Author: Amanda Headlee

Epeolatry Book Review: American Cryptic by Jim Towns

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Title: American Cryptic
Author: Jim Towns
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Anubis Press
Release Date: 18th April, 2020

Synopsis: AMERICAN CRYPTIC is an open-minded cynic’s take on the uncanny and sometimes frightening things which border our accepted reality. Through thirteen stories and essays, author and filmmaker Jim Towns examines several legends native to his own roots in Western Pennsylvania, and recalls some of his own unexplainable experiences as well. From legends of Native American giants buried under great earth mounds, to a haunted asylum, to a phantom trolley passenger, this work seeks not only to present the reader with new and fascinating supernatural tales, but also to deconstruct why our culture is so fascinated by their telling and re-telling.

AMERICAN CRYPTIC is an open-minded cynic’s take on the uncanny and sometimes frightening things that border our accepted reality. Through thirteen stories and essays, author and filmmaker Jim Towns examines several legends native to his own roots in Western Pennsylvania. He recalls unexplainable experiences as well. From folk tales of Native American giants buried under great earth mounds, to a haunted asylum, to a phantom trolley passenger, this work seeks not only to present the reader with new and fascinating supernatural tales, but also to deconstruct why our culture is so fascinated by their telling and re-telling.

With a focus on lore and the paranormal, Towns draws upon local legends or haunts occurring in various areas across the US where he has lived; the majority from Western Pennsylvania—an area steeped with the supernatural. He also portrays a secondhand account of weird tales he has been told.

The book is split into three sections—Ghost Stories, Boogymen, Uncanny Places—which works to categorize the stories. Most of the stories or essays are broken down into backstory and experience. The backstory provides context, history, and grounding for the personal encounter. Yet, I found that a few stories left me wanting more. For example, in the tale of ‘Indian Peter’, I would have liked there to be actual “boogyman” stories added after the history of ‘Indian Peter’ is explained in order to provide the terrifying context about this local legend. There are only a few sentences in the final paragraph that provide insight to the “boogyman” aspect. 

Towns put a lot of time into researching the lore and legends within this book. Two essays where the research effort is heavily evident are the ‘Six-toes Man’ and ‘The Giants Under the Mound’.  The author’s voice weaves suspense into the research and the personal experience. There is a solid flow between the two that exhibit the strength of Towns’ storytelling. ‘The Deer God Corpse’ is one story that showcases vivid details from Towns’ perspective along with the thoughts and feelings he had observed regarding what unfolded before him. There is a level of skepticism behind his thoughts, which is a nice balance to show that Towns scientifically assesses a situation before chalking it up to the paranormal. That attitude makes these types of stories more believable. 

Overall, this book was a quick read. Although a few stories left me wanting more, Towns displayed his storytelling aptitude and brought to life the lesser known legends of the Western Pennsylvania area. 

4/5 stars.

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Grotesque: Monster Stories by Lee Murray

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Grotesque: Monster Stories
Author: Lee Murray
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Things in the Well
Release Date: 2020

Synopsis: Grotesque: Monster Stories, by Lee Murray is a terrifying compilation of eleven stories, that will haunt you long after you’ve closed the book’s covers.

There is magic in these pages as the landscape of New Zealand is showcased in several stories, taking readers to a setting where we often don’t see many tales of horror. It was an unexpected treat to find myself absorbed in the mythology of the Māori along with learning about their culture through their legends. 

As the mythology of the Māori are not well-known legends across the world today, Murray provides a glossary of Māori terms at the end of the book as these cultural terms are heavily referenced in her stories. Yet, I found myself not needing the glossary as her prose and description of cultural terms within the text was detailed and concise. I understood the cultural references and did not find the details detracting from the story.

Monsters plague the pages of this anthology, however, not always in the way we would expect them. Some tales have supernatural monsters whilst other tales speak of monsters on a more human level. I tend to find the latter more disturbing, which is why out of all the stories within the book, I found “Dead End Town” to be the most horrific tale. Not only is this story a perfectly written tale of horror with a mix of human and supernatural monsters, but the story tore me apart emotionally. I could not read the entire short story in one sitting. “Dead End Town” still sits in the back of my mind as I write this review. 

