‘Sequelland: A Story of Dreams and Screams’ by Jay Slayton-Joslin – Review

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

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My book Kicking Prose was a collection of sad poems about girls and growing up and not knowing how, it is about how we are falling apart and making it seem like we have it together. This book, I think, is a continuation of that theme— how through everything as creators, we continue and create.

 

Synopsis –

In the back alley of HOLLYWOOD lies SEQUELLAND, where directors and creatives get the chance to do what they love, not necessarily in the conditions that they love. Jay Slayton-Joslin, a writer and horror fan, experiencing his own existential crisis takes a direct approach exploring his childhood filled with direct to DVD horror sequels, interviewing those who created the sequels to iconic franchises feel upon looking back on them. The story of people who tried to do what they loved, filled with pride, regret, and resolution.It’s… SEQUELLAND: A STORY OF DREAMS AND SCREAMS.

 

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Thoughts –

Sequelland: A Story of Dreams and Screams takes a dive into the murky waters of horror movie sequels. Whether you hate them or love them, they aren’t going anywhere and between the movie makers who bend over backwards to please fans or the movie executives who go through script writers like toilet paper for one extra buck, there’s a lot more than fictional struggles to learn from here.

Slayton-Joslin asks pointed questions of the directors of sequels from Saw to The Leprechaun, from Carrie to Bloodrayne, delving into the unglamourous side of the movie making business. He speaks to directors who were pulled in after another director was kicked off a project, and directors who fought to get a title because they were such avid fans of the franchise themselves. Unlike with a fresh idea and screenplay, making a sequel has the added pressure of a lower budget, a higher expectation of return, a lore that must be abided by, giving the fans what they expect and yet still surprising them – the list goes on and so does the list of sequels that just don’t cut the mark.
Interspersed between these interviews, Slayton-Joslin takes a look at his own foray into a writing career. He examines his own expectations of what a story-telling career should look like and where he already feels like he has failed even before he’s fully started. There are writers and directors of all kinds who work on one project and stop there, and there are also those pigeon-holed into only making sequels, or unable to break into other genres because of the stigma of horror.
Slayton-Joslin ends the book on a hopeful note for all creative types – that there are as many paths as you are able to imagine in your story-telling mind, and there is no set track pulling you towards validation – you decide when you have succeeded and you decide what direction you want to go in if and when you do.

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Sequelland: A Story of Dreams and Screams is a non-fiction horror book that gives insight into the opportunities and pitfalls of horror movie sequels – and how all creatives can learn from those who make them.

 

About the Author –

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Jay Slayton-Joslin is the author of Sequelland: A Story of Dreams and Screams (Clash Books, 2020) and Kicking Prose (KUBOA, 2014). Jay graduated with a BA in American Literature with Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Surrey. He lives in Leeds, England.

Twitter: twitter.com/jaythecool
Instagram: instagram.com/50shadesofjaysj

 

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‘Hollow’ by Rhonda Parrish – YA Horror Review

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

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“Running helps.

It’s a soothing, strenuous sort of relaxation that clears my mind until all that’s left is sound. My feet hitting the pavement, my breathing loud in my ears, and an occasional bird. The sound of traffic is a dull hum in the background but I haven’t seen a moving vehicle the whole time I’ve been running laps. It’s getting late. The sky is bruising and the streetlights are coming on, but their light is dim.

I can smell autumn’s bite in the air. I’m too warmed up from my workout to feel it, and my hoodie is tied around my waits, its hem slapping against the back of my knees as I run.

Left-right, left-right, one-two, one-two. I focus on those numbers like I never do in math class, letting each one grow to fill my mind and push everything else out.

As I round the northwest corner of the decrepit hospital grounds a voice slips through the barrier I’ve erected around my thoughts. A very specific voice.

Keith’s voice.

“Shit.” I glance one way and then the other. Sound is weird around my neighbourhood, the old hospital and its outbuildings grab noises and toss them around like finger bones in a witchdoctor’s spell.

Then I catch sight of him, him and his friends. They’ve turned the corner across the street and are walking toward me.

If you’ve gotta go down, go down fighting. That’s what my Mom used to say.

Willing myself to ignore them, I fasten my eyes on a distant light pole and keep running. My jaw is clenched so tight each step jars my teeth, and the block, which is only doubly long on this side of the hospital, has never felt so huge before. I just want to go home.

The chant begins in my brain, replacing the counting, the left-right of my feet. I want to go home. Go home. Go home.

