Book Review: The Fearing Book One, Fire & Rain by John.F.D.Taff.

Book Review: The Fearing Book One, Fire & Rain by John.F.D.Taff.

Hello readers, I hope your weekend was as good as mine!  For this week’s blog post we will be reviewing The Fearing, Book one: Fire and Rain by John.F.D.Taff which was very Kindly sent to me by Grey Matter press for a fair and honest review.  Before we get down to it, let’s read that handy blurb to see exactly what it’s about:

fearing cover

Humanity faces a series of catastrophes spawned by a worldwide event that unleashes all of mankind’s greatest fears.
In the American high desert, vacationers returning from a road trip are thrust into a heart-stopping flight from death as they try to avoid a cataclysmic end. In rural Missouri, the lives of a group of high school students are destroyed after their small town is devastated and they’re forced to confront the end of everything they’ve ever known.
And on the eastern seaboard, there’s someone else. An enigmatic man who thrives on despair and embraces all fear. A man with his own dark and sinister goals. Someone who wants to ensure humanity goes out with the biggest bang possible.

At only 98 pages, this is a quick and absorbing read.  As a result, the reader is immediately thrown into the deep end.  The action sequences are still nicely spaced to allow an ever growing momentum towards and answer that the reader never receives in this first book in the series.  What I was seriously impressed with, was Taff’s ability to make a character fully formed and three dimensional in only a few pages and interactions.  He has an uncanny ability of revealing his character’s true natures and in this case, their darkest fears, without it feeling rushed or forced.  I found myself instantly drawn to and simultaneously creeped out by Adam and his dark, supernatural abilities.  I was routing for the teenage survivors Sarah and Kyle’s budding romance and I love the motley crew of elderly survivors aboard the tourist bus, particularly their badass driver Rich.  Despite these characters being of all ages, genders and backgrounds and despite being scattered around the USA, their fates and fears are inextricably linked by the strange, earth shattering phenomena sweeping the country and I for one am DESPERATE to find out exactly what is going on and who of all of these characters, will survive (Please Rich, Sarah and Kyle).

As you can probably already tell, I loved this book.  It is a truly original and exciting read fearing fire and rainwhich leaves you wanting more.  My only complaint would be the fact that the book has been split up into four separate small parts.  I liked the story so much, I want to read it in its entirety and I am a little irritated I have to wait.  Still, that’s a pretty good negative to have thrown at a book and it demonstrates just how well the plot and characters got their hooks in me as a reader and  I have a feeling the other parts will be worth the wait.  I’m giving it 4.5 stars out of 5 ND I am only marking it down slightly because they are making me wait. Book Two: Water and Wind will be released August 20th and is available for pre-order now.

Thanks to Grey Matter Press and John himself for sending me this copy, I genuinely enjoyed every bit of it.  What about you readers, have you read this or any of Taff’s other works?  What did you think?  Leave me a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest articles, books reviews and pieces of original writing.

Book & Movie Review: Needful Things by Stephen King.

Book & Movie Review: Needful Things by Stephen King.

For the second instalment of my Stephen King book club, my friends and I read Needful Things before watching the 1993 movie adaptation and once again, we discovered exactly why he is the one true King of horror.  So, what is it all about?  The book takes place in the quiet US town of Castle Rock, where a new shop called Needful Things is being opened by the town’s new and mysterious resident Leland Gaunt.  The shop sells curios and antiques which appear to be a steal but inevitably come with a heavy price.  Intriguing right?

First of all, the premise is wonderful.  I love the idea of the Devil being bored and going place to place selling cursed goodies to unsuspecting punters.  The objects in question are needfulalways relatively generic- a children’s game, a baseball card, a glass lamp or silver teapot.  These items hold no significance to anyone other than the intended victim as each item is chosen specifically based on that individuals NEED.  Whether the item reminds them of precious memories, a time they dearly wish they could return to, or offers relief for excruciating pain, the items are irresistible to the intended customer and once you buy, there are no returns.  The entire book is a damning indictment on the materialistic, possession obsessed society we now live in.  Remember when you were a kid and you would beg your mum for that toy, telling her you had to have it because you NEEDED it and she would say no, you don’t NEED it, you just WANT it?  Well, your Mother was inadvertently teaching you how to avoid the trappings of Leland Gaunt and his magical wares.  Every one of us has something we need, or at least think we do and this is preyed upon on a daily basis by corporations and companies selling us rubbish every day. Creams that will make us younger, juices that will give us energy and vitality, clothes that will make us fashionable trend setters, this is the world we live in now, surrounded by adverts and bill boards bombarding us with all these Needful Things.  Mr Gaunt and his little shop of horrors is the ultimate personification of this and it works perfectly as both horror and wry social commentary.

What the book makes clear however, is that while Gaunt may control a person’s need, he cannot control their will.  He has a whole bag of tricks to bamboozle his customers, including putting them in trances, creating elaborate dreams which feel perfectly real to terrible nightmares and warnings which feel even realer, but the customer has to willingly take the item and they have to willingly accept the payment.  We, after all, walk our own paths in life and it is up to us how we choose to do so.  This book is all about temptation.  Just as Satan tempted so many in the bible, Gaunt tempts his customers to sin in order to fulfil those perceived needs.  Some of the sins seem minor, like throwing mud on clean sheets, while others are more serious, like slashing tyres or killing a beloved bed, but all the residents of Castle Rock seem more than willing to pay and in doing so sow the seeds of their own destructions.  I love that King made sure to show that none of us are immune to such temptation, with the most devout and holy rolling Christians of the town giving in as easily as the local drunk or disgraced politician.  Each character has their own flaws, their own personal defects which Gaunt readily exploits. For the lead character Sheriff Pangborn, it is the guilt and grief that he refuses to let go off as a result of the death of his wife and child a year before.  For Polly Chalmers, it is her pride.  It is the residents who acknowledge these flaws and work to overcome them, that survive intact.

