‘The Vermilion Book of the Macabre’ by Joe Pawlowski – Review

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

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We erect temples and tell tales of golden beyonds to assuage our fears. We hold tight to hopes of spectral reunions in an ever-crowded afterlife. Perhaps the tales are true. Who knows?

The sojourner reads about all this in her Vermilion Book, learns about those who came before and those who are yet to come. The selfless and the needful, the wicked and the kind, those who stagger under life’s burdens, those who offer shoulders to help others lift their loads. In the end, it appears we were made for the passage, not the destination.

Closing the book, she lies still, lost in dreamy thought, awash in the moonlight.

Synopsis –

From the author of The Watchful Dead and Dark House of Dreams, comes this highly anticipated collection of 16 spellbinding tales of supernatural suspense. All of the people involved lived average lives, until one day they found their realities turned upside down, and recorded by a demonic scribe in an ancient tome known as The Vermilion Book of the Macabre.

Thoughts –

The Vermilion Book of the Macabre is a set of dark fantasy stories set in the same world and linked through the prologue of a young girl reading these stories in an ominous book that she has found – The Vermilion Book. Ranging from stories of evil curses, unfortunate circumstances, and harrowing monsters Pawlowski unravels a narrative where the characters are the anchor point, the setting is undisputed, and the darkness of these stories settles uncomfortably in the mind of the reader. From a manual worker who gradual finds his clumsiness to be more and more constricting in ‘Etched in Stone’ to a woman who has her wishes granted by an unsettling painting that finds its way to her house, wishes that she later regrets in ‘Likeness of the Divine’. We are taken on the harrowing and painful journey of a merchant stolen away by ‘The Craftsmen’ and the terror of a lost identity in ‘Who He Wasn’t’. Each of these stories plays on the fears of a reality shattered, our carefully laid plans torn to ribbons by fate, and our own inner monsters.

The dialogue for the collection was very colloquial and comfortable to read – I may have been projecting here, but I was reading a lot of it in an Irish accent with some of the phrasing that was used. This may not have been intentional but it gave the dialogue for the characters a much more natural feel. Pawlowski’s writing is very accessible, it fits the tone and the setting of each story perfectly, and brings you straight in there with the characters and their surroundings – nothing felt out of place. This would indeed be a blood chilling collection to find as the girl in the prologue has.

Pawlowski interweaves a collection of dark fantasy that brings a chill to the bone.

About the Author –

Joe Pawlowski is a retired journalist living in the Twin Cities area with his wife, Debbie, and rescue dog, Lucy. He is a U.S. Army veteran, a secular Buddhist, a major Beatles fan, a vegan, and a lifelong student of classic horror and supernatural literature. Besides reading and writing, he enjoys music, movies and socializing with his many friends.

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‘Captivating Flames of Madness’ by Jeff Parsons – Review

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

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May 24, 1944

The damp air smothered Hans with a slow asphyxiation of hot sweat, carbon dioxide, and diesel fuel. Each breath grew more and more tortured, not so much from the pervasive soggy drip of foul moisture clogging his lungs, but from the thought of what caused the U-292 German submarine to shudder, as if in anticipation. 

The U-boat was cruising along the surface in attack mode with other subs in the wolf pack. They preyed upon the merchant cargo ships that crossed the unforgiving sea from Newfoundland to England. Each time the ship shook, a torpedo was sent away through the frigid North Atlantic Ocean towards its hapless convoy target. 

Hans sat in the narrow toilet stall behind a flimsy curtain screen, leaning forward with his head cradled by his trembling hands, ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control it any more. He carefully eased a photograph from his uniform’s breast pocket. Stroking the portrait of his love, Greta, he wondered yet again how he was going to stay sane – U-boat service extracted a heavy toll upon him. 

He winced yet again… 

Hans thought he could hear the harsh shriek of the enemy vessels tearing apart after each torpedo hit, but he knew that was unlikely, for the submarine’s twin diesel engines were humming along at low throttle inn the nearby bulkhead compartment. 

He had heard that sound before, the dreadful shearing metal sound of sinking ships, and it haunted him. Like being underneath a waterfall, thunderous bubbling accompanied the dying throes of a merchant ship as it cracked open like a fragile egg shell, the deadly water flooding inside and the sailors within… he swore that he could hear the sounds of their lost souls screaming, just like in his nightmares. 