The boys’ conversation stops and, after a brief, is replaced by whistles and cat calls. Keith, Darian and Simon are hooting and whistling like a crew of construction workers. Assholes.

“Lookin’ good, Morgan,” one of them – Darian – hollers.

I feel the heat of embarrassment flood my face and force myself not to look down. Not to let them see how much they are getting to me.

“Run, run, run,” Keith shouts. And though the words are benign, it is him saying them, and the tone he uses colours them and turns them into something dirty. Something shameful.

I should have run that day. But I didn’t. Maybe this is my penance.”

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Synopsis –

A car accident shattered sixteen-year-old Morgan’s family. Now her brother’s dead, her mom’s paralyzed in more ways than one, her dad lives at work and her seven-year-old sister Amy tries too freaking hard to salvage everything. What’s more, high school is its own special kind of hell, where her ex-boyfriend delights in spreading rumors that shred her reputation and make her feel like a loser. When she finds an old camera in a creepy abandoned hospital, it seems like her luck is finally changing. And it is changing–from bad to worse. Because of course it is. Each time Morgan photographs one of her classmates they become corrupted versions of themselves. It’s like the camera steals their goodness, their essence, and leaves them hollow.

Then her sister uses the camera to take a selfie.

No matter what the cost, Morgan will find a way to reverse the effects of the cursed camera and save Amy, before her already-fractured family completely self-destructs

 

Thoughts –

A sensitive YA novel that follows a teenage girl in the aftermath of a car accident that is tearing her family apart, Hollow deals with themes of grief, sexual assault, family, and the darker side of the human psyche. For Morgan dealing with bullying and slut shaming she is looking for a way out of the difficult times she is in, trying desperately to claw her way back to normalcy and take care of her younger sister as her parents wallow in their own grief. Dealing with school life and a best friend feeling neglected, our protagonist has a lot on her plate and the heavy burden, much like the burden of a camera capable of bringing out the worst in her family and friends, Morgan proves a believable and strong protagonist that young readers can relate to.

An engaging story that shows the teenage characters in a realistic and emotional light, Hollow has achieved what it set out to do. For a YA audience this book is well-paced though more explanation could have been given for some of the more surreal scenes, however this did not detract from the overall impression of Hollow.

 

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A short yet impactful read, Hollow leaves the reader with the hope that unfortunate circumstances can be made better by the choices we make.

About the Author –

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Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She founded and ran Niteblade Magazine, is an Assistant Editor at World Weaver Press and is the editor of several anthologies including, most recently, Earth: Giants, Golems and Gargoyles, and Grimm, Grit and Gasoline. In addition, Rhonda is an award-winning writer whose short work has been in publications such as the Rhysling Anthology and Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2015). Her YA Thriller, Hollow and her paranormal non-fiction title, Eerie Edmonton are both coming in 2020.

Her website, updated regularly, is at http://www.rhondaparrish.com

 

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What’s your favourite YA horror novel? Do you think YA should stay away from heavy themes such as sexual assault? Let me know down below!

‘Savage Days’ by Kyle Van Dongen – Review

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

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The others said it came after dark, but Maisie wasn’t taking any chances. She carried a machete in a sheath strapped to her leg. The sound of its handle clicking against her belt should’ve empowered her, but instead it taunted. She’d never handled a weapon like this before, nor was she confident she’d be capable if the time came. 

It was a dreary, late autumn evening in Essex County. Distant rain clouds added a modicum of diversity to an otherwise colourless sky. A rolling field of dried corn stalks separated Maisie’s ramshackle farmhouse from the edge of a dark forest. 

Through narrowed eyes, she surveyed the motionless tree line. Shade from the canopy made it difficult to see farther than a few meters inside. For all she knew that damned beast hid just out of sight, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. 

Maisie cradled a heft wicker basket under her arm, supporting its curved brim against her hip as she tugged at the squeaky clothesline. Like everything else on the farm, it needed replacing. 

“Mommy, come push me,” a child’s voice called. 

Adelyn wore a frilly white dress embroidered with flowers. The spotless fabric flapped in the wind as she swung on a rickety swing set. She looked like she’d traveled here from another time, from a world Maisie never knew. 

“I’ll be right there,” she responded. 

The swing set stood next to the house, no more than six meters from the back door. Maisie felt certain that if the creature attacked, she could but her daughter enough time to get inside. Whether the dilapidated building would offer much protection however, was another story. 

