‘The Wolf Society’ by Michael Penning – Review

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

***

Anna Jacobs was going to kill the man she was dancing with. She wouldn’t do it here, not under the brilliant glow of the reception room chandeliers. And she wouldn’t do it now, surrounded as she was by the cream of Vermont’s genteel society. But within the hour, the beguiling young Southerner with the chestnut curls and whiskey eyes would lie headless at Anna’s feet.

“You truly are an elegant dancer,” the gentleman said. He pressed his palm lightly into the small of Anna’s back and kept her at a decent arm’s length as he led her through the intricate steps of the English country dance. If his hand slipped lower, his wrist would brush against the six-inch blade strapped to Anna’s slender thigh beneath the folds of her silk ball gown.

“How kind of you to say,” Anna replied demurely. “I was raised to be prepared for any situation, including the occasion when a handsome gentleman might ask for the pleasure of a dance.”

“Have there been many such occasions?” The man’s sly grin revealed two rows of pearly teeth.

“Would it pain you to know there have?”

“Not in the least.”

Synopsis –

When the moon is full, there is no place to hide.

Most mothers tell their children there are no such things as monsters. Abigail Jacobs taught her daughter how to kill them. Raised to be a ghost-hunting occultist, Anna Jacobs now wants nothing more than to escape her life of blood and violence before it’s too late. But when women begin disappearing from the bustling lakeside village of Burlington, Vermont, Abigail convinces Anna to help her solve one last mystery.

Together, mother and daughter uncover an unholy secret society and a terrifying plot threatening the lives of the village children. Face-to-face with their most bloodthirsty foe yet, it will take all of their skill and cunning to save the children. But as the deadly night unfolds, Anna is forced to confront the chilling truth that the most dangerous evil she faces might actually lie within her.

Thoughts –

The third installment in the Book of Shadows series, The Wolf Society now takes a look at the infamous Abigail Jacobs’ daughter, Anna, who is well on the way to carving out her own name in the world of the occult. Raised by her mother to not only know, but to fight tooth and nail against the paranormal evils that surround them, Anna is a young woman filled with rage and resentment – and the fighting skills to take it out on anyone who crosses her. But as she tries to pull away from her mother, Abigail only works harder to keep her daughter close. And now that they they find themselves in the midst of a dangerous mystery that only they can solve, they must work together one final time to save the most vulnerable victims – the orphaned children.

A fast paced novel that takes place almost entirely in one nightmarish night, The Wolf Society brings the worst of humanity to the foreground. While Anna feels no remorse beating an abuser to a bloody pulp, she begins to feel a darkness inside of her rise up, one that has always whispered in her ear, but now threatens to engulf her entirely. And Abigail, seeing a bloodlust in her daughter’s eye that she has always tried to curb, is afraid to lose her daughter all together, and will use all of her darkest magical skills to save Anna’s soul, even if it means losing her own.

Once again Penning’s writing is superb, not only has he created a badass character like Abigail Jacobs but in her daughter Anna, we see another side and extension that the effect of being a strong willed woman living in such male dominated times can have on a woman’s mind and soul. But we are also introduced to Mary, a woman who is fighting for her own daughter’s future whatever the cost, and Kitty, an Irish barmaid risks her own life for those around her. In this story there is no shortage of strong and courageous women, whether you agree with their ideologies or not, and otherworldly powers, blood thirsty wolves, and with a bitter fight and high stakes around every corner, you will find it difficult to put this one down before the final page.

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.

Read and Review –

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‘Dial M For Mutants!’ by Mat Thorne – Review

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

***

Her office smelled like the bathroom of a seedy bar. The endless cycle of cigarettes. That urinal cake perfume. A headache was already forming somewhere deep in Buck’s skull and one whiff of her office was just enough to set it alight. He slumped into the old floral sofa across from her desk and sighed.

She watched him a long, silent moment, then returned to the open tabloid on her desk. She clicked her tongue and scratched notes all across the page. Buck sat too low in the sofa to see what she wrote. He didn’t need to. Her expression told him everything he needed to know.

“Have a smoke,” she said, nodding to the pack of Viceroys on the table.

Buck sat up and took one.

“Why the hell not,” he said. “Just why the hell not.”

He tapped the cigarette on the desk and hesitated. The chaos of the newsroom sounded through the open door. Phones ringing, voices arguing, the occasional burst of laughter.

“You want me to close that?” Buck said.

“Leave it open.”

Buck pressed the cold cigarette to his lips and held it there. “That’s what I thought,” he mumbled.

