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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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Film Review: The Deadly Spawn (1983)

Content Warnings: Gore, Mutilation, Child Endangerment

Review: Sometimes, as a horror fan, you come across a film that just shouldn’t be as good as it actually is. You know the signs: the low budget, the no-name actors, the tropes borrowed from many different movies, etc. After appearing in the Shudder menu, I assumed 1983’s indie, budget creature feature, The Deadly Spawn, was going to be a ridiculous little B-movie that would provide a good hour-and-a-half of entertainment. 

But I was not prepared for how good of a movie The Deadly Spawn actually could be. 

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(Novel Review) Hummingbird by T.C. Parker

Summary: Jodie doesn’t want trouble – just to be left alone to raise her son in peace.

Tanya wants more God and less wickedness in her own son’s studies.

Tara wants to leave her complicated past behind her, if only it would let her go.

And all Jonas wants is to get some work done – and if he can make peace with his father while he’s at it, then so much the better.

But the woman in the cottage and the priest up at the church – they have very different goals in mind. And Jodie and Tanya, Tara and Jonas… they’re about to get caught in the crossfire.

Content Warnings: Severe Homophobia, Transphobia, Sexism, Suicide, Body Horror, Child Abuse, Attempted Underage Marriage, Non-consensual Voyeurism

Review: Like most Americans the past two weeks, every single morning brought both neverending despair for my future in this country and the expectation to keep going at normal. I’m a worker, after all. So what if my life as a queer kinda-woman has been directly shot in the heart? Customers are waiting, and you need to bring your best chipper face to make their experience as pleasant as possible. No time for mourning, yelling, or anger in that schedule. 

As a result, my reading oscillates between two extremes: cozy and comforting fantasy/fun and silly horror or incredibly angry, in-your-face horror. Hummingbird by T.C. Parker leans into the latter. 

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(Anthology Review) The Book of Queer Saints by Mae Murray

Summary: In this debut horror anthology by editor Mae Murray, queer villains reign supreme. 13 short stories by renowned authors Eric LaRocca, Hailey Piper, and Joe Koch and up-and-comers Briar Ripley Page, Nikki R. Leigh, Joshua R. Pangborn, Eric Raglin, Belle Tolls, Perry Ruhland, James Bennett, LC von Hessen, K.S. Walker, and George Daniel Lea. Revel in transformative body horror, surreal serial killings, and gay nautical mayhem. Foreword by Sam Richard of Weird Punk Books.

Content Warnings: Toxic Relationships, Rape, Sexual Assault, Body Horror, Gore, Homophobia, Internalized Transphobia

Review: If there’s one thing that’s incredibly disparaging about the queer community, it’s how easily your fellow community members can turn on you. In-fighting is rife in the queer world, and, too often, many other queer people feel way too entitled in telling you how the way you “do” your “queerness” is wrong. It’s already bad enough living in a world that attacks you.

In the wake of this atmosphere, The Book of Queer Saints, Mae Murray’s debut anthology, is a literary brick thrown through the glass windows of intracommunity bigotry. The horror stories in this collection are pure “queer-as-in-fuck-you” energy, subverting the common queer-coded tropes throughout horror history to new ends. Like many of the amazing anthologies I’ve read this year, not a single selection is bad even if not all of them are my favorites. However, I do have quite a few that are my favorites. 

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(Novel Review) Maggie’s Grave by David Sodergren

Summary: The small Scottish town of Auchenmullan is dead, and has been for years. It sits in the shadow of a mountain, forgotten and atrophying in the perpetual gloom.

Forty-seven residents are all that remain.

There’s nothing to do there, nothing to see, except for a solitary grave near the top of the mountain.

MAGGIE WALL BURIED HERE AS A WITCH reads the faded inscription.

But sometimes the dead don’t stay buried. Especially when they have unfinished business.

Content Warnings: Gore, Infant Death, Slut-Shaming, Misogyny, Body Horror

Review: Readers of the blog are probably noticing that I am becoming a huge David Sodergren fan. Well, friends, you aren’t wrong. Sodergren’s work is just a wealth of thrilling fun. His books are truly horror films brought to the literary form, yet they are never derivative. Sodergren brings his own unique brand to each and every story he decides to tell. 

