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(Novella Review) Lucky Girl, or How I Became a Horror Writer: A Krampus Story by M. Rickert

Summary: Ro, a struggling writer, knows all too well the pain and solitude that holiday festivities can awaken. When she meets four people at the local diner―all of them strangers and as lonely as Ro is―she invites them to an impromptu Christmas dinner. And when that party seems in danger of an early end, she suggests they each tell a ghost story. One that’s seasonally appropriate.

But Ro will come to learn that the horrors hidden in a Christmas tale―or one’s past―can never be tamed once unleashed.

Content Warnings: Stalking, Mentions of Domestic Abuse, Eating Disorders

Review: Despite the rarity of Christmas Horror in the larger publishing market, I find that the season is perfect for horror. This is no accident. Before the larger commercialization of the holiday, Christmas, its holiday ancestors, and the Winter Solstice in general tended to be the one time of year when monsters, ghosts, and other strange beings appeared in the wider world. 

And doesn’t that make sense? Why shouldn’t you encounter a monster in that time of year when the nights are at their longest and the biting cold drives you from the wild? 

M. Rickert’s newest novella, Lucky Girl, continues that tradition in a more contemporary setting. Featuring a horror writing protagonist, Ro, with her fair share of holiday-related trauma, this little book creates a beautifully paced, tense, and terrifying affair. 

Continue reading “(Novella Review) Lucky Girl, or How I Became a Horror Writer: A Krampus Story by M. Rickert”

(Novella Review) Crom Cruach by Valkyrie Loughcrewe

Summary: A family is found slaughtered in their home, yet their corpses still move; committed to the routine of their daily lives, heedless of their own grisly deaths. A local occultist commune is suspected of the crime. The bloody legacy of Catholicism and the dark roots of ancient paganism intertwine in the aftermath of a recent national revolution. Welcome to the Ireland of tomorrow.

Two ex-Gardai officers, a former Franciscan monk and a young trans woman race to determine the cause of the slayings before tensions in the community boil over and kick off a new Satanic Panic, driving the tenuous fledgling nation back into the arms of the Church.

Crom Cruach is a distinctly Irish anxiety piece about the reluctant future and repressed past of a country trying to shrug off the shackles of colonialism, wrapped in the shiny black leather of Giallo and written in a poetic style fit for the fog-shrouded mysticism of the emerald isle.

Content Warnings: Listed in the back of the book!

Review: For a few months now, I’ve been saying that the indie scene is making the best horror out there now. Indie authors and publishers refuse to play it safe. Often, their efforts create the most ambitious and beautiful works of art being made right now. 

Crom Cruach by Valkyrie Loughcrewe is an excellent example of this phenomena! Long have I anticipated this release, and it’s managed to meet every single one of my expectations. 

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(Novel Review) What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Summary: When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

Trigger Warnings: Body Horror, Animal Death, Mild Period-Typical Transphobia

Review: Ursula Vernon owns my soul. This is simple fact. Her adult works, published under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher, have never once disappointed me. All of them are different yet branded with Vernon’s style of witty, warm, yet disturbing stories with relatable protagonists and, often, friendly animal companions. Even her work in horror manages to straddle the line between terror and coziness. 

What Moves the Dead follows many of Vernon’s patterns. The novella tackles and transforms a classic Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” into a wonder of fungal horror. 

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(Novella Review) The Reyes Incident by Briana Morgan

Summary: A local legend gone haywire.

A small-town cop.

An impossible eyewitness testimony.

Which is easier to believe—that killer mermaids exist, or that one person is worth risking everything for?

For fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Into the Drowning Deep comes a chilling horror story steeped in urban rumor.

Content Warnings: Gore, Body Horror, Mutilation, Infidelity

Review: When I hear the phrase “killer mermaids,” something in my brain flips a switch. I immediately need to get my hand on that piece of media. I’m not quite sure why this trope makes me go nuts. Is it that I live so close to the ocean? Is it that mermaids have fascinated me in all their differing forms my whole life? Is it the upturning of the tamed ladies of the sea we are now accustomed to? 

