‘The Instrument’ by Ivan Radev – Review

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

***

“Well, only thirty-one to go.”

I don’t know how I got myself into this mess. All I remember is me and my buddy Josh talking over a Scotch on a Friday night about how he had rented a run-down utility building around the city centre. He told me he wants to make it a nice, cozy pub, much like the one we frequent. Next thing I know I get a call the following morning where he tells me I could earn the easiest hundred-fifty bucks of my life.

“It’s not going to take you long mate. Tuning a piano is easier than it sounds.”

His sweet lies came just two days after my rent’s due date, so well… I agreed. I was a music major in college, I’ve seen how they do the job before and watching a couple of Youtube videos gave me confidence that it really wouldn’t be too hard. It didn’t take me long to realise how freaking wrong I was.

Synopsis –

On a searing summer afternoon, the silence is softly broken by the beautiful melody of a strange instrument. A man finds love at first sight with the one who plays it, soon to be engulfed by the strange curse her family bears. On a star-lit stage, the two dance as death draws near, pulled in by the mystical music of the countless constellations. The relentless rhythm lusts for blood, unless the malicious puzzle is solved.

Thoughts –

A twist on the usual fairytale style story, The Instrument follows a young man named Tim as he falls in love with a beautiful woman and her strange musical instrument only to discover that said instrument is the key to an ancient curse that is plaguing her family. Albert, the butler and servant to the family who is less a companion and more a helpful yet unsettling creature that instills fear terror in Tim, is also more involved in this than first thought, and Tim must learn from this strange and silent man in order to save the one he loves.

The narrative tone of the story changes from quite a modern one, to a more classical style as the story progresses, reflecting the timelessness of the events. The year is no longer a marker for these characters and as such, the tone changes too. The story is quickly lifted from a physical setting and seems to be more in the realms of the imagination, the creative mind of our narrative, and the world slowly passing him by. The Instrument is a story that takes you on a journey from a very ordinary young man forced to tune a piano when he has no idea how to, to one who is love obsessed and determined to pick out the melody of time itself in order to save this woman.

As the story focuses on our male protagonist, the ending was a little out of left feel for me. Without giving away any spoilers, I just wasn’t expecting our female character and the object of his love to turn out the way that she did, this wasn’t inferred anywhere else in the story and though it lends a bitter sweet ending, it didn’t feel altogether natural. Still, The Instrument is a unique story and one that explores obsession, madness, and the lengths some people will go for the one that they love – regardless of anything else.

A dark tale with even darker imagery, The Instrument is a love story you will not expect.

About the Author –

Ivan Radev was born in Bulgaria in the year 1990 and throughout his childhood he always had a keen interest in The Arts. In tenth grade they became the driving force for him to quit school, study at home and spend every waking hour practicing the piano, painting in oils and writing. His literary journey began with sociological essays, to which he later added fictional and romance elements. He dabbled in poetry and comic writing, soon to find a new passion – horror. The macabre is the perfect stage for the poetic, after all, and so, “The Instrument” was born.

Read and Review –

Goodreads.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

‘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.*

****

 

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.”

 

20200114_211804_0000.png

 

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.

 

41NIh1Hls7L

 

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)-

5829518

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.

 

Read and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

How do you feel about duel stories? Would you prefer more bitesize outside of novels and novellas? 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.

20191221_001430_0000.png
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.

46653649._SY475_
About the Author –

(Picture not available)

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?

‘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.

 

 

45718954._UY834_SS834_.jpg

 

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 –

71neLzeaLsL._UX250_

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.*

****

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.

51cnk8dxXiL

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 –

71SRmpslwlL._SY600_

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!