‘Silence in the Woods’ by J.P. Choquette – Review

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

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Paul sank back onto his bed, stared up at the spiderweb cracks in the high ceiling above. Many of the aides and nurses were kind at the hospital. But a handful were not and the night monitor for Ward III  was one of these. Truthfully, it made no difference to Paul whether the other man screamed the night away or not. He hadn’t slept a full night in weeks. When he’d first arrived he’d been in so much pain he hadn’t been lucid. Later, after the medicines wee decreased, he was able to get his bearings… and almost wished for the sweet oblivion the tiny pills had offered. 

But he couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow himself the luxury. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the horror he’d witnessed deep in the wood again and again. The same images would flicker, an endless loop. The two couples – he and Jane, Allen and Deirdre – in the woods, always dark and twisted, like ghostly photographs from long ago. Then the blood on the ground, a body swinging and stiff at the end of the makeshift noose –

No. 

Paul sat up, putting his feet on the bare, cold floor underneath him. Timmy let out a partial giggle and Paul glanced over. The big man was so large his bulk didn’t fit on the bed. A roll of flesh, soft and white like dough, flopped over the side of his cot. His face was serene, full-mooned, with his lips parted in a smile. Even in sleep, Timmy was happy and blessedly oblivious. Paul envied the big man. His childlike mind meant that he never fully grasped the harsh realities of life. 

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Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads) –

In 1917, four friends and photojournalists set out in the woods looking for answers. Why have so many hikers and hunters gone missing in the area of Shiny Creek Trail?

The two couples anticipate a great adventure, one they’ll tell their kids about someday. No one imagines the evil lurking in a remote cave. A horrifying discovery leaves one person dead and two others missing.

Two months later, Paul, one of the four, returns to the forest to find his wife. But will he find her before someone—or something—finds him?

Silence in the Woods is the long-awaited prequel to Shadow in the Woods and delves into the frightening territory of the supernatural and the human mind

 

Thoughts –

Silence in the Woods starts off with our main character Paul and a high tension escape from the mental asylum he’s been in for the past six weeks, circa 1917. Paul, his wife Jane, and their friends Allan and Deirdre, went hiking in the woods and only Paul managed to get back out again, adamant that some kind of creature killed his friends, but unable to accept the fact that his wife might be dead even after all this time (possibly) alone in the wilderness. Is Paul deranged or is he telling the truth? Is there a creature in the woods and is it the same one that took the hikers they went up there to research? No matter the answers you are now along for the ride with Paul on this treacherous journey mired by shadow, danger and mystery.

The pacing of Silence in the Woods is exemplary. Switching between November Paul and his trek to get back to where he last saw his friends and hopefully find them alive, and September Paul and Co. as they reach the trail and the cave they settle in at the beginning of their journey, both sides of the story unravel together leaving no room for a sagging middle section to this novel. However, exposition and character development aren’t left by the wayside to accommodate the fast pace either. Choquette’s writing is skillful and enthralling, creating believable and sympathetic characters whose motivations are clear when they need to be and ambiguous when it suits. Her switching of point of view and time jumps, which are both difficult devices to get right at times, brings the story to life and gives the novel dimensions that would sorely be missed if this were a linear novel.

The ‘creatures’ in the story representing an inhuman good and evil are not thoroughly explained and can only be judged by how they interact with the small group. A cave with strange markings that infiltrate the mind, a shadow creature that brings out the worst in people, a humanoid with intelligent eyes and a knack for showing up just in the nick of time. Our small group of photojournalists are thrust into the centre of a tug of war they could have never imagined, and their own insecurities are brought to the surface by the monsters they struggle against. Infidelity, inferiority, lies, and love all come to light in the darkness of that cave, and the reader is delicately led through the minds of the group as they unravel and change for better or for worse.

The setting of this story is mostly a cave, and the back sections of that cave that go deeper than the group imagined and this gives the story a timeless and isolating feeling. There’s old stone furniture used at one point giving the impression that the group are only one small link in a chain of darkness and violence that has been going on for possibly centuries. Nature as an immutable force that holds secrets humanity has forgotten, perhaps willingly, is a theme through this story and one that makes the characters of Paul, Jane, Allan, and Deirdre seem like pawns in an unfortunate game that they didn’t sign up for. This story will make you think twice before stepping into the woods again.

