Reading Mash-Up #194 — Happy Halloween!

Cartoon gif. In front of a full moon in a dark sky, multiple bats fly toward us and scatter in all directions.

It’s hours away from my favorite holiday, and as of the afternoon of October 29, I completed my 31 Books of Halloween personal challenge!  Quite a few hits and a couple of misses, but overall a creepy fun time.

What I’ve Been Reading

The Beauty of Horror: Tarot Coloring Book by Alan Robert — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 24/31)  So why am I including a coloring book on my reading list?  Because this is more than your typical coloring book.  Alan Robert not only gives us his artistic versions of a tarot deck, but also provides some introduction on the meanings behind the cards.  Very entertaining, and some decent information for those new to tarot.

We Need to Do Something by Max Booth III  — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 25/31)  I went into this one knowing the basic outline:  a family of four hide in their bathroom during a tornado warning and wind up trapped.  What I wasn’t expecting was the sheer emotional and psychological terror that would happen as the story unfolded.  I don’t want to give away any of the spoilers so I will just say that I tore through this in one sitting and was left feeling disturbed and unsettled.

The Haunted by Robert Curran and Ed and Lorraine Warren — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

(H 26/31) An average American family moves into their new home, and shortly after, are plagued with strange noises, smells, and events.  World famous demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren are called in to help the overwhelmed family and to try to determine what evil is plaguing the residents.  Whether you believe in ghosts, demons, and other supernatural entities or not, this is still a good, creepy story, perfect for fans of The Amityville Horror.

Rovers by Richard Lange — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

(H 27/31)  When I saw this book referenced as “Of Mice and Men meets Dracula,” I was instantly intrigued and needed to check it out.  And yes, Jesse and his brother, Edgar, do fit the OMAM bill, and this is a story about vampires.  But that’s really where any similarities end.  The main plot point centers around revenge, from the father seeking revenge against the killer of his child to the vampiric biker group looking for revenge against wrongs done against them.  I liked this one, especially being able to see everything from the multiple points of view.  I would recommend this to anyone looking for a different twist to the standard vampire story.

Sundial by Catriona Ward — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 28/31)  Rob fled her childhood home in search of a normal life with her husband and daughters.  When the oldest daughter starts to exhibit some disturbing behavior,  Rob realizes she must return to her past to help her daughter.    I was excited to read this one after enjoying Ward’s last novel, The Last House on Needless Street.  I wound up having some mixed feelings on this one though.  I’ll admit, I found it difficult to really get any traction until the halfway mark, when things finally started to happen.  Even then, I found Rob to be annoying as hell which I just couldn’t shake off.  Were the reveals worth the read?  I’m still on the fence with that.  Not bad, but if you’ve read TLHONS don’t expect the same type of story here.

The Long Shadows of October by Kristopher Triana — 3 out of 5 stars

(H 29/31)  If you’re a fan of those 1980’s/90’s horror flicks involving horny teens getting taken out by deranged killers/evil spirits, then this book is for you.  Triana pays tribute to those movies with a tale about a couple of teen boys housesitting at a mansion filled with lots of secrets…oh, and a succubus.  Entertaining, and not the total gorefest that Triana is known for (oh, it’s still there, but in smaller doses).

Graveyard by Ed and Lorraine Warren — 2.5/3 out of 5 stars

(H 30/31)  After reading The Haunted, I was really disappointed with this one.  The writing is disjointed, and all of the stories are similar to urban legends I have been hearing about for years.  However, if you’re looking for some spooky ghost stories to tell around the campfire, you might find a few here.

The Night Stockers by Kristopher Triana and Ryan Harding — ??? out of 5 stars

(H 31/31) The plot in a nutshell:  the employees at Freshway grocery store have to work a night shift.  The satanic cult employees at the rival grocery store across the street, Devil’s Food, decide this would be the perfect time to kill the competition.   Literally.  When I first heard of this book, I thought the story sounded like a really bad B horror movie, only with a lot more “splatter” (thanks to having two outstanding splatterpunk authors working in collaboration).  I’ve read my share of extreme and splatter horror.  In all of the decades that I’ve been reading horror, I’ve come across some vile shit.  Nothing prepared me for the two scenes in this book that pretty near broke me.  But, strangely enough, I couldn’t stop reading (mainly because I wanted to see if the most twisted character met an ultimate demise, also to see who fricking survives, kind of like when I watch slasher movies).  There is some great dark humor, and the various references to the death metal culture of the 80’s/90’s are spot on.  I can’t in good conscience give this one any stars, but I would recommend it for fans of extreme and splatter.