needful3For the most part, I found myself feeling little sympathy for the residents of Castle Rock.  After all, they made the choices which led to their grizzly ends and some of them frankly got what they deserved, but there are exceptions.  The young Brian Rusk is just a child and he is the first to not only fall prey to Gaunt’s charm but also the first to realise who or what Gaunt truly is.  His only sin seems to be a childish attachment, a need for a baseball card he has always coveted but being young and naive is his biggest flaw.  He is easily exploited by Gaunt and when he tries to stop, Gaunt changes tactics and uses good old-fashioned fear to control him.  Whilst he made the choices he did and did the not very nice ‘pranks’ requested as payment willingly, all for a measly baseball card, I do feel like his youth and innocence make him incapable of truly understanding the ramifications of his actions until it is far too late.  Nettie Cobb, the local ‘nut’ suffers from severe mental health issues as a result of the trauma from a past abusive relationship.  Again, because of this she seemed an innocent to me and less capable of understanding her actions fully than the other residents.  There are also peripheral characters who never entered Gaunt’s shop, who are caught up in the carnage including several state Police officers.  Unlike the rest of the town’s residents, I genuinely felt bad when they met their grizzly ends.

There are a lot of characters involved in this book, a whole town’s worth, so it can be a little confusing at first trying to keep the names and storylines straight but it is definitely worth persevering.  King paints the perfect picture of small-town life, the kind of place where everyone makes a point of knowing each other’s business but where secrets still dwell.  The characters are fleshed out and often you will find yourself recognising the characters from your own home town. Whilst some of the characters are incredibly sympathetic and you find yourself genuinely attached to them and upset by their fates, the young Brian Rusk and Nettie being the two that broke my heart, for the most part I didn’t feel overly invested in the other characters and I think this is due to the sheer number of them being introduced.  Also, King seems to have a bit of an obsession with children and animals dying in horrible ways and several pets are executed in this particular tome.  You have been warned.  The book has a great pace, slowly and steadily building to that big, final crescendo. Some of the book club found it a little slow in parts, but I think that the fact that King takes his time with the reader at first, gradually increasing the pace and action, makes it a far more gripping read and resulted in me being unable to put it down for the last quarter of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I thoroughly recommend it- definite five stars from me!

Now to the movie…If I am honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for this film.  I needful2have seen a lot of the earlier King adaptations and the movies tend to, well, suck (see my review of the original adaptation for Pet Semetary for a prime example).  I was especially wary of how the movie would edit such a massive novel into a viewable length whilst also maintaining the integrity of the story.  I was also concerned about how certain parts of the book would appear in film format, for example the spider like parasite which is inside Polly’s necklace is perfect horror written down, but on film it would probably come off as silly rather than scary.  Remember the Pennywise spider at the end of the original IT adaptation?  Exactly.  But the writer of the screenplay not only did a good job or whittling down such a heavy read, they were also smart enough to change certain aspects of the story to suit a movie’s format.  The ending of the book was my biggest concern.  In the novel, Sheriff Pangborn is an amateur magician, performing tricks, sleight of hand and shadow puppet shows throughout (it sounds weird if you haven’t read it, but it does make sense in the book).  He realises that Gaunt’s powers come from need and that he uses that need to create illusions and make the impossible real, like objects that transport their owners when touched.  He turns the tables by using Gaunt’s own techniques against him. Gaunt NEEDS his bag, which is now stuffed full of the resident’s souls, so Pangborn performs tricks and puppet shows which become real and alive, just like the forgeries sold by Gaunt.  On paper, this is a great ending.  It is wonderfully ironic and karmic that Gaunt is defeated using his own methods and it makes for a really interesting read. On film though, I don’t see how this could ever work.  Shadow puppets and fake spring snakes attacking the devil on screen would start to resemble some weird sketch show and it definitely wouldn’t be scary.  The film smartly changes the ending entirely, with the town’s residents becoming aware of what they are doing, of the ramifications of their actions and decisions and admitting they were wrong.  They atone and Gaunt is driven out of Castle Rock.  I also like that the fate of Brian Rusk is changed.  A young child killing himself on screen would likely turn a lot of viewers off and I personally prefer a version where he is changed, but alive.  Some changes don’t make a lot of sense to me however, like why the prim and well to do Wilma Jerzyck of the novel becomes a scruffy red neck turkey farmer in the film, but overall director Fraser Heston successfully translates the books core themes and story and I would definitely enjoy it even without reading the novel it’s based on.  Also, on a side note, I now have a huge crush on Ed Harris.

For our next instalment of the King Club we will be reading and watching The Shining.  Why not join us?  Keep an eye on my Instagram to see when we will be watching the film so you can watch along with us and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all the latest posts!

 

 

 

Dark Deeds & Cameos: Short Story collaboration with embroidery artist Clare of ‘Crimson Pins.’

Dark Deeds & Cameos: Short Story collaboration with embroidery artist Clare of ‘Crimson Pins.’

Hello readers!  It is the beginning of a new week and time for another artist’s collaboration.  This time, I had the honour of collaborating with the incredibly talented embroidery artist Clare aka ‘Crimson Pins.’  I discovered Clare on Instagram and fell in love with her gothic style embroideries.  There is such amazing attention to detail and every piece is truly a work of art (of particular note are her stunning jewelled skeleton pieces which always sell out almost as soon as they are listed).  Clare lives in the South of England, stitching whenever she can.  She started stitching around 3 years ago, having tried her hand to many other crafts.  Whilst she would normally get bored and move on from a hobby, something about embroidery really held her interest. She has no formal training and learned everything from online tutorials and websites, along with simple trial and error.  She loves to create gothic, macabre pieces or pay tribute to her favourite TV shows, movies and games.  You can purchase her stunning embroideries here on her Etsy shop and if you love her work as much as I do, you will want to follow her Instagram to see all the shops updates and product releases.  I was really inspired by Clare’s dark and vintage style, so naturally I wrote a dark and vintage story.  So sit back, relax and enjoy this Victorian tale of murder and revenge and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts.  Happy Reading…

Dark Deeds and Cameos

cameodarkdeeds2Evelyn Hardcastle stared at her reflection hard, half expecting it to move independently of her. She barely recognised the face that stared back.  It was hardened and stoic.  There were none of the soft smiles or laughter lines anymore, none of the cheer and optimism.  Those things had died along with Albert.  Albert.  Instinctively, she clutched the cameo brooch on her lace collar, a gift from Albert on their one-year anniversary.  Once it was a reminder of life and love, but now it was her symbol of heart break. She had had it altered at the jewellers to include a locket on the rear of the cameo.  The world saw the delicate shell brooch, the features of the woman on it watching them back.  But behind this she stored a lock of Albert’s auburn hair, a little piece of him she carried everywhere.  A reminder of what she had lost as well as what she had to do.  She checked herself once more before leaving.  Despite everything, she still looked well enough. Her delicate features seemed almost emphasised and highlighted by the veil of sadness which now hung over them and her determination to carry out her plan made her walk with a tall and confident stance.

