Book Review: Under Black Wings – 2020 Women of Horror Anthology


Title: Under Her Black Wings – 2020 Women of Horror Anthology

Author: Kandisha Press

Release date: January 12, 2020

It’s odd sometimes in the book world how things can get missed. Somehow, I completely missed checking this anthology out when it was announced at the start of the year. Now, whether that was because it was offered up on Kendall Reviews and someone else snagged it, or simply because there is SO MUCH amazing work coming out, for whatever reason, this wasn’t even on my radar until just last week, when Sonora Taylor put me in touch with Jill Girardi of Kandisha Press about reviewing Vol. 2. Jill asked if I’d like to check out Vol. 1, which I happily agreed to read. I devoured Vol. 2 in one sitting. It was amazing. I immediately dove into Vol. 1 once finished and over the course of a few days, cruised through this anthology as well.

What I liked: ‘Under Her Black Wings’ brings a stunning variety of women authors, who all put their soul into creating some truly bleak stories.

The anthology opens with the amazing ‘What You Eat’ by Alys Hobbs. Much like Vol. 2 opened with a fantastically strong story, Vol. 1 uses that story to spring board into tale after tale of blackness and biting scenarios.

‘The Riddled Path’ by Somer Canon creeped me the hell out, ‘Desert Kisses’ by Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason reinforced why the Sisters of Slaughter are a force to be reckoned with (and I still need to get to their long work, sheesh!). In Vol. 2 one of the strongest stories was ‘Love You to Death’ by Yolanda Sfetsos. Here she is, featured in Vol. 1 as well and her story ‘Somewhere to Belong’ once again stands as one of the top dogs. Seriously, give her work a read. Her Short! Sharp! Shocks! release was outstanding as well.

‘Cold Calling’ by Paula R.C. Readman had me completely captivated. Readman also was in Vol. 2 and again – another of the S!S!S! family you should read.

Personally, I think my favorite was Jill Girardi’s. Her story ‘Firstborn’ was not only super intense and emotionally ravaging, but the subject matter was very refreshing. It’s not often we get middle eastern based horror stories (and I probably messed up on my region labeling) but wow! Loved that bit of folklore!

What I didn’t like: Much like Vol. 2, this will feel like a cop out, but there really isn’t anything I wasn’t a fan of. While Vol. 2 was so strong I had suggested it might’ve made sense to cut it into two releases, Vol. 1 felt perfect in it’s story quantity and the flow was done just right.

So, to be fair to my own reviews, I’ll give the company line of “some stories that I liked may not be the ones other readers like.”


Why you should buy it: Look, I’ve been singing this loud and clear for what? two years now? SUPPORT WOMEN AUTHORS IN THE DARK FICTIONS! These stories were fantastic and there is some theme or narrative that will make each reader go “WOW!”

I absolutely dropped the ball here. I should’ve read this when it came out, but I have now and for those out there who have also missed it – time to fix that.

I would highly recommend you pair Vol 1. with Vol 2. They work so well as a pair and I think seeing as Vol. 2 is arriving in four days now, I can’t imagine we won’t get a Vol. 3.

Kudos again to Kandisha Press for their diligence in putting together two truly amazing anthologies.


Book Review: Graveyard Smash: Women of Horror Anthology Vol. 2

graveyard smash

Title: Graveyard Smash: Women of Horror Anthology Vol. 2

Author: Various

Release date: July 20, 2020

Well, this is embarrassing.

You see, I kinda… accidentally… received this yesterday and kinda… accidentally… read it in one sitting.

This anthology is STACKED. Jam packed with such amazing stories, I couldn’t stop. I initially was just going to read the first two stories of Vol.2 as well as Vol. 1 which Jill kindly sent my way… but that went out the window as soon as I read the opening story ‘Holes’ by R.A. Busby.

What I liked: Look, the TOC listing alone should get you excited to dive into these amazing authors stories. This is a veritable who’s who of Women in Horror and never once do these stories let up. It’ll sound cliched, but there is a story for everyone here.

