Friday, 7 February 2020

The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste

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"From the Nightscape Press Charitable Chapbooks line. One third of all sales of this chapbook will go to support the National Aviary.

It starts with rapping in the ceiling and spirit boards that know them a little too well.

Everly and her best friend aren’t your typical college students. Instead of raucous Saturday night parties, they spend their weekends conjuring up things from the beyond. Ectoplasm, levitation, death photography---you name it, and Everly knows all about it. But while this obsession with the supernatural is only supposed to be in good fun, the girls soon discover themselves drifting deeper into magic and further from each other. Then when one evening ends with an inadvertently broken promise, everything they’ve ever known is shattered in an instant, sending them spiraling into a surreal haunting. Now Everly must learn how to control the spectral forces she’s unleashed if she wants any chance of escaping a ghost more dangerous than all the witchcraft she can summon.

A tale of the occult, unlikely phantoms, and complicated friendships, The Invention of Ghosts is the latest strange vision from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens."

I loved this so much I read it in one sitting and then immediately read it again.

The Invention of Ghosts is one of a series of charitable limited edition chapbooks available from Nightscape Press. However for those of you like me who live of the other side of the Atlantic these books will be made available as e-books once the paperbacks have sold out.

I was so thrilled to be given a chance to read this. Gwendolyn Kiste is one of my favourite authors who defies genre, one of those rare writers who turns horror into something both scary and sublime at the same time. Many people describe her work as strange and beautiful and this story is no exception.

This is a tale about two friends who share their whole life. They grew up together and now they are both studying at the same university, even sharing the same room. Locking themselves in away from the crowds they indulge themselves in the secrets of the occult. It's not long until they are able to perform tricks by tapping into the supernatural forces around them.

These are girls with strange powers, rejected long ago from the outside world they break away. In this state they are happy, for a time.

I was hooked by the first paragraph alone when Everly, one of the two young women, is asked by her best friend what sort of witch does she want to be?

These two girls have grown up with magic, casting it around them in protection. They've forged a strange friendship so intense and claustrophobic that its hard to remember their lives away from one another.

The Invention of Ghosts has a really unusual narrative which works really well pulling you into the story and making you feel a part of it.

The story builds into a really dramatic ending, what starts of a sweet story of friendship soon takes you into a choke-hold of horror. The story touches on many themes of friendship, loss, loneliness, being haunted by your past. This is unlike any witch story you have ever read.

 (I love stories featuring witches, if you do, you must check out HexLife: Wicked New Tales of Witchery, it's amazing.)  

One concept from the Invention of Ghosts that I found really interesting was that each of us have many different lifetimes within our life. We constantly change from one person to the next. Throughout our journey we don't stay the same, experiences and people forge us into different people.

I loved the ending which I can't really go into without giving out spoilers other than say it was amazing!

On a side note, there's also some amazing reading recommendations dropped throughout the tale for those interested in the occult and mysteries of life.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The Celestial Assignment by Theresa Braun

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After a sudden death, Will, a misguided angel, is tasked with protecting a baby girl. Watching over her as she grows up and navigates the world appears a harsh punishment for his past failings. Can he redeem himself, or will he fall further from grace?

Theresa is a really interesting writer with great range, she is able to write really scary spooky stories such as her debut novel, Fountain Dead (Unnerving) as well as tender touching stories as The Celestial Assignment.

Will, is our very unlikely hero. At the beginning of the story I couldn't stand him but grew to really like him over the course of the story. Theresa does a great job of really bringing him to life with such great humour!

This is a really cool take on guardian angels and where they come from. I love the idea in this tale that there is someone looking out for us even when we feel really alone. 

After his death, Will is sent back down from heaven to watch over the life of a young girl, Celeste. Present since her birth he's there to witness all her poignant moments whilst searching for her soul-mate. This tale really makes you realise the need to be kind because our actions can have really for reaching consequences. 

Of course life is never simple or easy and despite himself Will learns a lot about true love and also himself. Fortunately for him in The Celestial Assignment, people can have a second chance.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Remains by Andrew Cull

Grief is a black house.

How far would you go? What horrors would you endure if it meant you might see the son you thought you'd lost forever?

Driven to a breakdown by the brutal murder of her young son, Lucy Campbell had locked herself away, fallen deep inside herself, become a ghost haunting room 23b of the William Tuke Psychiatric Hospital.

