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‘Various States of Decay’ by Matt Hayward – Review

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*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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A businessman outside the house at two in the morning made sense in the city, but William lived in the country,  and that made the passerby ever so curious. William parted the curtains slowly, just enough to avoid attention, and breathed through his nose to lessen the condensation on the window. As the man passed the streetlamp, a purple tinge highlighted his suit, and his gait was that of an elderly man with the skin to match. Like a raisin wearing a dollar store three-piece once owned by a pimp. 

The gentleman paused at the mailbox, and William held his breath, letting the blinds fall to a slit. And yet, the businessman (if he could be called such – William imagined that cheap looking briefcase contained blank A4s and half-eaten apple cores opposed to actual documents and contracts) paused and stared at the house. 

William cocked his head, frozen. If the man approached his home, should he rush out and meet him halfway, just in case? But just in case what? The odd timing and strange location surely weren’t enough to justify thoughts of danger, were they? Besides, the man looked old enough to fall asleep standing up, never mind getting a punch to the face. Oh, and that face, like a peanut dropped and covered in fluff from the underbelly of a couch. Still, the gentleman stared at William’s home, and as he did, his shriveled lips curled into a grin. 

Gooseflesh crawled along William’s arms.

[…]

William plucked the letter and worked his nail along the seal, greeted by the subtle scent of perfume. He made his way back to the living room and fell onto the couch, throwing away the envelope as he shook out the paper. 

Dearest William. I’d like to talk to you about our Lord and Savior – Philip. Seven AM, today. I’ll see you shortly, and I should hope for decaf. 

Various States eBook cover

Synopsis –

A collection of no less than twenty stories, including the Irish Short Story of the Year-nominated ‘Intercepting Aisle Nine’, Various States of Decay moves steps comfortably from stories of advertisements invading our dreams, Irish folklore in a modern setting, killer furniture, and the horrors of an early morning Dart journey. Dealing with themes of grief, shame, loss of reality and the overwhelming fear of not being believed, this is a collection that any reader can find themselves in.

 

Thoughts –
First of all, can’t stop staring at that cover design, the colours, the subtle details, and the fact that the upside down bleeding reality of it fits the collection it contains so well. Also, I just fucking love trees.

Stories
There are a few stories in particular that stood out in this collection for me for a variety of reasons. One story that gave me a bit of a Hellboy vibe was Rodent in the Red Room, a story that brings some Irish folklore to a modern world and one I personally hadn’t heard of before but was thoroughly unsettling in it’s insidious nature. Another was titled Knock, Knock simply for the bizarre absurdity of it – a businessman shows up at your countryside home at 2am to preach the word of… Philip? Already terrifying.

The stories in this collection are not repetitive but there are similarities in theme and tone, much needed and often overlooked when putting a collection together. There’s also a few that seem to be linked by a single corporate giant that isn’t exactly ethical. But each story stands on its own, complete and satisfying, and most of all memorable.

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Writing
In the foreword written by Kelli Owen she states that Hayward’s strengths lie in his settings and I would have to agree with that. You never dip your toe in a Hayward story, you plunge flat footed into the deep waters of whatever world he wants you to be in. From dystopian futures to only slightly left-field modern day Ireland, you are right there with the characters and the reality that they can see melting right in front of their eyes.

But Hayward is far from a one-trick pony and though his settings are enthralling, his characters are the anchors that really hold you in the story. Gritty, emotional, and flawed, the protagonists of Hayward’s stories are too real not to be believed. Tired, worried, confused, and in various states of pain as we all are, you get locked into their journeys with them unable to change the trajectory but also unable to look away from the drop there are about to barrel over. All you can do is thank the gods that it isn’t you.

Various States of Decay is a generously thick volume of stories that explore the nature of fear and what it’s like to have your reality turned absolutely upside down. With universal themes of loss, confusion, and the naïve belief that reality is fixed and immutable, Hayward’s writing brings the reader down inexorable paths to devastating ends. For such a long collection I can’t say that there was a miss in the lot, and I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of this today.

 

About the Author –

Matt Hayward

 

Matt Hayward is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror author and musician from Ireland. You can find Hayward on Twitter at @MattHaywardIRE and can find his books online at the usual places, I would recommend giving him a go.

 

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

What’s your favourite short story collection? What’s more important to you as a reader enthralling setting or relatable characters?

