Review: Playground by Aron Beauregard

PlaygroundPlayground by Aron Beauregard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Grossly entertaining!!!

Is this book for everybody? Absolutely fucking not. This is for a very niche market.

If you’ve never read Splatterpunk or Extreme Horror before, don’t start here. You’ll want to ease yourself in more gently than this. This could scar you for life.

I had fun with it. I loved the premise and the gore was non-stop and gag-inducingly detailed. However, I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy this and that’s fine.

To each their own. That’s what makes the reading experience so great, it’s different for each of us and I love that journey for us all. For Readers who do love Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror, this is a hell of a lot of fun.

If the thought of a demented version of Squid Game played by children on torturous playground equipment is intriguing to you, than you should definitely check this one out.

View all my reviews

Review: What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat

What We HarvestWhat We Harvest by Ann Fraistat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

What We Harvest, a 2022-debut from Ann Fraistat, is a YA-EcoHorror novel set in the farming town of Hollow’s End.

We follow Wren, a teenager, whose family descends from one of the founding families of the town and is well known for their rainbow wheat fields.

Each of the founding families has their own unique, somewhat magical crop. For decades Hollow’s End has flourished. Tourists come from miles around to marvel at the miracle crops. That is until 5-months ago, when the blight set in, ruining crops, animals and people alike.

Now the town is at the edge of total destruction, with curfews and quarantines in place, there’s no more marveling at the crops. It’s all running and hiding for your life.

After Wren’s parents fail to return from helping at a neighbor’s farm, and Wren gets herself in a bit of a pickle, she needs help. She ends up having to call the last person she wants to reach out to, her ex-boyfriend, Derek.

Unfortunately, Wren and Derek will have to put past issues behind them in order to survive. In fact, the teens may be the last hope for Hollow’s End. Will they be able to stop the blight before it gets them as well?

What We Harvest is a cracking debut. I love small towns filled with big secrets, and not only did this town harbor a lot of secrets, they were also very dark and dangerous ones.

This story kicks off very quickly, with the blight already having been taking over the town for a while. I liked Wren’s perspective right away and learning about the blight, as well as the history and dynamics of Hollow’s End.

You know right away that something very dangerous lurks here, hiding in the woods during the day, but you don’t really know what. I loved the ominous tone this sets. Right from the start, you know to be on edge.

Scattered amongst the more dangerous scenes, we also get some quieter moments, reflecting on Wren and Derek, and the various relationships in their lives. It was a nice balance between those more personal moments and the intensity of what is going on with the blight.

I enjoyed Wren and Derek’s relationship a lot, as we got to the bottom of what was really going on between them. I also liked learning about the founding families and the lore that surrounds how the town came to be.

Those elements did remind me of The Devouring Gray. If you enjoyed that book, I do think that you could really enjoy this. Another one with similar vibes would be Burn Our Bodies Down, although I did enjoy this story more.

The entire drama of this narrative played out so well. I feel like it was paced brilliantly and did have some super intense, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter moments.

The Horror elements were well executed too, particularly in regards to the effects of the blight. There were definitely moments I was truly scared for these characters that I had grown attached to.

Overall, this was a great reading experience and I’m sure glad that I finally made time for it.

If you are a fan of any sort of Eco-Horror, YA or Adult, I think this one is worth giving a try. There’s some interesting elements in here that could keep you up at night. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!

View all my reviews

Review: Cold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell

Cold Moon Over Babylon (Valancourt 20th Century Classics)Cold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cold Moon Over Babylon is a classic Southern Gothic tale that sets the bar high for others. I can’t tell you how many times this book has been recommended to me over the years.

I am so happy that I finally made time for it, because I absolutely adored it. It’s so good.

This story is set in the small, rural town of Babylon, Florida. We follow many folks in the town, but the main drama centers around the Larkin family after the youngest member, Margaret, disappears on her way home from town.

She was riding her bike home when she disappeared. Her grandmother and brother suspect foul play, but others aren’t immediately as alarmed as the family. The police even suggest Margaret, 14-years old, had run off with a boy.

