Book Review: Straight by Chuck Tingle

58008596._SY475_

Title: Straight

Author: Chuck Tingle

Release date: May 9th, 2021

Let me tell you, if you want to have a fun conversation, sit down with your significant other and explain to them who Chuck Tingle is, what he writes and how he is a two-time Hugo Award Finalist. And just for giggles, show them some of his covers.

But, on a series note – here we are, Mr. Tingle’s first serious horror novella that is topical on several areas and has now made the preliminary ballot of the HWA Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.

Chuck has over 350 books released, most are anthropomorphic gay erotica, and has a legion of fans who love his writing and wait with baited breath for each of his releases. And while we know the man who creates these ‘tinglers’ (as his books are called) is a pseudonym, that’s about all we truly know.

The synopsis of this one is both hilarious on the surface, but also serious when you dissect the meaning behind it and look deeper. This novella reminded me of the other recent works I’ve read; ‘The Blood Beast Mutations’ Carl John Lee, ‘Crazytimes’ by Scott Cole and even ‘Friday Night Massacre’ by Michael Patrick Hicks, where an event happens, a global pandemic of sorts occurs and people change and become ravenous, unhinged monsters.

What I liked: The story follows four friends on Saturation Day, as they head out to Joshua Tree in the hopes of staying safe. You see, three years ago a cosmic event occurred that turned every cisgender, straight individual into ravenous killing machines who sought out LGBTQIA2S+ individuals with the purpose to decimate them, eviscerate them and kill as many as they could. Consider it a sort of specifically targeted rabies. But, the following day, it would be gone and they’d have no recollection that it happened.

The world has been vaccinated (well most, you know some complaining about their rights and freedoms (sound familiar?)) but those in the queer community still know that Saturation Day is the scariest day of the year.

Tingle does a great job of setting up the story, bringing us along with the four friends as they try to remain relaxed, calm and prepared, but of course, this being a horror-novella, things take a turn and before you know it, the four friends and an unexpected fifth, are fighting for their lives and trying to find a way to escape.

The action is brisk and brutal, Tingle writing like a seasoned horror vet, and we get some really great emotional moments throughout.

I must add – the topical aspects of vaccination, straight allies and political sides works really well and offers some really unexpected think points, spots where you’ll stop and consider how you’d react in these situations as well.

The ending was great and gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe in the real world, soon we’ll see some sort of return to a ‘normal’ existence.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t fall into this category, but for those readers who might be, oh I don’t know, anti-vax, anti-mask, joining Facebook pages with ‘Freedom’ in the group title, or believing marriage is only between a man and a woman, I’d suggest you don’t give this a read. For every body else, you’ll love this.

Why you should buy this: Do you like survival stories? Fast-paced reads? Friends banding together? Blood thirsty killers who brainless want to eviscerate? Look no further. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of reading a topical novella that makes a lot of great points and does a great job of showing that queer characters are not just stereotypical ‘soft’ characters to have so they’ll be quickly killed off.

I’m glad to have finally read my first tingler, and I hope we see Mr. Tingle return to this genre again.

4/5

Book Review: Dancing with Maria’s Ghost: Dark Encounters with the Ghost of Maria Callas by Alessandro Manzetti

59990026._SY475_

Title: Dancing with Maria’s Ghost : Dark Encounters with the Ghost of Maria Callas

Author: Alessandro Manzetti

Release date: December 28th, 2021

Alright – first things first – I Googled who Maria Callas was before diving in. I wasn’t sure if this was a name Manzetti made up as this spectral siren that will be haunting these pages, or if she was a real historic figure.

Much to my surprise, Maria Callas was in fact a real person. She was an American-born Greek soprano who was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century (thanks, Wikipedia!) and she lived from 1923-1977. I am a massive fan of music, but I’ll be the first to admit, my knowledge of Opera and that entire world of music is incredibly limited. I did spend some time listening and watching her perform on Youtube and her voice is divine. What a talent she was.

But, after having read his poetry collection, ‘Whitechapel Rhapsody,’ I was non-the-less intrigued about how this story would be revealed, the layers pulled back through each poem.

