Author: Kai Miro

Epeolatry Book Review: Doll Crimes

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Title: Doll Crimes
Author: Karen Runge
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 8th November, 2019

Synopsis: ‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

 

Runge has created a timely portrayal of relentless misery. It’s a beautiful story about a girl of unknown age traveling with her mother…until it isn’t. Nail biting, you keep holding on, waiting for it and when it happens, you wish you’d never looked. 

With the current politics of the MeToo movement and the ugly reality of human *trafficking in mind, Runge has given voice to a young girl, woman, or both. This voice is innocent and wise beyond childhood. Runge drops hints of realistic horror along the way: ominous photographs, bruising on her arms and legs, physical and spiritual pain, and the possible tutelage of various “Uncles” and one beloved “Aunt.” Of course, there is also “Susie” a man who inhabits a large portion of the novel. At first as a friend, and later in more sinister circumstances.

It is difficult to review this haunting novel without giving away the story. I want to tell it, to spread the story and gain an audience. Runge is speaking for a generation of women who remembered being riot girls and “violets” and obviously the girls and women currently facing today’s headlines. We either know the girl in this novel, or we are her in some sense. 

In one memorable scene, the narrator tosses her doll, Samelsa, down a well. (Is “Samelsa” a deliberate choice for childish words: “same as I is”?). The narrator is never given a name beyond Baby, Doll, Babe, Kid. One cannot help but compare the doll Samelsa to the child woman “Baby, Doll.”

 

“I guess she must have done something wrong,” Mom says, “for you to toss her away like that.”  

What crimes could a doll commit?”

 

This scene is set early in the book, easily reflecting the tossing away of human life, particularly vulnerable women and children. The image of a doll lying at the bottom of a well sticks with you. The thrown away doll, or a body broken. The deep well, beyond all help and hope. And a mother implying that one earns being thrown away, that one has performed or permitted some crime. 

This same mother acts like a sister, a friend and eventually, a monster. Their bond is strong. The protagonist refers to her mother with love and trust. And somehow, despite the evil that is revealed, it is smaller than the one that ends the novel. Her mother has entrapped her in a lifestyle, but there is a freedom in it. Not of choice necessarily but of a type of love and a vagabond gypsy life. Yes, her mother is a monster, but it is a crime of necessity. 

The moral issues that her mother perpetuates belong to the photographs that she sells and the endless hope for a home. She never intends to stop photographing her daughter or to find a real home. In this sense she is truly corrupt: she has harmed a child twofold. What is real? Illusions created for strangers or the dreams of her daughter? The narrator doesn’t know but the reader does. 

What the protagonist does know is rage. The more done to her, the more she reacts violently in her mind with her hallucinatory third eye. Rage builds, and it is only a matter of time before it bleeds out. This is all the more true as the novel progresses. At first there is the hesitant childlike belief coloring outside the lines. Then, the prose edges into reality as the narrator perceives more for herself.

I have to admit that the ending stunned me. I wanted something easy and feel good after the horror. Runge doesn’t back down. She goes for the heart. 

I give a rating of 5 stars because I can’t get the book out of my head. 

*“In 2018, over half (51.6%) of the criminal human trafficking cases active in the US were sex trafficking cases involving only children. It’s estimated that internationally there are between 20 million and 40 million people in modern slavery today. Assessing the full scope of human trafficking is difficult because so cases so often go undetected, something the United Nations refers to as “the hidden figure of crime.” (This quote and more about human trafficking can be found at: http:// www.  do something . Org/ us /facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking.)

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: Midnight in the Graveyard

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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 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…

It’s easy to fall into any of these stories, the writing is that good. The imagery driven stories overall have amazing reader/writing connectivity. A few of the stories didn’t hold my interest as much as the others, but there’s something for everyone in this collection. Some pass for urban legends, others are straight up creepy and just right for me, deliciously gory ones. There’s fan favorites: Robert McCammon, Elizabeth Massie, and Tom Monteleone, other established writers, and a few newbies. This Anthology of ghost stories shows a lot of promise for a newer publishing company. 