She sat the paper down and flattened out the creases with her knobby hands. Just skin and bones and a glitter of cocktail rings moving slowly, tenderly, over the edges. She made a real show of it. She even squared it to the edge of the table and patted it like a puppy.

“This is trash, hun,” she said.

Buck lit his cigarette and smiled. “You’re the publisher.”

She smiled back. Red lipstick smeared across her teeth.

“Not the paper,” she said. “The Midnight Extra is an award winning publication.” She thumbed toward the wall of gilded plaques behind her desk, then raised her voice to be heard well beyond the office. “Award winning!” she shouted. Then to Buck: “It’s your section dear. It’s trash.”

Synopsis –

Welcome to 1994. Bill Clinton is the president, Twitter doesn’t exist, and The Midnight Extra is staring at you from every checkout lane and ratty newsstand along the East Coast. Hollywood scandals, wild gossip, and the occasional UFO. You just can’t miss it. You might want to, but you can’t.

The Midnight Extra isn’t much of a tabloid, but that’s never really bothered Buck Vincent. He isn’t much of a reporter. And in a paper notorious for Elvis sightings and celebrity sex gossip, Buck’s Can You Believe It?! section feels right at home. For twenty-nine years, he’s dreamt up stories about Bigfoot, aliens, ghouls, and monsters of every stripe, usually after a whiskey. Or four.

Problem is, Buck didn’t dream up his latest story. He’s seen the blood. And he’s met the strange, smiling woman haunted by something beastly in the night. Hell, he’s seen the damn thing himself.

Good thing he’s teamed up with rookie photographer Betty Roy. She may be a loose cannon, but she’s got more spine than Buck ever had. Gumption too. And together they’ll chase a story that might just be chasing them back. Something with teeth. Let’s just hope the story is worth all the trouble. Things are getting a little spooky.

Thoughts –

Set in the 90’s around a magazine publication specializing in the paranormal, supernatural, and esoteric, Dial M for Mutants! is a novel that perfectly encapsulates the smoke and mirrors of such a workplace. The setting and atmosphere of the book is immersive, and is only made even more enticing by the visceral and frightening events and images in the book.

Our reporter Buck Vincent is used to creating a spin on things, and for the last three decades of his career he hasn’t been above just totally making things up. But when he and the new photographer for the magazine, Betty Roy, find themselves in the middle of a story that appears to have real blood, real mystery, and real danger, Buck finds his taste for a good story hasn’t left him just yet.

Dial M For Mutants! has a nostalgic feel to it without overwhelming the reader. Thorne’s writing is a gritty fast paced story that does not hold back on the old school monster visuals and the macabre mad scientist angle. With characters you want to root for, and a mystery that is too delicious not to keep you hooked to the last page, this is a book that you will likely finish in one sitting.

A breathtaking cover to match the horrifying story within.

About the Author –

Mat Thorne is a writer, designer, and photographer from West Virginia. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, daughter, and two strange cats. He enjoys monster movies, fantasy miniatures, baseball, and dumplings. “Dial M for Mutants!” is his first novel.

Read and Review –

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‘For Rye’ by Gavin Gardiner – Review

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

***

Everywhere, knives; everywhere eyes.

She plunged trembling fingers into her worn leather satchel. Damned thing must be in here somewhere, she thought in the moment before her bag fell to the concrete flooring of Stonemount Central. The ticket collector’s eyes converged with her own upon the sacred square slip, tangled amongst the only other occupant of the fallen satchel: a coil of hemp rope.

They stared at the noose.

The moment lingered like an uninvited ghost. The woman fumbled the rope back into the bag and sprang to her feet, before shoving the ticket into his hand, grabbing her small suitcase, and lurching into the knives, into the eyes.

The crowd knocked past. A flickering departure board passed overhead as she wrestled through the profusion of faces, every eye a poised blade. The stare of a school uniformed boy trailing by his mother’s hand fell upon her, boiling water on her skin. She jerked back, failing to contact a shriek of pain. Swarms of eyes turned to look. The boy sniggered. She pulled her duffle coat tight and pushed onward.

The hordes obscured her line of sight; the exit had to be nearby somewhere through these eyes of agony. She prayed the detective – no, no more praying – she hoped the detective would be waiting outside to drive her, as promised. One last leg of the journey, out of the city of Stonemount and back to her childhood home after nearly thirty years.

Back to Millbury Peak.

