The Shatter Point by Jon O’Bergh – Review

AFFIDAVIT FOR ADMISSION TO HORROR PLACE:

Horror Place offers an experience that is physically demanding. Therefore, you must be in excellent physical condition. If you have any medical conditions, illnesses, or pregnancy, you will not be allowed entry. The actors will touch you, but you are not allowed to touch the actors. You will also be filmed throughout the ordeal and you consent to these videos being publicly released. You may experience some mild injuries due to the nature of the experience. By signing your name, you understand and accept these conditions. 

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“I think you should do it,” said Jada, fixing her eyes on Asher. 

Brianna looked at Asher sympathetically. “He should only do it if he really wants to. For himself. No one should pressure someone to do it.”

Jada glared at her. Brianna could almost read Jada’s mind and the words ‘stay out of my business, bitch’. She wondered why Jada was insistent that Asher experience Horror Place. She could tell that Jada’s willfulness dominated Asher’s insouciance. Perhaps that was the attraction for Asher, that forceful personality so unlike his own, compensating for something he thought he lacked. Now his motivation for Horror Place became clear to her. Brianna suspected it had not even been his idea. Jada was exciting to be around, no doubt about t. But with that excitement came a touch of danger. That also explained why Megan liked to hang out with Jada. The thrill of risk. Not the risk Brianna had undertaken when she tested herself at Horror Place with a purpose in mind, to make herself stronger, but the risk that hinted at transgression just for the sake of transgression, or simply out of boredom. Brianna’s initial goodwill toward Jada cooled. The girl was clearly trouble, and Brianna’s heart went out to Asher. 

Jada repeated her statement, a little more quietly but with emphasis. “I think he should do it.” 

 

When lives intersect things can get messy. This is no more apparent than in Jon O’Bergh’s novel The Shatter Point. In it, we are led through the lives of he slowly waning romance of Jada and Asher, brought together by their differences and slowly being worn down by them, the troubles of Asher’s band, ‘Lavender Lush’, and the calamity surrounding the newly constructed horror experience known as Horror Place and it’s neighbour’s in such a ‘nice’ neighbourhood. Lives and characters intersect, ghosts from the past are revived to haunt again, anxieties of the future are brought to bear on the present – but who will break first?

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The Shatter Point is a slow burn of a dark thriller intermixed with paranormal and supernatural leanings, ghosts that appear only at the corner of the eyes. O’Bergh cleverly brings this suburban gothic into the twenty first century by blending social media with prose, present anxieties with recurring past traumas, and complex characters. Given that much of the plot is centered around Youtube videos and the glory that comes from impressing thousands of strangers online, or the shame of not impressing them, the story needed social media and the type of commenting that comes with it and O’Bergh was able to capture – usernames and all – the vitriol and one-upmanship that comes with it.

O’Bergh explores many themes, the most noteworthy being the pull of internet stardom and just how fickle audiences can be, failed masculinity as can be seen in many of the character’s need to prove themselves and the women who push them to it, absent fathers, and illusions. When the internet and social media command more of our attention than our own family and friends, how do you know what is real and what is not real? What is constructed for an audience and what is natural? O’Bergh weaves all of these themes through a narrative that works for the transition between characters though at times can be quite restrained. For a novel that deals so eloquently with the comments under Youtube videos, an update of the prose would not have gone amiss.

One thing I can say for The Shatter Point is that it has some twists and turns that I did not see coming. The violence that occurs in the book is inevitable and you can feel it coming for you from the first page like a rolling train, but when it does hit, you will not see where it came from. The shifting perspectives of the story keep it from becoming stale and each character stands on their own. From the manipulative relationship between Jada, Asher and their hanger on Brianna, to the carefully balanced lives that make up a neighbourhood where disrespecting one another’s roses can lead to deep rooted grudges. The Shatter Point smashes together social norms and requirements with our own need to prove ourselves and find out who we really are, and it does so in a sometimes subtle and sometimes unmistakable way.

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I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an intriguing and modern urban thriller. The Shatter Point readily provides believable characters, complex relationships and twists that will leave your jaw on the floor.

About the Author:

Jon O’Bergh is an author and musician from Canada who loves a good scare. He has written two groundbreaking books which link music and stories: “Song of Fire,” a memoir about the role of music in our lives, and the short story collection “A Book of Hauntings.” With the publication of his first novel, “The Shatter Point,” he continues to link music and writing in a unique way. He also co-authored “Elliptical: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello.”