‘Silence in the Woods’ by J.P. Choquette – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

****

 

Paul sank back onto his bed, stared up at the spiderweb cracks in the high ceiling above. Many of the aides and nurses were kind at the hospital. But a handful were not and the night monitor for Ward III  was one of these. Truthfully, it made no difference to Paul whether the other man screamed the night away or not. He hadn’t slept a full night in weeks. When he’d first arrived he’d been in so much pain he hadn’t been lucid. Later, after the medicines wee decreased, he was able to get his bearings… and almost wished for the sweet oblivion the tiny pills had offered. 

But he couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow himself the luxury. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the horror he’d witnessed deep in the wood again and again. The same images would flicker, an endless loop. The two couples – he and Jane, Allen and Deirdre – in the woods, always dark and twisted, like ghostly photographs from long ago. Then the blood on the ground, a body swinging and stiff at the end of the makeshift noose –

No. 

Paul sat up, putting his feet on the bare, cold floor underneath him. Timmy let out a partial giggle and Paul glanced over. The big man was so large his bulk didn’t fit on the bed. A roll of flesh, soft and white like dough, flopped over the side of his cot. His face was serene, full-mooned, with his lips parted in a smile. Even in sleep, Timmy was happy and blessedly oblivious. Paul envied the big man. His childlike mind meant that he never fully grasped the harsh realities of life. 

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Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads) –

In 1917, four friends and photojournalists set out in the woods looking for answers. Why have so many hikers and hunters gone missing in the area of Shiny Creek Trail?

The two couples anticipate a great adventure, one they’ll tell their kids about someday. No one imagines the evil lurking in a remote cave. A horrifying discovery leaves one person dead and two others missing.

Two months later, Paul, one of the four, returns to the forest to find his wife. But will he find her before someone—or something—finds him?

Silence in the Woods is the long-awaited prequel to Shadow in the Woods and delves into the frightening territory of the supernatural and the human mind

 

Thoughts –

Silence in the Woods starts off with our main character Paul and a high tension escape from the mental asylum he’s been in for the past six weeks, circa 1917. Paul, his wife Jane, and their friends Allan and Deirdre, went hiking in the woods and only Paul managed to get back out again, adamant that some kind of creature killed his friends, but unable to accept the fact that his wife might be dead even after all this time (possibly) alone in the wilderness. Is Paul deranged or is he telling the truth? Is there a creature in the woods and is it the same one that took the hikers they went up there to research? No matter the answers you are now along for the ride with Paul on this treacherous journey mired by shadow, danger and mystery.

The pacing of Silence in the Woods is exemplary. Switching between November Paul and his trek to get back to where he last saw his friends and hopefully find them alive, and September Paul and Co. as they reach the trail and the cave they settle in at the beginning of their journey, both sides of the story unravel together leaving no room for a sagging middle section to this novel. However, exposition and character development aren’t left by the wayside to accommodate the fast pace either. Choquette’s writing is skillful and enthralling, creating believable and sympathetic characters whose motivations are clear when they need to be and ambiguous when it suits. Her switching of point of view and time jumps, which are both difficult devices to get right at times, brings the story to life and gives the novel dimensions that would sorely be missed if this were a linear novel.

The ‘creatures’ in the story representing an inhuman good and evil are not thoroughly explained and can only be judged by how they interact with the small group. A cave with strange markings that infiltrate the mind, a shadow creature that brings out the worst in people, a humanoid with intelligent eyes and a knack for showing up just in the nick of time. Our small group of photojournalists are thrust into the centre of a tug of war they could have never imagined, and their own insecurities are brought to the surface by the monsters they struggle against. Infidelity, inferiority, lies, and love all come to light in the darkness of that cave, and the reader is delicately led through the minds of the group as they unravel and change for better or for worse.

The setting of this story is mostly a cave, and the back sections of that cave that go deeper than the group imagined and this gives the story a timeless and isolating feeling. There’s old stone furniture used at one point giving the impression that the group are only one small link in a chain of darkness and violence that has been going on for possibly centuries. Nature as an immutable force that holds secrets humanity has forgotten, perhaps willingly, is a theme through this story and one that makes the characters of Paul, Jane, Allan, and Deirdre seem like pawns in an unfortunate game that they didn’t sign up for. This story will make you think twice before stepping into the woods again.

