Tag Archives: horror fiction

Book Review: A Triumph for Sakura by Jason Ridler

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A Triumph for Sakura
by Jason Ridler
Ridlerville Press
Release Date: May 31, 2013
$2.92 (Amazon Kindle)
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

Famed fight coach Ned Bangs was down and out, until he saw Sakura fight four deadbloods like a champ. The catch? Unlike Ned, she was human.

Under Ned’s guidance, Sakura fights from the street to the big time, gather fame and enemies as they reach the arena of Cascadia. Can they both survive when her courage fans the flames of a human revolution against their vampire overlords?

What cost will they both pay for a Triumph for Sakura?

“A Triumph for Sakura is Hunger Games, Fight Club and True Blood rolled into one bloody good novel. It’s non-stop action laced with hope and pathos as a mortal fighter, guided by a washed-up blood drinking trainer, carries the potential to alter the balance between the undead elite and a broken enslaved humanity. If you think vampires have been done to death, think again; Jason Ridler’s page-turner will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat.”
Nancy Kilpatrick, Author:THE POWER OF THE BLOOD world, Editor: EVOLVE II: VAMPIRE STORIES OF THE FUTURE UNDEAD, DANSE MACABRE

Review:
Fans of Ridler’s longer works have come to expect supernatural thrillers usually set in a wrestling background. This time around in A Triumph for Sakura, he switches things up and makes it about cage-fighting, and he has introduced a female protagonist to drive the story.

Ned is a semi-cripple who has to train a very talented girl, Sakura, into a cagefighter because she can beat up vampires, but she’s rough around the edges and learned to fight from movies, so she’s far from being a pro fighter. She has to disguise herself as a man to be able to compete, and her first fight is with a tough guy, Fife. Ned has to make sure Sakura doesn’t get too cocky or brash, and to make her a better fighter.

Their plan is to eventually reveal her true gender in a fight that she wins, but she has other things to worry about. Through the course of the book, she gets better at thinking quickly on her feet. But she also has endearing qualities, such as her relationship with her grandmother, who, despite her age, is just as feisty as some of the fighters Sakura encounters in the ring.

Personal stakes abound for all the characters, with Ned and Sakura’s fates being more tied together than either of them realizes. There’s also plenty of good tension throughout. It’s an entertaining, quick read that packs a punch–with fangs.

It’s gritty, funny, and features great dialogue as with Ridler’s other books. UFC fans, fans of the film and book versions of Fight Club, as well as wrestling fans will find this book an entertaining read. If you’re longing for a follow-up to the film Haywire featuring former MMA fighter Gina Carano, and waiting until Ronda Rousey has her next fight, read A Triumph For Sakura.

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Book Review: The Devil’s Woods by Brian Moreland

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The Devil’s Woods
by Brian Moreland
Samhain Publishing
Hardcover | eBook
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Cover Price: $16.00 ($12.55 on Amazon)
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

Fear wears many skins.

Deep within the Canadian wilderness, people have been disappearing for over a century. There is a place the locals call “the Devil’s Woods,” but to speak of it will only bring the devil to your door. It is a place so evil that even animals avoid it.

When their father’s expedition team goes missing, Kyle Elkheart and his brother and sister return to the abandoned Cree Indian reservation where they were born. Kyle can see ghosts that haunt the woods surrounding the village—and they seem to be trying to warn him. The search for their father will lead Kyle and his siblings to the dark heart of the legendary forest, where their mission will quickly become a fight for survival.

Review:
Set in the Macaya Woods deep in the forests of British Columbia, there’s a special breed of shape-shifters who lurk around the town of Hagen’s Cove and they’re some pretty sick, twisted creatures. Without giving too much away, they have a shared origin from what one could argue is the novel’s villain, although the townspeople itself can also be construed as the villains in some way.