She had chosen a red velvet dress for this momentous occasion.  It cinched her small waist in and the bustle at the back exaggerated every curve of her body.  She had always thought red a very garish colour in the past, something worn by the type of women desperate for the gaze of men, but tonight, that’s exactly what she needed.  She had to make sure she stood out and caught the eye of Lord Walter Smith, the man who had murdered her husband.

It had been almost six months since that tragic day but the pain and sorrow had not dulled even a little. They say that the burden of grief diminishes with time, but Evelyn was not experiencing that.  If anything, she felt the pain of his loss more forcefully with each passing day and change of season.  And there was something else, something new…Rage.  A deep seeded, violent rage which bubbled and boiled just beneath her skin threatening to burst forth in swathes of blood red acid at the slightest touch.  Her husband had been a good man, a moral man.  When he saw that putrid little monster abuse and beat that poor maid to within an inch of her life, he had intervened.  He had threatened to tell the authorities, he didn’t care about the cad’s station or title.  But Lord Walter was not the type of man to allow someone to besmirch and tarnish his fine name, particularly a lowly writer such as Albert.  Within a week, Albert had been stabbed to death, his blood flowing between the cobbles of London’s streets.  The Police had said it was a robbery gone wrong, but Evelyn knew better.  Hell, the Police Sergeant had barely been able to look her in the eye as he spoke such blatant mistruths.  She had fallen, weeping and wailing, barely able to process what was happening.  It felt like she had been falling ever since.

She placed the black and red lace hat on her hair and for a finishing touch, painted her lips rouge to match her dress.  Now she really was a blossoming rose, a woman who would grab the attention of a man like Lord Walter.  The bar would be full of women, some hunting for a husband, others for a customer. She was hunting for something else entirely.

By the time the carriage set her outside the bar, the shot of whiskey she had drank in order to settle her nerves had kicked in.  A warmth and hazy confidence now filling her up.  She would no doubt need it in the hours to come.  The street smelled of beer and piss and she could hear a fiddle playing from inside, its giddy tune bidding customers to come and sit a while. Not the type of place you would expect to find a Lord, more a worker’s bar, but then Lord Walter liked his alcohol and women to flow free and loose and this place was near the few brothels that still accepted his coin, the classier joints having got sick of his violent tendencies putting the girls out of action with each black eye or broken tooth. He ended up costing more than he brought and so they had barred him, much to his chagrin.  But that was how Lord Walter lived.  He had the title, but his money was squandered and frittered away on horses, booze and girls.  He owed money to half the loan sharks in the city and if it wasn’t for his friends and family in high places, Evelyn had no doubt he would have had his own staged tragedy by now.  But when your brother is in Westminster and your daddy owns half the city, you literally can get away with murder.

She made her way towards the bar eyeing the room as she moved.  She could see that despite appearances, this bar had some very important patrons.  There was James Richardson, the current Chief of Police, a Weasley little man with ratty features and tobacco stained fingers.  There was Mark Edwards, the editor of the London Tribune, the city’s premier paper and his brother Doctor Peter Edwards, a well-respected teacher of anatomy who was currently getting a lesson of his own from a pretty young prostitute.  There were even a couple of low-level politicians and an actor she recognised from a play she had seen the previous year.  Albert had bought her the tickets for her birthday gift knowing she adored the theatre.  As if by fate, at the very moment she thought of that night, of her lost love, she spied her target in a dark corner playing cards with a handful of rather ruthless looking gentleman.  The second she laid eyes on him, she wanted to run towards him screaming, nails clawing, a broken bottle to the throat.  But that would only end with a short drop and a tight noose.  No, she would bide her time.

She sipped at her whiskey, watching him from across the room, trying to catch his eye. cameosdarkdeeds1 She hated this place.  She hated the lude and obnoxious men who filled it, she hated the women who fawned over them.  She hated the smell and the thick fog of pipe smoke that clawed at her throat and floated past her vision.  She hated the cheap whiskey and the dull, yellow lights.  But more than anything, she hated Lord Walter.  She hated him with every fibre of her being, within her very soul.  She imagined slashing at his throat, red pouring out like a tide and felt the weight of the dagger in her bag.  Soon, soon.

Just then, he clocked her, a passing glance which seemed to draw itself towards her and settle there. He looked at her the way a starving dog looked at a bone.  She felt bile rise in her stomach and for a moment she considered fleeing.  As he downed the last of his wine, rubbing the red slobbers from his fat chin with the unbuttoned sleeve of his shirt whilst never taking his eyes of hers.  He stumbled towards her, his glazed eyes holding hers, his swaying stomach overhanging his belt, his shirt untucked and stained.  As he moved closer, time seemed to slow, the world around her melting away so only they still remained.  She felt the hairs on her arms stand up and her stomach lurch, even her legs twitching, readying for flight.  She thought about running, about taking this insane plan and boxing it away, somewhere deep inside where she would never find it again.  She could get caught, arrested, hanged.  She could be killed or raped or tortured.  A dozen scenarios played inside her mind, none of them ending well and she almost abandoned the road on which she now stood in favour of something safer, something saner.  But she was never going to run, she knew that deep down.  The truth was, death was better than the half-life she lived now. No, she would finish what she started and damn the consequences, for her body and her soul.

