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Book Review – The Angel Maker by Alex North

The Angel Maker is another “is it really supernatural or not?” thriller from Alex North. North’s books tend to straddle that line perfectly – horrible people doing horrible things but maybe-just-maybe there’s something not quite human working behind the scenes.

North’s newest offering is the story of…well, a lot of people, actually. Katie Shaw is trying to find her brother, Chris, whose life has been in a drug-fueled downward spiral since he was attacked, his face mutilated, as a teenager.  Meanwhile a mysterious old man dies under suspicious circumstances, another old man oozes menace while searching for something priceless, someone is stalking Katie’s family, and the looming shadow of dead serial killer Jack Lock looms over all.

Part police procedural, part thriller, part creepy cultists mystery, this book has lots to offer for readers who like their tales intriguing, creepy, and just close enough to reality to have you glancing over your shoulder.


Book Review – The Lies We Weave by Grace R. Reynolds

Grace R. Reynolds rips my heart out once again with her newest collection, THE LIES WE WEAVE. Her poetry speaks directly to my bruised little soul, and I suspect will speak to the soul of every woman who has ever felt the pain of love, of loss, of betrayal, of unworthiness, of growth.

This poetry collection is divided into three sections.

The first – “Vermiculus” – is the shortest, and contains twelve poems that touch on many things, but the theme which seemed to stand out to me was the lies and expectations that we, as women, place on ourselves and each other, and the damage this causes to our psyches.

The second – “Larvae” – is the longest section, and the most gut-wrenching for me, personally. These are poems that deal with the damage done to women’s hearts, minds, bodies, and souls by men they loved and trusted. There were times while reading this section that I had to stop and put the book down and take a few deep breaths.

From “There Are Holes Everywhere”:

π‘¨π’Ž 𝑰 π’˜π’π’“π’•π’‰ 𝒄𝒂𝒖𝒔𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒐𝒗𝒂𝒕𝒆?

𝑫𝒐 𝑰 𝒅𝒆𝒔𝒆𝒓𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒂 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒉 𝒄𝒐𝒂𝒕 𝒐𝒇 π’‘π’‚π’Šπ’π’•?

𝑰 π’˜π’π’π’…π’†π’“ π’˜π’‰π’‚π’• 𝑰 π’˜π’π’–π’π’… π’ƒπ’†π’„π’π’Žπ’†

π’Šπ’‡ π’”π’π’Žπ’†π’π’π’† π’˜π’†π’“π’† 𝒕𝒐 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒆 π’•π’‰π’†π’Šπ’“ 𝒕𝒐𝒐𝒍𝒔 π’˜π’Šπ’•π’‰ π’Žπ’†,

𝒕𝒐 π’”π’‰π’π’˜ 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 π’…π’†π’”π’‘π’Šπ’•π’† π’Žπ’š π’„π’“π’–π’Žπ’ƒπ’π’Šπ’π’ˆ π’‡π’π’–π’π’…π’‚π’•π’Šπ’π’

𝑰 π’‚π’Ž π’”π’•π’Šπ’π’ π’”π’•π’‚π’π’…π’Šπ’π’ˆ:

π’”π’•π’Šπ’π’ π’„π’“π’†π’‚π’Œπ’Šπ’π’ˆ, π’”π’•π’Šπ’π’ π’ƒπ’“π’†π’‚π’•π’‰π’Šπ’π’ˆ,

𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑰 π’‚π’Ž π’˜π’π’“π’•π’‰ π’”π’‚π’—π’Šπ’π’ˆ.

The third section – “Musca” – deals with the pains associated with motherhood, with raising children and hoping that your own darkness does not flow into them.

I’m tempted to call this a work of feminist poetry, but the truth is that it’s just brutal, honest, raw, emotive, visceral words that speak to the wounds that women carry with them every day of their lives. These words are beautiful, but they hurt, because they speak the truth.

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Book Review – Take Your Turn, Teddy by Haley Newlin

Take Your Turn, Teddy is a book that will make you uncomfortable.