Our main character is Kyle Elkheart, who is a best-selling horror writer of Native American heritage. The Devil’s Woods starts off with Kyle’s father, John, who is looking for one of his research assistants, Amy, who has gone missing in the woods as part of an expedition. John is a professor at the University of Vancouver, but he’s very in touch with his First Nations heritage and calls upon it for help but seems to fall prey to whatever has been silently ruling this town and plotting to take over. Kyle gets word from one of their cousins in Hagen’s Cove, Ray, that John Elkheart is in trouble. He lives in Seattle and has a troubled relationship with his father as well as his siblings (some more than others) but he agrees to make the trek back to BC.

Accompanying him are his brother, Eric, Eric’s Australian girlfriend Jessica, and their little sister, Shawna, with her boyfriend, Zack, one of the guys in the band she plays in who, as it turns out, is a rather avid reader of horror novels, including Kyle’s, and is a big fan.

Although Kyle’s wife, Stephanie, has been dead for a few years, he starts to develop feelings for Jessica. It’s not easy for Kyle to see her with his brother mostly because he knows better than anyone that Eric is a smooth-talking con artist lothario who sees women as a sport. Tensions rise as the novel goes on and Eric is unable to resist his straying ways, although Jessica grapples with her growing connection to Kyle.

It doesn’t take long for the real villains to emerge, apart from the ones that cause dissension between the family, and they get separated. The family’s grandfather, an Elder, is also present, but hasn’t said much in the last few years and unfortunately even though he’s one of the most important people they need to survive, he can’t help them in the way they need due to the effects of dementia.

The final showdown is set up and gradually all the secret identities are revealed, as Kyle and his family must fight to protect everyone they love in the midst of the shape-shifting monsters, influenced by Canadian Native American legends. While these creatures are similar to the Wendigo, which Moreland has used before in his previous novel, Dead of Winter, they will make you want to keep the lights on at night.

As he did with Dead of Winter, Moreland delivers another horror thriller that delivers thrills, chills, a lot of tension, many “edge of your seat” moments, and a highly compulsive read that makes for the perfect winter reading. Although The Devil’s Woods is set in the present, and not historical fiction like Dead of Winter, if that wasn’t to a reader’s taste, then that means good news for this one as more horror readers may be inclined to take a chance on it. Once again, Moreland’s research into Canada’s history and specifically British Columbia, as well as the Native American myths and legends associated with the region, is very well-done and he presents it in a very engaging way.

I’ve been recommending Dead of Winter to readers ever since I read it a few years ago, and I will continue to recommend it in this review as well because it’s such a high-impact novel. I enjoyed The Devil’s Woods as much as I enjoyed Dead of Winter although that novel remains my favourite of Moreland’s so far. Continue to watch for more of his work in the future, as it will only keep getting better and better.

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Book Review: Tales of Jack the Ripper

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Tales of Jack the Ripper (Anthology)
Ed. Ross E. Lockheart
Word Horde
258 pages, Paperback
$12.81 (Paperback, Amazon) | $5.98 (Kindle)
Release Date: August 31, 2013
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:
From the editor who brought you The Book of Cthulhu comes Tales of Jack the Ripper, featuring new fiction by many of today’s darkest dreamers, including Laird Barron, Walter Greatshell, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Ed Kurtz, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Stanley C. Sargent, E. Catherine Tobler, and many more.

Review:
“You can say a lot of things about humans. One is certain–we are exceedingly good at killing one another.” That pretty much summarizes the best way to open this anthology, a good introduction to Tales of Jack the Ripper, which was published in tandem with the 125th anniversary of the Whitechapel murders, committed by one of the most, if not the most, infamous serial killers of all time, Jack the Ripper.

We start off with a poem entitled “Whitechapel Autumn 1888” which is a grim but effective way to start things off, setting the mood for the rest of the anthology. Next up is “A Host of Shadows” (Braunbeck and Clark), which makes good use of a chilling quote from the philosopher Kierkegaard at the beginning. The story revolves around one of the theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity, postulating that he was actually a doctor, Dr. Faber, and does a great job establishing a sense of sympathy for him. The story seems to suggest that Jack wasn’t himself when he committed the murders and that he had a split personality, one of the popular “Jekyll and Hyde” variations on the Jack the Ripper tale.