What I liked: Manzetti is a fantastic writer (both fiction and poetry) and it shows when you look at his numerous award nominations and wins. It came as no surprise these poems would be dark, but that a solid story would be told throughout. A few of the stand outs for me are below.

The opening poem, ‘First Seeing,’ sets the stage and gives you the feeling that something is crawling across your skin. This reminded me a lot of the first moments when the ghost reveals itself in horror movies.

‘Hand in Hand’ is a stunning work of pure creepiness, a way of showing how this spectral being has arrived and the power she has over our protagonist.

The poem, ‘The Queen’ is filled with harsh phrases and even harsher concepts. A more visceral piece than the proceeding ones, I really liked how this worked to engage the reader.

‘Isolde,’ for even with its shortness, is filled with grief and wonder. This was almost like reading a piece of flash fiction with its deep ideas behind it.

Throughout, the artwork that is interspersed between the poems also does a great job of heightening the experience while acting as a visual medium to really connect the poems with the imagery.

What I didn’t like: Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Callas’ story, so if I went into this completely blind, the descent our protagonist takes as the poems move along would’ve felt foreign and strange. Having read through her biography, the geographical changes definitely made more sense to me.

Why you should buy this: Manzetti is a fantastic author and his poetry can move you in ways you never really expect. This was a heartbreaking look at a figure who ultimately fell from grace and seeing this connection between her and the protagonist made it all that much more sorrow filled.

Definitely one to check out for those who love dark poetry.

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

bent

Title: Bent Heavens

Author: Daniel Kraus

Release date: February 25th, 2020

*Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Novel (2020)*

For many of you, you’ll have already read Kraus. A NYT Bestselling Author, Daniel co-authored both ‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘Trollhunters’ with Guillermo del Toro as well as ‘The Living Dead’ with George A. Romero. Combine that with his numerous individual releases and you find that Kraus is incredibly prolific and writing between Adult and YA fiction.

I can’t exactly recall when ‘Bent Heavens’ came onto my radar (I’m 99% sure it was on IG where Jen aka bookdenjen posted about it) but no matter, the premise was intriguing and I was excited when it made it to the top of my TBR.

What I liked: The story follows Grade 12 student, Liv Fleming, who is struggling to live her life after the events surrounding her father occurred. Her dad, Lee, used to be a teacher at her school. Then, he seemed to go crazy, convinced that he was abducted by aliens and that they would come back for him.

He goes about setting up elaborate traps in the woods behind their place, hoping to catch them, before one day he disappears, never to be seen again.

Then one day, while Liv and her childhood friend, Doug, are checking the traps, something they do every Sunday, keeping her dad’s spirit alive, they find something.

It’s from here that Kraus really races ahead. I loved the build to this moment, we get to see Liv trying to fit in with new friend’s at school, while still looking out for aloof Doug, and we see her potentially meet and fall for a new boy, someone who doesn’t know her past.

Kraus does a phenomenal job of slowly decaying Liv and Doug’s friendship, of seeing how this thing they’ve found affects them differently, how Doug wants to continue exacting revenge for taking Lee from them, this man who’d grown to become a father figure to him, while Liv wants to be protective of it, to try and find out information that might lead to the return of her father, that is, if he’s still alive.

The final quarter of this book races along, especially as truths are revealed and a new, horrific reality emerges. I absolutely loved what we discover and it reminded me of a few of my favorite books (which I won’t mention to stay spoiler free).

This book was filled with so many emotions, Kraus really knocks the reader for a loop and makes sure that you want to come back and discover more of just what is going on.

What I didn’t like: While it worked for me, the ‘learning of the truth’ section may completely derail this for some readers. I think it was really well done and the clues make sense and are unseen until revealed, making it so so heartbreaking, but some readers may not enjoy it as much as I did.

Why you should buy this: As always, never, ever, let a YA designation discourage you from reading a book. This gets as brutal and graphic as anything out there. If you’re looking for a haunting story, of a family torn apart, trying to grapple with their new life, while wondering just what actually happened, this will fit the bill nicely. Additionally, Kraus does us all a solid and gives us tangible answers, as well as a physical being that might’ve been alluded too or left out entirely by other authors and for that, we benefit.

