The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

The Sea Was a Fair MasterThe Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In his debut collection, Calvin Demmer presents us with twenty-three unique short stories that are a pleasure to read. If you are a fan of dark short stories, read The Sea Was a Fair Master. The stories were fairly short and easy to read, but had just the right amount of detail to give the reader a clear (and creepy) image of something unique.

The stories within the collection cover a wide array of topics or themes, so it’s possible there is something in the collection for anyone. From androids to ghosts to cold-hearted killers, you’re sure to find something appealing whether you like stories that are rooted in fantasy or rooted in day-to-day life. I wouldn’t say any of them were very detailed in the gore, but the plots themselves were macabre. I only say that because some people like detailed gore and some people do not (I appreciate either approach) but the plots were creepy enough for the imaginative to fill in the details.

I think that my favorite stories were “Underneath,” “Hangman,” “Graves,” and “Noisy Neighbors.” “Underneath” contains a horrific discovery by some homeowners as they dig a grave for a deceased pet, and it’s pretty interesting how it was handled. As I read “Hangman” I thought to myself that this would make an awesome scary movie. In it, a nighttime security guard discovers a secret class called Extreme English and it makes you wonder how long that class has been in session. “Graves” was one of those heartbreaking ghost stories I like so well because they’re just dark and sad. And with “Noisy Neighbors” I like how the initial setup of the story made me think the character was going to do one bad thing, only to find out he was in the middle of a totally unexpected other bad thing.

There were other stories in there that I really enjoyed because they had a clever ending or because they had a dark and sad atmosphere but the ones above were my favorites.

There were a couple that were well-written but didn’t give me the same thrill as the others. For me that was “The Peeper,” “The One,” and “Trashcan Sam.” Nothing wrong with them, just not for me.

I really enjoyed reading this collection and some of the stories are sure to stick with me well beyond the read.

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Trick or Death by Calvin Demmer

Trick or Death

5 out of 5 stars!

I’m really loving all of the Halloween short stories I’ve read in October, this one included! I’ve recently read Calvin Demmer’s collection The Sea Was a Fair Master and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was eager to read “Trick or Death.”

The story sets out suspenseful as it opens up on Halloween night with a man dressed in a scary costume hiding on an old lady’s front porch. I always assume the worst, so of course I thought the poor old lady would be harmed when she opened the door after the man’s doorbell ring. He risked giving her a heart attack at the very least, as he jumps out at her yelling “Trick or Death!” The old lady figures it is just a trick-or-treater and overcomes her panic, and sure enough – the man is just a friendly neighbor guy named Barry with his accomplice Rose, going door to door to scare the crap out of people and record their reactions for his YouTube channel. Social media engagement is low for Barry, and to spark some social media love, he thought he’d film some Halloween hijinks.

The first couple houses go without any real hitch, but then Rose winds up telling him the pranks are stupid and she’d rather just hang out at her place…alone. Torn between getting more videos and spending an evening with Rose, he ends up compromising with her – one last video recorded on his own and he’ll catch up with her later. He had one more house to visit, an old “acquaintance” from his childhood that would never suspect to be bothered by scary trick-or-treaters (they’re usually harmless, much-younger children, after all).

Barry should have chosen his next victim more carefully.

I won’t say any more about the plot, but it had a very unexpected ending for me. I have a bad habit of trying to figure out the ending of stories. I don’t know why I do it, I just do. But this ending was very different from what I expected, and was a very good one.

The moral of the story: there’s only so much you should risk when boosting your social media engagement levels. Or quite simply, maybe don’t do pranks on Halloween night :).

Great read, check it out!

Breathe. Breathe. by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Breathe Breathe

About BREATHE. BREATHE.

Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.

In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.

In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.

In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.

Review

Do you ever hear a song and think, “It’s songs like these that make me want to learn guitar (or other instrument of choice)?” I hear songs that impress me so much, I just wish I could express my own feelings using that particular instrument (basically anything by Days of the New makes me want to learn acoustic guitar).

