In a nutshell, this book is a realistic depiction of what life may be like for people should a devastating nuclear accident rock the entire world. It is a story of survival during a time of sheer panic in the midst of environmental and societal upheaval. There are times of dire hopelessness for the characters, and times of inspiration to fight for your life and the lives of those you love most.
The book begins right at the beginning of the action, when a nuclear research facility in Switzerland (the CERN) generates a devastating explosion. It incinerates nearly everyone and everything nearby, with only a few people from the facility escaping and struggling to survive. After the explosion, CERN became the epicenter of a huge dark cloud. The cloud continually expands, and it is a dark, roiling thing which affects communication between places underneath and outside of its grasp and blocks all sunlight. And understandably, it causes widespread panic among people. Panic is never a good thing.
In addition to this unexplainable yet dangerous black cloud are these monsters which are incredibly fast, strong, and able to camouflage themselves with the environment. So in addition to worrying about this black cloud threatening to cover the world, some of the characters are faced with terrifying creatures
In this book, each chapter is told in 3rd person POV alternating between several main characters. Some characters are from the first few days in Europe, when the world is trying to process what happened in Switzerland and how the cloud can be contained. The other characters are an American sheriff, two of his officers and a small family trekking west in hopes of escaping the cloud now visible to them after the explosion. There were enough different characters to keep me interested but not too many to become overwhelmed. I became very intimate with characters because so much time is spent with them but cover only a short period of time. In the early stages of this book, I became concerned with the amount of time spent on everyone without a lot of “action” happening with the plot. But I kept wanting to read it because I truly enjoyed Duncan’s writing style. There’s a lot of dry humor throughout, and I laughed out loud several times. It also reads like a movie, and I always like that. He writes really well, and actually inspired me to step up my own writing game. It was smooth, relatable writing that immersed me in the setting and the plot - the kind of writing which made me think, Yes - this is what I want to sound like when I write!
My favorite thing about the book was that everything seemed so very realistic, as though the different elements throughout were well-researched. I’m having a hard time recalling instances where something didn’t seem plausible. The struggles people went through to survive were what I’d expect if I were in that situation. I don’t have a military background, but the different weapons and technology used by the soldier characters was explained so that it made sense but I didn’t get bored with the details. The paranoia and distrust between the main characters and strangers in these dangerous times would be what anyone would feel. Even the monsters, which aren’t real, were defined enough so that they seemed real (though there was kept an air of mystery about them to heighten suspense). So it was easy for me to immerse myself in the story and root for the characters even though, like I said, the plot itself didn’t move quickly.
The book isn’t an in-your-face kind of scary. It’s more a suspenseful survival book, whereas I prefer something with more jump scares. I was disappointed the monsters hadn’t played a bigger role in it. That’s just a preference thing. Books about the apocalypse aren’t my first choice in horror genre, but I still really enjoyed this book. I think that if you enjoy end-of-the-world fiction then you will really like this book. The people, the setting, even the end-of-the-world scenario is believable enough that there is an undercurrent of fear that each character could die at any moment. Every character is surrounded by imminent danger the whole time, so one could say this book is filled with a quiet, constant psychological horror throughout.
Duncan’s writing style is very enjoyable, and I believe fans of fiction dealing with the horrors of impending end-times will enjoy this very much.
Author Website: www.duncanswan.me
Review by Kimberly Wolkens
THERE IS NO STOPPING IT.
THE CLOUD IS ARMAGEDDON, STEAMROLLING THE WORLD AT A WALKING PACE.
Day 0. From the wreckage of a research facility in Switzerland, a plume of toxic smoke and ash pours into the sky, forming an impenetrable cloud that is slowly smothering the world in darkness. As Europe disappears beneath the Cloud, a squad of United States marines are sent on a desperate mission to find out what went wrong, and how to undo it before it’s too late. Venturing into a cold, dark world, the marines must travel deep under the Cloud, with no comms, no backup, and no idea of what they will face.
Day 89. Half a world away, the Cloud has reached the East Coast of the US. With nowhere to run and no hope of survival, the American people have descended into madness, turning on themselves and each other. From the sidelines, an old Tennessee sheriff watches as his country unravels. But he can’t bring himself to take the easy way out. Quitting isn’t in his DNA. So when one of his deputies asks him to help protect her family, he leads them west, chasing a miracle—a rumor of an old nuclear bunker that just may be their only hope for survival. Because if the Cloud doesn’t kill them, what’s hiding in the dark will.
