Atmospheric Adult Fiction and the Bygone Video Store: Universal Harvester

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universal harvester

Ah, the good old video store!  Blockbuster, Video2000, Civic Video, VideoEzy: for the most part they’ve all gone the way of the dinosaurs – not, thankfully, in the fiery chaos of destruction by meteorite, but nevertheless faded from consciousness, if not from the lazy person’s keyring.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle, who I first encountered through Wolf in White Van  back in 2014, is the atmospheric, creepy and mildly discomfiting story of a selection of video tapes upon which some unwanted footage has been foisted.  We received our copy from Scribe Publications for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s the 1990s, pre-DVD, and the work is predictable and familiar; he likes his boss, and it gets him out of the house.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets, she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says. Two days later, another customer brings back She’s All That and complains that something is wrong: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.’

Curious, Jeremy takes a look. And what he sees on the videos is so strange and disturbing that it propels him out of his comfortable routine and into a search for the tapes’ creator. As the once-peaceful fields and barns of the Iowa landscape begin to seem sinister and threatening, Jeremy must come to terms with a truth that is as devastatingly sad as it is shocking.

If you haven’t read any of Darnielle’s work before, you won’t be familiar with his strange, detached narrative style.  A lot of the work of piecing together the story is left to the reader, and it can take a few chapters (or half the book) before one can feel settled in the story.  Even then, everything’s a bit touch and go as you never know where Darnielle will spin the yarn next.

There was something strangely attractive about the creepiness of the blurb that had me requesting this one.  If you are old enough to remember a time before internet, Netflix and 24 hour movie channels and the like, you will be able to appreciate the utter spookiness of finding weird, confusing, disturbing footage taped onto a video from a rental store.  I mean, someone had to first tape the footage, then borrow the video from the shop, then tape the footage onto the borrowed tape, then return it, all the while knowing that someone else was going to get one hell of a fright after borrowing out a tape for a Saturday night romcom.  It’s quite a violation if you think about it for too long!

The story unfolds slowly, with the mystery of the tapes eking out in dribs and drabs as more tapes come to light and Jeremy’s boss starts to get far too involved in the whole business.  Darnielle has done a brilliant job of heightening the suspense throughout, as particular characters start to behave in unexpected ways and its not clear how certain events and behaviours are linked – or if they are linked at all.  The structure of the book requires the reader to jump back and forth in time: initially we are introduced to Jeremy, the video store and the discovery of the errant tapes, before flicking back to the past and an instructive piece of plotting that fills in some of the gaps for one key character, and finally jumping forward to the present and a new set of characters who provide the denouement and tie up loose ends.

The final part of the story sees a new family moving in to the farmhouse in which the mysterious footage was apparently shot.  This family are the key to winding up the mystery and making the path straight for the reader.  It was a relief to have all the loose ends tied up in a completely unexpected way, and the ending really puts a new spin on the events that went before.

Once again, I don’t necessarily think that Darnielle’s style of writing is going to appeal to every reader, but I did find this book more accessible and less confusing than Wolf in White Van.  There seemed to be more clues and contextual pieces of information from the author in this one early on, that at least had me invested in Jeremy, his father and what might befall them throughout the story, so that I was committed to getting to the end even when things weren’t as clear as they might be.

I would give this one a go if you are a fan of stories that give you a shiver up your spine, but don’t follow the usual path and tropes seen in most creepy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Spookfest (and Giveaway!): Hex…

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Bruce's Pick

I know they’ve been coming thick and fast this last few months, but today I have another Top Book of 2016 pick for you – and I enjoyed this one so much that I think that it’s vying for the top spot of my Top Book picks for 2016 with Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club.  We received an ARC of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt from Hachette Australia (thanks!) and then we received a finished copy of the book (also from Hachette Australia – again, thanks!) so that means I have one print copy of the book to give away! Hooray!  Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.  But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.

Hex.jpg

Hex is a real psychological creeper of a tale. I should mention that the final chapters of this one had me mentally running in circles shrieking gibberish, so it’s the perfect pick for fans of creepy, urban horror.   Essentially, a town is held hostage, so to speak, by the presence of a ghostly witch in their midst.  Anyone who leaves town for too long develops compelling urges to commit suicide.  Strict rules are in place regarding curfews for visitors to the town.  Residents are required to report the witch’s whereabouts when they see her, using the town’s very own witch-spotting app.  But for the most part, the people of Black Spring get along just like everyone else.  Until, of course, they don’t.

