Category: Reviews

Epeolatry Book Review: The Midwich Cuckoos

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Title: The Midwich Cuckoos
Author: John Wyndham
Genre: Dystopia/Sci-Fi
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 1957

Synopsis: In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.

I’m about as Southern English as they come, so I love any horror tale set in a village location, and I frequently draw upon rural life for inspiration in my own horror writing. I grew up on dystopian horror with a big splash of science fiction’-feel,  the hallmark of John Wyndham’s writing.

The Midwich Cuckoos was published in 1957, and it was later filmed twice as Village of the Damned. It was the fourth of seven novels published in his lifetime when readers would enjoy a Wyndham novel every two years, on average. Film and TV adaptations followed, most notably: The Day of the Triffids, and Chocky.

The book’s premise is quite simple; Richard Gayford is away from the village of Midwich celebrating his birthday with his wife, Janet, in London. Everyone in Midwich falls into an inexplicably deep slumber, and no one can enter or leave the village until the slumber passes. At first, no lasting harm has been sustained by the Midwich residents. It subsequently transpires that every woman of childbearing age (married or not) fell pregnant that night. For a close-knit rural community in the Fifties, this raises interesting questions about trust and morality in a way that seems almost quaint by today’s standards. Midwich faces real peril as the babies’ due date approaches.

Darker facts emerge over a period of time connected to the children’s alien origins: they are all born within a few hours of each other, those raised away from the village exert an eerie power over their mother which leads to their permanent return, they grow and develop uncomfortably quickly, they are smarter than other children, possess strange powers, and (most disturbingly of all) they communicate via telepathy and view themselves as a single identity. Both the residents and the authorities afield—including scientists interested in harnessing this collective consciousness—struggle with responding in situations where human compassion towards the aliens leaves them exposed to harmful threats.

One of the most distinctive facts, surprising given the complexity of the plot, is that the whole story is told in first person. This feature of Wyndham’s work often centres around a reluctant hero whose emotional reticence makes him a stranger to a society in which he ought to feel completely at home. This ‘outsider within’ provides objectivity via his analysis of events coupled with an aura of ‘access all areas’, ensuring that he is always in the right place to tell the story without his presence feeling contrived.

First person point of view makes the tale real, personal and intimate. The story is never distant or mechanical. At the heart of this tale lies the intense relief Richard and Janet feel about their absence from Midwich on the night of the deep sleep; she hasn’t fallen pregnant. This is set against the mortification of young unmarried Ferrelyn Zellaby and the joy of lifelong spinster Miss Ogle in discovering they are pregnant, even though neither can explain how it happened nor identify the father. Both women approach motherhood determined to provide their child unconditional love and acceptance. In the face of what transpires, their brave and noble life-affirming aspiration will be tested to its limits.

Wyndam died in 1969, and manuscripts continued to emerge forty years after his death— a testimony to Wyndham. Literary executors, loyal fans, and expert critics curating his archives brought Web and Plan for Chaos to light long after his passing.

In a world where social tensions between urban and rural communities remain as real and abiding now as they were in Wyndham’s day, this tense novel is both thrilling and thought provoking in equal measure.

Enjoy!

4/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

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.

Epeolatry Book Review: Aliens Phalanx

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Dead Man’s Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West

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Title: Dead Man’s Tales: Five Tales of the Weird West
Author: Nancy A Collins
Genre: Weird Horror
Publisher: Two Wolf Press
Release Date: 30th September, 2004

 

Some of the stories in the weird west genre anthology are more ‘wild west’, others are really ‘weird’ and the ‘west’ setting is an afterthought. Happily, in the case of Dead Man’s Hand, neither criticism applies.

 Attention to detail, giving a vivid portrayal of location and everyday life, is essential in any western genre tale (whether weird or not). Collins’ strength in this regard lies in getting right down into the nitty-gritty of wild-west life. In the longer tale “Walking Wolf”, Billy Skillet is kidnapped by Comanche as a young boy and given the name Little Wolf. The narrative of the decades of Billy’s life (challenging, often gruelling, but utterly believable and touching) was drenched in the ceremonies, lore and mores of the Comanche.

 A truly great weird west tale also needs a strong, uncomfortable and shudder-inducing ‘weird’ element alongside the western atmosphere. In this work, Collins showcases how varied such as element can be. Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, werewolves are all pressed into service, and more besides. In “The Tortuga Hill Gang’s Last Ride”, this aspect comes from Little Red (son of the devil himself), and the slightly ironic tone of this tale is a welcome lightening up from the more seriously horrorful feel of earlier tales. It’s a rare writer that can handle both with equal skill.

 The writing was impressively deft and confident, and that immeasurably aided my enjoyment in reading it. I liked that earlier works are included alongside later pieces because it provides the reader with a sense of the writer’s development over time. As Joe Lansdale says in his introduction, “Her most recent work has a more casual, richer texture to the earlier prose, but that does not take away from the earlier tales, among which are some of my favourites.”

 Enjoy!

4/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Rogue Nights

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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: 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: Hand To Mouth (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 48)

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Title: Hand To Mouth
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 31st January, 2020

Synopsis: “When the truth doesn’t satisfy, people make up stories.”

An imprisoned man writes letters to his son, trying to explain the bizarre circumstances that led to his incarceration. But can his son believe him? Award-winning author Deborah Sheldon keeps you guessing with this novelette of secrets, lies, conspiracies and paranoia.