My favorite stories:

“Dog Days” by Kenneth W. Cain is a collection of letters, scratches, and texts depicting ferocious dogs. I don’t want to give the story away, but it really spoke to me. I want others to love it just as much as I did. I have to admit that I have 3 large dogs. I also take guilty pleasure in watching fictious dogs attack people on tv and in movies. Seriously. I know, it’s twisted…but yeah dogs! Of course my own darlings would never…

 

“That bastard got in and next thing I know, I’m on the floor grappling for my life. No way I can shake that image from my thoughts now. Every time I close my eyes, I see it standing over me, it’s jaws snapping again and again. It’s bloodshot eyes squinted. Lips drawn back in a snarl. Foam and spit and blood dripping onto my face.”

 

And:

 

“November 29th, 2009 (found September 4th, 2018 carved into the foyer closet wall) Fucking dogs! Goddamned dogs! Kill. Kill. Kill. Dogs suck. Do”

 

“Russian Dollhouse” by Jason Parent depicts a haunted house with a few creepy surprises ala Saw. Each horrific room fits into the next gory little room like the Russian dolls of the title. 

 

“Cemetery Man” by John Everson is a darkly funny story despite its gory little dip into necrophilia. It’s reminiscent of Italian Giallo films. Dario Argentio is a personal favorite. 

 

“Kendra had her lips on the pale dark lips of the corpse. And as I realized this, I saw her arms reach around his shriveled back and pull his crypt-cold skin close to hers.

The dead guy made a sound like gravel in a grinder, and suddenly he stood up, and yanked Kendra with him. She squealed with surprise but didn’t escape his grasp as he pulled her into the coffin he’d vacated.”

 

While I’m still on a movies theme, “Ghost Blood” by Kelli Owen takes place at a Drive-In Theatre. The story itself reflects awesome grindhouse sensibility. Some people see ghosts, but Neil sees blood. Old blood, new blood, blood everywhere. 

 

“Last Call at the Sudden Death Saloon” by Allen Leverone is seriously creepy. It wins my heart with a Sanitarium and the dreaded skinning of people (perhaps alive, one can only hope). 

 

“Within a hundred yards of starting his walk he could swear he began to hear the gibbering of tortured spirits. They cackled and threatened, not in any understandable language but on a more elemental level.

Seth had read once that the producers of the movie, The Exorcist, had inserted audio of pigs being slaughtered ino the sound track at a volume too low to be consciously perceived but loud enough to cause unreasoning terror in the moviegoer’s brain. This felt like the same thing.”

 

“The Ring of Truth” by Tom Monteleone is wonderfully grisly work. The “ring” of the story holds the ears of victims during a time of war. It’s reminiscent of when the character Daryl Dixon goes native during an episode of “The Walking Dead.” Also, as one character is relating his experiences during the war, the ears seem to represent the telling of stories and who might be listening. 

 

The quote in the beginning of “Portrait” by Kealan Patrick Burke sums up the story beautifully.

 

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.” Georgia O’Keefe.

 

The reason I say this is because this story feels like a painting. One done by Andrew Wyeth with its muted grey and bloody red landscapes of language—it’s a lullaby for death and mourning and rebirth. I really loved this story. I resisted at first because it was so quiet, and I’d grown use to the louder pieces of this Anthology. I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s haunting. 

 

“One look at her face and the girl knew why.

She was blue, her eyes the color of rubies. Her tongue was black and poking from the side of her colorless lips as if she had died making a joke. There were odd marks on her neck, like snakes made of ash. The girl stood frozen upon the stair until her father looked up and roared at her to go to her room. His eyes were red too. She could tell he’d been crying. This scared her more than anything, more that the sight of her lifeless mother being hauled like a bag of coal out of the basement, so she had done as he’d demanded and retreated to her room.”

 

It’s a perfect ending to Midnight in the Graveyard

 

Usually Anthologies are a mixed bag of okay, good, great, outstanding. That didn’t happen here. This Anthology shows off writers who give a damn. Not all the stories worked for me personally, but the ones that did really moved me. I looked over the Amazon reviews and I noticed a lot of love being given to the other stories I didn’t highlight. This goes to show that there’s something for everyone here.