Synopsis –

Renata Wakefield, a traumatised novelist on the brink of suicide, is drawn back to her childhood hometown following her mother’s ritualistic murder. Before long, she becomes ensnared in the mysteries of Millbury Peak as one question lies heavy: who killed Sylvia Wakefield?

As the answer draws nearer, as madness continues to envelop the quaint country town, Renata will come to realise that the key to all this insanity lies with one man—the world’s leading writer of horror fiction. His name is Quentin C. Rye, and he will guide her to the revelation that true madness lies within.

Discovering that the darkness of her family’s history runs deeper than she ever could have imagined, Renata Wakefield’s eyes will finally be opened to one single, hideous truth, which will awaken a long-dormant evil.

Thoughts –

For Rye is a dark and twisting mystery story involving a reclusive romance writer, her mother’s bloody and brutal murder, and a famed horror writer whose words were found at the scene of the crime. With layers of secrets and darkness, revenge and avenging, this is not a predictable story. Our protagonist Renata Wakefield, foiled in her attempt to take her own life as her careers wanes, is now staying to fulfil a long held promise to her dear mother; to care for her abusive father on his death bed no matter what. But the appearance of the mysterious writer Rye, the forbidden writer that may just have sparked her love of story writing in first place, may have just given her a new reason to keep living – to find out just what this mysterious romance thing is all about.

Rye himself, the boisterous American among the reserved English, is fascinated with the death of Renata’s mother, staged to look like a scene from one of his own horrifying books. He wants to get to know Renata, to help her find her mother’s killer, to give her new life. Little does he know that Renata’s life is a lot more complicated than he knows, her past darker even than a mind like his could imagine. And when his adult daughter Sandie shows up unannounced and determined to bring Renata’s works to the big screen as her leading lady, the danger surrounding Renata hits a little too close to home.

For Rye pulls you in with shocking events and complicated characters, and holds you within it’s pages with superb writing, a mix of genres, and twist after twist. By the end of this story you will not know who to trust, who to feel sorry for, and just how Gardiner managed it in the first place.

A darkly enjoyable read for any mystery lover’s out there.

About the Author –

Gavin Gardiner’s lifelong love of horror didn’t manifest into his debut horror novel, FOR RYE, until his early thirties. Between its completion and publication, he wrote a novella, several short stories, and a selection of non-fiction articles and analysis pieces. These can be found in various online publications and in print via:

www.gavingardinerhorror.com

Before he threw himself into the writing game, Gavin dedicated much of his teen years and twenties to the pursuit of music. Although the nightmares he’s since committed to the page have garnered more attention than his songs ever did, he hopes to one day return to music. The writing of horror, however, is here to stay.

He’s currently working on his second novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge, and has grand plans for the future of his unique brand of horror. He very much hopes you’ll join him for the ride.

He lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his ever-patient girlfriend and ever-demanding kitten.

Read and Review –

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‘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.*

****

 

-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

Links to Buy and Review – 

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Do you collect horror anthologies? What’s your favourite collection? Let me know down below!

‘Vultures’ by Grant Palmquist – Review

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

****

At ten o’clock, Trent Sable grabbed the revolver, shoved it in the back of his pants, slipped on his latex gloves, and took the black balaclava from his duffel bag. He stepped out into the humid June night, and sweat rolled from his pores like wax down a melting candlestick. Mosquitoes buzzed around him. One of them landed on his forearm and sucked at his skin. Trent pulled a Marlboro 100 and chrome lighter with Trent etched into it from his pocket, lit a cigarette, breaking his two-a-day habit, and brought the cherry to the mosquito on his arm. It curled into a dry, dead ball and rolled into oblivion, then Trent made his way down the stairs, the wood creaking beneath each step. He could see the light of the Stop ‘N Shop sign by the moonlight, its fading yellow background flickering off and on.

Almost closing time.

The parking low was empty, and the man who owned the place was probably busy cleaning up inside. Trent looked up and down the street to make sure no cars were coming, and he gripped the balaclava tightly in his clammy hand, ready to draw it over his face. He reached the edge of the parking lot, gravel crunching beneath his feet. The smell of exhaust still hung in the air. Trent spotted puddles of gasoline near the gas pumps and dragged on his cigarette as he passed them, imagining someone drenched in fluid, begging Trent fore help, only to find himself ignited in flames a few seconds later.

Trent laughed to himself.

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Synopsis –

Heath is a family man with a nine to five job, a wife that he loves, and a teenage daughter going through a breakup and the

Trent is a sociopathic killer intent on proving himself a god and uprooting the laws of society. Trent picks Heath and his family as a target and stalks them relentlessly. What happens when chaos targets a middle class family? Can they survive the violence?

