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Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types
Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types
Price: $3.00

4.0 out of 5 stars As varied selection of horror writing as you could hope for..., December 22, 2014
Johnny Mains' Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types, is as varied a selection of horror writing as you could hope for from a single-author collection. From the dark humour of the fantasitically titled 'Mrs Claus & The Immaculate Conception', to the just plain dark 'Cure', there's a real range of styles here.

Mains is obviously very clued up about the history of horror stories, but my only real criticisim is that in a couple of places his influences seemed too obvious and unfiltered by his own style. In particular, 'I Wish', a modern-day rewrite of the classic tale 'The Monkey's Paw', didn't work at all for me.

But for the most part Mains uses wears his influences lightly and well, and never better than in the first story Aldeburgh. A sequel to MR James's A Warning To The Curious, featuring James himself as a character, this could have been a disaster. Instead it's a well told and creepy homage, and one of the best things in the book.

Other highlights include the delicious twist of 'The Tip Run' and the very dark and bleak 'The Rookery'

Price: $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Piggies..., February 11, 2014
This review is from: Piggies (Kindle Edition)
This is a “children’s horror book” – I'm not sure exactly what age ranged this is aimed at, but I do know my twelve year old self would have loved this. And my thirty-seven year old self thought it was pretty neat as well. An interesting, alternative-world take on the vampire story – Ben is transported from our world to a one which seems almost the same but where vampirism is normal, and the non-vampires are the outcasts. What follows is a fast-paced adventure as Ben finds out more about the society of the vampires , and there’s some pleasingly disturbing scenes towards the end which some parents will no doubt hate and kids love. Well worth your time even if you don’t normally read children’s fiction.

Dream of the Serpent
Dream of the Serpent
Price: $5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars ... original, ambitious, compulsively readable ..., February 11, 2014
Alan Ryker latest release is an early contender for my favourite book of 2014, and one of the best books I've read from Darkfuse (which is saying something!) Dream Of The Serpent is a story about Cody Miller, who suffers a horrifying accident at work. During his recovery he has vivid dreams about what his life would have been like if he'd not been so horrifically burnt... Very vivid dreams. I won't describe any more of the plot so as to not ruin it, but I will say this is one of those books where the twists completely blew me away. And plot-twists there are - this book does indeed writhe like a serpent. An original, ambitious, compulsively readable book that deserves your time.

The Hoard
The Hoard
by Alan Ryker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.38
34 used & new from $9.77

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Reasons, November 17, 2012
This review is from: The Hoard (Paperback)
Five reasons I loved Alan Ryker's new novella from DarkFuse, The Hoard:

1. The story tells of Anna, a compulsive hoarder; in lesser hands such a character would merely be the subject of mistrust but Ryker deals with the theme subtly, showing her actions and their emotional consequences not just on herself but on her family too. The interior of Anna's house, full of junk and grime, is described with clarity and detail, and it is a vivid and original setting for a horror story. Similarly, the wider setting of a Kansas small town is made real to the reader, much like in the author's equally impressive Burden Kansas.

2. It's got a pun in the title. The title!

3. There's a low key start, where the main focus is on the revelation of Anna's hoarding to her family, but when the horror comes, it really comes. The story ends with a deluge of rain after a summer draught, and the change in the narrative feels much like that: foreshadowed by an increase in pressure, but still shockingly sudden and violent.

4.Despite the fact I normally hate any story with a chapter from the point of view of an animal, I didn't hate this one, even though really early on there is a part from the point of view of a rat. *

5.Whilst I'm not sure that any monster in horror fiction can be 100% original any more, the one in The Hoard is at least originally unoriginal - The Thing crossed with The Bodysnatchers crossed with the alien possession of The Autopsy (by Michael Shea), perhaps.

So there you have it.

