Book Review: The Dark is Full of Monsters by Edward P. Cardillo

Review – The Dark is Full of Monsters by Edward P. Cardillo

By Chantal Boudreau

I love horror with monsters, supernatural…mutant…human monsters–it doesn’t matter–so I dove into this book really hoping I would enjoy it.  The premise did intrigue me–a ragtag group of inhabitants from a sleepy little town venture into the woods seeking a local urban legend cryptoid monster after a series of strange occurrences including a close encounter with the monster and the kidnapping of a neighborhood boy.  It had the makings of a good story.

Unfortunately, while it had a lot to offer, it didn’t quite hit the mark with me, but it might work for other readers out there.  I found character intro and development a little thin and that’s the most important aspect for me in a book.  The writing style was at times repetitive (for example far too many of the paragraphs began with a character name or pronoun–I was yearning for a few transitional words) and lacking in focus.

It did have its strong points too, though.  The monster was sufficiently novel and gruesome, offering up some chills.  The dialogue was entertaining and quite funny in places (I had to laugh at things like the word “citiots”).  I also think it had a good feel for its setting.  I suspect the author based it on somewhere familiar and captured that concretely in the story.  It reminded me a little of the place where I grew up.  If these are things that appeal to you as a reader, this book might just be for you.

While I think the book had an interesting concept and some good scares, it fell a tad short, so this one rated a three out of five for me.

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Book Review: Naraka by Alessandro Manzetti

Naraka is not a novel, it’s an experience – a graphic, chaotic, mind-blowing experience.

It is not an experience intended for those faint of heart.  It is at times gory to an extreme, it is constantly profane, and sex is used more often as a weapon or a form of abuse or torture than for pleasure.  It focuses on cannibalism and the downfall of civilization.

But what else would you expect from a story about a woman who starts out life as a prostitute turned professional killer who is caught and sent to a prison on the moon where prisoners are used as meat, scientific subjects in genetic experiments or breeding stock to make more of the former and the latter.  It presents the reader with social commentary on what becomes of a society that has been deregulated to the point where crime is rampant, people act out of desperation for the sake of survival, and the rich and immoral do whatever they please because they can.

Kiki, the protagonist, is doomed from her unpleasant start.  She tries to swim through life but finds herself sunk when her life takes a bad turn and there is no social net to save her and her son.  She does what she feels she has to secure their survival, digging herself into a dark, hellish hole where things go from bad to worse. Every time she tries to change things for the better, either the outcome ends up unexpectedly bad, or she falls victim to her own personal failings.

Aside from the multi-faceted characterization rife with personality and flaws, what struck me most about this book was how well it embraced its own chaos.  It is not presented in standard chronological order, the narrative method changes from chapter to chapter, and some scenes seem almost hallucinogenic.  The imagery is exceptional – it reminded me of someone taking one of the stark, bold graphic stories you’d expect to see in a Heavy Metal magazine and writing it out, capturing all of that disturbing artwork in words (and both the cover artwork and interior illustrations support this.).

If you love dark, graphic dystopian horror, will not be dissuaded by the gruesome and scenes of cannibalism, and seek out the chaotic, artistic and extreme, this book is for you. It made for unusual vacation reading, but I found it so remarkable that I have to rate it a five out of five.

Book Review: GRUESOME, A Gathering of Nightmares

GRUESOME: A Gathering of Nightmares
by Terry M. West

One thing I like about anthologies and short story collections is that no two are ever alike. You can count on diversity, even in a collection from a single author.  That was also one thing I appreciated about this book.  While some themes were shared by a few of the stories, such as cannibalism and the supernatural, they were still all very different and had something of their own to offer the reader.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this collection was the human element.  The characters in the stories didn’t feel like archetypal or tropish cardboard cutouts – they had depth, strengths and flaws, and real feeling.  Even the shorter stories…or I’m inclined to say especially the shorter stories…drew me in with strong character descriptions that gave true purpose to the tale.

While I was entertained by every story, the longer pieces did not have as much appeal for me.  Honger, for example had a strong start, but I felt the modern day parts of the story had a bit too much exposition and drew me away from the main plot to some extent.  I liked the concept of the tale and the descriptions were well written, but I found myself wanting to get back to the central focus of the story from time to time.