You can follow him on Goodreads and Twitter.

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Purchase links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Have you read ‘The Shatter Point’? Do you agree with the inclusion of social media and technology in modern fiction? What do you think is the right way to include them?

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

‘The Mongrel’ by Sean O’Connor – Review

“She got out and shook out the damp apron, folded it up, then stuffed it under her arm. The oversized chef jacket was buttoned up tight to her neck, as cosy as she could make it. Readying herself, she stared up the middle of the road in the direction Phil had left. 

The baby kicked, and she took a few deep breaths, rubbing her bump until it calmed. She refused to let the hunger trouble her any further this morning. Fate had given her, Erin Greene, a mission – she had somewhere to go and needed to focus on the task in hand. She popped more snow into her mouth, prepared herself mentally for the long struggle ahead and, with a deep breath, took her first step onto the freezing, snow-covered road, heading for salvation.”

 

Erin Greene is a woman caught between the men in her life. With a baby on the way she’s struggling to find the balance between her over-protective father and her over-bearing boyfriend. She knows something has to give for her family to feel like a family again, and maybe, just maybe, this romantic drive to the Wicklow mountains to watch the sun set, could mark the turning point for her and Phil. Of course there’s a storm rolling in and the cars been on the blink, but together they can get through it. But it’s getting cold and the lonely Wicklow wilderness, might not be so lonely after all…

 

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Ignore my nails and look at my cool ‘Women in Horror’ badge instead.

 

For ‘The Mongrel‘ I was lucky enough to go to the book launch of the novella and score some free wine with my purchase. Introduced by the authors Jonathon Barry, writer of ‘The Devils Hoof‘, and Matt Hayward who I have reviewed before for his short story collection ‘Brain Dead Blues‘ which you can see here. I can’t honestly say how inspiring it was to be sitting in a local book shop and seeing other Irish horror authors up there talking about their work, if you need motivation to get your own writing done, go to book launches! You are supporting the community you want to join and also – FREE WINE! I feel very lucky to have been in contact with other Irish horror writers like Seán O’Connor, Matt Hayward, and also the YA writer Tina Callaghan – the first review I wrote on this blog was for her YA horror ‘Dark Wood Dark Water‘ which you can see here, just saying. The horror community in Ireland is getting bigger and I can’t wait to see what else shows up on the scene from these writers and more. The future is exciting for horror!

 

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My name is not capitalized because he had no idea what I was saying.

 

Seán O’Connor was the man of the hour though and he was lovely to meet, he signed my copy of ‘The Mongrel‘ and I lied and said I would have a review up in a week or so… it’s been about three months I think. A fine debut novella, I can only hope that Seán keeps writing, and keeps setting his stories in and around Ireland and our mythology. I love a good Irish horror story and we have so much more darkness to give the genre. I look forward to his next read.

 

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Very minor spoilers ahead – to paraphrase Stephen King, you can’t ruin a book with spoilers because the joy is in the journey. The twists will remain hidden. 

 

Things I Liked – 

Something I will always root for is a great female protagonist and if I end a book with no mention of bra size or how beautiful yet unknowing a woman is, that tends to be a good sign. Erin Greene as a character shows depth and humanity, as a protagonist it’s both easy to follow and easy to want to follow her harrowing journey of isolation and transformation. O’Connor manages to keep the prose tense and surprising though the core of the story is a trope we’ve all read before – a journey through a storm in a dodgy vehicle, it can never end well.

 

Things I Didn’t Like – 

So, the two spoilers that aren’t spoilers are that Erin gives birth and there are wolves in the Wicklow mountains. These come up pretty quickly so they shouldn’t ruin the story for anyone. Armed with a few swigs of whiskey Erin manages to give birth by herself and not only that, it isn’t a straightforward birth either (that’s all I’m saying about that horror). My problem with the birth scene was that it felt quite devoid of pain. I’ve never given birth myself but I’ve been at them and I’m pretty sure there isn’t much else to feel while it’s happening but pain, especially when things go wrong. I’m not saying there should have been a blow by blow of every ache and internal stab but it felt strange that the pain was barely mentioned and especially since the birth is nowhere near the end of her misfortunes – she has to get up and run afterwards. I would also like to get rid of the trope of swigging alcohol before dealing with pain, it doesn’t work that quickly and from experience I know you need more than a shot to make any difference.