Silence In The Woods is a story of relentless perseverance, of human curiosity, and of the strange and unexplained creatures that can warp our minds so easily. Fast paced and carefully written, a prequel that only wets the appetite for the next book in line, Silence In The Woods will leave you shivering, wondering, and eager for the next leg of the journey.

 

About the Author –

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J. P. Choquette is an author of thriller novels from Vermont who enjoys writing about stories that tie in art, nature, and psychology. When not writing she spends time watching Gothic movies, spending time with her family, or visiting old cemeteries. You can find out more about her and her work from her website jpchoquette.me

 

Links to Buy and Review – 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Is Bigfoot good or evil in your mind? What’s your favourite scary story set in the woods? Do you find time jumps confusing or intriguing?

‘Brothers of Blood’ by Tristan Drue Rogers – Review

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

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“Belle!” hollered Beau within the darkly lit hallway leading into the living room. “Belle” What the hell… where you at?” He stumbled against the wall as his hands were wet and his eyes held no contact lenses, nor glasses atop his nose. 

The television screen glared a spasmodic juxtaposition of non-complementary colors onto the young child. Beau glared his own shade of hazel her way. “Didn’t you hear me? Did you hear anything?” 

She laughed, not at her big brother, but at the cartoon pie character’s actions that she loved so. Beau engulfed a deep breath while walking with deliberate silence near the sofa, where Belle had set up camp. As he set himself near her frame, she became uneasy. He reached his not so steady hand outward toward the remote controller. She noticed a dry redness on a fingertip or two, the residue sinking into the controller’s glob-like buttons as he unexpectedly raised the volume to cover up his speech. “Listen up, kid. We gotta talk.” Beau’s grinding of his jaw was a machine wrought with the law of the world.

“Okay,” said Belle.

“Now, I know we’ve all been going through some… craziness, but I think I’ve found an outlet for our frustrations.”

“What?” Belle was still transfixed to the cartoon hero chasing a baby known as Minion for a midnight snack while its mother was too confused to react. 

“Let’s kill some people.” 

Belle turned to her eldest sibling, looking up into his nostrils. 

“Now, hear me out-” 

“Okay.” 

Silence was the sound. The television was filler at this point. 

Belle turned, breaking the spell, continuing on to watch the screen. Beau chewed on his cuticle; it tasted new, yet familiar whilst tossed back and forth from one side to another. He swallowed. Belle coughed, which’d enticed Beau to behave as he should before they both behave as they should not; he jumped onto her roughly and began to noogie her noggin. 

“Stop it!”

“Never!” Beau challenged, laughter ensued. 

****

 

Synopsis –

Belle is in her final year of high school and is the leader of a gang. To give them some real memories to keep, Belle decides to combine a kill list from her other gang members and have it finished before the year ends. But, the reappearance of her older brother Beau, back from his stint in prison for murder and now a man of God, throws a spanner in the works. Can they convince Beau to take up his violent mantle again? And can Belle keep control of her members?

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Thoughts –

Brothers of Blood starts off with a precocious young girl, Belle, and her older brother, Beau, developing a liking for murder. Where this idea came from is never really explained as you ca see from the quote above – that’s pretty much it. Nor is it explained why both of them at completely different ages are not in any way affected, consciously or otherwise with taking the lives of other people. This requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to get through the whole story.

The beginning of the book should be interesting and a quick read, but the obnoxiously verbose language makes each page a struggle to get through. Writers often fear dumbing things down or being too simplistic, but you get the same reactions when you use a thesaurus for every other word – alienating the reader, and reducing the chance that they’ll have the energy or momentum to keep turning the pages. This language bleeds into the dialogue as well swinging wildly from 19th century phrases to modern slang, it’s jarring and confusing when dealing with a teenage boy and his young sister. Murderous gang members asking each other for ‘huggles’ is a little bizarre to read.

As the story progresses and the older brother goes away for his crimes, time is hard to pin down in some scenes. You’ll be imagining characters talking by moonlight and in the next sentence they’ll be walking into a just opened bank. I found myself disorientated more than once, and this is actually a book that pulled me out of my reading schedule because it was such a difficult one to get through with all of the off putting language issues. I was never quite sure if it was daylight or nighttime, if it was 1819 or 2019.

