Review: “A Haunted House of Her Own” by Kelley Armstrong

2 of 5 stars

An enjoyable haunted house tale leaning into the unknowns and the maybes lingers too long with its first postscript. Then unnecessarily and unwisely doubles down with a second postscript. The awkwardly expositional ending takes away from the tale with its lack of finesse after a solid build.

Tanya and Nathan decide to remake their lives after blindsiding layoffs. They turn to real estate opportunities in rural Vermont with an eye for opening a B&B. Better yet, they hope to cash in on “haunted B&B” chic for an extreme experience. The property they find has both the layout and murderous history that they desire.

But then the noises start. And the old woman appears and disappears in the garden. Nathan’s awkward trances. And, unreliable lighting and blackouts. . . Even Tanya the cynic becomes unraveled.

This would have been enough, but the tale doesn’t stop here. Keeping a subtle, more distant third person narration for the final Nathan scene would have been nice, as his thoughts were not projected for the bulk of the tale prior to this.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read and reviewed this author’s solid “The Screams of Dragons” short story.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


Holiday Wish List: Books, Books, Books

I enjoy the holidays and my birthday [which is today] as much as anyone, though I certainly don’t do much for the latter. Dinner with friends and family is enough. I’ll likely end up getting a gift or two, though, and I hope they’re books. Sure, I get plenty and have plenty to read, but more stories is always nice.

I find my wishlist [for today and the holidays] is really a collection of stories that I’d really like to continue with now and into the new year. Not all have released yet. They are all series that I’d recommend for others, too.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

1) The 3rd Compendium for The Walking Dead. It released in October. The show is great, but so are the graphic forms. [The Walking Dead, Compendium 1 and The Walking Dead, Compendium 2]

2) The 5th in the graphic Saga series written by Brian Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The 4th is in the finals for Goodreads best Graphic book of the year. [Saga, Volume 1, Saga, Volume 2, Saga, Volume 3 and Saga, Volume 4]

3) The 3rd and final book of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy, Morning Star. It comes out in January. Both the 1st and second books made the Goodreads Best of the Year finals for Sci-Fi, and deservedly. [Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, #1) and Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, #2)]

4) Scott Lynch has delayed the 4th book in his Gentleman Bastard series from January to July of 2016, which I’m ok with as it will give me time to read the third in the series. [The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastard, #1) and Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastard, #2)]

5) There’s been no word from Patrick Rothfuss on any release for his trilogy-capping book, but I’m ok with this too as I still need to read the second in the series. His 2 novellas tied to the Kingkiller Chronicle series were excellent and kept me satisfied in the meantime, but I do plan to read the next one so hopefully an announcement will come in the next year for the final installment. [The Lightning Tree (The Kingkiller Chronicle) and The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2.5)]

6) I’m not one to complain about George R. R. Martin’s spotty publishing schedule because I’ve yet to read any of the Song of Ice and Fire series. However, I plan to start this year. I love the show, and plan to fully indulge in the books.

7) Another series that I’ve technically never read, but enjoy is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series. I’ve listened to James Marsters read a few of them masterfully. However, I prefer to read things for myself. With many books out in the series, I have decided to let this be a new guilty pleasure.

There are of course other series that I’m awaiting new installments in, but these top my list. Some have released the latest, others are on the verge.

What are you reading that I have overlooked??

Review: “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” by Seth Fried

3 of 5 stars.

This short tale uses absurdist satire to expose modern society’s hypocrisy when it comes to priorities and humanitarian causes.

An annual massacre decorated with funnel cakes and carnival rides ires the public in the days following the tragedy before apathy begins to take over aided by big business and government interests. The few people that keep the rage going from year to year are then deemed “extremists” by the masses that wish to collectively forget the whole messy business. The one year that a particularly cute girl was killed [among many others], the protests lasted for weeks. Some people still wear the t-shirt honoring her memory–judging by the crowds at the subsequent picnics . . .

It’s all too true to be truly humorous.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “The Brink of Eternity” by Barbara Roden

3 of 5 stars.

