WET MARKET AND OTHER HORRORS
By Aron Beauregard
1. This is a collection of 6 short stories and 1 personal essay. I really enjoyed all the stories, but I’ll be honest that the personal essay hit me the hardest. It’s incredibly personal and full of pain. With Aron being one of the nicest guys in the horror game and someone I consider a friend, his real-life pain hit me in the feels in a way I’m not used to. I know so many horror authors write their personal trauma and pain into their stories as a coping mechanism, however, when that happens, it’s hidden in a story and not laid out in front of you. Being confronted with the pain behind the stories really sat with me. I love that Aron chose to share that with us and I did not take it lightly.
2. Since this book was so personal for Aron, it is only available on his website (link below as always). With the way the horror community faces judgement from outside sources (IE: his book Playground on TikTok for example) + some of the subject matter in the book I can 100% understand why Aron chose to protect his peace a bit in making it more difficult to just stumble on this book. Instead it’s a calculated purchase someone has to really choose to make. That said, I didn’t think the subject matter in this book was ‘too much’ for Amazon, etc. I think it’s on par with a lot of the Splatterpunk/Extreme community, maybe just a little more openly personal.
3. Aron takes on all kinds of subject matter in this one: aliens, conspiracy theories, revenge, social media, the government, and more! There is such a difference between each story – the
one overarching theme is awesomeness 😊 I do, of course, have my favorites and those are: ‘The Invisible Path’ and ‘The Saltman of Kingstown’.
4. Totally worth it! Also, the original artwork in the book is *chef’s kiss* - definitely a title you want to have on your shelf if you’re a collector of indie horror.
THE COTTON CANDY MASSACRE
by Christopher Robertson
1. This book was SO fun!
2. Perfect read for summer/end of summer with vibes of a circus theme park/fair and going back to school. It was somehow both nostalgic and in-the-moment.
3. Such a creative take on the clown trope. Robertson mixed paranormal/occult with serial killers, clowns, and rollercoasters. It’s like if Freddy Krueger and John Wayne Gacy mixed for an utterly horrific revenge tour set in Disneyland.
4. While all the blood was being shed there was an underlying theme of love being powerful enough to conquer evil. Apparently, I’m a sucker for that in horror. Not always, mind you, but it worked here and tugged at my heartstrings.
5. LGBTQ+ rep! I will always call this out since it’s very near and dear to my heart. I never get sick of seeing it.
GODDESS OF FILTH
By V. Castro
1. This book was SO FUN! It was incredibly relatable and nostalgic. Reading it took me right back to middle school sleepovers watching ‘The Craft’ and playing with all things occult that we had no business messing with. Mercifully, I managed to escape unscathed unlike Fernanda...
2. On top of the plot being presented in a fun way, I really enjoyed Castro’s writing style: direct, personal, and darkly humorous.
3. While I can’t relate to the racism aspect of this book since I’m white/white-passing, I can 100% relate to being a young woman and I think Castro absolutely nailed the plethora of feelings that come with young womanhood, as well as the complications of formative year friendships.
4. While this is a possession story on the surface, there is a much deeper message to this story which can be summed up in 1 word: white-washing. Mainly, it’s about indigenous people’s stories being lost due to European/white people eradicating everything that doesn’t serve them, or stealing what serves their narrative even if it requires completely changing the meaning. This is something I’m becoming more aware of personally, and something I find incredibly important that affects so many areas of life (i.e.: education, art, holidays, etc.).
5. By now you know I love a good call-out of the current state of organized religion and this one was absolute perfection.
4 out of 5
By Matthew Cash
1. Woof. It takes A LOT to gross me out, but Matty Bob found a way. His graphic description of the ritual Vince goes through to rid himself of his binge-eating disorder…total barf. I had to put the book down and walk away for a couple of minutes and it was AWESOME. However, this one may not work for you if you have a weak stomach. Or, just skip that part because it’s not super integral to the story and this one is good enough to read without the gross parts 😊
2. Loved all the characters! When someone is writing a book where very human flaws are the main point of the story, and they’re still able to write characters that people relate to and enjoy, that’s something special.
3. Toward the end it got a little Cosmic/Bizarro which I wasn’t expecting but didn’t hate. I guess I should have put that together when the description said ‘an entity older than the stars’ but I didn’t. It was weird but also enjoyable.
4. *Potential Spoiler* The ending. Ugh, it was so not what I was hoping for but simultaneously so touching. Going back to my 2nd point – the ending was very human, raw, and hopeful. Just a nice reminder that everyone is worthy, which you don’t always get with horror/splatterpunk/extreme plotlines. I wouldn’t want every book I read to have such an ending but DAMN, I’m glad this one did it.
4 out of 5
BEHIND CAME CHUN
By Oscar Calderon
1. This is a short read at 68 pages, and it sucked me in immediately! I couldn’t put it down, and when I had to in order to go to work, I was thinking about it.
2. I love a good crime fiction and Calderon takes that and mixes it with a bit of god/demonic lore...I think? Honestly, while I found the writing super engaging, I also felt like the plot kinda fell apart a bit. Or maybe more like something was missing. I actually went back and read this a 2nd time to make sure I didn’t just miss something, but I don’t think I did. Both times, I was left with a “what in the heck happened?” feeling. Maybe it’s supposed to be mysterious, but, in my opinion, that mystery doesn’t work well with this plotline. Still a good quick read though!
IN THE HOUSE OF IN BETWEEN
By J.D. Buffington
1. By now you know I love a haunted house story, but what happens when the haunting is more of a prophecy, is it truly a haunting then?
2. There’s nothing extreme (or even gory) about this book. It’s a great option for people who aren’t into that type of horror or someone looking for a good old-fashioned unsettling story about a haunted house.
3. This book had multiple timelines – MULTIPLE. Not gonna lie, it got confusing every now and again, especially because there are 2 that have a similarity between them and it wasn’t always immediately clear which family’s timeline we were in. I liked each of the different plotlines and characters and I 100% see what the author was going for in having so many, but I felt it got a little discombobulated with so much going on.
4. With all the different plotlines there are, of course, different characters. I loved how Buffington was able to write so many characters so realistically. Every single one found a way into my heart and I got invested in their stories, which is great because that helped to separate all the many timelines.
