Review: Bad Apples, Five Slices of Halloween Horror by Edward Lorn, Evans Light, Jason Parent, Adam Light and Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:
The five freshest voices in horror will make you reconsider leaving the house on October 31st with these all-new Halloween tales:

• A brother and sister creep out of the darkness with bags full of deadly tricks in Gregor Xane’s THE RIGGLE TWINS.

• A boy with a misshapen skull just wants to be normal in Evans Light’s PUMPKINHEAD TED.

• A group of thrill seekers learn that looking for terror is a whole lot more fun than finding it in Adam Light’s GHOST LIGHT ROAD.

• Two bullies go looking for trouble but instead find a young boy and his imaginary friend in Jason Parent’s EASY PICKINGS.

• When a mysterious, Halloween-themed attraction comes to the town of Bay’s End, everyone is dying to pay a visit in Edward Lorn’s THE SCARE ROWS.

Ade’s Review:
Given that I was drawn to this collection by the inclusion of Gregor Xane, it goes without saying that I’m bound to be biased towards his story above the others. “The Riggle Twins” has the same discipline as “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” but is much more humorous and befitting the holiday season on which it is set.

The story revolves around two playful, yet sinister children acting on behalf of a Halloween deity. What I liked the most about this story was the tonal shift depending upon whose eyes we looked through. Whilst the action focused upon the children and the world they inhabited, the macabre scenes are befitting their mental age. Xane describes the events in very much the spirit of the season, taking gruesome concepts but delivering them with humour. On the flip side, as soon as we shift to the viewpoint of adults whom the children terrorise, we lurch into straight-up horror. The purpose of this (or so it seems to me) is clear: for children Halloween is magical, for adults there is only cold stark reality.

Whilst I believe that “The Riggle Twins” is the gem of the ensemble, the quality of the other stories is consistent and worthwhile. First up is Evans Light’s “Pumpkinhead Ted”, a tale of persecution and retribution. The villains are odious, the protagonist pitiable, and when revenge is taken you are cheering it all on. The ending came a little out of left-field for me and I felt it actually detracted from the impact (there I go, dwelling upon structure again), but for others it might be just the right spooky element to wrap it all up.

Adam Light’s “Ghost Light Road” creates an atmospheric late night drive that soon goes awry for a small clutch of friends. Adam Light does well at creating tension within the group and keeps you guessing at just where the shocks are going to come from. In the end “Ghost Light Road” is a stew of horror concepts, with all sorts of juicy lumps to root around for.

Easy Pickings” by Jason Parent toys with the reader until the final nefarious presence is revealed. A flip of “Pumpkinhead Ted” we now perceive Halloween bullying through the eyes of the assailant, though when he picks on a scrawny kid with an imaginary friend, he soon finds the world is not has he originally perceived.

So how do they all fit together? This is pure conjecture, but I imagine each author agreed to submit a piece, but didn’t run their ideas by the others until it was all done. The result is a collection slightly too lopsided towards the concept of trick-or-treating, a few too many cruel bullies getting their just deserts. That being said, this is a Halloween collection, so maybe I just read them all too quickly one after the other and should chill the fuck out.

Fortunately the final story, “The Scare Rows” by Edward Lorn takes us in an entirely different direction, instead dwelling upon the autumnal harvest aspect. Instead of focusing in on a single character, the author casts a wide net across a small town, bringing various viewpoints and equally various fates. Humorous rather than creepy, “The Scare Rows” makes small town Halloween seem rather appealing. On a side note, I think I spotted references to Troll 2, or at least thematic ones.

Overall, Bad Apples is consistent in tone. It starts strong and no story in the bunch lets the team down. If you have Amazon Prime you can borrow it today and have a Halloween read, and for that my friends, it is perfect.

Review: It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels by Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:
Thanks to his big ugly mug, Ben Coburn always played the heavy in Hollywood. Yeah, his name was in the credits of a bunch of low-budget B-movie horror shows, but at least he could say he was in the movies.

That was a long time ago.

