Book Review: Dark Carnival by Joanna Parypinski

Review By Daphne Strasert

I love secrets. Family secrets, small-town secrets, secrets of the universe… and I found all of those in Dark Carnival by Joanna Parypinski. If you like a good secret as much as I do, pick up a copy and enjoy.

Dark Carnival follows Dax Howard as he returns to his hometown of Conjunction, Nebraska after his father’s death. He had hoped to leave his home far behind when he went to college, but small towns have a way of pulling people back in, no matter how far they go.  The homecoming isn’t pleasant. Dax had not been close with his father—the town drunk—ever since his mother had disappeared years ago.

Returning to his hometown doesn’t just bring up unpleasant memories. Something is wrong in Conjunction, something more than drunken teen parties and the slow, creeping grip of meth addiction. Conjunction seems to be rotting from the inside.

Soon, Dax finds himself caught up in scandal, murder, and forces beyond his understanding. The travelling carnival that disappeared along with Dax’s mother comes back, and brings with it whispers of a cult responsible for missing teens in town.

Dark Carnival never lags for a moment. Parypinski creates twists in the story that are unexpected without seeming to be drawn from thin air. Elements introduced early on come back later with a satisfying payoff.

The characters feel real and believable. They tap into dark parts of American culture without coming across as contrived.

Throughout Dark Carnival, Dax struggles with bitter memories of his family and past. There is no clear answer to the difficulties he faces and there are no easy solutions to his new problems. Still, Dax faces them with determination. He does his best and wins admiration through that.

Dax is accompanied by Wyatt—the friend he left behind—and Wyatt’s sister Sarah—a teenager who has grown up too fast.

Wyatt reflects Dax’s own fears about life in Conjunction. He pushes and pulls at Dax’s resolve, testing his true convictions and bringing into question whether Dax has what it takes to solve the mysteries in his own life.

Sarah stands strong as a powerful female presence in the story. Her loyalty and fierce determination provide strength for Dax when he otherwise would give up.

All the while, the single-minded and vengeful Sheriff Anderson provides a backbone of unease throughout the story. His relentless pursuit of Dax creates an immediate sense of danger, even as a greater threat looms over Conjunction.

In her portrayal of Conjunction, Nebraska Parypinski paints a haunting picture of the Midwest. Dark Carnival leans heavily on American Gothic themes. It takes an unflinching look at what really plagues small towns in America. Conjunction feels as real as any place, even with the supernatural hiding in the unexplored forests and fields.

Parypinski is an incredible writer. She provides stunning imagery that brings the setting to life. She creates tension seamlessly within the scenes. She even tackles more difficult subjects (such as delusions, drug use, and violence) in ways that are accessible and believable. She creates an air of mystery and provides just enough explanation to elicit terror.

Dark Carnival suits fans of cosmic horror like H.P. Lovecraft or American gothic literature like Her Dark Inheritance (reviewed here on HorrorAddicts.net). If you enjoy small towns with dark pasts, terror-laced walks through the woods, and family tragedy, you should read Dark Carnival.

Book Review: The Collected Nightmares by Fred Wiehe

The Collected Nightmares by Fred Wiehe

Content Warnings: The Collected Nightmares contains graphic depictions of sex, violence, and rape.

The Collected Nightmares is a selection of poetry, short stories, and novellas by Fred Wiehe that showcases his breadth as a writer.

Wiehe takes an honest look at what we really fear lurks under the bed or in the closet (or in our own mind). He doesn’t shy from addressing deep demons like suicide and madness. Many of Wiehe’s works included novel creations of monsters and myths. His vague and terrifying interpretations of our darkest fears feel far from cliché. None of his characters are guaranteed a happy ending (or an ending at all). In many ways, it’s more satisfying to see Wiehe embrace the uncertainty of the real world in his fiction.

Wiehe has a particular skill with shorter fiction and some of my favorite pieces were his shortest stories (including “A Whistle and a Tap Tap Tap” and “Shoot Me”). While the style and themes of his stories vary, they all include a flair for the unexpected. Twist endings are nothing new in horror, but Wiehe’s hold that element of the truly shocking that make them stand out.

The two longer pieces in the collection—“Under the Protection of Witches” and “Resurrected”—deserved their prominent placement in the book. They were action-packed and complex with fully formed plots and characters. “Under the Protection of Witches” was adapted from a screenplay and I would certainly love to see it as a movie in the future. “Resurrected” fits into a larger series of novels about immortal legend Aleric Bimbai. Wiehe set the stage for a larger world while still offering an accessible taste in short form. “Resurrected” could very well be a stand-alone novel and I hope the other works in the series give the characters ample space for growth.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection and recommend it for fans of horror (particularly with a leaning toward action). The Collected Nightmares is a comprehensive sampler of Wiehe’s writing and a good read for horror addicts looking for a new favorite author.