5. There’s a twist! Who doesn’t love a good ‘WOAAHHHHHHHH’ moment amongst their horror?
SKIN: AN EROTIC HORROR STORY
By Audrey Rush
1. Wow. This was twisted!
2. Audrey Rush is a well-established ‘smut’ author. No judgement here, I read it! BUT – this is a strong horror debut. And, yes, it does mix some smut in there; check CWs. I personally enjoyed the mix of my 2 most read genres. Taboo? Sure, but that’s what hooks me.
3. I don’t want to say too much and give something away, but I thought a certain person was the twisted one only to have another character reveal themselves as more twisted…or, perhaps just twisted in a way that social mores deem ‘worse’.
4. I wanted more! I know this is a short story, which is what attracted me originally, but it was such a unique storyline that I wasn’t ready for it to end when it did!
LITTLE MISS EVIL
By Jim Ody
1. I want to start out by saying this was entertaining – I love a camp slasher, especially during summer; that combo just hits right.
2. While entertaining, there was something about the writing that just seemed weird to me. There was a lot going on – maybe too much - the storyline didn’t really need that much happening, plus, the execution was awkward. Parts just felt kind of thrown together, and I don’t know if it was the writing or editing, but during certain parts of the book I felt like I ‘glitched’. It was like, ‘how did I get here from where I just was?’. As I said, the story was entertaining at its core, which is what matters to me. It didn’t take me very long to fly through it.
3. The ending pulled everything together nicely. Throughout the rest of the book, you know that there’s something binding all the characters together, but you’re not quite sure what it is, and that is answered at the end. There is a 2nd book that I plan to read, but if you’re a person who likes/needs a good resolution, this has it. You could totally read this as stand-alone if you don’t want to continue, or if, like me, you’re going to read a few other books in between the two.
4. While I found most of the characters unlikeable (but it works!), there were 2 that I really enjoyed – Jenny and Max. They’re written as the less popular teens: smart, introverted, not completely wrapped up in their looks, etc. I enjoy seeing this personality type represented, and not in a negative way.
SHE IS A HAUNTING
By Trang Thanh Tran
1. I did this one as an audiobook and, man, I wish I hadn’t. Honestly, the narration was so terrible I almost DNF’d, but my fellow UDH review teammate, Chaz, encouraged me to keep going because of the story itself. He was right. I should have switched to either the Kindle or physical version at that time, but I had already wasted an Audible credit on the audiobook, so I stuck it out. *My review does not hinge on this bullet point at all, but this is me encouraging you to skip the audio version of this book if you plan to read it!
2. The first 1/3 bored the ever-living crud out of me. But again, Chaz said it picks up, so I stuck it out and I’m glad I did. While this book is totally a slow-burn and the ending picks up a bit, I don’t know that horror-wise, the payoff is worth it. Thankfully, there are a lot of other redeeming qualities of this storyline like great social commentary around colonialism as well as the struggles of being queer in a migrant family. Oh, and I loved the beautiful descriptions of Vietnamese culture/clothes/foods/etc.
3. While I didn’t find the horror plotline to be scary, I wonder if that’s because I’m not even a little familiar with Vietnamese culture and horror. Perhaps this story is full of references to things that I’m simply not aware of – and this encouraged me to do more digging into Vietnamese horror/lore. If I find something compelling, I may change my mind on this part; with a better understanding of what certain aspects of the haunting truly mean, I might find it to be scarier. However, the unwelcome colonization of a country is frightening enough – I’m 100% not trying to gloss over that part in the least.
4. I loved the LGBTQ+ representation! I thought Jade’s struggle with coming to terms with her sexuality was both realistic and heartwarming. It took me back to those butterfly feelings of a new relationship as a much younger person, where everything is both exciting and terrifying. I thought this aspect of the story was really well written.
5. There were a lot of aspects I struggled with in this book. That said – I do feel like it would translate very well into a movie. One I’d see!
ARON BEAUREGARD’S MORBID CURIOSITIES, BOOK 3: CEMETERY CAMP
By Aron Beauregard
1. In this book we get to Mia’s plotline! But…it’s still not truly hers. We do find out where/how she fits in though and I’m glad for that.
2. This was my least favorite of the Morbid Curiosities books, but it was still very good. I think the subject matter just didn’t hit home for me in the way that the other 2 did, and that’s fine! Just because I liked it a bit less than the other two doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.
3. While there’s a main story being told that has its own main moral lesson, there’s also a deeper ethical consideration at play in this book, and that was fun to stew on for an afternoon.
4. I’m really hoping Aron writes at least a few more installments into his Morbid Curiosities collection, it’s like Goosebumps for adults and I love that concept so much.
ARON BEAUREGARD’S MORBID CURIOSITIES
BOOK 1: CAME WITH THE FRAME
By Aron Beauregard
1. I’ve read and loved quite a bit of Aron’s work, and this series has made it clear that he just keeps getting better and better with each new release.
2. Even though this is a short story, it feels more developed plot-wise than some of his others. I’m all for gory rampage (keep that coming too, Aron!) but sometimes it’s nice for the plot to feel ‘full’ along with the gore. This is descriptive, brutal horror; it plants an idea in your head that festers into something unsettling, it’s not at all a super in-your-face ‘cheap’ thrill. I’m seriously loving this new chapter in Aron’s writing. I noticed it in Playground too, but this short proves he’s growing so much as an author.
3. This gave me the vibes of a sinister version of the podcast ‘The Antique Shop’ which I adore. That vibe kept going with the other 2 books in the series. This was a perfect start; it really grabbed my attention and made me need to know what was happening. Mia is almost like a sidelined MC. This story has pretty much nothing to do with her until the end – the first 4/5ths of the story follow completely different characters and then she comes in, to be followed into the next 2 installments. It’s kind of meta (is that what the kids are saying these days?). What do I mean by that? Well, it’s almost like holding a crystal ball and watching something play out that doesn’t actually involve you but does directly impact you.
4. Franco is a real piece of work. I can’t say much more about it without spoiling something, but I love how his storyline was set up and revealed. Sophia is one lucky lady.
