Epeolatry Book Review: Old Hollow

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Title: Old Hollow
Author: Ambrose Stolliker
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Radiant Crown Publishing
Release Date: 27 February 2018
Synopsis: “Come Forth, O Dark Ones, and Avail Thee of Our Blood.”
Spring, 1865. The Southern armies are close to defeat. Union Cavalry Commander Philip Sheridan has loosed his scouts into the Virginia countryside in search of an opportunity to intercept and destroy General Robert E. Lee’s Rebel army and bring the war to an end.
One such scout is Captain Benjamin Lawson, a man haunted by the scenes of senseless slaughter he has endured from Antietam to Gettysburg. On a dark, rainy night, Lawson’s party of scouts stumbles upon a large group of Rebel cavalry. All Hell breaks loose. Only Lawson, Sergeant Jordy Lightfoot and Corporal Emil Boyd manage to escape into a thick forest.
There, Lawson discovers the young corporal has been gravely wounded. Determined not to lose another man under his command, Lawson heads for a small town called Old Hollow in the hopes of finding a doctor who can help the dying boy. What he finds there is far more terrifying than anything he’s witnessed on the battlefield. Soon, he and his men are in a fight for their lives against a twisted preacher who has struck a diabolical covenant with an ancient, unspeakable evil.

Set off just a few feet from the tree was an upside-down cross. Its light brown wood stained…

In Ambrose Stolliker’s novella, ‘Old Hollow’, we are deep in the dying days of the American Civil War, (Spring 1865), in Virginia, in the company of a small Union scouting party comprising- our haunted, tortured hero Capt. Ben Lawson, his trusty, loyal, rough neck Sgt Jordy Lightfoot and the plot’s catalyst, the injured young Corporal Emil Boyd- whose plight takes Lawson to the town of Old Hollow where the real trouble begins.

The men’s characters and histories are well evoked with salty dialogue and references to the terrible battles they’ve fought in. If you are a history fan with an interest in the Civil War, then this novella will provide an added dimension to your reading. However, it is not necessary, for a reader can enjoy it as a horror, supernatural tale of dark forces at work.

The tension builds slowly, with the soldiers’ initial reservations about the intactness of the town of Old Hollow, despite a war raging close by and a disturbing encounter with a mother and teenage daughter, the violent Tessa, which warns us that all is not well in this home. Why is the Doctor so nervous? Who is the Preacher who controls the town with a will of iron? Or does he have help from other darker forces? The answers lie in the massive, gnarly tree with the dark hole at its centre from which erupts – abominations.

There is a price to be paid, and sacrifices to be made, not everyone who arrived in Old Hollow is leaving alive.

This is a fast, entertaining, creepy read, rich in detail, which resonates with the old legends of hidden towns which survived by luring in travelers to their deaths.

My only caveat is I would have liked more development of the characters, the plot and the history of the tree. A longer novella perhaps? This tale has the legs for it.

You can buy Old Hollow on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: Thylacines

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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: Thylacines
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Severed Press
Release Date: 8 January 2018
Synopsis: The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was hunted to extinction some eighty years ago. Now, Professor Rosie Giuliani and her staff at The Resurrection Lab have done the impossible: created a living, breathing litter from a preserved specimen. Yet Rosie can’t share this scientific breakthrough with the world. The cloned animals are more like monsters than thylacines. By chance, a small band of activists hears about the caged litter, and their decision to free the tigers will unleash a deadly havoc upon the campus of Fraser University.

“Drying blood masked the tiger’s face, right up to its ears, as if the tiger had dunked its head into a bucket of gore.”