In his thrilling debut novel MONSTRE, author Duncan Swan crafts a relentless, terrifying, genre-bending tale of courage, desperation, and redemption that shows just how fragile our civilization is, and how far we will go to survive
A welcome return to the world of ‘A Quiet Apocalypse’
Dave Jeffery makes a triumphant, but subtly lowkey, return to the world of A Quiet Apocalypse (2019) with Cathedral which might be regarded as both a companion novella and a sequel of sorts. This continuation is set entirely in the town of ‘Cathedral’ which although did not feature directly in the predecessor was mentioned numerous times. Readers who remember the town will be keen to find out what exactly goes on there, with the warning bells suggesting nothing good. But that might be open to debate, depending on which side of the fence (or wall) you sit, or more importantly, your ability to hear, or not as the case might be…..
If you are interested in reading my full Ginger Nuts review to A Quiet Apocalypse, then follow the link:
Although reading A Quiet Apocalypse before Cathedral is not truly necessary, this new story could be enjoyed as a standalone piece, I would suggest you will be rewarded with a richer reading experience by approaching them in the order in which they were written. Both are relatively short, in fact, one of the weaknesses of Cathedral was its brevity, I read it over a single evening and wished there were more of it. As all the action takes place in the single location, one might suggest Jeffrey might have been more ambitious in delivering a more complex story, taking in more than one POV. However, I have a feeling there is considerable more life in the series and that the next instalment will probably focus upon a different aspect of this post-apocalyptic society, and if I was a betting man I would guess it is the turn of ‘The Samaritans’ who are the hunters and policemen of Cathedral.
By way of brief recap, A Quiet Apocalypse is set some years after a mutant strain of meningitis (MNG-U) has wiped out most of mankind, the majority died horribly with symptoms which began with pneumonia before developing into bacterial meningitis and eventual death with catastrophic brain damage. The few who survived the epidemic were left deaf, an even smaller percentage retained their hearing, and the focus of the book concerns the horrible relationship which develops between those with hearing and those deprived of it. Not to mention the biggest scapegoats: those who were always deaf. The story takes place in the midlands of England, with Cathedral being located on the remnants of Birmingham. Although Cathedral is a completely new story, there is fascinating character overlap with A Quiet Apocalypse, but for the sake of spoilers I am not going to provide any details, but fans will be pleased with the overlap.
Like its predecessor, Cathedral throws out the window most of the Mad Max type stereotypes you might expect in a post-apocalyptic novel and concentrates on characterisation, developing location and presenting a very convincing but brutal system of law and order which the inhabitants of the town follow in order to exist and survive. This is the core of the novella: how main character Sarah, who narrates the entire story in the first person, exists on a day-to-day basis. This element has a serious Handmaid’s Tale vibe to it and even features similar ritualistic torture and execution which all inhabitants have to watch by law, however, what makes Cathedral different from the Margaret Atwood classic is that the women are not subjugated and this cleverly changes the dynamics of the plot moving away from the well-trodden route of women being oppressed in dystopian fiction.
A Quiet Apocalypse hinted at the emergence of a new society in the town of Cathedral and this new novella opens the door wide open and allows the reader a fascinating insider peak at a bunch of people who exist to follow ‘Chapter 9 of The Testimony’ and a psychological principle which allows for partner swopping every month. ‘Mate Month’ was a fascinating key element of the story, there is no marriage, and it recognises that everybody has physical needs, so companions (or sexual partners) change in what is one of the core principles of the way Cathedral runs. As the novella is entirely seen from Sarah’s point of view, we have an inside track of how she deals with this emotionally.
The success of Cathedral lies squarely on Sarah’s shoulders. The ‘apocalypse’ lies perhaps fifteen years in the past, which still allows for nostalgia for the ‘old life’, music, and other attachments, however, to survive in the society of Cathedral this must be discarded to the dustbin of the past. This is another similarity with The Handmaid’s Tale, all the subjugated women could clearly remember their old lives, just as Sarah could remember her previous profession as a musician, was there brainwashing or just the realisation that this type of extremism is the only way to survive? Was this life better than nothing? The novella also asks the big question of how would we deal with love and intimacy if we were to swop partners every month?
I found Cathedral to be a fascinating read and the decision to look a microscopic element of this apocalyptic world in which nobody can hear to be very clever, particularly when Sarah begins to ask questions, with the arrival of the second main character. If I were being hyper-critical, I struggled to visualise how a location as vast as Birmingham could be converted into Cathedral, with walls etc, at one point it mentions men going to work in fields. How? Surely, they would have to travel miles and miles to find a rural setting to farm?