Eventually, Margaret’s body, tied to her bicycle, is found in the local Styx River, just by the Larkin property. That puts the theories to rest. Margaret was viciously murdered.

We follow Margaret’s remaining family, her Grandmother, Evelyn, and her brother, Jerry, as they fight to find out the truth about what happened to Margaret.

This story is beautifully told. It is gripping from the start. The level of atmosphere that McDowell was able to bring to the page feels inspired. I could not only picture everything clearly in my mind, but I could feel it and smell it. It seriously moved me in so many ways.

My heart ached for the Larkin family, especially Jerry, trying to keep his Grandmother together in the face of another family tragedy.

I also thought the villain in this one was so well done. They’re a character you are going to hate. You are going to cheer for their demise. Following their perspective is like getting a front row seat in a sociopath’s mind.

Additionally, don’t even get me started on the horror imagery. Oh man, there are some creepy-ass scenes in this one. The entities haunting Babylon post-the crimes against the Larkin family. Yikes!!

One of my favorite scenes featured a character, Nathan Redfield, driving home from the liquor store and something, or someone, is after him. It was so vivid. It scared me, like legit scared. I had to turn more lights on.

I highly recommend this one. If you are a Horror fan, particularly if you enjoy Horror stories with a lush, small town feel, you have to pick this one up. I was so impressed.

Fabulously done by McDowell. I can’t wait to read more of his work. I have a feeling I will love his other novels just as much and hope to get to them soon.

RIP — Michael McDowell: June 1, 1950 – December 27, 1999.

View all my reviews

Rereading a Favorite Horror Novella: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

What Moves the DeadWhat Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5-stars yet again!

This was exactly what I wanted for my first read of October, which is why I chose to reread a tried and true favorite Horror novella by one of my favorite authors, T. Kingfisher.

My goal was to set a tone for the month and What Moves the Dead certainly succeeded in that. It’s more than just a gorgeous cover. Kingfisher creates such an eerie, fun and mysterious tale in under 200-pages. She’s a marvel.

As with many other rereads, I think I was able to enjoy the details of this story even more this time around. Since I knew where the story was going, I could concentrate a little more on the finer points.

My biggest take-away this time through was how much I truly enjoy reading from Alex’s perspective. I love how Kingfisher brings her signature sense of humor to every main character she writes and Alex is no exception.

Alex is such a unique protagonist. They make you feel like you are sitting with a friend who is telling you a story of their last vacation. Granted a really messed up and horrifying vacation, but entertaining nonetheless.

I’m super stoked that Alex is coming back in February in the sequel to this book, What Feasts at Night. It sounds like it is going to contain the same sort of horror-based mystery for Alex to investigate.

Personally, I am counting down the days until I can get my hands on that. It’s definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2024.

If you love Horror, but haven’t picked this one up yet, what are you doing with your life? Seriously? Get to it! This is the perfect way to kick off your Spooky Season reading!

Original:

In What Moves the Dead T. Kingfisher expertly reimagines Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.

That fact alone sold me on this book, well that and the fact that T. Kingfisher is one of my favorite authors, but then this cover dropped.

A masterpiece shall grace our shelves. Mine for sure because I’ve already preordered a copy and you should too!

The year is 1890 and Alex Easton has just received word that their childhood friend, Madeline Usher, is on the brink of death. Thus, Easton heads off to the countryside to the Usher family estate to be with Madeline and perhaps provide some support to Madeline’s brother, Roderick.

Arriving at the once lavish estate, Easton is shocked that the manor home has fallen into such a horrible state of disrepair. It’s unnerving to say the least.

Equally unnerving is the state in which Easton finds Madeline. They knew Madeline was quite ill, but her behavior belies any illness that Easton is aware of. Madeline’s behavior, speech and appearance are bizarre. She’s actually frightening to be around.

Denton, an American doctor and friend of Roderick Usher, is staying at the home as well while tending to Madeline. It’s clear that Denton has no explanation for Madeline’s mysterious illness.