Now Ben sits alone in a trailer park listening to an old married couple across the way argue about money, just nursing a beer, waiting for something to happen.

But nothing ever happens. That pisses him off.

No, Big Ben Coburn isn’t going to wait around anymore. He jumps on his motorcycle and tears off into the night.

Intent on escaping into a new life, he races past a field of scarecrows, barreling headlong down the highway toward a blazing inferno and a bottomless pit.

Ade’s Review:

I’m rather fussy when it comes to short stories. It’s not that I object to mysteries that lack the word count to be fully explored, or reject characters only glimpsed in passing. These are realities of the medium. What often puts me off is structure. Yeah, that’s a pretty boring thing to be going on about, but for me a short story structure is what turns the words from a loose collection of ideas into a narrative. All manner of absurd notions can be thrown into a short story, as long as the structure is planned and thought through.

Well that sounds pretty damn pretentious doesn’t it? Forgive me, I didn’t mean to come over all arrogant, I’m sure plenty of my stories fail on this account, but I wanted to establish this principle to explain why I describe “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” as elegant.

Gregor Xane’s short story (STRUCTURAL SPOILER) tells you all you need to know in the first couple of pages. Only then, with the rules and the reality established, does he take you on the journey. But of course, what keeps this so elegant, is that you are unaware of these rules being laid, so when they rear their ugly heads at a later point, his careful work is revealed.

I may already have given away too much, so I’ll refrain from discussing the plot lest I make everything too predictable. On the surface “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” is an angry and spontaneous story, but beneath it is concise and methodical. It is free, well worth a read, and can be found here.

Review: Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:

Frank makes a startling discovery in the shower. He finds six strange circles of skin gone completely numb—three neatly spaced down the center of his chest and abdomen, and three more down his spine. His doctor takes sadistic pleasure in carving out bits of Frank’s flesh and a perverse childlike glee flipping through hundreds of pictures of his interior. But when the tests come back, he’s unable to make a diagnosis and refers Frank to a psychiatrist. Under guided hypnosis, Frank uncovers clues in a repressed dream, but his sessions on the couch are soon cut short when he loses his job and his health insurance. Now Frank is forced to solve the mystery of his six dead spots on his own. Armed with nicotine patches, pornography, sleeping pills, and a stack of books on lucid dreaming, Frank delves into a world of nightmares to do battle with the monsters lurking inside his head.

Ade’s Review:

My first lucid dream occurred rather early in life when I was still small. In the dream I was swimming in a public pool and moments after ducking under the surface a strange thought occurred to me: I was breathing underwater. That very second the façade of the dream fell away and I was presented with all the freedoms of a lucid dream, the possibilities normally afforded to gods alone.

But this freedom was framed within my young mind, and I presented myself with an 8-bit select screen reminiscent of those navigated frequently on my Sega Game Gear, and it was from this menu that I was to select my ideal dreamscape. Various idyllic settings were laid out before me and – embarrassingly cliché I know – I chose a tropical beach.

But my mind didn’t take me there. Instead I appeared in my family home, alone on the landing. There was little light, but I could just about see a shape moving in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. I was trapped, alone in a dream with the very worst monster imaginable. It was the notion that I had created it and purposely chosen to torment myself that terrified me the most.

Lucid dreams have always held a fascination for me, and will continue to until we get a Better Than Life reality simulator (though Rimmer, like my infant self, found that the conscious and unconscious minds are rarely in synch), and it is this strange quirk of the human experience that Gregor Xane explores in Six Dead Spots.

The piece is a descent into madness, an ever-shifting sand beneath the reader’s feet. I was immediately reminded of the storytelling style of David Lynch, in that I was never sure if what I was reading was real, or another dream. Sometimes I’d be sure we were back in reality, only to suddenly veer into surreal and disturbing imagery. Other times, I’d have guessed we were trapped in a macabre nightmare, only to deduce later that it was in fact within the waking world, albeit as seen through a disjointed mind.

To give the piece grounding, Xane shifts the pov from Frank (whose madness we share) to his brother Steve. These breaks from the surreal nature of Frank’s experience allow us space to breathe and the occasional piece of solid ground to recoup like explorers before the next big push.

