Tag Archives: Halloween

A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival - A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a large yellow full moon with a black bat flying near the top of it in the sky. There are two jack o lanterns at the bottom of the cover near the title. Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story

Author: Berthold Gambrel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 18, 2019

Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour

Length: 54 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff Sixtus Davis, the head law enforcement officer in the town of Turpin’s Gulch. But when Raczyck’s agency sends her to work with Davis on combating the drug epidemic in the small Appalachian hamlet, the two are compelled to investigate the local carnival and its mysterious impresario… even though they’d much rather be doing other things together.

Review:

Content Warning: References to drug abuse, multi-generational poverty, and some of the negative consequences of living in an insular community like prejudice against and a deep distrust of outsiders. I won’t discuss these subjects in my review, and they were a minor part of an otherwise pretty lighthearted plot.

Small towns are supposed to be sleepy, peaceful little places where nothing weird ever happens….right?

The main characters were a hoot. Neither of them seemed all that emotionally invested in carrying out the roles in society that they were supposed to be fulfilling. Even when Jane behaved like a federal agent and Davis took his job as head law enforcement officer in Turpin’s Gulch seriously, there was still always an faint undercurrent of restlessness and snark in their personalities that always made me wonder how they’d break the unwritten rules of how they were supposed to act next based on their occupations and gender identities. This was exactly what the setting needed in order to thrive, and it made me wish I’d ignored my overflowing to be read list and jumped ahead to this tale when it first came out.

I loved seeing how the narrator broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience when necessary. For example, this was how Jane was described: “Now, because standards of beauty vary greatly, let me simply say that she had whatever you consider to be the most attractive hair color and style, atop whatever you think is the ideal face shape, with skin colored in the precise shade of pigment you like the best,” and it made me laugh out loud when I read it. Of course the audience’s preconceptions and tastes matter when describing a beautiful woman, and it tickled my funny bone to see that addressed so openly.  Do keep an eye out for other unexpected moments like this while reading because i can’t possibly list them all in this review.

The paranormal elements of the plot were beautifully understated. Many of these scenes that included them could be explained away with rational alternatives to what some characters assumed was happening there. I love ambigious stuff like that, especially when it’s followed up with scenes that gently nudge the reader in the particular direction the author wants you go while still leaving room for other interpretations for those who wish to hang onto their own ideas about the origins of previous spooky moments. Yes, I’m being vague in this paragraph on purpose. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read this book!

While no prior knowledge of Appalachian culture is required to understand the storyline, readers who are from that culture or who have knowledge of it in other ways will find some gems here. I nodded and chuckled as I read certain passages because of how much they reminded me of certain people I knew when I was a kid or of cultural references that I rarely see mentioned in fiction.

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival was everything I was hoping it would be and more.

A Review of Samantha, 25, on October 31

Samantha, 25, on October 31 by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover show a young red haired woman wearing a witches hat and cloak. She looks surprised as the wind attempts to blow her pointy hat off of her head. Title: Samantha, 25, on October 31

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 50 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Samantha hates her job, her debt and her general circumstances, and if that weren’t enough, her first post-pandemic Halloween isn’t shaping up to be any fun. Unenthused about the prospect of another day (and week and month and year) stuck working in a boring health food store, Samantha hopes that dressing as a witch will help recapture the magic in her life… or at least conjure up a little Halloween fun.

But when a mysterious black cat crosses her path, Samantha’s holiday hijinks take a turn for the weird, culminating in a spooky confrontation with the scariest horror of all: her own future.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Adam Bertocci has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Republic, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Back Stage, Broadway World, E!, Maxim, IGN, Wired, Film Threat and more. This wistful-yet-witchy short story explores the mysteries of improvised cat care, growing up, and what’s really important in life.

Review:

Content Warning:  Witches and witchcraft. This is also set during the Covid-19 pandemic and contains a few references to things like social distancing, proper hand washing, and wearing a face mask in public. No one caught Covid during the storyline, though.

Halloween magic is for everyone.