I won’t spoil the plot for you by going into too much more detail, because this book relies heavily on the slowly unfolding, cumulative effects of the behaviours of certain townsfolk.  And you will get to know the townsfolk, with all their vices, foibles and motivations, as the story flicks between the characters throughout.  There’s the thin blue line of “police” who monitor the town’s many CCTV cameras to ensure the witch isn’t in danger of being discovered by outsiders, the group of teenagers who want nothing more than to throw off the shackles of the witch and have access to unrestricted internet, the local shopkeeper with a difficult past and a soft spot for the witch and a supporting cast that run the gamut of humanity in all its best and most base forms.  At its heart, putting the supernatural aspect aside, Hex is an absorbing exploration of motivations and regrets that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered what they might do in certain situations when their loved ones are in danger.

One of the interesting things I discovered about this book after finishing it is that not only is it a translation from the original Dutch (I already knew that bit), but the setting has been changed for the English language edition, from a village in Holland to a town in the USA.  While I have mixed feelings about the need to do this, I have to commend the translator, author, editor and whoever else was involved in creating the switch in setting, because the town itself, its environment and history, is such an enormous part of the story.  The setting really drives a lot of the backstory of the witch, so I’m surprised and impressed at how thoroughly the change in setting, and its execution, was managed.

This is one of those stories that, even when it’s creeping you out completely, you still feel compelled to read.  Add to that the fact that I actually slept with the light on once I’d finished reading it and you’ll have a fairly good idea of how deeply this one got under my stony facade.  If you are a fan of books with a pervading atmosphere of latent menace and enjoy the type of horror story in which guessing the ending is almost impossible, then you should definitely get your hands on Hex.

AND TO AID YOU IN GETTING YOUR HANDS ON A COPY, HERE’S A GIVEAWAY!

I am giving away one print copy of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, thanks to the generous folk at Hachette Australia.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on Wednesday the 18th of May (Brisbane time).  To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and answer the question…

What is the most unexpected place that a witch could pop up?

The winner will be chosen using a random number generator from the pool of eligible comments.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Fi50 Reminder…and an Atmospheric Bit of Literary Horror

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imageBefore we crack on with our book for today, I would like to remind all comers that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday. If you’d like to join in, just compose a fictional piece of writing in fewer than 51 words based on our monthly prompt, and then pop back on Monday to share your link in the comments section.

This month’s prompt is…

calculated risk button

If you’d like more information about the challenge, just click on the challenge button at the top of this post.

Now on to the atmospheric bit of literary horror that I promised in the title.  The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley is an unsettling tale of faith and family and straying from the expected path.  I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

the loney

 

The Loney, as much as it was absorbing and haunting, was also a book that left me mildly dissatisfied by the end.

And disoriented.

And fairly creeped out.

Liam, our narrator, is a typical young Catholic lad, caught between the Church, his boyishness and his mother. His older brother Andrew is not all that his mother hoped he would be, experiencing as he does some unidentified developmental delays, and the boys’ mother fervently hopes that her eldest son will be healed by the grace of God, and his mother’s faith. The family and a small number of fellow parishioners travel on a pilgrimage every year to “the Loney” – a remote, unhospitable place that is home to a shrine that Liam’s mother believes will be the site of Hanny’s healing.

The story follows the group as they return to the Loney after a decade’s absence, with a new, more liberal priest in tow. From meeting odd and unreadable village folk to finding a long-hidden room in the house in which they’ve always stayed, the visit is a long, confounding and demoralising experience filled with disappointments and unexpected surprises. Through it all, Liam steadily narrates the events as he sees them as they roll on towards a climax that is both inevitable and utterly out-of-the-blue.

The bulk of the tale are events from Liam’s past and throughout the book the reader is treated to some tantalising pieces of Liam’s present life, wherein the situation is obviously far removed from the events being described. These snippets give us the idea that the relationship between Hanny and Liam in the present day is at odds with what we are being told about their experiences in the past, and this juxtaposition is critical to the events that make up the unexpected ending.