British master of horror Ramsey Campbell’s story “Jack’s Little Friend” is told from the second person point of view and marks one of the more interesting offerings in the anthology. The protagonist finds a box with four dates, 1888 being one of them, but abandons it, thinking it’s not worth anything. But he figures out the significance of the dates and becomes obsessed with reading as much as possible about Jack the Ripper, and his obsession goes dangerously far.

“Abandon All Flesh” by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is about a girl who’s dad works at a museum where she finds out more about Jack the Ripper. She has to work with a guy, David, on a school project. He wants to pursue a romance with her but she’s unsure. She thinks she’s being visited by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, and things only get worse for her from there (although she probably wouldn’t see it that way).

Another master of horror, Joe Lansdale, offers “God of the Razor,” one of the other stand-outs of the stories, about a guy who visits an old, abandoned house. A young guy tells him this morning his razor had eyes and made noise. The God of the Razor starts to make a lot more sense as the story goes on, with a unique tie-in to Jack the Ripper, and offers one of the most interesting plot twists that will make a lot of sense when you get to it. The ending is also quite memorable.

Ennis Drake’s story “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” seems to be from the point of view of someone who serves a modern murdered and would-be Jack the Ripper heir. He’s imagining East London 125 years ago. He wants to re-enact Jack’s crimes. This story contains one of the most unique voices of the bunch. It, too, features a memorable ending and an amazing last line.

“Ripping” is for the film buffs as this story is about a producer trying to cast a girl as Jack’s last victim in a CGI movie. The tables turn when the reader least expects it.

“Something about Dr. Tumblety” by Patrick Tumblety goes into the theory that Jack the Ripper was Francis, a guy who knew anatomy like the back of his hand and who hated women. The grandson in the story becomes more like Francis every day in a bid to understand him, which can only lead down a path of ruin.

In “Ripperology”, there’s a passage from Derek Midwinter, a fictional expert on Jack the Ripper, that tries to explain why we mythologize the serial killer. Derek has more than a few screws loose and the lead-up to the ending makes for an interesting read.

Ed Kurtz impresses with another of the stand-outs of the anthology with his offering, “Hell Broke Loose,” which is set in Fort Worth and Austin in the last 1800s. Protagonist Blake is obsessed with a married woman who he soon finds is having dalliances on the side, which, shall we say, accents his murderous streak. One of the most interesting variations in this story is that it doesn’t go to England straight away, where most of the Ripper tales start off, and it works on many levels.

“Villains By Necessity” is about a Scotland Yard cop, Thomas, who uses opium, and the theory here is that Jack the Ripper wasn’t just one person and that a group of people were responsible for the whole thing, which was also an interesting variation.

“When the Means Justify the End” (Sargent) starts off in London in 1888. The main character, Arthur, used to be poor but now he’s not, although he still sympathizes greatly with the poor. Turns out Arthur is an assumed name and he’s hiding his past. This one is a more drawn-out story of Jack the Ripper’s origins and ends off shrouded in mystery.

Mercedes Murdock Yardley’s tale “A Pretty for Polly” is one of the best of the bunch, which casts the emphasis onto Polly, Jack the Ripper’s daughter. While he’s daring the cops to find him, challenging them and being defiant, the little girl has the greater role in this tale (in keeping with true Mercedes style). Jack is a misogynist and thinks every woman is a whore. So, not the greatest guy. But his true nature shows to Polly and what shows up is definitely frightening being the obvious things one would assume are there.

“Once November” is also a decent offering, told from the points of view of the murder victims of Jack the Ripper. Things are capped off in a nice way with another poem, “Silver Kisses,” which brings the anthology to a satisfying close.

Whether you’re a fan of Jack the Ripper fiction or aren’t sure whether it’s your cup of tea, check out this worthwhile, quality anthology for some really original, inventive stuff.