Murray has perfectly captured the grotesque nature of monsters in each one of these tales. At no time is a reader ever lulled into a place of calm because there is continually something sinister lurking in the background. 

Within the book, we meet a multitude of characters and experience Murry’s strength as an author where we see her author voice strongly maintained throughout the book. In the same vein, she has done an impeccable job at uniquely developing each character. Murray develops a character with minimal words, yet fully know the character—their backstory, drive, dreams, and personalities. Each character in this collection is unique, and you never get the sense that you are reading the same type of character in each story.

Grotesque: Monster Stories is a masterpiece collection of macabre monster stories that is not only captivating but also satisfying.

5 out of 5 stars

Please note, I received an ARC in exchange for this review

Epeolatry Book Review: Aliens Phalanx

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Title: Aliens Phalanx
Author: Scott Sigler
Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: February, 2020

Synopsis: Ataegina was an isolated world of medieval castles, varied cultures, and conquests, vibrant until the demons rose and spread relentless destruction. Swarms of lethal creatures with black husks, murderous claws, barbed tails and dreaded “tooth-tongues” raged through the lowlands, killing ninety percent of the planet’s population. Terrified survivors fled to hidden mountain keeps where they eke out a meager existence. When a trio of young warriors discovers a new weapon, they see a chance to end this curse. To save humanity, the trio must fight their way to the tunnels of Black Smoke Mountain–the lair of the mythical Demon Mother.

 

Scott Sigler’s Aliens: Phalanx (509 pages) is rife with cosmic horror as the aliens—the Xenomorphs—are simply known as “demons” to the primitive civilization of Ataegina. The people of Ataegina live their lives holed up in mountains or underground holds as protection from the “demons”. Silence is key to Ataegina’s survival; however, the people of these holds cannot live fully behind the protection of rock. Some, know as runners, must come to the surface to interact with other holds for trade of supplies, food, and medicine. 

Sigler did a simplistic yet thorough job in worldbuilding Ataegina, where we learn how the politics, social structure, military, and trade function in each hold through the use of character dialogue or character reflection. I enjoyed the approach the author took in showing Ataegina through the eyes of the characters versus the author blatantly explaining how the world works. What I liked best about this book is that Sigler has essentially created a new civilization that has to deal with the threat of the Xenomorphs. The story sits independently of the Aliens franchise yet can be a core story as part of it. 

The story is told through the lens of Ahiliyah Cooper of Lemeth Hold. Her job is to be a runner and she leads a team, comprised of herself, Brandun Barrow, and Creen Dinashin. Through their runs to the other holds, that is where the readers experience the true horror of the book—the demons (aka the Xenomorphs). The trio are exposed to the elements with nothing more than a knife and a spear on them for protection against the demons. They must survive on these trade routes and evade these creatures who are hunting them or else they put their hold at risk. Sigler writes these scenes in a gripping way that is filled with the terror that the characters are feeling along with the calmness of strategy that the protagonist displays to keep herself and her team safe. 

The characters are varied in strength and weaknesses. A few characters exhibit a growth arc throughout the length of the story, where they may start the book as a weaker character and find themselves stronger, more developed at the conclusion. I felt that the secondary characters who had a growth arc, had one that was stronger than the main protagonist. This doesn’t mean that Ahiliyah isn’t a strong character, but that I don’t see her as a different person than what she was in the very beginning of the book. Throughout the book, we only see her leverage skills that she already has and assigned additional job responsibilities versus her growing into a different person by the conclusion. I had hoped to see her take on a new trait or skill or enhance her political prowess, as the latter would have been a major feat for her to personally achieve.

The story itself is well written and even though it is quite a long book, it was easy to read and I devoured it in a couple sittings. Sigler’s prose kept me engaged and the horrors that the civilization of Ataegina experiences with the threat of the demons, along with sub-stories of disease and famine, made for a hearty sci-fi/horror novel. This book will stay with me long after I have closed its covers and has me keen to read other books by Sigler. 