This was outstanding and I’m so glad to have read it.

5/5

Book Review: Merlin’s Kurse by Joe Zito

merlin's kurse

Title: Merlin’s Kurse

Author: Joe Zito

Release date: January 17th, 2022

Over the last number of year’s I’ve come to really love Joe Zito and his writing. He does slow burn horror fantastically (Now Comes the Darkness), splatter/extreme (Hell Barn) and is willing to push the envelope and try new and bold things (Your Favorite Darkness).

On my end – music has always played an integral role in my life. When I was little it was a gateway to different worlds, places larger than where I lived, and where emotions ran alongside the rumble of a bassline. I think back to different bands that really acted as these time travelers for me and I think of discovering Nazareth and Sabbath and Cooper. These early loves of mine that made me fall in love with harder music than the country and rock that I’d been exposed to.

I used to read Rolling Stone magazine like crazy. First all the back issues that my aunt still had stored at my grandparents. Then through my own subscription, that I had until the early 2000’s when rock bands kind of faded away from the spotlight in the magazine and rap and popular music took over their pages. I was a dreamer, a guy who wanted to be in a band and travel the world. I had a guitar in high school, couldn’t play it well (only ever learned an Anthrax song, a Sepultura song and a Green Day song) and struck out as a singer. In University I was a singer in a death metal band but our drummer and one guitar player loved drugs and drinking more than rehearsing and we never even played a show.

All of these was brought back when I dove into Zito’s newest, the sweet and sublime ‘Merlin’s Kurse.’

What I liked: ‘Merlin’s Kurse’ is a novelette that feels like a full length masterpiece. The story follows two brother’s; Bobby, the younger one, and Franky, the older one and the meteoric rise of Franky’s band ‘Merlin’s Kurse.’ Told through Bobby’s POV, we see how Franky gets a drum kit as a young kid, learns to master it in high school and then forms a band. Set against the backdrop of the late 60’s, we get a glimpse of how the parents want to make sure their boys grow up, get a good job with benefits and work hard. And it’s this hard work idea, drilled into them, that forms the basis of how Franky, and the band, hustle and grow.

Zito loves music, which is evident from his online social media accounts, but also from the heart and soul that he has put into this slab of nostalgic beauty. I read this in about forty minutes or so, but within that forty minutes, I was transported. I was with Merlin’s Kurse as they played their first show. I was back in my childhood bedroom, listening to ‘This Flight Tonight’ and flipping through an Easy Rider magazine. I was with Merlin’s Kurse as they got a flat tire, but still made their show. I was in my room again, discovering that Black Sabbath had some belters even without Ozzy. Zito poured every ounce of ‘chasing the dream’ into this and it shows. This is pristine and easily the best thing he’s produced.

The ending of course, is bittersweet. I won’t discuss why the band ends, only to reform for a reunion show thirty years later, but I understood. Not personally, but close. When I was in University, two co-workers of mine at the pizza place I worked at had started a band. They had a minor hit with a song called “The Gap (Between the Rich and the Poor)” and they toured North America and Europe a bunch. Then it all came crashing down at a homecoming show in Vancouver. I remember hearing the news the next day and just feeling so very sorry that it happened. Zito handles it with composure and gives it that extra emotional depth that made it feel so real.

What I didn’t like: Zito has done such a fine job of capturing not only the time period but the realities of being a band coming up, that I wished we have got a little bit about what the members had been up to since the last show and the reunion show. We hear that Bobby and Franky are both grandparents now, but that’s about it.

Why you should buy this: This is a must read for fans of 70’s rock, music, Rolling Stone magazine, ‘Almost Famous’ etc etc. It’ll transport you back to a time in your life you’ve likely forgotten about and leave you with a smile on your face. Zito has done such a spot on job of creating an emotional attachment to this band in such a short time, it really is stunning.

Well done, Joe. Keep grinding and I’d love to see more people grab this and give it a spin.