Book Review: After Death — Ed. Eric J. Guignard (Anthology)

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After Death
Ed. Eric J. Guignard
Dark Moon Books
Release Date: April 5, 2013
$3.87 (Kindle) | $15.00 (Paperback)
Paperback, 332 pages
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

Death. Who has not considered their own mortality and wondered at what awaits, once our frail human shell expires? What occurs after the heart stops beating, after the last breath is drawn, after life as we know it terminates?

Does our spirit remain on Earth while the mortal body rots? Do remnants of our soul transcend to a celestial Heaven or sink to Hell’s torment? Are we offered choices in an individualized afterlife? Can we die again in the hereafter? Is life merely a cosmic joke, or is it an experiment for something greater?

Included within this critically acclaimed anthology are answers to these queries alongside tales and suppositions relating from traditional ghosts to the afterlife of e-coli. Explore the afterworld of an Australian cowboy. Discover what the white light really means to the recently departed. Consider the impact of modern, or future, technology on the dead. Follow the karmic path of reincarnation. Travel from the 999th level of Fengdu’s Hell to the gates of Robot Heaven.

Enclosed are thirty-four all-new dark and speculative fiction stories, individually illustrated by Audra Phillips, and exploring the possibilities “after death.”

Review:

People have always wondered what the definitive answer is to the question, “What happens after we die?” We all die. We know this. We accept it. Most of us try to run away from or otherwise ignore the truth of the matter most of the time. But we all want to know what comes next. Although no one can really know for sure, the stories in this anthology from Dark Moon Books, After Death try to answer that question in a variety of different ways, and with entertaining–and in some cases, unexpected–results. Before I start things off, I want to bring particular attention to the artist, Audra Phillips, who deserves a good dose of praise for her illustrations, which worked to enhance each piece.

The first story, “Someone to Remember” by Andrew S. William, begins with Charon, who mythology buffs will recognize as the ferryman of the River Styx in Hades from Greek mythology. Our main character is chatting with Charon about a girl he’s waiting for. Apparently, one of the reasons why Charon puts up with our ill-fated protagonist is because he misses company (who knew?). There are some clever alterations to some of the things in the underworld, including the transformation of Lethe, usually a river of Hades, into a bartender. The ending is tinged with sadness, but in a tale like this, it would have to be.

Next up is “Boy, 7″ by Alvaro Rodriguez, which has a devastating impact upon the reader in this tale of a kidnapped child who wishes for the death of his kidnapper. It’s pretty sad to hear how he’s hoping to get out of his predicament and the way his mind imagines it, and this ones also seems to take on a tragic ending, but it’s one of the memorable stand-outs of the pack.

I wasn’t surprised that “Sea of Trees” from Edward M. Erdelac was as good as it was, having enjoyed his Merkabah Rider series. This one concerns a guy who has gone to the famous Aokigahara Forest, which is known as a place where many go to commit suicide, so it wasn’t a shock to me why he was headed that way. He lives like a hermit and is overworked until he’s fired. Although the story has no shortage of sad things about it, including the main character’s history and what drove him to feel like death was his only option, the worst part is he thinks he’ll be at peace, but he learns the hard way that he had the complete wrong idea about suicide.

Similarly, I knew that Lisa Morton’s entry would be fantastic, as are all of her short stories, and “The Resurrection Policy” is another one of the stand-outs of the bunch. Basically, if you think that technology is already being used for nefarious purposes, including the government using it to spy on us, it’s only going to get worse (and the scary thing is that the technology depicted in this story isn’t something we’re too far off from). The story opens with a guy trying to remember what happened to him before the stroke he suffered. He realizes he’s dead. But before he died, he arranged to get a “resurrection policy,” which guarantees that he’ll have a clone body after he dies so that his consciousness can return to that. But he missed the last two payments, and as he soon learns, there’s not a hell of a lot he can do about it, especially since the policy makers can read his mind. He definitely gets a body, although definitely way far off from what he expected. He soon learns that there are rules after resurrection, and he pays the price big time. The ending is disqueting to say the least.