This bio-horror novella (122 pages) by Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, is a fast, pacy, adrenaline fuelled read which you can gobble up in a sitting or two. The author has clearly done her research into Thylacines aka Tasmanian Tigers or if you want to be cosier, you could call them Tassie Tigers and she deftly weaves this information into the narrative without making it a lecture. The striking cover gives you an idea of what Sheldon has in mind.
An older female scientist, (a well written character) has succeeded in bringing a litter of Thylacines back from extinction. This would give most people pause but not this crew. Whilst the animals are locked up in the lab they can’t do much damage. But (ironically) it is a trio of animal rights’ activists who by deciding to free T1-T6, end up being the first course on the menu. For these newly born Thylacines have significant differences to their ancestors. They are faster, fiercer, more intelligent, larger and with a taste for human flesh.
The action unfolds, contained within the university’s campus- as body parts fly and there are several tense scenes where the Thylacines are cornered and fight back. Each chapter ends on a cliff hanger in fact. Another strong female character leads the tiger chase, a local cop, pulling overtime, Janine and her trained police dog, Zeus. I was rooting for Zeus all the way. Go Zeus! An engaging and convincing partnership.
My only disappointment is that it’s a novella not a novel and the ending came really fast. I would have liked a longer played out denouement. Maybe there is a sequel in the offing?
If you liked Jurassic Park or any other novels in that vein, you’ll go for this novella. It’s the equivalent of a B movie on steroids. Have fun.

Thylacines can be found on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology

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Title: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology
Editor: Eric S. Brown
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing LLC.
Release Date: 27 April 2018
Synopsis: C.H.U.D. is a genre defying, cult classic film featuring monsters living in the sewers below New York. The stories in this anthology expand the world created by the film and add depth to the C.H.U.D. universe like never before. From stories of apocalyptic horror and all out monster action, to tales of underground parties interrupted by uninvited guests and evening strolls that end in death, this anthology will leave you both smiling and breathless.
Relive the fear as these original stories take you beyond the movie to events that occurred before, during, and after the scenes we remember so well.
Includes C.H.U.D. related stories by Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, JG Faherty, Mort Castle, Michael H. Hanson, Martin Powell, Ben Fisher, Jason White, Chad Lutzke, Ross Baxter, Philip C Perron, David Bernstein, Nick Cato, Alex Laybourne, Christopher Fulbright, Angeline Hawkes, David Robbins, Robert Waters, Greg Mitchell, Ryan C. Thomas, and Eugene Johnson.
With an introduction by David Drake. Compiled by Eric S. Brown.
C.H.U.D. Lives! also features in-depth interviews with Andrew Bonime (producer) and Parnell Hall (screenwriter), as well as never before seen behind-the-scenes photos from the classic 80s horror film.

I can’t sleep. Visions of Eliot gleefully swaying his arms against a glowing backdrop haunt my dreams. I woke to his voice, talking in hushed, urgent whispers with the others.

They are beings that dwell beneath.
They are beasts that feast on flesh.
They are creatures not of this earth, and yet, they are.
They are…C.H.U.D.