Book Review: Thrones of Blood Volume #4: Savagery of the Rebel King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Review by Daphne Strasert

Content Warnings: Savagery of the Rebel King contains graphic depictions of rape, abuse, and torture.

Savagery of the Rebel King is the fourth book in the Thrones of Blood series by Nancy Kilpatrick. You can see my reviews of the first three books here:

Revenge of the Vampir King

Sacrifice of the Hybrid Princess

Abduction of Two Rulers

Centuries ago, King Necros learned that he could trust no one but himself. Opening his heart to love would only leave it vulnerable to assassins. He rules his vampir stronghold with iron determination. Mistrust, treachery, and betrayal are his constant companions. It keeps Necros alive and in power, but is a grim way to live through his undead eternity.

Queen Guin’s kingdom has a problem: there are no children. For years, the women of the city have been unable to conceive. Desperate, she seeks the help of King Necros and the vampirii.

Necros is fascinated by the tenacious Sapiens Queen but he will not allow himself to trust her. He lashes out in anger, subjecting her to the most horrible kinds of abuse. Things go from bad to worse when Guin’s rule is overthrown and she is left to die. Necros takes her in—though not even he understands his motivation.

They struggle to trust each other, but with mounting threats across all the kingdoms, their lives and those of their subjects depend on their cooperation.

The stakes are higher than ever in Kilpatrick’s fourth Thrones of Blood novel. In Savagery of the Rebel King, we see the complex web of intrigue deepen even further. Kilpatrick weaves in threads from previous novels while also creating compelling stories that stand on their own.

With Guin and Necros, Kilpatrick explores depths of emotion that she hasn’t previously touched. The extremes of the character’s personalities make for a wild adventure.

Guin is a firebrand of a woman (more so than even the previous female protagonists) and will not let herself be overrun. She maintains her sense of self throughout, even using her apparent submission as a weapon.

Necros is so damaged by previous betrayals that he can hardly tell which direction is up. His softening toward others is a delight to watch and his setbacks on the road to betterment are heart-rending.

As the world of Thrones of Blood grows (now encompassing four Vampir strongholds and three Sapien kingdoms), Kilpatrick still keeps each new setting vibrant and original. The motivations and challenges of each are unique, which gives the stories more flavor and authenticity. Though she works with a niche concept, she doesn’t allow that to create narrow storytelling.

Kilpatrick’s unfussy writing makes way for the reader to get immersed in the story. Her vivid descriptions bring both characters and settings to life without detracting from the flow of the narrative.

The Thrones of Blood series is not for the faint of heart. Far from a typical romance story, it blurs the lines of violence and romance in ways that may make some readers uncomfortable. However, if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, then you will love Savagery of the Rebel King. It will leave you anxiously waiting for the next.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Adventure Escape Asylum

There is a reason that asylums are featured so heavily in horror. Whether it’s the loss of freedom, loss of control, or the loss of your mind, asylums represent most everyone’s worst fears. In Adventure Escape: Asylum, you wake to find yourself in a locked room with no memory of who you are. Something has gone horribly wrong in the asylum. A patient has escaped and has kidnapped a little girl. You must find him before he hurts anyone.

Adventure Escape: Asylum is a puzzle game app from Haiku Games and is available for free.

Game Play

Adventure Escape: Asylum has the same rules of play as Haunted Hunt (previously reviewed by HorrorAddicts.net)

As the player, you move throughout rooms with locked exits. In each room, you find items and clues to help you escape. Collect objects by tapping on them, then use those objects on other things in the room to find additional keys or puzzles.

Adventure Escape: Asylum also includes a combat feature. This element adds a new dimension to this installment from Haiku Games.

Game Experience

If you enjoy escape rooms, you will like Adventure Escape: Asylum. It contained more spooky elements than Haunted Hunt. The art is outstanding. The storyline is engaging. The puzzles linked multiple elements found in different rooms and were satisfying to complete. There was a strange twist at the ending that didn’t fit with the rest of the story.

The game is short enough that it can be played all in one sitting. Unfortunately, there is no replay value once you have solved the puzzles.

Final Thoughts

I loved this game. I really did. I think the company does a good job of creating complex puzzles of varying styles with satisfying conclusions. They are tied together with coherent storylines.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Haunted Hunt

In a world where monsters constantly fight for their lives against hunters, one name stands out: Otto. You (a shapeshifter) wake to find yourself locked in his house as entertainment for his guests. To escape with your life you must gather objects, find clues, and solve puzzles to make your way through the house.

Haunted Hunt is a puzzle game app from Haiku Games and is available for free.

Game Play

Each chapter of Haunted Hunt presents you with a room (or series of rooms) with a locked escape. Hidden throughout the rooms are objects and clues that you can use to escape. Collect objects by tapping on them, then use those objects on other things in the room to find additional keys or puzzles.