Whichever of these categories it might be, I just know that killer mermaids make some of the most interesting stories in the horror genre, and The Reyes Incident by Briana Morgan is no different. 

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(Novella Review) Brutal Hearts by Cassie Daley

Summary: It’s 1997 and Leah just can’t seem to catch a break.

A year has passed since her fiancé went missing while hiking alone on a mountain, and she can’t shake the unanswered questions and nightmares Simon left behind.

On the anniversary of his disappearance, Leah and her new girlfriend Josie return to the trail where Simon disappeared with two of their best friends. Armed with incense, tarot cards, crystals, and snacks, the girls have everything they need to complete the Ritual of Closure to help Leah finally say goodbye to Simon, once and for all.

But the trails are hiding something sinister, and it’s been waiting. As night falls around them, the girls find themselves in a deadly game against something vicious and wild that’s made a home for itself on the mountain.

It’s time to find out what really happened to Simon. 

Content Warning: Gore, Cannibalism, Child Death

Review: For the sake of a disclaimer, I will say that the author and I are mutuals on Twitter. However, that won’t stop me from giving an honest review on a novella that honestly intrigued me. Pansexual representation in a YA horror novel? 90s nostalgia? An incredibly creepy forest and hiking trail? All of those sounded like complete winners to me. 

In the end, Brutal Hearts proves a diverting and incredibly fast-paced read with lots of potential. However, this YA novella has a few glaring weaknesses as it winds down the mystery of Simon’s disappearance. 

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(Novella Review) Your Mind is a Terrible Thing by Hailey Piper

Summary: Communications specialist Alto’s shift aboard the starship M.G. Yellowjacket turns hellish after waking from a tryst to learn every crewmate has vanished. Worse, a sinister presence has crawled aboard the ship. It’s violent, destructive, and it can reach into your thoughts to make you see and feel what it wants.

Anxiety-ridden Alto might be the least-qualified person to face a creature that can hack minds like computers. Only a perilous journey to the ship’s bridge can reunite comms specialist with crew and give them a chance to call for help.

But the intruder only scratches the surface of this crisis, and discovering the truth will bring Alto face to face against a nightmare beyond flesh and thought.

Content Warnings: Body Horror, Mental Illness

Review: When it comes to mind-bending, gorgeous, and queer-as-in-fuck-you horror, there is no one quite like Hailey Piper. Piper’s work tends to blend the erotic and the terrifying. Her themes range from coming-of-age to liberation, anti-capitalist critique to queer agency. Piper’s creative ideas also reach the greatest heights, bringing new blood into old genres. 

Your Mind Is A Terrible Thing is the perfect example of the peak of Piper’s writing. The book deals with familiar ideas: sci-fi horror, a terrible attack on a working-class crew after hearing a distress signal, and the lockdown of a claustrophobic spaceship. However, the story’s variations on the sub-genre express where Piper as an author really shines. 

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(Novella Review): Transmuted by Eve Harms

Summary: Her doctor is giving her the body of his dreams…and her nightmares. Isa is a micro-celebrity who rarely shows her face, and can’t wait to have it expertly ripped off and rearranged to look more feminine. When a successful fundraiser makes her gender affirming surgery possible, she’s overjoyed—until she has to give up all her money to save her dying father. Crushed by gender dysphoria and the pressure of disappointing her fans who paid for a new face, she answers a sketchy ad seeking transgender women for a free, experimental feminization treatment. The grotesquely flawless Dr. Skurm has gruesome methods, but he gets unbelievable results, and Isa is finally feeling comfortable in her skin. She even gains the courage to ask out her crush: an alluring and disfigured alchemy-obsessed artist named Rayna. But Isa’s body won’t stop changing, and she’s going from super model to super mutant. She has to discover the secret behind her metamorphosis—before the changes are irreversible, and she’s an unwanted freak forever.

Content Warnings: Body Horror, Explicit Sex, Medical Abuse, Transphobia, Deadnaming, Fatshaming, Gender Dysphoria

Review: Ever since its release, most of the people in my circle cannot stop talking about Transmuted, the novella debut of writer Eve Harms. The book is part of Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series, a line of books written by several great horror authors. Rewind or Die explicitly emulates its books on the old horror movies you might spot in an indie vhs store, complete with gruesome covers and even cheesy taglines.

