‘Grey Skies’ by William Becker- Review

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

 

“The crack of the thunder came from the dawning horizon as I dragged her corpse into the shallow hole where she would lie for the rest of eternity. Droplets of rain were beginning to bounce off of the tombstone, spraying against the tatters of the white dress still attached to her decaying grey skin. I had certainly underestimated how difficult it was to dig a proper grave. Unfortunately, the downpour that had begun to spew from the clouds above resulted in a shallow puddle inside of the grave, which turned the walls into mud. 

She was a nun, which went hand in hand with her foulness. On a stormy night in late spring, I was being forced to bury her. All I could remember were vague details about how I had found her and her name, Julie Hagwell. In the back of my mind there were blurry memories of me finding her mangled body resting in the grass outside of the church. Upon discovering the body, I dove into the building, screaming out for help, but everyone had disappeared. Not knowing what else to do, I took a set of bed sheets from inside, and used them to conceal her. I had known her as a friend of my ex-wife, and by the fact that she practically lived at Saint Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. 

Her body had been sliced and cut up with a blade, leaving her covered with deep gashes, the largest of which was on her neck. The woulds were all fresh, sending blood in puddles of rain that covered the lawn. It was clear that someone had murdered her, but who, and why?”

 

GREY SKIES CONTENT ADVISORY:

This story includes frequent swearing, mild blood and gore, body horror, intense imagery, mild sexual imagery, non-sexual nudity, and drug use. (The two bonus stories include the same as well as violence)

Synopsis:

Grey Skies is the novella length story of Roman Toguri and his descent into madness. Discovering the brutally murdered body of a nun in a church yard, he fails at burying the body and decides to take it home – and that is only the beginning of the bizarre events and questionable decisions that befall Roman.

The White Shade is a short story that takes a look at the motivations of a lone shooter, looking at his life before the event and the steps that take him there.

The Black Box is a short story that follows a boy propositioned by a strange man in a limo to cut some grass. Simple right? Maybe not…

 

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Grey Skies at the minute consists of a novella and two bonus short stories. The overall feel of the book is dark and surreal. The imagery is strong but the characters are less so. Plot is not a priority in these stories, it comes on the back foot after grotesque and harrowing images and shocking events.

 

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The first story is the longest and most confusing. It begins with the main character finding a dead nun and deciding to bring her home and if you think that has anything to do with the plot or that you’ll hear about that nun again – you are somehow wrong. Grey Skies describes in first person the descent into madness of a man who is struggling with his own guilt. The descent is not in any way slow, it’s more like a sheer drop off a very tall cliff, glimpses of feral creatures and mutated people in the little caves on the way down but no real explanation of what made him fall. You can piece together the story from reality that the odd events sometimes represent but for a lot of it there is little rhyme or reason to what Roman is experiencing. I think the most frustrating thing is that he seems to at times be aware of his own insanity, and at times not. This leads to absurd events happening and the main character reacting as though it is the only strange thing even after he’s tunneled out of his own bathroom, run from a human-spider hybrid, and inexplicably ended up on a cruise ship? He didn’t go to a cruise ship, he just appears there. I can’t say I enjoyed this story as it was long, random, and just a series of images. I don’t feel I learned anything about Roman’s character really except that he lost his mind – but that’s just not interesting enough to keep me invested in the story. I won’t be reading this again.

 

The White Shade

The first bonus story is the story of a lonely man who decides to take a gun to the store he works at and start shooting. There is an explanation from Becker at the end of the story that he wrote this when he was fourteen and he didn’t release it because he knew the backlash it would get. He states he doesn’t sympathize with mass murderers he just wanted to explore the thinking behind their actions. Unfortunately his qualifiers did not change my feelings about the story and the impression that the story gives stays the same. There isn’t even much of a dive into motivations, the guy seems fine, the isolation he feels is self-inflicted. Even the slights he feels from the people he interacts with could be easily brushed off. So of course he finds videos of the horrific torture of young women and doesn’t really like them, but watches them anyway? The lingering on female mutilation and brutality can’t easily be explained away and though I feel like the motivation was simply to draw shock and disgust from the reader, it felt unnecessary and told me nothing of the main character’s personality. It was too much for me at least, as was the explanation for the character’s own violence.

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The Black Box

The Black Box was again a confusing read. A young boy and his friends start a little lawn mowing business and a mysterious stranger in a limo stops by and asks them to cut his grass. The main characters father drops him off at this random man’s house and he stays there all day working, but when it’s time to get paid, there’s no one in the house to pay him. I don’t want to ruin the story but things go off the rails then, and there’s no explanation for anything. I understand wanting readers to work a little more, not to spoon feed, but there has to be a give and take, there has to be something there for the reader to find.