Goosebumps for adults? Yes, please!! 4/5
ARON BEAUREGARD’S MORBID CURIOSITIES
BOOK 2: THE ILLUSION OF CHOICE
By Aron Beauregard
1. This installment of Aron Beauregard’s Morbid Curiosities gave me straight-up ‘Butterfly Effect’ vibes. You know, the one good movie Ashton Kutcher did? Okay, that was mean, but I truly enjoyed that movie when I was younger because of the philosophical implications. The first time I watched it; opened up a whole new world for me, or more accurately, a deep rabbit hole I dove headfirst into. Either way, the moral, ethical, and philosophical conundrums this plot brings up for me is a nerdy introvert’s dream. I so enjoyed a throw-back to a very good time in my life as well as a refresher that led me to thinking about these concepts as an adult, with a much different world-view and much more experience. Weird what books can do, isn’t it?!
2. Just as in Book 1 - this story opens and closes with Mia, but Mia is not the MC of the story itself. I’m hoping Mia becomes more relevant in book 3.
3. The last few chapters had a ton of good quotes/points – I highlighted quite a bit, but here are a couple of my favorites:
“This was not the America I knew. It was the confusion, violence, divisiveness, decay, and lies – but all out in the open.” *This just felt really pertinent to today and hit me in the feels.
“I had lived a hundred lives and there wasn’t a single life better than this place where I didn’t have to deal with anyone.” *um, sounds lovely, actually.
4. Piggybacking off the last quote above, and this could be a spoiler, so proceed with caution – there’s a part where the MC realizes that her best world was someone’s worst. This makes her realize that being alone isn’t always a bad or lonely thing, there are worse things in the world. And this got me spiraling on a whole new level. Thinking about how weird generations and aging are and how newborn babies are coming into someone’s worst version of the world every single day. As that baby grows up, year after year the world decays, and as they leave their worst world – another baby is coming into their best. Just a crazy freaking cycle.
4/5 for making me think deep thoughts.
By Eve L. Fell
1. Eve L. Fell is someone to be WATCHED – in a good way! I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few short stories or entries into anthologies that she has written, and those absolutely blew me away; so, I knew her debut novella would be good, I just didn’t realize it would be this good.
2. Definite ‘Saw’ vibes. Or maybe more like Saw, but as a romance 😉. I loved the first couple Saw movies, so I guess it’s not surprising I’d enjoy a novella that gives me the same kind of feelings.
3. While this is a short read, Eve does an amazing job of creating characters – you really fall for them. I am WAY more of a character driven reader than I am a plot driven reader. I mean, I enjoy a strong plot too, but if the characters aren’t relatable in some way, I’m simply not going to care about the plot. In a mere 62 pages Eve creates characters you feel you know and that gets you invested in the story even deeper.
4. I’m not going to say much about this, but there’s LGBTQ+ rep which I'm a complete sucker for.
5. Sarah was a boss-ass-bitch throughout this book. Intelligent, calm, just utter perfection. I need a strong FMC and I was not let down.
Heck of a debut! 4/5
THE BROKEN HEART
By NJ Gallegos
1. I discovered medical thrillers/horror relatively recently and I have fallen in love! As someone who has worked in multiple avenues of healthcare throughout my life, it simply feels like home. That said, I’m particular about the accuracy of the information in these books. As I was reading The Broken Heart, I was so impressed with how well the medical procedures and devices were explained, I actually told my husband how happy I was with the research the author put in. Then, I found out the author is an ER Doctor in real life and it all made sense! I LOVE when a professional works their industry knowledge into their creative work. Because of how seamlessly Gallegos did it, I’m putting her work on par with Tess Gerritsen and Lucinda Berry. In my mind, that’s a huge compliment!
2. Speaking of Lucinda Berry – this book gave me some creepy kid vibes similar to Berry’s ‘The Perfect Child’ and that made me so deliciously uncomfortable.
3. I know due to cellular memory transference (which is something I’ve always been completely fascinated with) – it wasn’t 100% ‘her’ after her transplant, but regardless I still felt such triumph for Casey when she FINALLY had enough and blew up at her husband. I mean, he needed a hard conversation for quite some time and when she snapped at him, I was cheering.
4. Wow, this got dark. There’s a part where the plotline goes in a direction I did not see coming. I think I was focused on the wrong things in the storyline to even consider going that direction, but I loved the path it took, and I’m not mad about being surprised with a twist.
WE’RE HERE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF LGBTQ+ HORROR
Multiple authors. Published by Gloom House.
1. Of course I was going to read this in June for Pride Month! (yes, this means my reviews are a few weeks behind, insert nervous laughter) I pre-ordered and read it pretty much immediately upon showing up on my Kindle. It was even better than I expected! This anthology is 12 stories either written by LGBTQIA+ authors or containing LGBTQIA+ characters and content. The community is extremely diverse and the stories within this anthology were a good depiction of the breadth of our community. Unfortunately, many were tinged with an element of fear that, in my opinion, should no longer be a factor in 2023, yet here we are. Yes, this is a soapbox, and No, I’ll not hop off.
2. This was a polarizing collection for me. While I respect all the stories and voices, of the 12 stories I super enjoyed 5, liked 2, and didn’t care much for 5, which is kind of a low ‘enjoyment percentage’ for the anthologies I’ve been reading lately. But the stories I enjoyed, I really enjoyed; so that makes up for the difference.
3. Just a listing of some things that stuck with me, and, surprisingly, not all these stories are in my favorites – proof that just because a story doesn’t connect on a personal level doesn’t mean it isn’t good!
- The Denouement of Freeze-Dried Coffee by Sumiko Saulson has a closing line that messed with my head in a good way. It made me put down my Kindle and think for a bit, but I enjoy a philosophical rabbit-hole while I read.
- The Sin-Eaters by Mick Collins was great fun! It took a complete left turn from what I thought was going to happen and I loved every second of it.
- Insurrection by Ruth Anna Evans left me teary-eyed and terrified. She played on a very scary, and, depending on where you live, real possibility which left me all kinds of shook. *Back on my soapbox: we need to do better. This isn’t a fear that people should be forced to live with and, sadly, it’s not far off.
- Both Tenebres Mon Amour by Pippa Bailey and Endless, He Said by Anton Cancre were beautifully written; almost poetic, really. Leaving just enough up to your imagination while providing ample structure for the point to hit home. This is my introduction to both of their work and I’m looking forward to more by each of them based on these stories alone.