* I admit this dislike may be slightly irrational. I don't mind books told entirely from the point of view of animals like Watership Down. I just can't stand it when, in the middle of an ordinary narrative, suddenly there's a section where we see events from a Llama's point of view or whatever. Particularly when the animal seems to have human-esque feelings or be 'thinking' in English. **

** I reserve the right to use animal points of view in my future stories should the need arise.

You Shall Never Know Security
You Shall Never Know Security
by J.R. Hamantaschen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.89
32 used & new from $1.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You Shall Never Know Security, October 9, 2012
Can you judge a writer on how good his story titles are? Probably not, but let's just play the game for a little bit. Scanning the contents page of J.R. Hamantaschen's début collection You Shall Never Know Security (a nifty title in itself) I see stories called:

Sorrow Has Its Natural End
There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere
There Is A Family of Gnomes Behind My Walls, And I Swear I Won't Disappoint Them Any Longer

Speaking as a writer whose titles often leave me vaguely unsatisfied, the sight leaves me envious and not a little grumpy.

Anyway. The stories in this volume of dark fiction are a varied bunch in terms of outward plot and action: parasites in brains; John Rawls; vaguely Lovecraftian horrors; and ingenious plans to trap rapists all feature. However there is a tone, a philosophical strain of pessimism, common to all the tales here. Too many authors nowadays miss the point that Lovecraft's stories were written because he had a view of the world he wanted to articulate, rather than just a penchant for tentacled thingamabobs that could drive men dotty. Thomas Ligotti similarly has a point to his stories, albeit one we may not want to hear. J.R. Hamantaschen strikes me as the same kind of writer.

If I'm honest, sometimes the 'message' was too jarringly obvious for me - the action and characters occasionally too flimsy constructs for ideas invested in them. And the prose is dense with modifiers and descriptions of internal moods, such that occasionally that style seems to come unmoored from the prosaic need to convey what is going on. But these are not major gripes.

The best stories here are impressive and original; my favourites were: A Lower Power, which told the story of a supernatural relationship which goes horribly sour at the end; Come In Distraction, a story which seems just to be about the chat-up power of a British accent until the horribly disturbing back-story comes to the fore; and the aforementioned There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere a novella of supernatural terror and its aftermath, which I took to be a metaphor for survivor's guilt.

Nice cover, too.


A Gentle Hell
A Gentle Hell

4.0 out of 5 stars Two Great Stories, and Two Merely Very, Very Good Ones, September 27, 2012
This review is from: A Gentle Hell (Kindle Edition)
If you're the kind of person who likes nicely delineated genres, then Autumn Christian is probably your worst nightmare - a writer a dark, vaguely philosophical, sometimes lyrical sometimes gruesome short stores. I guess, if you have a bookseller's mentality, you'd have to call this 'horror', but really Christian is one of those writers classified as 'horror' simply because they don't fit anywhere else...

This is a collection of four stories, the first I've read by this author. Two of the stories were amazing - very original, very distinctive 'horror' stories. The other two were never less than interesting, contained much great writing, but also the odd flaw (to my mind).

The two great ones were 'Your Demiurge is Dead' and 'The Dog That Bit Her'. The first of these starts off with the body parts of the Old/New Testament God being washed up in bin-liners off the Mexico coast, and proceeds to get weirder from there on in. A new goddess, who seems more American politician than divine, appears, as well as new prophets. As well as telling of these events, the story is also about the disappearance of several children from a trailer-park family, and the cop investigating.

'The Dog That Bit Her' was if anything even better, the story of a relationship falling apart from the inside, about dependency and about independence. The supernatural element, which I won't specify, is gradually introduced, and dovetails wonderfully with the non-supernatural elements, being both pungently realistic and ambiguously metaphoric.

Of the weaker two stories, 'They Promised Dreamless Death' had an interesting premise and much to commend in it, but it felt a bit too long to me, a bit too obvious in its 'message'. 'The Singing Grass' is the most surreal story in the collection, and again has a lot of good points (some of the imagery being particularly memorable) but occasionally the prose seemed too aimless, the plot a bit too obtuse.

All four stories are certainly worth reading, and different readers may well have different opinion on their relative merits to me. Autumn Christian certainly seems a name to watch, an individual voice in amidst all the generic zombie stories and déjà-vu inducing vampire romances. Recommended.

Nowhere To Go
Nowhere To Go
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Nowhere To Go, July 27, 2012
This review is from: Nowhere To Go (Kindle Edition)
I first read Rowan's short fiction in his superb collection Ice Age, a book of stories in the horror/weird fiction mode. The stories in Nowhere To Go are more fimrly rooted in the crime genre, and without exception they are all expertly plotted and stylishly written: Rowan's prose is always clear-cut and effective, and never more so than here.