Comparatively, the author’s shorter stories had delightful punch and held my attention from start to finish.  My favourites were the opening story “Don’t the Monsters All Get Scarier at Closing Time,” “Morsel” and “The Rose Man.”

This collection was certainly worth my time and I would happily rate it a solid 4 out of 5.

 

Book Review: Calen Dark The Infernal Almanac

CalenDark: The Infernal Almanac
Harvested by Stephanie Ellis and David Shakes

by Chantal Boudreau

Some anthologies are a mixed-bag with a few stand out stories, some are mindless entertainment without much depth, but I consider this creepy anthology an enjoyable learning experience where I can honestly say I at least liked every one of the stories within (and in some cases loved them).  The lessons learned?  It taught me a little about several obscure, dark holidays with strange rituals or ceremonies that I hadn’t heard of before reading this.  It also changed my opinion about expected quality from “for-the-love” anthologies.

Like them or lump them, calls for submissions where authors aren’t being paid won’t typically attract professional authors with a solid track record, and often the editing leaves a lot to be desired.  This is where CalenDark very much took me by surprise.  The stories and editing were high quality – the best anthology I’ve read so far this year.  The characters were interesting, the horror chilling and there was a good mixture of tone, theme and style present.  Some of the stories focused on ghosts, others on demons and devils, and they all had a human element of evil.  Some offered up psychological horror, others a bit of gore.  I looked forward to each new tale as I read.

CalenDark opens strong with a Twelfth Night story, Lord of Misrule, that left me with goosebumps, and stays strong with the tales that follow.  While some had more complex plots than others, I found something interesting in each of them.  My favourites, other than the opening tale, was the disturbing story with a school setting offered up for Candlemas, “The Presentation in the Temple”, and the time blurring and touching story chosen to represent St. Valentine’s Day, “The Wind of the Hurricane”.  I also really enjoyed “The Exile’s Harvest” and the anthology ended strong with the spooky finale, “The First Visitor” (ironically, the last.)

You may note a European influence as you read, with some UK terms used in several of the stories. To round it all out, the anthology had a professional looking cover with striking artwork from Tim Youster.

I do highly recommend this anthology to anyone looking for a good horror mix with plenty of thrills and chills.  I consider this a five out of five star read for its entertainment value and quality storytelling.

Book Review: Arithmophobia by Ruschelle Dillon

Review – Arithmophobia by Ruschelle Dillon

By Chantal Boudreau

I jumped on the opportunity to review this horror short story collection because I love themed collections and anthologies.  The title and cover image also wowed me.  Perhaps as a result, I may have started in on this with unfair expectations.

While the first story had an interesting premise, I found it a little hard to follow.  Not that the descriptions were faulty, but not everything made sense and I had some difficulty figuring out why certain things were happening.  I was still scratching my head at the end.

I enjoyed the second story more.  The author has a plucky, abrupt tone that works with this tale because of the nature of the main character.  I didn’t exactly feel sorry for the self-centered and selfish woman, but I stll wouldn’t have wished her nasty fate upon her.  The stories varied from there, with more highs than lows and always with strong ties to their number and following in chronological order.

I’m inclined towards the stories where I found myself sympathizing with the characters, even the villainous ones – as I find those tales more disturbing. The stand-outs for me in this collection were “Three Is as Magic as Can Be” for its strong horror elements and “These Six Walls” for its intriguing and creative twist.

I can’t say I loved every story in this collection, but for the most part they were entertaining and held well to the overall theme.  While I felt the dialogue at times seemed a little forced, the author made up for that with colourful imagery and dark humour (I love dark humour.)

Because the stories I consider the highlights of the collection would support a four star rating if on their own, I consider Arithmophobia a 3.5 out of 5.  I would particularly recommend it to those who enjoy word play and higher energy stories.

Book Review: Red by D.J. Doyle

Book Review: Red by D.J. Doyle

Review by Chantal Boudreau

I have to start this review by clarifying that I’m a horror fan, but I’m not normally inclined to extreme horror. I have read and written it in the past, but it’s not my preferred sub-genre, tending more towards less graphic, psychological horror. That being said, if you’re a reader who loves stories with intense shock value, you’ll probably love this novella. It has character depth, a multi-layer plotline and does not rely strictly on standard tropes (I appreciate the fact that the narrator’s latest target, Amanda, is not a doormat damsel in distress.) It also offers up plenty of graphic sex and violence.

