[REVIEW] Devouring Dark – by Alan Baxter

DEVOURING DARK by Alan Baxter

When I went to read Alan Baxter for the first time, I ended up choosing Devouring Darkbecause its premise reminded me of a comic series I enjoyed when I was growing up: The Darkness. You have your anti-hero with a shadow-like power surging inside him that can be unleashed in horrific ways. There’s a lot than can be done with this idea, but for now this is a standalone novel and not a series (though Baxter has several others, so maybe there’s hope yet for Devouring Dark to continue).

Though I definitely enjoyed this book, I had a few issues that nagged me along the way. There’s a surprising amount of slow sequences for what should be an action-fueled story. There’s also the matter of Matt’s guilt (which powers his darkness); what he did as a child is absolutely terrible, and yet Amy (the character he falls for with a similar power) is very easygoing about the whole thing. She basically tells him not to worry, it’s no big deal, and he should confess it to his parents and smooth things over. I’m sorry, but that was unbelievable – if my kid came and told me they had done such a thing, we would not be able to “smooth it over.” What Matt did is unforgiveable, even if he was just a kid when he did it.

I would have liked to see more action – though I get Matt’s condition keeps it from showing up hardly at all in the story – as well as some different interaction between his character and the others to gain sympathy from me. I was interested in our anti-hero up until I learned the cause of his guilt; I didn’t care about him after that, and felt Amy was just blinded by her interest in him and willing to overlook his evil.

My complaints aside, I did enjoy the majority of this book, enough so that I would like to read a sequel. I also found Baxter’s writing comfortable and inviting, so I will look into his other work in the coming months. So, overall, this is a recommended title (especially for comic fans). – by Andrew Redman

3.5/5.0

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[REVIEW] The Night Crawls In – by Steve Stred

I have read a few of Steve’s books this year – including The Stranger, Jane, and The Girl Who Hid in the Trees – but I think The Night Crawls In has to be my favorite so far. This collection of drabbles (stories averaging just a couple hundred words for the most part) and poems may be short, but it leaves a lasting impression. So many of them read like excerpts of novels, leaving me wanting more.

The drabbles of “The Night Crawls In,” “The Clearing,” “Curiosity,” “Text Message,” and “Random Bruise,” all left me wanting the full story. It would be great if Steve ever uses them for novels or novellas down the road, because they all left imprints I couldn’t shake.

As for the poems, I found “Worms,” “Forever,” “Six Shots (To Redemption),” and “Self” to be the most memorable and striking. I’m not much for rhyming, so it was great to read so many of these entries without that structure at work. And like the drabbles, there were a handful of stories to be found in some of these poems that would do well as extended pieces.

The Night Crawls In is something you can read in an hour or two (depending on how you choose to savor each entry). Generally speaking, this would make me shy away from an actual purchase. However, this collection is worth the cost; you’ll want to reread it from time to time, I’m sure. – by Andrew Redman

4.5 out of 5.0

[REVIEW] The Crow’s Gift (And Other Tales)- by Sonora Taylor

I have found these short collections to be very useful in finding new favorite authors in the indie community. If it only takes you a couple hours to check out a release, you’re more likely to give a new writer a chance you wouldn’t give if they only had long novels available for introduction. As such, I have found a slew of unknown authors I intend to follow from this point forward.

Sonora Taylor is one that caught my eye with the promotions of her latest collection, Little Paranoias. But rather than request an ARC for review, I decided to use my Kindle Unlimited membership to see if she had anything already available (that way I could decide if I wanted to pursue her new work or not). I immediately found the four-piece collection, The Crow’s Gift, which was released several years ago. The other night, I sat down and gave it a quick read.

Though I wasn’t blown away by it – some of the writing felt too easy and some of the dialogue made me roll my eyes – there was enough imagination here to put Sonora on my watch list. The first story, “The Crow’s Gift,” was easily my favorite. I would have loved to see this story expanded upon. It reads like that kind of horror fueled by magic, the kind that made Coraline and The Monster Calls so popular. I also enjoyed the way “I Love Your Work” played out, even if it wasn’t one of the stories that felt too simple in its writing. “I Never Knew Your Name” was sadly forgettable, and “All the Pieces Coming Together” staggered in its dialogue. The characters, however, would have been enjoyable to explore further.