I would only recommend this to anyone looking for the bizarre and the absurd. It is certainly experimental and definitely stands alone, but you’ll have to work on your own to keep your motivation through these stories. In saying that, the creatures and description of images were great, but they alone do not a story make.

About the author:

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William Becker is an experimental horror fiction writer. His works focus on pushing readers to search for deeper meanings in his unfathomable tales. Writing his first novel ‘Weeping of the Caverns’ when he was just 14 years old, Becker is a self-published psychedelic dark fiction writer. You can find him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Links to Grey Skies – 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Are you a psychedelic horror fan? Do you prefer some order to a story? Or is the writing more important the actual plot? Let me know down below!

Terminal by Michaelbrent Collings – Review

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

The terminal.

An appropriate name for the place, which is a squat, concrete box that hunches just this side of Hell and just the other side of Nowhere.

A Shit County Sheriff’s Dept. squad car sits near the terminal. It does not occupy any of the spots closest to the front door, or even to the small exit that leads to the sheriff’s satellite station in the terminal itself. The sign of an officer who wishes others to have the better placing. Or the sign of an officer who wants to get a few extra steps of exercise. Or, last of all, the sign of an officer who is incompetent and who doesn’t want anyone looking when he sneaks out to take a nap during his “rounds”.

The Watcher notes all this. That is the Watcher’s job.

There are other Watchers, of course, but this one is here now. This Watcher has been charged to take note of these things. To prepare the way for what will come next.

As though bidden – for bidden it was, and is, and shall continue to be – a think fog rolls in. It eats the night as it crawls forward, otherworldly and strange.

That is as it should be. That is as it was designed to be.

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Synopsis –

Ten strangers in a bus terminal. A cop who made a mistake and now drinks to dull the pain of a dead end job. A ticket collector who wants her daughter to have the life she never had. Said daughter hiding a dark secret from her mother. A newlywed couple high on love. A makeup saleswoman on the way to meet someone she’s waited far too long to meet. A tattooed man who just wants to finish his book. An autistic man trying his best to function. A nervous man with lots of bags. A beautiful young woman held in a cell who wants to make it to the big screen. An eclectic group that on the surface seem to be holding themselves in check, bowing to social convention, but a fog is rolling in, a fog that happens to have eyes that see much more than light, and for the group and their rational minds, it’s about to get very dark inside that terminal. It doesn’t take long for threads to be pulled and things to unravel. An anonymous source is demanding a unanimous decision – only one can leave, the rest will die. All in favour?

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Thoughts

I’d first like to say that I read the email requesting to review this while I was standing in a recently renovated airport terminal and as I was reading the unsettling synopsis, the lights began to flicker. Well, I wasn’t about to turn down a sign like that. This did lead to me thinking I was going into a story about planes rather than buses – I may have had to read the first passages a few times to get my mind in the right area, but never let it be said that I don’t adapt quickly.

But after my own induced confusion, Terminal turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. The plot arch may be a familiar one to any horror movie fans – a group of strangers terrorized by faceless evil, being forced to give up their humanity to save themselves – but in no way did I feel bored or uninterested with how it was laid out in Terminal. The characters are deftly handled, each one presented in depth and realistic detail to leave the reader with individuals who you certainly won’t find easy to like, but will find impossible to dismiss. There’s a very human, flawed element to the story that only becomes clearer and clearer with each turn of the page, like travelling into the fog itself. Greed, insecurity, shame, arrogance; you can find all of it in this novel with a healthy dose of blood, mystery, and terror as well.

What makes the story so compelling and really what stretches out the short timeline and the plot that only has one driving force behind it, are the characters. What Collings achieves with the multiple character perspective that he gives the reader a reason to care. He gives you a snippet of each diverse characters background and desires, without saturating the current immediate moment, but just enough that you can see past the surface stereotype that the characters are seeing themselves. Maybe the lazy cop has a spark of energy in him, maybe the crazy in love newly weds are hiding more than just romance up their sleeves, maybe the middle aged saleswoman isn’t just a perfectly powdered face. There are layers to these people that make them real, and make them more than the 2D outlines that a lot of stories fall flat on. Whatever you make of Terminal and it’s story line, the people are frighteningly real.

The ending was an unexpected delight. I gave up trying to figure out who would be left standing with all of the twists and turns thrown at me, and it turned out I had no idea where that left-hook was coming from anyway. I was too caught up in the human elements/stories to see what was being deducted right in front of my eyes. There were twists and elements that were skillfully unraveled about each character, calling everyone’s motives into question. Whoever you choose to root for, whoever you want to be all in favour of, I think you’ll be surprised in the end.

 

I’d recommend this book for anyone looking for a compelling read with rich characters. It hosts a cast of diverse personalities, tells a modern story of isolation in our technologically obsessed world, and will give you heart palpitations the next time you see a fog roll in.