Additionally, Roderick Usher isn’t quite himself either. He’s not sleeping and claims to be hearing things in the walls of the home. Could he be succumbing to whatever has infected Madeline?

In addition to our main cast we also get some great side characters. Hob, Easton’s trusty horse, was of course my favorite. No one writes animal companions quite like Kingfisher. She gives them such strong personalities, which for anyone who has an animal companion of their own will seem quite relatable.

Another favorite was the intelligent and plucky Miss Potter, a local woman who spends her time researching and painting specimens of fungi. Easton and Potter meet and develop a quick rapport. Easton ends up learning a lot about the local area, lore, flora and fauna from Miss Potter.

The classic gothic vibe of What Moves the Dead meshed so well with Kingfisher’s fresh and witty humor.

Picking up a new Kingfisher story is so comforting for me. It’s like settling in for story time with a horror-loving friend. That’s exactly the feeling I got from this one. It’s eerie and sinister the entire way through, while also somehow managing to keep me laughing.

I loved going along with Easton on their investigation into the mystery surrounding the House of Usher. There is some truly horrifying imagery included that was so well done.

I could picture, smell and taste the decay of this property. It definitely got under my skin.

Thank you so, so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copies to read and review.

As I mentioned earlier, this was absolutely one of my MOST ANTICIPATED releases of the year and it did not disappoint. Kingfisher is knocking them out of the park in 2022!!!

View all my reviews

Review: The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

The Salt Grows HeavyThe Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Salt Grows Heavy is a good novella. The writing is gorgeously-dark, with a lot of solid body horror, but it was just a little too abstract for my tastes.

((^^^ Clearly kidding ^^^))

My opinion matters not at all. If this sounds intriguing to you, definitely give it a shot. In fact, I want to be clear, I did enjoy this. I liked it. It’s a solid novella. I just could not tell you the point, or really what happened at all.

I think it is a fresh, yet horrific, take on The Little Mermaid, but I’m only pulling that from the publisher’s synopsis. Honestly, I would never have guessed that while reading this story, if I hadn’t been prompted ahead of time.

I think Cassandra Khaw is an incredibly smart and creative human. Khaw is most likely too smart for me. I do really appreciate their horror imagery though. It’s always a bit body horror, always a bit wildly-detailed and it never fails to make my toes curl.

I am going to continue picking up Khaw’s stories. Every time I am impressed with the creation. Some aspects hit, some aspects miss, but it’s always intriguing.

This is a bit of a short review for me, but this novella is just over 100-pages and I really didn’t understand 98-of the pages, so not sure what else to say.

Writing = beautiful; concept = over my head.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

As mentioned, I find Khaw’s stories captivating, if a bit confusing. I definitely look forward to seeing what they deliver next!

View all my reviews

Review: Whalefall by Daniel Kraus

WhalefallWhalefall by Daniel Kraus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whalefall.

I will never forget the experience of reading this. I don’t think I’ve been this emotionally moved by a tale of this nature since Frankenstein and that’s saying something.

Then, at the conclusion, it happened. The book hangover.

Whalefall is Jay Gardiner’s story. Since his father’s death by suicide, Jay has been wracked with guilt. Their relationship was complicated and they were estranged at the time that his Dad took his life.

Jay has given himself the task of finding his father’s remains, which he believes lay somewhere in the waters off the coast of Monastery Beach. Taught serious diving skills by his Dad, Jay feels he is prepared for whatever he encounters.

Entering the water is like separating from the rest of the world. In complete silence, Jay enters the dark, cold waters of the ocean’s depths.

In that environment, Jay’s mind roams freely. The Reader is treated to many of his most personal memories, watching his complicated relationship with his family unfold.

In the midst of his quiet reflections, the unimaginable happens. First the giant squid, then the whale.

Jay has been swallowed by an 80-foot sperm whale. He passes all the way into the whale’s first of four stomachs. There he realizes that he is still alive, but may not be for long. With just an hour left on his oxygen tank, Jay needs to find a way to escape and fast.