I mentioned earlier that the book left me feeling mildly dissatisfied and that was mainly because I felt that the intertwining of Liam’s past and present could have been used to far better effect if there had been more included about Liam and Hanny’s present relationship. I can’t say too much because it would spoil the ending for future readers, but after I had finished the book I definitely felt like I wanted more of that bit – “that bit” being the events of the last two chapters, which took such a twist that I just wanted more information.

If you are looking for a different sort of a literary read, which focuses deeply on relationships between family members, will be very familiar and relatable to Catholics of a certain age and expertly exudes a haunting and unsettling atmosphere throughout, then I would highly recommend picking up The Loney. And if you do, please tell me what you thought of the reading experience, because I’m still feeling a bit unsettled about it even now.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Tomes from the Olden Times: Grandad’s Gifts…

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image Welcome, young and old to Tomes of the Olden Times, the feature in which I discuss books that I particularly remember from times long past.  Today’s gem is an exquisite short story/long picture book from that genius of Australian short-storytelling for children, Mr Paul Jennings.  If you have never read anything by Paul Jennings, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Go and correct this at once. No, actually, wait until you’ve read this post, THEN go and correct this in a timely fashion. Today I wish to discuss Grandad’s Gifts, written by Jennings, hauntingly illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe and first published in picture book form in 1990.  That’s 25 years ago folks. Yep, it makes me feel old too. The book tells the short but spook-laden tale of Shane, a young lad who moves with his family to live in the house of his late grandfather.  While there, Shane opens a forbidden cupboard, uncovers a long-hidden secret and sets about righting a wrong in his family history.  Here’s the (rather spoiler-filled) blurb from Goodreads: This is a chilling picture book with a twist in the tail, as Paul slowly brings a fox back to life by feeding its fur with lemons from the tree above its grave. But it’s the lemons above Paul’s grandfather’s grave that give the fox its final gift, sight… grandads gifts When Grandad’s Gifts suddenly popped back into my consciousness many moons after first encountering it, I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it for so long.  I immediately tried to hunt it down but had a great deal of trouble finding it in print.  Then, one glorious day, as I was rifling through some second-hand library books I spotted it.  Not the cover that I remembered, but still, that title and that author and I knew I had found it.  And pretty darn pleased about my little score I was too. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this story so mystical and memory-worthy, but I can assure you that it is one of those special books that you really should endeavour to get your hands on.  Trust me on this. When first I was introduced to this story, in a classroom setting, I remember being stunned by the …well, stunning…illustrations.  So realistic, so engaging, so erring on the side of the magical in the realm of magical realism.  Here’s one:  image And here’s another: imageAnd one more, for luck:

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Boo! That one got you in, didn’t it?!

I think the realism of the artwork really gave this story its spook-factor.  There is something haunting about these pictures that embeds itself in the memory and brings the story right off the pages.  They are the perfect accompaniment to Jennings’ particular brand of quirky strangeness.  Any young Australian worth their salt (and any Australian teacher worth theirs) would be familiar with the hilarious and weird short stories of Paul Jennings.  Some of these, notably his Round the Twist stories,  were later turned into a television series, whose theme song will no doubt still be stuck in the heads of some.  *Mentally sings: Have you ever…ever felt like this? When strange things happen, are you goin’ round the twist?*

Apart from being deliciously creepy though, the book is also remarkably touching, as we get carried along with Shane’s mission to free his furry, cupboard-strewn friend.  This is one of those stories that proves the power of story-telling – it’s one I did actually forget about for a period of time, but once I remembered it, the experience of first hearing it came back in vivid detail from the depths of decades past.

I would highly, highly recommend hunting this book down if you can and reading it with any kids in your vicinity aged around seven or older.

Until next time,

Bruce  

Indie Trilogy Feature: The Nightfall Gardens Series…

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imageAaaaaaaaaand, we’re back!! Yes, Wifi is connected, the big computer has been set up and I am once again able to communicate with you in more than short, texty bursts.  To celebrate, I am bringing to you a special feature on a very unusual and beguiling fantasy trilogy – the Nightfall Gardens series by indie author Allen Houston.  And it has a gargoyle in it. Bonus!

Now, I was contacted by Mr Houston a little while back asking if I would review the first book in the series, Nightfall Gardens, with a view to maybe reading and reviewing the remaining books later on.  It was one of those unexpected moments that made me grin a little bit because, you see, I had already hunted down, bought, read, enjoyed and reviewed Nightfall Gardens back in April, 2014 on Goodreads, but hadn’t featured it on the blog.  So of course, I jumped at the chance to review the next two books in the series, thereby reducing my mountainous TBR pile by two.