Typically in an anthology, there are one or two ‘highlights,’ you know, the stories that were the strongest and are often marketed to entice buyers in. Much like a hit single for an album. Stunningly – there are no misses here. Every story was top notch, which really speaks to the level of story telling here.

‘Holes’ by R.A. Busby starts us off. This was an absolute hair-raising story about someones personal phobia and how it completes consumes all aspects of their life.

A few stories after, Sonora Taylor unleashes ‘The Clockmaker.’ Jesus. Wow. Look, I’m a massive fan of Taylor’s writing, but this story showed an entirely new level for her. I’ve praised ‘Weary Bones’ from her ‘Little Paranoias’ collection ever since reading this, but wow, this story was perfect.

‘Love You to Death’ by Yolanda Sfetsos will make you rethink visiting any establishment named Hades, and ‘Cicada Song’ by Michelle Renee Lane will have you second guessing just what is happening in the world when you hear those little critters singing.

‘Templo Mayor’ by V. Castro follows Renee Lane’s and if you’ve ever read any of Castro’s work, you’re in for a treat. I’d love to see V. dive into reworking or creating her own version of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft with the fantastic Mexican stories and myths she dives into so masterfully.

But don’t worry – things don’t slow down at all.

In fact, we get the one-two punch soon after of the stunningly dark ‘The Roll of the Dice’ by Beverley Lee, paired with ‘Rewake’ by Ellie Douglas. You could release that as a double feature and it would fly off the shelves. Absolutely fantastic stories.

The back nine stories of this anthology feature some hidden gems.

‘Graveyard of the Lost’ by Tracy Fahey was really great, a creep fest for sure, and I loved ‘The Snow Woman’ by Susan McCauley.

For me personally, the highlight of the second half was ‘The Invitation’ by Janine Pipe. The set up was swift, the usage of text messages between daughter and mom was bang-on needed for the story and the ending hits you like a ton of bricks. Great story and I’d love to see more of just what that world is.

All in all – this TOC knocks it out of the park

What I didn’t like: I adored this anthology, and even though I’m going through a ‘not wanting to read collections/anthologies’ phase in my head, I couldn’t put this down and have already started on Vol. 1. So, my one note here would be, I wish there wasn’t so many stories. The quality of stories was so strong, that splitting this up wouldn’t hurt either release (at least I don’t think so), which would in turn give some of the later stories in the anthology earlier billing.

Why you should buy it: A) IT’S AMAZING. B) LOOK AT THE FRIGGIN’ TOC?! C) I’m not lying here when I say the majority of these stories could easily find themselves shortlisted for a Stoker and when that happens, I’d still feel sad for the other stories not nominated. This was such a well done grouping of stories that each one worked to elevate the one immediately before and after.

Kudos to Kandisha Press for this release. This is a must read.



Book Review: The Download by R.E. Carr

the download

Title: The Download

Author: R.E. Carr

Release date: May 9th, 2017

R.E. Carr and myself have followed each other on Twitter for some time, and when I recently tweeted that if people were looking for reviews, to message me, we got in touch. After giving me some synopsis’ of releases, I decided on ‘The Download.’

I really do enjoy reading a full on science-fiction story from time to time and this ticked all of those boxes.

What I liked: Don’t be shocked with the page count (559) Carr wastes no time diving into the action. We are introduced to two roommates, one of whom is experimenting with computer software. When all goes black, our main character Jenny wakes up to a whole new world.

From there, Carr takes us on a spell binding ride. We get extraterrestrial worlds and species, great inter-personal relationships, all the while watching the story arc of Jenny progress. This reminded me at times of ‘Stargate’ or ‘The Fifth Element,’ or more recently Joseph Sale’s ‘Gods of the Black Gates.’

The epilogue was great, and I’m not sure if more are planned in this world/with these characters, but I sure hope so.

What I didn’t like: The length may be a turn off for some, but I never felt as though the book dipped or dived.