This story felt so real and original. I love the choices Kraus made in telling Jay’s story. The back and forth between Jay’s present circumstance and his reflections on his past kept the story moving at a nice, steady clip.

I developed such compassion for Jay over the course of the story, but also compassion for this whale, who becomes such a beautiful character unto itself. When I mentioned Frankenstein earlier, it’s particularly this connection I meant.

The whale, who could be considered the monster, beast or baddie, of this story, was just a creature with a soul who incidentally had all of these circumstances thrust upon it.

As Jay fought for his life, while simultaneously grappling with his past, you could feel his will, his humanity, his feelings of hope and love, begin to grow, but would he be able to survive long enough to act on any of it?

This was an incredibly powerful read for me. I became so emotionally connected with the story. Not necessarily because I could relate to anything Jay was going through, but again, just because of the way that Kraus spun the tale.

I think if you let yourself just sink into this one, let the story wash over you and really feel it, this could be an equally powerful read for you.

In addition to all of the emotion though, this is also fairly gruesome and I thought the descriptions of what was going on with Jay’s body, and the whale’s, was so well done. Kraus definitely gets top marks for his Horror imagery.

If you decide to pick this one up, which you should, be sure you read the Author’s Note at the end, where Kraus discusses the level of detail he went into when researching for this book. It’s quite impressive. We love a well-researched story.

Thank you so much to the publisher, MTV Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This is the first that I have read from this author, but it will not be the last!

View all my reviews

Review: Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana

Full BrutalFull Brutal by Kristopher Triana
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Full Brutal is Splatterpunk gold. It delivered exactly what it intended. There are no limits in this story. Nothing is out of bounds. I have never curled my toes so tightly and had my stomach churn so violently whilst reading.

It left me utterly disturbed and speechless. Frankly, I loved every freaking minute of it.

This story follows high school Junior, Kim White, who is beautiful, smart, popular and the star of the cheer squad. Girls want to be her and everyone wants to be with her. She has the world in the palm of her hand.

But Kim is bored by it all. The whole high school experience. Even her best friend, Amy, has become practically unbearable. Kim’s not sure how much more she can take. What even is the point?

Trying to figure out a way to change her life, shake up her boring existence, Kim decides to lose her virginity. She’s heard that’s a life-changing experience, so it’s worth a shot.

Not just any boy will do though. High school boys disgust Kim. She needs something more enticing; a little more taboo. Seducing one of her teachers should do the trick. Then she can use it against him and ruin his life, bonus.

This is perfect. This is going to be fun. Life is good.

The power Kim feels seducing this man is like nothing she has ever felt before. She is in complete control and loves watching him squirm.

Unfortunately, things don’t go entirely to plan and Kim ends up pregnant. The entire episode has certainly changed Kim’s life, but not necessarily in the way she imagined. She’s now on a fast-track to complete madness and debauchery. There’s no turning back.

This story pulled me in so quickly. I thought the writing was excellent. Oftentimes when things get super gory, you have moments when you’re rolling your eyes, thinking, that’s how they decided to write that? I never felt that during this story.

Triana’s descriptions of gore, torture, fetish acts, were some of the most gruesome, gag-worthy descriptions that I have ever read. OMG, what did I just READ!?

The thing that was so great about this though, is it’s such a fluid story. The plot is cohesive and the pace, as well as the intensity somehow continue to build throughout until the absolute vomit-inducing end.

It’s twisted, deranged and I enjoyed how it sort of flipped the script on the sex-violence connection. After Kim discovers her attraction to torture porn, her imagination runs wild and she’ll stop at nothing to reach new levels of euphoria.

There are scenes, actions, thoughts within this that I never thought I would see on a page and I respect the fuck out of that. I doff my cap.

The final few chapters included probably the most grossest of gross scenes that I have ever read in my entire horror-loving life. I can’t even wrap my head around it all.

Triana, is a beast; a truly violent wordsmith with his finger on the pulse of making a Reader uncomfortable. There are images in this I will never be able to wipe from my memory.

