‘Howls from the Dark Ages: A Medieval Horror Anthology – Review

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

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There’s something delicious about medieval images of Hell too, isn’t there? None of this existential Hell is other people hooey. When you come to medieval Hell, you’re in for torture, devils, fire, and seas of the damned that are nauseating in their scope. Medieval Catholicism didn’t fuck around. It was in a fight to the death, not only with Islam, secularism, and much older indigenous religions; it was amputating and burning mutations in the DNA of its own teachings. You would not only go to Hell for murder; you’d go for heresy. You’d go for believing Christ was only spirit and never had a body. You’d go for not believing the bread you at at Mass was Christ’s body.

So Hell had to be really good at being really bad.

It had to be worse than the short, overworked, oppressed, shame-filled, opiate free life of war, famine and plague its underfed population lived from day to day and season to season.

And you know what?

It almost was.

Come and see, come and see.

– Foreword extract by Christopher Buehlman

Synopsis –

HOWL Society Press presents Howls From the Dark Ages, a horror anthology with 18 thrilling tales of medieval macabre and a foreword by Christopher Buehlman, author of Between Two Fires.

Thoughts –

With a range of ideas, cultures, and curiosities, Howls from the Dark Ages takes the reader back through time and puts the real DARK in dark ages. Accompanying each story is an equally curious and intriguing illustration of an object from that story, tying the whole anthology together as a fanciful tour through an ominous museum.

Ranging from the expected medieval age of England where monks find themselves confined to monasteries where devils disguise themselves as angels and forbidden loves are struck down by mysterious glowing mushrooms, to Irish mercenaries accepting a well earned drink at a feast that may lead to even more bloodshed, and an arranged marriage haunted by the ghost of a jilted lover. Each story is more dark and mysterious than the last and there is something for every horror reader, whether you enjoy ghosts, monsters, or just plain murder.

It was also refreshing to see great queer representation in this collection, as well as having a look at the medieval time period in different countries and cultures around the world.

Howls from the Dark Ages is an entertaining and frightening read, and the inclusion of the museum tour guide and the dark illustrations ties everything together beautifully.

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‘Diaries of the Damned’ by Ivan Radev – Review

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

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Foreword (Extract)

This is a book of fears. Manifesting themselves as malicious monsters, my mind’s maladies formed crooked, misshapen phrases. Thus, they merged with reality. This release fully intends to give nightmares, shed tears, carve gentle scars into the soul of the reader. It is evil.

“Diaries of the Damned” is a work of fiction, but the feelings it expresses and evokes are all too real. There’s rampaging existential dread, psychological pain, loneliness, angst, and absolute, abominable horror. It is a hand that grips at the neck with no remorse, no compassion, nothing but the desire to blacken everything it touches.

However, I wish it also brings hope. After all, only light can cast shadows. The splendor of the stars, the magnificence of the mountains, the vastness of the universe are all beautiful things that make our existence seem small and meaningless. We are all too human: our lives are short, and death is the great validation that we ever lived.

Synopsis –

This anthology is not for the faint of heart and easily disturbed. All eleven narrators suffer from mental affliction, excruciating existential dread, or terminal despair. This book is evil. It is absolutely capable of inducing nightmares and scarring the mind. The characters within are ruthlessly relatable; they are normal people who drew the short straw. They got sick or old or just lost it all.

Beware the Damned! They are trapped inside wailing, waiting for a willing victim, a witness to their tales and tears.

Thoughts –

Diaries of the Damned from Ivan Radev is a collection of eleven stories told in some form by a narrator. Whether through diary style entries, interview transcripts, or online blog posts, the stories in this collection are all linked by one common thread – each narrator has an overwhelming and universal fear that is exposed through the telling of their story. This was a five star collection for me because not a single one of these stories was a miss, every single one was a hit. From the slow building tension and Lovecraftian horror of ‘The Transcript of Timothy Parker’s Interrogation, Deep Dive (Unsaved)’, to the dark and modern humour of ‘The Incident At the Toilet Paper Aisle’, Radev shows his considerable scope with pacing, language, voice, and strong and relatable characters.