As for anything else, with a book this large and a cast to match, I did find myself struggling in the first 1/4 to keep a firm grasp on who was who. I don’t make notes when doing a long read (I do on short story collections/anthologies) but that might have been a way to keep track of the characters looking back at the book.

Why you should buy it: If you’ve followed any of my reviews, you know I’m a fan of reading everyone, so if you’re looking for an under the radar science fiction book that doesn’t fall into the classic tropes over and over again, look no further. Carr writes with ease and the book progressed really nicely for me!


Book Review: Payable on Death by RJ Roles & Jason Myers


Title: Payable on Death

Author: RJ Roles & Jason Myers

Release date: July 13, 2020

I’ve long been a fan of RJ Roles work, his two releases ‘Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘Loose Strands’ showing his knack for story telling as well as his continued progression as he becomes a stronger writer. I’ve seen a few of Jason’s works mentioned before, over on the Books of Horror Facebook page, but hadn’t yet read any of his individual work. When the two teamed up, I was excited for another RJ release and he kindly sent me a digital copy to review.

What I liked: ‘Payable on Death’ follows a group of women who have been friends for many years. All attending a private school, where they discovered that they could harness powers.

The story bounces between the past and the present and Myers and Roles create a mythology that at times is what you would expect of the “classic” witch, but they also take some liberties with the tried and true to update the stereotypes and allow the women to not be simple “spell casters.” This act of thinking outside the box definitely works in the stories favor, as it allows for somethings to happen that otherwise wouldn’t. A totally vague statement, I know, but to stay spoiler free, you’ll understand when you read it.

The two authors write with a singular, seamless voice, which was great to see. Never once did it come across as RJ wrote this part and Jason wrote this part, which can be the toughest act when co-writing.

Short, punchy chapters let the story fly by and I found I was engrossed throughout. This is part one, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

What I didn’t like: I think reader mileage will vary with this one, as at times I was wishing for it to jump into the rated R realm, when the two authors stayed firmly in PG-13. For some, this will work just fine, for others they may wish it was less The CW and more Dr. Giggles.

The other thing that I found threw me out of the story was the usage of familiar names. Oddly, I had no issues with that when I read The Roo by Alan Baxter, but that was a part of the process. I knew that going in. Here, seeing the name Dr. Merry (I assume a nod to mutual friend and author Eleanor Merry) and Nurse Justine Woodward (another nod to author and friend Justin Woodward) made it hard for me to fully embrace those characters.

Why you should buy it: This was a really fun read, as I mentioned before, I was wanting to see how things played out and the back and forth between seeing how they arrived at their powers as well as how their present lives were being affected by that was great. For people longing for a new, supernatural series to dive into, this would be a great one to choose and when it comes from two great guys, even better.


Double Review: Peck & Following the Dead Tracks by Aiden Merchant

PECK - sara-kurfess - Cinema and Dated

Title: Peck

Author: Aiden Merchant

Release date: August 7th, 2020

I’ve know Aiden for a bit now and have read a few of his works and he had kindly asked me to beta read his story ‘Pray’ recently as well. He emailed me two short stories for review recently, which I read last night.

The first of the two is ‘Peck.’ Immediately, I was interested in what this story might encompass by the plague doctor mask adorning the cover.

‘Peck’ was a straight forward story filled with horrific gore. We are introduced to a man walking at night, only to have a creep rush them. They wake up naked, strapped to a table and this mysterious individual, who won’t speak a word then has their sadistic way.

I enjoyed the unflinching torture that occurred, with our character having no idea why they were chosen or why this individual was inflicting these acts on them.

I wasn’t a fan of the ending, finding out the real identity seemed a bit rushed and, while Aiden mentions in the afterword, it was designed to be humorous, it didn’t come across as all that funny without diving deeper into the story.

I think I would’ve enjoyed this one significantly more if it was a full length, detective murder mystery in the vein of the Saw series.



Title: Following the Dead Tracks

Author: Aiden Merchant

Release date: July 3, 2020

The second of the two short stories Aiden sent along was ‘Following the Dead Tracks.’ Of the two (the other being ‘Peck’) this was the stronger of the two, hands down.