I was slightly discouraged by a couple of items towards the conclusion. However, these points do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. There was one scene at the climax of the book that felt to me a little cliché for the Aliens franchise, despite the scene itself providing the explanation of how the civilization of Ataegina came to be. The ending of the novel also left me with a few unanswered questions that as a reader, I would have liked to have answered as it would have provided deeper insight into the world and people of Ataegina.   

Overall, I give Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler a 3.5 out of 5 stars for the strength that the story sits solidly within the sci-fi/horror genre, the developed worldbuilding of Ataegina, and the multitude of characters who live in this primitive world and learn to survive threat of the Xenomorphs. 

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: Midnight in the Graveyard (Additional Review)

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Title: Midnight in the Graveyard
Author: Various,  edited by Kenneth W. Cain
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 15th October, 2019

Synopsis: Midnight. Some call it the witching hour. Others call it the devil’s hour. Here in the graveyard, midnight is a very special time. It is a time when ghostly spirits are at their strongest, when the veil between our world and theirs is at its thinnest. Legend has it, that while most of the world is asleep, the lack of prayers allow the spirits to communicate under the cover of darkness, among the headstones, their whispers rustling in the leaves of the old oak trees. But if you’re here in the graveyard, you can tell yourself it’s just the wind, that the moonlight is playing tricks on your eyes, that it’s only the swirling mist you see. But when you hear the graveyard gate clang shut, the dead have something to say. Here are their stories…

At the crux of night, a sinister, otherworldly force rises from where the dead slumber and escapes into the world of the living to harm and feast on those who bleed. Midnight in the Graveyard (408 pages) is collection of 25 cautionary tales about when these two realms collide.

This anthology, from Silver Shamrock Publishing, will stick with you long after you have closed the cover. The theme of the anthology is ghosts, graveyards, and the witching hour. I did find a few stories that fell outside of this theme; however, those stories were so strong that I was delighted to have read them as part of this collection. 

The entire anthology is well edited. It begins with a compelling story (“Devil’s Dip” by Shannon Felton) and closes with one of the most horrifying and memorable tales (“Portrait” by Kealan Patrick Burke). The authors selected are wide-ranging in experience, from those who are well known horror authors to those who are just starting to make their impact. Kenneth W. Cain did a meticulous job editing and laying out the stories. He blended the authors’ voices and plot, keeping those who are similar on tone and tale at opposite ends of the anthology from one another. 

William Meikle’s story, “Cool for Cats”, is my favorite piece in this collection. The way the story started, I had no idea what to expect or where the plot was heading—a page-turner indeed. The tale turned out to be a delicious ghost story with a strong storyline and well-developed characters.

“Holes in the Fabric” by Todd Keisling has a suspenseful and thrilling plot. There is such vivid detail in this story, from description of the landscape down to the feel of cloth, that it’s quite amazing Keisling was able to fit a compelling macabre tale into a short story format. 

Chad Lutzke’s “Tug O’War” is a harrowing story of grief. Its effect on patience leads to a word of caution regarding speaking with the dead.  

“Those Who Are Terrified” by Elizabeth Massie is an emotional rollercoaster with a completely unexpected climactic twist. 

A special acknowledgement to the stories still replaying in my head long after I finished this anthology:

  • “Ring of Truth” by Thomas F. Monteleone
  • “Dog Days” by Kenneth W. Cain
  • “Swamp Vengeance” by Brian Moreland
  • “Join My Club” by Somer Canon
  • “Last Call at the Sudden Death Saloon” by Allan Leverone

As mentioned earlier, there are two stories that I feel don’t align with the anthology’s theme. I usually prefer stories within anthologies to keep to their target. Yet, I was so impressed with “The Glimmer Girls” by Kenneth McKinley and “Portrait” by Kealan Patrick Burke that I would be rue if those stories were not a part of this collection. “The Glimmer Girls” is a gruesome tale that is quite Tales from the Crypt-esque. “Portrait” infected my mind with its heart wrenching plot and shocking ending.  

Midnight in the Graveyard is a solid anthology that will keep readers engrossed up until the last tale. All will be haunted by these memorable pages. 

4 out of 5 stars.

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.