Book Review: The Briar by Craig Wesley Wall

Title: The Briar

Author: Craig Wesley Wall

Release date: September 1st, 2021

I actually have a few of Craig’s books on my TBR, but have yet to get to them. When ‘The Briar’ was announced, the synopsis sounded right up my alley and I clicked that pre-order button super fast. I was hoping to have read it near release date, but as sometimes happens, and with the toppling scope of my ever-growing TBR, I just got to it now.

I was really intrigued to see what Craig crafted here with this PNW-Folklore style story, as I spent over a decade of my life living just north of the area where Craig lives and where this is set.

What I liked: A decade ago, Eli was swept away in the night by his mother, his father yelling at them to go. Now, all these years later, he learns that his father has died and the house has been left to him. Begrudgingly, Eli heads back, travelling from Portland to the remote small town in northern Washington to clean it up and sell it as fast as he can.

Now, don’t get me wrong – this is a setup/trope frequently used and I could see why maybe some people might be on the fence about diving into that narrative once again – but rest assured, that is the only part of that trope that Craig uses.

When Eli arrives, he sees the town has dried up, the once fertile farmlands barren and instead vines, blackberry vines are everywhere. The small town that Craig creates was fantastic and eerily familiar. Where I lived, in Abbotsford, BC, we would often order products to be picked up just across the Canada/US border in the very small village of Sumas, in Whatcom County. They had everything Craig described here; boarded up hotels, saloons and restaurants. When we still lived in that area, there were a number of restaurants and gas stations that still flourished, what with it being right at the border crossing, but I’ve heard due to Covid, some of that has faded away.

Craig also does a fantastic job of creating some really creepy characters. People you know instantly are not what they seem and when we learn the ‘true reason’ for Eli returning, it’ll make your blood run cold.

When the feces hits the fan at about the 75% mark and we get to see, not only the creature that has been set up, but the action that occurs around it, Wesley Wall goes full tilt and the carnage and devastation was truly phenomenal.

What I didn’t like: There’s a reason for it, but there’s an offshoot side story about Eli and his significant other. She has news but can’t share what it is until he returns (which every single person will guess what it is immediately) and this is used later on. Like I mentioned, there is a reason for it, but I’d have almost preferred it to not have even been mentioned earlier.

Why you should buy this: Folklore, when done well, is for me at least, quite possibly the most frightening subgenre of the horror world, knowing that people will do whatever it takes to offer sacrifice to their God or whatever it is they’re worshipping. Wesley Wall offers up ‘The Briar’ into that world and he knocks it out of the park. For fans of Adam Nevill’s folklore fiction, you’ll absolutely eat this one up and with it being a novella, with all of the fat cut from the bones, this is a lean, mean story that hums along at a million-miles-an-hour. Kudos to Craig for forcing me to stay awake two nights in a row so that I could finish this one, as I desperately wanted to see how it played out.

Outstanding work.


Book Review: Rejects by Matthew Vaughn


Title: Rejects

Author: Matthew Vaughn

Release date: May 31, 2021

If you’ve read my other Vaughn review from today (Mephistopheles Den) you’ll have read about my first excursion into buying from Godless and what Godless is all about.

I won’t rehash any of that here, but I will say, I was happy to have not one, but two, Vaughn releases to dive into.

What I liked: ‘Rejects’ features a trilogy of short stories that have appeared in various anthologies, collected here for the first time.

Hammer Smashed Face – if you listen to death metal at all, you’ll have heard Cannibal Corpse’s song ‘Hammer Smashed Face.’ This story took really only the title into consideration, as instead, we pick up with a man doing some housework, who smashes his thumb with a hammer. As he goes to leave to get help, his neighbor barges in, telling him he can’t go outside, as there are monsters out there. Vaughn does a great job of creating tension in this one and having some brutal scenes in such a short page count.

Feelings of Malaise – absolutely my favorite of the three, we arrive to find a man sitting in a strange waiting room. Across from him, another person is attempting to do something horrible to themselves. When he is called into see the doc, his wound has changed and things go from bad to worse. Vaughn even says this is Cronenberg-esque and the story is all the better for it.

