Mums & Sons Pocketbook

A brand new pocketbook of horror film analysis is set to be released on May 6th from the brilliant Rebecca McCallum. To check out her online work, treat yourself to a look at her Linktree. Mums & Sons represents Rebecca’s first feature-length publication and you will not want to miss it.

Using three definitive horror texts, this exploration will take a close look at how these relationships operate across three major stages in life: boyhood (The Babadook), teenage years (Hereditary) and adulthood (Psycho). Touchstones in this examination will include – the damaging nature of secrets, the importance of setting, notions of doubling and duality, acts of repression, outsider status and one of the greatest taboos of all – the horror of motherhood.

With three excellent films under discussion, Mums & Sons should not be missed if you love horror and analysis. The book features Ken Wynne’s eye-catching art, including this striking piece of Annie from Hereditary hard at work with her miniatures.

The book has already received praise from numerous prominent reviewers, including Mae Murray (The Book of Queer Saints Horror Anthology) who calls the work ‘deeply reverent to horror’s psychological intricacies’. Tim Coleman (Moving Pictures Film Club) calls it ‘insightful, inquisitive and forensic’, while Amber T (Ghouls Magazine) has drawn attention to ‘Rebecca’s passion for genre cinema’.

You can order your copy right now ahead of the release on May 6th for only £7 from Plastic Brain Press.

The Eidola Project Book Review

Synopsis: It’s 1885 and a drunk and rage-filled Nigel Pickford breaks up a phony medium’s séance. A strange twist of fate soon finds him part of a team investigating the afterlife.
The Eidola Project is an intrepid group of explorers dedicated to bringing the light of science to that which has been feared, misunderstood, and often manipulated by charlatans. They are a psychology professor, his assistant, an African-American physicist, a sideshow medium, and now a derelict, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses.
Called to the brooding Hutchinson Estate to investigate rumored hauntings, they encounter deadly supernatural forces and a young woman driven to the brink of madness.
Will any of them survive?

The Eidola Project balances supernatural happenings with the tensions from its period setting. By setting the action twenty years after the end of the American Civil War it seeks to exploit the continuing tensions regarding the new roles for African Americans, including the legacy of slavery. Edgar Gilpin is a promising, young black academic who has earned the opportunity to visit Harvard, but he finds himself joining a group investigating the supernatural. At the same time, the Harvard Annex has provided women with the opportunity to study. Annabelle is a promising student but her feelings for Professor William James threaten to interfere with her promising work. The group start working together and happen upon Sarah – a young woman with supernatural abilities that prove difficult to debunk.

The outset of the book reveals Sarah’s abilities in an effectively creepy way, bringing the ghost of a missing girl to her door and leading her to the place where her body has been left. After a powerful event in the courthouse, Sarah is sold by her parents to a sideshow where she uses her abilities and the guidance of other performers to make a living. The book treads familiar territory in making the sideshow’s owner monstrous and this contributes to the overall theme of the book of damaged outsiders coming together to solve a problem.

The book is action-packed, introducing an incredible amount of information and backstory but also leaves enough unexplored that can be developed in future books.  The Eidola Project is ideal for those with a desire for a supernatural drama. Scenes involving the debunking of fake mediums are spectacular, but the strength of the novel lies in the robust characters that you’ll be more than happy to follow. This is well-written and consistently engaging.

You can find The Eidola Project for sale here.

Certain Danger Book Review

Synopsis: What are those voices from the past? And why are they screaming at her? It all started when she witnessed a car crash. A brutal smash which left a gorgeous young couple dead. But for Alice, it reawakened strange memories of childhood: a sinister old house, a dead boy in the woods and an other-worldly power lurking forever in the darkness. Desperate to make sense of the bizarre pictures in her mind, Alice’s enquires lead her to a hidden away clinic in the Surrey Hills. Within those walls though, are the terrifying secrets she’s been running from her whole life. Now, for Alice, the truth could not only break apart her sanity, it could destroy the whole world…

F.R. Jameson’s Certain Danger is part of his Ghostly Shadows collection of horror novellas, inspired by 1970s British horror films.