Pretty much the entire time I was reading “Breathe. Breathe.” I found myself thinking, “It’s writing like this that makes me want to write poetry.” And I mean that as a great compliment because reading and writing poetry is often not easy for me, as much as I wish it were so. The way Erin writes her poems (and stories!) just flows through my imagination and paints pictures of beautiful characters and scenery that may come with an unexpected or dark ending. Many of Erin’s poems made me think something or feel something, and I don’t always get that with poems.

My favorite poems were Earl Grey Tea, You Say You Love Me, and Driftwood of Wishes. Earl Grey Tea almost brought me to tears, then it twisted my heart at the end in a different direction. I had to take a second and think after reading that one! You Say You Love Me moved me very much into a mixture of both sadness and anger. Driftwood of Wishes had very tangible imagery that had me smiling at first, but had a very haunting end.

To me, the collection of poems moved between what I would call more seemingly concrete characters, objects or themes to the more abstract. I believe anyone who enjoys poetry will find something they like in here because there is a variation in length, style, topic, etc.

The final act of the book includes a collection of dark short stories. They are all very well written. Probably the one story that resonated with me the most was Dandelion Yellow. Beautiful imagery but with a lot of heartaches.

Some of the poems didn’t necessarily speak to me, but that’s OK! Everyone is different and what speaks to you may not speak to me – and the other way around. But overall I find Erin’s writing style in both her poems and stories to be very enjoyable.

This collection beautifully showcases the beauty in the worlds we create (either physically or in our own heads) and also reminds us of the sickening cruelty inflicted onto others. A great collection for anyone who enjoys reading work on the darker/haunting side, and who may want to feel a little vengeance a little once in awhile!

Amazon Purchase Link –

https://www.amazon.com/Breathe-Erin-Sweet-Al-Mehairi-ebook/dp/B076C3YSLC/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Also available via Kindle Unlimited.
Find in print at Barnes and Noble and other fine online retailers.

Doorbells at Dusk

Doorbells at Dusk graphic (1)

Doorbells at Dusk, edited by Evans Light and from Corpus Press, is a treasury of brand-new short stories from both modern masters and rising stars of dark fiction, covering a gamut of horror, literary fiction and suspense that is sure to thrill both horror aficionados and casual readers alike.

Contributors include: Josh Malerman, Lisa Lepovetsky, Chad Lutzke, Amber Fallon, Curtis M. Lawson, Sean Eads, Joshua Viola, Ian Welke, Charles Gramlich, Joanna Koch and Thomas Vaughn, along with contributions from Evans Light, Adam Light, Gregor Xane and Jason Parent.

After the successful release of the three-volume Bad Apples: Slices of Halloween Horror anthology series, co-creators Evans Light, Adam Light, Gregor Xane and Jason Parent of Corpus Press were driven by their love of the haunting season to use everything they’d learned to create the ultimate collection of Halloween tales.

Halloween is one of the biggest holidays for my family.  My grandmother’s birthday is October 30th (Devil’s Night!) so we have a Halloween/birthday party every year with my small-but-extended family.  We love to dress in full costume for the day and relive memories of Halloweens from our younger years.

This year, my Halloween season has been ushered in with some delightfully scary reads.  I was very excited to read Doorbells at Dusk because I love short stories and because each story takes place on or around Halloween.

Doorbells at Dusk is an anthology of 14 stories each written by a different author.  It was interesting to see the different writing styles of each author, and how each story varied in the type of scare that was prominent and the manner in which it was delivered (i.e. in your face vs. subtle and under the surface).  Some stories had delicious plot twists that put my mind in a totally different direction from where it was headed when I started the story.

My absolute two favorite stories were Rusty Husk and The Friendly Man.  I don’t want to give away too much of either story, but I liked them because they were gruesome and gory and dealt with particularly deranged characters.  While reading both stories I wondered what I would do if I found out my neighbors had truths like theirs. Deliciously creepy stories that will haunt me for some time to come.  The Vigil was a close third, as it played upon the mix of morbid curiosity and deep sadness for the victims involved in such a horrific neighborhood discovery.

