Book Reviews: Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets

With history, unless you saw it for yourself, you can’t know if a story is strictly true or if it has a darker story lurking in the shadows. History may contain any number of untold mysteries and secrets. Perhaps communist werewolves reached the moon before Apollo 11. Maybe a sinister creature actually caused the Hindenburg disaster. Who is to know? Except… maybe you.

Allow me to introduce Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets, a horror anthology by Crystal Lake Publishing. Inside you’ll find stories of famous events and historical figures told through the grim lens of 23 spectacular horror writers. The anthology includes both established and emerging authors, guaranteeing that you’ll find an old favorite and someone new to love.

The settings extend from the prehistoric to the near-present, subjects from the pioneering inventions to mythic figures, and themes from comedic to disturbing. All, however, are incredible feats of imagination.

Though each piece is worth reading in itself, several stood out as exceptional among the rest.

“Mutter” by Jess Landry (a contestant from the Next Great Horror Writer Contest!) explains the events that led up to the Hindenburg disaster and gives a wondrous origin story for one of America’s most famous cryptids. Lanrdy’s writing, as always, overflows with vivid description and excellent characterization. She hides an amazing twist in the story and brings everything to a thought-provoking close that stuck with me long after I set the book down.

Mort Castle’s story, “Rotoscoping Toodies”, reveals a surprising past for Walt Disney and some of his most successful works. The life-like characters and interesting premise drew me in from the beginning. But the true reason this story stuck with me was the dark ending and horrifying implications.

Lastly, “Sic Olim Tyrannis” by David Wellington was my favorite inclusion. In a market saturated with zombie stories, this was a refreshing take on an old and over worn genre. Vivid descriptions brought the setting to life and Wellington managed to imbue the story with emotion despite using no dialogue.

If you love history, dark tales, or both, Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets is an engaging and worthwhile read.

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Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Ben has been searching for his missing brother, Eric, for five years. The three-year-old boy couldn’t have just vanished into thin air in the middle of a grocery store. Eric has to be somewhere. But Ben has run out of rocks to look under and life doesn’t seem to stop no matter what he does. To help support his family, he takes a job at the very store where Eric disappeared.

The night shift plays tricks on Ben’s brain, turning his days into a blur, like the Missing Person posters of Eric that have been copied so many times that the image warped into something that doesn’t even resemble him anymore. Things seem to move when no one is around. Items go missing. Others appear as if from nowhere. The building seems as if it’s trying to tell Ben something if only he could figure out what it is.

The strange occurrences renew Ben’s search, but someone doesn’t want him to find out what really happened to Eric. In small towns, someone always knows more than they say. In this case, everyone has something to hide. Even Ben.

Dathan Auerbach spins a wonderful web of intrigue and suspicion. I sat on edge through the whole book, unsure if I was going to encounter the paranormal or the darkest depths of humanity in each turn of the page.

Bad Man approaches a difficult setting, addressing poverty, abuse, mental illness, and grief in a powerful way. Auerbach doesn’t pull any punches with his descriptions and gives an unflinching account of real-life horror. The characters feel like real people. From Ben’s tenuous grasp on reality to the quiet, sinister nature of the store’s owner, there is depth to every character you meet. No one is safe from the dreadful suspicion in the book. Auerbach masterfully leads readers to conclusion after conclusion, never knowing if they are on the right track.

Bad Man leaves you feeling the way you do in a Walmart at two am. Everything feels overexposed, too brightly lit, too empty, too quiet. It isn’t the darkness that is frightening in Bad Man, it’s the blinding light that reveals that there is nothing there to see.

Auerbach’s prose is a delight to read. He includes masterful descriptions and insights throughout with lingering quotes that you’ll want to remember for yourself. The novel is artfully crafted from cover to cover, each word carefully chosen to draw you in at every turn.

Bad Man may not linger in your nightmares, but the effect is much deeper than that. It deals a slow sort of agony as you face the uncertainty of what happened to Eric and inevitable feeling that there is no happy ending for Ben. Even if Ben gets what he wants, will there ever really be an ending to his torture? The suspense lasts until the last page. It leaves a tingling feeling of dread that claws its way out of your bones and refuses to let you put it down.

Bad Man is a fantastic novel. If you are looking for a dark, atmospheric, gripping book, then make sure to pick up a copy.

Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance Meg Hafdahl

Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance by Meg Hafdahl

Don’t be alone. Not at Night. Not in Willoughby.

Willoughby, Minnesota is an idyllic small town in Middle America. It boasts one café, one motel, and a population of five-hundred-nine. But, there are more than small town secrets hiding in the shadows of the town square. Something lurks just out of sight—and out of mind—from the residents. A bloody history of accidents, violence, and murder plagues Willoughby and threatens the town even in the present.

In July 1982, someone brutally murdered three members of the Bergman family with an ax in their Willoughby home. For decades, town suspicion has fallen on the sole survivor of the bloody massacre: Caroline, the Bergman’s teenage daughter.

But Daphne Forrest knew her mother not as Caroline Bergman, but as Jane Downs-Forrest. It wasn’t until Jane’s death that Daphne found out that her mother was the suspected murderer that newspapers had dubbed The Minnesota Borden.

Daphne visits Willoughby for the first time, looking for answers to questions about the woman she thought she knew. She may not have grown up in Willoughby, but Daphne quickly finds that she shares a connection with the town that not even the residents can fathom. Willoughby wants to show her something, something that can save the town and, maybe, Daphne herself.

Thrust into memories of unfathomable violence and fear, Daphne must face her own mistakes and find a strength that her mother never had. If she wants to get out of Willoughby alive, she must face an evil that has stalked the small town since its founding.

Her Dark Inheritance follows in a glorious tradition of American ax murderers, but it’s far from the typical tale.

Meg Hafdahl creates characters real enough to climb off the page, including a monster that stalks you long after the novel’s last sentence. The town of Willoughby itself is as real as any character. Vividly described, it’s delightful and terrifying in equal measure. It embodies an abusive relationship that traps the residents in a situation where manipulation masquerades as protection and “this is for your own good” can be just as sinister as any threat. The story raises questions that strike to the core of all of us: What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be weak?

Hafdahl weaves an intricate tale of betrayal, murder, and small town intrigue. Her brilliant narrative style keeps you guessing from beginning to end about the next shocking twist. Whether it’s the truth about the Bergman murders or Daphne’s ultimate fate, Hafdahl keeps you at her mercy through every page.

I haven’t read a book in one sitting in a long time, but I couldn’t put down  Her Dark Inheritance. ‘One more chapter’ led to ‘one more chapter’ and ‘one more chapter’ after that. The book is labelled for Young Adults, but is just as gripping for adults. I recommend it whole-heartedly, especially for those who like to see the darker side of the American Dream.