A problem with novellas and short stories is that sometimes you can feel like you just don’t have enough space for the story, and with something like ‘The Mongrel‘, a story with plenty of twists and conspiracies thrown in, much of this was not explained to my satisfaction.  Particularly towards the end I found myself wondering about certain characters and motivations, there were certain throwaway lines that I would have liked to have been explained more, or even less weight given to the back story.

That being said, I was still able to enjoy ‘The Mongrel‘ on the strength of Erin’s character and her will to survive.

 

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About the Author – 

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Seán O’Connor is an Irish author born in Dublin. Always a lover of horror and dark fiction, his debut horror novella ‘The Mongrel‘ was published by Matador Press in October 2018, and he currently lives in North Dublin with his fiance and son working on his next tale of darkness.

You can follow Seán on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and his via his website seanoconnor.org

To get your hands on The Mongrel or give it a well deserved review of your own, follow these links. Remember! A review is a good as a quid –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you read ‘The Mongrel’? Do you know of any other great horror reads, particularly Irish horror? Let me know down below!

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

Late Night Partners by Fennel Steuert – Review

“Though they said she never was human, exactly, Doris had held onto the belief otherwise – even as she sat in the back of a wagon with a few pigs being taken along the road southward.

It was a slow ride. She contemplated running, but where could she go? The man at the head of the wagon had a dog with him, and he would certainly set it loose to her. She tried to imagine that being bitten wouldn’t be that bad. This only made her blood run cold, and with that came a kind of numbness, until something large swooped down from a tree onto the man at the reins. His gingerly whistling turned to a yelp. As the dog barked and the pigs squealed, Doris took off. 

Behind her, the dog let out a quick final screech.

Doris ran faster, ably dodging the star-lit silhouettes of the trees. But what was along the ground was another thing. She stumbled over rocks and roots, until something on the ground sent her tumbling to the dirt. When she looked up, all she could see was the silhouette of a man in a tricorn hat. And then the entirety of existence was the fiery pain where his teeth tore at her neck. Her last sight was the bleeding wound formed as the man pressed a pointy finger along the inside of his arm.

 

Synopsis

In Late Night Partners we meet Doris, a victim of the American slave trade, who in her escape attempt, finds more than she bargains for in a contagious bite from a stranger. Cut to the present day and strange things are happening in the city where Doris and her Native American ghoul friend through the ages, Gesine, now live. Human Roger gets pulled into the fray after his elderly uncle Simon, afraid to leave his house because of a mysterious and bloody attack he suffered, and both of them find a world that neither thought was possible before. As the two worlds intertwine, the earthquakes shaking the city turn out to have a supernatural and shocking epicenter. With twists and turns for days, distinct and charming characters.

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What I Liked

What I liked about Late Night Partners was obviously the uniqueness of the story. I’ve never read a novella quite like this, with characters like these, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so. There’s no fear for ‘diverse’ characters here, and there never should be, but more importantly there are no stereotypes either. Steuert’s treatment of not only LGBT characters and women of colour was nuanced and enjoyable, as was her treatment of much used creatures such as vampires and ghouls. I was surprised quite a lot in this book by the origins of the characters and their afflictions and the twists that the story too – that ending? Never would have seen it coming in a million years. Late Night Partners is definitely not a story you can walk into assuming anything and that made reading it quite easy to keep the pages turning.

The urban setting was also quite interesting for me. I have only read medieval type fantasy stories before and having this in the setting of a city was quite something different and works quite well I think.

 

What I Didn’t Like

One thing that bothered me in Late Night Partners was the time jumps. Between Doris in her beginning as a vampire and the characters in the present, I often got confused as to where I was supposed to be picturing them. This is something that can easily be fixed with some sub-headings but it did mean some re-reading. I also would have liked to have the romance side of the book explored more, and I am not a romance fan. I just feel like the characters could have been explored more in their interactions with each other, if this was focused on with a little more time it would have added another layer to the story.

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Recommended for:

I would recommend Late Night Partners to someone looking for a light, fantastical read. Anyone who needs another shot of vampires but wants an urban twist to it, and anyone who thinks they always know where the twists are going – you will fail for this one!

Late Night Partners is a new twist on an old tale and if you are looking for a diverse book you should definitely pick this one up. I’ve talked before about the need for more LGBTQ characters in particular in horror and ‘genre’ fiction, you can check out my thoughts on Lesbianism in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House here.