You also might enjoy the intro to the story. For a hook, it gives the reader a taste of the kind of extreme horror you can expect through the rest of the novella, and a glimpse at Amanda, before leading into the main character’s background. I suspect it’s meant as a teaser, but my personal preference is to have the background information first so I understand a character’s motivation and feel more invested in the story.

I liked the way the character background is quite detailed and while I wouldn’t say I sympathized with the main character, this part of the story really did help me understand why that character was so broken – why he associated violent sex and pain with love, why he acted on primarily a selfish survival level and why he didn’t empathize with others. I also like the way the story was dotted with his thoughts about his prior victims. You get an idea of how he developed as a serial rapist/killer as well as why he prefers certain features in his victims over others (like tanned skin, for example.)

Each exploration of his encounters reveals his observations and impressions of his prior victims and how they impacted him. He shares this with Amanda and they form an unexpected bond.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was quite refreshing and far from predictable. I’m usually good at picking up on foreshadowing, but this one surprised me.

Overall, I enjoyed this read. Some of the extreme graphic scenes distracted from the story a bit for me, but the characters were interesting and the story was entertaining, I would give it four out of five stars.


zombiemepic

Aside from being a long-time fan of the zombie genre via books, movies and now TV, Chantal Boudreau began her existence as a published author with a zombie short story named “Palliative” in an anthology called “Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts – Oh My!” published by Notreebooks.  This was followed by the publication of several other zombie shorts: “Just Another Day”, “Waking the Dead”, “Escarg-0”, “Life and Undeath on the Chain Gang,” and “One Lonely Night” in the May December Publications’ anthologies “First Time Dead, Volume 1”, “Hell Hath No Fury” (all women writers), “Zero”, “Zombie Lockdown” and “Let’s Scare Cancer to Death” as well as “What a Man’s Gotta Do” in the anthology “Undead Tales” from Rymfire Books and “Deadline” in the anthology “Zombie Buffet” from Open Casket Press.  She has done extensive research for her blog series “Chantelly’s Field Guide to Zombies” and a non-fiction article on Zomedy – the dark humour in zombie fiction.  She is currently shopping a full zombie novel, Sleep Escapes Us, set in ancient Thrace and involving the myths surrounding the death god, Zalmoxis.

Free Fiction Friday: Her Eyes Were October by Chantal Boudreau

Her Eyes Were October

 by Chantal Boudreau

Her eyes were October

With a harsh and chilly stare

Rejecting what I’d done

Her look letting me know it

 

Her eyes were October

With no April found in there

Don’t forget, don’t forgive

She would never move past it

 

Her eyes were October

With a suffocating glare

Punished me at each turn

I just couldn’t escape it

 

Her eyes were October

With a cold I could not bear

Needing warmth, needing love

I somehow had to claim it

 

So I brought winter to that gaze

Frozen death, end of days

Time bled away in liquid red

And now I’m truly free

 

I’ll find spring thaw in other eyes

No more ice, no more lies

The bliss of March, all fresh and new

That’s what I’ll finally see.

****************

zombiemepicAside from being a long-time fan of the zombie genre via books, movies and now TV, Chantal Boudreau began her existence as a published author with a zombie short story named “Palliative” in an anthology called “Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts – Oh My!” published by Notreebooks.  This was followed by the publication of several other zombie shorts: “Just Another Day”, “Waking the Dead”, “Escarg-0”, “Life and Undeath on the Chain Gang,” and “One Lonely Night” in the May December Publications’ anthologies “First Time Dead, Volume 1”, “Hell Hath No Fury” (all women writers), “Zero”, “Zombie Lockdown” and “Let’s Scare Cancer to Death” as well as “What a Man’s Gotta Do” in the anthology “Undead Tales” from Rymfire Books and “Deadline” in the anthology “Zombie Buffet” from Open Casket Press.  She has done extensive research for her blog series “Chantelly’s Field Guide to Zombies” and a non-fiction article on Zomedy – the dark humour in zombie fiction.  She is currently shopping a full zombie novel, Sleep Escapes Us, set in ancient Thrace and involving the myths surrounding the death god, Zalmoxis.