Author: Brenda Tadych

Epeolatry Book Review: Midnight Horror Show by Ben Lathrop

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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: Midnight Horror Show
Author: Ben Lathrop
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 25th September, 2020

Synopsis: It’s end of October 1985 and the crumbling river town of Dubois, Iowa is shocked by the gruesome murder of one of the pillars of the community. Detective David Carlson has no motive, no evidence, and only one lead: the macabre local legend of “Boris Orlof,” a late night horror movie host who burned to death during a stage performance at the drive-in on Halloween night twenty years ago and the teenage loner obsessed with keeping his memory alive.

The body count is rising and the darkness that hangs over the town grows by the hour. Time is running out as Carlson desperately chases shadows into a nightmare world of living horrors.

On Halloween the drive-in re-opens at midnight for a show no one will ever forget.

Lathrop plunged right into terrible trouble, and the blood and guts in Chapter 1 had me hooked.  I didn’t know where or why the action took place, but it kept me suspended in anticipation.

Detective Sergeant Dave Carlson is the protagonist.  He’s divorced and currently married to his job in Dubois, Iowa.  Top crime shows on television have nothing on Lathrop’s crime scene descriptions in Chapter 2.  Did I mention the offense resulted in a hog-tied murder victim?  And we’re just getting started!

Carlson pieces together a mystery involving the master of shock horror from decades ago, Boris Orlof, and his old movie reels that predicted recent deaths.  Orlof’s former horror theatre had burned down and been destroyed.  A horror drive-in theatre took its place with cruel acts – live and on stage – just like twenty years ago.

The Skoger Sisters, Myrna and June—local legends known to be stingy old maids who committed suicide—are two additional characters from the frightening past.  Detective Carlson doubts the verity of an actual familial tie between the Skoger Brothers to the sisters, since no one was aware there were brothers in the Skoger family tree. Apparently, they had moved to Iowa from somewhere out west with a mission to rebuild the home—the home that burnt down had once belonged to the Skoger sisters.

James West, the insecure teen who idolized Orlof, was my favorite character.  West is a weird kid with an unhealthy appetite for all things horror, but he speaks his truth and is logical with a grown-up capacity for intelligent reasoning.  Detective Carlson believes he’s a good kid.  Is he?

The shock fiend, Orlof, was really a war veteran and the only survivor in an attack on his unit.  He came home from Pearl Harbor a changed man, so much so that his fiancée left him for another man.  West kinda looks like Orlof.  

Lathrop has really fleshed out his characters.  There are James Wests and Dave Carlsons out there beyond this story. 

One of my criticisms is that I found out whodunnit, how, and where, but never why.  That was a let-down after all the strength unveiled in Lathrop’s characters and settings.  Every character has a reason for doing what they do, but I was left wondering. Lathrop wrote “…one of those Manson Family type things. Nothing that would make sense to anybody rational.”  In the end, I didn’t discover what made the antagonist tick, or made him/her snap.  He/she just did.

I didn’t learn whom the Skoger sisters willed their home to, either.  After how important they and their home were to all facets of the story, that loose end remains untied.

Though the ending didn’t excite me, I genuinely enjoyed reading the book.  The tone, inciting incidents, and characters getting knocked off their ordinary paths, made for a good read earning Midnight Horror Show 4 stars.

4/5 stars.

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Animal Uprising! from Nightmare Press

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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: Animal Uprising! 
Author: Various
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Nightmare Press
Release Date: 9th April 2019

Synopsis:  A lion, a hybrid, a bear – oh no! A goat, a gull, and a big black dog! Can’t forget the roaches, the deer flies, and the tarantula hawk, or the abominable insect that rises from the earth! We got creepy crawlers and killer critters for everyone. Oh, you want mythical creatures? How about a malevolent spirit posed as a fox, a rambunctious jackalope, or a herd of unicorn-gazelles on a distant planet? Let’s not forget the supernatural silver stag with the power to raise the dead. Oh, did I mention the giant mantis shrimp? Yeah – we got a giant mantis shrimp. Humankind really has their work cut out for them in this collection of terrifying tales of beastly butchery. Need to know more? Check out Animal Uprising! for all of the mayhem.

Man’s despotic existence over the animal kingdom has finally brought him to reap what he has sown in this collection of fourteen tales.

A goat, the symbol of resistance and opposition, becomes an omen of death in “The Goat” by Michelle Mellon. Street-smart but tired and desperate, Aiysha, along with three other girls, were on a live-and-work farm, an alternative to juvenile detention. Mysterious deaths were marked by the goat’s presence. Would anyone be able to outsmart it?

Sea gulls, rapacious in their effortless gliding, are more than obnoxious to anyone who’s ever had a morsel of food displayed in their presence. “The Gull” by David Turton starred a particularly invasive bird who couldn’t get the job done on its own. No worries, there was a flock eager to pick up where it left off.

Two stories brought me the joy of revenge. “Old Shuck” by Patrick Winters featured a Scrooge boss. I enjoyed every moment of his pleading to God (who he had never put faith in) as canine predators advanced. “Tarantula Hawk” by Kevin Folliard featured a formidable employee out to stake claim on what was hers, and to right a wrong, while using the largest wasp on Earth to do it.