He came up beside her, the stench of cheap wine filling her nostrils and causing the contents of her stomach to mix and churn.  She had to swallow hard to prevent herself from vomiting, even more so when he laid a clammy hand upon her own.  His dark eyes were glazed and foggy and could barely focus on her.  This will be easier than I thought. 

“A Beauty such as yourself shouldn’t be drinking alone.  Bar keep, two whiskeys.”

It took all of her strength not to simply draw the dagger from her purse and plunge it into his throat then and there.  She pictured the bar and its patrons painted in red, eyes wide with shock, the satisfaction of feeling flesh tear easily beneath a sharpened blade.  No, that’s too quick for him. 

She smiled at him, the way she knew he wanted her to smile.  A smile that said she was interested, a smile that offered him the seat next to her and the promise of more to come.

“What’s your name my dear?”

“Adrestia.”

She had always planned on using something simple, unmemorable such as Mary or Victoria, but in the moment the name suddenly appeared to her, long forgotten from her lessons in Greek mythology.  Adriesta the Goddess of vengeance and daughter of the God of war Ares.  It was perfect.

“How exotic.  I am Lord Walter Smith.”

He emphasised the word Lord, a way to let her know his station, his importance.  Whilst Evelyn understood than many women cared for such things, a man’s title or bank balance had never interested her.  She looked for a man’s character, something Lord Walter sorely lacked.

“My Lord.”

She gave him her hand to kiss, trying not to wretch as he slobbered on her lace gloves.  Yes, this will be easier than I thought.

Their conversation had not been a long one.  Lord Walter was not a patient man and neither was Evelyn, she had plans after all. Within the hour she found herself in his carriage, him pawing at her like some dumb animal, his stinking breath on her neck, his weight pushing on her, pinning her against the carriage seats. She was relieved when the carriage stopped outside his London address.  Barely managing to pry herself free, she stumbled outside and gave him a beckoning smile as she walked towards the front door, Lord Walter stumbling after her.  As she led him up the stairs with mere glances, the discarding of a glove, the bite of her lip, she was reminded of a story her Mother had read to her as a child about the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Her body was her instrument and tonight, she was luring the biggest rat of all to his death.

They reached the bedroom, a large four post bed at the centre of a dark and dusty room.  It appeared the high and mighty Lord could no longer afford staff, something which definitely worked in Evelyn’s favour. For a moment, she hesitated.  This was her last opportunity to stop, to turn back before it was too late, but hate and grief has a way of lighting a fire within which burns at a heat hot enough to never be quenched by doubt or fear. And so, she led him to the bed. With one slight nudge, he fell backwards like a felled tree, the bed posts shaking as he did.  He looked like a dog desperate for his owner to give him a treat, and so she would.

darkdeedscameos3She pulled the pin from her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders and continued to smile that same smile, that coquettish, flirtatious smile which promised so many things to him. He has no idea.  He lay on his back, wheezing, sweating as she walked towards him slowly, savouring what was to come.  She raised her skirts and climbed on to the bed, straddling him.  She could see the excitement on his face, mounting and growing along with him.  Her bag already laid open, the dagger now within her garter belt and it was easy to slip it out without him noticing as she kissed his chest.  He moaned.

“Oh Adrestia…”

She rose up, looming over him, staring down at his red sweaty face still smiling that same smile.

“Call me a different name tonight.”

“Haha, how wonderful.  I love games. What would you like me to call you? Shall I choose a name?”

“No, I have one in mind. I think you should call me Evelyn. I think you should call me Mrs Evelyn Hardcastle.”

As she spoke her name aloud, the sweet and seductive smile began to twist and contort into a manic grimace.  There was a moment of realisation which fell over Lord Walter’s face, but it came a second too late as the dagger was plunged to the hilt in the cavity where a heart should be.  He sputtered and let out a pained groan, blood running free from the hole in his chest, his shirt going quickly from white to red.  He sputtered, spitting droplets of blood on her face and tried to say something.

“P..P…Pl…”

“Please? Ha.”

She thought of Albert, of him dying alone on some piss-soaked street corner.  She thought of him begging, pleading and she showed Lord Walter exactly the same amount of mercy he had shown her beloved husband. She leaned, twisting the dagger. It ground against bone and she could feel his ribs cracking under her weight.  The hole grew larger, a volcano of blood and death pouring forth.  The red velvet of her dress grew wet and darkened as blood painted her body the same crimson as it painted his.  There was a spasm, a twitch and shake beneath her and a wheeze before his body dropped and lay still.  She could see from his glassy eyes that he was gone from this world.  She imagined him somewhere filled with fire and pain and wondered if she would join him there some day, if this act, this bloodlust would stain her soul irreparably. She imagined Lady Macbeth, washing at the blood which was not there and understood for the first time that type of staining, that type of contamination.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there in the dark, holding vigil over the bloody end of her plan. She felt a torrent of emotions. On one hand, she felt free.  There had been so many months of tears, of anger and outrage bubbling and churning within her.  She had hated, for the first time in her life, she had truly hated another human being and now, he was gone.  Albert had justice, she had justice.  But there was also a hollowness, a vast emptiness left by the void from that hate.  What would she do now?  She had no Albert nor did she have a Lord Walter.  She was alone and directionless, a boat cut loose and untethered, drifting aimlessly through a vast and open ocean.  What now?

Slowly, almost mechanically, she finished what she had started.  It was easy to start the fire, the house was like tinder, waiting for a flame. She used his vast amount of cheap alcohol, dousing the floor, the curtains and bedding as well as his bloated, lifeless corpse and left through the alleyways as the flames began to take hold. She was over a mile away when the sirens sang.  The dagger went into the Thames and her dress, her hat, her gloves went into the hearth, the ashes discarded as soon as they had cooled.  All that she saved from her Adrestia mask was the brooch, which she washed a dozen times for good measure.

For a while, the papers were dominated with the mystery of Lord Walter’s death.  The post mortem had revealed the large wound to his chest and ribs but there was a long list of suspects and no evidence to point at any in particular.  After weeks past, the papers began to report on other things and Lord Walter became but a distant memory to the people of London, to everyone that is, except Evelyn.