4. Pride month may be over, but I’ll leave you with this: We’re STILL Here.
by Bentley Little
1. I really enjoy Bentley Little, despite his little plot hole issue. Some books are worse than others, and I personally found The House to be one of his better books plot-hole wise.
2. Haunted houses are a trope I can’t get enough of, and this was a unique take on a haunted house story. Well, maybe it’s not ‘haunted’ so much, but you’ll need to read it to see what it actually is.
3. The story line follows 5 individuals who have something in common and due to that commonality, they are forced to meet up at a not-so-singular location; it’s kind of like the movie ‘Identity’ but with an otherworldly twist. Little spent the first 2/3 of the book introducing us to the characters and their individual situations. This part was slow-ish for my taste, but also necessary to understand the last 1/3 of the book when the action really starts taking place. Could it have been done a little better? Probably. Did I hate it? No. The payoff was worth it.
4. There was an unsettling vibe throughout most of the book even though the action was pretty contained to the last 1/3 – Bentley Little is, in my opinion, a master at making readers feel unsettled and I love his work for that reason!
THEY WANT US GONE
By Judith Sonnet
1. When I saw Judith had a collection of angry queer horror out during Pride Month, I had to scoop it up immediately! One of the stories in this collection, ‘Liquid Sick’, was previously published in her collection ‘Something Akin to Revulsion’ and was one of my favorite short stories of the last year. I’ve thought about it countless times since reading it in August of 2022, so I was looking forward to an entire book full of stores that encapsulated that same feeling and, holy nuts, did Judith deliver!
2. So much of this book is absolutely heart-wrenching, but so much of it is also incredibly triumphant. There’s an air of “we will survive” throughout. Which is utterly terrible, because people shouldn’t have to fight so damn hard for basic human rights. This can be said for so many more communities than just the LGBTQIA+ community, however, it’s Pride month and I’m pansexual, so that’s where I’m focusing today. An ENTIRE population of people right now, in the year 2023, is fighting for things they shouldn’t have to – the right to just exist, for one. It’s so freaking frustrating. I’m not trans, and I’m a queer white woman in a straight-passing relationship, so I can’t even begin to know how deep the pain goes, but I want to experience as much as I can through other people’s eyes, in order to be a better ally and friend to those who experience the bulk of the bigotry and hate. This book helped me dip into those feelings, and I was absolutely wrecked more than once.
3. I tore through this masterpiece in a day. A work day, mind you, so time wasn’t easy to come by. I loved each story so much, but the ones that really hit me in the feels are:
a. ‘A Pale Angel With Bright Red Eyes’ – This one took me on an emotional roller-coaster. Ups and downs, and sideways…and the end was so utterly triumphant that I couldn’t help but shed tears of both sadness and of a sense of victory. I’d love it if Judith took the MC, Mazey, and expanded on her journey. I could really get down with that tale of revenge.
b. ‘Afterword’ – this is meta in the best kind of way. Judith typically does an amazing wrap-up of her work at the end, so that’s 100% what I thought this was, and in a way, it is, but it’s way more than that.
c. ‘They Want Us Gone’ – I cried like a baby. I messaged Judith. My soul felt like it was ripped from my body and I was mourning for all my rainbow siblings. All those who have lost their bio families due to being true to themselves. All those who are being told they’re not able to display family photos in their workspace because somehow their family is “less than” or “wrong”. All those who wake up every single morning to fight a fight I, thankfully, am not personally experiencing. It made me realize how important that fight is and how honored I am to share in such a beautiful community.
4. BE BETTER. It’s 2023…people shouldn’t still be fighting for Basic. Human. Rights. Holy effing crud.
This made me feel feelings so it’s an auto 5/5
WITHIN: A THREE PART HORROR
By Edmund Stone
1. As I’m sure you can tell by the title – this is a short book that is comprised of 3 even shorter stories. Each story has a female M.C. and each story is very different, offering a lovely and diverse reading experience.
2. The first story: ‘Within You…Within’ freaked me out a little bit. I was reading it in bed at night, and my husband was in the other room – this story gave me such a sense of unease that I actually put it down and tried going to sleep because if I’d have kept reading, I might have gotten creeped out enough that it would have been difficult to fall asleep. Stone created an eerie and isolating storyline that mostly anyone who has ever been alone and let their imagination run wild will relate to. I loved that it made me uneasy, that’s not something that happens often! *SPOILER ALERT* that’s also a CW: the dog dies and I was unprepared – don’t you be.
3. The second story: ‘Within Me…Hurt’ had, in my opinion, the strongest female character of the 3 stories and mixed witchcraft with revenge. It was also the bloodiest of the 3 stories, which you know I love!
4. The third (and last) story: ‘Within Us…The Devil’s Concubine’ combines Voodoo and strained family dynamics with a pretty badass female MC. (But I still think story 2’s MC had her beat!)
5. I enjoyed all the stories in this book a lot, but there were a few times when something about the female characters, written by a man, just kind of hit me funny. I think for the most part, Stone did a great job of portraying women, and I understand what he was trying to do, but there was a time or 2 in each story that I just kind of felt ‘icky’ about something that was said, or how it was said. I fully recognize that could just be a me thing. I’m not docking any stars for it, but I did want to put it out there in case it’s something you notice, as I did. However, it wasn’t enough for me to feel like anything was taken away from the storylines.
Super enjoyable, quick read = 3.5/5
Edited and published by Crimson Pinnacle Press
1. This collection is 15 stories + 1 poem all based around the Grim Reaper. I typically find that I enjoy about 60-ish% of an anthology. I don’t usually hate any of the work, but there are just stories that fall flat for me, or don’t resonate with me. In this anthology, 75% of the entries hit home for me. Maybe the higher enjoyment rate was due to the subject matter, or maybe the selection board just knew what they were doing, but this anthology was FIRE.
2. Reading all the different takes on the Reaper made me emotional. Perhaps it’s because death is such a touchy and taboo subject in the United States, even though it’s something we all face in multiple capacities – friends, loved ones, eventually ourselves. I realize that thinking about dying isn’t always comfortable, but I found reading different versions of how it could happen and how death itself plays a part in someone’s life was super comforting for me. I won’t say I didn’t get choked up a time or two while reading, but emotion isn’t something to shy away from, it’s how you know you’re still living, LOL.
