Category: Reviews

Epeolatry Book Review: Whoops! I Woke the Dead by Joseph Rubas

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: Whoops! I Woke the Dead
Author: Joseph Rubas
Genre: Horror Comedy
Publisher: Nightmare Press
Release Date: 24th September, 2020

Synopsis: Alex Warner was just your average sixteen-year-old gal – wait, no she wasn’t. Alex Warner was the coolest person to ever live. She had a hot, dorky boyfriend, a nerdy little sister who was actually her cousin, and a book – a really gnarly old book made from human skin. But you see, that’s right up Alex’s alley, because not only is she completely awesome, with her job at Pissy’s Pizza, her volunteer work at the library, and her VSCO friend who gives everyone scrunchies, but she also loves Halloween. And this book is perfect for this year’s witch costume. Only…it’s not a costume book, and when she reads it aloud in the graveyard…

Whoops I Woke the Dead

…sorry.

Joseph Rubas’ Comedic Horror novella, WHOOPS: I WOKE THE DEAD, leads the reader through a fast-paced rollercoaster ride filled with emotional dips, comedic hills, and horrific twists all in the name of giving Halloween its due. When 16 year-old Alex uncovers a spellbook buried beneath junk in the Library’s basement, she refuses to recognize the evil within the human-skin covers, only to realize too late how horrific conjuring the perfect Halloween (and zombies!) can be to those she loves.

Rubas brought life to settings with descriptive prose, earnest wit to his characters in dialogue, and references to many classic horror tales to embrace the mood.

I enjoyed the read and look forward to reading more from this author. Five stars.

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones (original publisher)
Release Date: 1st January, 1818

Synopsis: Young scientist plays God and suffers the consequences in Shelley’s essential horror classic.

The strength of the horror genre is its timelessness. Often, we don’t merely experience a singular imagination, but rather a reimagining of some eternal dread that has existed in one form or another. Standing on the shoulders of monsters, and all that. Wolfmen, vampires, zombie hordes or rotting flesh yearning to be free; these don’t belong to any individual artist, but seems more the task of that artist to pluck the story from the low-hanging fruit of the horror continuum, where it bides its time, waiting to be used as story fodder.

That wasn’t the case with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. She wasn’t reimagining anything, she was creating from whole cloth… albeit with a pinch of religious mythology for flavoring. Nonetheless, this was the absolute source material, patient zero, for the entirety of the Frankenstein copyright-free public domain mythos. Before this book: no Frankenstein anywhere in the human imagination. After this book: Frankenstein had always existed.

The Signet Classics edition I read began with not one, but two forwards written by Mary Shelley, detailing the creation process. It came across as rather apocryphal, being the proverbial dark and stormy night when the four writers – Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori, and Mary Shelley herself – decided to have a contest.

“We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron, and his proposition was acceded to.

In the forward, she mentions “the experiments of Dr. Darwin” as her inspiration. I at first assumed she meant Charles Darwin, who would have been seven years old when Frankenstein was published. In fact, she was referring to his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who, as she recounts, had done experiments on vermicelli, in bringing non-living matter to life. At least, that had been her recollection. Turns out that she’d gotten it wrong. Vermicelli is pasta. Erasmus Darwin had been experimenting on vorticella, a microscopic organism found in rain water. She’d misheard it, and then immortalized the blunder in her 1831 forward.

But that wasn’t the only time the blunder was immortalized. In the Mel Brooks film, Young Frankenstein, we have this scene:

Student: Isn’t it true that Darwin preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case until, by some extraordinary means, it actually began to move with voluntary motion?

Dr. Frankenstein: Are you speaking of the worm or the spaghetti?

That is what is known as a deep cut, as esoteric joke as I’ve ever seen, and in a Mel Brooks film!

Overall, I was surprised by how different the novel is from any of its adaptations. For example, young Victor Frankenstein’s early interest in science is capped off by him witnessing a tree struck by lightning:

…and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. It was not splintered by the shock but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.

Aha! What a fine job at foreshadowing the power of lightning which eventually brought her monster to life, and how smart I am for picking up on that!

