Saturday, 23 January 2021

Juniper by Ross Jeffery

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Juniper is the first book in Ross Jeffery’s novella trilogy: a post-apocalyptic horror about an insane American town seemingly at the edge of reality. As Juniper suffers from scorching drought and medieval famine, the townsfolk are forced to rely on the ‘new cattle’ for food: monstrous interbred cats kept by the oppressed Janet Lehey.

But there’s a problem: Janet’s prized ginger tom, Bucky, has gone missing, flown the coop. As Janet and her deranged ex-con husband Klein intensify their search for the hulking mongrel, Betty Davis, an old woman clinging to survival on the outskirts of Juniper, discovers something large and ginger and lying half-dead by the side of the road.

She decides to take it home…

Juniper is surreal, dark, funny, and at times: excruciatingly grotesque. Buckle up for a wild ride through the dust-ridden roads of a tiny, half-forgotten American town.

Wow this is a novella that really packs a punch. If I'm being honest apocalyptic stories aren't really my thing, but I really enjoyed Juniper. This is a tale about a small American forgotten town in the middle of nowhere which really starts to suffer when the rain stops and the heat scorches every living thing.

This is a horror story that feels really real, especially with climate change looming over us. The effects are immediately unsettling. You can see how this way of life could happen to us in a short space of time. Unfortunately in Juniper, rather than work together, the drought and famine only seems to bring out the worst in people.

People will go to any lengths to survive, eating cats! This was a book I couldn't out down as I had to know what was going to happen next! Ross Jeffery has torn up the rule book and written something wildly original. This is the first tale I have read by him and am eager to read more.  If this is his debut I can't wait to read what he writes next. He creates such a vivid world and I was shocked when I discovered he's a Brit like me. It feels like he has lived in Juniper his whole life.

One of the reasons I loved the book was Betty! I loved Betty. She's the best character I've came across in a long time.  Betty maybe be a old lady but she's full of life. She lives alone on the outskirts of Juniper in a run down shack where she is often hounded by local teenagers. She survives on roadkill and her keen sense of survival. Betty is one of those elderly I-don't-give-a-f women that I want to be when I'm her age.

This is a simmering novella with a brooding atmosphere that really ramps up. It's not for the squeamish. Ross does an amazing job of creating characters to love such as Betty, and those to hate such as the deplorable Klein which really hooks in the reader. In no time at all I had become really emotionally invested in Betty and Janet, and of course Bucky.

Feeling so involved with the characters make the ending that much brutal and wow what an ending. It comes out of nowhere. When I finished reading I couldn't believe what I had just read. Juniper is a really thrilling ride. 



The Horror Zine's Book of Ghost Stories

 "This collection of ghost stories is fresh, varied, and entertaining. Perfect company for long a winter's night." - Owen King, co-author with Stephen King of the New York Times #1 Bestseller Sleeping Beauties

Twenty-six brand-new tales of ghosts, spirits, and the afterlife to chill even the most hardened reader to their very marrow. Grandmasters and newcomers alike serve well to petrify with stories to keep you lying awake in the dead of night - long after the last of the light has died - listening for that telltale scratching at the door, a soft whisper of disembodied voices, and the icy caress of long-dead fingers upon your ankle…

The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories is delighted to present to you original, never before seen, spine-tingling tales from Bentley LIttle, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Massie, Graham Masterton with Dawn G. Harris, Tim Waggoner, and the very best up and coming writers in the genre. Includes a foreword by Lisa Morton..




The Horror Zine and HellBound Books, outstanding publishers of horror fiction have joined forces to give you - The Horror Zine's Book of Ghost Stories. Out now via paperback and kindle.



Ever since I was little I've always been obsessed with the idea of ghosts. Troubled souls that don't know how to leave when they depart our mortal plane. Do ghosts really exist? Are they just damaged people or evil entities seeking to corrupt us? Is there one standing right behind you as you read this?