Six Dead Spots is a cleverly orchestrated sequence of nightmares, though ones sprinkled with humour so not to become overly sour. Recommended for anyone who has wanted to explore their own unconsciousness and find the demons that lurk there.

Gregor Xane’s Blog can be found here.

Review: Priestess by Justine Geoffrey

Priestess is available on Kindle

Amazon Description:

This collection brings together the first four BLACKSTONE Erotica books from Justine Geoffrey and Martian Migraine Press: RED MONOLITH FRENZY, GREEN FEVER DREAM, ‘Summonings: Anicka & Kamil’and ‘Summonings: Yvette’s Interview’ in the order in which the story occurs. Follow a novice Priestess of the Black Stone as she calls up prehistoric sex-gods in the mountains of Eastern Europe, gathers power and partners in the glitzy dungeons of London’s BDSM scene, and mates with monsters in subterranean chambers of lust and horror! Learn the backstory of her friends, lovers, and enemies! This volume also contains excerpts from Blackstone Book 3, YELLOW SIGN BOUND, and the sci-fi gonzo-erotica ‘Orgy in the Valley of the Lust Larvae’ PLUS a special essay from the author on the weird-erotica writing experience.

PRIESTESS (Blackstone Volume One): transgressive, bizarre sexuality, night-black humour, and cosmic horror! Open yourself to the perverted supernatural world of Justine G!

Ade’s Review:

“Leave your Lycans and vamps and sad succubi at home, Ladies. I’ve got no interest in that only-just-inhuman sphere of influence.” So says Justine Geoffrey in her essay “The Unbearable Strangeness of Being: Why I Write Weird Erotica”, and thank goodness for that because erotica is currently being crushed under a tidal wave of bland cookie-cutter formats, formats that writers like Justine Geoffrey confound with their bold refusal to chase the casual commuter market. You won’t find any Christian Grey’s in the pages of Priestess, but you might just find a Charles Dexter Ward, juiced up on a heady concoction of LSD and Viagra.

Apparently there is a lot of money in weird erotica. I haven’t seen actual statistics, but the theory is that if you corner the market in a particular kink, then you can secure plenty of sales offering a product readers simply cannot buy anywhere else. Sure, there are not many people that get off on fucking a fax machine, but there’s more than you think.

Justine Geoffrey is not one of those cynical authors trying to corner a market. This surreal blend of hyper-erotica and Lovecraftian-prose is expertly crafted, showing a true appreciation for the works she references and emulates. From a pure nuts-and-bolts angle, her descriptions have the linguistic diversity Lovecraft would have been proud of, keeping the sexual elements fresh and entertaining. There is a dreamlike freedom to Priestess, a freedom to indulge any whim or flight-of-fancy, a “Can I stick it there? Well I won’t know until I try!” philosophy that is thoroughly endearing.

So should you read Priestess? Well, yes you should, but don’t come crying to me if you are threatened or sickened by the contents, or (far more likely) aroused by something you never thought possible.

Review: The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

Available in Paperback and on Kindle

Amazon Description:

In 1842, two sisters drunkenly debate their future, their family chocolate business has failed and so they decide to open a seance parlour. The locals are shocked but soon their shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortune, a rift forms between the sisters, as young sister Judy gets her novel published, finds a man and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie. Spurred on by jealousy, Maggie tries harder and soon even the Queen is consulting her. The Church decides they must be stopped by any means possible.

Ade’s Review:

Okay, confession time. I requested a review copy of this book and the publisher sent me one. Not a big deal, but I suppose that generosity does generate some goodwill. Secondly, and here’s the biggie, I live in Blackheath. If I walk a few minutes from my flat I can be sat on a bench with the Hare and Billet pub in one direction and Ranger’s House in another. So for a book set in Blackheath this is an advantage, and I derived a great deal of pleasure not only from sharing mutual admiration with the author for this village of ours, but also being educated about its past.