Silence In The Woods is a story of relentless perseverance, of human curiosity, and of the strange and unexplained creatures that can warp our minds so easily. Fast paced and carefully written, a prequel that only wets the appetite for the next book in line, Silence In The Woods will leave you shivering, wondering, and eager for the next leg of the journey.

 

About the Author –

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J. P. Choquette is an author of thriller novels from Vermont who enjoys writing about stories that tie in art, nature, and psychology. When not writing she spends time watching Gothic movies, spending time with her family, or visiting old cemeteries. You can find out more about her and her work from her website jpchoquette.me

 

Links to Buy and Review – 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Is Bigfoot good or evil in your mind? What’s your favourite scary story set in the woods? Do you find time jumps confusing or intriguing?

‘Brothers of Blood’ by Tristan Drue Rogers – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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“Belle!” hollered Beau within the darkly lit hallway leading into the living room. “Belle” What the hell… where you at?” He stumbled against the wall as his hands were wet and his eyes held no contact lenses, nor glasses atop his nose. 

The television screen glared a spasmodic juxtaposition of non-complementary colors onto the young child. Beau glared his own shade of hazel her way. “Didn’t you hear me? Did you hear anything?” 

She laughed, not at her big brother, but at the cartoon pie character’s actions that she loved so. Beau engulfed a deep breath while walking with deliberate silence near the sofa, where Belle had set up camp. As he set himself near her frame, she became uneasy. He reached his not so steady hand outward toward the remote controller. She noticed a dry redness on a fingertip or two, the residue sinking into the controller’s glob-like buttons as he unexpectedly raised the volume to cover up his speech. “Listen up, kid. We gotta talk.” Beau’s grinding of his jaw was a machine wrought with the law of the world.

“Okay,” said Belle.

“Now, I know we’ve all been going through some… craziness, but I think I’ve found an outlet for our frustrations.”

“What?” Belle was still transfixed to the cartoon hero chasing a baby known as Minion for a midnight snack while its mother was too confused to react. 

“Let’s kill some people.” 

Belle turned to her eldest sibling, looking up into his nostrils. 

“Now, hear me out-” 

“Okay.” 

Silence was the sound. The television was filler at this point. 

Belle turned, breaking the spell, continuing on to watch the screen. Beau chewed on his cuticle; it tasted new, yet familiar whilst tossed back and forth from one side to another. He swallowed. Belle coughed, which’d enticed Beau to behave as he should before they both behave as they should not; he jumped onto her roughly and began to noogie her noggin. 

“Stop it!”

“Never!” Beau challenged, laughter ensued. 

****

 

Synopsis –

Belle is in her final year of high school and is the leader of a gang. To give them some real memories to keep, Belle decides to combine a kill list from her other gang members and have it finished before the year ends. But, the reappearance of her older brother Beau, back from his stint in prison for murder and now a man of God, throws a spanner in the works. Can they convince Beau to take up his violent mantle again? And can Belle keep control of her members?

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Thoughts –

Brothers of Blood starts off with a precocious young girl, Belle, and her older brother, Beau, developing a liking for murder. Where this idea came from is never really explained as you ca see from the quote above – that’s pretty much it. Nor is it explained why both of them at completely different ages are not in any way affected, consciously or otherwise with taking the lives of other people. This requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to get through the whole story.

The beginning of the book should be interesting and a quick read, but the obnoxiously verbose language makes each page a struggle to get through. Writers often fear dumbing things down or being too simplistic, but you get the same reactions when you use a thesaurus for every other word – alienating the reader, and reducing the chance that they’ll have the energy or momentum to keep turning the pages. This language bleeds into the dialogue as well swinging wildly from 19th century phrases to modern slang, it’s jarring and confusing when dealing with a teenage boy and his young sister. Murderous gang members asking each other for ‘huggles’ is a little bizarre to read.

As the story progresses and the older brother goes away for his crimes, time is hard to pin down in some scenes. You’ll be imagining characters talking by moonlight and in the next sentence they’ll be walking into a just opened bank. I found myself disorientated more than once, and this is actually a book that pulled me out of my reading schedule because it was such a difficult one to get through with all of the off putting language issues. I was never quite sure if it was daylight or nighttime, if it was 1819 or 2019.