Paying homage to the 1984 horror cult classic of the (relatively) same name, C.H.U.D. Lives is a collection of short horror stories based in a world plagued with NYC sewer monsters known only as Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (or the much catchier and titular C.H.U.D.). Now, this is a rather unique take on the horror anthology, having several stories from varying perspectives centred around one piece of media, especially one different than its source material. Eric S. Brown has compiled quite the gallery of fan-based world-building, expanding a quick concept done in two hours to something that transcends its cinematic boundaries. Each story is not held back by the old medium, and translates well to the page, the variety of stories allowing for a steady pace that offers new surprises with each new tale told.
The book surrounds itself with additional content, interviews with crucial players in C.H.U.D.’s origin, providing some extra background into how the film eventually became the revered product it is today. It acts as a kind gesture towards fans, and an way to intrigue newcomers as to what made the film so endearing to its creators.
The film itself totes underlying themes of political corruption and environmental awareness that allows for more dimensions to appear more than a standard B horror picture, to which the writers take full advantage. Some tend to discuss the sheer horror of encountering such ravenous and ruthless monsters, while others lament the means of their very existence, commenting on the true source of the city’s calamity, the root of these beasts’ creation. This exploration of monster flick and green-initiative never feeling mutually exclusive to one another.
The primary location does well to help centre these tales. NYC being a hub of multiculturalism aids itself to the abundancy of perspectives and acts as an excellent backdrop to both pieces, leading to interesting locales both above and below ground. Authors paint detailed subterranean landscapes and haunting urban jungles, danger and safehouse entwined in a maze of concrete and filth.
Now as someone who had not personally seen the film beforehand, I never felt disengaged or excluded from the content I was reading. While some film characters are mentioned or even make heavy appearances in some stories, none lose the reader and have them question if they had missed integral information. This is where each author excels, investing readers in their own self-contained weave allowing for easy duck-in/duck-out reading sessions. Sharing a basic group of themes allows for a sense of coherency between tales, as if all the stories are happening in the same world and really makes C.H.U.D. Lives feel less like an anthology and more like a unified novel.
There should be something here for every horror reader. Featuring deliciously brutal descriptions of death and gore, ripe with vivid dismembering, and those with a character-oriented approach for more of an emotionally charged journey. This working in tandem with the surface-level and sub-textual themes the film promotes, lends itself to a more three-dimensional experience to keep everything fresh.
From Samsa’s Party, a very personable tale of a man’s slow descent into the throes of madness to That’s Entertainment! providing a (albeit on-the-nose) commentary on the rocky relationship between traumatic events and modern media.
However, it is important to note that with such a formidable selection of stories included, the subjectivity of quality has the hazard of being an issue for some readers, certain tales standing far higher above the others.
As ambitious and extensive as its catalogue is, many tales can feel repetitious and appear a retread of something previously written, be it similar scenarios or character backgrounds without too much iteration to help separate them. The overabundance of the homeless, death by evisceration, and the blatant mention of toxic waste (hinthint) may have worked in the timeframe of a film, but when coming from several different voices in a decently sized book, it can become rather grating. This along with both the film and the book proudly displaying its main attraction: C.H.U.D. prominently in both title and story, plots can get relatively predictable once readers are a good portion of the way through. The authors themselves also making sure readers know what the titular acronym means.
And this is ultimately where it fell short for me. While I did enjoy my time reading, I couldn’t help but want more from these stories, sensing an unearthed potential. With each story being restricted by length, no story truly had an established enough character to satisfyingly wrap, leaving many stories feeling hollow and without much life, evidently so in the ones that seek a more introspective experience.
I can see where C.H.U.D. Lives will entertain and scare, but for me it left me with something a little more to be desired.
If the beasties don’t scare you, or perhaps if they do, C.H.U.D. Lives is an interesting read for both fans and strangers alike. Unless they happen to reside in the Big Apple.

C.H.U.D. Lives can be found at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Lxk900.

Epeolatry Book Review: Arithmophia

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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: Arithmophobia
Author: Ruschelle Dillon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Mystery and Horror, LLC
Release Date: 15 December 2017
Synopsis: Arithmophobia is a collection of short stories that leads you on a journey to consider the sometimes haunting, sometimes humorous impact of numbers. Whether it be the value we assign to our lot in life, a date on a calendar, or the numerical magic that mother-nature can offer, Arithmophobia’s nine stories examine the magic and mystery that begins at the intersection of life and a single digit.
Adam is a young preacher, with a loving wife and a child on the way. His family, his congregation, and his affinity for one particular science fiction movie are enough to keep him happy with his life. But when a new member of that congregation begins to haunt him at seemingly the worst possible moments, he begins to question the weight of his life’s responsibilities. Can he handle being “the one” – the one so many look to in times of need?
Detective Oswald Quinn is not so happy with life. His marriage has not turned out quite as happy as Adam’s, but his responsibilities have become just as heavy. The latest of these burdens have led him to the investigation of a serial killer who seems to seek perfection in the number 3.
Meanwhile, Scott seems completely unburdened by responsibility, save for his endless pursuit for a full glass at the bar. The drinks should be flowing freely on May 5, or “Cinco de Mayo”. But on this date, Scott discovers a failure much more haunting than an unquenchable thirst.