There she'd remained, until the whispering pulled her back, until she found herself once more sitting in her car, calling to the son she had lost, staring into the black panes of the now abandoned house where Alex had died.

Tonight, someone is watching her back.

I think this may be my favourite book of 2019. The most emotionally charged book I have ever read. This is a book so dark that I often had to take breaks whilst reading it and actually had nightmares over it. Read with caution if you have kids, or ever lost a loved one. This is a brutal book on grief.  This is a heart wrenching tale drenched in horror.

Remains starts off as a slow burner, we are introduced to the main character of Lucy, a bereaved mother struggling to adapt to life without her son. I had to admit at the beginning I didn't think much of her but as the book progressed I began to identify more with her.  Initially I thought this was just going to be a really sad tale on the nature of grief but it is so much more a true horror novel.

Remains is a book that won't let you go, there's no respite to the darkness as we follows Lucy's journey of recovery after the death of her only child after she checks out of a psychiatric ward. She's looking for closure, living the nightmare each day everyday. There's people on hand to help her but how can you comfort a grieving mother? How can you make things right? She refuses everyone's help, shuts everyone out. She's a mother on a mission.
Unlike everyone else,  she just can't leave her son behind, even if he has passed on. She won't forget him and move on like everyone else. She's still his mum. The urge to be with him is too strong to resist and she finds herself going back to where her son was killed.

Andrew Cull is an amazing writer. It's hard to believe this is his debut novel as it so accomplished. He creates a really intense threat of horror from the first page. There's very few books that can scare me, but this is one of them. The house, 1428 Montgomery, is terrifying. Andrew Cull conjures up a real presence of evil within its walls. If you like haunted house stories this is definitely up your street.

Cold Comforts by Marianne Halbert

Haunted objects. Haunted places. Haunted people.

Creatures otherworldly and places where looming shadows bring dread to your door.

A school bus stops at the home of an isolated family whose unusual children have a unique way to scare off their enemies.

A vacationing couple discovers something deeper than their love resides within wine country.

Objects in the attic of an old farmhouse come to life seeking retribution.

A peculiar girl discovers she has a strange ability.

These thirteen tales will take you from the farms and woods of the heartland, to prison and the south of France. Whether you're crunching through the snow wondering what's moving behind you, or sitting by a campfire listening to a tale of revenge, pull a blanket tight around your shoulders and be prepared for an impending chill to race down your spine.

All you'll find are cold comforts here.

This is an author that just popped out of nowhere and now I'm completely hooked! This is her second collection of short stories, the first is Wake Up and Smell the Creepy. 

Each tale in this collection of dark, creepy and supernatural tales is very different but they are all united by their evocative atmosphere of cold dread. With each tale the tension builds up into a terror of cold dread. As a reader, it is impossible to guess either when, where or how the horror element is going to creep in. But you know its coming.

Of course all the tales in this collection were great, there honestly wasn't one story in here I didn't like which made the task of picking out faves really difficult.

My favourite tale has to be Papa's Wrench and the Wind Chimes, its up there with Adam Nevill's ability to completely terrify his readers and leave them traumatised. It starts off innocently enough with a young child going to school on the school bus but descends into some really dark waters with the Monstrum Kids climb on board. This tale is a perfect example of quiet horror exploding into an amazing finale.

When Betsy Whispers - an amazing tale to start off the collection. Probably one of the most original tales I have ever read, it is truly disturbing and thought provoking with a very unusual protagonist. When I finished this tale i knew this was going to be an amazing anthology.

Housing the Hollygobs starts off a sweet tale about remembering loved ones and silly family traditions soon turning into something much darker. The ending is brilliant!

Another firm favourite is Luxor Decanted and its superb use of imagery. A happily married couple embark to Paris for their once in a lifetime dream vacation. Years in the planning they have finally made it to soak up the arts and culture of one of Europe's finest capitals. The husband becomes drawn to an Obelisk near the Louvre, fascination soon turns to obsession. 

Monday, 27 January 2020

Welcome to the Show edited by Doug Murano

17 horror Stories. One legendary music venue. 

We all know the old cliché: Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Now, add demons, other dimensions, monsters, revenge, human sacrifice, and a dash of the truly inexplicable. This is the story of the (fictional) San Francisco music venue, The Shantyman.