Certain Danger‘s strength lies in its simplicity and its graphic, involved descriptions of its gory set-pieces. By stripping the number of characters back to the bare minimum it is better able to put the reader in the same headspace as the protagonist, Alice. Through spending much of the reading time in her dreams and other thoughts we are given an insight into her perceptions and feelings above anything else. Alice is written sympathetically and by blocking out most other characters in her life other than Geoff, she is lent a sad and disconnected quality which works well within the story’s context.

The novella is swiftly paced, with no wasted motion in getting Alice and her not-quite boyfriend Geoff into exploring her past from limited information. The central mystery unfolds in a pleasingly surprising way, although it does rely a little too much on dialogue-heavy expositional scenes to explain everything adequately.  

However, once these exposition pieces are over, the narrative gives way to energetic scenes of violence for much of the duration of the novel. The direction it takes is executed well and continues the swift pace of the rest of the novella. The images of horror are well constructed.

Overall, Certain Danger feels like a confident and streamlined work, with an interesting central idea providing a worthwhile hook and plenty of horrific scenes.  

Osgood Riddance Book Review

Synopsis: A year and change after the events of Osgood as Gone, our titular hero has returned. Osgood is confused, exhausted, and dragging along more quirks than she ever remembers having. Her friends Zack and Audrey, the makeshift Spectral Inspector crew in her absence, don’t quickly believe that things are back to normal, but have to admit that no one is quite as grumpy and belligerent as “their Osgood.” Unfortunately for all involved, something has hitched a ride back from the space between worlds, and not even Osgood can guess what its plans are. She will need to stand with her friends against a monstrous emergent evil, and it will take everything the Spectral Inspectors have to stop what’s coming once the events are set in motion.

This highly effective sequel to Osgood As Gone brings back its established characters and throws them into an even more spectacular adventure.

I was lucky enough to be able to review Osgood As Gone earlier this year (review here) and it proved an engaging read that balanced several elements to produce a suitably creepy, pop-culture infused supernatural mystery. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, leaving flawed hero Prudence Osgood’s fate uncertain. The sequel takes off 15 months after that moment as we gradually learn that Osgood has been missing for many months. Friends Audrey and Zack have mobilised her Spectral Inspector podcast, partially to try and find her, but also to give themselves purpose.

Due to the characters being so well-defined in the first book, Osgood Riddance allows author Cooper S. Beckett to delve further into the supernatural. This results in a fascinating blend of cosmic body horror in which place and time become fluid. With the grounding of the three central characters, the fantastical creations take centre stage.

Easily maintaining the snappy dialogue but also adding in genuine moments of pathos and warmth, Beckett writes his characters in a way that suggests a deep affection. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t explore their flaws – Osgood, as the book’s protagonist, is frequently sharp-tongued to those around her and open about her previous interpersonal failings and struggles with sobriety.

The fantasy elements work well, even if sometimes it feels that too many reasonings and directions emerge. However, as the book is dealing with supernatural investigators, the idea of them throwing a multitude of ideas around works for the setting, even if it occasionally feels slightly baffling for a reader. This is eventually avoided by the true nature of the supernatural entities never quite being confirmed as any of the theories offered and so can play by the author’s rules rather than needing to conform to an established idea.

Overall, I can’t recommend Osgood Riddance (and Osgood As Gone) enough. The combination of body horror, supernatural phenomenon and enduring friendship, all surrounding a flawed but likeable queer protagonist make it a must-read.

Scavenger Hunt Book Review

Scavenger Hunt sounds and feels familiar at the outset, but by playing with the expected format, author Michaelbrent Collings manages to craft something that feels a little more fresh.

Synopsis: Five strangers have woken up in a white room. A room with no doors, no windows. A room with no hope. Because these strangers have been kidnapped, drugged…and brought here as the newest contestants in the world’s most high-stakes scavenger hunt. Run by a madman named Mr. Do-Good the game offers only two options: win or die. All they have to do to survive is…
… complete every task…
… on time…
… and not break any of Do-Good’s rules.
Playing the game will bring the players to their breaking point and
beyond. But play they will, because Do-Good has plans for these
strangers, and their only chance to live through the night is to play
his Scavenger Hunt.

