys in a situation that none of their classes have prepared them for.
Legacy of Flies – A young woman discovers she is the heir of a vast family fortune. But she also finds her inheritance comes with a ghoulish legacy that may very well be the death of her.
Storm Chase – A hurricane approaches and Bernie March’s wife is standing down the hill beside the tractor he needs to bring in ahead of the storm…exactly where he buried her three years earlier.
A Singularity of Purpose – A callous young punk discovers that returning from the dead isn’t just the prerogative of humans when he finds himself in one last desperate race with the dog he tormented in life.
A Long, Cold Forever of a Night – On a humid July night, a middle-aged couple find themselves alone in a deserted rural intersection…with the deadly phantom of a high school classmate who died in an ice storm decades earlier.

Shades: Eight Tales of Terror is a collection of short stories that focus on ghosts. Some of these ghosts are terrifying and murderous, while others are less frightening. What these stories have in common is that all of them leave shivers running down your spine. I had to glance behind me several times while reading this collection, in order to make sure a phantom wasn’t standing behind me, breathing down my neck. Scariness guaranteed.

“Death and White Satin” is the first story of the collection and immediately starts out strong. Jessica is getting ready to get married to the love of her life, when she discovers an old wedding dress from a dusty box on the attic of her mother-in-law’s home. The mother-in-law, Marge, is anything but pleased to see the wretched thing belonging once to the woman who murdered her brother, Priscilla Hatcher. She tells Jessica the story of Priscilla, a young woman who was beautiful and superficial, and murderous on top of that. When Marge leaves afterward to go to the shop, Jessica is alone in the house with the wedding dress…And Priscilla’s ghost decides this is the perfect time to pay a visit to the future bride-to-be. I liked this story, mainly because it gave an original spin to the supposed ‘haunted wedding dress’ urban legend I’ve heard plenty of times before. It’s great when an author manages to take things that have been done before, but add an original spin to it.

“An Echo of Blood and Mirrors” is a dark, gruesome story. Corvin and his classmates visit a museum located in a house once belonging to a supposed mad man, nicknamed The Necromancer. One of his class maters decides to impress his girlfriend by stealing a pen from the museum, thus unleashing the spirit of the mad man. Since she has the pen, Laura’s been chased by strange apparitions in mirrors and glass windows, apparitions of the murderer. Although Corvin is initially convinced the dead can’t harm them, he may have to rethink that assumption…This story was a bit too bloody for my tastes, especially toward the end. I did enjoy it though, but it wasn’t my favorite.

“Dance of the Ancients” however, was one of my favorite stories in the collection. Sherrif Carl Gartner is forced to go to a small island, once called Deerhunter Hill, to recover a missing trooper. The island is inhabited by a man named Luther Cole, who was always a bit eccentric, but grew crazy during the time he spend on the island. What the Sherrif and his officers find on the island however, is a lot more than they bargained for. Mutilated corpses and ancient spirits are only the tip of the iceberg. What I liked here was the originality of the plot, and Sherrif Carl – he was an intriguing character, complex and well-developed, which isn’t an easy feat in short stories.

“A Memory of Me” added another nice twist to a well-known story. Three friends spend the night at a graveyard, and one of them, Jack, destroys a grave marker. Unfortunately, that sets loose a murderous spirits who will kill them one by one if they don’t remember her name. I’ve heard plenty of times of teens spending the night at the graveyard and then being chased by a spirit, but never because they destroyed her grave marker and she doesn’t want to be forgotten. It’s a nice twist, and this story was fast-paced and enjoyable.

“Legacy of Flies” was disturbing, horrific, and exciting at the same time. Janie is asked to come to the large, majestic estate of her family, a family she’s never known, being the bastard child of one of its ancestors. The current ladies of the house need her help: the family fortune will keep decreasing unless there is a ‘master of the house’, a descendent of the family, present in the house. Persuaded by luxuries and money, Janie agrees. She goes outside to sit near a tree where something horrible happened centuries ago, not expecting to be tormented by the spirit of the boy who had his father murdered by Janie’s ancestor…Because of its originality and unique approach, its great descriptions and oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere at the end, this was my favorite story of the entire collection. I actually read it twice – that’s how much I enjoyed it.