There were only two stories in the book that really didn’t resonate with me (The Rye-Mother and Between).  Both were beautifully written and certainly belonged in the book, but I simply favor a different type of creepiness.

Overall, Doorbells at Dusk showcases some very talented writers and their work.  Many of the works in this anthology have me wanting to find more works from its author (and I just put Bad Apples on my TBR list).  I highly recommend this to any horror book lover who wants to curl up and be immersed within creepy Halloween tales!

Doorbells at Dusk published on September 3 and is available NOW on Amazon in e-book and print and at book retailers worldwide. Add to your GoodReads shelf!

 

In Shadows of the Wicked by Michael R. Collins

In Shadows Of The WickedIn Shadows Of The Wicked by Michael R. Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Shadows of the Wicked is a deliciously creepy story that follows two young men who cannot sever their ties to wicked ghosts that brutally murdered their mother and father, try as they might. Jeremy and Reggie’s parents were killed in front of their eyes by an evil ghost family of three. The Family includes the father, Prester, who orchestrates the family’s movement from their current spiritual world toward an ultimate Other World; Daphne, his wife and helper; and Angeline, their daughter, who has a special affinity toward inflicting pain and fear on her victims. After the murders Jeremy and Reggie move from a town in Virginia to Austin, TX to be near their Aunt Becky. Eventually the boys begin seeing The Family again. No matter how hard they try to get rid of The Family, they always come back. The Family recruits the help of a troubled man named Floyd to help entice the boys into dangerous situations that bring them closer to The Family so they can finish what they’ve started. Can Jeremy and Reggie rid themselves of The Family and Floyd for good before it’s too late for them and their closest friends?

I love ghosts and ghost stories, so this book was right up my alley. Ghosts are especially scary to me when they can so brutally possess or straight up murder people, which Michael gets into early on. It’s bad enough when ghosts just haunt the hell out of you until you feel you’ll go insane – it’s another when you’ve seen them kill your parents and wonder when they’ll kill you. The story overall was super creative and pretty gory. Especially toward the end of the book when they’re in a town called Bliss – at least the town as how The Family fabricates it to the delight of Floyd and to the horror of the others – there are some pretty demented things that go on there. I also like Michael’s overall depiction of ghosts – how they’re seen, how they behave, how they touch people. I thought the ghosts were unique and creepy. The plot was the right amount of complexity to where it kept you guessing, but it still had an overall arc so you weren’t left frustrated at the end of the book.

There were just a few things that could detract from the story. I felt the characters could have been a bit more developed, maybe needing more depth or complexity. The characters were thankfully consistent throughout the book, but for some reason many of them felt very two-dimensional to me. More (or different?) description about their thoughts, feelings and looks may have helped.

The pace of the book starts off very fast and action-packed to set the tone of terror, but then it just seemed like a long while until you got to the action-packed ending. So if you can get over a period of lag, then you’ll be fine because the ending was pretty good and unpredictable.

The last thing that bugged me was an issue of editing or proofing. There was a higher incidence of grammatical errors (i.e. a question needed a ?, but a statement didn’t need that ?) or misspelled words than what I’m used to. It wasn’t horrible by any means, but for someone who is picky about that kind of thing, it can be distracting when you find more than one or two in a single book.

Overall I think this is a great book if you’re into ghost stories, and I plan on reading more by this author.

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Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked graphic

*I received an advance copy of this collection of short stories in exchange for an honest review.*

In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.

Christa presents us with a collection of short horror stories that are nothing short of unique.  I just love short story collections – it’s like waiting with anticipation for my favorite show to wrap up a season, and then I binge watch the entire season over the course of two nights.  Apparently, I like my viewing and reading experience to be broken up into little self-contained but similar chunks.

