Category Archives: Horror Fiction Review

Halloween Carnival, Volume Two – Brian James Freeman

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With Halloween right around the corner, let’s jump into this collection –

Mr. Dark’s Carnival – Glen Hirshberg

A Montana ghost story thats got some nice creepiness. David is a college professor that teaches a class that explores folklore and his favorite part of the course is the folk tale of Mr. Dark’s Carnival. For many years, it has been rumored that the mysterious carnival pops up in a rural setting and only a few select people get chosen to attend. David has never met anyone that has personally been to the carnival and doesn’t believe it truly exists until he gets his ticket. A great ghost story that has a murky ending.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Facts in the Case of My Sister – Lee Thomas

David’s estranged sister, Joyce, is in the hospital from an “accident”. The prognosis isn’t good and David has doubts that her injuries were from an accident. When Joyce and he were kids, David taught himself how to do magic tricks from a book he got. Joyce was always his willing audience and participant. Now, David pulls out a trick from his past to learn what really happened to Joyce.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Mischief Night – Holly Newstein

Willard had a good life, a loving family and wife, and looked forward to his retirement. He was never a drinker after growing up with a nasty old drunk for a father. In what seemed like a harmless way to celebrate his retirement, the bottle grabs ahold of Willard and doesn’t let go. On Mischief Night, Willard meets a troubled teen that stumbles into his basement. Can one man’s bad decisions help alter the path the youngster is headed down?

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Ghost Maker – Del James

Halloween has it’s own set of scares when you’re a mob hit man. You have to be on your toes, even if you’re the grim reaper. Great voice that makes for a fun read.

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Pumpkin Boy – Al Sarrantonio

Jody is a latchkey kid for half an hour every afternoon until his mom gets home. He knows he’s not supposed to be outside and he follows that rule. Until, one day, he sees the Pumpkin Boy walking past his window and he can’t believe his eyes. For police detective, Len Schneider, Jody’s disappearance is bringing back old, haunted memories that he’s been trying to lock away for 18 years. What started out as a promising novella, fell flat for me with the ending.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Overall, a nice little collection with mostly hits than misses. Well worth the time.

4 out of 5 stars

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Necroscope IV: Deadspeak – Brian Lumley

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Harry Keogh has returned from Starside/Sunside and he’s been stripped of his power to converse with the dead, or deadspeak. He also isn’t able to travel via the Möbius Continuum. His wamphryii son disabled his ability while on Starside. For four years, Harry has been unable to use his former ability to speak with the dead, except while he is sleeping. Unfortunately, he can not remember his conversations with them once he has awakened. He is still employed with E-Branch, just in case his abilities are restored and for his knowledge of wamphryii. Fortunately, there are no more…or is there? High up in the Balkan mountains, where Faethor Ferenczy’s castle ruins remain, there is another wamphryii plotting his return. This vampire is Faethor’s son, Janos. Janos is a vampire and an expert at black magic, but not a full wamphryii. What powers he doesn’t possess, he looks to steal, including those that are locked in the head of the former necroscope. Will Harry ever gain his abilities back and defeat the vampire scourge or will Janos steal everything that is precious in Harry’s life?

Necroscope IV: Deadspeak jumps right back in where III left off, giving us more enlightenment into Lumley’s vampiric mythos while also delivering more of the same ingredients you’d expect from a Necroscope book. Harry’s character is still a tormented soul trying to cope with the huge responsibilities he feels resting on his shoulders, now made infinitely more difficult with the loss of his abilities. Janos is a worthy villain that you want to see get his. Lumley even throws some Cthulhu Mythos Yog-Sothoth in there. He has always been influenced by Lovecraft and I love seeing those influences make their way into a series that it helped create. Necroscope is kind of like a James Bond story or an AC/DC album. Each one is slightly different, expands slightly from the original, but still delivers the goods as you’d expect. Looking forward to Part 5.

4 1/2 Dead Body Salts out of 5

 

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Ugly Little Things – Todd Keisling

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A collection of shorts and a novella from Todd Keisling. His novella, The Final Reconciliation, I reviewed back in January. To make this review complete, I’ve included it. Here we go –

 

A Man in Your Garden – A clever telling of seeing something out the window through the raindrop while fighting off the effects of a hard night of drinking. What’s real and what’s not?

4 out of 5 stars

 

Show Me Where The Water Fills Your Grave – Losing your spouse after all of those years together is the hardest thing Jonathan has ever had to endure. That is, unless she comes back.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Radio Free Nowhere – When couples can’t agree on what to listen to on the radio, beware of the road trip.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Otherland Express – Gregory is running away from home and his abusive father. When his destination suddenly becomes no longer viable, where will Gregory go? Luckily for him, he crosses paths with John Doe who offers him the option to become someone else. All he has to do is take a ride with him on the Otherland Express. Very Twilight Zone-y and a fun read.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Saving Granny From The Devil – A child makes a deal with the devil to save his beloved Granny. What he gains is more than his Granny’s soul. A very engaging story.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars – Maxwell Foster volunteers for a one-way mission to Mars. Half of the way there, he starts hearing knocking and strange voices from outside the space capsule. What’s out there? What if we’re not meant to know? An excellent, EXCELLENT short story. One of the best I’ve read in years!