The idea of forcing troubled strangers together to take part in a twisted game for their survival feels so well-worn that it is difficult to imagine how anything can put a new spin on it. While not entirely new, Collings quickly escapes from writing a one-location ordeal and allows the game to take them outside, often in daylight. This doesn’t lessen the grisly nature of the tasks, however, and the violence leaps off the page. The early fast pace and injections of evolving threats give the book an energetic quality in the central storyline.

The situation the characters find themselves in is intriguing but this is often derailed. Too much is taken up by seemingly excessive backstories that do not resonate until much later in the book. The story of Solomon Black’s gang history feels like a story in itself and so it’s length and depth feels out of place in an ensemble piece. We receive long backstories for some characters, but very few details for others leading to feeling detached. The fact that we get the longest backstories for characters like Solomon and Chong who are perhaps the hardest to root for also adds to this feeling of detachment.

While omitting some character details throughout does make some events feel left-field and unpredictable this feels like it could have been achieved more dynamically. Lengthy departures from the central story do offer some context but are possibly too detailed and occasionally distract with too many details that by the conclusion of the story, actually don’t feel very important to the overall package. Without spoiling anything, these omissions are essential for important reveals so it is a shame that they feel suddenly sprung on the reader rather than evolving naturally throughout.  

There is an effort to reframe earlier actions as important but it feels like signposting that would not be necessary if more was woven throughout the rest of the narrative. Those elements having attention drawn to them so explicitly feels like the author has an awareness that there isn’t quite enough for readers to go on without those details. The longer backstories for characters like Solomon and Chong mean there’s considerably less time to explore Clint, Elena and Noelle. The sinister Mr Do Good and the traps attached to the players is a good device, even if, as a reader, you figure out their purpose pretty quickly.

Scavenger Hunt is not for the sensitive – it is befittingly mean-spirited and explores bleak and uncomfortable subject matter. Violence and gore are described in visceral detail. The book is interrupted at times by police reports, first detailing a witness interrogation and later, features YouTube comments. The comments reveal that the actions detailed within the book are in the public domain, adding another level of discomfort. The theme of the internet as a facilitator of terrible crimes runs under the work, but it is made clear that it the motivations of humans, rather than the tool itself.

If you are looking for a dark, bombastic thriller with plenty of nasty moments with flawed but interesting characters you should check out Scavenger Hunt. Find more information about Scavenger Hunt and Michaelbrent Collins at the Goodreads page for the book here.

Chasm – Book Review

Synopsis: In the ordinary town of Edmonville a tremor hits, followed by a second devastating tremor, then darkness. The next morning, the survivors discover that most of the town has disappeared into an enormous crevasse. As they struggle to survive, one by one people start to disappear without trace.

The early parts of Chasm, for me, felt slightly alienating. In opposing chapters an increasing number of characters are introduced, all with their own circumstances before and during the tremors. Laws holds these characters at arms-length for some time as the reader is only given snippets of who they are. Coupled with the mass destruction taking place, the result is a disarming experience, but one that adds a great deal to the scale of the piece.

Throughout the novel, we’re offered the journal of Jay O’Connor, who is also part of our main group of survivors but these first-person entries offer further emotional insight to the situation. The novel certainly falls into being more cohesive once the central group are together but also offers a further off-shoot in the character of Juliet. Juliet’s ordeal feels very different to the other content and shows Laws’ talent in creating horror in a variety of ways, maintaining a sense of suspense while adding to the gore and violence.

I’ve already mentioned about the scale of the book, but it is something that is worth repeating. The all-encompassing nature of the event really leaps of the page and the destruction is so well-described that it keeps you engaged. The fact that the nature of the event is withheld for so long is also a strength, placing you in the shoes of the characters going through the experience. The introduction of other, more dangerous groups and otherworldly creatures is balanced incredibly well alongside sensitive development of characters within the central group. Scenes of destruction are written in a way that evokes spectacle and it would be easy for these to monopolise the story, but it is in the quieter moments that the novel really shows its emotional weight.

