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‘All Hallows Eve’ by Michael Penning – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Alice Jacob stood at the edge of the wharf and stared at the sea in horror. Thousands of bones were washing ashore. The great expanse of Salem Sound was flooded with skulls and spines and fragments of skeleton that rolled and tumbled in the frothing green surf. An eerie clattering filled the salty air as wave after wave heaped bones of all shapes and sizes upon the rocky coastline. Sheltered in the calmer waters of Salem Harbor, the merchant fleet was inundated by a floating mass of skeletal remains swept in by the tide. Their horrifying numbers swelled by the minute as they bobbed and collected between the timber hulls of the ships.

Alice’s young daughter, Abigail, sidled up to her side and slipped her tiny hand into Alice’s palm. “Where are they all coming from?” she asked in a voice that was small and uneasy.

“I can’t say that I know, Abigail,” Alice replied. A flutter crept into her stomach as she gazed at the macabre panorama. Not for the first time since they had left Boston, she wished her husband was there with her. Samuel, would know what to say; his were the words that always seemed to comfort their little girl, not Alice’s.

Synopsis –

She didn’t believe in ghosts… until her daughter was taken by one.

When Alice Jacobs’ husband disappears while investigating a series of strange and terrible incidents in the bustling seaport of Salem, she is forced to bring her young daughter, Abigail, along from Boston while she takes up the search. But she soon learns of a terrible curse that has the entire town bracing for nightfall: one hundred years after the infamous witch trials, the vengeful spirit of a woman hanged for witchcraft will rise from hell to claim the souls of Salem’s children.

Alice dismisses the old legend as foolish superstition… until Abigail is snatched from her bed by a sinister woman made of smoke and mist.

Desperate to find her daughter before the sun rises and she is lost forever, Alice races against time on a spine-chilling adventure that takes her from forgotten dungeons and gloomy cemeteries to the haunted forests of Gallows Hill. Along with a roguish sailor searching for his own missing child, she battles deadly supernatural forces and uncovers a dark secret that may be the key to saving Abigail’s soul… if only she can survive the most terrifying night of her life.

Thoughts –

All Hallows Eve is set in the town of Salem and even after a century, this town is still plagued by the sins committed there. Innocent women and men were slain with no evidence, and in this story one of these women takes her revenge in the afterlife by becoming exactly what they accused her to be. Abound by superstition and unfair judgement, this is a book that is filled with rich characters, mysterious twists and turns, and secrets steeped in blood.

Our protagonist Alice is a young woman and mother who has brought her daughter along on the quest to find her missing husband, on the worst night of the year she could have possibly chosen. Strong willed and not about to give up on either member of her small family, she pulls the reader through the story on her bloody feet to discover the truth behind this towns rumours and to bring back her daughter before it is too late.

All Hallows Eve is an atmospheric and superbly written novel that holds echoes of the Salem witch trials, cautions against being too quick to judge, and has a frightening paranormal element to it as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would recommend to any witch, ghost, and dark mystery fans out there.

All Hallows Eve tells the story of a night that refuses to be forgotten.

About the Author –

Michael Penning is an award-winning screenwriter and bestselling author of horror and suspense. He is an avid fan of Halloween, haunted houses, and things that go bump in the night. When he’s not coming up with creative ways to scare the hell out of people, he enjoys travelling, photography, and brewing beer. He lives in Montreal with his wife, daughter, and their black lab, Salem. Sign up for Michael’s newsletter at www.michaelpenning.com for free giveaways and new release updates.

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‘Catch Lili Too’ by Sophie Whittemore – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

The first killing had been easy. A little girl wandering the woods with a storybook under her arm. She hardly looked up; why would she? There were no tales of the killer in the wood.

Not unless you count fairy tales, that is. And who believes in those until it is too late?

She had books about fantastical heroes who go on quests to fight Evil that had a very purposeful capital E. She had colored in the pages of the black-and-white line drawings with pencils, with sweeping trains and glittering scales of armor. The pencils scattered on the ground, pages torn up and trampled underfoot. A halo around her perfect, little angelic head.

For that alone the killer decided she had to die. She was too good for this world. She would never have made it anyway. It was a mercy.

Synopsis –

Lili is a Mesopotamian siren, and life as an immortal being is hard enough as it is. She’s asexual (which is incredibly difficult to reconcile if your entire point as a mythical being is to seduce people to death). She’s also struggling with depression from being alive for so long.

Lili is an absolutely shoddy improv-detective trying to track down a serial killer so ruthless that it makes even her murderous soul uneasy. However, there’s something larger at work than just one serial killer. A small town is hiding an even deadlier, global-scale secret. Forget Area 51 conspiracies. This one beats them all. With magic.

So, what better way to spice up her eternal life than being hired as a vigilante detective to stop a serial killer? Anything, literally anything. She’d trade her left lung to get out of this. Or, perhaps, somebody else’s.