“Circling the Stones at Fulcrum’s Low” by Kelda Crich involves a twenty year-old Prometheus-like being who rises from the dead repeatedly only to die again and to have to relive the agony and all the other things she’s gone through, doomed to repeat the cycle, so, again, not the most uplifting of tales, but very well-done and with excellent characterization.

There’s no shortage of stand-outs in this anthology, and another one is “I Will Remain” by David Steffen, which sees a man who has returned to life as a dog. He used to be Ian, and in life, courted Emily, who keeps him as a pet not realizing who is really in there, but nonetheless having a strong bond. He protects her fiercely and has a sharp nose for what he terms “bad people” who give off an equally pungent odour. The reader will feel for Ian’s predicament big time.

I also had high hopes for “Tree of Life” by Aaron J. French, which was also another interesting story, this one about Keter, the sphere of Heaven though to be closest to God in the Kabbalah belief system. The main character continues to hear angels repeating this word over and over until some measure of finality emerges. If you like your stories more on the existential side, be sure to check this one out.

“The Thousandth Hell” by Brad C. Hodson depicts a very grim, brutal, and specific torture that occurs after death, which is specific to every person who ends up there, with the protagonist encountering a special kind of hell. The truth can be downright awful, nasty, and better left unheard. Sadly, our protagonist isn’t spared this from his father, and finds out many disturbing things, including that his dad and ancestors blame him for a lot of things. If you think your family nags you ceaselessly, it’s probably a picnic compared to what this guy goes through, reminding us that things could always be much worse.

“Like a Bat out of Hell” by Jonathan Shipley goes a different route, exploring the answer to what happens after creatures of myth and legends die. It’s another Greek mythology story in which our protagonist Revel is determined to break out of Hell. He speaks to Cerberus, who advises him to talk to the Furies, and things end on a bit of a humorous note, which gives the reader a much-needed respite from the doom and gloom of much of the first half, which is important for readers not to feel as though they’re constantly drowning in a sea of sorrow and fear. Editor Guignard strikes a nice balance between the two.

Keeping in line with the more upbeat range of stories featured in the anthology, it was nice to see John Palisano’s “Forever” as I’ve enjoyed his other works. After a near-death experience, the protagonist sees someone from the other side to provide hope that there is more to the afterlife and that it’s not as terrible as we fear. I thought the use of second person for some portions and first for others was also a great technique as it lended a lot of immediacy to the story.

Master of Horror Bentley Little also goes a different route with “My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur” about an afterlife existence in which there is neither Heaven nor Hell but rather people find themselves in a room. There’s also some humour injected and people are talking about how there will be a park soon, a store, and there’s even a minister here who promises he’ll be able to marry people. Basically, they’re rebuilding a society for dead people, although not everyone is in favour of the idea.

After her story in Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, I eagerly anticipated seeing what Jamie Lackey had come up with this time around, and “Robot Heaven” is another creative stand-out from this anthology. Until this point, most of the stories have revolved around human deaths, but this one focuses on robots, because they, too, have an end. Robby, our robot protagonist, is dead, but has a guide to help him navigate through the next steps. The only way to earn a spot in Robot Heaven is to earn the love of a human, which was quite inventive. As well, it’s possible but difficult to create sympathy for robots (Blade Runner, some of Asimov’s works, Data in Star Trek: TNG and movies like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence come to mind), but the author deserves kudos for that.

Taking things back into more tragic territory is “Beyond the Veil” by Robert B. Marcus, Jr., which sees the protagonist relive the first meeting he had with his wife, Angeline. She dies a short time after they get together. He knows his past, present, and future. He knows the date of his own death, in fact, but the worst part is that he doesn’t simply remember what has happened to him. He has to relive it bit by bit.

