Tag Archives: Horror

A Review of In a Glass Darkly

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  

Thank you to Berthold Gambrel for recommending this book to me


In a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu book cover. Image on cover shows a ghostly figure reaching out to someone who is sleeping peacefully in a bed. The sketch is done in black and white and looks like it’s from the 1870s based on hairstyles, clothing, bedding, etc. Title
: In a Glass Darkly

Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Publisher: Richard Bentley & Son (original publisher) and Duke Classics (the publisher of the reprinted volume I read).

Publication Date: 1872

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Historical

Length: 169 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In a Glass Darkly collects together five short stories from gothic horror and mystery writer Sheridan Le Fanu. The book, published in 1872 a year before Le Fanu’s death, is named from a passage in Corinthians which speaks of humankind perceiving the world “through a glass darkly.” The stories are told from the posthumous writings of an occult detective named Dr Martin Hesselius. In Green Tea a clergyman is being driven mad by an evil demon that takes the ephemeral form of a monkey, but is unseen by others as it burdens the victim’s mind with psychological torment. In The Familiar, revised from Le Fanu’s The Watcher of 1851, a sea captain is stalked by a dwarf, “The Watcher.” Is this strange character from captain’s past? In Mr Justice Harbottle a merciless court judge is attacked by vengeful spirits, dreaming he is sentenced to death by a horrific version of himself. The story was revised from 1853’s An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street. In The Room in the Dragon Volant, a notable mystery which includes a premature burial theme, an innocent young Englishman in France tries to rescue a mysterious countess from her unbearable situation. Lastly, Carmilla tells the tale of a lesbian vampire. It was a huge influence on Bram Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the basis for the films Vampyr in 1932 and The Vampire Lovers in 1970.

Review:

Content warning: demonic possession, stalking, murder, beheading (of a monster), minor drug use, and a few brief references to blood.  I will briefly discuss the demonic possession and stalking in my review.

If you like genre mash-ups that defy the reader’s expectations, keep reading.

The blurb gave a great overview of each of the five stories in this collection, so I’m going to use my review space to share my impressions of them a bit more casually than I would generally do. Somehow that feels right for this book.

I was a preacher’s kid growing up, so “Green Tea” grabbed my attention immediately. Clergymen and their families are exposed to portions of other people’s lives that the general public often knows little to nothing about. No, my family was never haunted by a monkey-shaped demon like the poor Reverend Jennings was, but I was intrigued by the difference between what people want others to think their lives are like versus what’s actually going on behind closed doors. This tale captured the sometimes jarring experience of moving back and forth between the two quite well. I thought it also well at explaining why secrets can be so corrosive for a person’s mental wellbeing, especially when they’ve convinced themselves that they will be rejected, or worse, if anyone finds out the truth about them.

One of the things I mulled about while reading ”The Familiar” was how blurry the lines were between science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres in the 1800s. This collection fit into all of those categories simultaneously in ways that are unusual when compared to how a similar story about a dwarf stalking a sea captain would probably be written and marketed today. I like stories that blur these lines, but this particular one was hard to get into because of how much time was spent discussing everything other than the sea captain’s adventures. If only there had been more details about the dwarf and why he was following the captain around.

“Mr. Justice Harbottle” made me think of the people in this world who have purposefully harmed others and never faced the consequences of those actions. Sometimes it can feel like justice will never be served in those cases. That made this an even more satisfying read. It was interesting to me to compare this  storyline to what happened in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” If you haven’t read that particular Dickens’ tale yet, definitely do check it out before reading this book. There’s not much else I can say about this one without giving away spoilers as the plot was pretty quickly paced and straightforward for this era.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Pinning down the genre of ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant” was tricky. It dabbled in the mystery, adventure, horror,  thriller, and science fiction genres without ever fully committing to any of them. This is one of the reasons why I like reading speculative fiction from the 1800s so much. Just about anything could and often did pop up in a “science fiction” story back then. Authors didn’t seem to be as concerned with following the rules of their genre back then as many of them are today. With that being said, I struggled to get into this particular tale because of how much more time it spent jumping around from one idea to the next instead of focusing on character development. I never reached the point where I’d feel comfortable describing the personalities of the main characters in anything but the simplest details like what their professions were.