The Blackheath Séance Parlour is on the surface a murder/ghost story set in Blackheath in the mid-1800’s, but as the story progresses the real focus of the narrative becomes the relationship between three women. Two of these are sisters (Maggie and Judy Cloak), each facing fading dreams and mounting regrets. Together they run a failing chocolate shop and share in the debts and worry incurred by the enterprise. Through desperation for something more, Judy Cloak hits upon an idea for a new shop: a séance parlour, and in setting up this establishment they enlist the third of their triumvirate, an aging medium, Nettie Walters.

Without spoiling too much, the séance parlour takes off and we chart the controversies and challenges that arise as the women have to contend with the church, a murder investigation, rising fame and rivalries within their own inner circle. Williams does not play coy, the ghosts are real and we are thrown into a world of spirits, visions and ectoplasm (indeed, in the Author Notes he expresses his own distaste for books that shoehorn in a logical reason for séances and mediums after convincing the reader otherwise for the majority of the tale). Dark stormy nights on the heath are vividly described, the era’s clash between faith, science and superstition convincingly evoked. But through all the fantasy elements it is the relationship between the Cloak sisters that keep the pages turning, especially as fortunes dramatically differentiate the two.

At times whilst reading The Blackheath Séance Parlour I felt like I was on a time travelling pub crawl of local establishments: the Hare and Billet, The Crown, The Princess of Wales, The Gypsy Moth, The Blackheath Tea Hut and others, all are visited and described with affection. Williams seems to have done his homework and Blackheath comes alive.

Alongside the main narrative a second story is told, a novel within a novel, written by Judy Cloak. It is a titillating gothic serialised tale (also set in Blackheath), somewhere between Frankenstein and Dracula, that works for us as a satire on the fiction of the time, but also as an insight into the desires and fears of Judy, its author. The story does influence the main narrative, but at times I wish the editor had been a little more ruthless in trimming these parts back, as I found myself impatient to return to the Cloaks and learning more of their adventures.

I grew up in Croydon (South-East London) and so any pride I’ve felt about my home-town was tongue-in-cheek pride about surviving it. Now that I am settled in Blackheath a strange feeling has overcome me: affection for my surroundings. I suppose I am still an outsider as far as true Blackheathens are concerned, but still, there is a big space in my heart for this village mysteriously shielded from the city around it. But any affection I have is dwarfed by the love of Blackheath described in this book and for that I heartily recommend it.

So is this review biased? Well, yes it probably is. I don’t know what someone living in rural Utah might make of it. At times I wondered if the book might benefit from a small map, or a description of the Heath’s relation to London, as these might be difficult to picture. The cover-art would sit well in the London Dungeons, but I feel perhaps a classier image of Blackheath village would have been more appropriate.

I recommend the Blackheath Séance Parlour for anyone wanting an enjoyable, well researched, historical fantasy novel, and certainly for anyone who’s ever been to this little village I call home.

NOTE: The Blackheath Séance Parlour is having a book launch at Greenwich Waterstones today (26/09) at 5-7pm.

Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

FREE on Amazon

Amazon Description:

The plot of this novel depicts a group of men who have become castaways stranded on an island in the Pacific during the American Civil War.

Ade’s Review:

NOTE: This book was published in the late 1800’s. I, however, read it in 2013. Due to cultural differences the book may not have been received as intended.

Here we have five civilised men stranded upon a desert island, but as soon as they arrive they act as a plague upon the paradise, slaughtering the indigenous wildlife and destroying the landscape, shaping it to their own end with no respect for the natural world. Not the slightest remorse is shown for the creatures whose lives they destroy; every new beast or bird encountered is met with the same response: “Can we eat it? How do we kill it?”

Oh what loathsome devils! On one excursion they return to find apes inhabiting their home. Rather than peacefully usher them away, the blood-thirsty gang slaughter the lot, taking one final orangutan prisoner to turn into a slave. Indeed, they callously mock the poor beast for its inability to understand the concept of remuneration for its troubles.