This is a story of children murdering whoever they want. The children don’t show any other signs of being unhinged (not that that in itself isn’t enough) and carry on ordinary teenage lives. There are no signs that they see other people differently or that other people react to them differently. They just happen to be brutal murderers, no biggie. But this actually takes away from the killings. There’s nothing interesting about them, I don’t feel for the murderers or the victims and I couldn’t figure out what the point of the whole thing is. No one gets punished, and there are no consequences for the people who deserve them, even for the things they do outside the murders. Conflict is sorely missed in this story.

 

Brothers of Blood begins with a confused narrative voice that is somewhat cleared up  by the middle of the book but not soon enough for the reader to enjoy the story, if this is a story one can be said to ‘enjoy’. Characters seem to face little consequences or conflict to do with the vile acts they commit and the novel feels more like a fever dream than a glimpse into the life of Belle and her brothers. Read with caution, perseverance is needed to wade through the thesaurus heavy writing, and don’t expect a satisfying ending.

 

About the Author

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Tristan Drue Rogers has had his writing and poetry featured in literary magazines (such as Vamp Cat, Genre: Urban Arts, Weird Mask, and more), and horror anthologies (such as 100 Word Horrors Book 3 and Deep Fried Horror). His debut novel Brothers of Blood is available now. Tristan lives with his wife Sarah and son Rhett in Texas.

 

Links to Buy and Review

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

 

What are your feelings on murderous children in fiction? Do you now of any black humour horror stories shedding a dark light on murder? Let me know down below!

‘Urntold Tales of Horror and Dread’ by JB Lovet – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

****

I can’t sleep yet. The gap in the wall is howling quietly again. That large tree in the garden is making sharp, creepy shapes on the wall. Kris always likes the curtains open. 

The howl from the gap starts to rumble and becomes a low growl. I freeze, my eyes fixed on that corner of the room. From just under the covers, I see it. 

Long, shadowy arms emerge from the dark gap. It’s fingers splayed and strained as it clings to the wall. Those arms hauled a tall, thin, bald man in a black suit out from that dark place. Horrendously elongated in every aspect. Every aspect except for his head, which is so massive and circular it’s a wonder his emaciated frame can hold it up. His eyes are a pure white; glowing even.

I watch him as he stoops to avoid hitting the ceiling. Despite his awkward form, he moved slowly. Effortlessly. His arms and hands searching the room and clinging to pieces of furniture as he glides towards us. All of this done in near silence. Only the gentle creaking of floorboards and furniture as he moves. 

****

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Synopsis –

Marketed as 13 stories when actually its more like 15, Urntold Tales of Horror and Dread is a well curated collection of short stories and flash fiction that range from deranged psychopaths to creeping dread filled monsters.

 

Thoughts –

Urntold Tales of Horror and Dread (and yes that spelling is correct) started as online uploads of fiction stories from author J.B. Lovet, the positive reception of which pushed them enough to publish them as a collection. Described as 13 Tales, when in fact number 13 is actually an explanation for the inclusion of the next few, in actual fact you are getting 15 dark stories in this slim volume. I guess 13 just feels like a much better number to have for a horror collection. Lovet also states, quite honestly, that they don’t believe the stories would be read otherwise, so why not include them? This honesty is refreshing and endearing and though I feel the subsequent stories would have fit fine with the collection proper, I understand the hesitation and hey – extra stories!

**

I felt the rush of water into my ears, for a moment nothing but that boom of noise as it hits your eardrums. Then I could hear wailing. Wailing and screaming. Screaming out of anger. In the water I swear I could see faces. Tortured, violent. Through the barest glints of light I could almost make out these arms tightly wound around me, the pressure of their vice-like hands. 

**

Ranging from subtle psychological dread to violent and unhinged psychopaths, Urntold Tales of Horror and Dread shows the value of a well-crafted short story and the impact a flash fiction piece can have when the dread runs deep. I liked this collection not only for the fact that I had an excuse to use all my extra teeth in the photos, but also that the concepts for the stories were unique and often so unsettling that they are still running around in my mind. ‘The Milkshake Man‘ is one of the creepiest weirdos I’ve read about and the story of ‘The Gap in The Wall‘, where I took the first quote up there from, genuinely made my skin crawl when I read it, and this is not a usual thing for me when reading fiction. I love to read dark stories, but I mainly just smile at the skill, I rarely get goosebumps or the urge to look over my shoulder – I made sure my wardrobe doors were firmly shut after I read that one.