My favorite instalment in this book was ”Carmilla,” which, according to Wikipedia, was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for writing “Dracula.” The main character, Laura, was a young woman whose loving father had given her a safe but extremely sheltered life in a rural setting up until this point. She was naive about the outside world and incredibly excited to meet anyone new who crossed her path. When she reacted romantically to another woman, she didn’t have a word to describe her feelings. I thought it was fascinating to see how she handled these moments and what she thought was happening during them. Her father’s reactions to the rumours that were spreading around about various young women in the community who were suddenly dropping dead one after the next also piqued my interest. He blamed the fear surrounding those bizarre deaths on superstition and was far less interested in seeing if there were any specks of truth to the wild stories being passed around than I would have been. It made me wonder if he was in some ways even more sheltered than Laura was given how much faster she was to accept that something odd was happening.

In a Glass Darkly was a thought-provoking read. I’m glad I gave it a try for Vintage Science Fiction Month.

Memories of Evil: a Review of The Empty House

The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a farmhouse after dark. Only one room in the house has any light coming from it, and it's a room on the second story. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: The Empty House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1906 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 58 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Aunt Julia, an elderly spinster with a mania for psychical research, has the keys to the haunted house on the square. She invites her nephew to accompany her on a midnight investigation into what really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death. But the house may not be as empty as it seems . . .

Review:

Content warning: murder. I will be discussing this in in my review.

As one of the earliest paragraphs in this story says, “certain houses, like certain people, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.”

Jim and his Aunt Julia were the kinds of characters that make me shake my head. Their courage often crossed the line into foolhardiness, especially when it came to their reactions to a few frightening encounters with what was lurking in this haunted house so late at night. Sensible people would have run away shrieking the first time they encountered something that couldn’t be explained, and yet I did come to admire their stubborn insistence on finding out the truth about why no one could bear to live at this residence longterm. This investigation wouldn’t have discovered anything at all if they’d been quicker to run at the first sign of trouble.

The ending was disappointing to me because of how many unanswered questions it left with the readers. Without going into spoilers here, there was foreshadowing in the beginning and middle of this tale that was ignored in the last scene to the detriment of the plot. It was just starting to get really good when it suddenly ended! I wish the author had wrapped up those subplots the way he so strongly hinted at earlier. If he’d done this, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did enjoy gleaning the few facts that were shared about the sudden death of a servant girl a century beforehand. This was a part of the storyline that didn’t need to be embellished upon much at all. Violent deaths like these often take on a life of their own – no pun intended – as future generations reimagine what must have happened, so it made sense to me to leave room here for the audience to participate in the retelling of the events of that terrible night.

The Empty House was one of those ghost stories that deserves to be read and discussed in detail with a small group of likeminded fans of these genres. If that’s the sort of analysis you love doing, this might be right up your alley.

Better Days to Come: A Review of The Merry Christmas Ghost

The Merry Christmas Ghost - a Happy Holidays Horror Story by Dennis Warren book cover. Image on cover shows a closeup of a Christmas tree covered in tinsel and various Christmas ornaments. Title: The Merry Christmas Ghost

Author: Dennis Warren

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 22, 2019

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Holiday

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A haunted apartment. A very lonely woman. A violent criminal. All three have one thing in common: The Merry Christmas Ghost! Get into the Christmas spirit with this haunting tale of holiday cheer!

Review:

Content Warning: robbery, assault, battery, and loneliness.

Even horror can be wholesome during the Christmas season.

The holidays can be difficult for all sorts of different reasons, so I wasn’t surprised to see things begin on such a dour note. The protagonist had recently found permanent housing after being homeless, but it wasn’t a particularly safe or welcoming place for a single, vulnerable woman to live in. She had no money, friends, family, or hope for a cheerful Christmas. These details alone were enough for me to wish that her luck would turn around very soon, especially once she began showing the audience glimpses of her kind and gentle personality. I think it’s important to take note of why some people struggle even more than usual during the holiday season, and Mr. Warren certainly accomplished that with this character.

This story would have benefited from including more details in it. For example, I would have loved to know the main character’s name and more details about why she’d been homeless before she moved into her shabby apartment. Sharing information like this would have also made it easier on me when the narrators were switched as all of the pronouns that weren’t attached to specific names were confusing at times. With another round of editing and more clarification, I would have happily added at least another star to my final rating.

I loved the messages this tale had to share about the importance of families of all shapes and sizes and of remaining hopeful no matter what one’s circumstances may be. This family was no doubt a little unusual, but the love that shone through it made me smile. These aren’t themes one typically finds in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to be surprised by them here. It’s always nice to see an author take risks with what they write about, especially when they seem to understand why they’re doing so and how it will affect their characters. Good job to the author for doing just that. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

The Merry Christmas Ghost was a creative take on holiday horror.