Dave Jeffrey is a very talented and versatile writer and deserves to be much better known than he probably is. He is equally comfortable writing books for kids (Beatrice Beecham series) as he is for adults and has an impressive range, for example Cathedral is thought-provoking fiction with little action or violence, but when required he can really move through the gears with gory entertaining trash such as Tooth and Nail (werewolves) and Frostbite (Yetis). Jeffrey is an author I am always delighted to read, and Cathedral is a fine addition to his impressive back-catalogue.
CATHEDRAL ... The world has changed. So have the rules.
In the silence of a quiet apocalypse, there is Cathedral. It is a city like no other, sanctuary for the survivors of a terrible plague that has deafened the world. The walls protect the small community. Rituals and laws maintain order to prevent a return to chaos.
But Cathedral is a dangerous and complex place. For citizens like Sarah and newcomer Paul it can be either home or prison.
They just have to decide where their loyalties lie…
(cover by Adrian Baldwin; central art piece by Dark Artist Roberto Segate)
Eric sent me a signed copy of his novella Starving Ghosts in Every Thread in exchange for an honest review.
Well, first things first Starving Ghosts is not an easy novella to describe, not for me anyway. It felt surreal a lot of the time and I’d definitely describe it as body horror, although not grotesque despite what is actually being described. Over a decade ago I read a short story called Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. As I read Starving Ghosts I found myself thinking of it. Probably because of the rare insect The Devil’s Crown Beetle and the scorpions both of which seem to have symbolic significance. The mingling of the changing beetle with the arachnids seems to create a growing sense that the main character Teddy is changing into something else.
The plot follows a young woman called Teddy and a small cast of characters surrounding her. Most notable are Mr Ridley, a back street rare and exotic animal dealer and Kiiara who seems to have powers of her own and befriends the isolated Teddy.
There was a lot of surreal activity and images in Starving Ghosts, it felt as if it had been written to be analysed. There are multiple introduced themes to dig through under the pretty descriptions that themselves can be pulled apart and examined if the reader so wishes. If the reader doesn’t, well that doesn’t matter too much because it is still an entertaining story.
What I liked about Starving Ghosts in Every Thread?
I found Teddy sympathetic and I liked the mystery regarding the changes she goes through and what she will become. I liked most of the descriptions after the beginning, when I felt that the over descriptions made it hard to see what was actually happening. After the beginning I did enjoy the descriptions, especially of people changing and the contrast between the hideous things being described and the beauty of their description. Most of all I enjoyed reading it and I especially enjoyed the climax in Mr Ridley’s cellar.
What I was less keen on?
The beginning felt like description over load but improved as the story went on. As an animal lover I found the selling of the rare animals and the treatment of some of the animals unsettling but I like that the author chose to deal with such issues real world issues.
Over all I enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to someone wanting something they can sink their teeth or tail into.
Teddy has a secret. She's so consumed with guilt that it compels her body to literally unravel unless she feeds off the emotions of others. Teddy’s parasitic condition is usually tempered easily and is invisible to most, unless she feeds from them. However, her insatiable hunger has already begun to threaten her safety. Trapped in her tiny Connecticut hometown thanks to a careless mistake which cost her a prestigious scholarship, Teddy grieves her father’s death and cares for her neurotic mother, Mercy, who is convinced scorpion venom is the only remedy for her own peculiar skin ailment linked to her daughter’s sadness. Once an aspiring songwriter, Teddy now merely alternates between shifts at the local market and visits to the house of her eccentric neighbor, Mr. Ridley, for fresh scorpions to bring to her mother. It’s during one of her routine visits to Mr. Ridley’s subterranean grotto of exotic animals that Teddy meets an unusual young girl named Kiiara. Immediately enamored with one another, Teddy soon discovers that Kiiara is hiding a gruesome secret, too – a secret that will threaten to undo everything Teddy has ever known and loved, and violently touch all those who cross their path with disaster.
Hello, I am Astrid Addams. I am the author of the novella The Haunting of Hacket House and various other short stories including the charity Christmas short Zombie Santa Claus: Axe Murderer Edition. I live in Britain with an ever evolving mischief and I love animals.