If you are looking for a deeply engaging and genuinely disarming novel that also cares deeply about it’s characters you can’t go far wrong with Chasm.

Chasm is available from PS Publishing in both paperback (available for £14.99) – https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/chasm-trade-paperback-by-stephen-laws-4856-p.asp and a hardcover signed by author Stephen Laws (available for £40) – https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/chasm-signed-hardcover-by-stephen-laws-4855-p.asp

Osgood as Gone (2019) Book Review

Synopsis: Once, Osgood and Frost were the up-and-coming stars of the burgeoning paranormal investigation TV show craze before a hoax put an end to their friendship, partnership, and television careers. Now, over a decade later, Prudence Osgood is a barely-functioning alcoholic ghosthunter for hire. Her yearning for mystery and adventure is reignited when she receives a cryptic, untraceable email. She can’t resist embarking on an investigation that tugs threads winding through a sinister series of disappearances, her former partner’s family, and a night twenty years ago when a semi blew a yellow light and nearly killed her.

It is difficult to believe that this is Cooper S. Beckett’s first horror novel as he displays an affinity for expressing some very complex and disturbing images with relative ease. Osgood as Gone is an absorbing and involving mystery with some excellently crafted scares.

At the outset of the book I did have some reservations as some sections appeared to be overwritten. However, this is thankfully just the product of some enthusiastic scene and character setting which settles into a far better rhythm as the story unfolds. The central mystery evolves at an organic pace, allowing each revelation a fair amount of time to settle in for the reader before drawing out the next stage.

Beckett draws inspiration from a number of sources, ranging from music backmasking, internet urban legends and American rest stop curiosities. This creates a lot of material that appears to sprawl in different directions but Beckett grounds it within their three main characters, Osgood, Audrey and Zach. Osgood, although troubled, is a more than suitable hero who acts as a suitable anchor for the unfolding mystery. Her interactions with Audrey are suitably emotional and her friendship with tech support Zach feels well-pitched. It is refreshing to see a character’s sexuality presented front and centre, while also not making it the most important or interesting thing about her.

There are some clear pop culture references and the dialogue is evocative of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The world which wraps around it definitely calls to mind strange representations of America in a similar fashion to Twin Peaks, taking familiar curiosities and turning them into something much more sinister. Despite these influences worn quite openly, Osgood as Gone still feels like its own world and it is one that horror fans who enjoy a good mystery should definitely delve into.

Osgood as Gone is released on April 22nd with an audiobook to follow on May 20th

For more information and to pre-order Osgood as Gone visit:
https://spectralinspector.com/

For more about the author visit
https://coopersbeckett.com/

The Burning House (2019) Book Review

Neil Spring’s The Burning House is an elegantly woven tale which weaves a tense and absorbing fiction surrounding the existing myths and perceptions of Boleskine House.

It was a victimless crime…

Estate Agent Clara is struggling to make a sale.  With her abusive ex-husband on the brink of finding where she’s hiding, she needs to make a commission soon or lose her chance to escape.

Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness has remained unsold for years, and Clara is sure that an ‘innocent’ fire will force the price down.  But the perfect crime soon turns into the perfect nightmare: there was a witness, a stranger in the village, and he’s not going to let Clara get away with it that easily…

Clara is a well-crafted character who, despite the unusual circumstances she finds herself in and her troubled history retains a sense of strength, even when her actions are flawed.  Author Neil Spring makes it easy to retain our empathy with her, even when that feels uncomfortable.

Importantly, Spring offers some flawed, unpleasant characters but offers little in the way of justification for their actions.  Central villain Oswald Cattenach is incredibly elaborate but the reveal of some of the more outlandish elements of his character is handled so excellently and at such a gradual pace that it is easy for the reader to suspend their disbelief a little further each time.

On the other hand, we are invited to empathise with some of the characters who have been pushed to their limits.  Morality is fluid as we are invited, through Clara, to explore the implications of doing a bad thing for an understandable reason.  Only those characters who have done terrible things without good reason are really villified.

