Book Review: Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

4/5 stars!

Broken on the Inside (Black Shuck Books) is a collection of five very dark short stories by Phil Sloman. All start from a point of psychological turmoil, the mind building its own madness which then manifests into something physically and disturbingly real.

The lead story, “Broken on the Inside, is an example of the power of mind control and the unintended consequences of the manipulation of others, in this case murder. “Discomfort Food will probably put you off your burger and chips. “The Man Who Fed the Foxes and “There Was an Old Man (be warned, there are some gross moments!) are accounts of mental breakdown in the starkest detail whilst “Virtually Famous flips and distorts reality.

Yes, it is a small collection, but Broken on the Inside packs a big punch. Strong, powerful and wonderfully dark, this is high quality writing and I would happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

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Book Review: It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life
Ed. Joe Myhnardt and Eugene Johnson, Crystal Lake Publishing

4/5 stars

What If? That’s how this collection of essays opens. What if some of the best authors in the business decide to pass on their expertise to those following in their path? Answer: You get this book, an invaluable selection of hints, tips and sometimes, demands on everything from character creation to plotting to submission. For me, as well as the writing tips, I enjoyed the sections dealing with creating and editing anthologies and also how NOT to speak to an editor.

Advice is given and yes, some conflicts as writers have different methods, eg plot v character, one or two drafts or multiple. It’s up to you to take what you want from this – or not, although there is one golden rule that ALL promote – show not tell.

With each essay, it was as if the author(s) were sat in the room with you, chatting about their craft as to an equal. All remember where they came from in writing terms, there is no superiority, no patronising or condescension. They are us and hopefully, those who read this will one day become them.

Book Review: Tribal Screams

Tribal Screams by Owl Goingback (Independent Legions Publishing)

5/5 stars

I have never read anything by this author before but after reading this collection, that will almost certainly change. His stories span the centuries, from the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in America, to the days of the American Civil War, to Vietnam and the present. There are stories of Native American Indian beliefs and Voodoo magic, unwary pacts with the Devil and the consequences of lives ill-spent.

I enjoyed all the stories and had more-or-less decided to award the book 4/5 stars and then I read Grass Dancer, Goingback’s Nebula Award nomination. This is a story of two brothers from the Kiowa. One goes to fight in Vietnam, the other, only 11-years-old waits for him at home. Confined to a wheelchair, he is tasked with looking after Roger’s dance regalia. I am not giving any spoilers here, but the emotion that poured out of these pages towards the end of the story was powerful. I choked up then, and am doing so now as I think about it. Very few stories have this effect on me and shows how skilful the author is. It was this story that turned the collection into one worthy of 5 stars.

Another favourite, but one chosen because of its humour, is Animal Sounds. Snapping Turtle is a medicine man fearing his power is waning as the animals disappear and his people starve. A trip to the Spirit Mountain to discover the cause of their misfortune sees him encounter cannibal skeletons. The part where he persuades each skeleton to donate a leg so he make a ladder and they then have to spend their time hopping about was wonderful.

Want a ghost story? Look no further than Last Man In Line, where a fraternity initiation ceremony leads to an encounter with the ghosts of the past in Andersonville, site of Camp Sumpter, prison to forty thousand Union soldiers.

In addition to the short stories, Goingback includes the first four chapters of his novel Coyote Rage, which is due to be published in 2019. Coyote gets up to mischief on the Great Council, intending to remove its last remaining human member, a frail old man, Luther Watie, in order to restore the supremacy of the animal kingdom. Tracking the Cherokee down to an old people’s home, Coyote is recognised by Luther …

And that’s where Goingback left it. I look forward to reading the completed version when it comes out next year.

Owl Goingback is a skilful and accomplished storyteller, a true master of his art. I will most certainly be looking out for more of his work in future.

Book Review: Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

4/5 stars

It was the cover that initially hooked me and I must admit to expecting a gothic type tale of murder and the supernatural set in more distant times, perhaps some sort of time-slip scenario having read the blurb. However, the initial chapters firmly set the story in the modern day so I was slightly confused at first. Once I got over this misconception and had passed the initial chapters which were very much scene-setting and introducing the characters, the story developed a natural flow which easily carried me along with it. The intermingling of the demonic top-hatted creature with modern life was drawn naturally and not forced. Crime and the supernatural mix easily and believably. The grisly murders committed in these pages are by a character possessed by a demonic entity, ‘the man in the top hat’. As the bodies pile up, DS Sue McKentee meets up with transgender psychic Alison Graves, whose initial information concerning one of the murders is initially dismissed with usual ‘nutcase’ tag. However, as the case evolves and McKentee herself encounters the top-hatted creature, she and Alison work together unofficially to capture the killer and bring him to justice. The story, however, is not just one of murder, it is also how two people reassess and rebuild their own lives. McKentee, divorced and refusing to let anyone close to her, gradually softens and becomes more open whilst Graves is almost at the end of the long journey in the transgender process to become the woman she wants to be. It is a story of acceptance of self and of others. I think these two would actually make a very good pairing for further supernatural jaunts together.