Except, that never happens. The process by which the monster is created is rather vague, involving lots of trips to the slaughterhouse. But lightning never again returns as a plot point.

Unless, I thought later, Shelley was foreshadowing… from the grave! Not merely foreshadowing a later scene in her own book – anyone can do that – but rather foreshadowing the Frankenstein mythology itself which would evolve over the course of the succeeding century, in which lightning does play a vital role!

Or it was just a non-sequitur.

It was interesting to me how decidedly unsuperstitious Victor Frankenstein is. He’s purely a man of science, giving no thought to any religious ramifications of his actions.

I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect on my fancy and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm.

By stating this, she sets up Victor’s humanism, and makes it clear that this is not, in fact, a ghost story at all, but rather a science fiction story… No mean feat as that’s a genre which heretofore did not exist.

The key surprise for me, however, was how incredibly eloquent Shelley’s monster was. I could scarcely imagine the square-browed, grunting behemoth ingrained in my cinematic unconscious completing a full sentence, much less giving an introspective monologue for four chapters, more than 40 consecutive pages, with such epiphanies as:

To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honor than can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation…

Later, as his station in life becomes apparent, the monster laments:

Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.

Any amusement derived from the discordance in the monster’s verboseness, however, fell away as the stage set for the final showdown between creator and creation. “We shall soon enter upon a journey,” the monster writes to the besieged Frankenstein, “where your sufferings will satisfy my everlasting hatred.”

It is a brutal ending, pushing the young scientist to the edge of sanity, and Shelley’s tone is successfully chilly. I felt for both, and was repulsed by both. As I moved into the climax, I realized that though the story is so iconic, I actually had no idea how the novel itself would end… and I leave that to you to discover for yourself as well.

5/5

Signet edition mentioned in the review is available from amazon.

The book can also be read free at Project Gutenberg

Epeolatry Book Review: Coffin Shadows by Glen Krisch & Mark Steensland

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: Coffin Shadows
Author: Glen Krisch and Mark Steensland
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 31st August, 2020

Synopsis: 12 YEARS AGO Janet Martlee’s infant son died under mysterious circumstances.Consumed with grief and anger, she ran away to start again…YESTERDAY A 12-year old boy with dead eyes appeared in her classroom,begging for help. But Janet doesn’t believe in ghosts…TODAY Her psychiatrist tells her she must return home to confronther past and uncover the mystery of what happened…Only some questions don’t want to be answered.And some answers hide in the shadows…In the COFFIN SHADOWS

I came across Mark Steensland earlier this year as co-author of Silver Shamrock’s, In the Scrape, which I reviewed for Horror Tree, and loved. So, when I saw his name attached to this novella, I grabbed it.

The heroine, junior school teacher Janet Martlee, has run away from her home town, her parents, ex-boyfriend, and her past twelve years. She’s built a new life for herself. This new life is thrown into turmoil when Janet starts seeing a strange teen boy dressed in a hoody. (Is he real? A ghost? A memory?) Her psychiatrist urges her to return home to confront her past with all its memories and demons. So she does!

A lot is packed into this shortish—at 120 pages—horror novella. I personally felt it could have been longer with more back story and detail to make a richer, deeper read. In particular, the ex-teen boyfriend; he’s a shadowy figure whom I’d have liked to have more page time, and more interaction with Janet. The web of conspiracy and deception goes back years; it was interesting and fun and included a shuddersome Gothic finale in the crypt. Quite a lot of characters buzz through this novella, more than a few to keep track of.

Janet’s gradual realisation of her deeply screwed up her parent’s lives is well done. It crept up on me. The hospital and cemetery scene were brilliantly menacing and sinister. Gave me the chills while wondering who is telling the truth and who is lying? And who is in on it?