Ghosts have been with us for centuries, they have always been a part of our psyche and countless stories, films and legends have been devoted to them. Because of this there are many cliches to be found in ghost stories, some feel like you have read them countless times before. You'll find none of those in here.


This is an amazing anthology. Inside there's a whopping 26 stories guaranteed to scare the hell out of you. I honestly loved every single one of these stories but there's too many to individually mention. The anthology is introduced by horror legend Lisa Morton with her explanation on how ghost stories have endured since our ancestors told their tales around campfires.



Some of these stories are just straight up terrifying such as Trespass by D.J.Tyrer in which Jack has gotten a new job as a security guard conducting night shifts at an abandoned school with a dark history. This was one of my faves I really felt like I was there! As was The Boy From El Salvador by Bentley Little, such a terrifying story. We follow in the footsteps of border patrol officer who's been explicitly warned to leave the little boy from El Salvador well alone but the boy finds him and he just can't look away. Beckon U by Dean Wild took on a really modern twist on how ghosts can adapt to modern times, truly terrifying!


Some tales despite being dark were also incredibly touching and emotional. I particularly enjoyed reading A Strange Girl by Maureen O'Leary in which a mother and daughter have pushed each other to the limits. They embark on a make or break journey where they come across dark discoveries and a shocking truth. This tale has it all and was a real gem. As was The Vacuum by M.N.Nicholls, this tale really got to me. It's the first story of the collection and really starts off the anthology with a bang. The writing was so tender yet terrifying. An unflinching story of a young girl, despite being rendered utterly powerless by outside influences, she battles everyday to keep her family together. She never gives in, never gives up hope. Sal's Requiem by Sebastian Crow  was a very sweet and poignant tale of a father struggling to cope in the aftermath of a terrible accident. Saying good bye is the hardest thing to do. 



This collection also features some really creepy tales. I really enjoyed Filling Station by Joe R.Lansdale. When you really need to pee you can't be choosy but do be careful and keep an eye out. Something to Nibble On by Christian A.Larsen should have came with a warning. Do not read if you have a nervous disposition. After enjoying a visit with Grandma Evan's day takes a downturn. Not even Grandma's home-made cookies can cheer him up.Brilliant! The Doll by Kathryn Staublin was astonishing. An unwelcome visitor arrives, a strange little girl who says and does nothing. There's something not right about her or the doll she clings to. The House on Henley Way by Jeani Rector puts a new spin on the haunted house story. A young couple move into their dream home, the wife eager to start a family and fill the house with happy memories, except the house isn't emoty. Great story!



Other stories that take on dark subject matter include Mr Potato Head by Elizabeth Massie in which a troubled wife flees from her abusive husband and mother in law with her daughter determined to make a fresh start. Cutting the Mustard by Graham Masterton and Dawn G. Harris follows the tale of lonely man working a dead end job in a library. No one likes him, even the kids pick on him. Both these stories were so original and went off in directions I couldn't predict.


I also really enjoyed The White Road by Tim Waggoner in which a man lying on the operating table starts to see his life flash before him. The problem is he remembers everything so clearly. He can never forget a thing. 


This was a great anthology which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, a must have for all horror fans!



Of Witches by Steve Stred


 Of Witches… the newest collection by dark fiction author, Steve Stred, brings together eight stories all revolving around one of history’s great curiosities – the witch.


Steve Stred will once again take you into the deepest, darkest places.

Accompanied by fifteen stunning photographs/illustrations, as well as an amazing foreword from Miranda Crites, this collection is sure to quench your crone thirst.

Within this collection you’ll find tales about;
-A watery reunion
-A story shared in a bar
-Letters left after a family member dies
-A chance encounter while camping
-Three sisters who live on the outskirts of town
-The events that follow the loss of a loved one
-Strange occurrences at a property
-A teenager starting to work at the family business

Of Witches… is sure to become both a Halloween classic as well as a collection classic.


I've been a fan of Steve Stred's work for many years, starting with Left Hand Path:13 More Tales of  Black Magick, a collection of dark tales which I loved straight away. 