5/5

Book Review: The New Girls’ Patient by Ruthann Jagge

new girls patient

Title: The New Girls’ Patient

Author: Ruthann Jagge

Release date: January 14, 2022

Ruthann and I connected a few years ago via social media and over that time it’s been great seeing all of the anthology acceptances she’s been having. She’s always been super encouraging and positive and now, seeing the announcement of her debut novella, I’m over the moon with excitement for her.

Huge thanks to her and Dawn at D & T Publishing for sending me a digital ARC to dive into.

I got this yesterday and flew through it last night, in about 40 or so minutes. Yes, I am a fast reader, but at the same time, Jagge definitely has crafted a story that made me want to fly through it and see what happens.

What I liked: ‘The New Girls’ Patient’ follows a trio of nurses working in a care home. It is in a small town, where everybody knows everybody, but for one of the nurses, she’s newer, both to the area and to the job. She befriends a patient, which she cherishes, up until that patient dies.

From here, things take a turn. At the end of one shift, two men attack the trio, brutalizing them and kidnapping them, all for a singular purpose (a purpose I won’t share – spoiler, duh! ha!). But it’s this singular purpose that drives these backwoods hicks to do horrible things and the story goes from being a story about a small town nurse trying to fit in, into a survival story.

I will say, there is a third element to the story, one that arrives at the end and is really well done, that adds another aspect, but once again, I can’t really say too much about that, but it was great to see this additional ingredient added and it really worked to connect the start of the story with the ending.

Jagge has created some great characters here, a few you root for, a few you despise and as I mentioned, she really does pull you along, even if you’re kicking and screaming against what’s happening in a few places.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, the story takes a significant turn when the two men attack the women. I found the story seemed to battle itself as to whether it wanted to be a small town survival story (starting out it reads closer to literary fiction) or an extreme horror story. When the men arrive, it definitely goes from you riding along with our main character, to suddenly really extreme, revolting things are occurring and I’m not totally sure how to match the two parts up. This may work really well for some, or it may turn others off. As always, reader mileage may vary.

Why you should buy this: If you go into this with the mindset of it being an extreme survival story, this will hit all of the notes for you. I went in completely blind, so I was lulled a bit I think with the humble beginnings. Ruthann has really created a galloping, pedal-to-the-metal story here, one that will have you squirming while wondering just what’s going to happen next.

4/5

**This goes live on Godless on January 14th and on Amazon January 28th – I will update with purchase links then**

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

forest of ghosts

Title: Forest of Ghosts (GhostWriters #4)

Author: J.H. Moncrieff

Release date: March 22nd, 2019

The fourth entry in Moncrieff’s fantastic GhostWriters series arrives at the top of my TBR and this made for some perfect timing. I knew I wanted this book to be my #LadiesFirst22 read. The Ladies of Horror Fiction do a really, really great job of increasing the scope of awareness of all of the amazing women writing dark fiction, and each year, they ask you start the year off reading a woman’s book first. I’ve long been a massive fan of Moncrieff’s and after visiting China, Italy and then Egypt, I was excited to see this series move to Romania, home of Dracula and the (supposedly) most haunted forest in the world; Hoia Baciu.

One thing I was really keen to see with this one, was the separation of Jackson and Kate. They work really well together as a team, but this book starts off with only Jackson arriving in Romania, there to attend a writing retreat. How would he hold his own against odd occurrences? Admirably, it turns out.

What I liked: The story starts out with us learning, that after the events in Egypt, Kate needs some time and they decide to give each other a little space. She stays in the US while Jackson heads to Romania, looking to make some actual progress on his writing, instead of just being a blogger.

Moncrieff starts the book out as a take on the classic “fish out of water” narrative. The rest of the group are all horror writers, fiction writers. The man teaching the course is an arrogant jerk and Jackson feels like he’s constantly singled out or that he doesn’t belong.

Soon, though, an attendee goes missing and as weird things occur, Jackson realizes he’s in over his head. He reaches out to Kate and we find out that she’s been waiting for him to contact her – she’s been sensing doom.

From here, Moncrieff adds another layer of intrigue with Kate meeting a formidable foe and the attendee’s (including Jackson) starting to lose their memory. It makes for a great plot point, especially when Hoia Baciu becomes involved. The location adds a number of real and perceived obstacles and the story ramps up to a really engaging and ultimately satisfying conclusion.