So now my friends, you will be treated to a review of a whole series! This doesn’t often happen for this blog….in fact, in never happens because I generally make it a rule not to review subsequent books in a series on here if I’ve already reviewed the first (although I will be making a second exception to this rule in the next few weeks – stay tuned!).

On this momentously unusual occasion then, allow me to introduce to you the maverick, mould-breaking fantasy world to which Nightfall Gardens belongs. Here’s the blurb for book one from Goodreads:

Vain Lily Blackwood and her shy brother Silas wonder if their family will ever settle in one place long enough to lead a normal life. When a mysterious stranger arrives claiming to be their uncle, they discover their parents have been hiding a secret that turns their world upside down.

The two are kidnapped to Nightfall Gardens, the family’s ancestral home, a place shrouded in ancient mystery, where they meet their dying grandmother and learn of an age-old curse placed on Blackwood females.

Lily must take over as protector of the house and three haunted gardens that hold mythical beasts, fairy-tale nightmares and far worse. If she doesn’t, the evil trapped there will be unleashed and bring on a new dark age.

While she deals with malevolent ghosts inside the house, Silas is put to work in the gardens, where one wrong step means death.

Along the way, they search to unlock the secrets of the house and to stop the creatures in the gardens before time runs out and the world is destroyed.

NightfallGardenscover

Now as it’s been nearly a year since I read this book, I’m going to share with you my original Goodreads review as it is probably a more accurate representation of my thoughts about the book than anything I could dredge up now. So this is what I thought:

Ten Second Synopsis:
Lily and Silas are taken against their will to Nightfall Gardens, their ancestral home in a void between our world and the next, and repository of all ickiness.

It is nice to find a YA horror/paranormal/fantasy sort of a book with an original premise and setting. Nightfall Gardens (the book) was as creepy as all the reviews I read promised it would be. In fact, Nightfall Gardens (the house and grounds) was almost too depressing and hopeless for my liking. The section in which Silas and Arfast come upon the creatures from the White Garden having a raucous party reminded me strongly of the scene of Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – it had that sense of the despair associated with the triumph of evil and the knowledge that hideous things are now inescapable. Essentially, it had a real sense of “things are going to get worse before they get…well, even worserer than that!”

I would have liked to see a bit of humour or something to flesh the child characters out a bit as I did feel that the oppressive atmosphere was too much at times, but that’s just my preference.The servants in the house – Polly and Ozy, and Ursula, the ever-cheerful Glumpog maid – were a highlight and I could just see them being brought to life in a Henson-esque movie masterpiece.

Overall this is an original and engaging read for those who like a dark twist on their fantasy books.

But if I thought Nightfall Gardens was both original and engaging (and I did, because I gave it four stars), then I was about to be drawn ever-deeper into the tangled world that Houston has created in book two – The Shadow Garden.  Here’s the synopsis, again from Goodreads:

Precocious Lily Blackwood carries a responsibility far greater than other people. As the last female Blackwood, she must keep the evils in Pandora’s Box from destroying the world.

With the help of her younger brother Silas, the dusk riders and her best friend Cassandra, she must protect Nightfall Gardens and ensure that the fairy-tale monsters, old gods and deathly shades stay separated from humanity.

But now, the creatures bound to the Gardens are gaining strength and threatening to break loose. Bemisch, a malevolent witch, has escaped into the mist land to join forces with Eldritch, a powerful nature god. The mysterious Smiling Ladies hold the key to a dark secret from the Blackwood family’s past, and something once again roams the halls of the manor, trying to kill Lily.

Worse yet, her fourteenth birthday is approaching and with it a dangerous rite of passage. Lily must enter the Shadow Garden, home of all that is nightmarish, and come face to face with her most terrifying threat yet.

the shadow gardenFirst let me say – that is an awesome cover.  Because I read the second two books on the Kindle, I never really paid attention to their covers (or blurbs) and just jumped on in.  But this, that, is an absolute ripper and gives you a pretty good representation of just how creepy and disturbing some of Houston’s creations are.  Those delightful maidens on the cover are the Smiling Ladies, three mightily icky sisters who mysteriously appear at every moment of major human suffering.