She thought often about what she had done, even visiting church for the first time since Albert’s funeral.  She asked for forgiveness but knew the request was a hollow one because after all, she did not regret what she had done, not really.  That emptiness however, never left.  Not until the museum benefit.  Since Albert, she had lost interest in most of her previous friends or amusements, but the museum had been very dear to Albert and it was a place she visited regularly in order to feel close to him once more.  The benefit was raising funds in order to expand the museum’s collection and so, on a cool and damp September evening she found herself amongst familiar faces.

Anna Windham had been someone she had considered a friend once, before grief tore her away from this world.  Seeing her wondering from painting to painting moved something within Evelyn, something she suddenly realised she deeply missed.  She realised just how lonely she was.

“Anna my dear, it’s so good to see you!”

Anna smiled and both embraced.  Briefly, it was like nothing had changed.  It was as if they had only seen each other for lunch the following day. But when Anna winced and flinched at Evelyn’s hug, tears filling her eyes, Evelyn suddenly realised that of course, both of them had changed.  Just as she had sleepwalking through her own life, Anna’s had moved forward as well and Evelyn had missed much.

“What is it dear?  Are you ok?”

“She’s fine.”

A man stepped forward and clasped his hand around Anna’s arm with an unnecessarily tight grip.  Anna flinched again.  It was such a small movement, so fleeting, that most would have missed it, but Evelyn saw.

“Evelyn, this is my husband Charles Montague.  Charles, this is Evelyn Hardcastle.  We used to be friends.”

It was Evelyn’s turn to flinch now.  Used to.  How could she have let herself become so cut off?  She had been so wrapped up in her own pain, she had simply forgotten those with whom she had cared so deeply in the past.  People she had laughed with, respected, perhaps even loved a little in the way that one loves their family.

“Charmed.”

Charles sneered at her as he said the word, making it perfectly obvious he was anything darkdeedscameo4but. He was a large man, with broad shoulders and a square jaw, which seemed to be constantly tense and clenched.  He gripped Anna a little tighter, lifting her slightly.  She winced again, but quickly put on a sad smile Evelyn had never seen her make before. She studied Anna then and for the first time noticed bruising under her shawl and scars which had not been there before.

 

“Anna dear, the Watson’s wanted to chat about luncheon next week.”

It was a demand, not a request.  Anna smiled and excused herself from Evelyn.  There was a brief promise to catch up before the brute practically dragged her away by the arm.  It was painfully obvious what kind of husband Charles Montague was and it was a painful realisation for her.  Guilt washed over her.  I haven’t been there for you.  I cut you off.  I pushed you away and now, you are as adrift as me.  And just like that, Evelyn Hardcastle found her purpose.  She had got her justice, but many women hadn’t got theirs.  This city was full of despicable, abusive men hiding behind their money, their titles and privilege as if these things gave them free reign to act as they pleased. Well she would become Adrestia again and once more she would do what needed to be done.  After all, blood begets blood…

 

Pet Semetary (1989) vs Pet Semetary (2019): Movie review showdown.

Pet Semetary (1989) vs Pet Semetary (2019): Movie review showdown.

**Needless to say there are spoilers in this article so steer clear until you’ve watched the new film.**

petsemetary1

As I mentioned in my last post, my book review of Pet Semetary by Stephen King, my friends and I decided to make a little Stephen King book club. Every month or so, we would read one of his books and watch the screen adaptations because, yes, we are massive nerds and yes, we love horror. So we started with this one because a brand new adaptation just hit the big screens and it felt like fate. So we read the book and every one of us loved it, read my previous post for the full review. So far so good. Now, we were going to watch the two adaptations. One from 1989 starring Dale Midkiff and Star Trek Next generation’s Denise Crosby, before venturing to the cinema to see the new release starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz and the beloved John Lithgow. They are both based on the same book so they won’t be that dissimilar, right? WRONG! The two films were worlds apart in both quality, performance and horror, so I thought I should write a review, comparing the two films to both the original book and each other. So here we have it, the ultimate showdown…who are you routing for?

Age before beauty, so let’s start with the 1989 adaptation. I had seen this once as a child, many, many moons ago (I won’t say how long because I don’t want to reveal just how old I am) but truthfully I barely remembered it. Not the best sign I suppose, but at least it meant I was going into it with no preconceptions. I can forgive 80s horror movies for their terrible special effects because they give me nostalgic vibes and sometimes, the way the directors and creators have got around issues with budget and technological constraints can sometimes produce what is often scarier and more tense than the all out CGI we have today. What I cannot forgive is terrible acting. Every single actor in this movie, with the exception of Brad Greenquist who played the ill fated Pascow, was beyond wooden. Honestly, it was like they weren’t even trying. The worst culprits were by far the main characters Louis Creed, played by Dale Midkiff and his wife Rachel, played by Denise Crosby. I’m not sure if they were just phoning it in for the pay cheque or they are honestly just terrible for the roles, but either way it was like watching shop mannequins fumble their way through.

Not a great start, right? But maybe, the script was good? Nope, not particularly. Look, I get that this is a big old book to squeeze into a ninety minute movie, so of course not everything will make it in there but what I have learned over the years is that you can practically throw the original book away as long as the movie captures the books vibe and atmosphere (see Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House for the perfect example of this) but unfortunately this adaptation captured neither. One of the biggest issues with this film may actually be that it stuck TOO CLOSELY to the original book, choosing to go down the same murderous, psycho toddler route. There are two major problems with this: 1) Anyone can overpower a toddler, even a supernatural one and 2) Toddler’s aren’t scary, they are in fact adorable and the one chosen to play Gage in this film, actor Miko Hughes, is particularly cute. No matter how much he attempts to scowl and growl, I find myself cooing and awing at every shot of his chubby cheeks and wide eyes. A scalpel has never been as sweet as when it is being held aloft by this child’s chubby hand. The lesson here is, what works in a book doesn’t necessarily translate well to screen. The movie’s exposition is also ridiculously rushed so it feels like a poor adaptation rather than a movie in its own right. Lesson number two, if you can’t fit it all in Lord of the Rings epic trilogy style, then learn to edit.