Among some of the themes and fears explored in this collection are the fear of loneliness, of losing the person that you love the most, as well as the inevitability of time marching inexorably forward, and death itself. On the other hand, there are some narrators that embody the thing that is to be feared. Each story is told from a first person perspective in some way, thus the ‘diaries’ theme, but this never felt repetitive or overplayed, he did well in bringing variety into the collection.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and will definitely be perusing these stories again at some point.

About the Author –

Ivan Radev is a literary horror writer with an obsession for the arts, the absurd, the existential, the eclectic. His stories range from the naively romantic to the dreadfully deranged. One can find equal measures psychological pain and philosophical peace in his content. His writing might appeal to readers of Albert Camus, Edgar Allan Poe, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

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‘Nocturnal Salvation’ by Villimey Mist – Review

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

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The crooked cabin bathroom mirror presents me a nightmare. The rhythmic hums of a heartbeat echo in my ears and they serenade my hunger. My breathing is ragged and fast, yet my heartbeat doesn’t rise. My teeth ache.

My long, sharp, canine teeth.

“This can’t be happening,” I mutter to myself over and over again. “It’s a dream. It must be.”

I cover my face with trembling hands, refusing to look at my reflection. Shuddering breaths escape my lips. I don’t feel warm. Not cold, either. I’m somewhere in between, and it terrifies me. I sway to the side. It’s like there’s a rock in my throat; no matter how many times I gulp, nothing comes out.

“I’m afraid it’s pretty real.”

I freeze. It’s a voice I’ve yearned to hear for almost a year. A voce that shouldn’t be here.

I spread my fingers and peek through. My heart finally beats faster and replaces the rock in my throat.

“You’re dead.” My voice is a hoarse whisper as I look at my late sister, Sophie, sitting on the bathroom counter.

“Am I?” she teases.

I grip the glass pendant around my neck. “This is made from your ashes. I watched you die. How are you here?”

Sophie shrugs. “Dunno.”

In the mirror, Sophie grins at me. Bile rises in my throat. I grip the side of the sink as my legs don’t feel sturdy anymore.

“You can’t be a ghost. They’re not real.”

“Ah, you thought the same with vampires, though.” Sophie wags a finger.

“So, are you a ghost?”

Sophie shrugs again. “Dunno.”

Synopsis –

Leia Walker has become the monster she feared.
Turned into a vampire against her will, she struggles to adjust while protecting her younger brother.

Across the world, humans and vampires are becoming bloodthirsty—feral beasts spawned by Adam Levant, a dangerous, sun-immune vampire. The people of Europe don’t know their fate hinges on a young woman and her group of vampires and vampire hunters. Time is ticking, and Leia must find a cure for Adam’s deadly blood. Her search leads to a reluctant alliance between her vampire guardians and the Owls, the hunters. Together, they venture to Atlanta to find a toxicologist from Adam’s past.

Caught between chasing a cure and holding on to her sanity, can Leia find a way to control her Hunger and stop Adam for good… or will she doom her fellow vampires and the rest of the world?

Thoughts –

The third instalment in the Nocturnal series from Villimey Mist, Nocturnal Salvation sees our protagonist Leia Walker becoming the thing she hates the most. Turned into a vampire after narrowly saving her brother, she now has to use her new found powers to defeat Adam – the rogue experiment gone wrong who is hell-bent on destroying humanity and vampires alike. His plan to infect the world with his own blood, which causes anyone exposed to it, to become a mindless and violent ghoul, must be stopped at all costs. Once again Leia’s vampire friends and the vampire hunters must team up to put an end to this global threat.

Throughout the story Leia is plagued not only by the hunger that she can barely control, afraid even to hurt the brother that she just saved, but also by the ghost of her dead sister who pulled her into this world of blood thirsty beasts in the first place. Finding the courage and self-discipline to use her new strengths for good, is complicated even further by the ever feuding vampires and vampire hunters. This third book shows Leia’s progression and growth as a young woman from the naïve and anxiety riddled girl in the first book, to the a confident leader and compassionate fighter willing to do what it takes to keep others safe. She is a protagonist that it is impossible not to root for.

As the book moves from Europe, back to America, we are introduced to even more vampire sects, alliances and grudges, and just how deep the rabbit hole of vampiric reach goes. A well-paced and action packed novel, this is a vampire series for those readers who are looking for more than just romance. With the Nocturnal series you will get strong familial and platonic bonds, deep friendships, conflicting motives, and of course – plenty of blood shed.