 

Synopsis –

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?
If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…

 

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Thoughts –

The Captivating Flames of Madness is an apt name for a collection chock full of twisted and deranged characters. Parsons builds each story on a solid premise, a straight forward tale that the reader can see coming, only to have him pull the rug from under their feet at the last second. There are twists, turns, and surprising endings in these stories, and all of them are darker than you might imagine. Whether it’s a mugging gone wrong in ‘Control‘ where drug addict Chelsea gets more than she bargained for in her search for another hit, or a wish for eternal life turning a hacker’s life upside down in ‘Nothing Personal‘.

Parsons strength in writing is creating a richly layered moment in time, a scene and situation that the reader can instantly step into and forget that they are reading a story – which only serves to make the horror that much more disturbing. Ghosts to Gods, madmen to madwomen, both ancient and modern evils, The Captivating Flames of Madness is a diverse set of stories, circumstances, and characters to lose yourself in.

A collection of over twenty tales of horror, darkness, and disturbed minds, The Captivating Flames of Madness is a generous offering of new and enthralling stories. Jeff Parsons takes you down many paths and turns, and is a writer I’d be happy to follow again.

 

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The Captivating Flames of Madness is a collection best read by candlelight, a darkness best enjoyed by fans of unexpected endings and mysteries in the shadows.

 

About the Author –

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Jeff Parsons is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. You can find out more about Jeff Parsons and his work on the HellBound Books website here.

 

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‘John McNee’s Doom Cabaret’ – Review

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

***

 

“So… this is the club?” I asked.

“Down,” he insisted, urging me onward. “It’s called the Doom Cabaret.” 

“Catchy.” 

“Its an ancient and noble tradition of the theatre, dating as far back as the Roman Empire. From them to now, the Doom Cabaret has been dedicated to bringing revelry to the darkness, spitting in the face of the apocalypse and providing joy to a niche and dedicated audience.” 

“I see,” I said, though it was hardly the case. In truth, it was becoming difficult to see anything in the fading glow of the lamps. 

 

Synopsis –

This is the stage. These are the players.

A young woman’s sexual appetites prove too powerful to be undone by death. Hedonistic clubbers covet a drug that warps flesh rather than the mind. A wealthy cannibal encounters a meal too beautiful to be eaten. The Lullaby Man ushers another eager victim into his clockwork lair. Here is where such stories are told. Blood and beauty, defilement and deformity, musicians and monsters.

Welcome to the Doom Cabaret.

 

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Thoughts –

Being a cabaret fiend myself I couldn’t resist a horror collection with a cover and title like this, and I’m glad I gave into temptation. Doom Cabaret is a set of eight horrific stories ranging from grotesque freak shows that go beyond any freak show you’ve ever seen before in ‘Bebbel‘, to a gruesome mural that  comes to life in ‘Man Holding Razor Blade‘. McNee weaves a tapestry of violence, gore, passion, and revenge shrouded in shadows and as entertaining as it is stomach churning.

McNee’s writing relies heavily on the realistic characters that he creates. There is no such thing as holding back with McNee’s stories, no line that he won’t cross in service of the story.

This collection is bookended by a first and last story of some very different, yet equally hypnotic performances, ‘Bebbel’ and ‘Midnight at Doom Cabaret‘. Hitting you with the hard stuff first, the crunchy middle of the collection ramps down just a little, but always with the shadow in the background of that no holes barred beginning. Horrific performances with horrific stage managers, McNee’s stories are not easily forgotten, and not easy to put down either.

 

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About the Author –

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John McNee is the writer of numerous strange and disturbing horror stories, published in a variety of strange and disturbing anthologies, as well as the novel ‘Prince of Nightmares’.

He is also the creator of Grudgehaven and the author of ‘Grudge Punk’, a collection of short stories detailing the lives and deaths of its gruesome inhabitants, as well as its sequel, ‘Petroleum Precinct’.

He lives in Scotland, where he is employed as a journalist.

 

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‘Who’s There?: A Collection of Stories’ by Dimas Rio – Review

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

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Who’s there, crouching like the moon behind the gray clouds?