But, I digress.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked contains 13 stories meant to give you the creeps.  If it’s not a scary story, it’s at least an unnerving story that leaves you thinking. Overall I think that Christa is a strong writer.  She knows how to tell a story with just enough detail to help you paint the mental image, but not so much detail that the pace of the story is negatively affected.  The stories are creative with twists and turns that are pretty unique, and with colorful main characters that one could relate to.

I think my two favorite stories are “Souls, Dark and Deep” and “Lady of the Flies.”  When I was reading “Souls, Dark and Deep” I kept thinking that this should be turned into a movie.  I’d totally watch this in the dark and try not to be creeped out by it. So, so creative. I had fun imagining the magic going on there.  “Lady of the Flies” is a story where my heart broke for the main character over how she’s treated, then became delightfully horrified in what she does in revenge.  This one would be a cool flick, too.

“A Fairy Plant in Grief” is a close third.  It’s very short, but it’s heartbreaking and creepy at the same time.  My kind of story.

There were just a few of the stories that really didn’t pull me in.  They were well-written and all, but they just didn’t capture my interest.  These were “This Our Angry Train” and “The One Who Answers the Door.”

Overall, I really enjoyed Christa’s writing style, horror plots and cast of characters.  Very enjoyable read!

Praise for Christa Carmen

“Christa Carmen’s ‘Red Room’ is a different beast altogether. This story has some wicked imagery, a sinister and brooding atmosphere and a terrific ending. I’d go as far to say that this is one of the best short stories Unnerving has published in the magazine.” – The Grim Reader

“I was pulled in from the first story: ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge,’ by Christa Carmen. It was also one of my favorites and I have to say that the title gave me a dark chuckle when paired with the band mentioned in the story.” – Sci-Fi and Scary

“This beautifully macabre collection of urban legends and ghastly encounters is a cold whisper, a dripping axe, a shattered camera lens. Walk carefully into Carmen’s night. But if you hear flies, run.” -Stephanie M. Wytovich, Bram Stoker award-winning author of Brothel.

Purchase Link

Amazon

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Tremblay‘s book A Head Full of Ghosts tells the haunting story of the Barrett family while one of its members showing signs of acute schizophrenia. Merry is relaying to a best-selling author what her life was like when she was eight and her fourteen-year-old sister Marjorie started hearing voices and acting in frightening ways in response to these voices. In an attempt to cure his daughter of her illness (or of her demonic visitor, depending on what is really causing her to act the way she is), the girl’s father recruits the help of his priest who recommends an exorcism. Due to their financial situation which is becoming more desperate, he parents allow a production company to film the family’s day-to-day life leading up to the exorcism and to film the exorcism itself as part of a reality TV show called The Possession. Merry recounts one horrific event after another for the author writing her story and must come to terms with what really happened to the family during and after their stint on the reality TV show.

While the plot is a little slow in spots, there were some delightfully creepy things that happen throughout the book which kept me reading. The ending was not at all what I expected, but in a good way. Paul’s characters are very natural and lifelike, easy to picture in mind, like a movie (speaking of which, this would make a great movie).

My only complaint is I did not like the chapters that were told from a blogger’s point of view. But that’s just because I typically wouldn’t read blogs written in the style with which the character used. While the character’s writing style was bothersome it did make sense why the chapters were in the book once you got to the ending.

Overall, the book was well-written and I plan to read more from Paul Tremblay.

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Exciting News!

Drum roll, please…I just wanted to announce that I have a short story that will be published in Issue 3 of Rhythm & Bones web zine! It’s a sad, eerie tale. Look for my story called, “The Thing About Abandonment” when it comes out in January! I will also post a link to the issue. I’m so excited because this is my first short story to be published! And it couldn’t have found a better home than with Rhythm & Bones.

I’ve downloaded their Issue 1, Woman Burning. It’s so achingly beautiful. There are poems, short stories, art and photography. The editors nailed it. The visual beauty of the art/photos combined on the same page as a moving or heartbreaking story is just amazing. I love sitting back and reveling in the fact that there is just so much creativity and emotion that is poured into every image and every word. Thank you to all the authors who shared a little bit of their heart and soul with the world in issue one.