In Welcome to the Show, seventeen of today's hottest writers of horror and dark fiction come together in devilish harmony to trace The Shantyman's history from its disturbing birth through its apocalyptic encore.

Featuring stories by Brian Keene, John Skipp, Mary SanGiovanni, Robert Ford, Max Booth III, Glenn Rolfe, Matt Hayward, Bryan Smith, Matt Serafini, Kelli Owen, Jonathan Janz, Patrick Lacey, Adam Cesare, Alan M Clark, Somer Canon, Rachel Autumn Deering and Jeff Strand.

Compiled by Matt Hayward. Edited by Doug Murano.

Bring your curiosity, but leave your inhibitions at the door. The show is about to begin…

One legendary music venue, 17 dark horror tales. Epic concept! The music venue in question is a  dive bar located in San Francisco with a dark history of murder but yet never fails to pull in a big crowd. The place is haunted with legends and marks a dark rite of passage to go there. No one can resist the temptation to go there despite the warnings.

What makes this anthology stand out from the rest is its impressive line up of really talented well known authors; Jonathan Janz, Brain Keene, Max Booth 111, Somer Canon Adam Cesare and many many more.

Crystal Lake are the masters of putting together superb anthologies, I've quite quite a few in my time such as Lost Highways, Tales From the Lake and The Outsiders so I knew this would be really impressive.

I hate to admit but there were a few tales I didn't like, that I felt were a little lacklustre this is most likely because the the stories that I liked, I loved. These anthology filled the reader in me with absolute joy at reading such well crafted horror tales and has inspired me as an author. These are the stories I long to be able to write if I put on my best thinking hat.

What makes this a joy to read is that there are so many sub-genres to enjoy, in here you'll find tales of vampires, ghosts, demons and some down right creepy shit. Usually when I review anthologies I tend to pick out a few favourites but its really hard to do that with Welcome to the Show. I guess my standout favourite would have to be In the Winter of No Love by John Skipp, a brilliant portrayal of 1960's San Francisco, if I ever get my hands on a time machine this is the first place I'd visit. Except this tale focuses not on the summer of love but the winter of darkness. Loved it from beginning to end!

The 17 tales in here complement each other perfectly and there's a great flow to this collection. When I finished one tale I was really eager to start the next. All I can say is you'll just have to read it for yourself.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Last Meal in Osaka & Other Stories by Gary Buller

Last Meal In Osaka & Other Stories (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 44)

Swashbuckle Cove:
Swashbuckle Cove is a closed-for-repair boat ride in a dying seaside resort. Harry Bootle and his brother climb aboard for one last ride, but little do they know what lies beneath the surface.
Or how hungry it is.

Last Meal in Osaka:
Influential billionaire Curtis Makin, bored of the finer things in life, books a table at the secretive and exclusive restaurant 'Ouroboros.' Will the experience be as good as he hoped?
Or will 'Ouroboros' claim its pound of flesh?

Rise of the Chiggy-Pigs:
“Don’t touch, whatever you do,” dad said. “If you do, you might just turn into one.” They live at the bottom of the garden, in the cold damp, feasting silently on decay, but someone is about to disturb them...
...and learn a very important lesson.

Writing about Last Meal In Osaka & Other Stories Gary Buller said: “We have three completely different protagonists in this collection, from the innocent all the way through to unexpectedly nasty. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end very well for any of them...I had to dig deep [when writing the stories] recalling how I felt when similar experiences happened to me. I wouldn’t say this was difficult, but it did bring back memories, not all of them pleasant.”

I've read a lot of Gary Buller's tales over the years and was really excited to see he had a mini collection out with Demain Publishing. The bar has been set really high here! One striking thing about Gary's work is that it is really dark horror that stays with you long after you stop reading! This is a really great little collection which gets darker the more you read on! 

The first tale is Swashbuckle Cove of two brothers holidaying in what was once a luxurious holiday resort but has now fallen into ruin. Sneaking off from their parents they sneak onto a unsupervised ride around Swashbuckle Cove. They think they're alone but they're not! I really liked this tale of childhood innocence coming to an end. The atmosphere is foreboding right from the get go. I loved the build up to the tale there's a great atmosphere and I could really imagine myself being on the lake with them.

Second is Last Meal in Osaka Curtis Makin is determined to go out in style and dines at a luxurious restaurant where his every whim is being catered to. However what he really wants is off menu... This was  really dark and I loved it. I don't want to say too much and give spoilers but its really dark!