It wasn’t that Maisie hadn’t tried to re-enforce the place. She’d boarded every window and installed makeshift crossbar brackets on both doors. Her handiwork wasn’t the problem so much as a lack of suitable materials. The old picnic table in the backyard became the first sacrifice, and since then she’d taken to prying up her bedroom floor. Unfortunately, most of these planks, regardless of their source, were already rotting long before she nailed them into place. 

 

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Synopsis –

Residents of a small farming community, already struggling to survive in the aftermath of nuclear war, are faced with a new threat when a terrifying creature emerges from the woods and snatches a child from her bed. A trio of broken people, including the missing girl’s grief-stricken mother, an aging scavenger, and a surly hunter, must learn to work together and utilize their limited resources to slay the beast and return peace to the community.

 

Thoughts –

Savage Days is a post-apocalyptic novel that explores the inherent human need for community and companionship struggling with the basic need to survive. Our trio of characters are well rounded, individually motivated, and fighters to the end. Young Maisie staying alive for her daughter, Benjamin and his love of music working for the community that shunned him to protect themselves, and the skilled hunter Caleb finding his place after the death of his ‘doomsday prepper’ father. A mis-matched team with their own agendas, all secretly wishing to find a friend but in the open, defensive for the sake of survival, leads to an unpredictable and often twisting hunt that threatens to get them all killed at every turn. The question is, is community more important than individual survival? And is survival for survivals sake, worth the effort?

Savage Days is a novel carried by the strength of the characters within it. Set in an America ravaged by looters, mutated humans and animals alike, and small farming communities struggling to return to a sense of normalcy for the sake of their children. Opening with their worst fears coming true – the thieving of a child in the night by a monster no one has seen – a harrowing journey is undertaken to stop this monster and keep the fearful community together. Van Dongen writes with skill and the careful treatment of his characters brings their stories to life. Using a well worn trope and breathing new life into radiated lungs, Savage Days is a novel waiting for a second or even a third reading.

 

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Savage Days is a story that will have you hooked from the very first page, and keep you hooked long after you’ve turned the last. Van Dongen will surely be a name to watch.

 

About the Author –

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Kyle Van Dongen is a dark fiction writer from Canada. Savage Days is his first published novel and you can find him on Twitter here.

 

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Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction? What’s your favourite type of global destruction? Is setting or character more important when dealing with this genre? Let me know down below!

‘Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation’ (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 31) by Mike Thorn – Review

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

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Sharla didn’t need to glance at the passenger seat to know what Jeannette was doing – mouthing patronizing words, gazing out the window with an expression of exaggerated defeat. Siblings have a special intuition for these things. 

She clutched the wheel tighter. 

When Sharla had first called to propose the trip, Jeannette had shouted a familiar routine – “Just in case you forgot about the coroner’s report, the newspaper articles, and the goddamn funeral, let me spell it out for you again: Mom drank too much, made the boozey choice to go swimming alone at night, and straight-up drowned. There’s no mystery about it. Dad told us all about Mom’s problem – the bottles of vodka hidden under her socks in the bedside table drawer, how she used to sneak out to the garage in the middle of the night while she thought he was asleep…” 

Sharla had listened quietly and patiently, even as her body tensed with the urge to hurl her phone at the nearest wall. 

When Jeannette had finally finished rattling off, Sharla said it again: “If you refuse to join, I’ll make the trip alone. I just thought you should know either way.”

 

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Synopsis (from Goodreads) –

“Dreams of Lake Drukka” and “Exhumation” explore the unearthing of horrific, long-buried family secrets. Journeying into the darkest recesses of the past, these stories depict the dire consequences of discovering the truth.

 

Thoughts –

This is a duo of brutal stories from writer Mike Thorn. Tied together by the theme of fulfilling a debt to a supernatural creature, the stories differ on their endings between hope for the future and dread. Dreams of Lake Drukka leans heavily on the relationship between sisters Sharla and Jeanette and the struggles they’ve faced in their family since the untimely death of their mother. One thinks it was a tragic accident that happened to a struggling alcoholic, the other thinks their father murdered her. After Sharla has a vivid dream replaying her mother’s death, Jeanette agrees to take one last trip with her to the lake where their mother died in the hopes that her sister can finally get the closure she needs and mend their relationship with their father. Thorn handles the relationship between these women in a wholesome and realistic way, but he also creates great action in the climax of this short story that packs a punch at the end.

Exhumation is the story of a man attending the funeral of a cousin he once played with when he was young. After attracting the attention of another attendee who he does not recognise, but insists they know each other, he tries to leave and is accosted and forced to remember what really happened between him, his cousin, and the insisting man. Again utilising action in this story, Thorn draws the reader in with a hint of mystery and insufficient memories to end the story with a brutal realisation – you can never escape your past.