This novella captured the frustration of working in retail or other dead-end jobs perfectly. Even though she was grateful to have work when so many others were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, Samantha was bored and restless at Esterbrook’s Natural Market. Her history degree hadn’t panned out the way she hoped they would, and she couldn’t see how her circumstances would change for the foreseeable future. I had a lot of sympathy for her and was curious to see if her dreams would finally come true. This wasn’t something I was expecting to find in a spooky Halloween read, but it fit the themes perfectly.

Samantha was a likeable and intelligent protagonist. She was the sort of person I’d love to be friends with in real life.  I enjoyed seeing how one of her biggest flaws, her tendency to ramble on when other people were hoping she’d give them a clear yes or no as a response, changed the course of her destiny. It’s always nice to see characters who are given genuine challenges to overcome and whose weaknesses make a meaningful difference to the plot.

One of the biggest reasons why I chose a five-star review had to do with how the fantasy elements of the plot were handled. Yes, I know that sentence is a vague one, but I need to be careful how I word this in order to avoid spoilers, but Mr. Bertocci did a marvellous job of playing around with the audience’s expectations of how witches should behave and how a fantasy story should unfold. He clearly knew this genre well and wasn’t afraid to turn certain tropes upside down in order to keep me guessing. Bravo for that!

Samantha, 25, on October 31 was perfect.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Scariest Real Life Ghost Story

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

Blurry black-and-white photo of a ghostly-white woman wearing a long-sleeved dress and wearing her black hair half over her face. Unless you count the loud footsteps that sometimes rumble up and down my in-laws stairs (but that are probably just coming from a noisy neighbour in the other home in their duplex), I have never seen or interacted with a ghost.

With that being said, my father had a frightening and bizarre experience one night while sleeping at my grandfather’s home about thirty years ago.

This home was built by my grandfather on land that has been in our family for generations. There have been no sudden deaths, acts of violence, or any other tragedies in that house or on that land for as long as anyone in the family can recall. It’s a peaceful place, and yet the story of the black-eyed woman still happened.

Dad was sleeping in bed next to mom when he felt the bed gently shake as someone sat on it in the middle of the night. He awoke to see his wife sitting on the end of the bed staring at him.

It took him a minute to remember that mom did not have black eyes. That is to say, the eyes of the woman looking him did not have pupils, irises, or sclera. They were coal black from beginning to end. She otherwise looked exactly like his wife.

He looked over to the side and saw his actual wife sleeping quietly beside him, so he reached forward to swat the black-eyed stranger away. His hand couldn’t touch anything solid where she sat, and yet she was still there looking at him.

”Get out in the name of Jesus!” He said to the black-eyed woman. She disappeared like a mist.

He was not able to fall back asleep again that night.

Let’s add a few more pieces of information to the mystery:

1) During that time, my parents were trying to decide whether to make some life-changing career decisions that would make it much easier for them to pay the bills and even save a little bit of money for the future. Saying yes to those opportunities would also increase their stress and decrease the amount of time they had for anything other than work and finishing college (for my mom) and mean our family would need to move a few thousand miles away from where we lived at the time.

2) My father has seasonal allergies that required him to take allergy medicine before bed in order to be decongested enough to sleep. He is also known to be someone who occasionally has trouble transitioning from sleeping to being fully alert, especially if he’s interrupted during deep sleep.

3) They belonged to a denomination that worried about evil spirits and demons more than many other faiths and denominations do. Avoiding and casting out these spirits were common topics of conversation in our social circles.

So this could have been a hypnogogic hallucination. That is to say, a hallucination that took place while his brain was still in the process of waking up. These types of hallucinations can include seeing, feeling, and hearing things that are not actually there because your mind is still dreaming at that time. They are not dangerous, just a quirk of the human mind.

On the other hand, my mother has a sibling who had night terrors and incidents of sleep walking when he slept in that room as a kid. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe not.

No one else has seen the black-eyed woman at my grandparents’ home to the best of my knowledge, but this is the scariest real-life (possible?) ghost story I know. I will leave it up to all of you decide if you’d rather believe it was a spirit, a mental process that can be explained by our current understanding of psychology and neurology, or something else entirely.

Happy (almost) Halloween!

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

One Dark Hallows Eve by Eldritch BlacI book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of two sinister glowing jack-o-lanterns sitting at the bottom of a hill on the night of a full moon. A house and a leafless tree sit at the top of the hill. Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 22, 2015

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming.