Purchase Links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

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What do you think of modern vampire stories? Do we need more diversity in our fiction? Does the vampire mythology need a new re-vamp? (puns always intended here) Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

 

 

‘Without Hesitation’ by Talia Jager – Blog Tour (Free Book and Amazon GC Giveaway!)

Woul you like a free book?! Of course you would! To celebrate the newly released ’Painted Skies (Beyond Earth: Book Two)‘ by Talia Jager, the first book in this series is available for free download! Read all about Without Hesitation, download your free copy, and enter the amazing giveaway at the end of this post!

The 1st book in the Beyond Earth Sci-Fi series by author Talia Jager, ‘Without Hesitation’ has been repping the LGBT flag in the adventure aisle since June of last year. Now that book 2, ‘Painted Skies‘ is out, you need to get your hands on the first one FOR FREE to get the full scoop on this interstellar adventure. And read to the bottom to be in with the chance of winning a free copy of ‘Painted Skiestoo!

 

Synopsis:

Without Hesitation is set a thousand years in the future. Earth has become a wasteland. Humans traveled into space to colonize other suitable planets. Labels and stereotypes are a thing of the past and gender and sexual identity are as fluid as love as humans strive to survive. Here we meet Everleigh, the commander of her ship named Nirvana. She is under the control of an evil madman, Caspar, who keeps her family captive. He sends her to Valinor to abduct the Empress Akacia. When she arrives, she is taken aback by Akacia’s beauty and when the Empress fights back, Everleigh realizes she has met her match.

You can add ‘Without Hesitation’ to your Goodreads and I’ve just started a Goodreads account myself, why not add me here

 

*Available for FREE Download Right Now!*

Get your free copy of ‘Without Hesitation’ through these links:

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About the Author

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Talia is no stranger to labels and judgment. She has slowly been developing her voice for those who need help speaking up. She believes that someday labels will be a thing of the past, that sexuality will be fluid, love will be love, and mental illness will be handled with love and care. Talia is an author with fifteen books published including: Damaged: Natalie’s Story, Teagan’s Story: Her Battle With Epilepsy, If I Die Young, Secret Bloodline, Lost and Found, The Gifted Teens Series, The Between Worlds Series and The Beyond Earth Series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking red rocks or sitting on the beach with a Kindle in her hands and her toes in the ocean.

 

Author Links:

To find out more about Talia Jager and her writing you can catch her at the following links:

Website, Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Pinterest, Instagram, & Goodreads.

And check out some of her Tweets below.

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Excerpt from ‘Without Hesitation’:

Limbs lashed at my legs and arms as I ran through the trees, toward the light. Hugging the shadows, I wove through the forest until I came to the clearing. A female around my age in a black protective suit stood there checking some kind of device in her hand.

She was beautiful. Her hair was just as long as mine, but was dark, smooth, and straight and framed her oval face perfectly. Her bright, golden eyes scanned her surroundings. She turned slowly revealing an animal print tattoo that trailed from the back of her neck, down her right shoulder, and her arm all the way to her pinky finger. I took half a step toward her before common sense drew me up short. I had been hiding for a reason. I had no idea whether she was friend or foe. It was dangerous to go charging out there, even if the girl seemed to be alone.

The stranger was facing me again. Her eyes landed near where I was hidden.

Could she see me?

She smirked and, said, “I know someone is out there. Save me the hunt and I’ll spare your life.”

Somehow I doubted she spoke the truth.

I hunkered down, daring her to find me. I was ready for her.

Slowly, carefully, she picked her way through the underbrush and made her way toward me. She knew I was here, but she didn’t know exactly where. Remembering how important it was that I not die, I couldn’t take any chances. As soon as she was close enough, I struck.

Just before my arm made contact, she shifted her weight and spun, stepping out of the way. She threw a punch, which I dodged easily, but then she continued to come at me and I blocked her over and over, until I made a misstep. While I was stumbling, she caught my cheek with her elbow then landed another blow to my belly. I countered, slamming my hand onto the bridge of her nose sending her backward. She stumbled but caught herself.

I launched myself at her, drove my body into hers, knocking her to the ground. We both fell in a tangle of limbs. She rolled, putting distance between us, and we both jumped back to our feet.

