Book Review: To the Monsters by the band Spider Hole

Review by Chantal Boudreau

Receiving this for review struck me with a severe case of nostalgia.  Not only did the “graphic novel” portion of this assignment remind me of the cool old horror comics I used to read under the covers with my flashlight when I was eight (scaring myself silly, I might add), but it also reminded me of the kids’ books we used to get when I was a child that came with an album (yes, I’m dating myself).  You would play the album and read along with it, which was essentially what I had to do with this.

Of course, don’t interpret this as me suggesting these tales are for children – they are not.

I can’t say I’ve had more fun reading/listening to something for a review.  The artwork was fantastic, the storylines were entertaining and the music generally appealed to me.  It felt like an unusually complete reading experience.

My only complaint would be there should better directions, or at least suggestions, as to what music should be listened to with which stories, perhaps at the start of the reading material.  Some of them sync up based on the title, but not all of them.

If you like alternative, gothy rock, have a taste for graphic novels and would enjoy a spooky trip down memory lane, I highly recommend this.

To sample The Spider Hole tracks, go to: https://thespiderhole.bandcamp.com/album/to-the-monsters

To buy the graphic novel, To the Monsters go: https://thespiderhole.bandcamp.com/merch/to-the-monsters-the-graphic-novel

Book Review: Shanti the Sadist Heaven by Alessandro Manzetti

Review of Shanti the Sadist Heaven by Alessandro Manzetti By Chantal Boudreau

I agreed to review this book because after reading Naraka, I considered myself a fan of Alessandro’s.  His stylistic approach appeals to me, his use of vivid graphic imagery like extreme visual artwork laid out in written word.  And I expected after the gory and at times brutal story in the first book I reviewed, I’d be prepared for what Shanti would have to offer.

I was wrong.

While Naraka messes with your mind, makes you squirm and sometimes makes your belly turn, Shanti is a solid gut-punch.  It leaves you breathless with a sour taste in your mouth, and the need to look away, like witnessing a horrific accident.  I found the story so disturbing I had difficulty returning to the book after putting it down and I’ve read some pretty extreme adult horror.

I don’t know if it was the obvious loss of innocence at the beginning of the story, clear victims of a dystopian society gone wrong (vs the prisoner/prison setting), or the fact that it seemed more like something that could be happening somewhere in the darkest corners of our current world (compared to the outer-worldly space setting of Naraka) but the horror proved harder to face.  Or maybe it’s me – maybe I’ve softened in the interim – but I found Shanti a challenge to get through and I’m not sure what that says about me or this book. This just went places I didn’t want to go.

One of the notable points of the book, in addition to Alessandro’s both bewitching and bewildering style, is his strong characterization.  I appreciated the way he used sisters, Juliette and Justine, as contrasts for one another, and Madame Desroches is convincingly cruel and devilishly mercenary.  These are only a few of the myriad of colourful characters within.

Would I recommend this book? Well, that would highly depend on the reader.  This is not a book for everyone, especially not those faint of heart. I asked myself how something could be so beautiful and so horrible at the same time.  It is adult horror at is most graphic and grim, filled with the taboo and shocking to the point some would consider it “torture-porn”. If that doesn’t put you off, this might just be the book for you.

 

Book Review: Twerk by Isobel Blackthorn

Twerk by Isobel Blackthorn

Reviewed by Chantal Boudreau

When this title came up on the review list, I was more than a little intrigued.  Adding sexy to horror can make for an interesting mix.

I have to be honest–in the past when I’ve read horror with an erotic element, it tends to be on the vulgar side without stylistic sophistication, so I was pleased to see a writing style with this story that exceeded my expectations (Although it wasn’t exactly delicate in its approach and some of the “terminology” and metaphors made me chuckle.) It captures the pole dancing experience in great detail, giving it a sense of being tangible. It also carries the perspective over into the realm of social media–a reflection of real life.

I appreciated the descriptive imagery, covering multiple senses. It allows for a freer transition from the hot physicality of lust to the cold reality of death. I enjoyed the story and it kept my interest and attention, strong in most ways. If there was one weakness I would have to say it lay in the characterization. While I felt entrenched in the plot as I read, caught up in the gritty “behind the scenes” of the dancers, I didn’t feel equally invested in the characters. Character interaction and childhood stories helped with character development, but I was still missing a sense of connection. As the story spiraled to its violent conclusion, though, this didn’t seem to matter as much.

All in all, I would recommend this as a good read, four out of five stars, particularly if you have a yen to read something very dark and a little depraved.

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.

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.