3. It was hard to determine my absolute favorites, but here are a few that really stood out to me:
- Death of Creativity by M Ennenbach – as Mike is wont to do, he paired humor with emotion and some pop culture (old pop culture perhaps) icons to bring an incredibly deep and entertaining story. Do you ever wonder how your favorite murder mystery novels come to be? Now you will…
- The Last Transaction by Barend Nieuwstraten III – this is an author whose work I’m only familiar with via CPP anthologies and his stories are always one of my favorites of the antho. Barend’s work is full of beautiful prose, he has a lyrical way of explaining the most mundane things. Ie: “If dust and prehistoric rock had a voice, it would be the one he heard answer him, carrying the weight of everything that had ever been or would be.” Gorgeous, right? Have you ever wondered how the Reaper came to be? This story may just answer it right at the very end; which was one of the times my eyes got a little wet.
- Short Timer by Stephanie Scissom – this is the other story that caused my eyes to leak. It’s as if we got a special horror episode of Law & Order– similar to how the Simpsons do their Treehouse of Horror. That. It’s Law & Order: Grim Reaper edition. We’ve all lost loved ones; who would you choose to escort you to the other side?
4. Whether you’re afraid of your time or not, I recommend reading up on the different takes on the Grim Reaper and having fun playing around with your favorite versions and scenarios in your mind…one day you’ll have your answer for sure 😉
MY OUIJA BOYFRIEND
By David Irons
1. Nostalgia will get me every time. Reading this book felt like diving into a Lisa Frank notebook cover. It felt like pre-teen angst and sleepovers where you watch ‘The Craft’ for the 30th time and play light as a feather stiff as a board, except in this case there’s a side of demonic activity. I LOVED the feeling in spite of hating my late childhood and pre-teen years while I was in them. You know, looking back with rose-colored glasses and all that jazz.
2. Relatively brutal! I read a lot of splatter and extreme horror, so I’m used to the grossest, most gratuitous death scenes – I wouldn’t say this book has that; there are definitely some creative death scenes, they’re just not super graphic. If extreme horror is a little too much for you, this book would be a great option – you can imagine as little or as much as you want with what Irons plants in your mind.
3. There is an air of depression and suicidal ideation throughout the book, so if you struggle with that, I’d recommend staying away. For me, though, it worked. When I was a teenager, I felt that way a lot, so it helped me slip back into teenage brain and experience the story from Kathy’s perspective. Given the things that Kathy has gone through in her life, it makes total sense she’d feel that way. It’s necessary for the character and the plot of the novel, just something to be aware of.
4. 515 Pages? REALLY? I mean, it is 515 pages, but it certainly doesn’t feel that long. It’s a quick and fun read, don’t let the length scare you away!
5. The end took an unexpected and sad turn that gave me all the feels.
Not my favorite from David Irons, but very enjoyable! 3.75/5
By Daniel J. Volpe
1. LOVED this! I read it in 1 sitting – each of the stories was so good and so unique. It’s Volpe, so there is definite gore involved, but I personally think this isn’t as extreme as many of his other works. It showcases his range. He can do gross, he can do splatter, and he can do good horror with a message.
2. Some of the themes in this short story collection:
*‘Carrie’ but with the added bonus of a demon spawn
* Hiking horrors in alternate dimensions.
* A story that really drives home why it’s important not to trust a stranger.
But my 2 favorites of the collection are:
*Blanket Full of Bullet Holes. This one surprised me because I don’t tend to vibe with Western themes, but this had a really good twist and beautiful writing.
*Grave Dirt. This is short; only 2 pages, but it managed to give me goosebumps as I found it to be the perfect summation of grief.
3. I love how Daniel incorporates his friends/fans into this work, it’s so fun to catch the little head-nods to the people in the Indie Horror Community as you’re reading through. Speaking of – be careful of Schommer Park 😉
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
By Jack Ketchum
1. The fact that this is based on a true story really messes with my head. I've heard the real story a few times on true crime podcasts and it's brutal every. single. time. Just heartbreaking.
2. I've never read Ketchum before, but I now see why he's such a staple in the horror world! He can tell a heck of a story, in a way that feels so personal. I will definitely be reading more of him!
3. I appreciated how 'easily' everyone slid into sociopathic mob mentality and how Ketchum just made it make sense. I think, as adults, it's so easy to forget how much both peer and adult influence truly affect children. The whole time I was reading I was SCREAMING internally for one of the kids to make a better decision and put an end to the horribleness, but then I put myself back to childhood in the early 90s and realized I don't know that I would have been comfortable making the right decision either, as much as it pains me to admit it.
By DM Gritzmacher
1. This book gave me ‘Left to You’ vibes, which, if you’ve been around long enough, you know is my favorite book of all time. So, similar-ish vibes, except set in a series of underground tunnels and caves (an old quarry – imagine that!).
2. I thought Jeanne was an extremely relatable character, especially for anyone who has unresolved childhood trauma. I, weirdly, really liked seeing how it affected her parenting – generational trauma, y’all. Gritzmacher didn’t just write a cold, somewhat unfeeling, woman though. No, he showed an entire other side of her through her relationship with her ex-husband and his relationship with their son, to create a well-rounded character profile that really shows things aren’t always what they seem and how understanding a person for who they are really can contextualize a relationship. I loved this so much, it showed true compassion and a very human reality.
3. I’ve not read the 1st book in the Skulldiggery series (The Relic) and you don’t have to in order to read The Quarry; it’s pretty stand-alone. There were a few references to ‘The Relic’, especially toward the end of the book, that piqued my interest in book 1. It’s also left open at the end for more Skulldiggery fun to come!
4. There were plenty of reveals throughout the story. Some I guessed, some I didn’t, but I love when an author drops breadcrumbs kind of leading you there, but also allowing your mind to run with the possibilities.
5. I wouldn’t categorize this as either extreme or splatter – just good old-fashioned horror. Some terrible things happen, especially one character in particular who is just freaking awful. All I have to say about that is Dogs for the win!!
Rachel Rates 4 out of 5.