Each chapter has one or more complex puzzle that must be solved before you can escape to the next chapter. The game doesn’t allow you to use up objects in ways that don’t help you, so trial and error is allowed while investigating. All the clues you need to escape are there. If you become stuck, you can use stars (which can be earned or purchased) to get further clues.

Game Experience

Haunted Hunt plays very much like an escape room. There are often multiple clues to multiple puzzles hidden and part of the fun in figuring out which clues belong with which puzzle. I don’t find collecting objects horribly fun (lots of tapping all over the screen in the hopes that something is clickable), but I understand why it is part of the gameplay.

I like puzzles. I really, really do. However, I found some of the puzzles to be unsatisfying to solve. There should be tricks and twists in a good puzzle game. However, in Haunted Hunt, some puzzle solutions seemed so far removed from the clues given that it was almost guesswork (I spent many frustrating hints on those).

The best part of Haunted Hunt is the thematic elements. The art is outstanding. The storyline is engaging. The creators included many elements of monster lore throughout that are fun for fanatics like myself. There’s something really fun about getting to destroy a monster hunter at the end of the game.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed Haunted Hunt, but if you struggle (like I did) with parts, don’t feel too bad. The game seems designed to leave you feeling stupid.

If you like monsters and romance, but don’t care for puzzle elements, check out my review of Enchanted in the Moonlight, a monster dating sim.

Do you have a game you want me to review? Something you think I would like? Leave suggestions in the comments!

 

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Friday the 13th Killer Puzzle

Sometimes, you just want something mindless and silly, something you can play while waiting in line at the DMV. Sometimes, you just want to mindlessly murder innocent campers with a machete is a free mobile puzzle game starring Jason Voorhees and his many, many victims.

Game Play

The player stars as Jason Voorhees, out for revenge and guided by the decapitated head of his dead mother.

The game is set up on a simple grid, with obstacles and victims spaced throughout. Jason can only move in straight lines and continues moving until he encounters an obstacle or victim. The player guides Jason to his victims by sliding him around the grid.

Once Jason has murdered all the existing victims on the grid, the Final Victim appears. Jason must reach this victim but then faces them in a final battle. The player must tap the screen at the perfect time to complete the level’s last gory murder.

As the player racks up their body count, they progress to more levels and unlock additional weapons and skins.

Game Experience

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is a tongue-in-cheek game that appeals to those who rooted for the killer throughout his slasher movies.

The puzzles start simple but become genuinely challenging as you progress through the levels. The creators included a number of pitfalls that change the nature of the puzzles and keep interest high.

The game features, simple, cartoon graphics. The animation suits the style and serves to make the blood and gore silly rather than horrifying. The brutality of the killings of sharply set off by the South Park style characters.

There are some ads throughout (after passing a few levels or asking for a hint). These can be removed by making an in-app purchase, but aren’t annoying enough to ruin gameplay if you’d rather play for free.

Final Thoughts

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is an excellent thematic game that doesn’t skimp on the puzzle element. The puzzles are genuinely challenging and the gruesome deaths of the victims is a reward all its own while playing. The game is ridiculous and over the top and absolutely worth playing.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Remnants

Well, we did it. We finally destroyed the world.

The Apocalypse has come and gone and here you are in charge of your very own survivor compound. You’ll need to brave the Badlands to gather resources, buy equipment for your camp, and fend off attacks from monsters.

Remnants is a game for 2-4 players and takes about an hour to play.

Game Play

In Remnants, players each control a camp of survivors. The goal is to keep as many survivors alive as possible while fending off attacks from monsters and raiders in the Badlands.

Each round has five phases:

  • Scavenge: send survivors from the camp to gather resources. Players face each other in a real-time dice-rolling race to gather available resources.
  • Build: Spend resources to buy weapons and defenses for your camp. You’ll need them to fight the bad guys later on.
  • Fight: Various monsters and raiders come to attack your compound. Players use the items they purchased to fight back. If you defeat the monster, you get points that count toward victory at the end of the game.
  • Heal: You can spend more resources to heal the survivors hurt in the attacks. Only healthy survivors get you points at the end of the game.
  • Clean-up: Reallocate spent resources to the board and start the whole process over again.

There are only 6 rounds in the game, so make the most of every opportunity.

Game Experience

The mechanics of Remnants were familiar (the Build and Fight phases were reminiscent of King of Tokyo), but worked together in unexpected ways. There was the perfect balance of luck and skill to keep gameplay interesting.

Players mostly play on their own compound, facing challenges individually. There aren’t many opportunities to sabotage other players. It’s unfortunate that the game isn’t made to accommodate more players.

One weakness I found while playing was that an early initial round of bad luck can seriously cripple a player for the rest of the game. It would be nice if there were more room to bounce back.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed Remnants. It was the unexpected breakout hit for my board game night group. The game has high replay value, but would also benefit from manufacturer expansions.

For those who enjoy more complicated games, I would whole-heartedly recommend this.