What I didn’t like: I think I’ve said this same thing in my reviews of books 1, 2 and 3 but I hate Jackson’s jealousy and his overreactions each and every time something occurs between Kate and another male. It really does make me roll my eyes and grow frustrated with this character trait.

Why you should buy this: If you’ve read any of the first three books, you’ll know what you’re in store for. Moncrieff does a fantastic job of continuously keeping this series feeling fresh. If you’re looking for a dark fiction series that is motivated by pacing, thrills and intrigue and less on gore and extreme events, this would be absolutely perfect for you.

This entry in the series was seriously great and I’ll need to get my butt in gear to get to book five now!

5/5

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

the outsider

Title: The Outsider

Author: Stephen King

Release date: May 22nd, 2018

I’m going to state a few things up front here, just to get them out of the way. This is mainly for those who’ve still not read this one, or are on the fence.

The first – I’ve not watched the series. I’ve heard great things, but I’ve not had time to get to watching it and frankly, I wanted to read this first. The second – yes, Holly Gibney is in this. The third – I enjoy Holly. I know she’s become a polarizing figure for King fans (I also really enjoyed the Bill Hodges Trilogy), but knowing Holly is in this was fine for me. Either her appearance would work or it wouldn’t and I wouldn’t know that until I’d read it for myself.

Lastly, I will say, I’ve been a massive King fan since my neighbour, Patty, lent me some of her collection back when I was 9 or 10. I know people enjoy ripping him about things, and consider him almost untouchable, but (and not that he needs little Steve to be sticking up for him) without King, a lot of what we read today wouldn’t be as popular as it is and we’d see horror in general struggle for recognition even more than it typically does. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox ha!

‘The Outsider’ intrigued me from the get go. A horrible crime occurs. A suspect is quickly and easily identified. But he has an iron clad alibi, backed up by colleagues and even video. But as the story unfolds, we get a glimmer of something else, something slinking along and King works his magic like only he does.

What I liked: The reality is, King is one of those writers who just sucks you in immediately and his writing voice is so familiar, so ingrained and comforting that the pages fly by. It also helps that he frequently tells fantastic stories.

The first third or so of this book could’ve been its own stand-alone, stunning read. A who-done-it about a local baseball coach wrongly arrested and the community fracturing because of this. It had me hooked and seeing both sides – the detective and prosecutor working the case, as well as the coach and his lawyer working against the reality that this coach, Terry, is now considered guilty in the eyes of everyone, was phenomenal. I was hooked and pulled along.

But what King does best, and what constant readers (sorry, had to!) know, is that within his releases, there are normally two to three storylines. And when chaos breaks out as Terry is brought to the courthouse for his arraignment, King starts to really unfurl and get us seeing more about these other pieces.

I loved how we were led along and ultimately arriving down in Texas. When Holly was contacted and she looked into events seemingly unrelated, but ultimately were key to the story, it opened up another plot line and these all converged as we go all the way down to a finale that happens deep underground at the Marysville Hole.

For me, personally, the ending was spot on, I loved the throwback of something from the Hodges trilogy and it was great to see how this outsider became unhinged and reactionary. It has hints of ‘IT’ all over it and maybe it is related. After all, it does ask Holly if she’s seen others of its kind and we do know how much King loves to relate to his own worlds.

What I didn’t like: It’s funny, because I’m actually struggling to find something that really annoyed me or that I’d think others reading this might be put off by. Obviously, you may not be a Holly fan, but otherwise, if you’re a King fan, who just loves to read his books and not try and pick them apart, I think you’ll be pleasantly rewarded.

Why you should buy this: If you’re a constant reader, you probably already own this, and if you’re not, you’ve most likely heard of this one. Either way, if you’ve not read it yet, this book is a fast-paced thriller that takes a hard supernatural turn and is made better by that turn, even considering prior to that, it is phenomenal. This is a 600 page book that’ll zip by and the secondary characters all have purpose and work well to keep the story all together.

Another amazing book by Stephen King, and now I’ll be able to dive into ‘If It Bleeds’ knowing that one of those novellas is a bit of a sequel to this one.