**

Noise exploded as every telephone in the office began ringing. They wouldn’t stop. It was deafening. A reverberating siren in his ears, like standing next to a car alarm. The row of light at the far end of the office turned on. No one was there, but Rob could’ve sworn he saw a flicker of a shadow for a split-second. 

“Hello? I-is someone there?”

**

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Urntold Tales of Horror and Dread is a collection you should absolutely have on your shelf. Whether you are a reader, a writer, or both, this is a concise collection of skillfully crafted stories. Trimmed down to the bare essentials, there’s no fat on the bones of this collection, and those bones are dreadful.

 

About the Author –

(As written at the end of this collection)

 

JB Lovet began writing horror stories to share with online communities.

But it doesn’t matter too much who wrote all this…

Frankly if this lazy son of a gun can bumble through a dream of having stories in print, you can achieve your dreams, too. So go do it.

 

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Are there any collections or novels you love that started on the internet? Do you prefer short stories or flash fiction? What is your favourite short horror story? Let me know down below!

‘The Vaseline Dream Squad’ by Gil-Ethan Lodwood – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

****

On the way out the door, Rory asked Griggs to meet him at The Plaid Shack, a bar slash lounge near the office. Twenty minutes later they were ensconced in a booth near the back of the dimly lit establishment. After ordering drinks and necessary small talk, Griggs said, “So get to it. You’re not a socialize-with-the-underlings-after-work kinda guy, Rory.”

Rory smiled. “What do you think happened today?” he asked. 

“Fucking weird,” Griggs said, “Someone obviously did a bit of research before contacting our site.”

“But how could he know details about my personal life?” Rory asked. 

“Internet,” Griggs replied. “Every fucking thing is on the Internet nowadays, you’d be surprised.” 

“Not this stuff, not the stuff this weirdo was talking about,” said Rory. 

“Obviously it’s on the Internet,” countered Griggs. “How else would he know about it?” 

The waitress arrived with their drinks. Rory sipped at his cocktail, thinking. Was it possible that his crazy aunt had – who knows? – gone for psychotherapy and had told all the details of their torrid affair all those years ago and those details has been typed up in some sort of doctor’s notes and then uploaded to the Internet and accessed by some whacko fuck who then called the site? Rory supposed it was possible. Grigg’s phone rang.

“You wanted Griggs, you got him,” Griggs said answering his phone and winking at Rory. Griggs listened to whoever was talking on his phone, his expression changing from playful to perplexed. “How’d you get this number?” Griggs asked. 

“Internet,” said the voice on the phone. “Fuck, everything’s on the Internet presently,” the voice on the phone added. The voice giggled. 

 

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Synopsis –

In a non-descript office, a shift of workers are fielding chats from horny customers. Sex chats can be equal parts weird and disturbing sometimes, but today things are going to get downright bizarre. One user knows far too many personal things about the team, can hear them even though there is no mic and has only one demand as one by one they go missing. Is this a savvy internet troll out for some fun or is there a different entity making demands? Can the Vaseline Dream Squad team survive intact?

Thoughts –

The Vaseline Dream Squad Horror brings us into the story with a group of colleagues in an office, but it probably isn’t the type of office you assume it is. Same jargon, same targets to hit, same exchange of money from clients but these colleagues have a much more lax script to go. I’m used to seeing members of the sex work community in horror stories as only being prostitutes being treated like trash or murdered by serial killers, so to see an office of chat workers making jokes was something fresh, I only wish we’d spent a little more time getting to know the dynamic of the team and seeing the everyday issues that they went through while talking dirty to strangers. The actual name of the group is only vaguely mentioned once or twice which was a little confusing – The Vaseline Dream Squad is the team in the office though where this name comes from exactly is never explained.

 

The horror aspect, the entity that makes demands on the characters, comes in pretty abruptly. Not long after this, as in the extract above, the character of Griggs just up and walks out of the story. I still have no idea why and whether he was affected by the entity at all or just managed to get out before it got him. He’s vaguely reference later on, but you never find anything out. Then the twins walk out but we get to see their point of view at the very least – still not much of a motivation for walking out however. Another couple of hundred words or even just a few sentences of explanation would have cleared up a lot about the characters and why they do what they do.
The ‘bad guy’ in this story is very ethereal. You only really get a glimpse of them through the chat conversations. You can see their impact on the world off the screen but it didn’t feel enough to really grip me with terror. There is some kind of explanation for the evil that is stalking the Vaseline Dream Squad but I couldn’t help but feel that is wasn’t very concrete.