IN EVERY DARK CORNER
By Duncan Ralston
1. I mean, this is no Gross Out (Y’all thought I was gonna say Woom, didn’t you?!), but I did really enjoy this collection. There was a great variety in both the stories and the form of the stories. There are short stories, novellas, and a screenplay all within the confines of this anthology. The stories themselves are gross, funny, serious – suffice it to say you’ll both cringe and giggle while reading.
2. I don’t want to tell you too much about the stories and ruin them for you, but 2 points:
a. ‘Head’ had some ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ vibes, but set in a more modern day and relatable situation. The end was also so cruel, but perfect.
b. ‘The Burden’ really hit me in the feels. I used to work with adults who had traumatic brain injuries and also as a CNA on a high-acuity floor of a hospital where one of our frequent fliers and favorite patients had ALS. So, this whole story really pulled at my heart.
3. I listened to the audiobook version and I really really enjoyed the narration. Again, this has no bearing on my actual review, but it’s good to know if you’re an audiobook fan!
Rachel Rates 4 out of 5.
By Mike Bockoven
This book is almost as if ‘Lord of the Flies’ met ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ set in the time of social media…it was a real mind freak.
I was not a fan of Lord of the Flies, but I enjoyed the concept in this setting. Maybe it has something to do with seeing elements of LotF in society recently with all the political turmoil, social unrest, and throw in a global pandemic for good measure. There was a time when I believed that hard times bring out the best in people, but I’ve since learned that is far FAR from the truth, so perhaps I’m more open to a Lord of the Flies scenario. Or, maybe, the setting of a giant Disney-esque theme park just made it more believable to me. I mean, Disney makes plenty of people stabby anyway, so…’happiest place on Earth’ my buttocks.
I listened to the audiobook version because I heard several people talk about how good it was, and I was not disappointed. The book is written in an interesting way – it’s one overarching story, but told in snippets of interviews for a documentary crew, so the audiobook is super great since each character has their own voice/style/etc. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the way the book was written but I wound up really enjoying it. I listen to a lot of true crime/documentary type podcasts, so I’m not sure why it initially struck me as weird for the style of this novel *shrugs*
By Candace Nola
This beauty sat on my TBR for A YEAR until I was finally inspired to pick it up because there was a 2nd book in the Bishop world coming out. I’m so mad at myself for that; I kept putting it off because “I don’t like cryptid horror”. However, this is one of my 5-star, favorite reads of the year, so apparently, I do like cryptid horror. Plus, it’s cryptid horror mixed with hiking and climbing. I’m a sucker for a good hard hike so when you couple that hobby with an already high potential for danger with wendigos it equals a legitimately fear-inducing plotline for someone like myself!
The characters in this book are SO relatable. They’re your sister, your uncle, cousin, friend…whatever. They’re real – come off the page – kind of characters. I love when authors write characters like that because it gets me emotionally invested, especially if the plot is a little far-fetched. I am in no way saying this plot is far-fetched. As someone with Indigenous heritage, I 100% believe and respect the lore of Wendigos/Skinwalkers/Shape Shifters/etc. I think this book sat so long on my TBR because I didn’t realize how truly believable the story would be. When I think Cryptid Horror, I automatically go to crazy bigfoot type of stories, or a plotline like Godzilla. My mind doesn’t equate Cryptid to Indigenous legends and that’s something I clearly need to work on - my own inherent bias.
As I said – I loved all the characters, but Casey really captured my heart. She’s an intelligent, spunky, adventurous girl that loves the outdoors and has an inner strength tougher than nails. I related to her and I was so happy to know that there was a 2nd installment of Bishop where I could see what’s next for the character that feels like my little sister.
Completely SMASHED my expectations - 5/5.
Find it on KU!
BISHOP: MAN vs MONSTER
By Candace Nola & M Ennenbach
Because of my procrastination in reading Bishop, it meant I got to read it and then go immediately into the 2nd installment of the Bishop world. So, I guess that’s a win! We see things switch up a bit in this book – instead of 1 author, this is penned by 2, and it is executed seamlessly. Nola and Ennenbach are both amazing authors on their own, but it’s something special when they team up.
Man vs Monster proves that our main man, Bishop, is actually being hunted by…something. Or somethingS. Why? Well, there are a multitude of reasons, and I love that. In book 1 we had a great introduction to the main characters and the plot, and in this installment we see a deeper plot – there’s the action that happens in this book + an underlying dread that perfectly sets up book 3.
I’m so freaking nervous something bad is going to happen to Bishop. I know it’s horror and things like that are supposed to happen, but Candace just created such an easy to love character that I feel protective of and don’t want to see any harm befall. GOT IT, NOLA?!? 😉
Loved this one, and “I” totally make an appearance (thanks, M!) but it doesn’t compare to meeting Bishop for the first time
RACHEL RATES 4.25/5
By Mona Kabbani
What a unique concept! I don’t want to say too much and ruin it, but this is, at it’s core, a love story. Not at all what you normally think of when you think of a love story; it’s not written about a partner, it’s written about the most pure love of all…and you’re going to have to read it to see what love that is 😊.
The setting felt like some sort of medieval middle eastern fairytale – if G.o.T was written by the brothers Grimm and set in Lebanon. Or if Aladdin and Game of Thrones had a love child. I really enjoyed the setting, it was much different than what I typically read, and I did have to go back and read some parts a 2nd or 3rd time because some of the lore, characters, or religious aspects were things I’m not familiar with at all and had to be sure to wrap my head around so I could make sure I was getting the full effect of the storyline. The Middle East is FULL of lore, legends, and spooky stuff, I really should look into more from that region of the globe, or maybe I’ll just let awesome authors like Mona bring a bit of their culture to me via their beautiful words.
I sobbed like a baby. This hit me HARD, and if you know me, you’ll know why. It is such a beautiful and heartbreaking read. Even thinking back on it now has my eyes a bit wet.
Rachel Rates 4 out of 5.
THE PATIENT ROUTINE
By luna rey hall
RELEASES JUNE 16!
I HATED THIS BOOK to start, lol. Oh, my goodness, Hall created one of the most annoying and aggravating characters and situations I’ve ever feasted my eyes upon. I actually contemplated DNF-ing this book. Then, I took a hard look at why I was having such an emotional response and realized they had hit a sore spot for me in creating a character that reflects some people in my own life…eeek. So, I kept reading, and I’m so glad I did!