 

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A duo of stories that are short enough to enjoy on your lunch break but rich enough to revisit, Dreams of Lake Drukka and Exhumation make Mike Thorn a name to watch in the future.

 

About the Author (from Goodreads)-

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Mike Thorn is the author of Darkest Hours and Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep PodcastTurn to Ash and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film StageThe Seventh RowBright Lights Film Journal and Vague Visages. He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

 

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How do you feel about duel stories? Would you prefer more bitesize outside of novels and novellas? Let me know down below!

‘The Third Corona Book of Horror’ Edited by Lewis Williams – Review

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

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-Curious, If Anything-

Cold linoleum under his feet, Babafemi stood there. Not frightened but curious, if anything. Pale light of early morning crept through the awning window over the bathtub and chased away the last of the bathroom’s shadows, and it was there in that room of grimy and green chequered tile that, rather than run, Babafemi raised a hand to the tuft of his greying beard, stroking it in contemplation. 

Ghost.

Really?

The dark-skinned body in the bathtub lay there, sightless – and had it been a real dead body, Babafemi most likely would have run. Not because he was scared of dead bodies, but more because he;d be scared that someone had left a dead body in his home, and as a result, it would make sense to leave before the killer came back. Assuming, of course, that the killer had left. All of these thoughts fluttered through Babafemi’s mind in moments, bringing him back to the present. 

The body lying in the bathtub, one leg handing over the side, the head resting against the side of the hot water tap. A body tat he could see through, and despite the darkness of its skin – or at least what would pass for skin – he could still see through it: see the outline of the bathtub, the tiling above the rub. 

Babafemi already knew it was a ghost since the body was see-through. Unlike many other who may have claimed that they had seen a ghost, or at least felt a ghostly presence, Babafemi was sure that he had encountered supernatural phenomena throughout his years. Early childhood long ago in Nigeria had shown him the ugly side of human nature and desensitised him to death. Later life in London led him to flirt with the supernatural, or certainly with those things that would make others uncomfortable. Time spent in a cemetery at night – back when cemeteries were unlocked and desecration was unheard of – yielded shivers from nothing except freezing cold temperatures among the headstones. Nothing went bump in the night then. Later life (and residences) in London, back when life had left him to adapt to the challenges of marriage, children, divorce and more, had provided more encounters: the sense of being watched by someone or something. Certainly nothing malevolent, but more in the way a curious family pet will watch its human masters before going its own way. And likewise, there was nothing to fear. 

But a ghost?

 

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Synopsis –

The Third Corona collection of horror stories picked from over eight hundred submissions. From ghosts to killers, monsters to curses – this collection has a wide variety of horror to disturb, disgust, and delight any horror reader.

 

Thoughts –

This is an independent collection that was picked from over eight hundred submissions, and you can see that in the quality of the writing and the stories held within. Not every one of them is a hit – there are one or two misses – however the overall quality of the collection is a pleasure to read. Stories in particular that stand out are ‘Curious, If Anything’ where the quote from above is taken, the story of a man who finds a ghost in his bathtub but rather than be afraid is curious to find out who the ghost is only to find that he doesn’t like the answer. There also ‘The Haunting of April Heights’ a modern gothic that takes place in a block of English flats, and ‘Murderabilia’ a collector who finds himself with the opportunity to buy evidence from the much to recent murders of an active serial killer.
The perspectives of this collection are unique, they take familiar tales and look at them from an angle not expected, interesting point of views and an array of material from ghosts to curses to AI. Would recommend for new and seasoned readers of horror.

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About the Editor (from Goodreads) –

They say to be a successful author you should pick one genre and stick to it. Lewis Williams hasn’t exactly followed that advice: having written his first book on the singer Scott Walker, he followed that with a serious academic work on social policy, which he then followed with a trilogy of limerick books that were absolutely, categorically nothing remotely like his earlier books. His latest book projects include a revised and updated edition of Scott Walker: The Rhymes of Goodbye (published Plexus, London 2019) and editing all three volumes of the Corona Book of Horror Stories book series, including 2019’s The Third Corona Book of Horror Stories with stories selected from over 800 submissions.

Lewis has two degrees in philosophy (which number might be considered two too many) and worked for a number of years in a number of different roles for Oxford University before his ignominious departure from its employ. You can find out more about him by visiting his website www.lewiswilliams.com

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