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

Reading Mash-Up #193

I was able to get a lot of reading done the past couple of weeks, so let’s dive right in…

What I’ve Been Reading

Slewfoot by Brom — 5+ out of 5 stars

(H 13/31)  I first heard about this book through posts on a facebook page and became intrigued (plus the cover art won my instant attention).  There was a ton of praise being given to it, so, on a whim, I decided to give it a shot.  The hype is real on this one.  Set in the year 1666, at the height of the witch trials, this is the story of Abitha, a creature named Samson, and the Puritan society that surrounds them.  This is all the info I really want to give out, as I went in with very little knowledge of what the story was about and I think that’s the best way to discover this amazing tale.  I have read thousands of books in my lifetime, and I don’t get to say this often, but Slewfoot instantly shot into my top ten all-time favorite stories.  Highly recommend.

Brother by Ania Ahlborn — 4/4.5 out of 5 stars

(H 14/31)  Ahlborn goes full dark with this novel of an Appalachian serial killer/cannibal family.  Michael, the youngest son, is the main focus of the story, and as I fell farther down this rabbit hole of twisted family “values”, I couldn’t help but feel for the guy, the quiet one of the clan who actually questions his place in the horrors.  Ahlborn’s writing is fast and furious, and the characters, no matter how vile, are well executed (no pun intended).  Highly recommend, but proceed with caution.

Lay Them to Rest by Laurah Norton — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 15/31)  Absolutely fascinating, especially for anyone interested in true crime and forensic science.  Laurah Norton, a host of a popular true crime podcast, takes us on a behind-the-scenes journey into the many steps and layers it takes to identify the unknown.  In this case, it revolves around the partial remains of a woman known only as “Ina Jane Doe.”  Norton details her personal experiences as well as offers chapters explaining some of the science involved.   I found this to be informative while also paying homage to the many victims who have yet to be identified and laid to rest.  Highly recommend.

Jarvis Street by Amanda McCormack — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 16/31)  The second installment of the North County Paranormal Unit series picks up a month after the first story left off.  This one puts the focus on James as he tries to adjust to his new role in the unit.  As with the first story, this one focuses on the character building and not so much the paranormal aspect.  No matter though.  I am really getting into this series.  Added bonus:  it makes for a nice mental palate cleanser after some of the darker tales I’ve been reading lately.  If you’re looking for a lighter read (I hesitate to call this series “cozy”) but still want some Halloween vibes, I recommend giving this series a shot.

Fairview Hills Cemetery by Amanda McCormack — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 17/31)  The third installment of the North County Paranormal Unit series, and now we’re really getting into the paranormal side of things!  Just in time for Halloween, the group has to investigate some disturbances at a local cemetery after some kids use a Ouija board and unwittingly bring forth a malicious spirit.  The character focus goes back to Gabriella, and while this was fine (and good to see she’s finally growing a bit), I do hope the future installments will center around some of the other characters, especially Bradley.  I want to know what the hell happened to this guy that he has a perpetually bad attitude (seriously Bradley, check your attitude at the door for an hour).

Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 18/31)  “Pop a pill and see the dead.  Side effects may occur.”  An interesting premise to be sure.  Erin’s ex-boyfriend overdoses, and in the aftermath of his death, she is introduced to a new drug called Ghost.  Wanting to find (escape? peace? answers to the unknown? I’m still not really sure), she spirals into addiction with some truly terrifying side effects.  I liked the story itself, but for some reason I had a hard time gaining any traction or momentum while reading it.  There were some great unnerving scenes throughout, but I guess not enough to keep the story moving for me (or perhaps it just didn’t fit my mood at the time).  Even though it didn’t totally work for me, I would still recommend it for some creepy late-night reading.

—Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies—

Linghun by Ai Jiang — 5 out of 5 stars

(H 19/31)  In a mysterious town known as HOME, people can bring back the ghosts of their beloved ones…but at what cost?  There are many layers to this novella while also tying in the themes of love, loss, and grief.  This had me feeling all kinds of emotions while reading it, and I really didn’t want it to end.  But I guess that also could sum up the book:  grieving loved ones not wanting to let go of the dead.  Highly recommend.

Attack of the Crawling Hand by Nicole Prestin — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 20/31)   The title pretty much sums up the story, where we have a waitress at a truck stop diner having to battle a dismembered hand that is seeking revenge.  Apparently, there is a series of short stories featuring this diner and some of the characters, and if they are as silly and amusing as this one was, I’m definitely going to check them out.

Snowman Shivers:  Two Dark Humor Snowmen Tales by Mark Leslie — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 21/31)  Snowmen and Halloween don’t really go hand in hand, but I thought I’d include these two short stories in my October reading list since we’re dealing with walking, living snowmen (you have to admit, that is kind of creepy).  These were more along the line of emotionally darker tales, and, while not bad at all, wasn’t what I had in mind after reading the blurbs.