Daisy Tucker tried as she might in “How Does Your Garden Grow,” written by M. R. Deluca, to keep her unusual kaleidoscope of flowers and shrubs to herself. Enter a pesky reporter trying too hard and invading her sacred space. Enter Pokey, her befriended jackalope. With the sharp horns…

“The Day of the Deer Flies” by Stanley B. Webb transported incapacitating deer fly bites on its pages. The desperation of paralysis!

The diver on a research team encountered more than underwater lava flow and volcanic rock towers in “Upsweep” by Rebecca Gransden. Would the illuminated cable and her reinforced suit be enough to withstand what lies below?

“The Fox” by Judith Baron was a tricky and clever story about an eight-tailed fox, turned human, turned fox.

“Taxidermy Nightmare,” authored by one half of the Frightening Floyds, Jacob Floyd, kept me wriggling with its bizarre creations – dog head on a doe, bird head on a chipmunk, and other abominations of mammalian beauty. I warmed to the nine-foot silver deer that had the main character atone for his actions.

“Child of the Earth:  A Tale of the Bajazid” by Kenneth Bykerk took me back in time to the Mortenson Mine of 1890. The horror of cricket-like bugs invading the miners’ human orifices was foul in its own right, but was there something else – something worse – deeper inside the mine?

Another bug invasion grossed me out in “Grime” by Hannah Shannon. Roaches falling from the ceiling, getting in hair and underneath clothes. The sickening details forced me to keep reading!

Unicorn fierceness and tenacity in “Radish Hunting” by Melinda Brasher made me feel less empowered as a human. “The shot echoed against the bluffs, but the herd didn’t scatter. Twenty sets of eyes stared at her.” The helplessness!

I empathized with the part crocodile/part pig that got a bad rap in “Crocopork” by Liam Hogan. Just because most were dangerous didn’t mean Winston was, too. Did it?

My favorite story was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Walrus,” written by J. T. Haven in irreverent and matter-of-fact humor. Jimmy, poor guy, not the first person to wake up in a strange place after a night with a stranger, but maybe the first to find himself suspended horizontally over a cage of lions. The author had me rooting for him as the final showdown neared.

I felt the power of the uprising throughout this anthology. The authors’ interests in the creatures they produced was apparent. The creations were anything but ordinary and everything from predatory to annihilating.

4/5 stars

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Infected 2: Tales to Read Alone – Charity Anthology

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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: Infected 2: Tales to Read Alone
Author: ed. Steve Dillon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Things in the Well
Release Date: 17th April, 2020

Synopsis: Our second collection of terrifying tales set in the very near future… or perhaps it’s already here? It’s an infected apocalypse and we’re all (alone) in it together! 100% of proceeds will go the Save the Children Response. Features short stories by: F. Paul Wilson | John Palisano | Mark Towse | R.J. Meldrum | Rebecca Fraser | Tabby Stirling | Pochassi | Patrick J. Gallagher | Paul Alex Gray | Claire Fitzpatrick | Tom Prince | Louise Zedda-Sampson | Brianna Courtney Bullen | T.C. Phillips | Edward Ahern | Calvin Demmer | Chris Mason | Catherine McCarthy | Brian Bowyer | Eugene Johnson | Shaun Taylor | Noel Osualdini | Irene Punti | Gerri Leen | Tracy Fahey | Eric J. Guignard | Yash Seyedbagheri | Steve Dillon

Infected 2:  Tales to Read Alone is an anthology of pandemic proportions. It’s a competitive collection with a focus on the fearful spread of contagion. The book is also a fundraiser for Save the Children’s Coronavirus Response, and I can assure donors that they will be treated to adventures of the mind with their generous contributions. There is something in these tales for every horror reader’s preference. Although the title is Tales to Read Alone, the lasting effect of the book is that we’re not alone in this unprecedented time of lockdown with no toilet paper. 

The stories dare to explore possible outcomes like cannibalism, military control, and body scanners. “The Obscenity Carrier Pigeon” by Brianna Courtney Bullen suggested mandatory execution of Terms and Conditions in order to be released from quarantine. I’ve already had to put my name to a disclaimer acknowledging that masks will be worn by all who enter my place of employment. Who’s to say that more intrusive demands won’t happen?  

I felt the helplessness and hopelessness and sometimes, the resolve to conquer the invisible antagonist. Intense migraine headaches, flesh-eating diseases, and maddening itchiness paved the road to insanity. Cloud contamination, deliberate infection of holy water – there were no boundaries in this anthology. The shock value wasn’t as powerful for me as it would have been during another time when I wasn’t smack in the middle of this incredible coronavirus crisis that’s begun to desensitize me.

There were a few stories that fell short of leaving an impact with me, but the majority were compelling, thought-provoking, and even educational. I was presented with the what-if of comets and tidal waves in “Numb” by John Palisano. Calvin Demmer took the phrase “seeing red” to another level in “Red.” The surgical procedure in “Head Womb” by Brian Bowyer fascinated me, partly because I’ve survived a decompressive craniotomy. I swear I heard the squishes and suctions during Dr. Singh’s operation.

I relished the historical aspect of “The Music from the Rue de l’Eglise” by Claire Fitzpatrick. There were other stories in the book meant to take place in a previous time period, but they missed the mark as far as creating setting, characters or dialogue that kept me there. “The Music from the Rue de l’Eglise” entrenched me in 1794 Paris.