Coffin Shadows is a smooth, fun-paced read with lots of action, scares, and a mystery which grips. But could have done with 50 more pages for me, and the ending felt rather rushed.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Curfew by Kev Harrison

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: Curfew
Author: Kev Harrison
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 18th September, 2020

Synopsis: When Jamie takes his girlfriend for a summer anniversary getaway by the sea, he thinks only the great British weather can ruin his plans. But he hasn’t accounted for Mrs Heinz, the bizarre proprietor of The Sailor’s Rest, and her obsessive fixation on midnight and curfew…

The standalone horror shorts series is back from Demain- and Kev Harrison’s Curfew is in the first five to be released. I received an advanced reading copy from Dean Drinkel, the man behind Demain, in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

I’ve read quite a bit of Kev Harrison’s fiction, most recently his novella, The Balance. So when I saw this new story by him was out – I grabbed it.

Curfew’s setting is one many Brit holidaymakers will recognise—the old-fashioned B&B on the coast, with the slightly odd manageress/owner hovering on the premises, glass in hand. This story comes with a strict time curfew (which actually happened to me years ago in Scotland – the door was locked and woe betide you if you were late). From there, Harrison lets the tension build for his likeable young couple, Jamie and Laura. They like karaoke (well, Laura does), staying out late, and drinking. They grab the only taxi on the RidesApp back to the creepy B&B. So far so normalish.

There are warning signs from the ancient maid (called ‘Girl’ by the owner, who glories in the wonderful moniker of Mrs Heinz). Girl knows something but isn’t telling. She references a missing/absent Mr Heinz who will be turning up late. Another guest is never seen except for his duffel bag. Mrs H sits drinking alone in a darkened front room. And so on.

From when Mrs Heinz says, ‘Past curfew,’ and ‘Sit boy!’ you know sweet, nice, fun loving Jamie and Laura are in for a rough ride. The scene that follows is seriously disturbing and had me flinching (no spoilers though in my reviews).

Harrison’s writing style is engaging, fluid and accessible. The twenty-odd pages rushed past, though I couldn’t help but re-read the ending! 

Harrison is skilled at constructing tension from the seemingly normal set up, ratcheting it till the warning sirens (to the reader anyway if not Jamie and Laura) are shrieking. I relished this in a deliciously cosy ‘I’m safe at home’ way.

My certain expectations, in regard to the story’s direction, were shattered. It’s fair to say I was surprised; Harrison took it in a totally different direction. I expect other readers will share my astonishment—I didn’t guess the outcome. 

These standalone stories are priced at a very affordable 77p, so much cheaper than my chocolate fix, and they entertain hugely. 

Treat yourself.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions by Christopher Stanley

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: Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions
Author: Christopher Stanley
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 18th September, 2020

Synopsis: A chilling new short story collection from the author of ‘The Forest is Hungry’ and ‘The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales’.

In DEVIL’S REACH, a frantic father boards a ferry, hoping to save his daughter and escape his wife. But nothing is as it seems as the ferry sails into darkness, and there are forces at work he won’t begin to understand until it’s too late.

In HELL’S TEETH, a young girl enlists the help of supernatural forces to exact revenge on the school bully, only to find she can’t live with guilt.

And in the final story, UNBECOMING ME, a young man’s desperate search for love takes an unexpected turn after he’s rejected by the woman of his dreams.

Dark, sinister and unforgiving – ‘Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions’ will make you want to sleep with the lights on.

This trio of shorts from Christopher Stanley releases on 18 September, for the price of less than a latte, 77p. I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I read Stanley’s previous compilation, The Forest Is Hungry (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 16), last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I grabbed Unbecoming Me out of the publisher’s hands. Here you get the pleasure of three stories, all linked by a minor character’s strange appearance. I won’t say more, but see if you spot it. 

The first short, “Devil’s Reach”, begins with a particularly creepy, unnerving scene in the café. Never has a passage of children playing been so weirdly portrayed. John, the father/husband, is on a ferry ride. He’s fleeing his wife, taking his baby with him. Or is he? Within the hidden spaces of the ferry, John tries to hide. No one is a reliable character. And quickly his day becomes a nightmare controlled by forces he cannot combat. This tale has a haunted supernatural feel to it, where nothing is as it seems.