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One of the other things that really bothered me was the set, specifically the forest beyond the deadfall. In the book, a dark, otherworldly, misty forest is described whereas this film gives us a very pleasant national park perfect for a Boy Scout’s nature trail. It just all felt rather half assed to be honest. But it did get a few things right. As mentioned, the actor playing Pascow, Brad Greenquist, puts on a great performance as the warning spirit and despite the bad guy being the cutest sweetie pie ever, the bit where he slices clean through Judd’s Achilles heel was painful to watch even with 1980s special effects. Overall though, this film fell flat and in my opinion is only really worth watching for nostalgia purposes.

So what of the new film? This film demonstrates in glorious HD how an adaptation should be done. First of all, the actors are great providing believable performances throughout. I’m a massive fan of Jason Clarke, particularly after his performance in the thoroughly recommended Winchester, and he does a great job of playing Louis perfectly depicting his grief. This movie was also smart enough to ditch the whole killer toddler thing instead having the Creed’s older child Ellie die and be brought back. Whilst toddlers are adorable and cannot possibly be considered scary (with the possible exception of my daughter when she is hangry) older children can make creepy little villains…think Samara in The Ring, Children of the Corn or The Omen. The actress playing Ellie, Jete Laurence makes a very convincing little psychopath and provides that much needed horror to the movie. Whilst it isn’t the scariest film I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty well done, with great sets, convincing special effects (without going overboard with CGI as so many modern films tend to do) and great actors.

I particularly loved this movie’s nods

to the previous adaptation, with the truck driver who kills Ellie being distracted by a text from Sheena (the original truck driver is singing along to Sheena is a punk rocker by The Ramones), with Gage running to the road just as he does in the book and the original adaption as a red herring for Ellie’s death and finally, with that Achilles heel moment mentioned above, except in this version Judd kicks the bed away with no psycho child to be found underneath only to be sliced and diced as he descends the stairs. This self referencing is something Stephen King does throughout his own books, with winks and nods to other stories and novels peppered throughout. This movie perfectly captured this on screen. In fact, at one point Ellie explains to Jud who Winston Churchill is and he exclaims he knows well who he is- the actor John Lithgow plays Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown. Again, that little wink to the audience is exactly the type of thing King himself would do.

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This adaptation completely strays from the book in some ways, some good, others not so good. In this adaptation, Louis tries to offload the now psychotic family cat Church by driving him into the middle of nowhere and abandoning him. Of course, he finds his way home and when the very happy and relieved Ellie runs to him, being struck down in the process, it only goes to increase Louis’ feeling of guilt and fault at her death. If he hadn’t tried to get rid of Church, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. I also love that, unlike the book, the cat is fully feral in the new adaptation. His issues as described in the book, his odd zombielike motions, his smell of earth and rot and the fact that he causes unease and general discomfort wherever he goes, is not necessarily easy to translate onto the big screen whereas a cat clawing and snarling works well. The ending is dramatically changed from the book and original movie and this is one I had a bit of a problem with. In this ending, Ellie kills Rachel and drags her to the semetary. She then returns and kills Louis, then proceeds to drag him to the semetary, before the entire now evil, regenerated family complete with psycho cat, now walk towards Gage after burning down Jud’s house. I assume Gage will be next on the hit list, or maybe they’ll wait until he is older, who knows. I wasn’t a fan of this ending. I much prefer the ending of the book, and subsequently the original adaption, with Louis killing his zombie child after he has killed Rachel, before taking Rachel to the semetary and bringing her back to life. It ends with her simply dragging her dirt covered feet inside and saying, “Darling” leaving it up to ourselves to decide what happens to Louis and his remaining child. I understand that the writer of this new adaptation wanted a new ending in order to surprise audiences who are well familiar with the original ones as well as satisfy those new to Stephen King’s work, but sadly it just didn’t pull it off for me. Personally, I would have had Louis kill Ellie, then flee with Gage only to have Rachel stumble out of the forest and stare after them, again leaving it up to the viewer to imagine what is coming next. But that’s just me.

Overall though, the new film is thoroughly entertaining and an enjoyable watch for any horror fan whether you like Stephen King or not. I would recommend it to any horror fan.

But these are just my opinions- what did you think of the old and new adaptations? How would you have ended the new film? Comment and let me know and don’t forget to subscribe so you can keep up to date with all my latest posts.

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Happy Sunday readers, I hope you had a wonderful weekend!  For tonight’s blog post, I will be reviewing Birdbox by Josh Malerman.  I think I might be the only person who hasn’t watched the Netflix original adaptation of this, but I really wanted to read the book first (plus I have a rather demanding Toddler so very limited TV time that doesn’t involve cartoon princesses and singalongs).  I will hopefully get watching it this week, but if it is even half as good as this book then I know I am in for a treat.

birdboxFor those of you unfamiliar with Birdbox (have you been living under a rock or something?) the premise is this: A phenomenon is sweeping across the globe where people are going crazy, killing themselves and sometimes others too.  No one knows what is causing this, just that the victims always saw something before it happened. The book moves between the very pregnant Malorie and a rag tag group of survivors in the past, to the present where her and her two children battle their way upriver in the hopes of finding safety from these unknown creatures, the wild animals which have now inherited the earth from man and worse, the crazed people driven homicidally mad by what they have seen.  Sounds awesome right?

I absolutely loved this book, I really did.  The premise is fantastic, the characters are all well developed and believable and the tension and horror is very real.  I love that we as the reader never really find out what’s going on.  Are these creatures from another world or dimension?  Do they mean to cause us harm or are they inadvertently causing this carnage?  There are a few theories shared within the book, my favourite being that these creatures are so unfathomably different from ourselves that our tiny human brains simply cannot comprehend it and promptly go nuts at the slightest glimpse.  Whatever is happening, the creatures are never described which means that whatever they are is left entirely to our own imagination (in mine, they are like a creature shaped void of nothingness, walking black holes in our world, but that’s just me).  But the creatures are by no means the scariest part of this book, as it’s the reaction of the humans to the phenomena that offers the books creepiest moments.  Remember, our characters are literally blind folded, so the mere crack of a tree branch is enough to cause total panic.  Then there are the characters who are driven a different kind of mad by the creatures and the situation at large.  They don’t flip out and immediately kill themselves like most, but slowly go insane, hurting their fellow survivors.  I don’t want to have any spoilers but when things go bad, they really go South fast and it is here we see this maniacal, creepy lunacy played out in full bloody horror.