Thoughts –

Catch Lili Too is a dark fantasy horror story with as many monsters as it has twists and turns. With a sympathetic and flawed protagonist, just human enough to engage with, but with clear supernatural abilities and appetites, the reader is drawn into an emotional story filled with philosophical and moral ambiguities. The ingenuity of an asexual siren and the complications that that would entail makes for a striking premise and one that keeps you turning the page until you are lost in the character of Lili herself.

Filled with diverse and queer characters, Catch Lili Too is very much a modern story that caters to a modern and diverse audience. A book like this brings ancient histories and creatures into the twenty first century and Whittemore does so with skill and creativity. My only qualm with the book is that there are ordinary mortals throughout with no special abilities, but they are very rarely seen. Some interactions between the ordinary townsfolk and the monsters and humans with extra abilities, would have been a great contrast to see within the story. However, Catch Lili Too is an entertaining and thought provoking book, with plenty of dark magic, hidden mysteries, and unshakeable friendships.

Catch Lili Too is a modern book steeped in history and mythology with a monster for every type of reader.

About the Author –

Sophie Whittemore is a Dartmouth Film/Digital Arts major with a mom from Indonesia and a dad from Minnesota. They’re known for their Legends of Rahasia series, specifically, the viral publication Priestess for the Blind God, and newest LGBT+ paranormal thriller “CATCH LILI TOO” with NineStar Press. Their writing career kicked off with the whimsical Impetus Rising collection, published at age 17. They grew up in Chicago and live a life of thoroughly unexpected adventures and a dash of mayhem: whether that’s making video games or short films, scripting for a webcomic, or writing about all the punk-rock antiheroes we should give another chance (and subsequently blogging about them).

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‘Unsafe Words’ by Loren Rhoads – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

“You’re going to love this place.” Caleb promised. He pulled his bike over to the side of the pot-holed driveway, so Violet stopped, too. The house ahead of them was clearly vacant, its creamy paint gone scabrous as the stucco beneath it had fallen away. The window – blank, like eyes blinded by cataracts – reflected the flawless cerulean sky overhead. In front of the house stretched a lawn gone to meadow. Its tall golden weeds drowsed in the sun.

Violet and Caleb rounded the lawn – was it heart-shaped? – and went to sit on the broken steps leading up to the veranda. Caleb shouldered out of his backpack and pulled out two sandwiches. They were dill Havarti on sourdough with some lettuce and just a little mustard. Violet smiled, pleased that he’d finally remembered she was vegetarian. After the bike ride up the mountain, the sandwich was perfect, washed down with water from her thermos.

The area around the derelict house seemed eerily quiet. The fall of a leaf, rattling on its way to the ground, echoed. Violet turned so she didn’t have her back to the house.

Synopsis –

Thoughts –

Unsafe Words is a unique collection of dark fiction that explores themes of addictions and desires, of man and monsters, and does so in a way that enthralls the reader not only with the subject matter but by the strength of Rhoads descriptions and sentences. Ranging from the haunted wilderness of ‘In the Pines’ to the sci-fi horrors of ‘The Arm’s Dealer’s Daughter’, this collection reaches far and wide, examining every dark corner you can think of

Unsafe Words is a collection that is diverse and inclusive of queer people, exploring physical and emotional desires that are too often shunned from our pages. Rhoads clearly shows that she is not afraid to describe in detail the physical and loving acts of her characters, as well as the bloody and violent ones. From unique vampire stories such as ‘Affamé’ were no blood is ever spilled, to the heartbreaking ‘The Energizer Bunny at Home’, the stories in this collection cut deep and open up new avenues for fiction that need to be explored more.

Unsafe Words is a dark short story collection that reaches far, cuts deep, and is not easy to forget.

About the Author –

Loren Rhoads is author of Unsafe Words, the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning stories. She’s the co-author of Lost Angels and its brand-new sequel Angelus Rose. She’s also editor of Tales for the Camp Fire, which raised money for survivors of 2018’s devastating wildfire in Butte County, California.

Loren is also author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.

Finally, she is the author of the space opera In the Wake of the Templars trilogy: The Dangerous TypeKill By Numbers, and No More Heroes.

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‘The Mirror’ by Hash Black – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Agatha grabbed her ears, frantically struggling to block out the deafening squeal that stabbed through them. She fell to the ground, writhing in pain as she waited for her eardrums to pop.

Then it stopped.

She opened her eyes. Everything was a blur The room seemed to revolve around her. A ringing wound chimed in her ear. And a throbbing ache pounded in her head.

She pressed her temples as she trailed her gaze back to the mirror.

It was intact.

But a message was scribed into it.