This is a story of children murdering whoever they want. The children don’t show any other signs of being unhinged (not that that in itself isn’t enough) and carry on ordinary teenage lives. There are no signs that they see other people differently or that other people react to them differently. They just happen to be brutal murderers, no biggie. But this actually takes away from the killings. There’s nothing interesting about them, I don’t feel for the murderers or the victims and I couldn’t figure out what the point of the whole thing is. No one gets punished, and there are no consequences for the people who deserve them, even for the things they do outside the murders. Conflict is sorely missed in this story.

 

Brothers of Blood begins with a confused narrative voice that is somewhat cleared up  by the middle of the book but not soon enough for the reader to enjoy the story, if this is a story one can be said to ‘enjoy’. Characters seem to face little consequences or conflict to do with the vile acts they commit and the novel feels more like a fever dream than a glimpse into the life of Belle and her brothers. Read with caution, perseverance is needed to wade through the thesaurus heavy writing, and don’t expect a satisfying ending.

 

About the Author

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Tristan Drue Rogers has had his writing and poetry featured in literary magazines (such as Vamp Cat, Genre: Urban Arts, Weird Mask, and more), and horror anthologies (such as 100 Word Horrors Book 3 and Deep Fried Horror). His debut novel Brothers of Blood is available now. Tristan lives with his wife Sarah and son Rhett in Texas.

 

Links to Buy and Review

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

 

What are your feelings on murderous children in fiction? Do you now of any black humour horror stories shedding a dark light on murder? Let me know down below!

‘Dark Thoughts’ by Kevin Kennedy – Review

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

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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.

 

 

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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 –

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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?

‘Whispers in the Dark’ by Laurel Hightower – Review

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

 

It wasn’t much, that bare inch of scalp sticking up beyond the protective concrete wall Charlie Akers crouched behind. Wispy blond stands ruffled in the light breeze, giving away just enough of his location location for me to center him in my scope. He probably wasn’t aware that any part of him was visible at all, but an inch was plenty for me. One shot and I could take the cap of his skull off, scatter his brains across the bricks behind him, and end this standoff. The index finger of my right hand was light on the trigger, my shoulder braced for the recoil. I let myself picture it, indulge the fantasy. Anything to take my mind off the way my knee had begin to cramp. 

It never mattered what position I took up at the start of one of these damned things, it always got uncomfortable. Usually I can risk moving, take a moment to shift my leg and ease the screaming joint, but not now. We were in the magic hour, the decisive time at the end of a standoff that would decide who was going to walk away whole. I didn’t think it would be Akers. 

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Synopsis –

Rose McFarland is a killer. Her job as a sniper means she knows to how to stay focused and do what needs to be done, no matter how difficult, but her latest bullet has got her rattled. An FBI agent shows up eager to speak to her, knowing a little too much about her past that she would like to have kept in the shadows, and now her son is showing signs of seeing the same terrifying things she saw when she was a kid. As she looks for answers, more questions show up, unraveling the mystery of her past and casting the person she thought she was into doubt. Can Rose protect her family and herself while confronting the darkness she was born to confront?

 

Thoughts

On a more shallow note, we all judge a book by it’s cover, that’s why they have covers in the first place. I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Whispers in the Dark is bright, eye catching and but it has a darkness about it that reflects the interior of the plot and the main protagonist Rose. And that fire! I’ll read anything on fire.

Now, onto the story, and what a story it is. The plot itself is a paranormal mystery horror that gives you the chills, sparks your curiosity, and one that you won’t guess the twist to trust me. You’re thrown right into the action as the protagonist has her sniper rifle trained on a disturbed and dangerous man and that’s just the first page. You’re taken on a journey with Rose learning about her heartbreaking past and the darkness that has always followed her. The creeping dread that you can feel coming from the first chapter like a far off tidal wave never lets up, it’s well paced, and the pay off is well worth the read.

As for the protagonist of Rose, it’s refreshing to have a woman like Rose written by another woman. Generally stoic sexually active women like her swing wildly from frozen bitch to sex bunny damsel in distress and I’m so glad that’s not the case here. Rose has had a terrible childhood and worked hard to get to where she is. She trusts her own instincts, she’s defensive to most apart from those she truly loves, she asks for help when she needs it, but with her skills she rarely needs it. She’s multi-faceted and never once is her cup sized mentioned! Amazing. Rose has led a complicated and messy life, much like the rest of us – she’s got an ex-husband, a dead husband, a child with each of them and a good friends who she occasionally shares her bed with, so if you’re worried the plot will run too thin on these whispers, you have nothing to worry about. Hightower handles all of these aspects and sub plot points deftly and with grace, never losing the real stakes of the story, but giving the reader time to breath between the terror.