This book was again divided into chapters alternating in viewpoint between Lily, as she attempts to figure out how to survive her rite of passage in the Shadow Garden, and Silas, as he and his dusk rider friends become entangled in a deadly mission to rescue some villagers from the evil deity Eldritch and his witch Bemisch.  I really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints because there was so much action and intrigue in this helping that it was good to have a break every chapter and jump between the various dangers being faced by the siblings.

The Shadow Garden moved a lot more quickly than Nightfall Gardens and I was far more engaged emotionally with the characters in this offering.  We get to find out a lot more about other minor characters also, with some focus being placed on Cassandra, Jonquil, Villon and others which was a nice expansion to the main event.

My favourite part of this story was Lily’s trial in the Shadow Garden itself (and an unexpected meeting with one of Polly’s relations!).  The narrative at this point reminded me so strongly of the sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Houston describes all the vile and vicious and just plain bizarre creatures that inhabit the part of Nightfall Gardens that is home to the incarnation of human nightmares.

This was my favourite of the three books and a real step up for Houston in terms of the tightness and pacing of the plot.

Now, onto the finale!  The Labyrinth rounds out the trilogy and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Time is running out for Lily and Silas Blackwood in their hunt to destroy Pandora’s Box before the beings of Nightfall Gardens unleash its evil upon an unsuspecting world.

Loyalties will be tested and friends will make the ultimate sacrifice as the two face off against an army of horrors that live in the Gardens.

At the center of it all stands the Labyrinth, a maze haunted by dying gods and startling secrets that Lily must navigate to find Pandora’s Box. But will she be too late?

the labyrinth

Book three really does pick up exactly where the last book finished and once again plunges straight into the action.  This is probably the most anomalous of the three books as in it we get to journey into the Labyrinth, the home of all the lost, almost-forgotten and mostly ancient deities that are trapped, waiting for a chance to re-exert their power over humans in the real world.  This section of the story still had the menace of the rest of the action (especially when the Smiling Ladies decide to make an appearance) but also lent a sense of otherworldliness and hope to the pervading sense of anticipated loss that coloured the first two books.

The book has the classic “building up to the final battle” atmosphere throughout, but we are also treated to some new (and unexpectedly jocular) characters and a little bit of romance in the air for Ursula, the Glumpog maid who spreads despair (unintentionally) wherever she goes.  Ursula ended up being one of my favourite characters of the series, mainly because of the comic relief that she tends to provide whenever she’s in a scene.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the final battle and resolution had all the feeling and action expected of the climax of a fantasy trilogy, without the blow-by-blow descriptions of the final fights that are so characteristic of this genre, and which I tend to find rather tedious.  I was very grateful to the author for giving us the meat of the resolution without all the tiresome chewing of gristle that just draws out the ending for no discernible benefit to the telling.

My thoughts on the series in a nutshell?

By the time I left Nightfall Gardens I had garnered a deep respect for Houston’s abilities as a storyteller, but more so for his incredible commitment to the world he has built.  The construction and population of Nightfall Gardens is vastly imaginative, undisputedly arresting and something that will no doubt be greatly appreciated and devoured with relish by those hoping to discover a fantasy tale that touches on the classic themes of the genre in a downright refreshing environment.

I was so pleased that Allen approached me to review the rest of this series, because otherwise those books might have sat on my TBR list forevermore, with me thinking that they would be much the same as the first.  This is one of those rare (almost endangered, in fact) beasts – a series that gets better book by book.

It also makes me wonder why on earth books of this quality, with such interesting takes on a familiar genre aren’t picked up by the big publishers.  It’s one of those times that I am super-thankful for indie authors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Starting 2015 with a Bang (and a few shrieks!): A Murder of Crows…

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Welcome to my first review of 2015! Are we all rested after that 24 hour break? I am. I always get a nice early night on December 31st, but some hooligans in the area always think it’s funny to let off fireworks at midnight. Rapscallions!

I’m a great subscriber to the old exhortation to “start out as you mean to go on”, so to start the year I bring you a highly intriguing and very well-constructed anthology of short stories with a horrorish theme.  A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre by DeAnna Knippling is a frightfully good collection of scary stories weaved into a larger narrative framework that in itself is positively unease-laden.  Allow me to explain.