Ben’s new boyfriend visits the same section of train tracks every Tuesday night. Eventually, he invites Ben to come visit the area but on a different night. We soon discover why and I really enjoyed the ‘why.’ The location and setting created was eerie and I enjoyed seeing the connection between the two characters.

One thing that I thought was a bit of a stretch was that a heinous crime had occurred where they were heading and Ben didn’t connect the dots between the crime, the victim and his boyfriend. The story mentioned that it had been on the news a lot, so that seemed a bit odd.

Aiden did mention that he was looking at expanding this story in the future, but I personally really enjoyed how this played out.



Book Review: The House on Abigail Lane by Kealan Patrick Burke


Title: The House on Abigail Lane

Author: Kealan Patrick Burke

Release date: June 17th, 2020

Kealan Patrick Burke is a man of many hats; writer, cover designer and one of the most engaging authors on Twitter.
His new releases are always cause for celebration, and so it was that the horror world erupted in jubilation when Tracy aka @tracy_reads79 essentially leaked the secret that a new book had been unleashed. There was almost a palpable rush to Amazon, as more and more people caught on that Tracy wasn’t reading an ARC (advanced readers copy) but was in fact reading a book that Kealan had released without any pre-release build up.
The cover was both stark but intriguing. Featuring sunflowers and a house, it left a lot of imagery up for the readers imagination.
I’ve read a number of Kealan’s books, and still have a number of more to read, but this particular one spoke to me. So, after snagging it, I jumped it to the top of my TBR, as I suspect a number of readers have already done.

What I liked: ‘The House on Abigail Lane’ is a very different type of book than I’ve become accustomed to with Patrick Burke. Written in faux documentary/non-fiction style, the reader is treated to a straight forward historical telling of the events at house number 56. For fans of the paranormal, this was incredibly intriguing and in typical Kealan fashion, he continued to give us just the bare minimum details in each incident, while introducing a singular new action element that pulled you into wanting to know what would happen to the next home owners or investigators.
I particularly enjoyed the commentary on paranormal investigators through the years with their embellishments and sensationalism, when for the most part, what they tried to add to make money wasn’t even close to the real issues going on with the house.

What I didn’t like: I’ve seen a few reviewers already mention that once they’ve finished, this didn’t read like a ‘normal’ Kealan book, and I think the thing for me personally that I found, was that I wished for a specific person or character to latch onto and watch them investigate. This was very much a ‘historical telling’ as Patrick Burke mentioned in the synopsis, but I still, at times wondered who the person telling the events was.

Why you should buy it: If you are a fan of Patrick Burke, you’ve probably already bought this – let’s be honest here. If you’ve not read Kealan, this is a really great book and is a great paranormal investigative story to dive into to. I really enjoyed how this played out and when we get to nearer present day and Patrick Burke introduces some technology into the events, what you discover will visit your dreams.


An Interview with Author Kealan Patrick Burke

With the recent release of Kealan Patrick Burke’s fantastic ‘The House on Abigail Lane,’ I reached out to see if he would be open to answering a few questions. Kealan kindly accepted! His answers are very insightful, and for fans of his books will easily excite you for the future. As well, I asked a few cover design questions!


Kealan has always been super supportive of my reviewing and writing and gave me some really amazing advice when I was struggling with areas and aspects of my own release ‘The Stranger,’ which I can’t thank him enough for being willing to help during that books process.

A Bram Stoker winning author, as well as being nominated multiple times, Kealan was born and raised in Ireland before moving to the United States.

First off, congrats on your new release ‘The House on Abigail Lane.’ This was a very wonderful surprise release. And double congrats on the news in the ‘about section’ that says it has been optioned for film! Can you share a bit as to when you first started working on this book?