Showdown at a Seventh Street Strip Club – this one was actually a ton of fun. It was essentially an Extreme Horror take on the movie ‘The Hangover.’ We get two friends who can’t remember much, piecing together the events after they decide to go to a strip club and do drugs. Such a blast.

What I didn’t like: The stories were all good, but as Vaughn even mentions in his notes, they all would’ve benefitted from a longer word count. Each one either just ends or is missing a bit of detail to truly elevate them.

Why you should buy this: If you’re a fan of Vaughn’s these are great stories to read and see him work outside of his normal characters. If you’re a new fan or Extreme Horror Fan, these are all great starting points.


Rejects by Matthew Vaughn

Book Review: Mephistopheles Den by Matthew Vaughn


Title: Mephistopheles Den

Author: Matthew Vaughn

Release date: October 13, 2021

For those unaware or not tuned into the Indie Horror Community, over the last year or so, a new player has arrived in the shape of Godless. Godless is considered an alternative to Amazon. A place where Extreme and Indie Authors can have a platform to sell their releases and skirt around the ever growing arm of Amazon. For some – this is their only option – having been previously banned by Amazon due to content. For others – this is another place for them to connect with potential readers and find the right reader for their work.

On my end – I’ve not dove into Godless much. Consider it platform burnout/time limitations. At the heart of it, I’m not a massive Extreme Horror fan. Don’t get me wrong, Extreme Horror when done well is fantastic and can be utterly moving and emotional, but I’m not always seeking gore and blood and cuts and private parts chopped off. But, saying all of that, Godless has a really well curated depth of authors and creators and having their own platform also means they can navigate easier through the pricing options as Amazon has minimum prices etc.

So, what purpose did I have for this long winded intro? Ha… uh… one sec, let me check my notes… oh yeah, yeah – Matthew Vaughn. Mr. Vaughn. Mr. Massive Beard. I connected with Vaughn some time ago and we’ve kept in touch every since. Throughout this period, I’ve also read a few of his releases, and really enjoyed his Hellsworld Hotel novella. A novella about the Harrington family and their haunted house, which is just a front so they can brutally slaughter random customers. From there I read the prequel, Lucifer’s Manor, and enjoyed it as well.

But now, we’ve arrived at Mephistopheles Den. A second prequel to Hellsworld Hotel and I couldn’t wait to read it. Vaughn has now moved over to the Godless world – you can still find his earlier work on the zon – so, ole Steve-a-ree-no made his first ever Godless purchase (this one, another Vaughn and a third book!) and dove in.

What I liked: If you’ve read either of Lucifer’s Manor or Hellsworld Hotel, you know exactly what you’re in for. The difference here is Vaughn adds an emotional layer that I wasn’t expecting.

The story follows Lucy, a young 18-year-old woman, who is in an emotionally abusive relationship ship with a much older male. Halloween has arrived and they decide to go see what the fuss is over the Haunted House attraction that has popped up for one night only.

We get a great secondary storyline featuring some high school students who go as well and happen to bump into Lucy and her crew, and of course, we get a whole lot of blood and gore, courtesy of the Harrington Family.

Vaughn does a great job of setting up the story until they arrive at the Haunted House, and once there we see how each character reacts and how the Harrington’s live for this night.

The ending was great, I would suspect this was the last prequel we’ll have, which may lead into a sequel of Hellsworld Hotel and I really enjoyed seeing the trajectory Lucy’s character took.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, I’m not the biggest Extreme Horror fan, so once the killings began some of them felt a bit ‘more-of-the-same.’ I would imagine for fans who read these for the splatter effect, you’ll truly love the ultra-violence that takes place within the attraction.

Why you should buy this: Vaughn is a respected and well known name in the Extreme Horror Community and his longevity in the game shows in his writing. Well crafted, well set up and following a traditional beginning-middle-end plot, we get a really fun character study embedded in a truly horrific evening.