This book touches on everything – mental health, identity, LGBTQIA+, RESPECT, failings of our U.S medical system, etc. When I said everything, I meant it!
Because of all the things this one touches on, the further I read, the more I came to enjoy the main character who previously annoyed me. They weaseled their way into my heart and created a nice little pocket where I wanted to protect them from harm.
This is written as a poem? A thought-flow…stream of consciousness? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s very unique and it works so freaking well. Honestly, it couldn’t be told in any other form, it’s just perfect how it is. I believe Luna Rey Hall is also a poet, and this book is the perfect melding of art form – prose and poetry.
Rachel Rates 4.5 out of 5 for…everything. What a freaking journey!
THE HEADLESS BOY
By Kelli Owen
I absolutely love a good haunted house story! That means I’ve read quite a few, but this was something a bit different than what I’ve read before and that impresses me. I love when someone can take a unique spin on a ‘tired old’ trope, a.k.a just make something popular feel fresh and new.
Typically, I’m not a fan of stories that center the parent/child relationship or focus a bunch on being a parent, because, I’m not a parent, and I hate how society puts so much focus on people needing to procreate – it’s not a necessity, if you don’t want to, don’t. *hops off soapbox* - that is to say, I hate feeling preached at about how amazing and necessary having a kid is, and I find 98% of books that center a parent/child relationship feel preachy to me. This one did not. At all. And that allowed me to connect to the characters more.
Let’s talk about the characters – Oh. My. Goodness. SO PURE. Seriously, this whole book felt like I was reading about friends of mine. Just the nicest most respectful people. Even when they ‘weren’t’ they were. This book centers a married couple and is written from each of their perspectives. The husband is the main POV, but we do get the wife’s take on a few things, and this provides a look at both the motivation behind actions and what the perceived intentions are. They don’t always align and that was entirely too relatable. I just loved how real the characters felt!
I’ll be very honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from this one, but Kelli Owen called my bluff and I wound up enjoying this read so much!
Rachel Rates 4 out of 5.
By Candace Nola, Mike Ennenbach, Eric Butler, and Nikolas P. Robinson
I’ve been reading a lot of collections/collaborations/anthologies lately and I have to say this is the most unique concept I’ve had the pleasure of reading! I loved how each author’s story was part of a much larger plot. ‘The Generator’ isn’t just a TOC with a slew of stories lined up with a similar theme, yet completely separate from one another.
This is a heavy read. The stories themselves are all really good, but the unsettling part is moreso the overarching plot. It is dark and evil and takes you right up through the very last page. There’s no break in the malevolence. Well done, Candace!
The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger – will there be a 2nd installation? Please say yes, please say yes…
Honestly, I loved everything about this. I even loved that I loathed the main character – I actually think you need to for the plot to work as well as it does. Joel is absolutely supposed to be hated; pretentious, no talent hack that he is.
Rachel Rates: 4.5/5 Flawless execution
By Edward Lee & Wrath James White
I had a friend tell me this book was too much for them, so of course, I had to dive right in. Seriously, I ordered it from Amazon immediately after that conversation. I’ve read quite a bit of Lee this year, so I knew what I was getting into, but I did still have a small gag reaction pretty quickly in the 1st chapter. It’s what Lee does.
If you’ve read Lee and White both – it’s pretty apparent who wrote what (at least I *think* it is), so if you’re hoping for a seamless meshing of styles, this is not it. But if you’re looking for good f-ed up fun from 2 awesome authors that may also tickle your gag reflex, this is it.
Religious horror will always be one of my favorite sub-genres…tropes…whatever. This is a different take on it than I’ve read before and it was highly enjoyable. I especially loved how broad of a brush the authors painted with when crapping on religion. *NOT faith, mind you, organized religion – there is a difference.
Rachel Rates: 3.5/5 Solidly disgusting
THE NIGHTMARE MAN
By J. H. Markert
This was a fun combination of crime fiction, mystery, thriller, and horror. The plot was unique and involved – as you’d expect it to be in order to include all of those genres 😊
This may be a slight spoiler, so proceed with caution: as someone who reads a lot of extreme horror, there’s nothing I want less than those storylines to start playing out in real life. *for the purpose of this review, we’re going to skip over the fact that a lot of it is rooted in reality* That said, I found the premise of this novel fascinating.
The mystery aspect did keep me guessing. I did figure it out before the reveal, but that’s because Markert leaves some pretty obvious breadcrumbs that lead you to the answer, however, there are other mysteries surrounding the answer, so it doesn’t ruin the intrigue.
Rachel Rates: Definitely enjoyable – 3.5/5
The Rack & Cue
By David Owain Hughes
This book was a bit of a slow burn to start off. I’ll admit, that’s difficult for me, but once this story gets rolling, it does pick up quite a bit and then it’s pretty constant action or competition.
In the beginning there were a LOT of characters and it wasn’t clear how they were going to fit together, but it did eventually all make sense and in a good way. Right away in the book you’re getting introduced to person after person after person and I was completely questioning if I’d be able to remember all of them or if they really even mattered. Yes, they do matter, and Hughes finds a fun way to pull everyone together and really make them more ‘personal’ and stand out in their own ways.
This is kind of a 2-for-1 story. There’s the first 3/5-ish of the book where the story is going 1 way and there’s a short mention of something that could have meant something, but you get the feeling it’s a little bigger than just a mentions and then the last 2/5s of the book completely switch and follow this theme, which felt wildly different to me. Not gonna lie, this took me by surprise!
Rachel Rates: 3/5
400 DAYS OF OPPRESION
By Wrath James White
I’ve struggled with writing this review – there’s a ton to unpack with this book, and a lot of it I simply cannot understand. I can try to relate or empathize, but not understand. I’ve tried to put a few thoughts together, but this is not nearly all I have to say on this one. This book will be with me a loooooong time.