I had been debating getting into reviewing after reading about reviewers choosing to stop reviewing following the conduct of what I hope is a tiny minority of authors. As a writer I know the importance of reviews and the difficulty in getting reviewers to check out your work sometimes. Also when I saw I Jim’s post asking for volunteers to review for Gingernuts, I had just resolved to read more this year. So on a spur of the moment, a vague idea about maybe getting into reviewing became more concrete, so here we are. Enjoy my opinions and buy some books!
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Online, TL;DR stands for “too long; didn't read,” the kind of snark employed by messageboard trolls as they unleash vitriol from the safety of their keyboards. Here, it stands for Too Late; Didn't Run, in this second volume of Nope from TL;DR Press. So going into this I was already thinking of all those GIFs where an unwitting Dark Souls player dashes head first into darkness only to be met with a grinning skeleton lurching at them, before hotfooting it back the way they came.
After checking out its 24 short stories & poems I can't say that I'd suggest running eagerly towards this anthology. I was initially worried that this was going to be a gimmicky anthology filled with the kind of web-related content that you really have to be in the right kind of mood for. But the earnest foreword from the publishing team and the fact that proceeds are going to a good cause – the Ella Baker Center – helped cement this in my mind as a more serious piece of work.
As far as variety goes, there are brujas and bastards, terraformers and travelling sales folk, zombies, zealots and more, crossing all manner of time periods and settings. Some pieces take an experimental approach which doesn't always hit the mark, but it's nice to see something different being tried.
Standouts include Richard Archer's poem, Cursed, which manages to chill the blood and warm the heart in just over a page. Martin Brennan's Swamp Lullaby offers some Cajun slasher-style carnage in a similar vein to the Hatchet movies. The Body Farm by Armana Forbes offers a grim and grimily entertaining glance at the work of two guys who have to deal with more than just corpses. And Jennifer Crow's wax eye, slightly damaged is a creepily effective one-page poem about enduring evil.
More than a few of the other stories on offer are a bit clunky in their execution, though they deliver on either interesting premises or effective endings. The main issue is pacing, with lots of stories taking a while to get anywhere, lumping in more detail than necessary. Others show a lot of promise but don't quite deliver on the setup. Overall, the ratio of decent stories to not-so-decent tips more towards the average, and ironically enough I found myself flicking through some of the longer pieces to see what came next.
Seeing as this is for a good cause, it's probably worth grabbing a copy, but you might find yourself turning your back on many of the stories.
A spine-tingling anthology, with 24 short stories and poems to keep you up at night. Stories of ghosts, undead beasts, monsters that lurk in the shadows and more. All proceeds go to the Ella Baker Foundation; www.ellabakercenter.org. Stories from authors: Martin Brennan, Beulah Vega, Daniel Alvarez, Christopher Hubbard, Joshua Stoll, Rachel Hailey, Bryan Arneson, Rob McIvor, Robin Zlotnick, Richard Archer, Connor Thompson, Armarna Forbes, Henry Neilsen, A.Z. Louise, Myna Chang, C.P .Hunter, Daniel Loring Keating, Rachel Larensen, Dominick Cancilla, Annie Percik, Jennifer Crow, Sarah Linders, Lyle Enright, J. Askew.
Excellent supernatural anthology themed around the Home Counties of England
I live in Streatham (south London) which, I think, is technically within the boundaries of Surrey, which makes me the perfect candidate to review Terror of the Home Counties, edited by Paul Finch. This is the twelfth in the long running anthology series which has already featured spooky shenanigans at the Lake District, the Cotswalds, East Anglia, London, Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and others. Starting way back in 2011, I guess we had to get to Surrey and the Home Counties eventually! For those of you not acquainted with the geography of the UK, the Home Counties are the surrounding areas and towns which back onto London and its outlying towns.
I do not recall reading any of the other books in the series, but considering this is number twelve in the sequence, there was little sign of fatigue and I thought the overall quality was commendably high, with some excellent entries. In between each tale there was also a historical interlude regarding a ‘true’ haunting, myth or spooky going on, these did not impress me as much and came across as extracts you might stumble upon in Wikipedia or real haunting style books, such as Christopher Maynard’s Usborne’s World of the Unknown: Ghosts. Thankfully, they were all relatively short and were not such a major diversion. Foreign readers might even find them quaint or considerably more informative than I did. Before long I found myself skimming through them, partly because I was eager to dig into the next story.