In the second short, “Hell’s Teeth”, the setting is an ordinary school filled with ordinary kids, including the class bully, Evie, and the bullied girl, Daisy. It’s a familiar set-up, and we’ve all known someone like Daisy. ‘Goldfish-bowl glasses and haphazard fringe’ … how those words tugged at my memories of my own school days. Teeth feature prominently in this story—losing them. So does the tooth fairy fantasy. There are cringey moments which made me shudder. If you’re at all teeth-phobic, then consider yourself warned—this might not be the tale for you. But Stanley’s account of a victim taking revenge too far is strong and thought-provoking. How far should a child push back? What is the appropriate amount of punishment? What if your actions come back to bite you? (Excuse the pun.)

The third short, “Unbecoming Me”, is my favourite. But I’m biased; I discovered it’s set in the environs of my old uni, the University of Birmingham, where the author, Stanley, also studied. He references old student buildings and hangouts that I remember well. (‘bars of Selly Oak and Five ways’; Muirhead Towers with ‘windows like a bad case of acne’; Yes—just how I remember it.) The story’s opening line—’The first time I was born…’—hooked me. I had to read on. The young student (a twin who survived whilst his sister did not) falls in love and longs for reciprocation. His longing enters the fantasy realm and the supernatural. I don’t want to say more as it will spoil the fun.

Stanley’s sharp prose captured moments with clarity and easy style. It made for a great read.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Echoes of Darkness by Cheryl Campbell

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: Echoes of Darkness
Author: Cheryl Campbell
Genre: Sci-fi
Publisher: Cheryl Campbell
Release Date: 5th October, 2020

Synopsis:  The decades-long conflict with the Wardens, the genocidal faction of alien Echoes that started the war on Earth in 2069, rages on. Dani, an Echo, fights alongside humans and other aliens against the Wardens. As the bond of her newfound family strengthens, she continues to struggle to find a viable solution to retake Boston from the Wardens.

Maine’s civilian and Commonwealth military alliance against the enemy remains intact, but Dani’s relationship with Colonel Houston becomes more strained with rogue Warden attacks, unreliable intelligence reports, and the high casualty counts that will come when they move on the enemy stronghold in the city.

Rowan’s unwavering ambition to eliminate all humans from Earth, rise within Warden ranks, and capture Dani drives him to commit treason. When Dani learns that Rowan is behind an assault in Maine that wounds and kills several people on the Commonwealth base, her well-orchestrated plan against Boston is replaced with one focused only on rescue … and revenge.

I originally reviewed ‘Echoes Of War’ by Cheryl Campbell last year when I was still writing for Science Fiction. I quite enjoyed the novel. The cover made it clear it was Book 1 of a series and my own review left me wanting more. Now, the author has delivered a second serving of the series which I’ve had a chance to sit down and read. 

Did it fill my desire for second helping? Was I satisfied with the words put on paper (and yes, this was a physical copy that the publisher sent out in exchange for an honest review)? Only time, and the next few paragraphs will answer that question so read on to find out, my friends and fellow book lovers! 

A quick overview. In the first novel, Campbell threw us into a future Earth where aliens came a-calling. One group called the Echoes were at peace with humanity and another group called The Wardens had their sights set on eliminating humankind. Bonus points for The Wardens as when the story kicks off, they appear to be nearly immortal. 

Dani, is an Echo who grew up amongst humans and thinks of herself as one of them. Now, she is thrown headfirst into a conflict where she has to save both humanity and herself. 

In a series like this, I always try and read all of the novels and in order. That being said, you could technically pick this one up as they do a few quick summaries of previous events at the beginning. A nice reminder for those of us who read far too much and may have forgotten a couple of details in the last year (I’m guilty as charged folks).

First off, I would love to talk about the characters. Not only do we see Dani really grow in this installment, but she is also surrounded by some fantastic voices. Mary, Crow, and Colonel Houston all stand out and you will grow to love or hate them as they become fleshed out. This also gives us quite a bit of insight into Rowan who will do anything to get ahead, even commit treason. 

The plot is set at a quick pace which will keep you reading and coming back for more. There isn’t ever a point where the novel appears to drag or feels that it is being rushed. 

Just as the first book, I would give this one a 4/5 star for some great YA sci-fi fun.