A LIFE FOR A LIFE

I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE

YOUR TWENTY FOUR HOURS STARTS NOW

Synopsis –

Jared Carson is gone, leaving a ravaged home behind for her wife Beth and baby daughter Lily. With her guardian angel gone, Lily’s horrid fears fester. The unseen monsters beneath her bed grow malevolent and stronger. It’s up to Beth to fill her husband’s shoes. She hugs Lily tight in her arms with teary eyes and makes a vow,

“You will never be alone, baby. Mommy will always be here to protect you.”

But…

The forces of evil watch quietly in the shroud of darkness. They thirst for anguish. They thirst for blood. They thirst for REVENGE!

And Lily is their prime target.

Thoughts –

The Mirror is a novella that follows a grieving widow as she moves into a new house, and hopefully a new life with her young daughter. Unfortunately, this new house has a dark past and an even darker entity inhabiting it and it’s reflective surfaces. Drawing on themes of painful secrets that refuse to be forgotten, repressed evils, and a mother’s love for her daughter, the story deals with heavy subject matters.

Unfortunately the pacing of the story is off. The entire work spans only a couple of days, and yet it seems only in the first hour or so of our main protagonist moving to this new town and still grieving the loss of her husband, she has no qualms falling in love with a brand new doctor who quite literally falls into her yard. Not only does this short span of time make some of the events feel unreal, but the backstory of the ghostly haunting going on was very difficult to fully believe as well – without any spoilers, the events of the town’s past just didn’t make sense and so the tragedy and darkness there didn’t have the impact that it should have. I did have to read the story twice to get the events straight in my head.

There are some good scares and descriptive passages of the dark entities that have stolen our main characters daughter. The psychological aspects of the scares were a plus for me.

The Mirror is a fast paced paranormal horror that just needed more space for the story to breath.

About the Author –

Hash Black is an author with a flair for writing horror fiction. Ironically, his educational background is rooted in marine biology, and has an innate love for coral reefs. However, he has always enjoyed writing his heart out as he grew up. R. L. Stine was a major influence during those days, with Goosebumps and Fear Street series getting lots of traction among his peers. Finally, at the age of 30, Hash gave in to his passion for writing.

The Mirror is his first novella.

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‘Gothic Blue Book VI: A Krampus Carol’ edited by Cynthia Pelayo – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

If her mom were here, Anna would suck it up and spin the flax and scrub the toilets and help with the cooking. Her mom made it fun, but her dad just went through the motions. Surely, he didn’t believe in a crazy witch that lurked around on Epiphany cutting out people’s guts and replacing them with trash. The story always seemed ridiculous, even when Anna was little. It never scared her. It just annoyed her that a witch would do all of that as punishment for not cleaning and cooking and spinning fabric.

Talk about overkill.

Anna rolled on her side and let herself sink inter her mattress. Tomorrow, her home would fill with relatives. She knew the amount of chaos the Epiphany feast caused. A tiny seed of an idea sprouted in her mind. She rolled it over and gave it room to grow. A smile spread on her face as it fully developed.

This would be her last Epiphany.

– ‘The Night of Epiphany’ by Nico Bell.

Synopsis –

A collection of short horror stories and poems resurrect the spirit of the Gothic Blue Book. Gothic Blue Books were short Gothic fictions popular in the 18th and 19th century.

Burial Day Books presents its sixth Gothic Blue Book, A Krampus Carol. A Krampus Carol is a celebration of folklore and myth around Christmas, Yule, the cold winter months and Santa Claus’ opposite, Krampus.

Thoughts –

Capturing the atmosphere and the traditional feeling of the story of Krampus, a northern European myth and legend, is no easy feat and yet A Krampus Carol manages it time and time again. With over thirty dark tales of yuletide horror, many featuring the horned demon directly, and a contributors list of many diverse and accomplished authors, this is one collection that will become a staple of my end of year readings.

Throughout this collection there is an emphasis on traditional folklore, on cold winter nights, and on the monsters that can stalk them when the veil is just thin enough. In the story ‘The Night of Epiphany’ by Nico Bell readers are treated to a YA story of grief and family traditions, where deviating from her late mother’s usual Christmas plans could stand to be deadly. ‘Candy Cane’ by Jeff Carter is a short, sharp, and more abstract tale of the dangers of bullying. Or, if you prefer to can delve into a more more modern take on the idea of the naughty list with Austrian Spencer’s story ‘Krampus’ which is a bleak and yet comical story of an app out of control.

This was certainly a collection that extended the Christmas atmosphere for me at the end of December, and one that I am sure will give readers a dark and cosy reading experience into the new year as well.

A Krampus Carol is a stellar collection of yuletide horror sure to give any horror fans chills that have little to do with the winter season.

About the Editor –

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, a Master of Science in Marketing, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology. Cina was raised in inner city Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children. Find her online at www.cinapelayo.com and on Twitter @cinapelayo.

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