 

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Ghost Stories for Christmas by Shane Brown Book cover. image on cover shows a painting of a small, rural community in the 1800s. There is a thick layer of snow on the dirt road with two brown tracks through it. A church and some houses in the distance are snow-covered, too, and people are walking on the snowy sidewalk all bundled up as well. Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas

Author: Shane Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 3, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 105 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses Never Forget,” a man returns to the village he grew up in, only to find that a house hasn’t forgiven him for something he did as a boy. “The Philatelist” tells the story of two brothers, one good and one bad – but even the good might want revenge from beyond the grave. “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” is the tale of a man who is forced to repeat a tragic evening from his student days every year, but what happens when he tries to break the cycle? A university professor rents a remote cottage on the grounds of a former school in order to write up his research in “The Stranger in the Snow,” but, when the snow falls, he finds he’s not alone. Finally, “The Gift” is the heart-warming tale of an old man who is given an unusual gift by a department store Father Christmas. From the author of “The Pied Piper,” “The School Bell,” and “The Successor.” 

Review:

Content Warning: arson, death of parents, hypothermia, possession, grief, widowerhood, infertility, homophobia, mental illness, someone getting beat up, car accident, murder, and references to the Covid-19 pandemic. One minor character died of Covid-19 before the tale they were in began. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the past for the living and the dead alike.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information for you as I get this review started: all of these stories are set in the same village, Brandley. Keep that in mind as you read them.

The unnamed protagonist in “Houses Never Forget” was someone who rarely thought about his rash childhood decision that that angered the house in his village so much. I can’t go into a lot of detail about what he did without giving away spoilers, but I thought this was an intelligent sketch of a character who would be easy to villanize but whose decision was also one that many other folks make every single day without realizing just how corrosive small town gossip can be.

Joshua, the bad son in ”The Philatelist,” was a violent troublemaker who never showed signs of empathy for anyone. I was intrigued by how the adults around him reacted to him when he destroyed property and physically harmed others. He was the sort of person I’d never want to cross paths with, and yet I couldn’t help but to wonder what had made him behave the way he did and why he enjoyed bullying his younger brother so much. It would have been helpful if the narrator had explained the origins of his behaviour because of how erratic and violent he was, but I also recognize that there are people like him walking around in real life whose decisions are just as difficult to understand. The plot of this one was straightforward, so I was glad to have some character development to ponder while I read.

After the heaviness of the previous story, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” was a nice change of pace. I think we all probably have at least one thing in our pasts we wish we could go back and change. When that isn’t possible and there’s a ghost involved who insists on repeating the same evening over again on the anniversary of her death every December, what’s the next best option? Other readers should discover the answer to that question for themselves, but I thought this was a thought-provoking look at the unhelpful patterns people can find themselves in when they’re unwilling to face their pasts. If only the narrator had dove more deeply into the topic. There seemed even more that could have been said about it, and I would have gone for a full five-star rating if a few minor things like this had been adjusted in this collection.  The final scene made me wish for a sequel, too, given all of the hints in it about what was about to happen to the main character next.

Everyone needs peace and quiet sometimes. Paul thought he’d found it in “The Stranger in the Snow” until the snowstorm hit. His compassionate response to the visitor who appeared after it had been snowing for a while told me everything I needed to know about him. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted and quietly waited for an explanation of why someone would be out in a snowstorm alone without enough layers to keep them warm. The ending, too, was my favourite of all of the endings in this collection. I held my breath as it was announced and wished I could dive back into the opening scene to warn Paul about what was to come.

”The Gift“ had such a cynical beginning that I honesty wasn’t sure what to think of that protagonist. Was Arnold this grumpy about everything, or was it only Christmas that he thought had been irrevocably ruined? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer, and when it arrived it softened my opinion of him immediately.  One never knows what others are quietly struggling with, and I wiped away a few tears as Arnold slowly shared more of his past with the audience. This was such a beautiful and heartwarming way to close off this collection.

Ghost Stories for Christmas made me smile.

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.

Cottagecore Horror: A Review of On Sundays She Picked Flowers

Title: On Sundays She Picked Flowers Author: Yah Yah Scholfield Publisher: Oni House Press Corp Publication Date: February 20, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 142 pages Source: I borrowed it from my local library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: “It took Judith thirty-four years to realize that if she wanted to be free of… Read More

Making Their Moves: A Review of Empty Smiles

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… Read More

A Review of Horror Anthology – Wicked Pond Collection

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… Read More

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

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… Read More

Sensing Something Wrong: A Review of The Wendigo

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… Read More