5 out of 5 stars

 

Human Resources – You don’t see an email like that from HR every day. A fun, little read.

4 out of 5 stars

 

House of Nettle and Thorn – If a bunch of hot girls are coming onto you and your chucklehead friend like you’ve never experienced, there probably is a good reason for it. A sorority party like none other. Another fun one.

4 out of 5 stars

 

When Karen Met Her Mountain – Karen would do anything for her husband, Martin. He’s been there for her during her darkest times. But beware, if you cross Karen, you may not live to regret it. I loved the twists and turns in this one.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Harbinger – Felix is assigned to meet and interview the CEO of a doll making company in West Virginia. The town seemed odd from the moment he set foot in it. Little did he know how right he was…and they were waiting for him. A cross between Children of the Corn, Stuart Gorden’s Dolls, and one F’d up episode of the Twilight Zone. A great story!

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Final Reconciliation – So, as a fellow metal-head, I feel a kindred spirit with Todd as he unfurls The Final Reconciliation, a story about a journalist who is interviewing Aidan Cross. Cross is an aging guitarist who is institutionalized for going off his nut over the tragic show his band played 30 years ago. Aidan was the guitarist of the prog-metal band, The Yellow Kings. After hardcore touring in support of their EP, the band lands a two-album deal and head to Los Angeles to record their official first record. After a show in Texas, they pick up a groupie named Camille, who was waiting behind the club for the band. She immediately takes a shine to their lead singer, Johnny. Soon, the band learns that Camille is not your ordinary groupie trying to sponge of the band in hopes that they’ll be famous. No, she has a different agenda and the band are simply pawns in her evil plan.

The Final Reconciliation pulls out it’s inner Lovecraft and marries it with story about a heavy metal band. Metal bands have been influenced by all things macabre and Lovecraft is a favorite of many, i.e. Metallica. Keisling has done his homework. As someone who knows a thing or two, not much more, but a thing or two about metal bands, touring, and recording, he executes the story flawlessly. This is where so many writers can go astray – writing about something that they don’t know enough about and the cracks show. This isn’t the case here. Kudos to Keisling. Not only did he get his facts right, but he delivered one hell of a story, in the process.

5 Guitar Solos out of 5

 

Keisling is such a force to be reckoned with. There wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. All were 4-5 star reads. When was the last time you came across a collection of that caliber? Exactly. The thing I like most about this collection is Keisling’s voice. He has such a smooth and easy writing style. You get lost in his words way too easily. On more than one story, I found that I had been reading for an hour and it felt like only 10 minutes had passed. Grab this collection and make sure you set your alarm, so you don’t miss your appointments.

Overall – 4 1/2 stars out of 5

 

 

This ARC was provided by Crystal Lake Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

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For Fear of the Night – Charles L. Grant

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The term “quiet horror” gets thrown around everytime you read any review of a Charles Grant story. What exactly is quiet horror. Simply put, its a moniker created by Charlie himself, as a way to describe his writing style. Quiet horror is a slow crescendo of dread that builds in the story. It’s subtle, not in your face. Its a creepy feeling that something isn’t right. It’s also not for the person who has the attention span of a highly caffeinated squirrel with ADD. You’re not going to find blood spattered on every page of a Grant story. Nor will you find non-stop action. This isn’t a Marvel comic. Grant’s stories are all about the ride and not necessarily the destination. Patience is key. If you have it, chances are you’ll see what he’s trying to create and you’ll enjoy it. Now, is every one of his stories a hit? No. But, there is always a certain level of quality in every Grant tale. For Fear of the Night is no exception. Is it his best? No, again.

As Labor Day nears, a group of teenagers are preoccupied with the big changes that have already shaped their lives and the ones that are about to. Going off to college looms in around the corner. Couples are about to become apart and wonder whats in store for them. Career decisions have to be made. Their friend, Julie, was recently killed in a fire that happened in a building near the pier. Devin, the groups older photography friend, receives a message on his answering machine from their dead friend. Was it really her? Is it some sick prank? He doesn’t know, but it sparks off the mystery of what really happened to Julie.

For Fear of the Night is not Grant’s strongest story. Very little action happens for the first 100 pages. It’s his typical slow burn. The storytelling and atmosphere are still there. The ending strikes me as a bit muddied and leaves more questions than answers. If I were looking to read Grant for the first time, this wouldn’t be the one I’d start with. But, if you’re looking for that quiet horror that he specializes in, you could do a lot worse.