“A Feast of Meat and Mead” by Christine Morgan is another favourite for me as I’m big on historical fiction. This one deals with Norse mythology and concerns Lord Aelfstan who wants his troops to stay behind because he doesn’t trust the Danes. Osbert is a psychic servant boy who, when asked what he believes will happen, says he foresees the Danes will come and bring battle. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say, it’s another stand-out.

Scottish horror scribe William Meikle’s tale “Be Quiet At The Back” is not only a stand-out, it’s a knock-out. The story shows that our choices affect others and have much deeper consequences for them than we think. John, a teacher, remembers leaving school one day, then nothing. He’s in Hell, having died of a heart attack. He doesn’t realize what his sin is until he’s told what it is and the demons show him just what a prat he was. In contrast to most of the previous tales of the anthology where the reader sympathizes greatly with the plight and situations of the protagonists, this one reverses that, which makes for a great read.

I’ve heard a lot about Peter Giglio and his work, and so I was anxious to see what his story, “Cages,” would be like. In it, the protagonist tries to remember the good times he had with Monica, who was his wife. She was a believer (in God). He remembers her, warts and all, and she was like a God to him because she was his everything and his universe. He wants to see which religion is the “right” one, so he digs up Monica only to find that in death, God is many and one. Although the story reads a bit fragmented, which can make it difficult to get through in certain parts, it’s an engaging look at one man’s struggle to understand the complex theological aspects of death.

I’m not too sure what it is about these Brits, but they deliver consistently wonderful stories, including Simon Clark, whose “Hammerhead” is another of the knock-outs for me. The title refers to hammerhead sharks, which Hawaiians believe to be divine. Although some of the beginning parts of the story read like a National Geographic article, even though the facts we get about these sharks are interesting, things get rolling when we find out that as with David Steffen’s “I Will Remain,” Damian Keller has returned not as a human but as a shark. In life, as a research scientist, he was on an important research investigation when he made the mistake of revealing to fellow scientist Glenn that he was marrying Ruth, who used to date Glenn. Suffice it to say, things didn’t end up well for Damian, but just when we think we’ve hit the end, it turns out that Damian and Glenn have a more cyclical relationship than just this one encounter. This story has compelled me to seek out more of the author’s work, which I look forward to reading.

Another of the stand-out stories was “Marvel at the Face of Forever” by Kelly Dunn, which reveals a protagonist looking at his own body. He was murdered by a guy named El Cubano only to be raised from death via witchcraft. The protagonist makes it his mission to bring down El Cubano, which leads to an interesting turnout of events.

“The Unfinished Lunch” by Trevor Denyer shows a main character who ends up not in an animal body or something else, but in something that doesn’t even begin to embody the phrase “cruel twist of fate” while the protagonist of “I Was The Walrus” by Steve Cameron seems to remember vivid details about the Beatles that he couldn’t possibly have known. He’s had many past lives, but it’s more than that, and makes for an interesting read.

Another highly anticipated story for me was “The Death of E. Coli” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge, whose novels and short fiction never cease to amaze me with how good they are. This story is no exception, concerning the afterlife of diseases, specifically E. Coli (or as he’s known in this story, Edward Coli), of which the protagonist is one strain, Lamar. Listeria is also personified here, enraged that an outbreak of E. Coli was cured by the UN. Although disease is normally thought of as leading only to negative things for humanity, mostly widespread infection and death, this story takes a much more interesting and unpredictable turn, which is something that makes this story a must-read!

“Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer” by Emily C. Skaftun deals with one man’s terrible regret at forgetting to defuse a weapon in his garage before he passes away, but the question is, will he find a way to save his loved ones from being blown to bits when they inevitably go inside?

I’ve loved much of Joe McKinney’s work since I started reading it a few years ago, and “Acclimation Package” is another serious knock-out, one of the best of the bunch in this anthology. There’s usually a good reason not to bring the dead back to life, which doesn’t always stop people from attempting it, but in this case, it’s even worse because a resurrected person remembers someone else’s life as if it’s his own. The future has changed, and it’s not all pretty. He knows things he shouldn’t. This story calls to mind the sophistication of Blade Runner, particularly as those who seem benevolent turn out to be anything but that. There’s a great trick at the end, and you won’t realize you’ve been manipulated and strung along until the very end. I don’t really need to go on anymore about how good McKinney’s work is, but this is also another absolute must-read.