“Storm Chase” went more down a familiar road than the previous stories, and left me with a lot of questions. One day, Bernie sees the spirit of his deceased wife – a wife he and his mistress murdered – down the hill of his house. Convinced his wife has come to claim him and take her bloody revenge, he flees. It’s not a bad story, it’s definitely scary and fast-paced, but continuously I wondered: why now? Why does Charlotte decide to rise from the dead after being dead and buried for three years? It’s never properly explained – or if it is, then I missed it – and this kind of made me like the story not that much. It makes no sense, unless something strange happened to anger her spirit, that she’d come back now of all days.

“A Singularity of Purpose” is about a ghost dog, and well, I never thought ghostly animals could be scary as well, but I’ve now changed my mind. Russell takes the same route home every day, straight through the territory of Purvis, a dog who likes nothing more than to chase Russell and try to bite him. This day though, he’s not being chased and soon after, Russell finds out why: the dog is dead. Unfortunately that doesn’t keep Purvis from following him home, and appearing seemingly out of nowhere, ready to do in death what he couldn’t accomplish in life. I loved this story. Purvis may not be the typical villain one has in mind when thinking ghost stories, but he’s delightfully creepy. I didn’t like Russell – he could’ve just stopped going through the neighbor’s territory – and I actually liked Purvis’ revenge on him (I wouldn’t like it in real life, of course, just saying that as this is a story, the revenge seemed fitting).

“A Long, Cold Forever of a Night” brought me on the verge of tears. A ghost is haunting the road Carol and her husband stranded on, the ghost of a girl who died there many years ago, a fellow schoolmate of theirs. A terrible accident happened on that road, and while all students helped each other, they all forgot about the poor girl. She was found with her face half frozen. Her spirit still haunts the road, but soon enough, Carol and her husband will learn that all the girl wants is not to be left alone…This story isn’t as horrifying as it is saddening, and I really felt for the girl ghost. It must’ve been terrible to be left all alone, in the coldest night in history, slowly dying with no one around to safe you.

As a whole, this collection offers a wide variation of ghost stories, from surprisingly original ones to stories offering a surprise twist to more classic tales. Some of these stories left chills running down my spine, while others, especially the last one, brought me near tears. The writing throughout the collection is strong and solid. The characters are well-developed, and come from various social and cultural backgrounds as well. There’s variety here: something for everyone.

I highly recommend this collection as a Halloween read, and to all fans of ghost stories.

Author Interview

I asked author D. Nathan Hilliard some questions about his writing, his short story collection Shades and his upcoming work.

1) When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

After I came down with Charcot Marie Tooth in my forties, I started hunting around for something new to do since I could no longer do any of the jobs I had held in the past. I remembered that I had been pretty good at writing in high school, so I decided to try and approach that with the same seriousness that I would any of my former jobs.

2) What was the inspiration behind Shades: Eight Tales of Terror?

Having grown up in assorted small towns in Texas, I was exposed to different tales of ghosts and hauntings that had a decidedly local flavor to them. They usually involved ordinary, small-town people and combined a sense of local history with a flair for the ghastly. These tales were usually told by kids to each other, although I imagine they were handed down from their elders. I tried to capture some of that flavor in this anthology.

3) Which short story in the collection did you enjoy to write the most?

‘Storm Chase’ came the easiest, because I actually incorporated a lot of elements from a recurrent childhood nightmare in that one. I used to dream as a child of looking out my bedroom window and seeing a distant ghost getting closer and closer to the house. So I got to get that one out of my system.

4) Which story was the most difficult for you to write?