Mephistopheles Den by Matthew Vaughn

Book Review: Into the Mist by Lee Murray

into the mist

Title: Into the Mist (Taine McKenna Adventures #1)

Author: Lee Murray

Release date: April 13, 2016

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for some time, and as I’ve made my way through my TBR and its slowly ascended to the tip top, Lee Murray has went from a revered author who has been nominated for a number of awards, to a revered author who has won numerous awards. Through all of that, Lee has remained one of the kindest and most generous people in the horror community.

(Hilariously – I finished this last night and I’m posting this review today – which just happens to also be a celebratory day as the ‘Tortured Willows’ poetry anthology Lee is a part of has launched! Big congrats, my full review for that will be on Kendall Reviews in the next few days!)

So, Taine McKenna. His first adventure. Oddly – this won’t be my first go-around with Mr. McKenna. In fact, I’ve already read a story of his in Lee’s fantastic ‘Grotesque: Monster Stories’ that came out last year. I really enjoyed that story, but definitely felt like I was missing a bit about him, his character, so it was great to go back to the start.

What I liked: The story is relatively straightforward. Taine and his crew are sent alongside a geological survey team on an “off-the-record” mission. People have been going missing, including a relative of a high ranking official.

From there, Murray transports us into the remote jungles of Te Urewera National Park and we quickly discover that the beast that is creating all of this havoc is more powerful, and intelligent, than previously understood.

I loved the fact that Lee took her time to set this up and we get some solid backstory, lead up and hike in, which often can be pushed aside to get the reader to arrive at the creature as soon as possible, which usually is a detriment to character development. Not here, not in the hands of a master storyteller.

We also get a large amount of traditional stories and history peppered throughout, which was fantastic. There is a lot of slang terms used/location specific words (there is a glossary in the back) but it only worked to heighten the feeling of being a part of McKenna’s team and being actually on location.

McKenna himself is a well done character, not over the top military, but a kind, caring leader who wants to ensure everyone survives. His right-hand man, Trigger, was also really well done.

I actually found myself enjoying Jules (Dr. Asher!) and Jug’s characters maybe the most. Jug was a really great secondary character to root for, and as the team medic, I loved how he stayed grounded and rational. Jules was a strong female in an otherwise testosterone based cast, especially after another female character disappears.

What I didn’t like: A number of the other characters ultimately felt unnecessary, and Jules boss showing up didn’t have the dynamic I thought we’d get. These other characters (while necessary in the sense that the army would send all of McKenna’s team) didn’t add any emotional impact along the way, so when any of them met their ends, I easily moved on.

Why you should buy this: You may find it odd that I got to the end of my review and haven’t really even mentioned the antagonist, the beastie featured within. Well, stress no more. The creature (they ultimately give it a genus name) is truly fantastic and every single scene where they arrive and chaos ensues was top notch and such a fun moment to see how the characters reacted and what the outcomes would be.

Murray has started a series here that is engaging, feels fresh and incredibly cinematic in scope, which is phenomenal when you consider the good versus bad/evil story plot that we get.

Really great stuff from one of the best out there!


Book Review: Compendium of Creatures by Ksenia Murray


Title: Compendium of Creatures

Author: Ksenia Murray

Release date: October 1st, 2021

I’ve only read one short story prior to this collection from Ksenia Murray, but it stuck with me, to the point that when she tweeted out looking for any one available to give her newest collection a read, I jumped at it. I’ve hit another groove with my reading here, and knew I’d be able to slot it in and start on it asap.

I didn’t ask about a synopsis before hand. Why? Judging from the title and the fact that it was a short story collection, I just assumed each story would revolve around a different creature!

I just want to add that midway through the first story, I was enjoying it so much, that I snagged the Kindle version of her novella ‘The Cave,’ which I’ll be starting in the next few days!

What I liked: The stories in here cover a range of creatures from around the globe, but what I really found to be the highlight was the way Murray made the characters within each come alive in such a short time. That’s tough to do, especially when you have limited word counts and want to rip and shred and decapitate those who wander where they shouldn’t, but story after story after story, she delivered relatable characters that all felt like you knew them before reading their story.