Writing about ‘Hand To Mouth’, the author recently said: “On the surface, this is a novelette about an imprisoned man who writes letters to his son to explain why he’s behind bars. It’s also a sci-fi exploration of cutting-edge technology. And while Hand to Mouth is a horror story, it’s a puzzle too; a layering of truth and deception, like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Ten readers will have ten different interpretations of what happened. It took a lot of drafting to work in so many possibilities.”

This is another in the stand alone series of e-books from Demain Publishers in their SSS! Series. This time penned by award winning much published Australian dark fiction writer, Deborah Sheldon, and it is a worthy addition to the series.

Deb Sheldon says, “On the surface, this is a novelette about an imprisoned man who writes letters to his son to explain why he’s behind bars. It’s also a sci-fi exploration of cutting-edge technology. And while Hand to Mouth is a horror story, it’s a puzzle too; a layering of truth and deception…”

So within this short story you get three genres for the price of one! You can read it on several different levels too and try and work out the most guilty of the parties.

There is much to enjoy in the background characters and how they impact on the main events. The hideous ‘Matriach’ she is given no other name – made me shudder.

The main character is a man in prison for murder, who writes a series of long letters to his son, James, which form the narrative of the story. In these letters various facts are revealed, as though when peeling layers from an onion, you weep and there is more skin underneath. Just so with this short story, there is much to cry about here and always more secrets to learn.

I found the descriptions of the hi-tech million dollar robotic arm fascinating; how it was fitted, what it looked like, people’s differing responses to it and how it operated. Sheldon weaves the facts into the fabric of the fiction seamlessly.

The letters reveal His/Her differing viewpoints, and Sheldon is adept at peeling back the skin on the couple’s decaying marriage both before and after the introduction of the prosthetic arm, which becomes an active third party in the marriage.

Indeed I didn’t think how horrifying and downright creepy a prosthetic could be till I’d read this story. You just assume they would be good thing- a life enhancer- but what if they aren’t?

There is no definitive right or wrong here either – both His/Her characters are flawed but Sheldon does succeed in making the prisoner sympathetic, despite everything he’s done or not done, depending whose version you believe.

There is a touching scene of father/son shown in the letters around one long ago Christmas, which reveals much about their relationship.

Sheldon saves a final twist for the concluding paragraphs. It will make you want to reread the whole story again with the knowledge.

This is a clever, layered, sophisticated take on marriage, the impact of major life changing injury and   how the solution becomes the problem with horrific consequences.

Highly recommended for a fast slick read.

5/5 stars
Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Wise Friend

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Title: The Wise Friend
Author: Ramsey Campbell
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 23rd April, 2020

Synopsis: Patrick Torrington s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?

I obtained a paperback ARC for this review, not from the publisher but from a bookshop.

Prefacing the novel is an interesting q & a foreword with Campbell.

This is the latest from the British horror writer, Meister Ramsey Campbell (The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as Britain’s most respected living horror writer). Flame Tree Press is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing, launched in 2018.

I’ve been reading this writer’s work on/off for 30 years, often in battered second-hand paperbacks with lurid covers. Those covers bring back happy memories when I revisit them.

I am therefore hard wired to enjoy a Ramsey Campbell, and this is going to be a positive review. In my humble opinion, if you write horror, then you should read at least one of Campbell’s novels as part of your reader education curve. 

Now to the plot. 

This story visits the past (1960’s?) and present, tapping into teenaged Patrick’s memories from when he vacationed with his talented artist aunt, Thelma Torrington, then to present day when Patrick and his teenage son, Roy, rediscover Thelma’s lost journal. The journal becomes a guide to the obscure ancient sites around Britain which inspired Thelma’s strange, mystical and disturbing artworks. They are joined on their journey by Roy’s new girlfriend, a quirky, elusive student, Bella.

Hanging over their quest is the knowledge that Thelma died horribly, possibly a suicide. The site of her death is one of the places they visit.

Patrick, sensing danger, wants to stop the search, but Roy is obsessed and driven. Patrick fears for his son’s safety. He questions the memories of his aunt and who/what Bella might be? Is she saviour or siren? Is she something else entirely? The stage is set for the final deadly battle – who will triumph? I’d have liked more history in regard to what happened to the aunt.

This is a slow burn of a horror novel with layers of the past stripped away, revelations of family dysfunction revealed (Patrick’s scenes with his ex-wife are painful in themselves) along with the growing knowledge that something is haunting the Torrington family both through the paintings and in person.

If you love lots of action and gore, violence, and folks screaming and running around – this is probably not the horror novel for you. There are no zombies or vampires. 

There are a number of well-written creepy-as-heck scenes set in woodland and derelict buildings. The dialogue between Patrick, Roy, and Bella is a masterclass in clever, ambiguous, and subtle exchanges which have more than one meaning. It gradually builds to a deadly outcome. 

This story is from the school of something-nasty-is-coming-for-you, glimpsed from the corner of your eye. It slithers up on you at the tube station and then slides into the seat beside you.

Even though I’d have liked a little more reveal earlier on, I do recommend this novel, and there is much here to enjoy. 

It didn’t quite hit the full 5/5 stars for me, but it was close. 

5/5 stars
Available on Amazon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 out of 5 stars.
Available on Amazon!

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