“The Plague Doctor” by T. C. Phillips was one of my favorites in this collection. The main character, Doctor Sait accurately described the Apathy Virus, which reduced intense emotional reactions, as an enemy. Its threat manifested not in nuclear weapons, but in the house next door, and inside riders on the bus. The doctor found herself locked out of her own laboratory. Does she find a cure for the pestilence, or will she lose her ability to care?

My top pick in Infected 2 is “Lysing Toward Bethlehem” by F. Paul Wilson. The point of view was that of a contagion that the reader followed throughout a body.  I had flashbacks of an exhibit I once toured called “The Human Body” that amazed me with all of the inner workings under the skin. Wilson’s words roared through the pages, swirling and tumbling inside the human structure.

As my bibliophilic journey of Infected 2 came to an end, unexpected and insightful poetry escorted me quietly out of its uncontrolled chaos. The authors spoke their minds about pandemic captivity and the dark places it took them. I bonded with the honesty in the poems, which helped tip the 4 rating into a 4.5.

Available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

For more information, go to Things in the Well.

Epeolatry Book Review: Highland Cove

Disclosure:

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: Highland Cove
Author: Dylan J. Morgan
Genre: Horror
Publisher: DJM Entertainment
Release Date: 30th March, 2020

Synopsis: Highland Cove Sanatorium sits abandoned on a desolate island one mile off the Scottish mainland. It’s a dark, foreboding place, filled with nightmares. Even darker are the asylum’s secrets: a history of disease and mental illness, macabre experiments and murder. The tales of ghostly appearances are said to be more fact than fiction, but no one has ever documented the phenomenon. Codie Jackson aims to change all that. Arriving from London with his small independent film crew, they plan to make a documentary that will forever change their lives. But when one of the crew disappears, things begin to spiral out of control. A storm closes in to ravage the island, and in the darkness Highland Cove’s true horrors are revealed. Now lost within the institution’s labyrinthine corridors, Codie and his team realize that their nightmare is only just beginning.

Think Overlook Hotel, “1408,” Rose Red.  I love haunted houses, buildings, rooms.  Anyone who craves the same will find this book well worth their reading time.

Codie Jackson leads a filming expedition for Webb Enterprises.  He and four others are going to produce a documentary on a desolate mental asylum only accessible by boat.  Captain O’Connell reluctantly sails them as close as he dares to the asylum.  And that was their first clue; the ghost tales of former residents – former inmates – who still haunt the building might have some truth to them.

This story had everything a novel about a desolate haunted establishment needs – fierce thunderstorms, broken windows, decades of debris scattered throughout.  I sensed the cold chill moving through my body, heard the whispers, and recoiled at the icy touches.  The night I finished the chapter where the wheelchair first moved on its own, I felt it best to sleep with the nightlight on.

The depraved history of the asylum and its deranged doctor is unfolded as secret documents are discovered. Five central characters each suffer through their own trauma, and Morgan keeps the obstacles coming.  Maybe they’ll survive.  Maybe the tormented souls that came before them will swallow them in the darkness.

“The hunt was sweeter than the kill – that’s why cats played with mice before slaughtering them.”  That statement proved all kinds of truth regarding an antagonist who is everything I love to hate – arrogant, condescending and merciless.

Each chapter of this book served a purpose and kept my trepidation from resting.  I didn’t expect the ending, least of all the character in it.  

A 5-star thriller!

Available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

Epeolatry Book Review: Submit Horror

Disclosure:

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: Submit Horror
Author: Steve Deighan
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: 23 Dec 2019

Synopsis: Fiction comes and goes in droves, but one thing is constant: remembering the feelings that bind us to the words. 14 stories within these pages each urge you to face the imminent terror and dismay of their unfortunate and cruel situations. From eerie clown-children to blood-draining aliens – including the pre-cursor to his forthcoming supernatural horror novel, Bethany Chiller® – this is Steven Deighan giving us a glimpse into an unforgiving world that’s harshly fragmented and frequented by the unmerited and unworldly. These tales are the culmination of a decade filled with real-life trials and tribulations found, perhaps, only in [his] horror fiction.

Before you read the review for this collection, I feel it fitting to include this acknowledgement included by Steven at the end of his book. No other words are necessary.

‘On Valentine’s Day, 2019, Steven was admitted to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank. It was there and then that he found that, at 35 years old, he was in the critical stages of advanced heart failure. A heart transplant was imminent and successfully followed suit two months later, on Easter Sunday.
Steven will be forever grateful to those whom he encountered and wishes that you consider this hospital and the British Heart Foundation when making charitable donations.’

(Note: Our reviewer has done a more indepth reading of this collection for you and we hope it encourages you to read more of Deighan and his work – Ed.)

Submit Horror – An Overview

Toni Morrison said, “The ability of writers to… familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power,” and it is one of Deighan’s strengths. Infidelity, a ball game, teens sneaking out of the house – they have dreadful consequences in Deighan’s creative world of twisting what is familiar into something frightful. Although he tended towards excessive descriptions of details that didn’t need a lot of attention, Deighan is a maestro of constructing setting, and I wanted to see some of that same power used to delve into characters’ inner thoughts. In a couple of the stories, it would have enhanced my entertainment where the pace seemed too fast, particularly at the endings.