I would say ‘A Long, Cold Forever of a Night’ due to the issues and emotions involved in that story. Life is sometimes monstrously unfair, and takes things from people in the cruelest ways. Yet in the end, it’s up to us to find a way to make things right as best as we can and go on. Because this story dealt with those issues, it ends in a different tone than the rest.

5) How long did it take you to write Shades: Eight Tales of Terror?

About eight months. It was originally going to be a simple anthology of horror tales, some of which I had already written, but about two months into the project I decided to make it a more focused work that dealt exclusively with ghost stories.

6) Which story did you find the scariest?

Depends on the setting. ‘Death and White Satin’ is the one that comes to mind when I’m alone in a house, but if I’m taking a walk outside alone then ‘A Singularity of Purpose” is the one I don’t want to think about. That’s the one my sister complained about when walking down to mailbox out at her house in the country.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Right now may be one of the most exciting times in history to be a writer. The opportunity to get your work published has never been greater. So go for it, because the only thing that is holding you back is you. But it’s also important to remember that due to that opportunity there is a lot of poorly written and edited work out there, so it is vitally important to take the time and effort to apply that extra layer of polish and editing to your story. In this field, your work is your resume.

8) Are you working on something right now? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I have just released my latest novel, Dead Stop. It is the story of a diverse group of people trapped in a rural Texas truck stop during a howling storm by the denizens of a nearby graveyard. The dead are now staring in the windows and they discover they only have until dawn to escape. Now that I have that one published, I’m studying different ideas, and also a couple of unfinished novels, before starting on my next project.

Thank you for answering my interview questions!

Giveaway

Mr. Hilliard was kind enough to offer an eBook copy of Shades: Eight Tales of Terror for giveaway. Fill in the Rafflecopter form to participate!

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Book Review: 13 Horror Stories by John McDonnell

9476932Title: 13 Horror Stories
Author: John McDonnell
Genre: Short Story Collection, Horror
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: September 21st 2010
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13 bone-chilling stories about ghosts, vengeful lovers, scary mothers, and crazy girlfriends. In these stories time and space are no barrier to some truly horrible happenings. Each story is short enough to be read in a few minutes, but they’re guaranteed to haunt your thoughts for a lot longer than that. Whether it’s subtle horror or downright blood-curdling God-help-me fear, you’ll find it here. This collection is a good introduction to the horror writing of John McDonnell.

13 Horror Stories is a short story collection with several short stories written by author John McDonnell. This book is a very fast read – I think it was just under thirty pages. The stories are more like flash fiction than actual short stories, but I definitely didn’t mind. It’s my first time reading a flash fiction collection in the horror genre, and I definitely had a blast.

I liked “The Beauty Part”. It was well written, and left me in the dark until the end – I love this in horror. “Stuck” was dark, horrifying and scary, one of my favorites in the collection. “The Thing in the Basement” was my absolute favorite though. We’ve all been scared of basements at some time or other, and little Billy is no different, but his uncle’s basement holds more sinister secrets than mine ever did. “The Box” touches a bit upon myths and legends, and I didn’t like it that much. I didn’t think it was scary enough to be considered in a collection named 13 Horror Stories.

“Conclusions” isn’t exactly horror. It’s more like…weird. It would perhaps be scary if it happened in real life, and it’s a great piece of flash fiction, but I wouldn’t classify it as horror. I did enjoy reading it though. “This Won’t Hurt a Bit” on the other hand ventured back into horror territory, and did so very well. We’re all paranoid at some time or other, and maybe we have good reasons to be so, if you take this story into account. “Sin of the Flesh” was a nice, disturbing read as well.

“Don’t You Just Love Weddings?” was very short, a bit too short for me to get an exact grip on the horror elements of this story. I enjoyed “Heart Stopping Beauty” a lot more, it was a mysterious, interesting story. “Prime Cut” was one of the absolute top stories of this collection though. It was truly, wickedly disturbing, and left me wanting to read more. Definitely a nice warning for guys who decide they want to cheat on their girlfriends.