And what’s more – I thought this would be the end of the series, and despite the author themselves assuming this on starting the book, it looks like there may be another part to Leia’s story. So, stay tuned for that.

About the Author –

Villimey has always been fascinated by vampires and horror, ever since she watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula when she was a little, curious girl.
She loves to read and create stories that pop into her head unannounced.
She lives in Iceland with her husband and two cats, Skuggi and RoboCop, and is often busy drawing or watching the latest shows on Netflix.

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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.

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‘The Haunted Halls’ by Glenn Rolfe – Review

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Walking up the pool steps he sensed a presence. Something else was here, and he had the goosebumps to prove it; the room was freezing. Not normally a man so easily spooked, Edward grabbed a towel from the plastic chair he’d left it on, and made for the door.

Stepping into the long empty corridor he could see his own breath. The icy presence had followed him. Even the maroon carpet which ran all the way down to the inns lobby was cool beneath his bare feet. The immense chill permeated every available space around him, freezing every door handle in sight and sparking to light and intense fear in him. He broke into a run looking for the nearest restroom.

Edward reached for the silver lever, his mind two steps away from setting his axis permanently out of whack, and despite the icy cold beneath his palm, shoved the door open. He spun around to the other side, shutting out the cooling hallway of the Bruton Inn. Something followed me. Standing in the men’s room clad in nothing but men’s swim trunks and a tiny pool towel that wouldn’t fit a child, he waited.

He was shivering, his teeth chattering, heart pounding. He could feel the wooden door at his back growing colder by the second. The small pool of water puddled beneath his feet began to freeze before his eyes. He stepped out of the slick space his wet body had created and stood before the mirror face to face with himself, intent on talking some sense into the man looking back at him.

“This isn’t happening. This isn’t fucking happening. Get a hold of yourself you stupid asshole!” he sad through quivering blue lips. A series of cracking noises stole his attention. He gazed back at the door. The floor beneath it began freezing over, the ice reaching out into where he stood.

Synopsis –

The Bruton Inn, located outside of the small Maine city of Hollis Oaks, is home to something special. An icy presence has made its way from a dark past to the present day. Cold spots, shadows, and whispers permeate the halls, and guests are beginning to change.

For two front desk employees, Rhiannon and Jeff, the dark rumors are about to come to light. They call upon Lee Buhl, the urban shaman, and his connection with the spirit world to dig up the truth.

Will they be able to stand against this malevolent force? Or will they come face to face with something beyond even your most frightful dreams. Welcome to the Bruton Inn. The Ice Queen has arrived.

Thoughts –

The Haunted Halls by Glenn Rolfe is a paranormal story set in a terrifying hotel with a dark past. Strange and unexplained things have been happening for some time; dead bodies found floating in the pool, voices and shadows in the empty hallways, and cold spots that can make your bones ache. Rhiannon is a relatively fresh recruit at the Bruton Inn and isn’t yet sure if she believes rumours going around, but she’d about to find out they are more true than she could ever imagine, and her coworker Jeff can’t escape them either.

A smorgasbord of messed up characters, bad decisions, evil intentions, and violence, The Haunted Halls has as many layers as there are rooms at the inn. The only real set back of the novel is the large cast of characters. Between hotel employees, blow in guests, regulars, and those from the haunting past that created it, it was a slippery task trying to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, a lot of them do end up shuffling off this mortal coil by the end, so it gets easier as it goes along. But Rolfe still handled the challenge well and the core character have their own time in the spotlight to keep the story going.

A classic haunted hotel story, from a fresh perspective, The Haunted Halls boasts physical and emotional turmoil, somewhat immoral characters redeeming themselves, and definitely immoral characters getting what they deserve. And a few unfortunate people who get caught up in the chaos and mayhem in between.

An exciting read that will keep you on your toes to the very end, this novel is another great read from Glenn Rolfe.

About the Author –

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter from the haunted woods of New England. He studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and many others. He has three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

He is the author of August’s Eyes, Until Summer Comes Around, The Window, Becoming, Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, Land of Bones, and Slush.

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