The opener ‘Pipes’ just may be my favorite of the batch. We follow young friends, Jeff and Chris, as they go and explore the drainage/sewage pipes near their homes. The story itself went places that I expected but also in directions I wasn’t, which really had me on edge.

‘Inheritance’ was a fun look at Leo and Oliver, new home owners, who’ve just moved in when they hear a noise. Of course, like every moron in dark fiction, they go to investigate and what they find isn’t so nice.

‘The Receptionist’ was a fun story. Sharing the arrival of a rookie in the Army, they end up overseas and the draw of the exotic ‘ladies-of-the-night’ is just too much for him to ignore. I loved how short and snappy this one was and how, even though you knew what was going to become of our soldier, you couldn’t wait to see it happen.

‘The Snow Globe’ was another really great story. Cynthia receives a gift from her grandma on the day she is born. Over the years she realizes a pixie lives within it. But when she wants to leave it behind and move to college, she sees just how malevolent that little pixie really is.

My other favorite was ‘Its In the Garden.’ Mia gets a phone call from her grandmother that something is in her garden eating her prized flowers. I never, never, in a million years would’ve imagined where this story went. Not only with what is actually in her garden but also the reason’s etc etc.

Murray does a great job of keeping each story fresh and inviting and ensuring that tension is used to perfection.

What I didn’t like: As with any collection/anthology a few stories weren’t really for me. A few stories also felt like I would’ve enjoyed them a bit more if they went full Rated R instead of almost a soft R. Hard to describe, but it felt like maybe a bit was held back or softened.

Why you should buy this: Murray has delivered a really great, engaging collection filled with fast-paced stories and characters you’ll root for. I really loved the variety within and can’t wait to dive into ‘The Cave.’

Awesome job!


Book Review: Temple of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff


Title: Temple of Ghosts (Ghost Writers Series #3)

Author: J.H. Moncrieff

Release date: November 6th, 2017

Jackson and Kate return, in this, Moncrieff’s third entry into her fantastic Ghost Writers Series. The series itself now has six books out as well as the first in a spin off series, but I’m still plugging away, now having finished the third book. Moncrieff is one of my favorite writers, but with series’ it is always a dilemma. Do you dive into the next book right away? Do you take some time between releases?

In this case, I decided to take some time away, but am so happy to have returned to the ever expanding world of these two supernatural/paranormal helpers. After events in China and then Poviglia, we now see ourselves heading to Egypt, a place that’s always held a fascinating and mystical spot in my mind.

(Side note – I’ve already read Moncrieff’s next release – the amazingly dark ‘The Restoration’ out through Flame Tree Press at the end of October – don’t sleep on that one!)

What I liked: After the events in book two, we pick up shortly after in book three. Jackson and Kate realize something else is up and things ramp up and explode from there. It’s tough to really say a lot there as I like to stay as spoiler free as possible, but if you’ve read the first two then you’ll know what I’m alluding too here.

Jackson and Kate discover some eerie warning signs (think biblical events) and decide that all clues lead to confronting the demon that has arrived in Egypt. Moncrieff does a great job of keeping things fresh as we head overseas, but the use of secondary characters never felt more important, nor as well done within the series as it has in this release.

I loved the way the things fall into place once we arrive in Egypt and Moncrieff brings the hustle and bustle alive and vibrant. The action is really well done, I think of the three so far, I liked the descriptions and cinematic scope of these moments the best and we really see just how solid of a team, but also a couple these two have become.

The ending was great, and really does act as a natural ending to a trilogy, but did keep the door open for another release – which we know does happen.

What I didn’t like: As with book two and now in book three, Jackson’s jealous trait really annoys me and ground me when it would happen. Prime example – after discovering something in Kate’s place, they take it to an insect expert. Immediately, Jackson’s thoughts go to how this guy wishes he was with Kate and not just a friend.

Why you should buy this: A fantastic third entry in a series that continues to excite and grow and twist and change, Moncrieff really did a great job of keeping Jackson and Kate feeling fresh and the tension high. Awesome stuff, but would you expect anything less from Moncrieff?