I’ve seen a few people compare this to Mean Girls, like the Extreme Horror version, and I get that. To me though, this read straight up Clueless, with Kim as Cher. Even her best friend, Amy, was giving me Dionne vibes.

Kim’s relationship with her father, her big ole house, the fact that she didn’t vibe with high school boys was total Cher, if Cher had been a psychotic bitch hell bent on destroying everyone around her.

No matter what it reminds you of though, this one will surely stick in your mind as one of a kind. This was an unforgettable reading experience.

Would I recommend it to everyone? Absolutely not.

Only pick this up if you are a tried and true Extreme Horror, or Splatterpunk, fan. If you go into this thinking you are getting a fun, fast-paced, Teen Scream-type, Horror novel, you may never recover. Seriously, I mean it.

View all my reviews

Review: Dead of Winter by Darcy Coates

Dead of WinterDead of Winter by Darcy Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Dead of Winter is the perfect Summer Chiller to make your blood run cold on a hot day.

If your air conditioning isn’t keeping pace with the heat, look no further, this novel will cool you down quickly!

In this story we meet Christa as she embarks on a two-week vacation in the Rocky Mountains with her boyfriend of around six-months, Kiernan. Christa is a woman haunted by her past and this vacation is a big deal for her.

Kiernan has been such a blessing in her life and she feels like she has a little more courage with him by her side. Kiernan is from the area near the mountains they are visiting and Christa is excited to see a place that is so special to him.

As they are making their way to the remote lodge on the tour bus, along with eight other guests and their guide, inclement weather makes the conditions less than an ideal. A fallen tree blocking the road ends up stalling them further.

As the guide breaks the tree down to move it out of the way, Kiernan and Christa hike up a nearby ledge to get a private peek at the view.

In the worsening conditions, the couple get separated and the next thing Christa knows she is awakening in a cabin, groggy and injured, with Kiernan no where in sight.

As the roads became impassable, the group was forced to take shelter in a tiny rustic cabin they found not far from where the bus is stranded.

They were lucky to find Christa, but the search for Kiernan will have to be put on hold until morning. Their new quarters are tight and claustrophobic, with very minimal supplies. This is not going to be easy.

The group settles in and try to come up with a plan for escape, but they might as well be the last people on Earth. They have no means of communicating with the outside world, and even if they could get a signal out, how could rescue even get to them?

In the middle of the night, their guide goes missing. The next morning the group is shocked to find his decapitated head hanging in a tree just next to the cabin.

Fear and paranoia runs high, as each in the group realizes there may be a killer amongst them. As bodies start dropping, the suspect list grows smaller. Who will make it out of this vacation from hell alive?

Dead of Winter is a fun read. This is the second Darcy Coates book that I have read. The first was a DNF because I was bored, so this one is a huge improvement over that.

I am an atmosphere girlie first and foremost and Coates absolutely delivered in that category here. I loved the secluded location, the claustrophobic-feeling cabin and the cold, uninviting wilderness surrounding them.

I also enjoyed the unlikable cast of characters being thrust together into tight quarters. These were people who probably otherwise wouldn’t have been socializing with one another, but fate brought them together and they had no option than to try to work together.

I also enjoyed their interactions. As the tension rose and people’s paranoia started to kick in, I found how they were relating to one another really believable. I think Coates did a great job with the psychology behind it all.

For me though, in spite of the fact that it was action-packed, I did feel like it went on a little too long. There were some sections that dragged, or felt repetitive, when I was just wishing to move forward a little more quickly.

Additionally, I felt that it was pretty clear who the killer was and why, so it made certain reveals a little less impactful than I think the author was intending. I was hoping for a bit more suspense to carry me through to the end.

With this being said, I don’t necessarily need to be surprised to have fun with a story and I still enjoyed this one a lot. I thought the level of violence and body horror was perfect and as mentioned above, the secluded setting was fantastically done.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a chilling, intense, cold-weather Horror-Thriller story.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am excited to read more from this author!

View all my reviews