Teddy Blackwood is a ten-year-old boy who witnesses something no child should ever have to see – his father turning into a monster before his eyes, his own mother the victim. When his mother packs the car full of their stuff and takes Teddy away to the old family home, Teddy finds peeling wallpaper, ominous trees outside his window, a chill he can’t shake…and a new friend in the basement.

Tragedy after tragedy occurs, and in order to protect himself, Teddy – with the help of his friend, “Shadow” – transforms into something completely unrecognizable.

The first part of the book deals with Teddy’s heartbreaking progression from an innocent child into a frightened little boy who will do anything to just not hurt anymore. The second part tells the story of a group of police officers – mainly Officer Strode, who is dealing with psychological problems of his own and is constantly on the edge of a complete breakdown – as they search for the answers to the mystery of two missing children (Teddy being one of them) and a string of brutal and sadistic murders. The last few parts are an intense back-and-forth in which the reader is presented with the question: what has Teddy turned into, and is he able to be saved?

The thing that impresses me the most about this story is the way author Haley Newlin has managed to write a character – young Teddy – who does things both horrible and terrifying but is completely sympathetic, pitiable, lovable. As a mom, I wanted to pull him straight out of the pages and hold him and show him that life doesn’t have to be that way.

Is this book horror? Absolutely. It’s psychological but also supernatural. It’s violent and nerve-racking. It explores the effects of trauma and grief on minds both fragile and strong. You will finish reading this one with a knot in the pit of your stomach and the desire to hug the nearest small child and make sure they’re OK.

Book Review – Ghosts of the Orphanage by Christine Kenneally

This non-fiction offering presents the story – in both broad strokes and miniscule individual lines – of the abuse, neglect, and sometimes murder that happened in secret at orphanages across the world throughout the twentieth century.

Focusing mainly on time time period between the 1940s and the 1970s, and zooming in specifically on an institution in Vermont called St. Joseph’s, author Christine Kenneally presents story after story of horrific happenings – children being made to eat their own vomit, severe beatings, sexual abuse, emotional torture, and more – as reported by adult survivors of this childhood trauma.

The book takes readers through the history of these orphanages – almost always run by the Catholic church, shows through source materials how the institutions were run, exposes the abuse, and details several cases in which the Catholic church and its many related branches were taken to court over the multiple charges.

Reading this book, I ran through a whole gamut of emotions. Absolute sickening horror at the stories which were told. A sort of righteous indignation at the way the institutions/church covered everything up. Uncomprehending disbelief at interviews with accused nuns, priests, and laypeople who obviously do not think any of the things they did were wrong. Admiration for the adult survivors brave enough to come forward with their experiences. Utter frustration with the court system.

This is fascinating stuff, in the same way that driving past a wreck on the highway is fascinating. You know you’re likely to see something terrible, but you can’t help looking anyway.

Book Review – The Donut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale

This book was so much fun.

Charlie Garner, our MC, gets a late-night visit from something which is either the ghost or astral projection (or perhaps a mere hallucination) of his ex-wife, Meg,that sets him off on a dangerous but completely wacky adventure to find out what has happened to her.

Enter Charlie’s massive and quick-tempered brother, Felix, Felix’s sexy and extremely persuasive girlfriend Cherry, and a saucy little redheaded journalist known as “Scrappy”, and the hunt is on. The team will go up against aliens, cults, chimpanzees, psychedelic donuts, and a psychotic pyromaniac in their quest to solve the mystery of Meg’s disappearance.

Billed as a crime novel, this book has that and more. It’s intense at times but funny always. Lansdale’s first-person prose is chock full of amusing observations and humorous dialogue. This is a book which manages to have both a truly intriguing mystery, complete with moments of real danger, and also an over-the-top weirdness that keeps you snorting with laughter as you read.

Yes, this was my first Lansdale. I know that’s a horrible tragedy, and I aim to make up for this offense ASAP.