The anthology opens with a corker, Steve Duffy’s In the English Rain, which is about a 16-year-old-boy who lives next door to a house supposedly owned by famous Beatle John Lennon, which was obviously set when Lennon was still alive. He uses this musical tip-bit to impress his best friend Sally Holden (who he wishes was something more) “so what’s it like living next door to a Beatle?” she says. They go exploring the house together (he would rather be exploring her) and as well as a convincing supernatural turn, the story beautifully incapsulates what it is like to be sixteen and in lust. A crackerjack opening to the anthology which also has a convincing sense of time and place.
Paul Finch’s The Doom was another of my favourites, which asks interesting questions about faith. Reverend Bilks and his wife work at St Brownwyn’s Priority church and enjoy a cosy village existence where the Church of England is all about fayres, bake sales and raffles. Nobody talks about God too much, who might be a distraction from day to day life. However, whilst the church is being restored a brutal and horrific Middle Ages mural is uncovered and its depiction of Hell and punishment is incredibly graphic. It quickly becomes a tourist attraction, and the Reverend gets into an uncomfortable conversation with a visitor who has something nasty on his conscience (or does he?) who asks him questions of faith he struggles to answer. Proceedings build nicely to a terrific ending with great imagery.
Love Leaves Last by Mick Sims was an absolute blast and has a very quirky concept at its centre. Two couples, head to a stately home to secure a business property deal and when they meet their hosts are given a key rule which they must follow at all costs: no sex in the house! Of course, rules are there to be broken, are they not? Put yourself in the shoes of the guests, it really was a strange request, and you will quickly find out why. The hook was probably better than the ending, but it was still very enjoyable.
An anthology based around the Home Counties would not be complete without an inclusion featuring a posh boarding school, of which there are many peppering the outlying countryside. With Reggie Oliver’s entertaining Monkey’s, we head to Eton and spent some time with three schoolboys in their final term at Eton College. Set in 1970s, but narrated many years later, the boys go for a relaxing afternoon row, where it is customary to stop for a drink on an island manned by an Eton College employee Billy. Expecting a quiet afternoon, Billy is behaving erratically, and things do not go as intended.
Overall, I was surprised I was not familiar with more of the authors featured, however, I was delighted to come across Helen Grant’s excellent Chesham. I have read a number of Helen’s novels, who is both a highly accomplished YA author (I recommend The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (2009), The Glass Demon (2010) and Wish Me Dead (2011) as well as a writer of adult fiction, including the excellent Ghost (2018). This story finds Helen in very melancholic mood with a woman clearing out the house of her recently deceased mother and whilst going through her stuff is triggered by various things she finds, including pictures of her mother pregnant at a peculiar time in her life, which leads to uneasy questions involving herself.
The anthology closes with another beauty, and I cannot say I was prepared for a dystopian(ish) style story set in Stevenage! (If you are not from the UK look it up on Google Maps….) with Jason Gould’s clever The old Man in Apartment Ninety. A mother tells her kid whatever you do, never go to Apartment 90, as there is a weird shimmering light coming from under the door. We quickly realise the boy has never been outside and the reason why Apartment 90 is out of bounds is not what you think. Of course, kids being kids, you know where he is heading…..
The last of my favourites was Steven J Dines’s The Gravedigger of Witchfield which is the first Covid-19 inspired stories I have seen in print which takes us to Witchfield, in Buckinghamshire. Teenager Ben’s dad is a gravedigger and is upset when a famous DJ buys one of the local mansions, has wild parties, but donates to the local church funds to smooth things over. There is a tricky relationship between the two and when Ben tries to tell his father about his poor performance in his GCSE mock exams he goes for a walk and gate-crashes the masked party, and stumbles upon the last thing he expects. The story heads in bizarre directions and pulls the rabbit out of the hat with a wild ending.
I do not have the time to mention every story, but these were several others which caught my eye. In Gail-Nina Anderson’s The Old, Cold Clay a little boy dies and a former local to the village, who now works in television, takes a close interest in the case, perhaps too close. In Andrew Hook’s My Somnambulant Heart, the narrator John Harris, meets up with a man (now a successful DJ) he bullied as a kid and begins to ruminate on what went on all those years ago. Tom Johnstone’s The Topsy-Turvy Ones jumps between 1649 and the Middle Ages with a young couple out rambling looking for a location to film a scene of a low budget film when the past truly does come to life. I spent some time in Luton in the 1990s and so enjoyed reading about Jason and Brandon’s get-rich-quick scheme which involved the local zoo in Allen Ashley’s Taking Tusk Mountain. The final word goes to David J Howe’s Moses in which two boys go out camping, almost as a dare, knowing full well something might lurk in the local river, one chickens out and runs home, then something nasty comes calling.