His stories take us from the hospital to the coal mines and everywhere in between. Deighan is skillful at demonstrating true-to-life human emotions. “Cardiac Skeleton” and “The Cutting Garden” left me in contemplative reflection.  “Hannah Dancing” left a mark on my soul. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Shooting the P.I. – 3.5-4 stars

P.I. Dunn is introduced to us while on a stakeout.  Clearly, he’s one who likes the action and lives for the challenge.  No stranger to illicit conduct, he’s been doing the job for a large portion of his working life.  But he blushed when a cute waitress said hello? That was the first time his character didn’t seem believable.

We don’t know what he looks like or if he has any unique tics or quirks.  He comes off rather weak through the story and I found myself without empathy for him. I didn’t particularly want to root for him during dangerous situations.

He is surprisingly familiar with haute couture and knows an expensive skirt when he sees one?  I don’t buy it unless the detective is wearing Ferragamo’s himself. He doesn’t seem like he’s got the confidence.

A certain amount of bravery is required for a private investigator, and Mr. Dunn is lacking.  It’s difficult to conceive that this veteran P.I. was terrified after hearing one “I’ll kill you” from a scorned woman.  Hadn’t he received that same threat about a hundred times during his career? Too often he sounded fearful and afraid, and as if he did not enjoy the thrill of the chase.

Although Deighan’s investigator could use some character development, the story kept me interested.  I enjoyed the stakeouts, the spying, the messy office. I personally love a good cheater story, so I was eager to see if and how the adulteress would be caught.

Fantastic turn of events at the end, but my enthusiasm slammed into a wall.  “… her name was Gina! How had he forgotten?!” There is obviously some important backstory to be told here but we find out—nothing.  Deighan missed an opportunity during the climax of the story for another chapter, or more, to show us what happened with Gina and the P.I. and just how did he forget about her?  How did he not see this coming?

“Shooting the P.I.” has a broad appeal to fans of sleuthing and detectives from Nancy Drew mysteries to CSI Miami cases.  And they’ll want to read it all the way to the end.

Auguste (The Dark) – 4 stars

“Auguste (The Dark)” is the tale of Sarah, who is eager to get a one-day job as a Children’s Entertainer.  Her young naivete is believable and kept me wanting to shout, “Don’t do it!” to her character.

“On a dark Halloween night, nothing could wrong there,” our innocent protagonist thought, regarding the location of the job.  I couldn’t wait to see what disaster was in store for her after reading her angelic opinion.

There were several places where semicolons rushed the pace for me.  I wanted to linger on one thought before proceeding to the next. Separate sentences would have taken care of that.

Regardless, the ending kept me holding my breath as Deighan avoided a definitive finish and left what was to happen to the reader-imagination.  

This subtly suspenseful story earned 4 stars and will appeal to horror fans.  WARNING! Those averse to clowns should read this story with the lights on.

Blood Donors – 4 stars

“Blood Donors” is a sci-fi story set in futuristic Edinburgh, Scotland.  Much of the city has already been invaded and liquified by destructive fireballs discharged by bloodthirsty aliens.

Humans who remain are under constant surveillance by cameras installed on lamp posts in the streets.  They have their own wounded to care for and must collect blood as quickly as possible wherever the opportunity presents itself, getting their liquid loot before blood donor vans directed by the aliens do so.

Deighan’s story structure gives readers constant conflict that may or may not have a resolution.  This will appeal to fans of Earth-invasion horror and will leave anyone who reads it believing such an event could very well happen.

Coffee Stains – 3 stars

A library assistant gets an unusual request for an elusive book from a stranger.  The assistant, Lisa, delves into researching the book. The link to it appears and disappears in internet searches, only to have a used hard copy arrive at her door.

She is enticed into reading the book by some external force.  Will its “instructional” contents mesmerize her into doing what it suggests?

I reread this story a couple times and felt like it needed more meat to it each time in order to let the subtle ending carry its weight.

Lisa’s brief encounter with the stranger is a little creepy, but could be more intense.  The stranger was wacky, for sure, but nothing made me hit “uh oh” level. As far as the mysterious book itself, I felt like it deserved its own personality, but there wasn’t enough writing to give it that.  I wanted it to become a formidable antagonist instead of leaving so much of its power to my imagination. More attention to what inspired the title could have helped with that.

I thought the pace of the ending was too quick.  More showing of the protagonist’s helplessness with the hypnotic pull would have slowed the pace and forced me to tiptoe along with it.

Horror readers will understand why I gave 3 stars, and I think I can speak for them all when I say, “WE WANT MORE!”

The Board

I enjoyed the suspense of young Lauren searching for the board and of Aunt Leigh’s true story.  We’re able to witness the close relationship between the two characters. Deighan gives us intricate setting details and I felt like I was there, handling the board and planchette myself.

One grammar note – There is an expectation of a break in character with new paragraphs, but that wasn’t the case in several instances throughout the story.  Every sentence of dialogue need not be in its own paragraph when the action or thought taking place involves the same character. I note it here because the multitude of extra paragraphs interrupted the reading and confused the point of view.

With such a mysterious instrument of the occult at the heart of the story, I wanted to experience more urgency and fear when Aunt Leigh finished her gripping tale.  Things in mirrors, speeding cars navigating bends in the road – the writing was too casual and passive for the action. What Deighan gave us was enough to surprise a character, but not unnerve them or make them shiver.

I wanted more details in the last paragraph.  One never knows what might be conjured from the unknown… can we get a little more?

This story will appeal to anyone interested in the occult, particularly when it involves the power wielded by an instrument such as the Ouija board.