When she sprung forward again. I twisted, my back protesting the movement, just enough to get out of the way. We exchanged quite a few blows before she finally clocked me one good time in the face then followed that up with a kick in the ribs that stole my breath. I collapsed to the ground grabbing my side. Not wasting a second, I swept her with my foot, hooking my leg around hers, and yanking back with all my might. Her bright eyes widened as she went down, landing on her back. I jumped on top of her and pinned her to the ground. Now that I was up close I saw that there were two more tattoos on the left side of her neck: an arrow with two Xs in the middle, and another simple symbol next to it.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

No answer, though her eyes were wide with excitement—like she was enjoying this.

My heart thudded roughly against my chest. “How did you get here?”

Again, she didn’t answer.

Using her legs, she bucked up, throwing me onto my hands and knees. She kicked me down and sat on my back.

“What do you want?” I asked, face to the ground.

“Looking for you, Empress Sparks. I have to say I’m surprised to have found you so easily.”

 

 

And now time for the Giveaway Details:

By clicking the link below you could be in with a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate, unfortunately only if you live in North America, but, for international readers, you could be in with the chance to get your hands on a digital copy of the 2nd book in the Beyond Earth series ‘Painted Skies‘.

GIVE ME FREE STUFF!

 

 

Thank you to the R&R for organising the tour.

Click the name below to learn more about what they do!

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Have you grabbed your free copy of ‘Without Hesitation’ yet? Have you read any other great Sci-Fi stories recently? What would you like to see more of in Science Fiction today?

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

 

‘Fountain Dead’ by Theresa Braun – ARC Review and Blog Tour

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The vapor wafting from the stagnant pool smelled like the rancid rot from inside a carcass. Mark felt he breathed in fire. The gooey surface boiled and foamed as if a prehistoric substance. His heart stopped as something emerged. A goopy and gnarled dome became a sickly face. The eyelids still closed, the rest of the form rose, covered in green.

A tattered dress clung to the feminine curves. The cloth slipped from the shoulders, drawing his attention to her skin. The texture made him gag.

A sour taste of bile filled his mouth. His skin contracted as he contemplated her spongy flesh. Her black eyes sprang open like a demonic doll’s. Her inhuman gaze stabbed his very core, and he knew he was facing a soul-less being. The eyes burned like hot stove burners.

A decomposing hand extended toward his throat.

 

Expected Publication: November 20th, 2018
Genre: Mature YA Horror/ Paranormal
Published by: Unnerving Press

 

About ‘Fountain Dead’

Mark isn’t exactly thrilled that him and his younger sister have to follow their parents to the tiny town of Winona and make a fresh start in a creepy house, but he doesn’t have much say in the matter. And his parents don’t seem to notice that strange things are happening in their new home – they just don’t want to see it. 

As the pull of the ancient house drags him in, Mark has much more physical things to think about, romantic things, and this only seems to intensify the supernatural goings on. But he’ll soon realise that the past never really leaves and that everything is connected like bricks in a wall, or hearts that beat as one. The secrets of Fountain Dead are about to be discovered, don’t you want to see?

 

My Review

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Fountain Dead is a novel that will have you gripped from the outset. In the beginning I have to admit I was afraid that the time jump between the 1980’s and the 1860’s would be jumbled and confusing but it wasn’t, it actually kept the story fresh. There are plenty of underlying themes in the story that are often overlooked in a lot of genres, even horror, and the switch between the Emma’s point of view and Mark’s, added another layer to this dissection of gender and sexuality. 

Fountain Dead is a multi-faceted story of past and present, history repeating on itself, and the outliers who break social norms to feel like themselves. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some genuinely scary and creepy scenes in the book either. Mixing historical fiction, haunted house, paranormal romance, and great character building, I thoroughly enjoyed Emma and Mark’s journey and was rooting for them til the very end. I would recommend this book for readers of all ages, but at least 15-16 and up as there are some steamy scenes in there. 

Links to Pre-Order

Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/Fountain-Dead-Theresa-Braun-ebook

Amazon US: www.amazon.com/Fountain-Dead-Theresa-Braun-ebook

 

About the author

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Theresa Braun is an American author of Horror fiction who, when she isn’t writing her own stories, teaches English and shares her love and passion for literature with her students. In her spare time she also enjoys painting, photography, and even ghost hunting. Theresa has many nooks and stories under her belt and thinks you should totally check them out. 