Mesmerized by the startling grand entrance of the wee man from the bowels of the pyramid, Michael could only stare.

This is a quirky, unusual collection by Ruschelle Dillon, of nine horror short stories, with each story inspired by and written around the single digit numbers 1-9. As John A. Monaco writes in his Foreword ‘Numbers bring mystery. Superstition. Fear.’

It is an interesting concept; the title by the way means ‘the fear of numbers’- which many of the fictional protagonists in these 9 stories come to feel in various excruciating ways. Fear, horror, sci-fi, black humour, all blend together in Dillon’s nonet -with references to The Matrix in the first story, hints of ‘Alien’ in another tale and reminders of ‘The Stepford Wives’ (for this reader) in ‘It Takes Two’ but with a blackly humorous twist.

That is key in these stories, you, the reader can expect the unexpected. Just as you think you’ve got the ending sussed, Ruschelle Dillon veers off at a bizarre angle and takes us down weirder, darker byways. It’s a roller-coaster of a ride for the reader guided by a writer with a most distinctive voice.

Personal favourites – ‘It Takes Two’ with an ending you won’t guess; ‘These Six Walls’ – a future world filled with ‘Hive Rises’ and their inhabitants and ‘A Perfect Eight’, where Octopussies rule and sisterly love mutates.

Dip a toe in Dillon’s smart, bloody, terrible waters.

You can pick up a copy of Arithmophobia on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2uHTSCA.

Epeolatry Book Review: Stories Of High Strangeness

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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: Stories of High Strangeness
By: Marc Shapiro
Genre: Paranormal/Horror
Publisher: Copypasta Publishing
Synopsis: A zombie goes looking for something more important than his next meal. A one hit wonder faces certain death or worse because he refuses to play ‘Free Bird’. An X rated ghost story plays out on the floor of a porno film dubbing stage. A low-level drug dealer comes up with the perfect plan to wipe out the competition. A stud in a post- Apocalyptic world has one small problem.
What is it that I do? I’ll take the fifth on that one. Suffice it to say my stories are weird, bizarre and occasionally unclassifiable. If you’re brave enough, this is the ticket to ride the dark skies of Stories Of High Strangeness.
There’s some squishy stuff, some Merchant Ivory stuff, some extreme, some subtle. If there’s a master plan it’s to mix pathos, hope, melancholy, humor and real characters into a stew of shadows, light, carnage and feelings of ‘What the fuck!’.
The Gods I bow down to? Rod Serling, Charles Bukowski, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I live and die by the vibe of Black Sabbath, Dio, the soundtracks from The Exorcist and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the more manic strains of 60’s psychedelia.

He stepped up and back into the frozen tableau. One arm reached out toward Ann. She was transfixed, a look of fear, confusion, and that deadliest of emotions, curiosity, playing out across her face. She looked at Bob, whose own face offered no answer. Her jeans once again fell to her ankles. She kicked them away. Ann took a hesitant step forward, then another. A third brought her to the Ninja’s outstretched hand. She looked at Bob.
There was nothing to keep her in this world.

Short story collections provide an excellent means of getting a solid feel for an author’s style in a way that doesn’t always happen when reading a novel.

Stories of High Strangeness by Marc Shapiro indeed offers a thorough sampling of Shapiro’s style and body of work. With many stories falling under the flash fiction umbrella, the collection is a cornucopia of both horror and weird fiction. If one story fails to appeal, another, quite-different tale awaits.

The spectrum is bloody and broad: from a father-son machete-wielding duo to a south-of-the-border madman collecting heads.

The stories pull few punches in terms of gratifying sex and gore, and—in that vein—Shapiro also seems to offer up a good variety of tales without a sense of reservation or repetition. That is: his heart is clearly in the work no matter what else.

