Tag Archives: Horror

Making Their Moves: A Review of Empty Smiles

Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of an evil running clown. Behind him are two children running away from him while carrying two blue balloons each. Title: Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4)

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 9, 2022

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 256 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale to the critically acclaimed, spook-tacular quartet that began with Small Spaces.

It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare.

Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.

Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps.

The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.

Review:

Content Warning: Scary clowns, kidnapping, a sprained ankle, and a little blood (think the amount that can be staunched by what you’d find in the typical home first aid kit. It wasn’t gory).

Summer carnivals are supposed to be cheerful places, so why is this one so scary?

The character development was handled nicely. Coco and Brian were reluctant to tell the adults in their lives what was really happening during their previous encounters with the smiling man even when they were in terrible danger. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover all of the details of how they responded, but I was pleased to see how seriously they took their safety this time around. It’s always nice to read stories about people who grow and change as a result of their past experiences. We all make mistakes sometimes, but there is something to be said for folks learning from the past and trying to improve the way they react to scary unexpected things.

One of the biggest unanswered questions in this series has been the smiling man’s motivation for everything he’s done to Coco, Brian, Ollie, and the other people he has interacted with. I started reading with high hopes that he’d explain why he chose these particular people as his victims and what he wanted to accomplish. Without giving away more than the mildest of spoilers, I was disappointed with the vague answer that was provided here. After spending four books getting to know him and coming up with my own theories about why he behaved the way he did, I was really hoping for more closure. If only the author had made her intentions clearer in this area. Was it a reference to how people in real life also do terrible things sometimes without anyone ever figuring out why? Am I expecting too much from something written for kids? Despite this being branded as a quartet, is there secretly a prequel on the way that will explain his origins and desires? I can only hope that prequel idea will really happen!

I have always enjoyed reading about the friendships between these characters. Their bonds were strengthened in this book in all sorts of wonderful ways, some of which included fun callbacks to their earlier adventures. It made me smile to read about characters who genuinely liked each other and would do anything to help their friends. I saw glimpses of the teens and adults they may become someday in the way they behaved at their current ages.

This is the fourth instalment in the Small Spaces quartet. Be sure to read Small SpacesDead Voices, and Dark Waters first as there were many references to those tales that will only make sense to people who are caught up on everything.

Empty Smiles was deliciously spooky.

A Review of Horror Anthology – Wicked Pond Collection

Horror Anthology - Wicked Pond Collection by Jeffrey Legendre book cover. Image on cover shows a purple person with purple hair standing in a pond that’s surrounded by lush green trees. She might be swimming or maybe just standing there?Title: Horror Anthology – Wicked Pond Collection

Author: Jeffrey Legendre

Publisher: Vivid Dreams Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: March 5, 2021

Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 37 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

It is well known that the crust of the earth protects us from the molten inter lava beneath it. Within this lava hides the souls of the underworld and hades. But there are portals through the crust. Portals that were opened long ago and then forgotten or abandoned by the people looking to harness the power of the creatures coming out of them. Because the evil that seeps through these portals cannot be contained woe to any man or beast that should encounter such a portal because their days on this earth are numbered. 7 Stories of Horror and Suspense Following the Wicked Pond series.

Content Warning: Death of an animal (not a pet), sexual assault, and murder.

Not every pond is a peaceful one.

This will be a long review because I wanted to discuss all seven stories in this collection. Do be sure to read them in order as events and characters from the beginning were sometimes referenced later on.

“The Pond” was an excellent place to begin. It followed a Native American man who was attempting to hunt a deer so his future wife would have food while they journeyed back home to his tribe. I can’t go into much detail about his experience with the pond when he briefly washed his hands in its water, but I did appreciate his sensible and cautious reaction to bizarre circumstances. That’s the sort of behaviour I always like to see in a protagonist!

Howard was having trouble finding customers for his new business in “The Book” even though he’d grown up in the community and assumed that this would encourage locals to hire him for their bookkeeping and accounting needs. I must admit that his negative attitude and the chip on his shoulder made it difficult for me to like him until I realized that they may have been clues about what was really going on. Then again, maybe he simply wasn’t a very nice guy. Let’s all decide that for ourselves.