The next thing I read came from Demain Publishing, The Man Who Knows No Fear. This tale was so different from what I had read of Steve's, it was horror but also surprisingly heart wrenching and tender.



I was hooked! The good news is that Steve Stred is an incredibly prolific writer and it wasn't long until The Window in The Ground was released. This is easily the best thing by Steve that I have read, it has recently made the Preliminary Ballots for the HWA awards for Outstanding Achievement in Long Fiction, a huge achievement.




So when I saw that Steve had dedicated an entire collection to witches and dark magic I had to take a look. 

Of Witches does not disappoint. It is illustrated by Miranda Rites which really complements the tone of the stories. Each story is of course about witches but each one is really different.

The first story to the collection, In Waves, is a tale where a father takes his son to the beach for a day to reminisce over his lost love, who may not be all she seems. 

The Caves in the Wood, one of my favourite tales in this collection, is about two podcasters in search of a creepy story for their podcast.

Grandma's letters was a lot of fun to read, an unusual take that doesn't go where you think it is going to go. Three Words was truly sinister and has put me off camping for life. 

Also in this collection is the The Witch which I loved. It is a tale of three sisters united in witchcraft. They live out their days just outskirt a village where they try to remain unseen after witnessing the tragic demise of their parents. They live in constant fear of their lives keeping themselves away until the younger sister grows curious and decided to visit the village.

I had great fun reading this collection and can't wait to read more by Steve Stred!

About the Author

Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction.

Steve is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections as well as appearing alongside some of Horror's biggest names in numerous anthologies.

He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.

Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.

Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Asylum of Shadows by Stephanie Ellis


 Amongst the slums of Limehouse stands a new hospital, a monument to Victorian philanthropy. Marian, destitute and about to be orphaned as her father succumbs to the ravages of syphilis, is taken there by Dr. Janssen. This eminent physician offers her work and a roof over her head. Employed as a seamstress, she stitches shrouds for the dead and hoods for the hangman. Marian is taken to the ward of St. Carcifex. This shadowy ward receives the recently deceased, particularly those who have hung from the gallows. Her task in this gloomy place is to watch over them, make sure the dead stay dead. On Marian’s first night, she is charged with the care of two murderers, who, despite their hanging, do not appear to have the expected deathly pallor. On the second night, these guests are joined by innocent, hard-working men, victims of an unfortunate dock accident. Marian is enraged that such should be forced to share the ward. As her own mind falls victim to the ravages of the disease which killed her father, she metes out her own justice, her own vengeance – on dead and alive alike.

I'm a massive fan of Demain Publishing's hugely popular Short Sharp Shocks Series of dark tales which is now in it's second season! I haven't read one story I wasn't completely blown away by. 

This time I decided to delve into An Asylum of Shadows by Stephanie Ellis, a horror writer from the U.K. who I first got to know when we collaborated on Diabolica Britannica a British themed horror anthology which raised money foe the NHS during the Covid Crisis. I absolutely loved her terrifying folk horror infused tale so leapt at the chance to read more of her work.



Asylum of Shadows is set in Victorian London where poverty an disease was a normal way of life. Immediately I loved the atmosphere of East London's cobbled dark alleyways and dark nights.

We are introduced to Marian a young woman, who at such a young age has been through so much, and is now nursing her father in their home they are about to lose. She is still full of hope for his recovery but when the vicar arrives she knows it is the end. 

The visiting doctor agrees to take on Marian and provide her with board an employment in his hospital. It is a lucky opportunity that saves her from the work house.

She is given a job in a hushed ward, Saint Carnifex, overjoyed at being given a second chance at life. She throws herself into her work. It is a job many others before her have failed in not being strong enough to handle the conditions. However as someone who is familiar with death and tragedy she fits right and is keen to prove herself to the ward sister.

What I really loved about this tale was the atmosphere which is claustrophobic at all times and sinister. I really felt like I had gotten to know Marian in just a few pages which gave the tale a big bite at the end.

