Friday, 31 July 2020

Snake Charmer Blues by Keith Anthony Baird







I'm not your average, everyday American. By the time you've finished listening to what I have to say you're going to get that. Sure, I do average, everyday things, but only to go unnoticed while I'm planning and doing the things that aren't. Y'see, I've killed people - for good reasons though. I mean, it'd be plain wrong to just murder someone who didn't deserve it - I'm not a psychopath y'know.

In fact, I fit right in really. If you looked at me, you wouldn't think for a minute I'd bashed in the head of a frail old lady, watched people die in the house fire I lit, or made sure a jumped-up motorhead got crushed to death in the tin can on wheels I 'fixed'.

There are others too, but you'll have buy this little look inside my head to find out the rest of it. Don't want to? Really? Let me just make a note of that ...



Our unnamed character's life changes forever when a carnival comes to their town, bringing the magical and mysterious snake charmers. Upon seeing these magicians up close they become ignited with purpose; to charm the snakes of the world and make it a better place.

Turns out our character doesn't need to look hard to find snakes. Soon they're popping up everywhere and there's no one better to "charm" them than our protagonist who exudes both charm and evil!

This tale soon descend into utter darkness as we follow our crusader on their journey to make the world a better place. Once they have started their quest the know they can never finish.

I had great fun reading this tale, I had no idea of where it was going to lead the plot is as agile as snake on the prowl, it takes you on a action packed fast paced adventure right up to the terrifying conclusion!


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Lyrics and Curses by Candace Robinson




Stranger Things meets Pretty in Pink:

Lark Espinoza could get lost in her music—and she’s not so sure anyone in her family would even care to find her. Her trendy, party-loving twin sister and her mother-come-lately Beth, who’s suddenly sworn off men and onto homemaking, don’t understand her love of cassette tapes, her loathing of the pop scene, or her standoffish personality. For outcast Lark, nothing feels as much like a real home as working at Bubble’s Oddities store and trying to attract the attention of the cute guy who works at the Vinyl shop next door—the same one she traded lyrical notes with in class.

Auden Ellis silences the incessant questions in his own head with a steady stream of beats. Despite the unconditional love of his aunt-turned-mother, he can’t quit thinking about the loss of his parents—or the possibility he might end up afflicted with his father’s issues. Despite his connection with lyric-loving Lark, Auden keeps her at arm’s length because letting her in might mean giving her a peek into something dangerous.

When two strangers arrive in town, one carrying a mysterious, dark object and the other playing an eerie flute tune, Lark and Auden find that their painful pasts have enmeshed them in a cursed future. Now, they must come to terms with their budding attraction while helping each other challenge the reflection they see in the mirror. If they fail, they’ll be trapped for eternity in a place beyond reality.

Wow! I had great fun reading this paranormal romance set in 1980's America! It's classed as Young Adult fiction but great fun for all ages!

I loved the two characters of Lark and Auden to misfits who fit together perfectly united by the love of music and lyrics. Their relationship is so uncannily accurate for two very socially awkward 17 year olds in love with each other. As well as navigating their love lives they also have to deal with being cursed and ending up trapped in the Mirror Realm.

I loved the edgy feel of this book. Romance isn't really my thing but I loved this tale and the story gets really dark in places. Candace Robinson has a great imagination and so the plots moves in some really unexpected ways. I'd say this was a slow burner to start with but the two main characters are just so endearing that I really enjoyed getting to know them in the relative calm before the storm.

Diabolica Britannica




It's a great honour to announce that my latest short story is appearing in this. I'm wildly excited by this one, as you can see there's some amazing horror writers featured in here!

Diabolica Britannica is out now via Amazon and all profits will be going to the wonderful NHS!


Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Window in the Ground by Steve Stred








On the outskirts of town, hides a secret.

If you follow a path through the trees, read the rules (always twice) on the sign post, go up a hill and across a grassy clearing, that secret will reveal itself.

You see, for hundreds of years, this seemingly normal town has done its part, kept the balance.

But on this day, a rule will be broken.

You might have heard the rumors shared in whispers.

You may have been told about someone who’d seen it with their own eyes.
But now, on this day, you’ll join us.

You’ll come for a car ride and we’ll park.

Then we’ll walk along a path, read some rules (always twice), and go up a hill and arrive at a clearing.

Across the grass, you’ll see just what the town’s been hiding, protecting for centuries.

Then you’ll feel a pull.

And we’ll make our way over to it.

Over to the window in the ground.
“I looked at the mound and could see that a light was shining up from the under, from inside the window. Something was happening below.”


Wow I have to say this is by far the best thing Steve Stred has ever written and the standard of his work was already really high! 

Previously the last thing I'd read by Steve Stred was The One That Knows No Fear released through Demain Publishing which I loved, it had all the amazing elements for a great horror tale but also packed a real emotional punch.