Dig Two Graves — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 22/31)  Twenty-two stories of revenge and retribution, with varying degrees of success.  There were some great standouts, like my personal favorites Steadfast Shadowsong (Andy Rausch), Samantha (Jeremy Megargee), and Nemesis (C. Derick Miller) to name a few, many good stories, and a couple that left me scratching my head and wondering what the hell just went on.  Recommend for those looking for dark tales with not-so-happy endings.

Spine by Steven Jenkins — 2.5 out of 5 stars

(H 23/31)  Eight tales that promised creepiness and, for me, failed to deliver.  The writing was technically good and there were some good ideas, but all the stories just seemed flat and emotionless.

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

October — The 31 Books of Halloween Continues!

The spookiest month of the year is here, and I am right in the middle of my Halloween reading marathon!  As of today, October 4, I have finished fifteen titles, and currently reading three others.  Will I hit the magic number of 31 before the end of the month?  Stay tuned…

Reading Mash-Up #192

Wow, these past couple of weeks have flown by, and now it’s the eve of my favorite month, October!  Autumn has already brought some cooler temps and some much-needed rain to my corner of the world, and between getting things put away for winter, hauling out the Halloween decorations, and lots of reading, I’ve been keeping pretty busy!

What I’ve Been Reading

The Human Son by Adrian Walker — 4.5/5 out of 5 stars

My September TBR selection.  In the distant future, humankind is extinct and human-like creatures called erta inhabit the earth, and have worked for centuries to reverse the damage to the ecosystems brought on by humans.  Now they must decide whether to reintroduce humans to the world, so they create one child to raise and see if they are worthy of coming back.   I fell in love with this book!  The writing sucked me in from the beginning, and Ima’s early approaches to parenthood had me laughing more than once.  There were a couple of times the narrative started to slip more into preaching than telling, which lowered it a bit for me, but overall this is sci-fi with heart and one that I would highly recommend.

Ghostly Encounters:  True Stories of America’s Haunted Inns and Hotels by Frances Kermeen — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 6/31)  It’s the bucket list I never knew I needed until I came across this book: a list of haunted inns to visit and take my chances with some ghostly encounters!  Frances Kermeen owned the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, a mansion known as one of the most haunted places in the U.S., so she knows a bit about creepy places.  She has put together a list of forty haunted inns and hotels, complete with detailed histories and eyewitness stories.  I had a blast reading this, with the only downside for me being a lack of any photos (I would have loved at least some outside shots of the various places just for visual references).

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 7/31)  Rory moves back to her hometown to help out her pregnant twin sister.  Little did she know that a chance encounter late one night would lead to some major changes in her lifestyle.    This was one of the more entertaining werewolf stories I’ve read in some time.  Yes, there are some nasty bits, but the overall vibe is more Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse rather than in-your-face gorefest type of werewolf novels.  And I hate to admit this, but I wouldn’t mind a sequel to this one.  High recommendation, especially if you’re looking for a bit lighter Halloween reading.

The Toy Thief by D.W. Gillespie — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 8/31)  A young girl named Jack has seen the skeletal creature that enters her home late at night, but what does this creature want?  And will anyone believe her?   For me, while I thought the overall story was pretty good, I just couldn’t muster up any feelings for the main character, which is always problematic when it’s first-person narration.  I did eventually settle in to the story, and, though not what I was expecting, found it to be a decent creepy read fit for the Halloween season.

—Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

America’s Scariest Places (magazine) — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 9/31)  I came across this 100-page magazine and knew I had to bring it home for the spooky season!  The title says it all:  this is packed with photos, backstories, and encounters from places across the United States, from haunted hotels to creepy institutions, as well as sites of horrific tragedies or mayhem.  Makes a great check list for ghost hunters.

Sump Pump by A.E. Hodge — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 10/31)  If dark basements and lots of spiders are your go-to for a scary read, check out this short story (I found it as a Kindle freebie not too long ago).  The author does a great job of mixing dark humor in with the creeping build-up.  Fast and fun.

Wild Spaces by S.L. Coney — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 11/31)  A boy, his dog, his strange grandfather, and family secrets are the basis of this coming-of-age horror novella.  Coney breathes fresh life into this common trope and delivers a dark (but not too dark) slow-burn that I couldn’t put down.

A Darker Shade of Noir — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

(H 12/31)  If you’re looking for short stories featuring body horror that will take you on a disturbing, twisted, strange, and sometimes darkly humorous ride, then look no further than this latest offering from Akashic Books.  Every story is truly unique, even when incorporating common horror ideas like werewolves and vampires.  For my personal reading experience, there were stories I loved, others I liked, and a couple that left me wondering what the hell I just read, but the overall experience was entertaining and something I would recommend for the Halloween season.


Stay safe, and Happy Reading!