There are a number of threads throughout the book that appear to work in parallel and there are times when it feels like one or two of them are dropped in favour of the most interesting parts.  However, by the climactic scenes, everything is brought together in a way which is both satisfying and entirely makes sense.

The world-building around Boleskine House is very well-realised and descriptions of the house add a great deal to the tone of the book.  By drawing on the folkloric idea of Boleskine (a favourite haunt of Aleister Crowley) as a place of sometimes sinister rituals, the scene is set for the action to follow.  Even removing the emphasis on the supernatural, the book offers a suggestion that the very idea of a place like it could be infectious.  The sequences of gore and violence are handled well, with many of the descriptions being very disturbing.  A reccurring image of violence is excellently employed to add weight to Clara’s increasingly extreme involvement with Oswald.

While we spend the majority of our time with Clara, we are also invited into the thoughts of the supporting characters – sometimes with those we would really rather not spend much time with but also those who appear innocent within an incredibly murky world.  This does not feel like Spring trying to force any empathy with characters like abusive ex-husband Karl, but merely investigates some of their inner motivations.  There is no origin story for why Karl behaves so abhorrently – no deep, dark secret from his past which seeks to justify it – he is a character motivated by control.  Both male characters Clara finds herself entangled with are ultimately concerned with control and while their methods differ, that quest for power is the central aim.

The Burning House keeps its revelations coming right up until the last few pages, still adding to the mood of the piece until the very end.  I can’t help but feel that one character’s arc ends in a rather strange way, which seems at odds with the character’s construction up to that point.  However, that is a very small complaint and doesn’t detract from the ongoing impact.  In fact, it makes a relatively interesting point which I can’t delve into for risk of spoilers, but does so by depriving the reader of an actual end point for that character.

The Burning House is highly recommended to readers who want a tightly-wound thriller with a touch of magic and strong characters to drive the plot.

The Burning House is available from Quercus Books on March 21st 2019

Octoberland Book Review

Octoberland is a collection of short stories from author Thana Niveau which is as varied as it is entertaining.

SYNOPSIS:
Thana Niveau’s stories feature people on the edge – the edge of death, the edge of sanity, the edge of reality. In this diverse collection, two sisters leave a trail of bodies behind them as they go on the run, desperate to outrun the dark secrets of their past. A film fan is haunted by the actress whose brutal horror films he can’t stop watching. A child hears a ghostly voice through the radio reciting only numbers. And a young woman revisits the place she and her brother loved above all else—Octoberland—the strange amusement park that tore their world apart. Horror wears many faces here, from creeping dread to apocalyptic devastation, and no one escapes its dark touch.

Short stories represent a particular challenge in that the format only allows a small amount of time to come to terms with the concept within the story, understand the characters and their motivation and, most importantly to be invested enough to feel fear.  For the most part, Niveau succeeds, although there are some stories which feel like they could be drawn out further as they feel like snippets of a wider story, rather than individually contained tales.

Niveau certainly isn’t afraid to tackle some very dark material and the stories in which this darkness is at its least restrained are arguably her most successful.  There are a number recurring threads within the collection, featuring the intersection of nature, technology and the supernatural which are effectively chilling.  A few stories, where this is taken to extremes involving transformations did not quite work for me.  The beauty of such a collection though is that if you are finding one story difficult to gel with, you’re never too far from something you will enjoy.

The author also experiments with format, including some stories that are told entirely through letters, which helps in breaking up the text as well as providing a different ‘feel’ and voice across stories. There is undoubtedly a great deal of effort put into making every short have it’s own distinct voice, which is helpful in setting the scene and tone of pieces.

Following the stories, there is a short passage for each story provided by the author regarding her inspirations and intentions, which aids greatly in understanding the choices made, particularly in those stories I feel could be longer or be more fleshed out.  I’ve deliberately not given details on the individual stories as they should be experienced with as little knowledge beforehand as possible to preserve the twists and turns within.

Overall, Octoberland is a satisfying collection of short stories which range from the outlandish to the downright disturbing.  Horror fans will enjoy the tales and also identify with Thana Niveau’s clear love for the genre.

You can buy Octoberland from PS Publishing.