However, the stories tend to be telly, leaving little room for inference. Likewise, most are rife with narrative summary where perhaps more description, action, and dialog would have done the excellent plots a higher service. The language is accessible, with several clever turns of phrase, but can bog down a bit in cliché, as well.

A few errors pepper the collection, though most cosmetic and forgivable.

Reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow, Stories of High Strangeness’ appeal lay largely in the plots and ideas Shapiro creates, if lacking somewhat in grace.

You can pick up a copy of Stories of High Strangeness on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: Scouse Gothic

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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: Scouse Gothic
Author: Ian McKinney
Genre: Gothic
Publisher: YouCaxton Publications
Release Date: September 1 2015
Synopsis: Melville wakes with a pounding headache – there had been too many hangovers recently, but this one felt different. What had he been drinking last night? Then he remembered – it was blood. Enter the bizarre world of Scouse Gothic where a reluctant vampire mourns a lost love and his past lives, where a retired ‘hit man’ plans one more killing and dreams of food, and a mother sets out to avenge her son’s murder, and, meanwhile, a grieving husband is visited by an angry angel. Set in present day Liverpool, vampires and mortals co-exist, unaware of each others’ secrets and that their past and present are inextricably linked. But as their lives converge, who will be expected to atone for past sins?

“He was a professional as much as any surgeon, only he used a gun with a silencer rather than a scalpel…”

A vampire who pays rent, a hitman antique salesmen, a PhD student with a talking pigeon. Just your average day in Liverpool.

Whatever readers may take away from reading Scouse Gothic, one cannot deny it’s quite an ambitious project. A collective of perspectives shifting genre and tone, introducing character upon character, each at the forefront of their own fresh narrative, simultaneously weaving towards a collaborative, single stream story, it seems quite a feat.

McKinney tackles such genre blending with an established confidence right from the get-go, following the tale of Melville, a vampire who’s seen the world change around him, yet he feels as though he’s standing still. An ancient being in a modern world, he adjusts as best he can, but always has grim reminders of memories and souls of those lost. This is until, he meets someone, someone who might relate to him more than he might expect.

This then bleeds into other people’s lives, each segment of this tale a fresh perspective from someone new, always keeping readers guessing as to who the next person could be and where they fit in this odd alternate take on Liverpool. Supernatural or natural? Mortal or immortal? Scouse Gothic has a very diverse cast of characters in terms of their roles and the events their own stories revolve around. This of course is no easy job.

With as many stories happening at once and with such a short length, Scouse Gothic becomes very selective with the level of detail in which it tells its tales. Some stories have fully fleshed out narratives with their own miniature climaxes and conclusions, while others tend only to serve as introductions to the characters as if to establish them, so they can be brought up again once any character convergence occurs. These meager introductions are often fraught with expository dialogue in an attempt to provide depth and emotional weight to these protagonists, but instead come off as rather superficial additions to the overall world McKinney creates. Some fail to truly have a deeply rooted conflict and are instead peppered with bits of tension and mystery, only serving as brief setup for a rather formulaic and cluttered climax.

McKinney has set up a rather daunting task and for the vast majority of the book, establishes characters with intrigue. The genre hopping (while occasionally jarring) keeps a rather steady pace and refreshing outlook during the book’s brief stay. It’s only until that fated convergence of characters where the pace becomes an issue. With so many characters to balance in only so many pages, the end does appear rather rushed in terms of how it chooses to close everyone’s story.

This is not the end, however, as McKinney has written two more entries to this anthological series to continue these narratives and lead them down several other pathways. Don’t let the lack of conventional horror or the multiple storylines concern you, McKinney’s take on monsters in a modern world is a rather interesting one, choosing to explore characters and their dynamics rather than the age-old monster tale, Scouse Gothic can offer many readers a fresh perspective (or perspectives) on the modern monster, both human and otherwise.

 

You can pick up a copy of Scouse Gothic on Amazon.

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