‘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. 

‘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!