I’m giving Midnight in the Graveyard 5 stars.

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Bone Cutters

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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: The Bone Cutters
Author: Renee S. DeCamillis
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Release Date: 1st September, 2019

Synopsis: Dory wakes up in the padded room of a psychiatric hospital with no recollection of how she wound up there. She soon finds out she’s been Blued-Papered—involuntarily committed. When she is sent to the wrong counseling group, she discovers a whole new world of drug addicts she’d never known existed. When she learns that those grotesque scars they all have are from cutting into their own bodies, it makes her skin itch. Why do they do it?—They get high off bone dust.  They carve down to the bone, then chisel and scrape until they get that free drug. When they realize Dory’s never been “dusted”, she becomes their target. After all, dust from a “Freshie” is the most intense high, and pain free—for the carver. 

By the end of that first meeting Dory is running scared, afraid of being “dusted”, though the psych. hospital staff doesn’t believe a word she says.  She’s delusional—at least that’s what they tell her.  They end up sending her to that same counseling group every day, though Dory knows that all those junkie cutters want is what’s inside of her, and they won’t give up until they get what they’re after.

Like Girl Interrupted and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, The Bone Cutters is one woman’s dark and surreal experience with a madness that is not necessarily her own.

The Bone Cutters opens with an original concept: bone fragments used as drugs and junkies willing to steal for the high. The novella is more psychological/Grand Gogol than body horror/Croenbergian. Its action takes place in a mental asylum instead of the world at large; this smaller scale allows for an unreliable narrator, but it denies the horror of universal chaos. 

The protangionist, Dory “Dabbler”, is introduced to the “Dusters/Junkie Cutters” in group counseling. She’s placed there due to a suicide attempt and bringing harm to others. There she meets the “Dusters” or as she calls them “Junkie Cutters”:

“A skeletal-thin man speaks with passion of an insatiable hunger. His voice sounds strained, scraping and clawing its way out of his mouth, stumbling past his dry cracked lips. His eyes scream pain, empty and hollow, drained of what may have been behind those doors before.

With every syllable he utters, I can’t stop staring at his neck. With every bob of his Adam’s apple, I’m fascinated, mesmerized. With every bob of his Adams’ apple it slithers around the base of his neck. 

The scar.

The size of a mutant slug—fast and glistening—with a thickness frive times my thumb’s width.”

The rest of the Junkie Cutters are similarly scarred. It reminds of before and after pics of meth addicts—their pain, misery, and addiction worn plainly on the outside. Dory is “scarred” as well; she scratches constantly at her head as if to open her skull and release the pain therein. It certainly fascinates the Junkie Cutters. That, and the fact that she’s a “freshie”, essentially a virgin to dust. If drawing a line towards drug addiction, addiction effects more than the addict. 

DeCamillis is a musician, and it shows. There are several allusions to music and musicians. One might be Tommy, Dory’s friend; he reminds me of Tommy Lee from Motley Crue. Another allusion is made to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; the mental asylum and a “Nurse Hatchet” cause most of the problems. 

Throughout the novella, characters are given nicknames or aliases. I must wonder if DeCamillis is suggesting a mirroring effect—what is seen one way is perceived in another. For example, “Dusters” are also “Junkie Cutters.” One thinks of bone or flesh depending on the name. 

DeCamillis draws in the reader with an easy-going, open-faced writing style. She keeps the reader there with quick pacing. She means for you to read the novella in one sitting. Her concept of horrific addiction and ruin is creative and timely. Her narrator, Dory, is likeable if unreliable. However, her other characters are not drawn as well. The two self-harming Dusters come in at the tail end of the novella, proving to be friends. In my opinion, the story would have been fuller if these characters had been realized earlier in the novella. 

There are also problems with the suspension of disbelief. Dory spends a lot of time in a padded cell for no obvious reason. She also makes a habit of hiding, with the only real search for her at the end of the novella. 