Doctor Clarendon first appeared earlier, but he had his heyday in “Fairies” while treating a patient named Walter who insisted he had just seen a nude blue-skinned woman swimming in the pond who made it impossible for him to think of anything else. The ending of this tale disturbed me due to how Walter’s behavior changed after this encounter. I could never tell if his versions of events were genuine or if he was making them up to get out of trouble.

In “The Dogs of Dunncraft,” a monk named Brother Craig was called to a local cottage by a horrified woman who wanted him to dispose of the contents of a basket that was covered in a red cloth. When he found two puppies sleeping there, he decided to try to find a family to adopt them. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover where the plot goes from there, but I was amused by his determination to do right by these puppies and by how reluctant the folks were around him to have anything to do with them.

I struggled to understand “Like Father…”.  It showed what happened when a young couple named Ron and Jenny hired a local man to build a deck for them that was never completed. Their reaction to this frustrating event defied logic. If only the narrator had given us more clues about what was going on in Ron’s mind when he realized all work on his deck had ceased. This would have been a solid read with more context and character development.

A distracted pilot named Amanda accidentally crashed her plane in “Flying High.” This was something that happened only a few paragraphs into her adventure, so I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to include it here. I found myself wondering why she agreed to fly when her mind was so filled with other troubles, but I’m sure that’s something that happens to pilots just like it can to the rest of us at times. What I did wish was better explained was why she didn’t try to eject herself from the plane once she realized it was going to crash. Yes, it was dangerous, but it sure seemed safer than crashing straight onto the ground!

After reading about the many different ways the pond had harmed other people, ”Fishing” made me shake my head. Who would ever try to go fishing in a magical body of water that seemed to have a grudge against humanity in general? I kept following Chet and Darrel’s story as I tried to figure out the answer to that question. Surely they should have known better! Other readers can decide for themselves what they think, but I was satisfied with what I eventually came up with.

In general, I noticed quite a few grammatical errors, misspellings, and other typos in this collection. With another round of editing and some further plot and character development, I would have been comfortable picking a higher rating than the one I ultimately chose.

Horror Anthology – Wicked Pond Collection was a spooky summer read.

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of A Terrifying Fact About Ants

A Terrifying Fact About Ants - Science Fiction Short Story by Adam Leon book cover. Image on cover shows a colony of ants crawling on each other and on some red soil. Title: A Terrifying Fact About Ants – Science Fiction Short Story

Author: Adam Leon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 11, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

“I discovered a strange relation between ants and another fascinating insect; spiders. Specifically, the Myrmarachne formicaria; the spider that looks exactly like an ant that was discovered by researchers back in 2001.

How strange it must have been to be the researcher suddenly noticing their colony of ants becoming cannibalistic. The Myrmarachne formicaria’s evolutionary convergence had the primary purpose of mimicking their prey to allow the creature to invade anthills without being attacked, allowing the creature to burrow deep into their homes and devour the larvae of their undeveloped children, and then walking away as if nothing ever happened. Terrifying, yet unbelievably fascinating.

Not only would the spider have to evolve to look exactly like the ant, but the species would also have to understand the simple psychology of ants, matching pheromones, behaviors, antennae communication etc. just to pull off this horrifying heist. How could random evolution be responsible for such deliberate manipulative complex action?

Of course, in recent years, it’s been understood that the Myrmarachne formicaria is not alone in its formation, countless other spider species have mimicked ants so well that researchers were only able to recently discover their existence through the use of DNA testing.

I started to wonder if a similar case could be applicable to human beings. Are there people among us who are not people? Are there psychological manipulators camouflaged as their prey so expertly, for the sole purpose of devouring our young and bleeding the public dry as if we were nothing more than livestock? And I’m not just talking about politicians here.

Be careful who you trust.

I have two quick notes to share about this short story before I jump into my review. First, be sure to read the introduction. It contains some important information that readers will need in order to understand what’s happening. Second, I also wanted to mention that the original Spanish version of this story is happily included in this version, too, for readers who understand that language.

Antonio, the protagonist, and John, the gringo who had recently moved to the area, had a relationship that made me chuckle. Both of these individuals made assumptions about each other that may not have been as accurate as they assumed. I was also amused by how Antonio’s gentle and trusting personality was matched by John’s fierce independence and unwillingness to trust anyone with even the smallest scraps of information about his life until he’d known them for a long time.