Book Review – The Tooth Fairy by Davide Tarsitano

This book starts as Johnny Hawk wakes up, groggy, and finds himself in a strange room, in incredible pain, and most definitely drugged. How did he get there, and what will happen to him now? The timeline then backs up by about a month and takes you along for the ride as Johnny, running from a successful but unhappy life, makes his way toward the doom that he doesn’t know is coming – but you do. Johnny meets up with Wendy Jag, dentist, who has a whole host of problems of her own, including a screwed up childhood, a drug addiction, and, well, even worse things. When the two collide, the Tooth Fairy comes out to play, and that means…bad things happen.

Davide Tarsitano’s THE TOOTH FAIRY is a dark, unsettling psychological horror mixed with a nice little helping of torture. You will cringe while reading this one. I did.

Book Review – The Breaking of Mona Hill by Christy Aldridge

Today is release day for THE BREAKING OF MONA HILL, the newest novel from Christy Aldridge . I was honored to be the editor for this book, and I can assure you it is well worth a read.

The Breaking of Mona Hill tells the story of a teenage girl caught up in the backwards backwoods beliefs of her fundamentalist family. Young Mona finds herself in a precarious position when things begin to happen which make her question everything she’s been raised to believe, in a world where questioning anything – especially if you’re a woman – is a dangerous sin. This is a story of religious zealotry, generational curses, and the crazed lengths some people will go to in order to defend their skewed ideology.

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual storyline, but I will say this: Christy Aldridge has a unique way of writing which punches the reader right in the gut. Her stories – this one definitely included – will leave you feeling uncomfortable and discomfited. She writes horrific scenes with the most stunningly beautiful brutality. You will finish reading this book with a broken heart and the distinct need to go take a scalding shower. And then you will continue to think about this story for a very long time.

Book Review – The Twisted Dead by Darcy Coates

THE TWISTED DEAD is the third installment in Darcy Coates’s GRAVEKEEPER series.

So far in the series, we’ve been introduced to Keira, a woman on the run who finds refuge in the small town of Blighty when a kind old pastor named Adage takes pity on her. Keira has no memory of her past life, but with the help of Adage and a couple of new friends – Zoe, a quirky conspiracy theorist, and Mason, a kind but haunted almost-doctor – she manages to start something of a new life.

She also discovers she can see and communicate with ghosts. It’s convenient, then, that she now lives in the groundskeeper’s cottage at the local graveyard.

The first two books chronicle the adventures of Keira and friends as she learns to use her supernatural skills to face down various evils. This newest addition to the series finds Keira, Zoe, and Mason attempting to help the town recluse, Dane Crispin, rid his house of the dozens of energy-sucking spirits that have plagued him his whole life. About a third of the way through the book, we veer off onto a separate plotline in which we finally – finally! – find out why Mason abruptly left medical school and get some answers about Keira’s past.

All the characters are uniquely likable, from the quiet chivalry of poor Mason (who is in way over his head) to the absolute off-the-wall weirdness of Zoe, to the lovably doddering old man cluelessness of Adage. And don’t forget Daisy, the possibly magical cat.

These books are fun. They’re adventure tales with a supernatural bent, full of ghosts for sure, but also shadowy organizations and murderers and plenty of run-for-your-life moments. All of Keira’s questions haven’t been answered yet, so there must be at least one more book to come. I look forward to reading it.

Book Review – Things Have Gotten Worse Since Last We Spoke by Eric LaRocca

I have seen Eric LaRocca’s name circling through the horror community for a couple of years now, and I finally got around to reading some of his work.

First of all, let me say that LaRocca’s writing style is wonderfully smooth. I flew through these stories. In fact, I sat down meaning to just read the first page or two and didn’t get up until I’d finished the first 140-page story.

From the ill-fated Sponsor/Drudge relationship in the titular story, to the mental and emotional breakdown of a haunted mother in “The Enchantment”, and all the way through to the anxiety-inducing series of bets endured for the sake of being polite in “You’ll Find it’s Like That All Over”, LaRocca’s stories deal in the true horrors of everyday life, in the harsh realities of what we as humans are willing to suffer in order to feel a connection of some kind with the people and the world around us.

Stark and brutal yet beautiful and touching, these three stories show that the circling round of LaRocca’s name is no mistake or passing fad. I look forward to reading more of his work.