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About the Author

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Michaelbrent Collings is an international bestseller and a multiple Bram Stoker Award Nominee. He writes across multiple genres, including but not limited to, horror, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, and YA. You can find out more about Collings and his work at his website.

 

Links to Buy and Review

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

How do you think you would deal with a vote for death situation? Could you keep your morals? Or do social conventions matter in the end?

‘Sour Candy’ by Kealan Patrick Burke – Review

*I bought this book of my own volition because the cover looked cool and I want to read more Irish horror*

 

Remembering his first and only encounter with the woman prior to the accident summoned once ore dear for the well being of the child and he looked past the woman to the young man by the car, who looked back at him and gave a shrug and a single shake of his head. 

No kid here, buddy. 

Phil swallowed and looked up into the terrible face of the wounded woman as she loomed over him. He was too weak to defend himself, too dazed to understand all that had happened in the past few minutes, and was happening still. Somewhere along the line his life had jumped the tracks and he had found himself in a nightmare, and like the worst kind of nightmare, he could not move, the people around him too busy chatting, redirecting traffic, or filming the scene with their iPhone to realize the very real and possibly dangerous drama taking place on the edge of it. 

The woman looked down at him. This close he could see that the side of her face was swelling, darkening, and her lower lip had split almost down to the cleft in her chin, exposing the dots of blood on her gums. Nausea rose in her chest and he prayed he wouldn’t vomit, for surely the violence of her response would further aggravate his own injuries. 

“Don’t,” was all the self-defense he could muster. 

“Yours now,” the woman said.

 

Synopsis

Phil Pendleton is in Walmart buying some candy for his girlfriend. There’s an irritating child and an exhausted mother getting on his nerves so he leaves… and they follow. Soon, Phil finds that he has no girlfriend, a child that isn’t his though no one will believe him, and a new diet that consists entirely of sour candy. Phil has to decide whether he should accept this new bizarre and forced fatherhood, or figure out who or what this child is, and how to get his old life back.

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So the first thing you need to know about this book is that it is a tiny book. Maybe I didn’t read the description properly when I was buying it but I assumed it was a full sized novel, but it is actually a slim novella, clocking in at just seventy-four pages long.

 

Once I got over that however, I found the initial diving into the story to be irresistible. I’m a sucker for catchy taglines and as you can see in the picture above, ‘Four months to the day he first encountered the boy at Walmart, the last of Phil Pendleton’s teeth fell out.’, hooked me immediately. Not to mention the great cover design – it may seem disjointed between a skull and the name ‘Sour Candy’, however it works and gives the book a dark and gritty look.

 

Instantly I was made uncomfortable as soon as the child showed up. The anxiety was instant and ever increasing as myself and Phil realised that his new reality was not something he could simply explain his way out of. ‘Sour Candy’ is a story of altered reality, terrifying and creepy children, and the horror of an all sugar diet. It’s short, sour, and will stay with you long after you’ve closed those pages. It was a story that sounded unique to me, I’d never heard the like of it before and that’s why I bought it. I wanted to try out Burke’s writing and this one grabbed me fully, my money pretty much walking out of my pocket itself.

I found the story to be well paced and enthralling, a little strange and bizarre however Burke works the story well, keeping the surrealism to a minimum for most of the novella but packing a punch with the reveal of what is really happening. Now, the ‘creatures’ that exact their torture on Phil aren’t fully explained so there are a few questions to roll around your skull once you’ve finished the story, but I didn’t feel cheated out of an answer, it much better suits the story keep the mystery intact. ‘Sour Candy’ is an unsettling story that would easily slot into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I can say honestly that I would be happy to purchase another one of Burke’s books in the future.

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I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Sour Candy’ as an anxiety inducing nightmare of the worst proportions. Being stuck with an inter-dimensional child to look after and having no evidence to show they aren’t mine, all with that horrific fuzzy teeth feeling that too much sugar gives you, hits me right where it hurts. Burke manages to keep you enthralled in the story, throwing you right in the deep end with Phil and his inevitable and inescapable new reality. It is a short, sharp read that leaves you feeling incredibly relieved that you are not in fact Phil. An uncomfortable story of insidious and unstoppable creatures outside our realm of imagination. This novella will make you uncomfortable, nauseous, and even claustrophobic. I do recommend.

 

About the Author – 

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Kealan Patrick Burke is an Irish author currently living in Ohio, America. He has many acclaimed works and in 2004 was awarded a Bram Stoker for his novella The Turtle Boy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Links to Buy:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you been infested by a parasitic child that isn’t yours? Have your teeth fallen out due to excessive sour sweet consumption? Do you know how to get sugar out of the pages of a novella? 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! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

Destination Death: A Horror Anthology by Chris Liberty – Review

Tracy’s heart thumped. “Jonas!” Her shout filled the cabin. She raced forward, followed by the others, their footsteps clomping on the wood floor. She grabbed the flashlight from her belt and aimed the light and gun up at the dark chimney. Stars gleamed from the purple twilight through the top of the funnel. Blood streaks dripped from the stones, and she jumped from the fireplace, wiping her face. “He’s gone!”