The brutality does not end there. Happening upon a large turtle on the beach, the men joyously turn it onto its back so it would die slowly in the sun. Upon finding whale bones, they freeze them curved in fat, to lure animals into eating and thus pierce their stomachs. Oh, what twisted degenerates they are!

So arrogant are these men in their claim to this land that when a ship comes to dock for a similar purpose (to restock food and water), the quintet attack them without mercy, killing every last one.

Over the course of the story it becomes clear that Cyrus Harding is a villain of the most devious kind. I found myself first rooting for the big cats, then the pirates and finally the volcano.

Upon reaching the outcome, I was very disappointed.

Review: Mosquitoes by Marc R. Soto

Mosquitoes by Marc R Soto is available now through Amazon

Amazon Description:

David is a normal ten-year-old boy who lives in the bosom of a happy family in a quiet town by the marshes, until some mysterious nightly bites lead him to undergo changes. All of a sudden, he knows things he shouldn’t, horrible things: his father dreams of going to bed with the intern and the husband of his teacher Mercedes is cheating on her. Mercedes is herself hiding a terrible secret from her past and is prepared to do something hideous to protect her future… And suddenly, along with awareness comes hunger. And thirst. An irresistible thirst…

Ade’s Review:

I am rather conflicted about this novella. I read it in one sitting, eagerly devouring every page, testament to the genuinely creepy concept that Soto explored. However, as the story entered its final stages I felt myself becoming increasingly disappointed with the direction the author chose to take us in, twisting away from the subtle into well-trod cliché.

Mosquitoes is a vampire story (yup, another one) but with a nauseating twist: the bloodsucker is an actual bloodsucker – a mosquito that feeds nightly upon a young boy and bestows nefarious powers upon him. Veering away from the mystical vamp of common lore to this everyday insect (albeit one with supernatural qualities) suddenly transforms the campy nosferatu into a much more real and unsettling presence. ‘Mosquitoes’ taps into the fear we all hold of bodily intrusion by the natural world, making the bloodsucking scenes so much more uncomfortable than the borderline erotic ones that dominate contemporary literature.

As David’s mind becomes transformed by the presence I found myself being reminded of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (IMO the best horror story ever told), but not so closely as to feel that this was anything other than a comparison in my own mind. Ultimately, I wanted David’s powers explored further as these were a genuine source of horror in the tale.

Unfortunately, after these fresh and gripping elements had only just been introduced, the story suddenly becomes a typical one of evil vampire vs courageous heroine. The change of tone into cliché brought up glaring plot weaknesses; for example, the villainous entity was suddenly affected by a cross, even though there had never been the slightest hint of a Christian link to the tale. Perhaps these weaknesses wouldn’t have seemed so troubling if the book had been longer and the concepts more fleshed out.

Verdict:

Mosquitoes is a very promising novella that doesn’t quite deliver. The genuinely creepy concept underpinning the majority of the book makes it worth reading, but I hope the author returns to the story someday to flesh it out further. Ultimately I wanted to read more, which of all the problems a narrative can have is the least troubling.

Mosquitoes is available here!

Review: Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Bleed by Ed Kurtz is available through Amazon!

Amazon Description:

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature.

As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back…

Ade’s Review:

Okay, let’s get this out the way first – it’s a bit like Hellraiser! Right, now we can move on, because to become bogged down in comparisons would do this enjoyable quick-paced romp through a hellish abattoir a terrible disservice.

Bleed is classic horror tale in the sense that it is about a small group of characters in a remote setting, trying to deal with a peculiar scenario in which they should really seek professional help. Of course, this is not what they do, and the story descends into bloody mayhem. As a reader, struggling against it will collapse the whole damn lot on top of you like so much unbelievable mush, but if you go with the flow you’ll find moments of gruesome hilarity. I loved the tea-party-like dismissal of government help when the lead character discovers a monster growing out of his ceiling!

What is strongest in Ed Kurtz’ novel is the writing. Despite the constant butchering the descriptions never feel tired and we are constantly repulsed by the graphic prose. I was kept guessing about certain elements of the plot right until the end, quite an achievement given the relatively straight-forward story. Alas, I feel the narrative goes on a little too long for the concept and could do with being trimmed by a couple of killings.