This novella’s prose is trippy and hypnotic. It’s a fun ride, but I would have preferred her to go freaking wild and release an inner bloodbath. (Though the psychological approach is effective.) There is a lot of potential here, but DeCamillis doesn’t quite rise to it. DeCamillis is holding back and for that, I give her 3 stars. 

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.

Epeolatry Book Review: Hollow Heart

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: Hollow Heart
Author: Ben Eads
Genre: Dark Fantasy Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 29th November, 2019

Synopsis:  Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

Hollow Heart (158 pages, a Novella pub. Nov. 29, 2019) by Ben Eads is on the surface about a paraplegic ex-Marine and former alcoholic, Harold. Harold is fighting against an evil calling itself, The Architect. The only way Harold can defeat The Architect is to destroy the heart of the god that the Architect has created. If the Architect succeeds with his god, the whole world will be changed into hallucinatory horror: 

“It looked like a hundred atomic bombs had gone off and paused, containing imperfect, translucent spheres. As its impossible shape moved, singeing the ocean and world around it, the globes containing myraid versions of annihilation formed crude legs and arms. Its sound passed through Harold, shaking his ribs, rattling his teeth. Sea and earth were gobbled up as it lumbered into the ocean, as graceful as a car accident. Patches of sand that turned to glass reflected pieces of the abomination.”

On a deeper level the novella is about fathers failing their sons, and trying like hell to change. Main characters Harold and his son Dale interact with a supporting cast: love interest Mary, a strongly descriptive Terrell, dead Dalton, and throwaway Sheriff. For the first half of the novella, the story takes place in a Floridian trailer park where the characters seem to move in and out of the scene as if in a play. The action kicks in during the second half of the book.  

Hollow Heart has a dreamlike quality that works for it and against it. Confusion with character dialogue and some plot points mixes with an awesome villain and great monsters. While much of the action seems to take place off-page with Harold unconscious, there are some scenes of absolute truth, such as when Harold confronts his dead abusive father: 

“Harold cracked his neck as if preparing for a brawl and secretly hoping for one. ‘You left me when I was just a child. The only thing worse? After you bashed in mom’s face in, you…’ Harold looked at his shoes, massaged his temples. ‘You fucked up mom’s face for good, you asshole. You took the only thing in my life that made everything better: her smile. I saw the light go out of her eyes.’ Harold loaded a round in the chamber, pointed the barrel at his chest, ‘While she was down, you kicked her in the stomach. She had a fucking seizure.’

Harold’s trigger finger quivered.

‘I made up for it boy,’ Oliver said, crossing his arms. ‘Got on the wagon, paid for all of it, and your Mother forgave me. You didn’t even show up to her funeral because I paid for it. You only remember the bad times. Can’t say I blame you. Now is not the time to—‘ ”

Now for the nitty gritty: 

The prologue could have been part of the novella itself. 

There is confusion over which characters are speaking. 

A lot of action in the novella takes place off-scene, resulting in telling without showing. That issue could have been fixed by changing the character’s point of view. 

Also, confusing plot points with The Architect’s motivation which could have been addressed more. Harold seems secondary as a character. Things happen to him; he doesn’t make the action happen. Dale lacks substance and believability. 

On to the part that will delight the author and readers: 

The villain is pure gleeful delight. The monsters are very good due to hallucinatory description. In a pivotal scene, The Architect wakes up the god he’s created with his own special violin:

“A spine from a child appeared in his left hand, a bow in his right. Tiny ribs jutted from the sides, curved upward to secure nerves that quivered in anticipation of his touch. The Architect brought the bow across the nerves and began to play. A chorus of screams filled the room as if its owners were being burnt alive.”

The novella possesses strong dialogue and good prose. My favorite characters are Terrell the meth-head and dead Dalton. Their presence carries the book and lends it a wonderful “B” movie quality. Imagery within scenes and interaction between fathers and sons are my favorite parts of the novella. Eads gets a lot right with this second novel, but in my opinion, he still has some areas of his craft to hone.

3/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

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