The darker side of the age of exploration is brought forward in this faux-nonfictional tale. It purports to be a history almost along the lines of “found” footage. Three narrative or source threads alternate in relating the story making it academically interesting, though its inclusion in an anthology of dark fantasy and horror is less clear.

The indented thread claims to be quotes from We Did Not All Come Back: Polar Explorers, 1818-1909 by Kenneth Turnbull [HarperCollins Canada, 2005]. This invented source tells the history of protagonist William Henry Wallace’s life in Virginia and then his leaving to explore the uncharted northern ice expanses to find a passage into inner realms of the planet, not unlike a quasi-realistic Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The italicized thread follows Wallace lost on the ice in his final known days trying to survive on seals and sheltering in a series of “ice houses.”

The non-indented, non-italicized thread, tells an earlier version of Wallace before he is alone on the ice. The tone for both narrative threads is appropriately Victorian, but lamentably distant.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Monsters” by Stewart O’Nan

Monsters: A Halloween Short StoryMonsters: A Halloween Short Story by Stewart O’Nan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This coming-of-age tale is profoundly moving. Despite its inclusion in an anthology of dark fantasy and horror short stories, one won’t find fantasy nor tradition horror here. It’s realism at its best–capturing a disturbing life event in the moment it changes the young teen. Highly recommended.

Mark is a shy teen, a follower, who finds himself mostly doing whatever next door neighbor, Derek, wants to do since his older brother Peter has now entered high school and has moved on to other companions. Derek wants them both to dress as The Creature from the Black Lagoon for the upcoming church haunted house–so they will. Derek wants them to shoot BBs at bottles in his backyard–so they do.

The mundanity of youth entertaining themselves shatters as Derek takes a BB in the eye . . .

Mark was holding the gun and harbors the guilt. Eight reactions emerge as each boy, his older sibling, and his parents embrace the accident.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Copping Squid” by Michael Shea

Copping SquidCopping Squid by Michael Shea
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This tale borrows from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos for ambiance, but falls short in using it to any greater means.

Late night San Francisco convenience store worker Ricky Deuce finds himself defending his till and store against a potentially tweaking homeless guy, Andre, who’s armed with a large knife. But Ricky’s knife is the only one to draw blood. Then he gives the Andre $10 and a ride in his ’65 Mustang into unknown rough neighborhoods and beyond.

Then, things get weird. Starting with Andre now giving Ricky $5000 to drive him further yet to be a “witness” . . .

Ricky’s motivations do not follow his created persona nor any sort of city common sense ultimately making him not only an unreliable narrator, but an unbelievable one. The tale was not helped by the heavy-handed descriptions using mollusk and oceanic terms for every object and feature.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’d previously read and reviewed this author’s “Momma Durtt”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

The BeautyThe Beauty by Aliya Whiteley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where “Apocalypse” meets Lovecraft, Beauty exists. And it is horrible & disturbing and tender & loving all in one. In secluded Valley of Rocks surrounded by woods, dwell perhaps the last bastion of boys and men, survivalists. Their women were all felled by a fungal epidemic. Left to their own devices, they struggle to not descend into Lord of the Flies territory.

Metamorphosis occurs. The older men fight against it keeping to older ways and precepts. The younger are changing. Gender roles are morphing, almost to the point of allegorical gender dysphoria or body dysmorphia. Sexuality veers fluid. Holding the Group together are the nightly bonfires and Nate’s stories of where they’ve been and where they’re going. He is their history and entertainment and moral compass all in one. And this is his story to tell.

But fungus is taking over the forest, and hallucinations and change are coming:

The idea of this was worse when it was happening to someone else. Now it is me and it is inevitable, and nothing inevitable is ever that bad. If I have to live with it, then how can it be unbearable?

Besides, bodies betray us. That is what they do. They die and this is, at least, not death. I will choose any option but death. This body wants the story to go on.

I highly recommend this novella. As disturbing and horrific as it veers, what most fascinated me was the natural world analogs for the tale’s events: metamorphosis, parasitic fungi, sequential hermaphroditism . . .

I received my copy of this novel directly from the publisher, Unsung Stories, through
[Check out my other reviews here.]