The Cardiac Skeleton – 3.5 stars

Deighan’s astonishing story walks us through the dark side of Rick’s recovery.  He’d heard stories about transplant recipients inheriting traits from their organ donors.  Is that what was happening to him? Could that explain his emotional, psychological, even physical changes?

It’s a unique story chock full of passive voice, and lots of telling instead of showing.  “He was beginning to feel like a new person.” Readers want to hear him whistling a happy tune, not be told that he feels good.  “Rick had even eaten the microwave meal she’d bought him.” Don’t tell us! Show us the dirty bowl in the sink.

There were a number of places where paragraphs could have been shortened to keep the pace flowing.  Dialogue or tightening sentences to reduce telling, and increase showing, would go a long way in keeping readers engaged in the action.  Deighan often uses semicolons where separate sentences would allow readers to pause, and pack more of a punch.

This story will appeal to fans of outside influences turning the good guy bad, and of evil lying within where the character’s psychology and physiology are teetering on explosion.  It may hit a nerve with anyone who has ever been the recipient of a transplant, transfusion, or prosthetic. Days after reading “The Cardiac Skeleton,” the impact is still with me. As a blood donor who’s been on both sides of the needle, I look in my mirror and wonder, “Were my eyes always this color…”

I struggled between 3.5 and 4 stars.  The story is still in my head and was memorable enough that I mentioned it to a coworker, but it was too full of passive voice and punctuation problems to tip it to the next level.  The author held back from using all of his power in this one. Ultimately. I give it 3.5 stars.

Cruciform – 3.5 stars

Through a sexually explicit conjuring ritual (of origins that readers aren’t privy to), the main character, Mark summons a female demon from Hell, seemingly for his perverse master-and-slave amusement.

Deighan showed us a Hell with personalities and hierarchy instead of just a flaming abyss occupied by the one devil with whom we’re familiar.  Setting and character details were outstanding, although there were some character inconsistencies.

Mark is portrayed as an invincible, arrogant bastard in the beginning, but he transitioned into a weaker person by the end.  The demon seemed like a stronger character than Mark from the beginning. She’s pulled into his world and becomes his prisoner, but she never seemed completely under his control.  There was always a little spitfire to her. Scenes depicting her subordination were contradicted with instances of her standing in her own power. Maybe this was done on purpose?  

The pacing kept my attention, and Deighan’s created an interesting protagonist and antagonist role reversal.  Who would expect anything else when playing with the devil?

There is so much to this story that I liked, but I didn’t know the quest.  Mark took his demon prisoner to a house that wreaked of wicked intentions, but why?  I’m not sure what purpose the placement of his fiancée had in the house either. Deighan possesses strong scurrilous story-telling, but there were no hints of a wild threesome on the horizon, so the emergence of the fiancée wasn’t sexual.  The fierce ending takes place inside the house and is performed remarkably with Deighan’s writing, but I don’t know why they went there in the first place.

Lastly, the title invokes, at least in this prodigy of Catholic school, something of a cross, but there was nothing significant about a cross in the story.

Horror fans will enjoy this tale of dealing with the devil, and for the hellfire it releases, I give “Cruciform” 3.5 stars.

The Cutting Garden – 4.5 stars

Lucy Stevenson has long wondered what ever happened to her brother after their mother died.  With the help of a private investigator, she finds him at his own establishment called “The Cutting Garden.”

The title is an apt name regarding sibling separation, the sister and brother who are now miles apart both literally and figuratively.  It’s a situation that many readers will be able to relate to. Who was wrong? Who was right? Do they say hello and then good-bye? Or do they agree to let bygones be bygones?

This story is an easy read and with both internal and external conflict.  The pacing is spot on. I give it 4.5 stars. What kept it from a 5? Passive voice that pulled me out of the story and more than a couple instances of wordy and excessive descriptions forced me to reread and clarify the point being made.

This story made me want to reach out to my estranged sister who walked away from her family years ago.  But I won’t. It’s complicated.

Picasso Project – 3.5 stars

The Picasso Project is the name given to a painting contest where participants are by invitation only.  What’s so special about them? They only paint one thing.

Now, of course, I can’t ruin the surprise and divulge what that is.  It could be nude women, which is what our main character’s jealous girlfriend thinks.  Or it could be someone – something? – else. Jonathan Barr aspires to win the Picasso Project competition despite his apprehension.

There were a few places where dialogue or too much telling felt unnecessary and excessive.  Conversely, I wanted to hear more of the goings-on in Mr. Barr’s head during the two-hour competition.  The story jumped pretty quickly from the unveiling of the subject to the end of the project. Deighan gave us a little bit of Barr’s internal dialogue, but it felt like there was a lot of room to enhance anxiety and give me a knot in my stomach.

This story kept me interested and intrigued, and I couldn’t hide my own involuntary macabre interest in the painting project.  We all have a fascination with – it – at some level. I give “Picasso Project” 3.5 stars for a simple story that threw tainted humanity in my face.

The Skeleton Quay – 3 stars

The setting is in a bar filled with seafaring patrons.  Two wayward strangers enter. A coin in their possession strikes fear into the bartender.  Is it a true omen? Will the destruction foretold in folklore come to pass?

As someone who’s become a fan of Mr. Deighan’s writing, I am guessing this short story was written long before the others in the 4th Collection.  What struck me—simply too much writing.  There was a great deal of description about minor details that didn’t require that much attention, and analogies were overused (and sometimes conflicting).  Point of view was confused a few times. I thought I knew whose head I was in, and then a telling description came out of nowhere and made me think, ‘Wait a minute – how would this person know that?’