Verdict:

Bleed is a piece of visceral entertainment, much like an 80’s splatter movie. Kurtz doesn’t overburden the story; he takes a concept and exploits it to its full potential, showing surprising restraint for the genre. If you want some gore with a creative flair, you can’t go wrong with this.

Bleed is available through Amazon here

Visit Ed Kurtz’ blog

Review: Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Bottled Abyss is Available Through Amazon

Amazon Description:

YOU’VE TAKEN PAYMENT FOR A DEATH THAT DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU.

WHAT WERE THREE ARE NOW ONE, AND I AM FURY…

Herman and Janet Erikson are going through a crisis of grief and suffering after losing their daughter in a hit and run. They’ve given up on each other, they’ve given up on themselves. They are living day by day. One afternoon, to make a horrible situation worse, their dog goes missing in the coyote-infested badlands behind their property. Herman, resolved in preventing another tragedy, goes to find the dog, completely unaware he’s on a hike to the River Styx, which according to Greek myth was the border between the Living World and the world of the Dead.

Long ago the gods died and the River dried up, but a bottle containing its waters still remains in the badlands. What Herman discovers about the dark power contained in those waters will change his life forever…

Ade’s Review:

The terrible price of working miracles is one of my favourite horror themes and one that Benjamin Kane Ethridge explores to gruesome effect. Bottled Abyss mixes Barker-esque blood baths with ancient mythology to create a story that sprints along checking off genres as it goes. What begins as an eerie exploration of a traumatised relationship, twists into a dark thriller and then finally contorts itself into grand fantasy.

This mix of the mythic and mundane is at its most effective in the first section of the story, where the characters are struggling to comprehend their situation. As the narrative progresses we see continual perspective shifts that allow a wider comprehension of the story, but also detract from our emotional attachment.

In the final genre shift we explore the themes and mythology of the piece in greater depth, thus gaining a greater understanding of the concept Ethridge intended. This was the most gripping and stimulating section, but somewhere along the way I felt the characters had been left behind. So much dehumanisation had taken place, there wasn’t much left to root for.

Verdict:

Bottled Abyss drags by the balls whilst dangling lights before the eyes. At its heart this is a gory horror, but the fantastical twist helps the tale slide down easy.

Bottled Abyss is available on Amazon.

Review: Hounds of Autumn by Heather Blackwood

Hounds of Autumn by Heather Blackwood

Amazon Description:

They say that the moor has eyes.

It is 1890, and the windswept moors hold dark secrets. Chloe Sullivan is an amateur inventor whose holiday takes a dark turn when her friend and colleague, one of the few female mechanical experts in the British Empire, is murdered.

A black mechanical hound roams the moors, but could it have killed a woman? And what secrets are concealed within the dark family manor?

Accompanied by her naturalist husband and clockwork cat, Chloe is determined to see her friend’s killer found.

But some secrets have a terrible cost.

Ade’s Review

A common pit-trap of steampunk literature is to go too grand too quick. What begins as a focused self-contained story suddenly explodes into epic battles and world changing plots. Thankfully this is not the case with Heather Blackwood’s “Hounds of Autumn”, a smart and engrossing contribution to the genre that is both engaging and at times moving.

The narrative plays out as a good old murder mystery in a country house, but with a steampunk spin on the events. The clockwork and steam ingredients are used delicately, sprinkled here and there to improve the flavour of the piece, rather than being the main dish in itself. The focus here is very much on the characters and the sinister plot that unravels with increasing momentum.

The only minor complaint I might have is that the story comes together a little too quickly and neatly in the final chapters, but this is a staple of murder mysterious and seems to be more of a flaw in the genre than the writing itself.

Verdict

I look forward to more steampunk from Heather Blackwood in the future. The world she creates is a pleasing and intriguing one that never loses sight of what it set out to achieve.

Hounds of Autumn is available on kindle for £1.95.

Visit Heather Blackwood’s website