The implications of what John had to say about why he left the Anglo world for such a remote Hispanic community were chilling, but I found myself wishing he’d shared more details about what his life had been like before the events that drove him so far away from his original home. I’m saying this as someone who loves analogies and solving the riddles authors sometimes share in their works. It simply would have been easier for me to emotionally connect with John if I knew some basic details about his past like the names of his loved ones or the precise location of English-speaking country he’d left behind.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the cultural differences between Antonio and John. For example, John thought he should pay for help by the hour while Antonio thought it made more sense to pay by the task so that workers would finish the job as soon as they could. These sorts of cultural misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of amusing miscommunications that work so well in otherwise serious works like this one. The fact that their personalities were also so different from each other as I mentioned earlier only made this aspect of it even more memorable. They had so little in common, and yet I loved seeing how both of them worked together as John built up the courage to share a small sliver of his past.

A Terrifying Fact About Ants made me shudder.

Sensing Something Wrong: A Review of The Wendigo

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a horned, hairy creature standing on it’s back feet. It looks like a large goat. Title: The Wendigo

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Eveleigh Nash

Publication Date: 1910 (and republished on April 21, 2022)

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Historical

Length: 74 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” tells the story of a camping trip in the Canadian wilderness that goes horribly wrong when the hunters become the hunted. Drawing on the mythical creature known as the Wendigo, this story is regarded by many critics to be one of the best horror tales of all time.

Review:

Content Warning: Racism. I will discuss it in depth in my review.

Forests aren’t friendly to everyone.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the various reactions people can have to being in the middle of the woods. What is peaceful and wholesome to one person could be mildly unsettling or even downright terrifying to another based on their previous experiences with nature and how much they know about all of the sounds that occur when one is in the middle of nowhere and can see nothing byt trees stretching out in every direction.

Horror doesn’t have to be gory or gross. There wasn’t single drop of blood in this tale, and yet it made me shudder all the same. I appreciated the slow buildup as the characters walked deeper into the woods and further away from anyone who might help them. That methodical pacing gave me plenty of opportunities to imagine what might happen next and to chew on the clues I’d already discovered. The slower and quieter scenes were exactly what the storyline needed in order to flourish. Some things are much scarier when they’ve been given time to marinate in your thoughts, and this is one of them.

I wanted to make note of the racism mentioned in the content warning. This story was written in 1910, and the author had some truly odd ideas about First Nations people and their mystical connection to nature that many white people of his era believed. In no way am I trying to excuse the offensive nature of those passages or his bizarre beliefs about how one’s race should influence what one does in the woods, only to say that the world has changed for the better since it was written and I think the author was trying to be complimentary with those descriptions based on the historical time in which he lived. While I am generally able to shake my head and ignore ridiculous stuff like this in old books, I did want to let my readers know about them in advance so you can come to your own conclusions about whether this is something you want to read.

With that being said, I loved what Mr. Blackwood did with his characters, especially Punk, a First Nations cook and guide for the group, later on in the storyline. Their character arcs were memorable and made a great deal of sense given what they found in the woods and how everyone reacted to that experience. It made me wonder what would have happened if Dr. Cathcart, the protagonist, had been more interested in cultures outside of his own. This was one of those cases where a little communication would have gone a long way, but certain cultural assumptions made that difficult. I found myself wondering how the storyline might have changed if it were instead told from the perspective of Punk after he realized that the white people he was accompanying through the woods had accidentally discovered something horrific.

The Wendigo was a delightfully chilling tale.

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Northern Gothic Stories by Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows green and yellow Northern Lights in the sky at night over a flat plain. There are a few mountains in the distance, too. Title: Northern Gothic Stories

Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: December 19, 2012

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 123 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats, murderers and perhaps old Beelzebub himself? Of course you do – who could resist?

Join two story tellers, a husband and wife team, while they spin pairs of yarns with similar themes and premises, but diverging and surprising plots. Which will you prefer? Take the plunge into the icy world of Northern Gothic Stories and find out for yourself.

Our first pair of stories, “The Magnetic Anomaly” and “The Boathouse Christ” involve tranquil northern lakes and the paranormal mysteries lurking below placid surfaces.

Our second set, “Beyond the Blue Door” and “A Dark Horse” feature mysterious disappearances, which might be natural, but more likely supernatural.