4/5 stars

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Monstre by Duncan Swan

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: Monstre: Volume 1
Author: Duncan Swan
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Super Hoot Publishing
Release Date: 20th September, 2020

Synopsis:  THERE IS NO STOPPING IT.

THE CLOUD IS ARMAGEDDON, STEAMROLLING THE WORLD AT A WALKING PACE.

Day 0. From the wreckage of a research facility in Switzerland, a plume of toxic smoke and ash pours into the sky, forming an impenetrable cloud that is slowly smothering the world in darkness. As Europe disappears beneath the Cloud, a squad of United States marines are sent on a desperate mission to find out what went wrong, and how to undo it before it’s too late. Venturing into a cold, dark world, the marines must travel deep under the Cloud, with no comms, no backup, and no idea of what they will face.

Monstre Volume 1 is a tight and suspenseful novel about the end of the world. The story begins at Hadron Collider, located at the CERN facility, and it has brought something into our world.  A cloud from the research facility’s wreckage begins to ooze across Europe. In the United States, a Marine squad is sent to find out what the hell is going on and how to stop it before it’s too late.

Monstre has a big cast of characters, and Swan devoted each chapter to telling their stories. From the scientist, to the Marines, to the old Tennessee Sheriff who helps a family escape west, to a rumored nuclear bunker that may be their only hope for survival. Swan’s chapter breaks and cliff hangers enticed me to keep turning the pages. 

As any novel within the Lovecraftian vein, Swan does a good job balancing horror, fantasy, and science fiction elements. Even before starting to read, I was drawn in by the cover’s horrific image and the blackened page borders, which gave the book a sinister feel. The French spelling “Monstre” imparts an indie film quality; I can see this tale as a European Netflix series.

This book will draw comparisons to Stephen King’s, The Mist. King focused on a group of survivors in a grocery store, while Swan points the camera on a worldwide view of what survivors and the military would do in a situation like this.  

People who relish Lovecraftian style writing, with an added touch of Stephen King and Tom Clancy, will enjoy this account by Swan. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

This is Duncan Swan’s debut novel. Swan was born in South Africa, raised in Australia, and now resides in L.A. with his wife and child. 

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish

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: The Malan Witch
Author: Catherine Cavendish
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 18th August, 2020

Synopsis: “Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.”

An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

And the crow has returned.

Robyn Crowe is widowed and in desperate need of peace and space, so her sister offers her the rental of their renovated, ancient, cottage on the coast for the summer. So far, so ideal- on the surface, but very soon the warning signs build up.

There is strange activity with the crows, especially one, large bird who stalks then attacks Robyn, witchy dolls/hag stones etc are found on the premises (never a good sign) and in the village, a local woman, who befriends Robyn, gives her more information on the horrific history of the two local hags who used to live in the cottage centuries before and their grisly fate.

So we’re nicely set up for witchy histories, hauntings, terror, and all sorts of supernatural goings on.

This Cavendish nicely delivers, reminding me very much of an American author I read in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Barbara Michaels (wonder if Catherine C has ever read hers?) – and I did/do enjoy all of Michaels’ and this sort of genre.

However, much as I wanted to really invest in the characters, and go with the flow, this novella from the Silver Shamrock indie publishing press, didn’t quite hit all my readerly buttons or draw me in. There were long sections of explanation, when I wanted something to happen, and repetition, where I wanted something new to happen.

I felt that the characters were going in circles with some of the dialogue exchanges, and it had been said before. 

The crow scenes were effectively done, and suitably unnerving, and for me, more scary than when the witch made an appearance. (But I do have a mild big bird phobia going on too!)

There was a twist towards the end of the book, which I won’t share, which was well done and made me pause to rethink what I’d previously read.

The events leading up to the ending didn’t entirely convince nor what happened to Robyn, (again don’t want to give away anything). I also thought the novella could have done with a few more pages to enrich and elucidate the final plot threads.

This is a fun, quick paced, rich in location, and history, supernatural read with magic galore.

3/5 stars.

(I received an e-arc of this novella from Silver Shamrock and Horror Tree in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Available from amazon.