‘Grey Skies’ by William Becker- Review

*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.

 

Grey Skies

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. 

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.

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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.

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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!