There was much to enjoy in Terror of the Home Counties and if you are a fan of short stories, especially the British variety, then this anthology is well worth closer inspection.
The gardens and orchards of the Home Counties. Quintessential England. Cottages, sleepy lanes. But also alchemy, devil cults and village curses. Where country house murders happen for real, evil landlords slaughter their guests, and Hellfire Clubs celebrate the powers of darkness … An anthology of horror stories using the Home Counties, its myths and legends, as their basis.
“I started to see demons’ faces in the drugstore aisles. An older woman with a walker stared at me, and her face was distorted. One eye was bulging out of her face, the eye socket was open, no eyelid, and her nose was long and hooked. What was happening?”
As the title reveals, this book is not a horror novel—it is a memoir. But bear with me here.
Inferno, a nod to Dante’s classic journey through hell, is the story of a new mother’s nightmarish journey as she is pushed beyond her mental limits, resulting in postpartum psychosis (a condition I was completely ignorant of until I read Cho’s book). While on maternity leave and traveling with her husband and new baby to meet family, Cho’s perceptions of reality begin to break down. She experiences auditory and visual hallucinations, sees demon eyes in her own baby’s face, and believes that she is literally in hell being put through a test or ordeal.
The reader is on the journey with Cho, experiencing her involuntary admission into a psychiatric ward and the disturbing sensory details of her psychosis from someone who has walked those halls of hell and survived to remember them with lucidity. These accounts are not only deeply disturbing, but also supremely personal; the manifestations of Cho’s psychosis are born out of her most deep-seated fears, reflecting the advice and stories her Korean grandmother told her as a child, the trauma from her past relationships, and the neuroses of her family members. The poetic vignettes of childhood memories visiting her grandparents in Korea and snippets of happy moments with her husband round out the narrative and leave you rooting for Cho like a heroine in a novel—and constantly having to remind yourself THIS WAS ALL REAL.
“The voice was in my head again. ‘Your son has to die, and it has to be your husband’s fault.’”
Most parents can attest to the mind-numbing sleep deprivation of those first weeks with a baby, can remember the distressing sense of losing control over one’s life, even one’s body. For me, horror is at its most visceral when it is just on the edge of my own experiences, when I’m not only fearing for the protagonist of the story but also realizing this could happen to me.
So even though Inferno is not a horror novel, it made me feel the permeability of the veil between sane and insane, and the uncanny plausibility of slipping into a never-ending karmic loop based not just on my own actions, but on the actions of my ancestors going back for generations. The realization that madness is ultimately personal, that the manifestations aren’t the random images of a misfiring brain, made me re-examine what I fear most in this world, and how those fears would haunt me someday should my own mind succumb to psychosis.
Although I highly recommend this memoir to those who love psychological horror, do not pick up this book when you are feeling psychologically or emotionally vulnerable. It hits too close to home. The real horror of Inferno is not in the haunting and poetic descriptions of an unwell mind that can no longer perceive the difference between reality and nightmare, but in the dawning realization that there, but for the grace of God, go I.
Review by Amber Logan
INFERNO: A MEMOIR OF MOTHERHOOD AND MADNESS BY CATHERINE CHO
When Catherine Cho and her husband set off from London to introduce their newborn son to family scattered across the United States, she could not have imagined what lay in store. Before the trip’s end, she develops psychosis, a complete break from reality, which causes her to lose all sense of time and place, including what is real and not real. In desperation, her husband admits her to a nearby psychiatric hospital, where she begins the hard work of rebuilding her identity.
In this unwaveringly honest, insightful, and often shocking memoir Catherine reconstructs her sense of self, starting with her childhood as the daughter of Korean immigrants, moving through a traumatic past relationship, and on to the early years of her courtship with and marriage to her husband, James. She masterfully interweaves these parts of her past with a vivid, immediate recounting of the days she spent in the ward.
The result is a powerful exploration of psychosis and motherhood, at once intensely personal, yet holding within it a universal experience – of how we love, live and understand ourselves in relation to each other.
Amber Logan is an author, freelance editor, and university instructor. She is currently a PhD Creative Writing candidate with Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England (although she lives in Kansas). Amber is an otaku about everything Japanese, and loves writing weird, dark, slipstreamy retellings—usually set in Japan.
In Ross Jeffery’s novella, Juniper is a ‘pissant town’ in America’s south which is described as ‘circling the drain’. After suffering floods in the recent past, the town is now in the middle of a relentless heatwave. The conditions have left residents desperate, so hungry they’ll eat what many others would consider uneatable. That’s why we find one of the two protagonists, Betty, trundling down the road with her wheelbarrow, looking for roadkill for sustenance. But when Betty realises that the biggest potential meal she’s ever found isn’t quite dead, she realises she’d prefer company to a carvery, and decides to nurse it back to full health.
Meanwhile the rest of the town have turned to another source of nutrition, the cats bred by our second protagonist, Janet and her hideously abusive husband, Klein. But they too have their problems: the dominant male in their cat farm, Bucky, an enormous tomcat, the father of so many Juniper meals, is missing, feared run over on the road.
With Betty’s amazing find coinciding with Janet and Klein’s misfortune with their lost tomcat a strangely compelling plot kicks off. This is certainly intriguing, and the narrative of these two women, stuck in their dead-end town with the odds firmly stacked against them, is entirely captivating.
The relationship between Janet and Klein is horrifically real. Klein had spent time in prison recently for a ferocious beating he gave to Janet, and as the novella progresses there is constant tension and fear for Janet, as Klein proves himself more than willing to go a step further. Some of these scene left me seriously concerned for the safety of Janet, and Klein is depicted as being thoroughly wicked. That said there is history to the relationship, and as much as you hate the idea, you can understand, to some degree, why they are still together.
Meanwhile, Betty’s attempts to rehabilitate what was almost roadkill provides moments of surgical horror. Jeffery dwells on some of these details, going into detail about grim elements of surgery. One moment in particular almost made my eyes water.
The two women form an unlikely kinship and come together for a most unlikely conclusion which is wholly satisfying. It’s near impossible to do this unique and bizarre plot justice, but it all concludes in a very satisfying and surprising way.
Throughout, the writing is strong. Jeffery has an eye for an image and the descriptions of Juniper in the first chapter, and the use of imagery there really bring this town to life. At this point it feels very much like a character in the novella. ‘Juniper’ is the first of a trilogy set here, and it’s certainly a location fit for plenty more stories. While that description of Juniper brings it to life in the first part, it perhaps isn’t utilised to its full potential here. While the baking hot sun is a constant and the hopelessness of the environment was a constant, given the way it was established first of all meant I was expecting it to become an even more significant part of the story.
If you’re looking for a plot that will surprise you, a great setting with well-drawn characters then, if you’re not going to be put off my domestic violence and surgery detail, there’s a lot to enjoy in a visit to Juniper.
Review by Ben Langley
Juniper is the first book in Ross Jeffery’s proposed trilogy: a post-apocalyptic horror about an insane American town seemingly at the edge of reality. As Juniper suffers from scorching drought and medieval famine, the townsfolk are forced to rely on the ‘new cattle’ for food: monstrous interbred cats kept by the oppressed Janet Lehey.
But there’s a problem: Janet’s prized ginger tom, Bucky, has gone missing, flown the coop. As Janet and her deranged ex-con husband Klein intensify their search for the hulking mongrel, Betty Davis, an old woman clinging to survival on the outskirts of Juniper, discovers something large and ginger and lying half-dead by the side of the road.
She decides to take it home…
Juniper is surreal, dark, funny, and at times: excruciatingly grotesque. Buckle up for a wild ride through the dust-ridden roads of a tiny, half-forgotten American town…
The White House of 1853 is a terrifying place….
When you have been reading (and reviewing) horror fiction as long as I have the occasions when ‘new’ authors with extensive back-catalogue are discovered are relatively few. Very few. Since 1999 Andrew Pyper has published ten novels and who knows why I never tried him before now, so thanks to fellow reviewers Steve Stred and Shane Douglas Keene for nudging me in the right direction. These guys understand my taste, and after devouring (and loving) their first recommendation The Demonologist (2013) I jumped straight into Pyper’s brand new novel The Residence. Rest assured I will be diving into that enticing back-catalogue for my third bite very soon.
Considering what is presently going on in American politics, a ghost story set in the White House seemed like exactly what I needed to escape the reality of the true horror of 2020. Interestingly, as with Alma Katsu’s The Hunger (inspired by the Donner Party disappearance), the story behind The Residence is based around solid fact laced with an unnerving supernatural twang. Pyper even mentions in his endnotes that in the 1850s, when the novel is set, ghostly sightings were reported in the White House and the author does an exceptionally good job of entwining a personal haunting around a genuine family tragedy.
The main character is Franklin Pierce who was the fourteen President of the United States from 1953-57, with the action kicks off he is in the very early stages of his presidency. In the opening pages of the story, his wife Jane and son Bennie are on a train to Washington, which derails and crashes. Tragically, the sole casualty of the accident is the boy, distraught, the couple struggle to recover, with their circumstances worsened by the fact that their two other children are already dead. The story is also told from Jane’s point of view, a sickly woman who is wasting away and hates life in the White House, believing her life to be virtually over, now that her children are all dead.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a stunning location and Andrew Pyper genuinely breathes life into the old house, which becomes alive as any character within the book. The President rattles around the rundown empty rooms which sign and groan, many are cold and unfurnished, and it does not feel like home. The paintings of his thirteen predecessors seem to frown down upon him, whispering ‘you failure’. At night there are strange noises, whispers, clumps within the walls and the patter of children’s feet. If you are a fan of slow-burning and atmospheric supernatural horror, in the style of Adam Nevill or Ronald Malfi, this is an outstanding book to try, it takes its time, but is never slow, and delicately builds layers of dread as the frazzled couple try to come to terms with the ghosts in the house, or are they their ghosts? Or secrets they have not revealed to each other?
The story cleverly taps into the mood of the period, which had both a belief and healthy respect for the supernatural, when the President’s wife uses two renowned mediums to help connect her with the dead son. The story is laced with guilt and revealing flashbacks to childhood and loss from both husband and wife’s point of view. Along the way, and highly convincing, the renowned novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne pops up, which was also based around fact, as it was Hawthorne who wrote some of Pierce’s campaign literature for election. The two had a long friendship dating back to their early twenties which is seamlessly woven into the story and one occasion where Hawthorne turns tale and refuses to stay in the White House after a night of undisclosed terror. A couple of scenes had me reaching for Google and Wikipedia and I was surprised how much was based on fact.
The marriage of Pierce and Jane lies at the heart of the story and it is exceptionally convincing and portrayed very sadly. Having lost three children, neither can grieve publicly and inwardly they are broken, sleeping in separate bedrooms Pierce cuts a forlorn figure as he realises the job as President of the United States is not an easy one, or one where things can be changed without some dire consequence or another. This was the 1850s and slavery lurks in the background of the story, as it did in the genuine presidency of Franklin Pierce. Once again, intrigued, I was reaching for Wikipedia to find out how history remembered the fourteenth President of the United States, I was not surprised by what I discovered, but I certainly emphasised with Andrew Pyper’s clever and sympathetic portrayal of a man who was perhaps pushed above his station.
The best horror novels must have a convincing supernatural creation beating at their black heart and The Residence has a beauty. Whenever “Sir” appears the pages positively crackle, and he featured in some genuinely outstanding scenes which were laced with tension, fear, and threat. Like a cat playing with a wounded mouse, with the mice being the President and his beleaguered wife. Some of the other supernatural occurrences which are developments from “Sir” were equally good and this was writing of the finest quality. Subtle, sinister, and deeply unsettling, the sort of thing I love. Watch out for the toy soldier in the bed scene!
If you are like me and Andrew Pyper is an author which has flown under your radar this is an excellent opportunity to do something about it. The blending of supernatural and convincing historical setting does not come much better than this. I am already mulling over which novel to try next from his back catalogue.
In this terrifying ghost story based on true events, the President's late son haunts the White House, threatening all who live in it--and the divided America beyond its walls. From the bestselling author of The Homecoming.The year is 1853. President-elect Franklin Pierce is traveling with his family to Washington, DC, when tragedy strikes. In an instant, their train runs off the rails, violently flinging passengers about the cabin. When the great iron machine finally comes to rest, the only casualty is the Pierces' son, Bennie. The loss sends First Lady Jane Pierce into mourning, and casts Franklin's presidency under a pall of sorrow and grief.
As the Pierces move into the White House, they are soon plagued by events both bizarre and disturbing. Strange sounds seem to come from the walls and ceiling, ghostly voices echo out of time itself, and visions of spirits crushed under the weight of American history pass through empty hallways. But when Jane orchestrates a séance with the infamous Fox Sisters--the most noted Spiritualists of the day--the barrier between this world and the next is torn asunder. Something horrific comes through and takes up residence alongside Franklin and Jane in the very walls of the mansion itself.
Only by overcoming their grief and confronting their darkest secrets can Jane and Franklin hope to rid themselves--and America--of the entity that seeks to make the White House its permanent home.