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I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve always been ever so slightly bored by police procedurals and cop stories, though I’m aware that a story with no police involvement would also irk me, but Hightower gets the balance just right. The prose is well written, thought out and I’ve actually taken down a few paragraphs for later review so I can practice her approach in my own writing. I can only dream that my debut novel will be as well written as this (it won’t, but I can dream) and I highly anticipate what’s next for this author.

 

About the Author –

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Whisper in the Dark is the debut horror novel of Laurel Hightower, a paralegal by day and a writer by night. She is a fan of real life ghost stories and a good horror movie and currently lives with her husband, son, and two rescue animals.

 

Links to Buy and Review-

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Whose your favourite great female character written by a woman? Has your judgment of the cover of a book ever been completely wrong?  How do you feel about paranormal/ghosts in suburban settings?

‘Don’t Follow’ by Odette Lane – Review

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

 

He wanders the night feeding off your fears.

His right hand has five candles for fingers to light up the darkest of hours. 

Beware if you lose your way at night and see him. 

Stay away from his light. 

He will lead you to a place of darkness never to sleep or awake again. 

 

Synopsis

Sleep. We all need it, but not everyone gets it. Studying the effects of night terrors, a doctor recruits five strangers to write down their nightmares in order to find out what causes them. As these strangers lives begin to intertwine, they realise that they have more in common than just bad dreams and that this doctor may not be telling them the whole truth. As they each struggle with their own demons they must now face the one demon that they all share before it’s too late.

 

“With a deep and labored breath she ran her hand through her short brown hair feeling the dampness at the roots from sweat. The back of her shirt clung to her skin like saran wrap as she pushed the blankets away from her body to cool down. She reached over to her bedside table and flipped the switch on the lamp and sat up. It was 3am and she felt too shaken to try and go back to sleep.”

 

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Over the course of our lifespan we sleep for 26 years. 

Don’t Follow has an interesting premise and I think in terms of horror, night terrors is something that should be explored more. The characters are really the driving force of this novel and their relationships are what keep you interested in between the creeping dread and horror that surrounds them. Lane has a talent for writing frustratingly flirtatious scenes and there was more than once I was so enthralled by the characters, I forgot about the evil entirely.

That being said, I felt that the introduction of the characters was more like a laundry list. It was the type of quick, short, descriptions jumping all over that would work in a screen play or movie but in a novel you just don’t have time to fix the character in your mind before you are thrust into a different scene with another. There are also two very similar bars where different characters work and frequent which at times could be quite confusing.

The actual story however was enjoyable, I would read this again and perhaps just pay a little more attention. I do have a love of anything that comes for you in your sleep and nightmares have such a potential for evil and darkness that I’ll take anything with nightmare demons in them. I like how Odette had diverse characters who turned stereotypes on their heads or just accepted them and made them their own. They explore sexuality, alcoholism, depression, and grief all the while being stalked by a shadowy demon of death – what more could you ask for really.

 

The last sentence read. “It will find me again, and when it does, I need to rid it from this world.”

 

To be honest, the monster of this story is just background noise, even the open conflict is second hand to the relationships of the group. And the doctor who brought them all together is barely seen at all, a forgotten pawn in the plot that needed to be more than she was. I was expecting long drawn out exploratory therapy sessions and pushing for more information, but in reality she seemed to not have much time for her subjects at all, and quickly disappears when they discover what her real intentions are. The diary extracts that she has them write about their nightmares were a little flat for me. When dealing with nightmares I find it far more compelling to be experiencing them with the character not reading descriptions of them.

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I would recommend this novel for anyone looking for a fresh take on nightmare horror. The characters are well written and well connected, you will believe the relationships that you read about in Don’t Follow and will find it very difficult not to empathise with them. I look forward to seeing more from Odette Lane in the future.

About the Author:

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Don’t Follow is the debut horror novel from Odette Lane, a native Minesotan who now lives in Los Angeles. Lane has studied creative writing and film production, performing her prose and poetry across stages in New York City and has worked on multiple film productions.

 

Where to Buy and Review:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

Do you suffer from night terrors? Do we need to explore the world of nightmares and dreams more in horror? What’s more important in a novel to you – the terror of the monster or the characters and their relationships to one another? Let me know down below!