“The Smell of Love” was another nice one, and reminded me slightly of the book “Perfume”. I liked “Tick Tock” as well, the next story, although it could’ve probably been a bit scarier. It did make me think about how people would react to immortality. The last story, “The Returning” was one of the bests as well. It was your typical ghost story, but bloody and horrific.

All in all, I thought some of these flash fiction stories were outstanding, while others didn’t give me chills. I think it’s natural for all story collections: you’re bound to like some stories more than others. These stories were ideal to tell while sitting around a campfire, or on Halloween night when you want to spook your friends. I’m definitely going to use one or two of these to scare my friends on Halloween.

If you want a quick read before you’re leaving to somewhere, or if you’re a fan of flash fiction horror, you don’t want to miss out on this collection.

Author Interview

I asked author John McDonnell some interview questions to go with the review.

1) When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve always loved reading and writing, since I was a little kid. One of my favorite things was to ride my bike to my grandparents’ house and stop at the library on the way, pick up a few books, and then read the books in this little room they had near the kitchen, while my grandmother was making supper. In eighth grade I won a citywide essay contest, and in high school I had a lot of encouragement from an English teacher. It just seemed natural to me to write, and I always thought I’d be writing in some fashion.

2) What inspired you to write short story collections as opposed to full-length novels?

Short stories have always been my favorite form. I like the immediacy, the condensed form, the way short stories can grab you from the first word. I still prefer reading a short story by Hemingway, Flannery O’Conner, Stephen King, or one of my other favorite writers to almost any novel.

3) Why did you decide to write in the horror genre?

I always liked to be scared. I remember reading a short story collection by Stephen King years ago when I was alone in a house, and realizing all of a sudden that it was 3:00 in the morning and I was all alone, and it was very quiet. . . I just like that feeling.

4) Which story in “13 Horror Stories” did you enjoy to write the most? Which one was most challenging to write?

I enjoyed writing “Heart Stopping Beauty” the most, because it has a sense of urgency, the main character has to get his watch fixed, and I liked creating that sense of urgency. The most challenging one was “The Returning” because it has a dreamlike quality, and yet it takes place at two separate time periods.

5) Which story in “13 Horror Stories” did you find the scariest?

I found “The Returning” the scariest, because of the last scene, which I thought was truly terrifying.

6) How long did it take you to write “13 Horror Stories” from start to finish?

I wrote the stories in “13 Horror Stories” over several years. A lot of them started out as exercises in writing groups I belonged to, and I’d continue to edit and refine them as time went on. I have a lot of stories on my computer, and when I put out another horror collection I choose the ones that I think will fit best.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

My advice for aspiring authors is to just keep writing and publishing. There’s so much going on that you can spend all your time just reading about the new opportunities out there, or interacting with other writers on social networks, or marketing yourself. If you love to write you should just keep writing, and getting better at your craft. Don’t get distracted; just write.

8) Are you working on something right now? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I’m actually working on a novel now. I love short stories, but I know that the majority of readers like to sink their teeth into something longer. I’m working on a historical novel with some romance in it, and maybe a few supernatural elements. It will be part of a trilogy, and the first book will come out in early 2013.

Giveaway

I’m glad to host a giveaway for another short story collection by John McDonell, “13 Scary Stories”. The giveaway is for an eBook copy of “13 Scary Stories”. If you want to participate, just fill in the Rafflecopter form below!

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Book Review: You Shall Never Know Security by J.R. Hamantaschen

12632143Title: You Shall Never Know Security
Author: J.R. Hamantaschen
Genre: Horror, Short Story Collection
Publisher: West Pigeon Press
Publication Date: 2011
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Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

For years, J.R.’s stories have been acclaimed throughout the underground horror world. For the first time, these surviving stories have been collected in one anthology. These are stories that challenge expectations and reject the staid conventions of the genre. These are stories that don’t compromise.
Above all, what readers understood and appreciated was that these stories were about something. These are stories that, in the finest tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dennis Etchinson, and T.E.D. Klein, articulate what you’be always suspected: that life is a losing proposition.