Check out their site to experience Woman Burning and for submission guidelines if you feel led to express yourself here (just be sure to read their “trigger warning” letter from the editor if you may be dealing with trauma): https://www.rhythmnbone.com/

I will be sure to link to Issue 3 upon it’s release so you can read my first-ever published short story!

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

Within These WallsWithin These Walls by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lucas Graham, a true-crime author in need of another best-selling book to keep his career (and possibly his marriage) afloat receives a letter from incarcerated cult leader Jeffrey Halcomb. The letter promises an exclusive interview for Lucas, on the condition that Lucas gets to the prison for the interview within two weeks and if Lucas will agree to live in the house in which Jeffrey had led the murder/suicide ritual of his closest followers. Jeffrey Halcomb has been incredibly tight-lipped while in prison, denying any sort of press or interview requests. This type of exclusive interview is just what Lucas needs to write the book that will get him noticed again – both by his prior fans and by his wife who wants a separation/divorce.

So Lucas treks across the country with his moody pre-teen daughter and a U-Haul full of his belongings. He moves into the house where Jeffrey Halcomb murdered a young woman named Audrey Snow and their unborn child, and where 5 or 6 cult members poisoned themselves for Jeffrey. This house is where Jeffrey was arrested. With such a morbid history, it’s no surprise that the house is vacant.

Once they move into the house, Lucas and his daughter Virginia notice some strange things happening. They both see visions of people running out in the orchard in the backyard. They will sometimes be walking around the house at night, but instead of the house looking the way it does in the daytime, the decor and furniture are from decades ago. They hear things and they see things, but don’t really tell each other much because they don’t want the other to think they’re crazy.

Jeffrey Halcomb backs out of the interview, and so Lucas is left to try and come up with a new angle about Jeffrey Halcomb that’s never been done before – all the while never knowing if they’re safe in that house and whether it was a wise choice to move out there for the summer with his young daughter in tow.

I have to say that this book was pretty anti-climatic for me. I kept expecting the book to get scarier, and it never did. There was some creep to it, but not to the level I wanted. The book seemed to drag on and on, and I think as much could have been said with fewer words. The ending was pretty decent, but it took too long to get there, and then it was over.

I very much like Ania Ahlborn‘s writing style. She does a great job moving back and forth between the past and present to weave a thick plot. Her characters are always full and well-developed. She just has an easy way about her writing that I can really fall into place with. She’s very creative. I was just looking for something scarier and unsettling than this was.

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A God in the Shed

A God in the ShedA God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A God in the Shed is a horror read full of twists, turns and complex relationships with characters that leave the reader often asking, “What happens next?”

The story takes place in the village of Saint-Ferdinand. Its residents live in constant fear due to the regular disappearances and murders of its citizens. A powerful, evil god is lurking in the shadows and there are different groups of people working to contain this dangerous being for very different reasons. The god reveals itself to a young girl in the village, and she will soon learn just how much of the village of Saint-Ferdinand is tied up with this mysterious being and how important it is to contain it.

I found the plot and the backstories to be very original. The book was filled with new ways to envision gods, ghosts and the ethereal world. J-F Dubeau did a great job with describing characters and settings in incredible detail without becoming mundane. If you like books with creepy, gory detail – give this one a try.

I also love reading books where each chapter focuses on a single character at a time, which is this book’s format. I like bouncing between characters for a glimpse of how the plot is unfolding in their point own of view.

Unfortunately, there was just too much complexity for my taste. I would find myself confused with what was going on, or losing track of the characters because at times there were so many. I also felt like the pace was very slow throughout much of the book, only to culminate in an abrupt ending to the story (though like I said, the detail was incredible and kinda made my skin crawl, which is good).

Overall, I think A God in the Shed is extremely creative and original and worth giving a try if you like a little gore in your books.

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