The Window in the Ground is equally powerful. It begins with a small American town with a dark secret that is only revealed once the townsfolk reach 18. Unfortunately for our protagonist he is initiated into the secret way before his time which has dire consequences.

The suspense  in this story is absolutely insane. I was warned by fellow friend and writer, Theresa Braun, that once you start reading it you want be able to put it down, and she was absolutely right. As the story progressed I was desperate to see the window in the ground but also screaming at the characters to stay away from it. 

I don't want to spoil the experience for those who've yet to read it but I'll say the story is so gripping and genuinely terrifying!

Monday, 13 July 2020

Dead and Breakfast by Gary Buller




When Eddie gets a flat in the middle of nowhere, the last thing on his mind is death. Then as darkness falls and the storm worsens, he's forced to seek shelter alongside his significant other, Banksy. Big mistake.Bed and Breakfast, the sign said, but there are no eggs and bacon on the menu here. Instead, their host serves up four tales of terror with a little murder on the side. And as the other residents of the mansion gradually reveal themselves, Eddie and Banksy begin to wonder if they'll ever check out alive.

Book 11 in the Rewind-or-Die series: imagine your local movie rental store back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, remember all those fantastic covers. Remember taking those movies home and watching in awe as the stories unfolded in nasty rainbows of gore, remember the atmosphere and textures. Remember the blood.

I really enjoyed Dead and Breakfast by Gary Buller from beginning to end. It's a short story collection within a novella, not something I've come across before. I loved how these amazing short stories featured within another story of 80's punk rocker Eddie and his girlfriend Banksy getting lost on the moors after a car accident. They have no choice but to stop at a desolate Bed and Breakfast for the night as a violent storm kicks in taking them hostage.

The big questions is, will they survive long enough to get breakfast in the morning?

Over the years I've read a lot of Gary Buller, I really enjoyed his latest collection, Last Meal in Osaka from Demain Publishing and his story story collection; Mechanisms of Despair. His stories, apart from being really scary, are also deeply evocative, you really feel like you are living in his tales.  And even once you've stopped reading them you're still haunted by them!

This is a collection that starts off fast and doesn't let go, if the short stories aren't enough to scare you there's also dealing with Eddie and Banksy's fate when they prepare to depart the doomed guesthouse.

There are four stories included in Dead and Breakfast; Cords, The Brace, The Weight of Nostalgia and The Greyfriars Transcript. I liked how each short story was vividly different from the other but they all worked really well together.

Cords

After an unknown invasion from another world people are only allowed to live until the age of 45 until they must present themselves to the fissure on the outskirts of town. This is the only way to keep the peace between the humans and their conquerors. In this tale we are introduced to Allison who is about to approach her 45th birthday but can't bear to leave her family behind. A really intense tale that grips you from the very beginning. 

The Brace 

A young boy struggles to live up to his father's vision of how a young boy should be. To prove his pending manhood he is taken hunting by his father early one morning where his life will change forever. I loved this story of revenge from beyond the grave!

The Weight of Nostalgia

This tale is where we see Gary Buller's amazing ability to transport you as a reader into his dark world. I really felt I was in this tale which makes it even more scary. This tale really got to me, it starts off as a sweet tale of a man going back to his youth but soon in descends into a nightmare!


The Greyfriars Transcript

I loved this creepy ghost tale where a young man has to take a dreaded train journey up to Scotland for work. He's warned against taking the trip, but does he listen?


Food for Worms by Ian Sputnik

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"An anthology of small dark bites of life, death, everything in-between, and beyond written by Ian Sputnik."


Food for Worms is the debut collection of dark fiction by Ian Sputnik, a writer whose tales I have been enjoying for some time now after reading his work in Sanitarium Magazine.

Food for Worms is a compendium of darkness featuring horror tales, poetry, flash fiction and illustrations. This is a collection of doomed souls and their despair, because in the end each and everyone of us is destined to become food for worms.

I really enjoyed the pieces of flash fiction dispersed throughout, highly original with very clever endings! The poetry I enjoyed too despite not really liking poems.

The collection gets off to a great start with Meal Deal. For me this is a great story from beginning to end. As well as writing really dark tales Ian can also do dark humour which work really well in his stories. Meal Deal is about a retired couple searching for the perfect British country pub. They have very specific tastes...

In Eyes, a husband has to deal with an unwanted house guest who worms their way into their family home straight into the heart of his adoring wife. Something must be done before things go too far...

Night Terrors, Richard has been suffering with terrors his whole life. These ones are so bad they carry on long after he has woken up. Is it really all in his head or is there a more disturbing reason behind Mr Chuckles?

Head For Horror may actually be a true story about Ian's hat he's very keen on!

When Death Takes Hold is possibly the darkest story in the collection. A tale of utter desperation. Adam stands on the riverbank of Black Water Cove, a strictly prohibited site. He has only one thing on his mind - death.