You Shall Never Know Security is a horror short story collection by author J.R. Hamantaschen. I’m a big fan of horror novels, as you may or may not know. I’m especially fond of ghosts, but I’ll take anything as long as it gives me chills. Zombies and gore fests aren’t always my preferences, but I enjoy them once in a while. J.R. Hamantaschen’s collection is unique in that it dares to venture outside the box of what’s considered normal and reasonable for the horror genre. It tells us creepy stories about parasites residing in the protagonist’s brain, companies coming up with plans to catch sexual offenders by using androids, people searching for portals to other dimensions, and much more. The collection is very diverse, but one thing remains the same throughout all the stories: they’re scary.

All right, not all of them are equally scary, but some of them really gave me goosebumps. “A Parasite Inside Your Brain” made me feel highly uncomfortable, and “Come in Distraction” gave me genuine chills. Don’t go in expecting the usual – zombies, slayer fest, ghosts. You won’t find them in this book. What you’ll find instead are concepts, the slow, gripping build-up of tension and terror, the terrifying truth about things we sometimes encounter in daily life, the aftermath of horrific events, plausible ideas gone wrong. The author finds horror in the mundane and by doing so pulls the readers deeper into the stories, gradually removing them from their normal, safe world, and throwing them into a world where evil lurks around every corner, sometimes in the most innocent of forms.

Overall, this collection is intriguing, and definitely worth a read. Not all stories worked as well as others though, in my opinion. My favorite, by far, was “There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere.” This story talks about the aftermath of a monster attack. Three characters hide in a closet, contemplating on what to do next. Tension is cutting-edge from the start of this story. Things don’t work out as planned and many years later, we see the same characters trying to deal with the traumatic events of that day, and searching for the truth, and what truly happened. I thought this story was the most unique, and the strongest. It was also one of the simpler stories to understand, and I think its simplicity definitely made it stronger. Some of the stories I had to read twice to fully understand, but this one I wanted to read twice just because I enjoyed it so much.

My second favorite was “Sorrow has its Natural End”. I thought that story was both amazingly sad and also very disturbing. The protagonist in this story is still a young man when he gradually grows blind and has to find a way to deal with that. Another one I enjoyed a lot was “A Parasite Inside Your Brain”. This one didn’t leave me, even as I put down the book to go to bed, or when I got up the next day. It lingered on in the back of my mind, a single, disturbing paralyzing thought. I also very much enjoyed “There is a Family of Gnomes Behind My Walls, And I swear I Won’t Disappoint Them Any Longer” although I really wish that one was longer.

What didn’t work for me, was “Jordan, When Are You Going To Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?”. I did enjoy the story, but not as much as the rest of the collection. I liked the premise behind “Endemic” but wasn’t entirely convinced with the execution.

Writing short stories isn’t easy. It’s completely different from writing a full-length novel, and I applaud everyone who can get as much characterization in his short stories as J.R. Hamantaschen can. He builds up tension quickly, reaching new heights of creepiness by page three or four of the story, something some authors don’t even manage to achieve in 200 plus pages. Combined with the rich imaginary, the absence of any ‘villains’ in the narrow sense of the word in most stories, has got me very impressed.

Don’t go in this looking for actual plots with start-middle-end. Some stories are built up like that, but others are more conceptual or abstract, and these deserve attention as well. The author isn’t scared to step out of the box, throw out established conventions and try out something new.

You Shall Never Know Security stays true to its name. After I finished reading this book during the first and second sitting (I had to read it twice, jut to ‘get’ everything), I couldn’t look at ordinary objects anymore without thinking ‘what the heck are they going to do to me’. If you want to turn the regular world upside down, this book is a decent choice. Dark fiction at its finest, a hommage to both Lovecraft and Poe, but truly original in its own way. Recommended to all dark fiction and horror fans. If you want to feel disturbed, and lose any sense of security you might have, try this book. You won’t be disappointed.