Maggie’s Grave is perhaps his best book yet. It contains all the favorites from previous Sodergren books: flawed yet interesting protagonists, cinematic writing, a detailed and believable setting, and a terrifying monster that is not afraid to bring deeper commentary on issues today. 

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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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Film Review: Intruder (1989)

Through the decades of horror film history, the 80s is known as the heyday of the slasher genre. The early years of the decade, heralded by the initial slasher boom Halloween created in 1978, brought in the so-called “golden years.” With the release of the spectacularly popular Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, only more were created after an initial lull after 1981. 

Intruder, a low-budget feature directed and written by Scott Spiegel, released in the incredibly late year of 1989 when the classic slasher was coming to a slow death. In many ways, the film’s plot reads as a “by-the-book” picture. The plot is standard slashing fare: a group of teen employees at a grocery store must complete the night shift at a local store where, one by one, they’re offed by a mysterious killer in shadow. In the end, only the final girl, Jennifer played by Elizabeth Cox, can hope to escape the killer’s machinations. 

Yet for all of these clichés, Intruder provides a great deal of thrills and interesting writing decisions to the mix. 

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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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(Novel Review): Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Summary: Life as a corporate drone was killing S.P. Doyle, so he decided to bring down the whole corrupt system from the inside. But after discovering something monstrous in the bank’s files, he was framed for murder and trapped inside a conspiracy beyond reason.

Now Doyle’s doing his best to survive against a nightmare cabal of crooked conglomerates, DNA-doped mutants, drug-addled freak show celebs, experimental surgeons, depraved doomsday cults, and the ultra-bad mojo of a full-blown Hexadrine habit. Joined by his pet turtle Deckard, and Dara, a beautiful missionary with a murderous past, Doyle must find a way to save humankind and fight the terrible truth at the heart of…


Content Warnings: Drug Abuse, Mental Illness, Transphobia, Transphobic Slurs, Slight Racism, Homophobic Slurs, Non-consensual Body Modification, Child Death, Gore, Mutilation, Body Horror

Review: For a couple of years now, Jeremy Robert Johnson has been recommended to me as an author I should be reading. His star recently rose to meteoric heights upon the publication of his novel, The Loop, but I decided to start with an earlier, recently republished novel as my first excursion, Skullcrack City. Its synopsis intrigued me, and hearing that there were monsters, well, you know the kind of gal I am. How can I resist the siren call of sweet, sweet monsters?

Skullcrack City definitely makes me interested in checking out the rest of Johnson’s backlist, at the very least. However, as a reading experience, it gives me a lot of mixed feelings that I’m still trying to work through.

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(Collection Review): Drawn Up From Deep Places by Gemma Files

Summary: In her second collection from Trepidatio Publishing, award-winning author Gemma Files takes her readers on journeys out beyond safe borders–from the trackless depths of the sea, to the empty desert frontiers of the Weird West, even to the edges of cracks between worlds. Here, in these narrow spaces between the known and the unknown, behind the paper-thin curtains of reality, lurk monsters both human and ancient: selkies and avenging revenants, voodoo priestesses and pirate sorcerers, ghosts and vampires, and the most famous murderer of all time. But however strange the things found in these deep places, what draws them up, and calls them back, are forces the human heart knows all too well: grief and vengeance, rage and loss…and, most terrible of all, love.

Content Warning: Dubious Consent, Period-Typical Racism, Period-Typical Sexism, Period-Typical Homophobia, Gore

Review: Long-time readers of this blog might remember that I have taken to reading as much of Gemma Files’ backlist as I can. Indeed, as my previous two reviews on her work might reveal, Files’ short story work has been one of my greatest pleasures in writing for this blog. Her prose is gorgeous, and her story ideas are spectacular.

I’m sad to say, however, that Drawn Up From Deep Places is, by far, my least favorite of her work thus far. Which isn’t to say that Files’ writing is bad! Rather, what drags this collection down to the depths are a few problematic tropes involved with the characters.

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