This is a great collection of short fiction, flash fiction and poetry all united with a dark theme and laced with humour. These are really fun stories to read and a lot of love has gone into the collection. I really liked the cover illustration by Robert E.Wilson and there's some really cool illustrations throughout the book. A must read for any horror fan!

Hearthstone Cottage by Frazer Lee

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Mike Carter and his girlfriend Helen, along with their friends Alex and Kay, travel to a remote loch side cottage for a post-graduation holiday. But their celebrations are short-lived when they hit and kill a stag on the road. Alex's sister Meggie awaits them in the cottage, adding to the tension when her dog, Oscar, goes missing. Mike becomes haunted by a disturbing presence in the cottage, and is hunted by threatening figures in the highland fog. Reeling from a shock revelation, Mike begins to lose his grip on his sanity. As the dark secrets of the past conspire to destroy the bonds of friendship, Mike must uncover the terrifying truth dwelling within the walls of Hearthstone Cottage.


Damn I read this in one day. I really wished it would have lasted longer but alas it was just too good! I couldn't put it down, I even read as I ate my dinner. In the last twelve months I've absolutely fallen in love with what Flame Tree Press are putting out right now. Past titles I've read and adored include Stoker's Wilde, Creature, Night Shift and everything by Jonathan Janz!

The premise of the Hearthstone is a much used one but really thrilling if pulled off with great execution. Four best friends who've recently graduated from university go to a remote cottage in the middle of nowhere. It's the last time they'll all be young together as soon they will have to face the harsh reality of forging a career, paying off a huge mortgage and hitting the daily grind.  

Trouble starts for these ill-fated friends before they even arrive, involving a grisly car crash.  

I loved how the different characters complimented each other. They had a big impact int he telling of the story and helped create a lot of tension from within the house as well as what was happening outside. I couldn't stand Alex from the offset, Helen was far too serious at too young an age. Mike was the most relatable, poor guy just wants to have fun, but at times he did seem to be in danger of becoming a man baby. Meggie was mysterious from beginning to end. 

I loved the atmosphere of the tale. Set in the beautiful remote Scottish Highlands is a lonely cottage owned by Alex's wealthy parents. The four friends go there to celebrate the end of their university days. 

The cottage is very old and of course comes with a dark tale of how it came to be made. Every shadow has a secret. So do the characters. Trouble starts before they even arrive at the cottage and from there things begin to go awry.


This was a really fun read, the plot was really dynamic and constantly took you on an adventure. This story has ghosts, witches, revenge, retribution and a lot of gore!








The Balance by Kev Harrison





"When myth becomes nightmare...The price of blood is always blood.

Natalia's in trouble. She only looked away for a second, and now her brother's hurt. Her relationship with her mother is fractured, her brother's condition is deteriorating, and her only hope lays deep in the unforgiving forest. A secret spoken only in whispers offers a way out. But when help comes in occult forms a sacrifice may be the only way to restore the balance.

Humanity and nature collide in The Balance by Kev Harrison, a modern re-imagining of the Slavic folk tale of Baba Yaga, set in Cold War Poland."


I've already read some of Kev Harrison's short fiction so was super excited to get a sneak peak of his upcoming novella, The Balance from Lycan Valley Press. I really loved Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See released this year by Demain Publishing and this latest offering is just as awesome!

Coming in at around 100 pages I read this one sitting. This is one of those tales that are hard to put down once you stop. The plot is so original you can never guess at what is going to happen next.  The building atmosphere of tension despair and hope from the very first page really draws you in. Doom begins from the very first sentence and it threatens everyone involved.

Trouble begins when Natalia takes her younger prized brother out into the forbidden forest near their little cottage to play. For just a few moments she becomes distracted. During that tiny relapse her brother is hurt. At first it doesn't seem too bad but when you live in the middle of nowhere with sparse supplies conditions for Natalia and her family take a turn for the worse. After a few days her younger brother hovers over life and death. The doctor has done all he can within his powers of medicine.

Her mother holds her to blame.

Natalia is desperate to save her brother. Driven by despair she returns to the forest alone in secrecy, this time going deeper than before. There is an old wise woman living alone in the forest that her grandmother would visit in times of great need.

However this is no ordinary wise woman, this is Baba Yaga. What will she want in return for her services? Who will pay the price?

This tale is told really well, a modern day fairy tale laced with horror. You feel so involved with Natalia's plight constantly having to face tough decisions. She wants to do what is right but life is never that simple. Soon the fate of the village rests on her.

It was hard to pick a side in this tale of man vs nature. A part of me really enjoyed the revenge of nature but I felt sympathetic to Natalia and some of her fellow villagers. The tension really builds during this dark tale and many times it feels very bleak after the villagers angered the forest. The forest fights back in some very unusual ways and no one is safe from Nature's wrath.

When the balance is upset life becomes very difficult for all parties involved. Who knows which side will win if the balance is not restored?