I really enjoyed the movement from past to present, it kept me hooked, maintained the tension throughout and made me desperate to find out what happened.  I had one of those ‘just one more chapter’ moments resulting in me staying up way past my bed time and suffering for it the following day (it was totally worth it though).

I love Malorie.  As a mother, I recognise that need to keep your children safe at all costs, that guttural feeling inside that says above all else, to protect.  At it’s core, this book is about survival.  It is about the good side and the bad side of humanity when faced with unimaginable horror.  It is about a mother determined to protect her children.  It is about man kind clinging to a world that is no longer theirs, refusing to lie down and give up despite insurmountable odds.  It’s pretty inspiring actually and has had me thinking at length about what I would do if, God forbid, such a thing ever happened for real.  I can’t imagine I would last too long, but I know I would do whatever I could to protect my own daughter, just like our protagonist.

It’s a slow burner, dotted with enough moments of peril and action to pull you along at a good pace to that big and bloody finale.  It’s a tense read and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.  I have to give this one full marks with five stars out of five!

Blood Bath Literary Magazine: A Review of Issue 1 & an Interview with the Editor.

Blood Bath Literary Magazine: A Review of Issue 1 & an Interview with the Editor.

There are some awesome literary magazines on the market out there.  They offer readers a chance to read pieces and styles they might not normally explore, from authors they are yet to discover and they are a great way for indie writers such as myself to get your writing out there.  I love a good literary magazine, so when I discovered that a new Horror based literary magazine was coming out of Edinburgh (one of my favourite places in the world) called Blood Bath, I was beyond excited.  And when I found out their first issue was based around the theme of Bodies and I saw that epic cover art by Jo Ruessmann, I knew I would have to buy a copy then and there.  Read to the end for my full review of the first issue (spoilers- I loved it!).  I was honoured to interview the Editor of the magazine about her love of Horror and why she decided the world needed a little more of it.