Deighan used long sentences that distracted me.  Repeatedly, I felt like I was reading a detail that may or may not be significant, but I couldn’t get to the next sentence because it went on and on and on.  One of the first paragraphs was comprised of only three sentences in thirteen lines of text. The longest sentence with over sixty words was later in the story.  Since I couldn’t concentrate or absorb what was happening, I lost interest.

This story seemed heavy on uncommon words usage that, to me, seemed too fanciful for the story.  I needed a dictionary several times; I may not be the only reader who doesn’t know what an ossuary is, or what patinaed means.  “Inculcate” made for an awkward tag line.  

There were details that didn’t matter, and details that were missing.  It wasn’t important to know how long it took a bartender to carry a beer to a table, but I wanted to see what “a fraught look” looked like.

I only have a layman’s knowledge of Latin, so the ending fell a little flat for me. Regardless, there is plenty of action in the last chapter. 

Horror readers will enjoy this story that I give 3 stars.    Aquaphobes – beware!

Of Slag and Stone – 3.5 stars

While the story didn’t have much of a plot, it was an interesting read of old miners fearing the return of the menacing giant known to appear in the coal pits.  If I hadn’t experienced a coal mine tour myself, I don’t know that I would have liked this. But since I’ve seen the conditions and understand their daily challenges, I cared about what was going to happen to these guys.

Inserting a legendary tale about the giant would have given “Of Slag and Stone” more purpose and suspense, and more stars.

The story has a now-we-wait feel to it, and for putting the fear of the giant into his characters’ heads, I give this one 3.5 stars.

The Tent – 3.5 stars

“You stay away from that… that tent.  It’s dirty, and nobody knows what’s inside.”

Stephen reacted as any kid would.  Oh yeah, I’m going.

“The Tent” gives a realistic story about a parent’s warning to stay away, thereby exciting two kids to do exactly the opposite.  We see them sneak out of the house, and traipse through the cornfield. Their trepidation unfolds as they got closer to their destination.

This was a fast and easy read.  It began in present day and switched to backstory.  The backstory could stand on its own. It introduced believable characters and setting details that left no doubt as to where I was.  I knew what the main characters wanted and what was getting in their way, and Deighan kept me right there, sharing the internal and external conflicts.

Reactions to what was eventually discovered at the tent seemed overdramatic, but I can be persuaded, for the sake of a good story, that a preteen child might be overwhelmed and scarred for life.

It was the present-day part that threw me off.  For one thing, present day mentioned that the character, Bethany was in a supernatural state, but then that detail never resurfaced and I was disappointed to have been given a teaser that amounted to nothing.  The present-day story mentions merciless revenge on those who wronged her, but I have no idea who, what, when or where any of that took place. It isn’t addressed again. There’s a big fat something missing in that present-day part for it to have any relevance.

I did, however, enjoy the backstory. I believe that horror fans will especially enjoy the viewpoint from a child creeping out to the forbidden tent.  I give it 3.5 stars.

The Voice in the Bush – 4 stars

Eight-year old Sam and her father go to a football game, innocently enough.  Except Sam walks away and hears a voice in the bush. It’s reminiscent of Stephen King’s short story, “The Man in the Black Suit”, but with Deighan’s writing style. And I enjoyed the apprehension, while thinking, “Not the kid!”

I liked the everyday feel of the story and how someone or something that went unnoticed by the multitudes at a ballpark became so fearful to a curious child.  Like that “bad feeling” when catching the eye of someone who seems to have been watching us all along, and the perp won’t look away. When intuitively afraid of someone, but not trusting that fear enough to stay away.  That’s the feeling this story gave me.

I would suggest Deighan explain the football terms as they’re brought up.  I didn’t know what the red and yellow cards represented, and now that I do, adding a short blurb would have enhanced the action on the field.  It would also benefit a potential global reader audience.

The point of view is mostly Sam’s, but there were instances where the writing sounded older than someone Sam’s age would think or say.  “Interjected imprecation” and “disembodied glee” are not terms most eight-year olds would know.

As Sam’s father gives his permission for Sam to walk around as long as he can still see her, he says, “Your mum would have a heart attack if you were to go missing again.”  And we’re left hanging with the “again!” I was looking forward to reading that backstory, but it wasn’t given. It’s cruel to torture a reader like that!

Nevertheless, it was a gratifying read that I would reread, and I give it 4 stars.

Hannah Dancing – 4.5 stars

This story is so short that I can’t share many details without giving much away, but I’ll summarize it with, “Dear God.”

Hannah and her husband Steve are expecting their first child, and their characters could be anyone I know.  Deighan takes us through an emotional journey. I found myself wondering right along with the parents, ‘Is the baby healthy?’  ‘How’s the heartbeat?’ ‘What if labor starts early?’

There were a couple unknown terms that pulled me out of the story.  MOT (Minister of Transport) isn’t something I’m familiar with, and I assume “obs” are a patient’s vital signs.

I thought the labor scene should have slowed down to honor everything going on inside the characters’ heads in addition to what was physically happening.

I give “Hannah Dancing” 4.5 stars for being a beautiful story with an ending that made me smile.