I really liked all these tales but I have to say Rise of the Chiggy-Pigs was my favourite. You'll never look at insects in the same way again after reading this one. A young boy's life is forever altered on the fateful day he helps his father in their back garden. Little does he know how everyone around him  is going to be affected.  The ending is amazing!

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Crowded House

I'm so thrilled to be starting 2020 with a brand new batch of horror stories. Crowded House and other stories will be released 31st January from Demain publishing.

Containing the stories: UNTIL I GO – Selina longs to be free from her mother’s hatred. They haven’t spoken in years until Selina is asked to visit her dying mother in hospital one final time. This is it. Soon Selina will be free but will their last goodbye go smoothly? CROWDED HOUSE – A young woman finds out she is the sole heir of her Uncle’s estate after he vanishes. She comes to Canterbury for a new life but the house is not what she was hoping for. It has been left in a terrible state and holds many secrets she must confront if she is to take control of it before it takes control of her. A BUBBLE OF FRIENDSHIP WILL KEEP US – On the cusp of adolescence, Ella fears for her best friend Jade who is turning her back on their childhood friendship and the mysterious forest beyond their homes. Jade wants to grow up but the fairies want Ella to put a stop to it.”

Crowded House will be released along with some other great works; The Birthday Girl and Other Stories by Christopher Beck, Dark Corners by David Charlesworth and Moonlight, Gun Shot, Mallet, Flame by Alicia Hilton.

These great tales are only 99p each. I can't decide which one I want to read first so I guess I'll just buy them all!

So far there have been 50 epic tales in the series such as An Invitation to Darkness by Hailey Piper, Cinders of a Blind Man who Could See by Kev Harrison, The Forest is Hungry by Christopher Stanley and The Town that Feared Dusk by Calvin Demmer  plus many many more you need to check out.

Writing about the stories contained in his Short Sharp Shocks! entry, author Christopher Beck said: “MISSING CHILD is based upon my life. I was once married and my ex-wife had a little girl with whom I developed a great relationship. After the marriage failed, things between the ex and I were sour which left my relationship with her daughter uncertain. MISSING CHILD was written as an attempt to deal with that uncertainty. Though it was tough at the time, I’m happy to say that now, years later, I have a wonderful relationship with the kiddo. [I would say of my second story] THE BIRTHDAY GIRL, you know sometimes in life terrible things happen and sometimes there aren’t happy endings. Stories like this aren’t easy to tell but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be told. [My final story in this mini-collection is] THE TRASH CAN. In my opinion, the great thing about short stories is that they don’t have to explain everything, they can just be pulpy fun. I used to live with my brother and he had a dog that raided the trash constantly. He bought a trash can which was basically dog proof. Soon after our roommate threw a paper towel into it and the lid slammed down way too hard and I had an instant story!”

Hand to Mouth by Deborah Sheldon, 

When the truth doesn’t satisfy, people make up stories.” An imprisoned man writes letters to his son, trying to explain the bizarre circumstances that led to his incarceration. But can his son believe him? Award-winning author Deborah Sheldon keeps you guessing with this novelette of secrets, lies, conspiracies and paranoia.

Moonlight,Gunshot,Mallet by Flame by Alicia Hilton

Writing about her Short Sharp Shocks! author Alicia Hilton said: “These are stories about dangerous women who confront supernatural forces. When the moon is full passion simmers and demons strike. Who will survive? ” Of MOONLIGHT, GUNSHOT, MALLET, FLAME, Alicia summed up her tale, thus: “Laura is a hitwoman who murdered men to avenge and protect innocent victims, but her violent past catches up to her after she kills her nephew.  Are Laura’s terrifying visions hallucinations, or real? “ And of her second story, A LITTLE DEATH: “An Internet date unites two monsters. Descended from flesh-eating witches, Darla must choose whether to embrace her magical powers and kill, or risk her own destruction for love.”

 Dark Corners by David Charlesworth

Horror can take a lot of shapes and sizes. For some, it appears in the form of Patrick as he steps out from the shadows, Stanley blade in hand. For Patrick, however, the only thing he fears is not shooting up. So he finds himself scouring the darkest corners of the world for his next hit. Exploring those lost and desolate places that no man should disturb.