Book Review – Ashthorne by April Yates

By staff writer and book blogger Renata Pavrey

 

Title – Ashthorne

Author – April Yates

Genre – Historical fiction, Gothic horror

Publisher – Ghost Orchid Press

In the aftermath of WWI, Adelaide Frost seeks employment as a nurse at Ashthorne – a manor house that has been designated as a convalescence center for soldiers of war. She is sternly informed not to make contact with the house owners, Mr. Ashthorne, and his daughter Evelyn. Her job requires her to work for the injured soldiers without asking any questions. A resident doctor operates in his treatment room, that no one has access to besides the doctor and the patients.

Something is amiss at Ashthorne. Initially dismissed as the after-effects and trauma of fighting and being rendered disabled by war, Adelaide learns there’s more to the soldiers’ wanting to kill themselves and not coming out alive from the doctor’s treatment room. Evelyn has her own suspicions about the evil lurking within her father’s home, but her investigations haven’t revealed much so far. Now, with Adelaide’s help, the two women seek to uncover the truth behind Ashthorne. What happened to Evelyn’s mother, why does her father blindly believe the doctor, who is the priest with much say in the town’s proceedings, can the nurses be trusted, why is the land on which Ashthorne stands so important?

In a short, compact, and concise novella, April Yates packs a punch of a story that covers so much in so few words. I was introduced to Yates’ writing in the short story First Harvest from Blood and Bone, edited by A.R. Ward. I loved that anthology and found every story so outstanding that I looked forward to her debut book. And Yates doesn’t disappoint. With Ashthorne, she creates a world that brings together historical fiction with gothic horror, thriller, and romance. And there’s another world within this world that addresses post-traumatic stress disorder, rehabilitation, homosexuality, religion and medicine, and the role of women in society.

The characters are multi-layered and well-developed. The storyline involves several tangents, but they all fall together nicely. The plot is to the point and quick-paced. Sometimes, novels are so long drawn out, that one wonders why the author had to drag a story that could have been said in a few words. With Ashthorne, you hope for the opposite. The novella is so well written, that one hopes it could have been a longer novel. I would have liked to learn more about the caves and the history of Ashthorne that makes the grounds significant. I love books that blur the lines between thriller and horror, and Ashthorne keeps you wanting to read more.

A haunted house story that incorporates witchcraft, demons, mysterious mirrors, and basements to beware of. As a historical fiction sapphic horror story, Ashthorne is splendidly written and deserves to be read. April Yates is an author to look out for. And kudos to the cover designer!

My rating – 5/5

Book Review: MAELSTROMS – COLLECTED DARK FICTION ABOUT THE SEA

A review by Renata Pavrey

I love anthologies for the bite-sized stories they provide to read on the go, and also for introducing the reader to a range of writers and writing styles within a compact collection. Maelstroms from Shacklebound Books piqued my interest for its genre and theme of dark fantasy and horror set around the sea. Edited by Eric Fomley, the compilation features an assortment of short stories by twenty-three writers, each one wonderful in its own way.

From mermaids to pirates, haunted castles and dangerous storms, sea creatures and suspicious amphibians, witches and queens, Maelstroms presents a plethora of tales about watery graves. I particularly liked how the authors dissected the narrow theme and explored the depths of their dark imaginations. Each story is so different from the next one, even though they’re all about the same topic. Kudos to editor Eric Fomley for his spectacular selection for this collection.

Some authors like Dorian Sinnott, Taylor Rae, and Dawn Vogel I was already familiar with from their work in other books. The anthology introduced me to new, stellar writers like Ai Jiang, Dennis Mombauer, Addison Smith, and Jenna Hanchey. A few stories that stood out for me were Dangers of the Deep, A Bad Day at Sea, Until There Were None, The Island of Masks, No King Will Come for You, The Ocean’s Choice, Grow, and The Kingfishers Come at Dawn, although I loved all of them – Maelstroms is a very well written and put together collection.

Some quotes:

~There was nothing to row to. Only the sea, filled with the crimes of his past.

~The sky, the very sea, was red. Not the red of blooming sunlight, but the crimson red of blood.

~They said her hair had become stained with blood and that is why it was red. Dead Red Delahaye.

~What tossed us into the sea’s dark waters was not the strong winds that carried us forth, nor the storms that brewed and rocked the ship, but the men who found that we were too many mouths to feed.

~The word slides into the hall like frozen glass.

~…the shadows were so profound that just his weighted leg revealed which side was down.

~…the agony of drowning and the peace of death.

~In the end, her most important lesson was the one the students taught.

~Scattered among the sand are a multitude of stones…, worn affectionately from embraces of the ocean.

~I feed on iron and bone and tears.

~Frost clung to her eyelashes and nipped at her cheeks, tasting her. The winter was hungry.

My rating – 5/5

Asian Horror Month: BLACK CRANES : A Review in Verse

 

BLACK CRANES: A REVIEW IN VERSE

Tales of Unquiet Women

From voices no longer silent

In this anthology of Asian narratives

Ranging from hilarious, to haunting and violent

A frisson towards an immersive journey

Headlined by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

Not merely stories, but an assemblage of shared experiences

And teamwork presented by Omnium Gatherum

Alma Katsu leads the proceedings

Of what follows and what to expect

Asian, women, and horror

Tales of identity, expectation and neglect;

Obligations, traditions, duties and more

Scientists, warriors, princesses, spirits

We can be many things

But we cannot be defeated

A haunting foreword sets the tone

For Elaine Cuyegkeng to kick off with a bang

Pandora’s box of gene editing

Or more attuned to a boomerang;

Snipping out traits and replacing preferential ones

Rarefied offspring too good to be true?

There’s always a price to pay

Specimens or daughters? Are we a ‘what’ or ‘who’?

Nadia Bulkin marshals an uprising 

With Indonesian history and folklore

A princess’s people retrieving her throne

A fight and reclamation at its core;

Who is monster and who is human?

Questions Kapre in his chronicle

Rin Chupeco’s unique love story

Depicts a tale heartwarming and ironical

Beauty, cosmetics, enhancements galore

Two tales from Angela Yuriko Smith

How far would you go to be yourself no more?

Sci-fi abounds; this isn’t myth

White on the outside, yellow within

Patchwork eyes and warring factions all over

Whom do we belong to if we don’t belong at all?

Gift recipient or pushover?

Grace Chan makes a two-fold mark

With hunger and fury, suspicion and doubt

Gabriella Lee’s rites of passage

Aspects of womanhood poured out;

The legend of the nine-tailed fox

Of trickster entities and lotus feet

Rena Mason presents womanhood again

As past, present and future accrete

Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

In their dual roles of editor and writer

Lend duality with contrasting themes

From heartbreak to horror, and lighter;

Caring for an ailing parent,

A mind-blowing take on pets,

A litmus test of acceptance,

Words – their shining assets

Set the clock ahead with Christina Sng

As we time travel to a zombie apocalypse

An ode to women in the military

Fury is not one to be eclipsed;

The fury of sacrifices to accommodate 

Meeting the expectations of others

Hollowed versions of ourselves

Emptied out; unconsidered druthers

With stories of folklore and legend

From the common to the esoteric

Across geography and culture

From charming to barbaric;

Returning to one’s roots

Or imagining a far-fetched world

From the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore

China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand;

Asian women from wherever they might be 

Scattered across place and time

Breaking notions and stereotypes

That living is not a crime;

There’s no single type of woman

No all-encompassing concept of Asian

The multifaceted identities of horror

And the stories of women who experience their own versions.

                                      ~Renata Pavrey

                                        December 2020

Ranata Pavrey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. She reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.