Of the eleven stories here, my favourites were:

'One Step Closer' - great characterisation in a piece so short, and Rowan's sympathies with the *victims* of crime rather than the criminals themselves is on display in a story of a robbery gone wrong...

'One of Us' - the short story from which his excellent novel of the same name grew. Interesting to read it in its original form.

'The Chain' - quite simply because I did't predict the twist...

'Moths' - a side-order of Ice Age-esque weirdness in amidst the crime. The closing imagery is to die for.

'The Remains of My Estate' - a masterful description of a sink-estate and the loan-sharks who bleed it dry.

'Nowhere To Go' - another one with a hint of the supernatural; possibly my favourite and a great closing story.

The Death Trip
The Death Trip
Price: $0.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take The Death Trip, July 19, 2012
This review is from: The Death Trip (Kindle Edition)
Marion Stein's Loisaida - A New York Story was one of my favourite novels of last year - The Death Trip is a novella and a very different beast to it's predecessor.

The Death Trip is a more tightly focussed story than the cast-of-thousands Loisaida and unlike that book's unflinching realism and period detail (being set in the 80s Lower East Side) it introduces an sci-fi almost metaphoric element - the titular Death Trip. This is a new drug that is used to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients - by taking it they enter an unconscious state that feels like years spent living in their own version of paradise, but in fact takes place in minutes before the person dies.

The central character is investigating the drug and the corporation that manufacturers and administers it, and Stein uses the drugs existence as a starting point to throw lots of ideas it the mix. And this is very much a novel of ideas, and if the thought of characters debating ethics and ideas puts you off a book then this isn't for you (although there's plenty of intrigue, spot on characterisation, and even some romance too). Stein creates a pleasant moral ambiguity around proceedings - the question of whether The Death Trip drug really is a miracle or something sinister is left tantalisingly unclear. As such this is a book that requires some intellectual investment from the reader - I was reading this whilst the Tony Nicklinson right to die debate was in the press, and that very much coloured my response.

Fortunately whilst it might be up in the air about whether The Death Trip drug is good or bad, there's no such debate needed about whether The Death Trip book is good or not - it's another great read. And it's free - what more do you need?

Price: $3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Collection, June 11, 2012
This is the third book by this author I've read, and probably the best - but then I do have liking for a good, literate horror short story collection. Which is delivered in spades here. The author has a remarkable capacity to combine a variety of story styles & genres that still cohere into a consistent world view. Partly this is down to his taut & lyrical turns of phrase. Dunbar can use language to make you feel and see what he wants; in a book of chillers he even managed to make me laugh out loud in 'Explanations'.

Many of the stories take a basic horror story trope and run with it, twisting it into new directions - 'Getting Wet', 'Folly'. Others, such as the superlative 'Mal De Mer' are true one offs (the image of the wheelchair in the bottom of the swimming pool will haunt me for days).

As with all collections, there was the odd one that didn't hit quite as hard, but none weak enough to drag my rating down to anything less than a full-fat five-stars. Consistently impressive, and I hope the author does some more work in the short story form soon.

One of Us
One of Us
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Blinder, April 5, 2012
This review is from: One of Us (Kindle Edition)
Iain Rowan has played a blinder with his latest book, and first full length novel 'One Of Us'. It is told from the point of view of Anna, a medical student who has come to the UK illegally. She is living in a hostel and working in a burger bar, when one day comes the chance to gain some identification papers - at the price of using her surgical skills for some local mobsters...

The story is told in the first person, and Rowan's depiction of Anna's point of view and character is accomplished and spot on. The characterisation of the others in the book, and the depiction of their changing relationships to Anna, is also extremely well done. The book takes a particularly adult and realistic at how friendship (as opposed to romantic attachment)comes about and falls apart. Despite, or perhaps because of, the first-person narrative the prose of the novel fizzes with great turns of phrase, acute observations, and sarcastic dialogue.

What really sets this book apart is its viewpoint - there's a palpable sense of anger at the way people like Anna are treated: the ignorance, the casual racism, the refusal to see. It's this that underpins the plot's twists and turns, and makes for a book both exciting and moving.

As I said, a blinder.

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