Our final set, “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “The Stalkers” deal with decidedly natural horrors – serial killers, their victims, and third parties who might be one or the other.

Though our stories have northern locales, they might happen anywhere; perhaps even in your quiet town.

Please note that these stories may contain scenes that some readers might find disturbing.

The six stories are each about 6000 words, for a total of about 36000 words. Each can be read in about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Review:

Content Warning: murder, blood, stigmata, emotional abuse, rape, incest, and references to the crucifixion of Christ. I will briefly discuss the sexual and emotional abuse in my review but will not go into graphic detail about them. I will not mention the rest of these topics.

Now is the perfect time to dig into Canadian stories.

In “The Magnetic Anomaly,” a geophysicist named Alex was flown to a remote location in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories for twelve weeks in order to take a magnetic survey with a small group of fellow experts and investigate something odd that was happening up there. I was surprised by how much foreshadowing was included here, and I wondered why the characters didn’t pay closer attention to it. With that being said, this was still an enjoyable read. The Canadian tundra was an excellent setting for such a mysterious experience.

The title of ”The Boathouse Christ” grabbed my attention immediately. Imagine finding a wooden image of Christ in a boathouse of all places! Terese, the 14-year-old daughter of the couple who had recently purchased the boathouse, prayed to the image which I thought was an intrigued touch given how that scene was used later on. There was a fairly large cast of characters in this tale, but they all played important roles in both the storyline as well as the author’s wholesome point about what a “real” Canadian in Northern Ontario should look and sound like. It was well worth the time I took to get to know all of them even though I was a little overwhelmed at first. I loved seeing so many perspectives on why some Canadian immigrants don’t feel like they fit in here at first, too.

I have previously reviewed ”A Dark Horse“ and so will not repeat my thoughts about it here.

Jenny was a lonely girl growing up in an emotionally and sexually abusive home in “Beyond the Blue Door” who vividly imagined stepping through a blue door to cope with her trauma. I must be honest here and say this was a tough read due to the subject matter. There was nothing I wanted more than to step into her world and help her escape it. Anyone who is able to read about such terrible things will discover a wonderful surprise at the end, though, so don’t give up if the beginning is difficult.

As soon as Reggie spotted Alison jogging past him in ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” he was intrigued by her. I could see where this story was headed early on. Due to how easy it was to predict what would happen next and how disturbed I was by the content, I did not enjoy this piece. It was also hard for me to understand why certain characters did not pick up on red flag behaviour much earlier on in the storyline. This did not seem to fit their previous patterns of behaviour and so it confused me.

It was a dark and stormy night when Steve, a Toronto security guard, began planning his next murder in “The Stalkers.” I was wary of where this tale was going due to my dissatisfaction with the previous one that shared a similar theme. While this storyline included more plot twists, I still found myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how some of the characters reacted to unexpected events. The earlier descriptions of them once again didn’t match their later behaviour. Just like with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it  would have been helpful to have more character development so that I could tell if they were behaving in ways that were out of the ordinary for them or if these were simply parts of their personalities that hadn’t been revealed yet.

Northern Gothic Stories was an interesting mixture of Canadian fiction.

Sounding Like a Train: A Review of Voices in the Wind

Title: Voices in the Wind Author: Joshua Scribner Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: December 15, 2017 Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 6 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: A paranormal flash fiction story. Review: Content Warning: death and a tornado. I will discuss the tornado in my review.… Read More

A Review of Tales from Monarch Bay: First Memories

Title: Tales from Monarch Bay – First Memories Author: J.M. Acosta Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: April 12, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, (mild) Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 55 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: All it took for Rien was to touch his old Rio player and a sudden… Read More

Visions in the Fog: A Review of Terror at Deventhier Bay

Title: Terror at Deventhier Bay Author: Eloise Molano Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: July 24, 2021 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 26 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: In a remote region of the north, in a huge bay was the town of Deventhier, the characteristic of this… Read More

The Tumultuous Lake: A Review of Dark Waters

Title: Dark Waters Author: Katherine Arden Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers Publication Date: August 10, 2021 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from my local library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: An Indie Bestseller! Filled with chills and spooks galore, New York Times bestselling… Read More

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story Author: Si Clarke Publisher: White Hart Fiction Publication Date: March 30, 2021 Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?… Read More