When Machado the crow and his flock save a young girl from the questionable magic-based antics of her mother, they drive out the cold by telling her stories.  Admittedly, the stories aren’t necessarily what one would consider appropriate for children, but telling stories is part of the crows’ culture and this particular child has seen many things that would not be considered age-appropriate.  When a mysterious monster known as the Crouga is released into the flock and begins to wreak murderous havoc, it signals the girl’s moment to take revenge on her mother.  But the thing that her mother has unleashed may be stronger than even the Crouga – and even if the girl survives the damage her mother has wrought, will she ever be able to heal?

Murder of crows

I have read quite a few short story anthologies and collections that are interwoven about a central narrative, but I have to say that this book is an extremely good example of the genre.  Putting aside the content for a moment, Knippling has created a tight, thoughtfully constructed collection here that subtly links each story to the greater narrative and covers a great variety of horror-themed tales.  There’s a nifty little zombie narrative, in which humans and the undead coexist in an uneasy sharing of geographical space, stories of changelings and fey interference in human affairs, tales of summoning what should not be summoned, particularly where revenge is involved and stories featuring objects imbued with a power not their own.  I was surprised and impressed by first the number of stories included here, as well as their quality – while the content of some was a little beyond my horror-tolerance, they were all remarkably well written and engaging, something that is not always the case in longer anthologies.

As the subtitle suggests, there are seventeen short stories within the greater narrative and they are all quite hefty in themselves and therefore the reader won’t be left wanting in terms of reading time.  Like I mentioned, some of the stories, especially toward the end became a bit too realistically violent for my tastes, but I suspect they will please more experienced horror-buffs than I.

I particularly enjoyed the characterisation given to the various crows, from the elders to the chicks, and the backstories that coloured both the stories the crows shared and their attitude to the unfolding monster-based crisis.  Machado particularly had a very relatable voice and I enjoyed his musings between the short stories.

This was an out-of-the-box, quality find for me and I will no doubt end up seeking out some other examples of Knippling’s work in the future.  If this tome is anything to go by, I will not be disappointed!

I received a copy of this title through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Seasonally Spooky Haiku Review: A Christmas Horror Story…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today ready to scare the pants (and other assorted items of clothing) off you readers with the spine-tingle-inducing creepy novella that is A Christmas Horror Story by Sebastian Gregory.  At only 160ish pages, this is the perfect antidote to cutesy seasonal cheer for all you Grumpy Cats out there.  I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley.  As I’m a bit pushed for time at the moment, busy, as I am, spreading cutesy seasonal cheer (in 30+ degree heat) I have used the blurb from Goodreads.  Allow yourself to be drawn in, my little pretties….

On the night before Christmas, lock the doors to the house…

Forget the jolly old man in his red, big-buttoned suit. Because another creature is up on the roof, preparing for his annual visit to little children everywhere.

With a belt of knives round his waist, a writhing bag on his back and a Santa-sized appetite, he’s a little…different to the St Nick you might be expecting.

And you can leave out all the carrots and mince pies you like…but it’s you he’s after.

A horrid Christmas to all, and a terrible night.
christmas horror story


Coal in your stocking?

He’s coming for YOU my dear

Take your last mince pie

I love a good seasonal terror-fest as much as the next monster – remember we brought you Chris Priestley’s Christmas Tales of Terror last year? – but this little gem really ups the ante in the look-over-your-shoulder-because-that’s-not-Santa-behind-you stakes.  I thoroughly enjoyed this atmospheric little tale about three siblings, who, being left alone on Christmas Eve due to their mother’s working schedule, come under threat of the Child Eater – a festive imposter of legend who (rather obviously) eats children while calling out (less obviously) in German in a sinister monster voice.

I won’t go into too much detail because the story is so short to begin with, but the two best parts of this for me were the very ambiguous ending and the continuation of the Child Eater’s legend throughout history.  If you are a fan of things that eat children – and let’s face it, we are all acquainted with at least one little pill who we would happily see swallowed up by a Christmas monster – then this little tale will be the perfect bite-sized festive horror experience.

I was unaware while I was reading this that I had very recently attempted another of Sebastian Gregory’s works, which I abandoned for reasons that will become obvious if you read my Goodreads review, but if you read this one and enjoy his style, you may want to check out The Boy in the Cemetery also.

Until we meet again, may all the fat guys coming down your chimney be benign in intent,

Mad Martha