Who’s there, writhing like  pouncing thunderbolt?

Crawl out of the darkness, my child!

Called the Jungle, to the restless Hunchback. 

Don’t you know? Darkness is my blood. 

Howled the cursed Hunchback. 

The Jungle cracked a smile, red and ripe. 

They are my beloved. 

 

Synopsis –

Drawing on local folk tales of vengeful banshees, dusk-dwelling monsters, and other forms of the undead, this collection of five short stories will transport readers to the deep, dark abyss where demons forever reside: the human mind.

 

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Thoughts –

‘Who’s There?’ is a collection of five short horror stories from Indonesian writer, Dimas Rio. Translated into English, the themes range from murder to folklore, ghosts to demons, but always with the uniting thread of human darkness to weave them together.

Rio paints modern and relatable characters in horrifying situations. From a man fielding questions about his absent fiancé to a woman overpowered by the urge to cut into her own flesh without her young son seeing, each story has a slow burn beginning that builds the tension and anxiety of the story. Well paced and description, each tale brings the reader close to the characters and the thumping of their overworked hearts.

A particular stand out for me was ‘The Wandering’. It follows a night security guard as he paces his floor, the reader soon learning that Badrun is not the upstanding citizen that he presents to others, including his pregnant wife, and he has made mistakes in his past. Letters from a person who seems familiar but cannot place begin to turn up in the deserted office space and it seems that he is not alone. This story for me encapsulates the overall tone of the collection and the attention to detail in characters that brings the stories to life.

 

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A short collection but one filled with nuance and dread, ‘Who’s There?’ will leave readers wanting more.

 

About the Author –

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Dimas Rio was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. He wrote his first novel in his birth home entitled “Dinner with Saucer” (Katakita, 2006) which was shortlisted in the “Talented Young Writer” category of 2007 Khatulistiwa Literary Award in Indonesia. He went to write a series of short stories for a local teen magazine entitled “Huru-Hara Rako” (Rako’s Chaotic Life) from 2006 to 2008.

Recently he published his second book entitled “Siapa di Situ? (Sebuah Kumpulan Cerita”) which was translated into English under the title of “Who’s There? (A Collection of Stories)”.

When not writing, he has a hobby of being lost. He spends his weekdays being lost in the sea of office paperworks, and spends his weekends being lost in procrastination. But his favorite state is being lost in a good book, an engaging conversation and cultural places that broaden the mind. And also B grade horror movies.

 

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Questions

‘Dark Celebrations’ by Calvin Demmer – Review

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

****

 

These were no ordinary celebrations. The world, devoid of color, embraced a somber gray tone, and no sunlight dared to pierce the clouds overhead. A chill in the air caressed Brad’s skin as he searched within for some hope that this was just a nightmare he would awaken from. Nothing but a void of despair presented itself, and still the people rejoiced. 

No, these weren’t ordinary celebrations. 

They were dark celebrations.

 

Synopsis –

Each year, people all over the world celebrate special festivals and days, shining light on what they wish to remember and revere. But sometimes, inhabitants of the dark arrive with the desire to disturb proceedings. Dark Celebrations is a collection of twelve short stories… and the holidays will never be the same.

 

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Thoughts –

Another collection of stories from Demmer, this one delves into the world of global celebrations. From the American Day of Independence, to The Hungry Ghost Festival of China, the reader is taken across the world and across cultures to explore the darker side of these traditions. You’ll read many a twist in this collection with the usual monster of werewolves and vampires, but expect to be surprised and shocked by some of the less mainstream monsters and creatures in this collection. As with his previous collection ‘The Sea Was a Fair Master‘ Demmer breathes life into his characters, often only to take it away, and the settings pull the reader right into the story.

This collection is a welcome addition to a shelf for anyone who doesn’t find the holidays as cheery as others.

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Dark Celebrations is a collection tied together by twelve holidays of enjoyment from around the world – giving a dark and unexpected twist to each.

 

About the Author –

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Calvin Demmer is the author of The Sea Was a Fair Master and Dark Celebrations. When not writing, he is intrigued by that which goes bump in the night and the sciences of our universe.

 

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