The main relationship in this book is between a black man and a white woman, and, as the title suggests, race plays a huge part in what happens throughout the novel, but it’s not everything. I loved the race aspect; it made me think and made me ask myself some difficult questions. Being a white woman myself, I simply cannot understand what BIPOC individuals go through living in an inherently racist society. That said, I also try not to bury my head in the sand like Natasha does. Seeing her challenged in the ways she was throughout this book was extremely satisfying at times because in her silence she was complicit in furthering the divide between white/white passing and BIPOC individuals.
From the jump it appears that race is the main focus of the book, but then the whole BDSM angle is unveiled and that’s where my mind was fully blown. I am not a part of the BDSM community. I don’t have anything against those who are, but I admit I know virtually nothing about it, so learning about the power dynamics in Dom/Sub relationships was incredibly interesting. However, it was made extra difficult when coupled with the race aspect of this novel – it’s not always apparent which ‘relationship’ Kenyatta is playing on for the things he comes up with. Is it race? Is it BDSM? Is it his sociopathic tendencies?
And…in poorly articulating that last thought I realized there may be a more overarching theme in this book: society is similar to a shady BDSM relationship for minorities; where there isn’t consent on the part of the sub, or where the sub doesn’t realize they should be holding the power until too late because their dom is shady AF and managed to steamroll them into something they later regret.
This novel had some of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read. I hated every one of them, but the writing and subject matter was so good I couldn’t put it down. I read this as part of a buddy read and blew the schedule out of the water because I couldn’t stop reading, I NEEDED to know what was going to happen next. 5/5 for how it continues to live in my head rent-free.
Bob's Pest Control
By Ryan Hyatt
What a weird and delightful little story! Bizarro humor mixed with 1980’s vibes = you can’t go wrong.
This was my first by Ryan Hyatt, but certainly will not be my last – I love something that is intelligent but also makes me laugh and nostalgic at the same time, and Bob’s Pest Control delivered. What an absolute ride this was – I mean: mad scientists, a less than desirable housing market, crappy neighbors, giant Lovecraftian creatures, and family dynamics all mixed together in a smart and silly 37 page short.
I can’t recommend this enough! 4/5
PIECES OF ME
By RJ Roles
When I heard that RJ Roles of the Books of Horror Community Anthologies had his very own collection out, I NEEDED to read it! RJ has done so much for the independent horror community, I just had to see what he had brewing in his head creatively and I was not disappointed!
First of all, if you can get Mike Ennenbach to intro your book, you’ve made it. Mike has a very refined literary taste and can sniff out talent like a pig sniffing truffles.
The first 2 stories were very short and had a similar feel to them, it was a nice intro to the collection – like dipping your toe in to test the water.
I truly enjoyed every story in this, but I especially wanted to call out ‘Secret Recipe’, ‘Swine of Another Kind’, ‘Dream Vacation’, and ‘Something’s Wrong With the WIFI’:
Both Secret Recipe and Swine of Another Kind played with my emotions in a very good way.
Dream Vacation was my absolute favorite of the collection. It had so many different horror elements to it, some a little far-fetched, and some very very real. I love when something is horrifying because it’s plausible (or, semi-plausible). The main character in this one is a medical doctor and everyone knows how terrifying it can be navigating the medical system and putting your full trust into someone while you’re so vulnerable, and that’s the kind of fear I’m talking about. One you feel deep down inside because you relate. Something’s Wrong with the WIFI was just a fun fever dream, incredibly relatable and silly.
Moral is: RJ doesn’t just know how to publish a good book, he knows how to write one too.
RACHEL RATES: 4 out of 5.
By Lucy Leitner
I’m starting this off by saying I relate hard-core to the main character, Valerie. I’m a gym rat. I’ve spent a large portion of my life being active – from high school and college sports to gym memberships as an adult. Admittedly, and somewhat ashamedly, when social media became as big as it is there was a brief (I mean BRIEF) moment I thought I’d try my hand at being a fitness influencer. NOPE. I quickly learned I do not have the particular brand of crazy that is required for that. Not saying I have no crazy, I surely do, just not that kind. All of the characters in this book are ‘slight’ exaggerations of the types of people you’ll encounter in that space and MAN, it brought memories and feelings flooding back to me. Yikes. Glad I dodged that bullet, says the girl who now spends all of her money on independent horror books and conventions 😉
I love how Lucy so perfectly likens the fitness influencer industry to a cult. Because, honestly, that’s what it is. Not just influencers; it’s not fair to single them out, but the whole industry. It’s so sad, because there are science-based things that are out there and can be helpful to people who need them. I for one, have a diagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency – so I take a supplement – and I notice a difference. NOT EVERYONE needs this, yet I see it all over everything as a magic cure for fatigue (it’s not). Health and wellness are so individualized and it’s also something VERY valuable – beyond monetarily, so it’s incredibly easy for capitalistic vultures to swoop in and ‘woo’ people into buying unnecessary and, sometimes harmful, items/supplements/ideas. Thankfully, I have noticed more and more fit-fluencers out there calling it like it is, making me wonder what their tipping point in the cult was. Hopefully it wasn’t as drastic as what Valerie encounters in this novella…
Little bit of real-life horror mixed with exaggeration and humor, what’s not to love? Especially for anyone who has experience on the health side of any social media!
Rachel Rates: 4 out of 5!
ONE LITTLE MISTAKE
By Lucinda Berry
This is an Audible Original, so obviously, it’s an audiobook 😉. Gotta get this out of the way early; it isn’t really a comment on the book, it’s also very important: the narrator is great!
One thing I absolutely love about Lucinda Berry is that she makes me think. I mean, she was a clinical psychologist in her early career, and psychology FASCINATES me (hence why I majored in it). There is nothing better than putting yourself into other people’s shoes and trying to look at things from their perspectives.
I’ve noticed that many times I can kind of see snippets of different true crime cases in Lucinda’s work and I enjoy that. I’m a true crime lover (typically in podcasts) and many times I feel like you get a quite biased opinion on podcasts, which is fine, but you have to listen to quite a few to really get the whole story from all sides (again, fine), but Lucinda has this way of writing a book where you see elements of something you may know from true crime or the news, etc. and flipping it around where you’re looking at it in a whole different way which tends to boggle one’s mind.
Throughout this novella you see the lead character Alexis really come into her own, and I LOVED that. It’s a woman finding her strength in tragedy and, to me, that’s so underrated and so so powerful.
Rachel Rates: 4 out of 5!