‘Submit Horror’ is available on Amazon

Epeolatry Book Review: Come Join the Murder

Disclosure:

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: Come Join the Murder
Author: Holly Rae Garcia
Genre: Crime
Publisher: Close to the Bone (an imprint of Gritfiction Ltd.)
Release Date: 27 March 2020

Synopsis: Rebecca Crow’s four-year-old son is dead, and her husband is missing.

Divers find her husband’s car at the bottom of a canal with their son’s small, lifeless body, inside. The police have no suspects and nothing to go on but a passing mention of a man driving a van. Guilt and grief cloud Rebecca’s thoughts as she stumbles towards her only mission: Revenge.

James Porter knows exactly what happened to them, but he’ll do anything to keep it a secret.

James didn’t plan to kill Rebecca’s son, but he’s not too broken up about it, either. There are more important things for him to worry about. He needs money, and his increasing appetite for murder is catching the attention of a nosy detective.

“Looks like the AAA guy is here already; we’ll just ride with him.”  Jon Crow had no idea how mistaken he was on that day at the southeastern Texas beach.  He and his child, Oliver, would not return home. A heartless psychopath and his reluctant sidekick saw to that.

Come Join the Murder is fortified with strong characters and follows Rebecca Crow, now childless after her baby boy is found dead, and her missing husband.  Garcia rakes our sympathies through Rebecca’s worry, her distress, and her unraveling. We carry her grief and are left feeling the sadness of her inner thoughts and hindsight.  Memories haunt her as she forces herself to get up every day. Hope turns to despair. The book annihilated my senses in demonstrating what her darkest days felt like. 

The story is told between real time and backstory, reconstructing the last day Rebecca saw her family.  We’re treated to a little more insight each time Garcia returns us to that fateful day. I learned a lot about who the characters were and how they lived their lives with the author dropping me right into the action.

The antagonist, James Porter, is mean.  He’s never known respect, regret, or remorse.  He kills because he can. I was caught off-guard a number of times at the depths of his malice.

This suspenseful book shows a mother’s anguish and determination to see justice.  We watch Rebecca dip into insanity. Will she tire of Detective Barnes’ inability to find her husband and take matters into her own hands?

Without giving any of the good stuff away, I’ll say that the distraught protagonist does a thing once – Oh my!, then twice – She did it AGAIN?  The third time—it didn’t grab me as much. Maybe twice was enough.

This book was hard to put down.  Every chapter hooked me and kept me on the edge of my seat bursting with Oh no she didn’t!  Garcia’s novel ended in a way that left me thinking about what must have happened while keeping a definitive conclusion at bay.  It does not, however, rob us of a masterful story.

This is a novel I would read and reread and recommend to others.  Fans of vigilante and desperado revenge will delight in this horror story.

4.5/5 stars

‘Come Join The Murder’ is available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Rogue Nights

Disclosure:

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: Rogue Nights
Author: Lachelle Redd
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: October 22, 2016

Synopsis: Thomas Guerny is set to retire from the Jacksonville Police Department. He leaves a legacy of upstanding duty, honor, and excellence for his sons to follow. Ridge and Marcus are prime candidates from the academy and looking to make a name for themselves. Their first case, a stream of gruesome, bloody murders, threatens to destroy the city and a secret treaty. The Guerny family’s involvement in the treaty is threatened with exposure as Ridge tries to find the rogue that’s involved. With his brother’s jealousy getting out of hand, Ridge teams up with Nina from the special forensics unit. She understands his dilemma, and with her own secrets to garner, the two take on the case of the rogue and fight to save the city.

 

A society of werewolves lives in peace and secrecy among the normal humans in Jacksonville, Florida… until one of them breaks free from their den and goes rogue, terrorizing the city and eluding police and the secret task force assigned to the case.

Lead detective Thomas Guerny is retiring and has entrusted the case to his sons, recent graduates of the police academy. The emergence of the murderous wolf brings the Guerny family’s forbidden past to light, pitting brother against brother.

A town is ravished. Bodies are mutilated. Is the rogue the bartender? The reporter? One of the Guerny’s? No one is above suspicion. No one is immune to an attack.

Redd places us in sunny Florida with Detective Guerny leaving the force and his policemen sons, Marcus and Ridge, eager to grab the reins and take on their first case. We’re led on a clever whodunnit mystery and introduced to the police force, a maid, the staff at a strip club, reporters. The rogue could be any of them.

I found Redd’s characterizations of wolves credible. Descriptions of slaughters were horrendous and exciting! So many characters had motive and opportunity, but Redd kept us guessing and just when I thought I knew who the rogue might me, another possibility came into the story.

Redd’s enthusiasm was contagious and I wanted to learn more about the wolves like how was the appearance of a werewolf (before they turned into a werewolf) distinguished from a normal human? The story reads as if everyone looks human, but wouldn’t there be something different? It’s unclear exactly how one becomes a wolf. Rituals are mentioned, but not explained in detail. I wonder what elder wolves look like. We’re told that not all females can procreate – what determines if they can? I wanted some background on how the times of modern wolves’ forefathers was “nothing like today” as declared in an early chapter.

I was slightly confused with the usage of so many different terms (beast-monster-being-demon-lycan-lycanthrope-vamp) when a consistent “wolf” would have sufficed.

There were character name inconsistencies mid-book when Marcus was suddenly referred to as “Mark,” Tulane became “Tully,” and last names started to be used instead of the first names I became accustomed to.