Each story in the anthology has something unique and different to offer, even the stories that are similarly themed or that take place within the same framework. As with the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, Guignard has produced another highly readable, compelling anthology of dark fiction that is of such a high calibre that I am sure it will also be nominated for a Stoker Award. If you see it at any convention tables or booths during the fall season, buy it on the spot. There are very few horror and dark fantasy anthologies with this amount of incredible, high quality stories, and I know it’s always a gamble with anthologies because even though you may be familiar with some of the bigger names in the table of contents, you’re not to sure if it will deliver (which is understandable, of course), but I’m telling you straight up that if you buy just one horror anthology this year, make it After Death even though there are at least a few that rise above the rest each season, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror and pretty much anything Ellen Datlow edits. After Death is on par with all the most quality, worthwhile anthologies in the genre.

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Book Review: The Witching House by Brian Moreland

Witching House small

The Witching House
by Brian Moreland
Samhain
August 6, 2013
$2.45 (eBook)
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

Some houses should be left alone.

In 1972, twenty-five people were brutally murdered in one of the bloodiest massacres in Texas history. The mystery of who committed the killings remains unsolved.

Forty years later, Sarah Donovan is dating an exciting man, Dean Stratton. Sarah’s scared of just about everything—heights, tight places, the dark—but today she must confront all her fears, as she joins Dean and another couple on an exploring adventure. The old abandoned Blevins House, the scene of the gruesome massacre, is rumored to be haunted.

The two couples are about to discover the mysterious house has been waiting all these years, craving fresh prey. And down in the cellar they will encounter a monstrous creature that hungers for more than just human flesh.

Review:

The Witching House is the newest work from horror author Brian Moreland, a novella that can be read as a stand-alone as the short story that precedes it, The Girl from the Blood Coven, is more of a prequel and refers to a prior timeframe than that of the events of The Witching House, set in the present day. However, if you haven’t read The Girl from the Blood Coven and you don’t want any spoilers, be forewarned that this review contains references to events that took place in that story.

Otis Blevins, now the caretaker of the Blevins house, knows all of the house’s secrets and witnessed the massacre that happened in the early 1970s when he was a child. We soon learn that the house speaks to him and that he’s responsible for feeding it “sacrifices” such as pigs and other animals, but the top meat of choice is human. He also interacts with the ghosts of his other family members, including his stern grandfather, much to his chagrin.

A group of teenagers decides to go into the house, presumably for mischief, and as anyone who has ever watched a haunted house film knows, they’re doomed from the minute they decide to walk through the doors, but the excitement becomes figuring out who will be the last person standing.

Dean and Sara, one of the couples, learn the history of the house from one of their friends, including that Lenora was a coven leader of witches who used to take up residence in the building, and we get a summary of the backstory with Abigail Blackwood that unfolds in The Girl from the Blood Coven. Twenty-five people died the night Abigail killed those who came to investigate her report, as well as herself. Although initially it seems that Otis was the only survivor, it turns out that he wasn’t, and that his younger brother, Ronnie, intends to wreak havoc.

We also find out that Lenora was channeling some pretty dark magic, specifically that of one royally pissed off former wood nymph, with some Celtic roots included for good measure. The scares with some of the ghosts are effective, and the combination of an almost Lovecraftian influence with the house also puts enough of a unique spin on this tale to make it stand out from other similar books in the haunted house subgenre with a satisfying, gripping conclusion that will have readers clamoring for more of Moreland’s work. If you haven’t already read his previous novels, particularly Dead of Winter, you don’t know what you’re missing. I personally can’t wait for the author’s next novel, The Devil’s Woods, slated for release this December. And as an added treat for readers, I will have an interview posted with the author very soon.

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