5/5

Book Review: Crimson is the Night by Beverley Lee & Nicole Eigener

crimson

Title: Crimson is the Night (A Vampire Novelette)

Authors: Beverley Lee & Nicole Eigener

Release date: December 13th, 2021

And here we are! First review of this new year – 2022. And you know what? It’s a review of my final read of 2021! Even better – it’s a book written by one of the best out there (Lee) and a new author to me (Eigener) who I’ll definite be grabbing her novel that features some of the characters in here.

Interestingly (and I’ve made this known before), I’m not a big vampire fiction fan. At times I find it to be a lot of the same and fairly predictable. I’ve only read Lee’s first book of the Gabriel Davenport series (which is related to this) but absolutely loved the take she had on this subgenre. Also – from what I gather from this novelette) Eigener tackles her characters with flair and flashes of darkness, which has my interest big time.

I will say – it is stated at the start of this – that this takes place after Lee’s trilogy and Eigener’s debut. As I mentioned, I’ve only read the first of Lee’s series, but I couldn’t hold off on reading this, and wanted to show my support to these two awesome ladies. I can see a few instances where maybe there is some spoilers at play, but I suspect overall those might be minor.

What I liked: The story follows a meeting in an old mansion/castle of sorts, between Lee and Eigener’s characters. They’ve all heard of each other and are interested in how the others live, survive and function. Especially considering one of them has lived on their own for centuries.

One part of the vampire lore/vampire fiction that I’ve always loved is the moving chess pieces that seems to be their psyche. Each posturing, strutting and boasting about their kills and their decadence. This occurs to a minor, minor amount within, but mostly, it was a story about two vampires who mutually admire each other and discover a little bit more about themselves. It was a fascinating psychological look, instead of your typical slash and fangs. Additionally, one thing I loved was how they touched upon vampires fluid sexuality but left it at that. It was a nice thing to see that in a shorter page count precious real estate wasn’t taken up by unnecessary sex. I don’t say that as a prude or against any of that, but I felt it offered a really unique, humanizing aspect of these typical killing creatures.

Lastly, the ending of this was sublime, touching and even a bit melancholy. As the two come to accept their reality and their place within the world and where they see themselves going. I really liked how it set up things for potential follow-ups.

What I didn’t like: These two authors really made most of the shorter word count, but the one thing I wish I would’ve had a little bit more of was a more solid description of the location. Now, I say that knowing I didn’t read the prior entries, but the setting was fascinating and I wanted more.

Why you should buy this: Well – you don’t have to buy it! It’s offered as a free ebook if you sign up for either Beverley or Nicole’s email list (which I’ll include the links below). But why should you read this? They’ve crafted a fast-paced, introspective look at two very different types of these undead creatures and it works very, very well. A seamless crafting between these two authors and the story works phenomenally.

Definitely a read you don’t want to miss!

5/5

Beverley Lee’s website;

https://beverleylee.com/

Nicole Eigener’s website;

https://thevampire.org/

And if you want to dive into the other world’s

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee (Book 1 of the Gabriel Davenport Series)

Beguiled by Night by Nicole Eigener

Book Review: The Uninvited Words by S. Kovax

uninvited

Title: The Uninvited Words – Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy Volume I (The Uninvited Words Collection, #1)

Author: S. Kovax

Release date: November 11th, 2021

If you’ve read any of my reviews over the last few years, you’ll often see me describe how a book came onto my radar. In the case of this collection, it may very well be the most innocent of all of them!

Recently, the amazing Gemma Amor had tweeted that she knew times had been tough. She asked people to offer a vent and she’d give advice/give them some cheers and genuinely give them a boost. It was through that Twitter thread that I saw S. Kovax reply that they’d released their first book and was having trouble getting it onto people’s radar’s. Most reviewers seem to be closed (I’m technically closed… not that seems to stop me from taking books on) and it can be tough to get your first release in front of people. I saw his reply, went to the Zon and bought a copy and let him know that I’d get to it asap. At the time of my buying it (and I don’t think I had anything to do with this at all FYI) there were sadly no reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. When I went to get the link on Amazon for this review, I saw that reviews were popping up! That’s so amazing. I’m confident Gemma’s boost got some eyes on this book, as it really does deserve to be read.