This was a really sinister story which just gets darker and darker with each turn. It was perfectly executed and wholly believable which made it even more scary.

I can't wait to read more from Stephanie Ellis and from Demain.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Helminth by S.Alessandro Martinez

 







Rei would do anything for those she loves.

As her best friend, Abby, struggles to cope with the sudden loss of her husband, Rei and her closest girlfriends take her to a beautiful lakeside house nestled in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, hoping that a weekend of support from long-time friends will help Abby along her road of emotional recovery.

But as the young women get settled, Rei begins to notice there’s something wrong with the place. Could this peaceful, idyllic location be hiding an ancient evil below the waters of the lake? Or are the problems wholly within Abby herself, who seems to be losing her grip on reality? When unexplainable, nightmarish things occur, Rei realizes this weekend getaway may turn into their last outing.
 

New from Omnium Gatherum is S.Alessandro Martinnez's debut novel! I've read a few stories from Martinez over the years and was really excited to have the chance to read his debut novel.

I really enjoyed this novel about four friends who come together to help their friend. Abby, has been in a terrible accident, she's lucky to be alive but she's lost everything.

Rei, one her her best friends since childhood, is no stranger to utter loss and desperation, she's been through traumas of her own ad is determined to help her best friend overcome hers.

Rei's parents own a secluded country home situated right on the lake, it will be perfect for a weekend away with Abby and her other bets friends. Over the years they have drifted apart as adulthood as set it. But this weekend will provide them all with the perfect chance to reconnect and heal.

But of course, this is a horror tale and plans soo go awry! There is something strange with the house which Rei can't quite comprehend. Abby is acting strangely too, but that's to be expected after her ordeal, or it it being caused by something else?

They may not be entirely alone on their vacation. They've only gone for the weekend but it will feel like the longest holiday they've ever been on.

The tale starts off as a slow burner but it lets you get to know the characters who really drive this story. I really liked Rei who is always thinking of others before herself. 

But it doesn't take long for the creepiness to seep in, and it gets really creepy! When the tale comes together it's really terrifying. I don't want to say too much and spoil it for those yet to delve in to the terror of Helminth but it's a really fun but brutal read! 

About the Author


S. Alessandro Martinez is a horror and fantasy writer living in Southern California. His writings have appeared in several magazines and anthologies. He was first published in Deadman’s Tome with the story ‘The Corruption in the Deep’. He enjoys writing about all sorts of horror, especially about unspeakable creatures, body-horror, and supernatural terror. He also enjoys writing high fantasy. He has a fantastical world of his own creation filled with stories of mystical and terrible creatures, fantastic races, and powerful magic. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

The Bone Factory by Yolanda Sfetsos

 


Max Patella just wants to do her job, which includes dealing with cases the corrupt police don't want to dirty their hands with.


When she stumbles on a bunch of skeletons found in different warehouses, all wearing mysterious rings, Max finds herself in a dangerous and deadly situation that leads back to her...

I've become a huge fan of Demain Publishing over the years with their Short Sharp Shocks Series of little bites of horror and now it's time for me to check out their Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Series.

This time I'm reading The Bone Factory by Yolanda Sfetsos! In the crime ridden city of Lorn, ruled over by corrupt power and patriarchy, a young woman, Max Patella is trying to solve crimes the police don't want to touch. 

Whenever something weird goes down, Max Patella gets a call, and her latest case may be the strangest one she will ever have to deal with.

Inside the Dollhouse, a skeleton is discovered, it's presumed to be accidental but when the bones start to speak, Max knows otherwise. It's not long until more skeletons pop up, all within factories, all with strange rings.

No one cares about these victims, all women, and Max battles against time to find the culprit before more vulnerable women are slain. 

I really liked this tale. A great murder mystery tale with elements of fantasy. It's a tale I could definitely see continuing. The characters are great and I'd love to read more about their escapades.