Book Review: Things You Need by Kevin Lucia

Things You Need – Kevin Lucia
(Crystal Lake Publishing)
5/5 stars

I enjoy collections and anthologies but with so many available these days, it takes something special for a new publication to rise above the herd and Lucia has achieved that. By cleverly intertwining the individual stories with the thread of the tale of a traveling salesman, he effectively creates a story within a story which ends with a twist I did not see coming.

Johnny is a sales rep, disillusioned with his life, despairing of his future, ready to turn his .38 on himself; however, before he can commit this act, he finds himself browsing the shelves of Handy’s Pawn & Thrift in the town of Clifton Heights. This shop gives you what you need – although this might not necessarily be what you want. Each item he handles – a tape player, an old Magic Eight Ball, a phone, a word processor – takes him away to other lives, all featuring characters who are trapped in one way or another. A ghost haunts his old den in The Office, the nightmare of being trapped in rooms and hallways continues in Out of Field Theory, Scavenging and A Place for Broken and Discarded Things. In each, the main character has to face up to, or accept certain truths, much as the character of Johnny is forced to do, each tale taking him nearer to his own truth.

Johnny too is trapped, he is locked mentally into his own depression and physically in the store, with no apparent escape from either. The shopkeeper has disappeared and, between the tales, he finds himself facing never-ending corridors and suddenly-appearing trapdoors, all the while feeling an increasing desire to kill himself. This parallels the stories he reads or hears, an overarching theme which makes sense when you read Almost Home, the tale of Johnny himself, and which delivers an unexpected, and wonderfully conceived, twist.

This is Death of a Salesman written for the horror market. The stories are flawless and original, avoiding the usual, hackneyed tropes, with no weak links between them. A thoroughly enjoyable read for the longer autumnal nights.

Book Review: Gypsy Blood by Jeff Gunhus

Gypsy Blood by Jeff Gunhus

Reviewed by Stephanie Ellis

4 out of 5 stars

Corbin Stewart is a writer, traumatized after the death of his young daughter, the subsequent breakup of his marriage and battling depression. A move to Paris to work on his second novel has proved a failure as he remains in the grip of writer’s block and a battle with the booze. Into his life comes Margot, his publisher’s agent, and, as it turns out, the granddaughter of Gregor, the leader of a powerful and ancient gypsy clan. When Corbin comes to Gregor’s aid during an apparently fatal attack, he absorbs part of Gregor’s soul. From that point on, his life is turned upside down when he becomes caught up in a deadly feud between the gypsies and a secretive group, Les Fantômes de Nuit.

Gypsy Blood calls itself a horror novel but reads like a thriller, pulling you in and not letting up until the final page. The pages take you running across the Parisian skyline against the backdrop of Notre Dame and then sends you down into the depths of the catacombs where bones do more than rattle. A fast-paced and action-packed read, I feel as if it’s horror’s answer to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and could easily be transferred to screen.

A great book to lose yourself in.


Stephanie Ellis can be found at https://stephellis.weebly.com and on twitter @el_Stevie.

When Stephanie is not writing reviews, she is co-editor at The Infernal Clock (http://infernalclock.blogspot.co.uk/) a fledgling publishing venture and is also co-editor at The Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear online magazine (https://horrortree.com/category/trembling-with-fear/) where they’re always open for flash submissions. She has also had short stories and a novella published in a variety of horror anthologies and magazines.

Book Review: Mountain of the Dead by Jeremy Bates

Mountain of the Dead by Jeremy Bates

Reviewed by Stephanie Ellis

5 stars

In 1959, a party of ten set out on a trek through the Northern Ural Mountains. After one withdrew due to illness, the other nine continued on in order to gain their Category III hiking certificate. Their route took them to Kholat Syakhl, the Mountain of the Dead. None of them returned. Files relating to the incident remained classified for years and even now not everything has been released to the public. The state also subsequently restricted access to the Dyatlov Pass area for three years after the incident.

This tale, based on true events, weaves a narrative between the recreation of events at that time and the story of a writer following in their footsteps to discover the truth behind the tragedy. As the story inevitably propels the members of the party to their end, told in the form of a countdown, you are invited to share the dreams and hopes of some of the group, ideas of a future and love and family. Together with the inclusion of expedition photos showing young faces full of laughter and promise, the story is brought to life and the poignancy of what is to come heightened.

In addition, the writer chasing their ghosts has his own demons to confront and this trip is his attempt at closure over a personal loss. That he insists on seeing the trek through to the bitter end, despite appalling conditions, has catastrophic consequences.

Here communism, the gulags, the folk belief of the Mansi tribesmen who live in that area and supernatural elements combine to give real authority to a powerful story

Full of horrifying suspense and well-researched, the author guides the reader to a shockingly believable conclusion. A page-turner in the true sense of the word and a thoroughly entertaining read. I will definitely be looking out for other books by this author.


Stephanie Ellis can be found at https://stephellis.weebly.com and on twitter @el_Stevie.

When Stephanie is not writing reviews, she is co-editor at The Infernal Clock (http://infernalclock.blogspot.co.uk/) a fledgling publishing venture and is also co-editor at The Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear online magazine (https://horrortree.com/category/trembling-with-fear/) where they’re always open for flash submissions. She has also had short stories and a novella published in a variety of horror anthologies and magazines.