Thank you! When I was compiling the stories for my short story collection, We Live Inside Your Eyes, I wanted to include some new material as an enticement for readers who might already have read the older stuff. To that end, I wrote the short story “You Have Nothing to Fear from Me” but wanted something meatier to end the book. While going through my files of unfinished stories for inspiration,  I found a single page that immediately gripped me. It was about the construction of an ordinary suburban house and the worker who vanished after going up the stairs, leaving only his lunch pail and glass eye behind. I became obsessed with figuring out what had happened to him. Over the course of fourteen feverish days, that investigation became the novella “The House on Abigail Lane.”

we live

‘The House…’ has a very thorough back story. Was this a book that you had a singular story line that you wanted to tell, or did you have bits & pieces of stories that ultimately fit together to create this narrative?

I thought of it as a series of episodes like a Netflix documentary and decided to tell it that way. I’m not sure I had any idea what was going on until late in the game. Basically, the accounts of what the inhabitants endured in that house informed me where the story was going.

As someone who grew up in Ireland, did you have a haunted house that people spoke of in your neighborhood?

I like to think everyone did, and yes, absolutely. Ours was a dilapidated two-story Tudor complete with cracked turret. It was condemned, signposted, and watched over by a legendarily hostile old caretaker we feared more than the house itself. He was rumored to stalk the surrounding woods armed with a sickle. To be caught trespassing meant risking death at his hands. The house itself had an old overturned bathtub on the second floor that nobody could lift, so of course we believed there were skeletons in there. The door to the turret couldn’t be opened. Stacks of newspapers welded together by the elements admitted through the holes in the roof told us the house had stood there at least a hundred years. We hid from bullies, got drunk, fell in love, lost our virtue in that house. I got my heart broken for the first time in there when I found out the girl I had a crush on was in love with my best friend. It’s the kind of place that begs to be written about, and now that you’ve invoked the memory, I think someday I will.

You’ve tackled such a variety of stories/horror sub genres throughout your career. Is there one particular theme or sub-genre that you find you enjoy writing the most?

I don’t really think about that when I sit down to write something. Story comes first, no matter the flavor. It’s more likely the subgenre reveals itself as I go. Say, for example, my story “A Wicked Thirst” (from Mark Matthews’ terrific Garden of Fiends anthology) which is without question a vampire story, but on its face, it’s a study of alcoholism. It was only later I realized it fit into the bloodsucker subgenre.


As far as themes, I find myself returning to grief and madness quite often. The many permutations of grief fascinate me, and, because of the hereditary vein of senility in my family, I live in constant fear of losing my self-awareness, my sense of reality, my mind, so I come back to it again and again in an effort to weaken my fear of it.

Where would you suggest a new reader begin with your work? Which book would be THAT book if you could hand one to them, say in an elevator after a conversation?

I think that really all depends on the reader’s taste. For those who like Twilight Zone-ish fare, I’d recommend Sour Candy. For something more psychological, I’d go with Jack & Jill. For outright bloody slasher chaos, I’d suggest Kin, and for those who like their horror Gothic and moody, I’d recommend Master of the Moors.

You’ve become almost as well known for cover design as for your writing. Do you approach designing a cover for yourself differently than for a fellow author?

Not at all. I design every cover as if it were for one of my own books. In fact, I’ve often designed covers for other authors that I was tempted to keep for myself!

Do you prefer designing your own cover before, during or after for your books?

After. It isn’t until the book is finished that I know how best to represent it.

Lastly, what’s next for Kealan? Will we finally see the prequel for ‘Sour Candy’? Is there possibly another 2020 release?

The next year is one of the most exciting for me in terms of upcoming projects, but I can’t say much about them yet. One project I’m insanely excited about is a graphic novel I wrote for Storm King Comics, which is run by the amazing Sandy King and John Carpenter. I’m currently rewriting my sixth novel, Mr. Stitch, which I think is, finally, after two years of work, close to being done. And yes, once that’s complete and in my agent’s hands, I plan to go back and finish the Sour Candy prequel, Ward. It’s going to be a busy one!


Thank you so much for such great answers Kealan!

To see more of his cover design work, head to:

To discover more about Kealan and all of his releases, head to: