“‘The Year of the Storm’ (2013):
Genre-bending fantasy coming-of-age horror has a welcome rerelease”
One of the highlights of this latest year in books was the welcome discovery of Hank Early who wrote two outstanding ‘Hillbilly Noir’ thrillers “Heaven’s Crooked Fingers” (2017) and its direct sequel “In the Valley of the Devil” (2018). The first book was so good I had already, excitedly, bought the sequel before I finished the first and had the great pleasure of reading them back to back last summer. Set in a mountainous region of rural Georgia, both novels feature Earl Marcus, a private detective (with a load of issues) who returns home after two decades in exile to solve a strange family mystery. Although they are not horror novels, these incredibly atmospheric dark thrillers with a vague supernatural undercurrent and are top loaded with superb characters and terrific plots. I’ve never drunk moonshine in the Georgian mountains, but these great books take me right there. I give these detective thrillers my highest possible recommendation.
What’s this got to do with John Mantooth’s “The Year of the Storm” which was first published in 2013 you quite rightly ask? Mantooth is the alter-ego of Hank Early and since his “Earl Marcus” detective novels have seen some success Mantooth’s “The Year of the Storm” has been rereleased with a new cover and prequel novella “Broken Branch”. Bracken MacLeod also writes a new introduction. 2019 should see a third book in the series and I cannot wait.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the outstanding “Year of the Storm” I must stress how incredibly different this book was to his detective novels. Apart from the similar rural settings, one would never imagine they came from the same hand. Now that’s clever writing. For a while is seemed this 2018 rerelease would be published under the name Hank Early, but in the end they decided to stick with John Mantooth. I think overriding reason for this was because the books are such different experiences and detective fans might not necessarily enjoy “The Year of the Storm” and with Hank Early well on his way in creating his own very successful brand of ‘Hillbilly Noir’ one can understand why they have been kept separate.
I love both Mantooth and Early and soaked-up every moment of this weird and wonderful tale. The novel opens sometime after fourteen-year-old Danny’s mother and autistic little sister disappear in a huge storm. There were no clues and the police are baffled, but slowly it is revealed that the mother was loaded with problems of her own. After her vanishing Danny has a fractured relationship with his father and his story is a convincing coming of age tale of friendships, school and loss. Soon he makes a new best friend who has many issues of his own but might be able to help Danny who refuses to believe his mother is dead. Months later, a worn-out Vietnam veteran named Walter Pike moves into a nearby shack and turns up at Danny’s door claiming to know where his mother and sister are, which introduces a crucial supernatural angle to the plot. To some extent you will also question what truly is the truth? As there is more than a whiff of an unreliable narrator and a story being misremembered over time.
The second story thread takes us back to 1960 to when Walter was a teenager and the issues and prejudices he had growing up in the same neighbourhood. The two stories may be generations apart, but soon they converge in a very powerful manner. Combined this brilliant story covers many areas; how we process traumatic experiences, memory of childhood experiences, loss and standing up for yourself and friends. The unconventional supernatural twist is a very clever aspect of the story, whereas the author’s detective novels are much vaguer this is very focussed and is effortlessly threaded into the novel and pulls it in an unexpected direction. However, I’m not going to provide any further spoilers, but prepare for a strange journey.
I love strange genre-bending novels which defy categorisation and “The Year of the Storm” is up there with the best of them; a deft combination of fantasy, thriller and coming-of-age drama. It has so many terrific sequences; those dealing with bullying (a boy is almost drowned in quicksand) and the exploration of sexuality (and confusion) were amongst the finest. Like with his detective novels, the author has a terrific knack for effortlessly laying down a believable time and place. Ultimately it’s a very powerful and engaging story of friendships and the extraordinary circumstances that can bring people together and tear them apart.
Whether this author is writing as John Mantooth or Hank Early I recommend you check out either his detective thrillers or “The Year of the Storm” an unconventional and quirky read which is worthy of a rerelease.
If there’s one thing I love more than horror fiction it’s a good auld gothic tale. The Mongrel by Seán O’Connor is a satisfying (Irish) stew of terror, atmosphere, and monsters of the four-legged kind!
A disapproving father, disillusioned husband and, a naïve pregnant young woman. This could be any Victorian period drama set in the wild moors of England. But the setting for this horrific tale is a modern-day Ireland in the beautiful but unforgiving Wicklow Mountains.
Erin has some rose tinted glasses on when it comes to her husband, who has quite a temper, likes to knock her about and then regurgitate the typical one-liner of instigators of domestic abuse the world over; "see what you made me do?"; after which he apologises for lashing out until the next time something sets him off.
It's after one such occurrence that Philip suggests he and Erin take a little drive to her favourite spot in the Wicklow Mountains where there is a raging snowstorm hot on their heels - but there's more than deer up in the hills and finding themselves stranded miles from the closest living human is the last thing they intended; or is it?
The Mongrel is fast, creepy, tense and for a novella, has some amazing character building. Philip got right up my nose from the get go and pretty much stayed there. Not an easy thing to achieve in just under a hundred pages of narrative.
It's a classic survival horror trope with an Irish family dynamic thrown in for good measure! If you like your werewolves nasty and resilient then fill your boots with this one! This is a no-brainer 5-star debut novella that acts as a reminder of the continuous stream of literary talent Ireland has to offer.
About the author
O’Connor was born in 1985, and grew up at the foot of the Dublin Mountains. From a young age he became fascinated with fiction, particularly stories based on the supernatural, horror, and the darker side of the human psyche.
His debut book, The Mongrel, was published in October 2018 by Matador Publishing. He currently resides in Fingal County on the north side of Dublin, with his Fiancée and son, where he is at work on his next tale of woe.
2018 has been a bumper year for horror, the range and diversity of horror on the physical and virtual bookshelves, probably hasn't been in such a strong place for as long as I can remember.
As the year draws to a close here are some of the books that I think you should all go out and purchase, if you would like to purchase one, please click on the cover image of the books as that will take you your region specific Amazon store, purchasing a book in this manner not only helps to keep the site going, it also helps to fund The Scottish Springer Spaniel Rescue Foundation, which is my Amazon Smile nominated charity.
As always not all of the books may have been published this year, it just so happens that i have read them this year.
NOVELS / NOVELLAS
The Last Temptation of Dr Valentine is the most outlandish and fun-filled outing of this most excellent series of novellas and novels. When an American film crew decides to come to Bristol to make a film of the book which chronicled the murders he committed against those who he felt were responsible for the deaths of wife, Dr Valentine takes this as a slight upon himself forcing him out of retirement to deliver his own unique brand of revenge and restitution to the utter delight to the reader.
The Last Temptation of Dr Valentine combines a thrilling narrative, with a warm and witty look at the history of British horror, to deliver an exuberant and triumphant story that will put a smile on the face of even the most indifferent of horror fans.
When Wendy and Rubin decide to take a weekend trip to Winward Colorado to visit some old friends, they would never have imagined that they would be thrown headlong into a nightmare trip that will see them fighting for their very survival in a disturbing journey into the hellish dark heart of Colorado
Chad A. Clark's novella is a whirlwind tale that refuses to let up. Clark wastes no time in dropping Wendy, Rubin and the reader into the action, and your feet will barely touch the floor during the course of this taut tale of terror.
Winward is a brutal tale, but Clark never pushes it so far that the narrative becomes over the top or unbelievable, with a spectacular final set piece Clark ensures that Winward is an unyielding thriller that packs one hell of a hell of a punch.
Taught, Thrilling and disturbing Winward does for Colorado what Deliverance did for Georgia.
There is a power in stories, a power to root themselves into a nation's subconscious and an ability to take on a life of their own. James Brogden's The Hollow Tree uses one such story as the basis for his latest novel from Titan Books. Based on the true story of infamous Bella in the Wych Elm, The Hollow Tree uses this fascinating legend as the foundation for a chilling folk horror ghost story about the compelling nature of story and belief.
The Hollow Tree is a gripping supernatural thriller, filled with great ideas, a fresh take on the tried and trusted ghost story, and a genuinely unique Big Bad Monster. A sympathetic and fitting extension to the myths surrounding Bella in the Wych Elm.
Jonathan Butcher seems to be carving out his unique brand of hardcore but thoughtful horror. The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden, may not be as intense or emotionally brutal as his psychologically damaging What Good Girls Do, but it does share the same full on no holds barred brand of personal real-life horror as his exceptional novella.
This multi-stranded novel is a work of genius, the intertwining of the individual character narratives into one mind-blowing story is a work of genius. The use of different fonts for each character may seem odd at first; however, it adds a wonderful layer to bring forth the unique voices and character arcs in the story.
A brutal crime story with a pinch of folk horror The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden is unlike any other book you have read.
Out Behind the Barn is a sad and poignant tale of backwoods horror, Maggie's farm seems like an idyllic place, the perfect place to raise a family, but something isn't right here, something hides behind the tightly bound buttons of the shirts that the children wear.
Boden and Lutzke have created a novella that oozes with mounting dread and sense of wrongness, carefully plotted they slowly reveal what is wrong with what seems like a perfect family situation, a dark and brooding piece that will get you in the feels. Out Behind the Barn is reminiscent of the best of Ray Bradbury, lyrical, elegant prose that drives a spellbinding slow-burning narrative to a heartbreaking conclusion.
Hell Ship is a gutsy steamroller of a novella, Jones kicks off with a deeply disturbing prologue, usually I'm not a fan of prologues, in a lot of cases a prologue just feels like the author doesn't know how to start the main thrust of the story, however with hell Ship Jones has created one that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of story. He captures the claustrophobic horrific plight of the captured allied soldiers perfectly, with a strong sense of narrative speed and the excellent way in which he underplays the level of blood and guts.
Hell Ship is a fast-paced self-contained story that delivers on all counts, great characters, a brilliantly nasty villain, and a story that doesn't ration the scares, they say worse things happen at sea, but if they are half as much fun as this book, you should gladly take a punt on this.
If you are looking for intelligent discourse on the dangers of dabbling with demons dangly bits then you have come to the wrong book, and you should back away very slowly, but if you are looking for a book that will make you wish you hadn't eaten just before reading it. Or a book that will make wish you had never google granny porn then this is the book for you, yes it will make you feel somewhat dirty at times, but you will have a hell of a time reading it.
There are times when an author attempts to try something different with simple narrative structure if a story, and a lot of the time they end falling on their flat on their face, with a story that just ends up being confused, convoluted or even worse just annoying.
Witnesses is one of those books that will infuriate you at the start but once you become invested in it, and the brilliance of the novel clicks in you will be rewarded with a novel that dares to break away from the mundane methods of storytelling and stand out from the rest of the pack.
Gothic haunted house stories are a dime a dozen, but when they are of the quality of Thana Niveau's novel, you can be forgiven for forgetting about all of the others.
Thana's debut novel is a blinder, deeply disturbing, poetic and constantly wrong-footing the reader The House of Frozen Screams is a modern gothic masterpiece.
Unsettling and unnerving mixing psychological horror with some nasty body horror The House of Frozen Screams is as much about the gothic haunted house as it is about the haunting of relationships.
Opening with my favourite line of 2018
"she saw the man with no hands first."
Rio Youers halcyon hits the ground running and doesn't let up over its 500 pages. Cults in all forms have always freaked me out, and this book does nothing to elevate that feeling.
With a powerful and compelling narrative that layers on tension page after page, with some of the most detailed and fully formed characters ever to appear on the page, this modern day metaphor for America and Western civilisation is thought-provoking and upsetting read. Youers explores a central theme of only being able to find salvation and safety by intelligently paying with pain and heartache.
If you only read one novel of this list, Halcyon has to be that book. Exceptional
COLLECTIONS / ANTHOLOGIES
Broken on the Inside, is a magnificent collection of stories, writing about mental health issues is never easy, it can result in some clumsy, heavy-handed writing that does nothing to address the issues that the writer is trying to address, but to attempt this within a genre story, that demands the inclusion of certain aspects and themes makes this task even more daunting. Sloman has more than risen to the challenge, all of the five stories transcend the trappings of the genre to deliver a set of intelligent, heartfelt, and haunting incursions into the broken minds that so many of us suffer from. If this book doesn't win awards this year then there is something seriously wrong with the world.
Doorbells at Dusk is an excellent anthology, when the stories work they work spectacularly. When you have an anthology where authors such as Mallerman, Evan's Light, Chad Lutzke, Jason Parent and Adam Light are firing on all cylinders, then you have a winner in your hands. And who knows perhaps you will find that the few tales that didn't work for this reviewer will work for you. Doorbells at Dusk captures the essence of Halloween, it is fun, scary, and will leave with a rush that only an overdose of candy corn can match.
To be open about this I was honoured beyond belief to be asked to write the introduction for the first volume in this series of anthologies and to write the afterword for the final volume. However, that doesn't take away from how important this anthology series has been, and the final volume builds on the success of the previous entries to produce one of the best anthologies you will read this year.
Justin Park and Tracy Fahey, have collected a diverse range of stories that prove that horror is more than a one trick pony, taking in the full variety of styles from quiet horror, to the more full-on horror that too many people think is what horror is, The Black Room Manuscripts is as close to being the perfect anthology you are likely to get.
Sometimes the most horrific things can be found in the mundane world, while Tracy Fahey's exceptional collection is deeply rooted in the mundane these tales are as far from the mundane as you could get.
Fahey writes with I like to call a fractured beauty, she looks at the world and what makes us human with a keen sense of beauty but when you look closer and let the stories take you over you realise that the beauty is broken, like a porcelain doll with its face cracked it make look nice at a distance, but when you get up close, you notice that the beauty is just a veneer.
The stories within this collection have just that a veneer of normality, from a someone revisiting their childhood home, to a coma patient waking up and feeling dislocated from the world around them, to a strange drawing on the wall that causes ruptures in a marriage, this is a collection of engaging modern gothic tales is a subtle exercise in creating distributing fiction from the imply rather than the show and tell.
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Priya in the flesh, you'll be blessed with an all-encompassing sensation of serenity; she indeed is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
And it shows in her fiction; she underpins every one of these beautiful horror tales with a deep sense of humanity and heart. That's not to say that these stories aren't disturbing or are fluffy, far from it, Priya has created a collection of stories filled with tragedy, and an intimate horror that has the power to move you as much as it will unsettle you.
Folk horror is quickly becoming the in thing, and it is easy to see why, the roots of it have been ingrained into psyche for generations, from the campfire tales to the fairy tales your granny you used to tell you, it's a genre that is perfect for these times.
The Fiends in the Furrows, takes the bustling in the hedgerows and turns them into your darkest nightmares, from Stephen Toase's delightfully macabre The Jaws of Ouroboros, mixes drug lords with an almost Quatermass weirdness, to the almost sensual terror of Lindsay King-Miller's The Fruit, and The First Order of Whaleyville's Divine Basilisk Handlers by Eric J. Guignard which sees old feuds stirred up by religious fervour, this is an anthology that will stir up those primal fears that are ingrained in all of us.
One of reading’s greatest pleasures is the ability to easily travel to another place. Fiction can take us all over the world, sci-fi can shoot us into space, fantasy can whisk us to another world. But horror can sometimes limit us to a few different regions(not all the time mind you). Yet, Patrick A Rogers’ City of the Shrieking Tomb shines light on a new locale for horror fiction, India. And after reading the mythology and folklore present here I believe this could be a wonderful region to add to horror’s repertoire.
Rogers’ novel takes us to a small village in Southern India that has been cursed by two battling demons, leaving the villagers fearful of the night and any outsiders that may incur the wrath of the demons. Despite the potential of a unique and haunting story, City of the Shrieking Tomb fails to deliver.
There is a lot to like about this book. The myth of the village’s past is the making of great horror. The villagers tell the tale of a conquering sultan that made a pact with a demon only to discover his brother also made a pact with a demon. The two now hold each other in check, yet haunt the streets at night. I’m not sure if this is based on a true Indian myth, but if it is, then I want to know more. We’ve already mined the depths of Norse, Greek, Japan, and American legends, I think it’s time to dig into some of India’s mythology. If they are anything like what Rogers has given us, then this is a great area for inspiration for horror writers.
Rogers detailed descriptions of Humayunpur make the village feel like a living nightmare. There are cramped twisting roads that lead you in whatever directions they feel like. Mysterious villagers that want nothing more then for you to leave. Broken tombs that appear whole only in the night. Strange crying and shrieks that fill the night. If this sounds like a haunted house, you are right. Every uneasy moment we explore Humayunpur we are taken deeper into the mystery that haunts the village and it is great.
Our main character, Rick, is the outsider that takes us through the village. And he is the main drawback of the book. Rick is one of the most unlikable protagonists that I’ve read in a long time. He’s been in India for over a year taking pictures for a book of photography when his bus breaks down near Humayunpur. When he finds out there are a few temples he’s never heard of there, he decides these would be perfect for his book. The villagers warn him repeatedly to stay away from the tombs and temples, that bad things will happen to him if he takes any pictures. Does this stop Rick? Of course not.
And this is where the dislike begins. When a villager opens up his home to Rick, Rick lies and tricks the villager so that he can get the perfect shot. When an Imam takes him on a tour of the village and asks that Rick doesn’t take any pictures, he goes behind the Imam’s back to do what he wants. On top of this, through Rick’s inner dialogue, we find out that he thinks these villagers are idiots, he looks down on them and thinks what he is going to do is better for them. Rick is the character that you scream at because he’s doing the exact opposite of what any sane human would do.
Now, I know this can make for an interesting character. It’s a great way to build tension and set up conflict. However, this only works if you are invested in the character, if you believe they believe what they are doing is right. Well, Rick makes it pretty clear he is just doing this to get on the cover of National Geographic. There is nothing noble about what he is doing, nothing that makes him endearing enough to see it from his point of view.
The plot of the book is a bit run-of-the-mill with very few surprises. Despite all warnings the photographer goes ahead and does what he shouldn’t do and has to pay a price. The few twists that do come up are so telegraphed that they miss their mark when revealed. We get one too many furtive glances and not too subtle clues to not figure out who one character is after their first appearance. When we get to the final set piece, which is a bit cosmic/otherworldly, we’ve been so underwhelmed that we don’t get to truly appreciate the horror of what is happening.
City of the Shrieking Tomb has a ton of potential. If the focus had been set on Humayunpur’s past and Rick’s story been relegated to something like a wraparound, this would be a powerful piece of horror fiction. Instead we are left with a generic ghost story with a problematic protagonist. Rogers however did give us a new area of myth and legend to explore, one that I hope to see expanded upon.
“Underwhelming crawl from Detroit to LA with something nasty on your tail”
Mick Ridgewell’s “Nightcrawler” first appeared in 2012, published by the now sadly defunct Samhain, but has recently found a new home with Alien Agenda Publishing. Considering the huge number of great books out of print one might wonder why “Nightcrawler” has another run at horror glory? One presumes the copyright was returned to the author, so why not? Ultimately though, it was a very easy to read and mildly entertaining novel, but it is not in any way an undiscovered cult classic or a revived lost gem which the genre has overlooked deserving of a fresh reappraisal.
It has a very simply story, and if I’m being brutally honest it is just too simple. If you want thoughtful, layered and intelligent horror, look elsewhere, this is telegraphed and holds little in the way of surprises. However, if you want an easy diversion for a few hours this might suffice, just keep your expectations in check and you might enjoy the ride across the western part of America. “Nightcrawler” truly was astonishing predictable and as soon as the duel narratives takes shape you know exactly they are going to meet, there was no shrouding or ambiguity whatsoever. The only question is how the meeting will happen? (and when they eventually do, will many readers even care?) The plot was that simple. And that predictable. However, there is still some undemanding fun to be had along the way. I do enjoy a good American road trip, which the bulk of this novel featured in its plot.
In the first narrative we have Scott, a rich and fairly unlikable buyer and seller of expensive cars, near the start of the novel he sells a vintage Charger which needs to be delivered from Detroit to LA. As the car is vintage and very cool he reckons he’ll have fun along the way by delivering it himself. As he is about to leave he insults a homeless man who asks him for spare change, a while into the journey he sees the same homeless guy again. Before long Scott is either going mad or is being impossibly stalked by this homeless drifter dude. Scott’s disintegration is amongst the most convincing sequences in the novel as his reality turns into a waking nightmare, just don’t expect too many subtleties. Along the way he picks up a cute hitchhiker and spends a lot of time in diners. As a Scotsman, I’ve always found American diners to be vaguely exotic, but not a lot happens in many of these sequences.
In the second story strand Roger, a college kid is hiking from Vermont to the Grand Canyon. Roger is super-naive, has no cash, but still manages to pull a gorgeous girl at his first rodeo. This was unbelievable in itself and the girl seemed out of the league of this geeky guy. Roger then begins to have nightmares about his impending death and this has a growing presence as he nears his destination. There is not much more I can say about the plot, the stories are bound to merge, and there are no real surprises in the way it plays out. What more can we add about the character of Roger? Not much. He was such a nice guy he bordered upon boring.
With such a flimsy plot there was just not enough here for a novel, perhaps to would have played better as a novella or short story. Even over its short length there was a lot of repetition, limited scares, and as nasties go the nightcrawler was pretty dull and one dimensional. In actual fact the Nightcrawler could have done us all a favour and put poor old Scott out of his misery a good fifty pages earlier. As readers we know Scott and Roger are going to connect, this does not happen until very near the end of the novel, and the pay-off just is not worth it. I have a feeling a number of readers will feel cheated by this. There was also little explanation of what he truly was and the final ‘twist’ was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning.
If you’re looking for an undemanding easy read then “Nightcrawler” might do the trick, but with a horror market overflowing with tremendous horror novels I would instead recommend looking elsewhere on the site for something better than this.
A campfire in the distance should be a relief to a victim on the run, but instead, it signals
darkness and the doorway to evil….
When Liz accepts a ride from a stranger, she ultimately becomes the victim of a heinous crime.
After fighting off her attacker, she stumbles towards a campfire in the distance and onto the
scene of a violent murder. The terror of discovering a decapitated young woman is only the
beginning, as when the shadows begin to move, she finds that this new killer has set his sights
on her. He wants her to share in an autumn fire.
Meanwhile local law enforcement, along with a secret group of town founders, are working to
solve the murders and end to the autumn fires. Can they stop the perpetrator in time before he
gets to Liz? The ancestors have centuries of wisdom on their side, and yet, will it be enough to
stop a murderer calling upon the power of demons to guide him? After generations of hiding,
will their identity be revealed to the unsuspecting citizens of Twin Lakes?
From the Bram Stoker nominated authors of Mayan Blue comes a new tale woven to introduce
you to the creepiest of towns. For fans of Twin Peaks, Wayward Pines, or the new Castle Rock,
this one is sure to draw you in.
This is the first book I’ve read by the Sisters of Slaughter. In a nutshell, I think that the story is captivating and the characters are lovable (the good guys, anyway!) but I think that some of the characters and scenes lacked depth.
But first off, here are the things I loved about the book.
Some of the main characters were easy to love and get behind. I found myself rooting for them to uncover the true killer and biting my nails when they were in danger. The main three characters are Liz, Linda and Earl. Linda and Earl tirelessly watch over Liz ever since she found her way into town. But I also loved Rosalie, one of the Ancestors whose gifts make her the resident seer and who trains Linda to take her place once she’s gone. Liz and Rosalie have some neat backstories woven throughout the book, but I wished we’d learned more about Linda and Earl.
Speaking of backstories, I really enjoyed the segments detailing the history around the town’s “Ancestors” and the werewolves. Both groups of people must hide their incredible inherited powers from average citizens because they would generally be feared and unaccepted. But both groups have codes by which they can use their white magic (owned by the Ancestors) and their shape-shifting abilities (owned by the werewolves). It would have been neat to learn more about the day-to-day usage of the supernatural powers, but understandably the focus is more on how the powers are being used to try and overcome the dark evil that’s new in town.
While there were definitely elements of mystery and creepiness early on in the book, you get about halfway through and then the grotesque factor ramps up quite a bit. It’s to the point where even I become squeamish. And that’s a compliment! In fact, the evil deeds done by the villain are so bad that there is no room for empathy at all for him. Usually I can find a little sympathy for the villain because there must be a little bit of a good guy in there somewhere...right? Not the case here. Very well done.
Without trying to give anything away, I will say that the ending was left resolved enough so that I wasn’t disappointed in it, but open enough to think that exciting stories will follow. Some of the characters end up with a renewed purpose and I was left wanting to know what they could get caught up with in the future!
There were just a few facets in which I think the book was lacking. I felt like some of the characters were well rounded (Liz, Earl and Linda) but other characters felt flat, like there was no basis to explain why the did the things they did or said the things they said. Some examples are Julie and Deana, who both seem to play a decent role in the plot but I felt like we knew nothing about them. I also felt like more depth should have been given to some of the ancestors, or maybe not mention them at all, because I had a hard time keeping them straight or understanding their roles within the family.
I also felt that some scenes lacked enough detail to help me follow along, and sometimes I’d have to reread just a bit. Many scenes had a great level of detail so that you could follow along with the character or with the plot, whichever was the main focus of the segment, but other scenes were hard to follow. Such scenes felt very rushed and I had a hard time following along because there wasn’t a good balance of action and detail. But other scenes were awesome in their level of detail. If there had been more consistency in the level of detail throughout the book, I feel like the book would have had a better overall flow.
This fantastic writing duo can undoubtedly take the gore level to the maximum, and I love that about their writing. I think that the characters and setting of Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires could set the stage for an awesome series. I definitely hope to read future works from the Sisters of Slaughter!
‘“Ancient Illusions: Ancient Secrets”
Fantasy? Horror? Adventure? Thriller?
Whichever, it failed to convince as any of the above’
I was a number of pages into Joanne Pence’s “Ancient Illusions” before it dawned on me this novel was book three in her “Ancient Secrets” sequence. Although it is written as a stand-alone novel there were many cross references to the previous books, probably too many. At certain points I felt I was missing a trick, as events from previous books were eluded to, but never truly spelt out which I found frustrating. Ultimately I would probably have enjoyed “Ancient Illusions” more if I had read book one and two first. As a reader, I would never jump straight into the third book of a series.
Michael Rempart connects the three books, an archaeologist who has a reputation as a modern Indiana Jones type, who makes what many people see as a dusty old subject sexy and cool. He has appeared on television, solves mysteries, and more importantly has an acute sense of the supernatural. Although there are other characters who also feature in the earlier books, Michael is the driving force. He was also one of the major weaknesses of the book, as he came across as incredibly dull, one-dimensional, boring and as central characters go he almost sent me to sleep. Sadly, the whip of Indiana Jones had more charisma than this snoozer of a main character. I have seen more charm in a plank of wood, so I doubt Stephen Spielberg will be looking for a new action hero archaeologist anytime soon.
“Ancient Illusions” starts off well enough, Michael is returning home to visit his father after sixteen years away, and there is undiagnosed bad-blood between the pair. His father is reclusive, secretive, and obsessed with alchemy and the knowledge and secrets he knows Michael possesses. This is one of many connections to the other books. Sixteen years earlier Michael walked away from the family home as he did not want to pursue his father’s research into alchemy and his life-long obsession with discovering eternal life, one of the themes of book three. Through these early exchanges we learn that Michael has unexplained supernatural gifts and if he wished could be a very powerful alchemist. His father cannot understand why he turned to archaeology instead of his family destiny.
In “Ancient Illusions” there are just too many references to what went on in book one “Ancient Echoes” in which seven anthropology students and their professor vanish in an isolated part of Idaho with Michael co-opted into finding them, entering supernatural realms, with alchemy and immortality also involved. At a certain point in “Ancient Illusions” we return to Idaho and some of the plot is strongly connected to the previous book and the area of the disappearance is revisited.
Perhaps the Ginger Nuts of Horror is not the most ideal site to review this book? Although the supernatural is involved, there are demons and other weird stuff going on it did not particularly read as a horror novel and there is nothing remotely scary or unsettling in the book. If you’re a horror fan, and the supernatural does not convince in what you are reading, then you’ve got problems. If anything, “Ancient Illusions” was more of a cross between adventure and mystery and would sit more comfortably on the shelf beside Dan Brown than say Adam Nevill. Actually, Nevill fans would probably be less than impressed. If you’re looking for a good horror novel then this will probably disappoint you, but if you’re after an easy to read thriller, with a supernatural edge, you might enjoy it and it may well pick up more favourable reviews from non-horror sites.
As I said previously the books are strongly interconnected. The second instalment sounds like another dollop of Dan Brown conspiracy with a smattering of the supernatural, this is important though as in this novel Michael discovers a rare pearl known as the ‘Philosopher's Stone’, which is a prime agent in alchemy and ultimately key in the search for immortality. This pops up again in “Ancient Illusions” and is part of the underlying tension between Michael and his father. If you do choose to pick up this series, it goes without saying, start with book one.
Thankfully Michael does not dominate book three, and in actual fact there are many other characters who have more spark than him, including an undercover reporter who ends up as his girlfriend. The plot takes in several different locations including Japan with many of these characters, including Michael, being tormented by nightmares that seem very real and play an important part of the novel as it develops.
Joanne Pence she written around thirty other novels, mainly romance and thrillers, and if “Ancient Illusions” is anything to go by she should perhaps stick to those areas. This series should definitely be targeted at the thriller market as it fails to hit the mark as a horror novel through a combination of unconvincing supernatural sequences and a lead character who was as exciting as watching a bicycle tire slowly deflate.
“All the kids adore Doggem, the class cuddly toy. They each get to take him home. Hug him and love him and show him their world outside of school. All they have to do in return is write his diary.
George Gould is going to introduce Doggem to a rather strange family.
It’s worth noting, both the stuffed toy and little boy are far from ordinary”
Funnily enough, not long before John F. Leonard passed me this book to read and review, myself and a colleague were chatting about her kids bringing the class toy home, and that they must take it places and fill in its diary. I had never heard of this before, it wasn’t something we did when I was at school. I love the idea of it, it’s great for teaching kids to look after things, helps them develop their writing, and also stimulates their creativity. It’s also, as the book mentions, a valuable insight for the teachers, letting them see a part of their students they wouldn’t normally. There is a lot that can be learnt from such a simple fun task.
This is a great short story, with inspiration taken from the author’s own personal life when his son brought the class cuddly toy home.
It’s a very subtle tale, a view from the eyes of Doggem, as he watches the horror unfold before him.
“Black crows speak in Jordemain Wood, Jordemain Wood, Jordemain Wood.
Black crows speak in Jordemain Wood.
Don’t dare listen.”
It’s the summer holidays, and it’s now George Gould’s turn to look after Doggem. It’s a big responsibility, six weeks of adventures with Doggem, it’s a lifetime to a young child. George’s parents take him to visit his grandmother, who has a cottage near the Jordemain Wood. George’s mother, Cath Gould, has a difficult relationship with her mother. She left home early, causing her to be cut off from the family wealth. Now she leads a resentful life, with a plan to regain what she believes should be hers.
Cath forces her husband Tom into helping her kill off her mother, Joan Demdike. She has a plan to poison her food, with ingredients which few know about and are hard to find anywhere else. Joan on the other hand has plans of her own. She is smarter than her materialistic daughter. Cath is blinded by her desires for designer clothes and fancy cars. She completely misses that her mother has actually poisoned her and Tom. Joan has plans for George, Joan sees him as “A body and mind that will welcome the return of the Lord between the Walls and herald the dawn of a new age”. After George’s parents are dead, Joan will raise George and prepare him for his future role.
I love this story, it conveys so much in so few pages. It’s a work of art in my opinion. The undertones of the dangers of being too materialistic really resonate. Especially at this time of year (coming up to Xmas), you see so many who are concerned only with what they can get. It really angers me to hear people be so ungrateful. I’ve myself overheard at work comments such as “I can’t believe that’s all she got me, and £10 book, that’s all I’m worth”. £10 could have been all that that person had. And if so, they gave everything. We are breeding an ungrateful culture. We need to focus more on what’s in front of us and less on what we can acquire. Be grateful for life’s pleasures. Be thankful for what we have rather than thinking about what we want.
I would love to see an expansion of this story. We only witnessed a brief glimpse into the dark underworld life of Joan. We were hinted that she belongs to a group, possibly a coven of sorts? Maybe a cult? I’m not sure. I would love to find out what happens to George. A possible future story I think.
I for one am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to read this wonderful story.
A whole hearted and much deserved 5/5 from me.
Lesley-Ann (Housewife of Horror)