Thoughts –

I found a fun thing to do with this book! Here’s a drinking game you can play while reading. Drink when

– eyes are referred to as orbs

– you see the word phantasmagoria

– some ‘gets acclimated’ to sudden light or dark

– a random snake shows up

– Trent seems aroused but then blankly states that he can’t get aroused

– Victoria ignores blatant and immediate danger

– someone is clearly being followed but just shrugs and carries on anyway

– Trent swings ‘up and down’ on the swing

(Please be aware that if you play this game you will die because at least four of these happen in every single chapter)

First of all I would like to say that the general writing of the book is well done, Palmquist has a voice and he uses it and the sentence by sentence structure is well done. It was an easy book to read and if you are interested in synopsis of the book, I would say you should give it a try, however there were a few things that stuck in my teeth like a popcorn kernel, but I wouldn’t say this is a bad book, just possibly a confusing one.

So Vultures sets itself up as some kind of stalker story and I actually got the impression that maybe the family would be held captive in the house by the sociopath and that would be the majority of the novel. I’m not entirely sure where I got this idea from, maybe because Trent wants to destroy their ‘home and family’, so that assumption is on me. However, I did expect more to happen in the actual book than what did.

Without spoilers, there are two deaths pretty early on and this gives the impression that the story will ramp up to something, but the energy fizzles out very quickly after the second woman is brutally killed. I’d like to also point out that Heath the family man with a lovely wife and daughter, doesn’t seem to like women very much. He had a vendetta against Gloria (personally that hurt to read) at work and seems obsessed with hating her, and when he is blackmailed for the murder of another woman who’s body he wakes up beside, he never gives a single thought for the life of that woman. He never even thinks ‘that could be Yvonne or Victoria’, nope, he only cares about his own reputation which doesn’t fit with the character, or at least what we are supposed to believe about the character. Not to mention when Gloria goes missing, it seems more like he’s missing the conflict rather than actually concerned about her well being.

Heath as a character is completely caught up in his own insecurities and anger. Throughout the book he completely leaves his wife in the dark even after it would be far more beneficial to tell her. When it is one hundred percent clear that a verified killer is stalking your family, you tell your wife and daughter, you don’t leave them alone in the house, and you don’t let them leave under any circumstances. Heath just kind of… worries, without telling either of them. And Yvonne, his wife, is characterised as a submissive, loving but unquestioning wife even when her husband disappears for forty eight hours and is acting the weirdest he’s ever acting in their entire marriage. She’s basically not there for the entire story.

Victoria is, for the most part, is an ordinary seventeen year old. Trent tries to seduce her and it’s believable that in her fragile emotional state that she would fall for him, if it weren’t for the fact that he is completely devoid of any charm whatsoever. Serial killers, historically, are known to be very charming but Trent is just boring and mean and Victoria’s obsession with him is unbelievable to me as a reader. There are sermons scattered throughout from the family going to church, the book that I will be honest I mainly skipped because I did my time in church and the first few it wasn’t relevant to the plot of the story. At the end of church one day, for seemingly no reason Victoria declares that her goal in life is to have children. ???? Like, fine if you want to have children, but it was unprompted and told to her father, also at the beginning of the story she says she pledged her virginity to her father (promises her father she won’t have sex until she is married) which is uncomfortable to say the least.

But obviously the family aren’t devout Christians as Heath doesn’t seem to care about the deaths of the women around him. And a main theme in this book is masculinity and what it means. Trent believes he is a true man because he murders, and Heath feels emasculated because he doesn’t? Like you can’t be masculine unless you are violent. And you aren’t truly feminine unless you give birth?

There’s a lot of following but no reacting, there’s a lot of overlapping text conversations that didn’t need to be repeated. What could have been a great standoff between an average man protecting his family and a crazed sociopath hellbent on ruining societal norms, ended up being a strange squaring up that lasted way longer than it needed too, ironically showing two people who are too caught up in stereotypes about masculinity they forget to act out those very violent stereotypes at all.

Vultures is not badly written, but a confused book that is aspiring to greater themes than it displays. There are confused statements about masculinity and femininity and there isn’t as much of a showdown as was promised. Also a lot of ‘society are all zombies who don’t feel anymore’ talk which gets old quick.

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About the Author –

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Grant Palmquist is a writer of dark fiction and horror writer who doesn’t have any bios online that I can find.

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

Do you like serial killer horrors? What’s your favourite stalked family story? How do you feel about blatant societal narratives in horror?