What I liked: The majority of stories in here, for me at least, were home runs, which can be very tough in a collection, and more so in a debut collection. Kovax does mention that some of these have been previously published, but I am unsure of how many are previously and how many are new to this release.

No matter, the stories within cover a wide variety of topics and each one is told with gusto.

The stories that connect with me most were;

The Uninvited Words – this follows reporter Janice as she gets a sneak preview of a new haunted/horror amusement park. Her brother’s sick, so she has her phone on a video call so he can see. This one starts off being interesting and then turns into a full on gore fest.

Pyromancer – a story I typically wouldn’t dive too far into due to it being epistolary (which I’m not really a fan of) but it worked well. This was a nightmarish story that follows some dark, dark events.

What Crawls Beneath – similar in feel to Gran’s ‘Come Closer’ we follow Samantha who believes slugs are overtaking her apartment each night. It might be true, it might be a medical condition. Kovax does a great job of making both a possibility until the very end.

Don’t Call Me Father – a really dark, brutal story about an exorcism. I’ll leave it at that, but you should be able to get a good feel for what’s instore by the title and subject matter.

The Horror of Bologorsk – a novella to close it out, if you know me, you know I love all things dark fiction set in Russia. This follows some horrific events in an isolated location and Kovax does a fantastic job of making you squirm.

Kovax writes solid, solid stories. Each one had something special, something that connected and pulls you along and that was great to discover.

What I didn’t like: There were a few stories that just weren’t my cup of tea. Another epistolary told story that didn’t catch me as hard as ‘Pyromancer’ which made for a slow time. As with every collection it’ll always be up to each reader and how they connect.

Why you should buy this: Well, it’s December 29th, so if you have any Amazon gift cards kicking around that you haven’t blown through yet, might I suggest you snag this one? Otherwise, if you’ve been looking for a fresh collection of dark fiction recently, might I offer this option for you? The stories were all really well done, the characters were engaging and the pacing was pitch perfect.

Great job, from a new dark fiction author I’ll definitely be watching for when his next release arrives.

4/5

Book Review: The Maker-Man of Merryville by Pete Mesling

makerman

Title: The Maker-Man of Merryville

Author: Pete Mesling

Release date: January 1st, 2022

Huge thanks to Pete Mesling for sending me a digital ARC. When he announced this one, I was super pumped and reached out to him right away.

I’ve only read a short story collection by Mesling previously, and was rewarded with some outstanding stories. Mesling is a veteran writer, so I was keen to see what he’d craft diving into a world that felt like a combination of ‘The Thief of Always’ and ‘The Graveyard Book.’

What I liked: The story follows a familiar premise where a new store in town opens and our main character, Gilbert, is given a concoction called ‘Away Putty.’ This putty has the power to open up a portal to another place. Gilbert is greatly intrigued. Merryville, his home, is anything but, and he longs to see people happy and smiling. To Gilbert’s surprise, the putty works, a portal is opened and accompanied by his new friend, Sarah and her toy she also got at the store, they cross over.

It’s from here that Mesling really shines and focuses the story on the idea of just what kids curiosity can cause. They ask questions, some innocent, some pointed. They meet strange creatures, some nice, some terrible, and at the end of the day, they learn the power of friendship and why Merryville isn’t merry anymore.

The story really was an amalgamation of a number of 80’s fantasy movies/books and it worked really well to see how Mesling was able to highlight key parts and fit them into his own story.

What I didn’t like: There were moments that were ultimately overly predictable, but that comes with the territory of me being 40 and this book written for a younger audience. It still worked well to push the narrative, but those twists and turns were things I saw coming well before they occurred.

Why you should buy this: This would be an excellent ‘gateway’ story for any young readers in your house, that could introduce them to fantasy and dark fiction. I would even suggest, this would make for a great buddy read if you have any 10-13 year old’s who are just getting into this type of work.

If you don’t have kids and want to just dive into something that’ll make you smile and make you feel nostalgic in places, this would be an excellent book to do just that.

4/5