It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks is not having a good day. Something’s stirring in the lake by his house, the dead leaves beneath this shoes crunch like bones, and even the brambles seem to twitch when he’s not looking.

Nothing’s right.

But things get a lot worse as Owen discovers a terrifying stranger hiding in an abandoned farmhouse. A dark spell is cast. Old magic, magic that raises a terrifying horde of nightmarish creatures.

As the monsters descend upon the village, Owen realizes there’s only one place left to go…across the lake. But can he survive the horror of the legends said to live below its muddy waters?

The clock’s ticking toward midnight, and soon it will be the hour of the Pumpkin Men and ancient terrors from a distant land.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve is a lost tale from Eldritch Black’s The Book of Kindly Deaths. Read it now and slip into a timeless world of dark fantasy and Halloween horror.

Review:

Content Warning: Skeletons and pumpkins who can walk.

Get ready for a gentle scare.

Twelve is an awkward age, especially on Halloween. You’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not yet old enough for the parties that teenagers or adults sometimes attend that weekend either. I enjoyed the way this short story captured the weirdness of this in-between stage in life and how kids deal with the realization that what worked for them on previous Halloweens maybe isn’t quite what they should be doing this year. It’s not something I’ve seen covered very often in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to find here.

There were times in the plot when certain elements didn’t fit together, and yet the characters accepted all of the twists and turns without a second thought. I wish more time had been spent explaining what the characters were thinking and why no one questioned why their town was suddenly overwhelmed with monsters. Even a simple explanation would have nudged me to bump my rating up half a star or so, and a deeper one would had positively affected my rating even more.

The world building was well done. Obviously, the author didn’t have a lot of space here to go into great detail, but he made good use of every page he did have to work with to ensure that all of his readers knew the basics of what was going on and how this world was different from our own. I was both satisfied with his explanations and curious to know more. That’s a good sign in my opinion, and I will keep an eye out for what the author comes up with next!

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve was a quick and spooky read.

Family Business: A Review of Inheritance 

Inheritance - A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story by Zoe Cannon book cover. Image on cover is of a crow sitting on a pumpkin next to a lit candle. There is a bare tree in the background. Title: Inheritance – A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story

Author: Zoe Cannon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 23, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Lena’s grandmother defended her small town against the supernatural. So did her mother. Lena should be next in line. But her autism makes that impossible. At least that’s what her mother has always said. Lena couldn’t even get through college—what makes her think she could wield a magical sword and banish the undead?

But now her mother is gone. And Lena’s little sister is in danger. It’s time for Lena to take up the role she was born for… or lose the last of her family forever.

This #ownvoices short story is 6,500 words long, or approximately 20 pages.

Review:

What better way is there to spend Halloween than trying to banish the dead? 

Halloween has many different meanings. In Lena’s case, her understanding of and response to it changed quite a bit over the years. I found it interesting to see how those things evolved as she grew older and was better able to communicate what she did and didn’t like about this holiday. She had excellent reasons for all of ways she reacted on Halloween over the years. 

There were quite a few time jumps in this story, and I occasionally found them confusing. No sooner would I get invested in one particular part of Lena’s life than the plot would suddenly jump to years before or after that event. While I understood why the author wanted to show this character at so many different points in her development, it would have been helpful to have more of these scenes in chronological order so I could understand them a little easier. 

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored Lena’s complicated relationships with her mother and younger sister. They both struggled to accept Lena’s autism at times, especially when it came to the ways this diagnosis shaped the course of the main character’s life. I liked the fact that this was an Own Voices story and that the characters were given so much time to work through their conflicts. 

Inheritance was a thought-provoking Halloween story that I deeply enjoyed and would recommend to anyone reading this review of it. 

Rolling the Dice: A Review of A Dark Horse

Title: A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale Author: Dale Olausen Publisher: Dodecahedron Books Publication Date: October 16, 2016 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Just what might a gambler give up, to go on the winning streak of his… Read More

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. I read a lot of horror before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but that changed as the reality of it sunk in.   Maybe someday I’ll be… Read More