Harms definitely succeeds in delivering an entertaining story that would make for a great movie. Furthermore, our protagonist, Isa the streamer, feels incredibly real in her struggles.

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(Novella Review) Sabbath of the Fox Devils by Sam Richard

Summary: After learning about the existence of a powerful grimoire through a cartoon, 12-year-old Joe is determined to find it and change his lot in life. But in doing so, he’ll also uncover a local priest’s dark secret and how it may be connected to Joe’s brother abruptly leaving town five years ago.

Part homage to the small-creature horror films of the 80s (GhouliesGremlinsThe Gate) and part Splatterpunk take on a Goosebumps book, Sabbath of the Fox-Devils is a weird, diabolical coming-of-age horror story of self-liberation in an oppressive religious environment set during the Satanic Panic.

Prepare your soul to revel in the darkness.

Content Warnings: Religious Abuse, Child Abuse, Homophobia, Gore, Mutilation, Child Death, Mild Antisemitism

Review: A theme seems to be appearing in much of my reviews lately. Maybe, with the latest wave of attempted queer and trans genocide, the religious nature of this damaging legislation has resurrected the latent religious trauma of my life. Nevertheless, when I saw that Sabbath of the Fox-Devils was about the Satanic Panic and inspired by small creature features like Gremlins, I had to take the chance to read this baby.

Sabbath of the Fox Devils doesn’t disappoint. Sam Richard has created a sad, fantastical tale that hits close to home. Its homages to Saturday morning cartoons and 80s horror films are fun, but it can’t hide the atmosphere of overwhelming hysteria in an evangelical household and the stifling emotional abuse of a young boy.

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(Novella Review) Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn

Summary: Survivors from a flooded kingdom struggle alone on an ark. Resources are scant, and ravenous beasts circle. Their fangs are sharp.

Among the refugees is Iraxi: ostracized, despised, and a commoner who refused a prince, she’s pregnant with a child that might be more than human. Her fate may be darker and more powerful than she can imagine.

Zin E. Rocklyn’s extraordinary debut is a lush, gothic fantasy about the prices we pay and the vengeance we seek.

Content Warnings: Infanticidal Emotions, Suicidal Idealization, Body Horror, Racism, Misogyny, Implied Child Death

Review: I first came across Zin E. Rocklyn’s writing at Tor, specifically their werewolf short story “The Night Sun.” It’s a gorgeous take on the werewolf genre, dealing with domestic abuse and self-acceptance. Upon hearing Rocklyn was publishing a novella last year, I knew I had to get it. I knew it was going to be great with gorgeous prose and fantastic ideas.

Sure enough, Flowers for the Sea presents a dark world with a haunted protagonist and striking parallels to our contemporary world. If the book has some flaws, it’s in the underdevelopment of side characters that aren’t very important to the plot. However, their heroine, Iraxi, and her plight on the ship, with her own memories, and with her pregnancy remain as compelling as ever.

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(Novella Review) Abhorrent Siren by John Baltisberger

Summary: Something is mutating the aquatic wildlife on the South Texas border, making the animals larger, hungrier, and more vicious. Something is mutating the people of Texas, turning them into cannibalistic monsters driven by their basest instincts to feed, nest, and reproduce. Something approaches San Antonio, shaking the earth with each step, driving the mutating power forth and poisoning everything it comes across. Something…abhorrent. An extreme horror novel from the author of War of Dictates and Blood & Mud.

Content Warnings: Body Horror, Gore, Descriptions of Scat, Sex, Cannibalism, Implied Child Death, Drug Addiction, Misogyny

Review: As many close friends and followers might know, I am a huge kaiju fan. Godzilla has long been a favorite character of mine, I’ve begun the long marathon through the world of Ultraman, and I’ve dipped my toes into indie kaiju media with films like Howl From Beyond the Fog. This book, Abhorrent Siren, happens to be second dip into indie kaiju media and the world of kaiju literature.

Overall, Abhorrent Siren was a fun read for me with extremely creative ideas, but the execution needed a little work to become a favorite.

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