  1. Tell us a little about you, the person behind Blood Bath zine.
katy at bloodbathHi!! My name’s Katy, I’m editrix of Blood Bath! I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m also a genre
fiction writer, mostly sci-fi, horror and weird fiction. I’ve been running BB since April
2018.
2. What Inspired you to start the magazine?
I wanted to start BB because I was struggling to find a local horror publication that I wanted to send my work to. I like sharing my work through local publishers, and I was constantly finding that most horror publications were American or Canadian. I thought with Edinburgh being Gothic, haunted and one of the weirdest cities in the world, it was strange that we didn’t really have a cool, genre specific, weird, spooky publisher. I also know loads of horror writers who are writing great stuff, but no-one wants to take it. So, I decided to make my own space for them.
I came into some money when my Dad passed away in January 2017, and he always encouraged my love of horror, so it seemed appropriate to use the money to start BB. When I was a teenager and just getting into weird stuff he would give me serial killer books, horror novels and movies and even (accidentally! He didn’t realise what it was, and neither did I until I got to a certain point!) a soft core porn novel about Elizabeth Báthory, the Bloody Countess who (legend has it) bathed in the blood of her victims. So the first issue is dedicated to him, and we’re also hosting the next issue’s launch party on his birthday! We’ll be announcing the date very soon.
3. Why Horror?  What about the genre fascinates you?
I think everyone is into horror! Even if you say you can’t watch horror movies, everyone secretly wants to look. It reflects so much of what is inside us, the things we don’t like thinking about, but we’re frequently forced into looking at. Life is horrifying and awful, and horror has always shown that, unflinchingly, and made it beautiful or poignant or just illicit an emotion in you, which I think is cool. Horror and sci fi and fantasy occupy such a special place because we can look at ourselves stretched to the extreme, or in a different world. It lets us attack, deconstruct or challenge the world around us. Also I just think horror stories are about better things. Genre fiction as a whole is just more fun and exciting to read than regular fiction, for me at least.
4. What do you look for in the pieces you include?
I always look for something I haven’t seen before. So much of horror is the same, people cover bloodbathre-hash ideas all the time, which is not a problem! You can do something that’s been done before, but just twist something essential about it. You can do a werewolf story, but go and read and watch all the werewolf stories you can. See what’s out there. Find out what perspective or message or theme is being overlooked, and do your own version of it, or subvert the pieces that are already there. Originality weighs in much more than a perfectly polished and edited story I’ve read a million times before.
I think when someone knows the purpose of their piece, when they know what they want you to do as a reader, that just lets you enjoy the world or the cool ideas they have to show you! So knowing your piece and what you want it to do also helps. As I’ve already mentioned, being socially aware and subversive is important for me in choosing a piece. But being in this gatekeeper position is very subjective, and I will pick pieces that appeal to me specifically. That’s why it’s important to keep trying until you find a home for your writing.
5. Do you have any tips or advice for new writers out there, keen to be published?
First, the guidelines are not loose guidelines they are rules! Follow them! The publisher has written them for a reason.
Just be nice!
Keep trying! Just because you don’t get into one publication, doesn’t mean your work wouldn’t be perfect for another.
There’s no need to put on a show in your cover email, your work should speak for itself. Just list your top 3 or 4 publications if you have any, some people send a full list of every publication they’ve ever had. It just doesn’t really add anything to your submission, and it’s a little annoying to scroll through to get to the end of your email. Keep it concise.
Write a lot and edit more! Editing is less fun than writing for me, but it always improves my work when I do a lot of careful, considered editing.
I haven’t given much writing advice, but I think it’s better to just develop your work in your own way, only you can figure out what kind of writer you are and what kind of work you want to create.
Lastly, look after yourself. It’s easy to be overcome by rejections or writing that’s not working. It’s a tough and highly emotional job, make sure you make time for self care, whatever that looks like.
6. How does someone submit their writing to you?
They can submit via email, bloodbathlitzine@hotmail.com. But read the guidelines on our website first!
7. What does the future hold for the magazine?
I’m not quite sure! And that’s exciting! I’m working with some people I really admire to create the second issue, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out! DEMONS will be launching in early May, with an incredible launch party in Edinburgh. I wish I could share more details with you, but it’s going to be a great night! It will definitely be demonic and debaucherous.
We’re going to a few more small press fairs and zine fests, as well as publishing conferences and literary events. I want BB to just keep growing, as there’s so much writing and art I want to share with the world. I do want to expand to publishing books, short story collections, and some weirder stuff. I’m very excited to see what the future holds!
My Review of Issue 1: Bodies.
bloodbathzineThe human body can bring about a mix of emotions, everything from lust to fear.  They fascinate and disgust us and they are discussed and picked over constantly, whether by our own harsh assessments of how our own body measures up to modern beauty standards, to the constant media attention they receive.  I have read countless horror novels and seen dozens of movies where human bodies are subverted and twisted into something which haunts us, hence why they make the perfect theme for the debut of Blood Bath.  The Magazine contains 13 pieces of writing, all with this common thread and all with a dark and macabre edge to them.
We start with Miss West’s Requisitions by Ever Dundas, a depiction of a truly disgruntled employee and perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, a version of those horrible little dark thoughts we have in the back of our mind when someone irritates or upsets us at work.  It’s a great story, with a humorous side and a fab start to the magazine.  Petrified by Felicity Anderson-Nathan depicts someone’s hand, then arm, becoming petrified.  It’s short but impactful and leaves you feeling very sorry for its protagonist.  Feed Them by Mary Crosbie is one of my favourites featured in the magazine, depicting a woman who is willing to go to incredible lengths in order to stay thin.  It’s a chilling indictment of the pressures put on women to conform to modern beauty standards and to maintain a skinny, size zero body….is it weird that reading it made me hungry?  Probably says more about me than I would care to admit.  Next up, we have The Sea Witch by Angie Spoto, is a much darker version of that classic mermaid with a human lover trope.  It’s gory and gross, in a good way.  Family Pool by Scott Clark is my favourite of the contributions and tells the tale of a family and their very hungry, utterly terrifying swimming pool.  This one really stayed with me and even sent a little shudder up my spine.  Maleficae by Tiffany Morris is a vampiric poem, short but beautifully written.  Ghosted by Kristy Falconer describes one Hell of a bad break up.  I liked this story.  It was filled with melancholy and Falconer has a particularly beautiful way with words.  A Terrible Meat Eating God by Holly Lyn Walrath, a piece of flash fiction, is all about consumption and is again, beautifully written and very poetic.  The Unrecalled by Rita Hynes, depicts a teenage girl and her morbid fascination with the things happening to her body.  This one made me feel a little nauseous! If any story manages to have a physical affect on you, you know it’s a good one. The Eye that Offends you by Alys Earl is a dark and haunting twist on the traditional fairy tales we loved as a child.  I really loved this one, it was just perfect.  Cleaver by Jelle Cauwenberghs features a girl haunted by the ghosts of the past as well as a future threat she must be ready to face.  This is another of the stories with wonderful language and I loved the snippets of past memories dusted throughout.  Witch Ridden by Katie Bootland, is based on the tale of the blacksmith’s wife of Yarrowford and is short but beautiful. Finally, Enclosed in clothes by Laura Dehaan, the final contribution and the third of the poems is a wonderful end to the collection of tales.
Overall, I loved this magazine.  The stories and poems are all so unusual and well written and perfectly chosen for the issue’s theme.  I love the cover art so much and I look forward to issue 2: Demons, coming soon.  Definitely a 5 stars out of 5 from me!!
Katy is accepting submissions for the Demons issue until February 14th, head to their website to find out what she is looking for.  You can also buy prints of the fantastic cover art by Jo Ruessman on the Blood Bath website, but hurry because there is a limited amount and they’re selling fast.

Book Review: Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke.

Book Review: Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke.

I was recently introduced to Kealan Patrick Burke by a fellow bookstagrammer and horror enthusiast, the fabulous Sadie Hartmann (aka Mother Horror) and I am so glad I did.  Dead of Winter, a collection of Burke’s short stories and his latest release, felt like a good place to start, plus the cover is epic.

dead winter2The collection starts of with Snowmen, a tale told from the perspective of a young boy haunted by shadowy figures in his backyard.  This story is perfectly creepy, staying with you long after you finish the final word and it is not only the perfect start to this collection but it’s also my personal favourite.  From there, it takes a festive twist and of course, I use that term in an ironic way.  Story number two is Doomsday Father Christmas, a truly depressing take on our consumer driven Christmas and the with that you are dragged further into the cold, dead winter by Burke.  Next up, we have Black Static, a short, sharp punch to the gut from the perspective of a man resentful of having to care for his father through deteriorating mental and physical health.  This is followed by Visitation rights, a story about a divorced father during a resentment filled visitation with his two daughters.  This is one of those stories you end up reading again immediately after finishing because you can’t quite believe what happened.  Home depicts a panicked father, worried when his wife and daughter do not return during a particularly harsh winter’s day.  This one is genuinely emotional and honestly a little heart breaking.  The Quiet depicts a now paraplegic man contemplating his life and the tragic events which led him to that point.  This story really demonstrates Burke’s writing ability and is quite frankly, short story perfection.  It’s another tear jerker, touching on some truly emotive topics.  Last up, They Know and wow, what a finale.  This is horror at its best and you will continue thinking about it long after you close the book.  It’s one of those stories which takes you one way before dragging you screaming the other way.  It reminds me of the movie Phantoms (if you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately) and is just as creepy!

Overall, this is a truly chilling Collection of stories which makes me want to read more of Burke’s writing.  I’m giving this one 4 stars out of 5!!