“What’re we gonna do?” Nick shouted, his eyes flitting around. 

From the bottom of her boots to her shoulders shuddered as if in an earthquake. The floor boards rattled. Something was underneath. She froze. An explosion of wood and dirt cascaded like a bomb. Tracy was thrown back. The air crushed from her lungs, and her vision spun.

Frank tumbled beside her, his gun lost in the surging dust cloud. “Son of a bitch!” 

Nick slammed into the wall. He pressed a hand to his brow, his eyes dazed and unfocused. Something pushed through the plume of debris with menacing force, right behind Nick. The filmy image, glowing in the moonlight that streamed through the window, reached out. 

Tracy jumped to her feet. “Nick, run!”

It was too late.  –  Wendigo Woods

 

 

Destination Death: A Horror Anthology is a collection of four short novellas that are tied together by the theme of death – does exactly what it says on the tin. Each story deals with it’s own urban legend/mythological creature and doesn’t shy away from gorey and bloody ways to dispatch characters and uses the sense of dread and mystical eeriness of forests to kick the suspense into a higher gear. Stories like ‘Wendigo Woods‘ and ‘Death Forest‘ borrow from Native American traditions with Liberty’s own unique spin. ‘The Devil’s Field‘ is one that feels more rooted in American urban legends following after movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer, whereas the final story, ‘Shadow Mountain‘, brings in Eastern tradition and mixes Native American and Japanese mythology to great effect. With young groups of men and women venturing into the unknown, armed with stories of unpleasant murdering fiends, what could go wrong?

Destination Death is an anthology looking into the depths of survival, of friends trying to battle their own baggage and stay alive in the face of supernatural powers, fighting the inevitable danger on the incredibly close horizon. His inclusion of flawed characters give them a sense of realism that keeps them relatable in such strange and surreal circumstances.

 

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What I Liked

What intrigued me about Destination Death was the refusal to shy away from violent gore and bloody deaths. If this isn’t something you would like to read then it may not be for you. The violence is not gratuitous and I never felt it was forced, it just felt natural for the kind of creatures that appear in the stories, would have been unnatural for the deaths and violence to come ‘off screen’ so to speak.

Liberty’s treatment of the multiple characters, for the most part, worked quite well too. Each voice is distinct and the personalities come across in a powerful way.

By taking the general outline of different myths and creatures, Liberty gives a sense of familiarity to the darkness in his stories but adds his own personal twists to the monsters. He cycles through some of the most interesting themes a writer can use, not just death, but retribution, secrets and lies, and of course the unknown. The forests in this anthology represent a fear of the unknown and a fear of things that are hidden, always leaving the possibility that there is more there than even the characters discover.

 

What I Didn’t Like

There were a few things that took me out of the stories and one of them was the description of the female characters. In short stories it can be a rush to get the image of a character in as quickly as you can, and though I don’t believe it’s intentional on the part of the author, phrases like ‘generous breasts’ too often appear to describe the women. In most other ways the characters are full and three dimensional, but the fact that I know that almost every woman had breasts trying to burst out of her clothes, had me frowning for a while. There are no sexual scenes in the stories and as the point of view is generally third person and not from a straight guy for instance, it seems out of place.

One more point about short stories is that it can be difficult to keep them under the word count while still giving the reader all the information they need. In the story Death Forest for instance we see an ex-boyfriend pushing to go on a trip where the woman he cheated on will be even though he wasn’t invited by anyone –  it just pulled me out of the story that this was thrown in there and couldn’t get my head around it.

 

Recommended for:

If you are interested in mythology and urban legends and have a particular penchant for creepy trees, I think you might enjoy this anthology. pulling you along through stories of death, darkness, and betrayal, you won’t find a happy ending here but you might find something a little more interesting, something that really gets you thinking.

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Purchase and Review Links:

Amazon.co.uk

Goodreads

 

 

About the Author – Chris Liberty

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Chris Liberty was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1972. His passions include travelling the world, the darker sides of world history and understanding cultures outside of his own.

You can find him on Twitter and Facebook

Check out my other reviews of horror story collections – 

Brain Dead Blues by Matt Hayward

The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

 

What do you think of urban legend horror stories? Would you like to see more ancient myths brought to the twenty first century? How do you feel about taking established myths and adding your own twists? Let me know down below!

If you do read Destination Death: A Horror Anthology, don’t forget to review it wherever you can! It helps authors and it helps other potential readers too – and it’s free!

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

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest 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!