The Vaseline Dream Squad Horror is a short and interesting read. There are no deep dives into character and only a surface look at their murky pasts. A novella that is worth the read, but needs an open mind to enjoy.

 

About the Author –

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Gil-Ethan Logwood is an American writer from New Orleans. He writes mainly horror and science fiction and can be found on his Goodreads page here.

 

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

What’s your favourite mysterious horror story? How do you feel about omnipotent evils pushing the plot? Should we have more stories in all genres set around the every day lives of all kinds of sex workers? Let me know down below!

‘Dark Thoughts’ by Kevin Kennedy – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

****

The Karakyuza stood in single file, breathing in a synchronised rhythm while the incessant banging outside continued. Over one hundred and twenty-seven million people were estimated dead in Japan alone, which was pretty much the entire population. The fourteen-person unit stood unaware of the number of casualties, but they were well aware of the situation outside. 

People had been talking about secret organisations for years, but the Karakyuza had never once been mentioned or hinted upon anywhere. That was because they were the first men, well, gods really. Adam and Eve was a fairy tale, all religions were creations, and they all came from these very men. The Karakyuza created so many different gods over the years, they lost count, but they had always been there, watching, judging, but never intervening. 

The zombie plague was man made though. In the last century, more and more things were changing due to mankind rather than the Karakyuza’s will, but they had decided to see where the path led. It had led to destruction , the fall of mankind, and now the Karakyuza were surrounded by hundreds of thousands of the dead. 

The Karakyuza were almost sexless, they were men and women of sorts, but you could never tell. They were self-styled warriors, the only read gods to our basic understanding of the meaning, and they had already spent thousands of years battling Demons before man even came to be on this planet. We are their creation, and now that creation had died, all over the planet, millions dead, searching for any last scrap of living flesh to feast on. 

****

Synopsis – 

Dark Thoughts is a collection of short stories from writer Kevin Kennedy. A seemingly random selection that focuses mainly on zombies and cannibals, with a few interesting new horror concepts thrown in as well, Dark Thoughts is not for the faint hearted and includes sexual 18+ scenes and incredibly gross imagery. You’ve been warned.

 

Thoughts

Dark Thoughts begins with a mildly heart warming story of three kids trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and quickly descends into violent cannibals and the most ‘childhood ruined’ add on to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that I would never even want to imagine. There are good points and bad points about this collection with the overall writing being a good point, but some more intentional choices needed in putting the whole thing together.

The layout of the collection seems to have little thought put into it. There are many ways you can set up a collection – you can have an over-arching theme that connects the stories, you can have characters that appear in multiple tales, or you can simply place the stories differently so that similar stories don’t appear side by side. Dark Thoughts feels like it was just a list that was never even tinkered with. Multiple zombie stories follow multiple cannibal stories (and even a cannibals fighting zombies hybrid!) with the shock of some serious porn in the middle; there’s just no rhyme or reason to it and it gives the collection a rambling, monotonous feel.

There’s a story involving the main cast of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which feels like an indulgent sexual fantasy on the part of the author with some violence thrown in at the end so they can call it horror. I’m no prude, though I find descriptions of sex in literature to be at best cheesy and at worst bizarre, but this story just feels like a porno script. The characters have the same names as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ characters but that’s the only real connection to the source material. If you went in and changed those names to anything else, it would just be a violent erotic flat tale that if you aren’t actively masturbating to, will just make you uncomfortable. Definitely only written for a straight male mind in my opinion. It also paints Dorothy as possibly the worst heartless, sex addicted female caricature imaginable. If you have any warm feelings towards Dorothy, this story will not hesitate to erase them.

A story I did find interesting as well as utterly disgusting was one involving a whole lot of fecal matter. Dark Thoughts is a collection that has many different types of shadow in it. I’m normally not a fan of over indulgent gross stories, however this story has engaging characters, believable motivations and a chaos that makes it unforgettable. There are some gems in this collection, I just feel like it needed another pass to polish up a few things and perhaps rethink some of the stories.