Website: theresabraun.com

Facebook: Theresa Braun, Author

Twitter: @tbraun_author

 

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Are you looking forward to getting your hands on a copy of Fountain Dead by Theresa Braun? Have you read any of her others works? Or have you already pre-ordered this one? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer – Review

“For months, the nightmares of battling the sea would find him in the small hours. Fighting wave after wave, he struggled to keep afloa “For months, the nightmares of battling the sea would find him in the small hours. Fighting wave after wave, he struggled to keep afloat as the undertow pulled him away from the land. In the deep ocean, he’d surrender and beneath the water, he went.

 

His lungs would flood.

 

He wouldn’t die.”  Sea Ate Nine, ‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer t as the undertow pulled him away from the land. In the deep ocean, he’d surrender and beneath the water, he went.

His lungs would flood.

He wouldn’t die.”  Sea Ate Nine, ‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer

 

‘Connection. Disconnection. Loneliness. Love. Friendship. Murder. These are but a few of the elements of great horror, and Calvin Demmer expertly blends each one into his fiction – to a supremely devastating and unsettling effect.’ – Gwendolyn Kiste

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From the dark depths of the ocean to the love of an android’s heart, you can expect a lot from Calvin Demmer’s latest collection The Sea Was a Fair Master. Offering a generous collection of 23 dark fiction stories, all short but none of them sweet, you will definitely find a story in this book that resonates with you. Despite what the title might imply, there are only a few stories in the collection centered around the sea so if you aren’t into nautical terrors never fear – there’s plenty in this collection for everyone. The overarching theme of this collection, in my opinion, would have to be darkness. I feel like the sea as in the title of the collection captures this pretty well, but the stories in it also get at the darkness in humanity and explore the possibilities there in a chilling and honest way as well.

The Strengths

The strengths of The Sea Was a Fair Master, and Demmer’s writing in general, are his creative focal points and unique ideas. He comes at stories from an angle you aren’t expecting and this can make what would otherwise be considered mundane, a surprising and exciting twist. His stories open doors into the darkness inside us that we all like to ignore, and point out how easy it is to do just that, to believe that we could never be persuaded to commit crimes or harm ourselves. If you were looking for renewed faith in humanity, I think you picked up the wrong book. 

The stories that stood out for me were ‘The Snakes or The Humans’ with it’s chilling and yet lovely ending, and ‘Underneath’ with it’s complete and satisfying ending – I would have even liked to see this in a longer version that expanded more on the characters and motives.

 

What Was Missing

I have to say I did find some of the stories a little confusing. When it comes to very short fiction it can be hard to fit all the needed details in and a couple of stories just didn’t quite get it all in there for me. I was left wondering where the twist came from, re-reading to see if I missed something or if it was supposed to be that ambiguous.

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I would recommend this collection for anyone looking for fresh dark fiction, not just horror, but suspense, crime, sci-fi – it has it all. They are short reads so you can fit them in anywhere and still feel satisfied with the stories.

 

About the Author

Calvin Demmer is a dark fiction author from South Africa. When he’s not writing he’s studying the night and the sciences of the universe. You can find him online at calvindemmer.com and follow him on Twitter here.

Do you have any sea centered stories of horror? What is it about the dark depths of the ocean that sets our imaginations ablaze? Do we need more dark fiction that captures the endless unknown of the sea? Let me know down below.

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

Vintage Review – ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson – Horror, Humour, & Lesbians

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In case you’ve been living in an underground cave that doesn’t even have basic amenities like WiFi or even just in rural Ireland, you’ve heard of the newest rendition of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘, now blowing up Netflix. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who has also done Hush, Oculus and Gerald’s Game to name a few of my favourites, this is the latest attempt at bringing Jackson’s story of dread and unease to the visual stage, but it is not the first. In 1963 Robert Wise directed ‘The Haunting’, and in 1999, under the same name, Jan de Bont released his version. Both of these movies stick to the basic premise of the original novel with some minor changes, while the new Netflix original series has created it’s own fresh narrative. So why has the story of Hill House survived for almost 60 years? And why is it routinely recognised by the likes of Stephen King and many others as the greatest haunted house story ever written?

Basic Premise – 

The story of Hill House begins with Dr. Montague, a psychologist who rents the infamous Hill House in the hopes of documenting scientific evidence of the supernatural. To do this, he invites a group of people he believes have had some kind of interaction with the supernatural to stay in the house for the summer and take notes on everything that happens there. Unfortunately, only two show up to the house, Eleanor Vance and Theodora, just Theodora. Luke Sanderson, the light fingered nephew of the owner is sent to stay with them too though he has no connections anything out of the ordinary. From the very first moment they all feel that there is something off with the house, maybe its the fact that it was purposefully built to be off kilter and confusing, or the dark history of Hugh Crain and his family that were to inhabit the building, but whatever it is, this feeling permeates the group until odd things, undeniable and unambiguous things start to happen.