I believe this story can be shortened a great deal. One way is to remove the telling-after-showing that Redd uses frequently. For example, after a character’s torn flesh exposes muscle and bone, readers don’t need told that she died in a painful and vile manner.

More showing instead of telling was needed in many instances when characters “became aware that something was wrong” or were “observing the surroundings.”  It would have been fabulous if I were made more uncomfortable by being able to see the facial expressions or hear the racing heartbeats.

There’s a scene where someone is looking for a key card and in the next paragraph, they’re gaining access with it. Where was it found? Was a desk broken into? I feel like several opportunities were missed in the story to lay on the pressure and keep readers in suspense.

The strength in the dialogue wasn’t always there and conversations became shallow at times. The writing bounced between the usage of slang and word shortcuts and ramrod straight grammatical correctness.

There were several scenes that I wanted to slow down. One in particular involved a man who just witnessed a murder. The police took his statement and moved on. No consolation, no soothing words. I believe that even a hardened police veteran would have made some attempt to comfort the man, but we saw none of that as Redd rushed us through the scene.

Rushing the scene happened a few times. A character saw his decapitated mother and gunned-down father, but went on with his conversation without any reaction. A bar patron grabbed and threatened a female bartender without anyone jumping in or taking notice.

There were repetitious words within the same sentences, but the main overuse was with the word “dark.” A word search showed some form of the word was used on one hundred pages of the book. Not that every instance of it needs lopped off, but replacements ought to be substituted for the majority of them.

Along those same lines, spellcheck cannot replace good old-fashioned proofreading. In Rogue Nights, it would have helped with correct comma placement and choosing between homonyms.  Words wouldn’t have been missed as in “the demon knew where lived” and a community would have been both human and inhuman, not “human and human.”

I like that Redd explains how werewolves can sense another’s blood flow and how it excites them as much as the full moon. This book will appeal to fans of werewolf and vampire horror.

We have a clear indication of how alcohol affects them throughout the story, but about two thirds of the way through, drugs show up a couple times. It felt like they were interjected without enough confidence that the alcohol alone portrayed what the author meant to convey.

There were too many times where my attention was drawn more to the mistakes in the writing than to the story. I give Rogue Nights 3 stars for plot, structure, maintaining conflict, and creating an ending that begs for a sequel.

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Goodbye Butterfly

Disclosure:

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: Goodbye Butterfly
Author: Anna Alicia Knifton
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: 1st May, 2017

Synopsis:

Faced with a horrifying personal disaster, and plagued by hundred year old Witches, could an ancient Demon be to blame? Or are the events too bizarre to be believed? A story of horror and heartache and the fight against both.

“I’m falling… wind rushed past my ears like the roar of madness…”  Great start!

Goodbye Butterfly is the tale of a legendary demoness named Lamashtu who thrived on the demise of children. Her brother managed to stop her devious behavior and entomb her in the Underworld. Centuries later, failed attempts are made to resurrect her.

Now, a deal is struck – and it requires a female bloodline descendant of Lamashtu to bring the villain forth. The innocent victim is revealed, and our protagonist must find a way to save the young girl.

The story is in present tense, which enhanced the suspense. Mysterious dream and nightmare sequences are interspersed, and consistently end with a hook, but the action didn’t follow through. By Chapter 14, the dreams still hadn’t moved the story along.

Knifton’s painted a clear and realistic picture. The main character, who I’ll refer to as “MC” because her name is never given, was believable and relatable. Convincing dialogue demonstrated MC’s insecurities and fears throughout the book.

I couldn’t tell what time frame was covered. It felt like months, but years are mentioned toward the end. Occasionally, the dream interjections seemed out of place, which I found confusing in regard to “real” time. 

MC’s BFF dies in Chapter 10. She was alive in 9, and then she was dead.  No wait – she’s alive again. Never mind, she’s—dead?  I’m all about ghosts and spirits making themselves known, but the separate realms needed more clarification to follow MC’s interactions in them.

MC was tired and felt like she was being watched—all the way up to Chapter 11. It became dull to continuously read how she needed a nap.

On a technical note, italics were overused. They could have served to clarify live action from the dreams. Instead, they were used sporadically and inconsistently. That forced me to re-read in order to keep on track with the action. It lessened the urgency and slowed the pace.

For me, ellipses, metaphors and adverbs were used in excess. Too many repetitive phrases described hairs standing up on the back of necks, and characters looking like they’d seen a ghost.

The hint of a budding relationship involving MC was given, but never came to fruition and by the end, only served to add a pinch of Hallmark to a parent-babysitter bond. The opportunity was there to spice that up and make the situation more significant to the story.

Two characters (who at first were barely mentioned) resurged as significant players in the end and that felt detached. I re-read the story looking for details connecting the characters to the final action, but there weren’t any. I would’ve loved to see more to keep their purpose from falling flat.  

Incidentally, the significance of the title, Goodbye Butterfly, escaped me.

As currently written, the plot is summed up like a stand-alone short story in the last four chapters. I believe that powerful final scene deserves more writing! Knifton rushed through it and the impact is lost.

Goodbye Butterfly has the potential to be a well thought out tale of ancestral demonology. With some critique and grammatical fundamentals attended to, this story about a sleeping antagonist who lies in wait to be set free and reemerge into the modern world will appeal to lovers of horror. 

2.5 stars, not quite a 3 because of the number of basic writing and grammar edits that need made. 

Available on Amazon.