Kennedy seems to have skill with setting and introducing characters but the endings tended to fall flat, like he ran out of steam. A short story has a different structure and focus than a novel or novella and at times I felt like his stories would have been better suited to an expansion to novella or full novel even. There was so much more that could have been explored with characters and the blunt endings just weren’t satisfying enough.

 

 

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Dark Thoughts has an apt name. The collection was marred for me personally by the strange pornographic story with no real plot to it. I would have liked more diversity in the themes of the stories or perhaps one interlocking theme – some kind of link between the tales. Kennedy’s writing is enjoyable and I would read his work again, but I won’t be picking up this particular collection in the future.

 

About the Author –

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Kevin J. Kennedy is a Scottish Horror author and editor, and a Bram Stoker Award nominee. He is co- author of ‘Screechers’ and ‘You Only Get One Shot’ and editor of multiple horror anthologies. You can find him on Twitter and on his website here.

 

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

How do you feel about gratuitous sexual content in horror? Should short story collections have a linking theme or just have different themes for each story? Does a weak ending ruin a story for you?

’13 Dark Tales’ Collection 2 by Mike Martin – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, then I couldn’t get the file to work and panicked and bought the kindle so make of that what you will.*

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Connor hadn’t planned his first kill. Self-defence, plain and simple, even though others hadn’t seen it quite that way. He was sixteen and the hapless victim of school bullies: a trio of witless sociopaths. One day, it all got out of hand. 

He was walking home alone, along the edge of the park, when they leapt out of the bushes and rushed him. But Connor was fast on his feet, and only Lenny Barnett stood a chance of keeping up. He’d have outrun him, too, if he hadn’t tripped over that friggin’ tree root. Lenny had a temper, but his face was a mask of pure hate when he fell on Connor, punching and yelling obscenities. Connor bucked and squirmed, tried to fend the blows, but Lenny was bigger and stronger. He’d just about managed to wriggle onto his side when he was the sharp stone. He dragged it from the wet leaves and hurled it wildly at Lenny. By sheer luck, it hit him square on the temple. In an instant, the punching stopped, and he flopped to the ground like a rag doll. Connor grabbed the stone again and slammed it down on Lenny’s head. Dark blood rushed through his wavy hair. Connor rolled him away and got to his feet. But he wasn’t finished. The “fight or flight” instinct had switched to something he’d never felt before: a bloodlust wholly reptilian in its cold intent. But one of Lenny’s mates got there just before he could bring the stone down again. Connor dropped it and fled home, where he blubbed it all to his frantic mum. 

The next few days were a bit of a blur, and he could recall very little of his dealings with the police. Lenny died a week later in hospital. Connor’s father hired a good barrister who argue successfully for manslaughter, but it still meant eighteen months in a youth custody centre. And a life changed forever. 

 

Synopsis –

This is the second collection of dark tales numbering 13 by Michael R. Martin. Ranging from ancient Viking legends, satanic cults, ghosts and serial killers with a few sci-fi stories fit for a Creepy Pasta SCP, this collection has some fresh ideas and an able writer.

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13 Dark Tales Collection Two leaves the gore and violence behind for the most part and asks the reader to do more thinking and look at these tales with a different perspective. Martin tackles the past with skill and shows that there are always more ways to look at a story. From aliens to ghosts, ancient Viking folk tales to modern government conspiracies and murders, there’s plenty for everyone in this collection. Martin is adept at setting up a story and creating compelling characters with interesting back stories.

One issue I had with this collection is the repetition of the structure. Over half the stories in the collection involve one character telling another character a story from their past, often times one that they both already know somehow but this person knows the real story, the truth. The first few times this was fine, but after the fifth or sixth it was too much. Each collection is well written in and of itself, but it could have used a mix up, a few different frameworks for each tale and I think the stories themselves would have evolved within new structures as well. This also meant that there was little actual action happening, and more often than not the endings fell flat as the main story had already happened and it was more a flash of and ending rather than a satisfying conclusion.

13 Dark Tales is worth a read though even if it’s just for the new insights. I would still recommend the book – the fact that I sweep through collections in one go may be a contributing factor to my issue with the repetitive framework. I’ll also be giving Collection 1 a look in the future.

 

About the Author –

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Michael R. Martin is a dark fiction writer from the UK. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and takes inspiration from the likes of Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, and Nigel Kneale. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

What’s your favourite short story collection? Do you prefer action and gore or less tangible horror? Let me know down below!