 

3 Popped Balloons out of 5

 

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The Devil’s Woods – Brian Moreland

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Brian Moreland is simply money in the bank. I have yet to read anything of his that I didn’t love and The Devil’s Woods is his best yet. Kyle and his brother and sister, Eric and Shawna, grew up on the Cree reservation until their mother divorced their father. Eric and Shawna have grown distant from their father, a university archeology professor and an alcoholic, but Kyle has still kept in touch with him through the years. When the siblings receive a call from their uncle Ray inviting them back to the reservation for a visit, Kyle thinks this may be a good way for all of them to reconnect after all these years. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they learn that their father is missing. Kyle attempts to piece together his father’s last whereabouts with what he was investigating. What he learns is that their idyllic Canadian hideaway in the woods has an evil buried deep within where things are not as they would seem.

You can tell that Moreland did his research for The Devil’s Woods. Its all in the details and his writing is spot on. You get invested in the siblings. Kyle is still mourning from the loss of his wife and you root for him to find happiness. Shawna is the free spirit rebellious type that shows her immaturity from time to time. Eric is the obnoxious womanizer that you want to see get what he has coming to him, yet there are times when he shows his human side and you almost sympathize with him. All of Moreland’s characters have depth, no two dimensional cardboard stereotypes here. He also brings the Canadian woods to your doorstep. It feels like you’re crunching over leaves, swatting the occasional mosquito and seeing that shadow disappear behind a tree trunk out of the corner of your eye. He really immerses you in his story. He also has done his homework to get the Cree culture and Canadian landscape just right. Moreland delivers another fantastic read and I can’t wait for the next one.

5 Float Planes out of 5

 

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Children of Chaos – Greg F. Gifune

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Philip, Jamie, and Martin are young teenagers when they stumble upon the mysterious stranger in the rain. The encounter ends with the stranger mumbling odd ramblings about destinies and then, before their very eyes, the children see the scars that line his back move and change shapes. In an act of self defense, the boys murder the stranger. Their lives were never the same again. Fast forward to the present. Philip has failed at his marriage, is failing as a writer, and is worried that he’ll fail as a father to his teenage daughter. The only thing he seems to succeed at is being a full-blow alcoholic. Jamie has failed as a priest due to his inner demons with girls that aren’t of age. And Martin? Well, let’s just say that Martin is not of his right mind. His last destination was at the end of a lonely stretch of road called the Corridor of Demons. It’s because of Martin and his cult of followers that the road gained it’s nickname, and reputation. Martin’s ailing mother back home pays Philip to bring her mentally ill boy back to her. Is this a suicide mission or something more?

The description of Children of Chaos is that it’s an homage to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ve never read Heart of Darkeness, so I wouldn’t be able to tell one way or another. (Put your pitchforks away, literature snobs) One thing that I do know is that Children of Chaos is Gifune clicking on all cylinders. It has the trademark shadowiness, for which I have come to know him. It has disturbed and flawed characters with layers and layers of depth within them. It has a story that slowly unfurls itself and makes you turn the page to see what’s on the other side, not quite figuring it out until the last act. It makes you ask the question, What are we? Are we the masters of our own destiny or simply pawns in a game played by higher powers? Is everything chaotic and random or preordained? These are question I’ve often pondered in my own life, as I’m sure many of you have as well. The ending kind of ties things up with a neat little bow, maybe a little too conveniently for some, but I still enjoyed it. For myself, I pulled bits and pieces of Mystic River and Angel Heart from the story. This is one that will stick with me for a while and that’s the sign of a good one.

 

4 1/2 Cult of Personalities out of 5

 

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Optical Delusion – Hunter Shea

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Hunter Shea has tapped into our childhood for his latest offering of fear. Remember those ads in the backs of comic books? Muscles like Charles Atlas. Sea monkeys. Joy buzzers. Fake ice cubes with a fly in the middle. Gum that turns your mouth black. Oh, and the ever popular, X-ray glasses. I certainly remember them. More specifically, I remember wanting them and my mom saying “absolutely not”. Well, what would happen if she did allow me to get those x-ray glasses and after 10 minutes of making my eyes hurt, I tossed them aside only to have my dad pick them up and put them on. And, what if, in between the fuzzy-eyed headache it produced, he saw a glimpse of a girl’s panties she had on underneath her clothing? And what if, in desperate attempts to get more than a glimpse or two of what the females looked like under their winter clothing, it caused something else? Something more hideous, more macabre, and it wouldn’t let you turn away?

Optical Delusion was a fun ride into every boy that grew up in the 1970s and 80s past and warped it with a Twilight Zone twist and an EC Comic turn. My last couple of reads from Shea have been my favorites. He’s honed his chops the last few years and is churning out nothing but quality lately. So much so, that he’s quickly become one of my go to writers that can’t miss.

 

5 Victoria’s Secrets out of 5

 

* This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

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