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Jackson’s Writing – 

One of the reasons that Jackson’s writing has stood the test of time for so long, is the delicacy and intricacy with which she writes. Every line is deliberate, every character full and complete. You can see this in Jackson’s other work as well but when dealing with the monstrosity that is Hill House, you feel the building take on a character of its own, and you understand completely the apprehension the characters feel just being there. It’s been said before, but Jackson’s story could have been written off a pulp novel and forgotten if not for her treatment of the words. She draws you in from the very first line, that first paragraph quoted so often that always sends chills down my spine. From that first couple of lines you know something is fucked up here, and you have to read more. 

The scares in the book aren’t bloody or gorey, they aren’t over the top or ambiguous. They are conscious and intentional, they are knockings on the wall and cold spots that everyone can feel, things that no one can deny being there. There is no what if about Hill House, it’s darkness is already there, seen even in the daylight, and everyone fears the coming of the night – especially the Dudleys.

lesbians the haunting of hill house
Lesbians were forbidden to be seen in colour until the 90’s. They’re still embracing technicolor to this day.

Theodora the Kickass Lesbian – 

My first introduction to Hill House was the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’, where Theodora is a fashionable fun sister and friend to the sheltered and nervous Nell. Maybe I was naive, but I never got the lesbian feeling from Theo in that adaptation, but then again I was born without gaydar so who knows. But when I started reading the novel, having don no research whatsoever, I was genuinely surprised to immediately think ‘Hey! She’s a lesbian!’ It was obvious in the text and even more obvious in the 1963 movie version. But even thought the novel was written in the fifties, the treatment of Theo as a lesbian, (sexuality is not discussed in the text, but there may as well have been a neon sign following Theo around), is surprisingly positive? If that’s the right word to use?

Theo is often seen as a mirror to Eleanor, even given that she doesn’t have a second name like every other character. She is open and expressive where Nell is closed off and repressed, she has her own place where she lives with a woman, where as Nell feels homeless and lost. Theo accepts that she has some psychic abilities whereas Nell denies that the stones that fell on her roof as a child had anything to do with her. The two become close even sharing a bed, Nell begging Theo to come and live with her when she is forced out of the house for her own good. If lesbianism as a theme is to be taken seriously, from my reading it felt as though Nell wanted to be with Theo, but Theo knew they couldn’t, and Nell went mad from that small touch of freedom and home that she felt in Hill House, allowing it to consume her.

In the 1963 movie Theo is played as more forward with her advances towards Nell, and when emotions run high Nell accuses her of being ‘unnatural’, but in the new Netflix show Theodora is out and proud, as she should be in this day and age. The theme of sexual repression and repression in general is something that gives Hill House it’s power not just over Nell, but to continue as a specter of dread and fear for the past sixty years. It’s the power to not just kill you or possess you, but to turn your own mind and your own fears against you.

the haunting of hill house horror
This is what smiling looks like right?

Humour in Hill House – 

One of the reasons I love the novel so much and will read it again and again, is the humour shown between the characters. In my opinion one of the most important things in horror, especially a story that relies on dread and tension, needs something to offset this. It can be the saving grace to a terrible movie, and serve as a break for the reader/viewers nerves so that the story can keep on scaring. I’ve found a few of Jackson’s stories have made me laugh out loud, not least of which is ‘My Life With R.H. Macy‘, I was cackling at that for hours.

The humour in Hill House serves two functions though – to ease the tension for the reader, and to allow the characters to escape the really horror they are in. Even sitting in the house for breakfast makes them feel like they are somewhere unnatural, but pretending they are fictional characters, sisters on a picnic, they can imagine themselves somewhere other than Hill House, proving, if nothing else, that ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality.

There’s little humour in the 1963 movie or the current Netflix series, however they both still work well. If you haven’t seen the new Netflix show I can’t recommend it enough, I will being going back to watch it myself just to try and find all the hidden background ghosts. I have a feeling this story will continue to permeate through the coming decades and get a few more adaptations. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, let’s just hope no one really ruins it.

What did you think of the newest adaptation? Did you see Theo as gay when you read Jackson’s novel? Would you like to see more humour in horror? Comment down below and let me know!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!