Despite its shortcomings, Sonora Taylor did do enough here to get my attention. I will seek out more of her work in the comings months, and maybe even pre-order Little Paranoias. I feel like there’s something great just bubbling beneath the surface of what I’ve seen thus far. – by Andrew Redman

3.5 out of 5

[REVIEW] Husk – by Rachel Autumn Deering

[Spoilers Ahead]

Husk tells the story of a soldier home from war, dealing with the stress of PTSD and drugs. For the majority of the novella, it reads more like a drama than horror; Kevin Brooks is damaged from losing his best friend in Afghanistan, and is looking to cope with that loss and the ones back home. With his grandparents now passed, he has their house he once knew so well. Only, it’s empty and haunting now. The property is overgrown, dirty, and it seems like something is following him around. The scenes that take us through the development of Kevin’s character are fantastic (if Deering wasn’t in Afghanistan herself, I’d be surprised – that’s how well she wrote that opening), not to mention unnerving and all-to-realistic; everything that happens in this book can and has happened elsewhere. Without going into detail, Kevin gradually loses his mind as his insecurities and fears appear to take on a physical, hungry form.

As mentioned before, the writing of Husk is top notch. You’ve got to hand it to Deering; she has a way with words, and does a beautiful job in painting characters and their downfalls. The concept is also a great one – you’ve got to love a horror story that is actually based in reality. In a lot of ways, these kind of stories strike you to a deeper core as a result. I was sucked in right from the start.

I will, however, say that Husk has a couple faults. There is a lull in the story as we watch Kevin and his love interest, Samantha, meet and become attached. It is then followed by the horror-soaked ending, which feels sped-up and rushed. The way Samantha dies wasn’t even clear; I had to reread the pages several times to assume she was poisoned. I think if Deering had given the story another 30-50 pages here for development of Kevin’s inner monster, it would have worked wonders for the final impression.

Complaints aside, Husk has brought Deering to my attention in a good way. I look forward to anything else she writes moving forward (speaking of, where is this Wytchwood Hollow book she started promoting back in 2017??). ~ by Andrew Redman

3.5 / 5.0

[REVIEW] Remains – by Andrew Cull

4.5 / 5.0

Bones got our attention; Remains seals the deal. Andrew Cull has a talent for building suspense. The atmosphere he sets is that of a scary movie, complete with spooks in windows, loud sounds, and crazy messages on the wall. Better yet, this story has a very meaningful base of support – our leading lady is looking for her little boy’s ghost! After losing him to a horrific murder/suicide, you can’t help but ache for her and understand the way she completely unwinds into hysterics.

Remains is spooky, sad, and thrilling. If you missed out on Bones, make sure to put your head in the game for this one; you won’t be sorry. ~ Andrew Redman

[REVIEW] To Be Devoured – by Sara Tantlinger

4.5 / 5.0

Sara Tantlinger’s debut novellette, To Be Devoured, is an unsettling and gritty story with a darkly poetic voice. Though it’s not necessarily violent, it has an extremely violent feel throughout (in the sense that there are bared teeth that continuously open wider, revealing sharpened blades).

Despite a conclusion that felt a little weak after the build-up, this story had me curious and disgusted and entranced from beginning to end. Tantlinger has a way of writing that is simply captivating; the way she spins words in such horrific scenes is grand and brilliant. And for that alone, she is recommended. The story is the added cherry on top – the loss of the lead character’s composure and mental state is thoroughly enjoyable and depraved. You’ll enjoy the ride, even when it makes you cringe and gag. ~ Andrew Redman

[REVIEW] The House That Jack Built – by Dale Robertson

I’ve always been a huge fan of great cover and a haunted house story. In fact, I would put it above all other sub genres of horror as my favorite. So, when I was approached to read The House That Jack Built by the darkly talented Dale Robertson, I wasn’t hesitant to jump in.

We start the story with our main character Sebastian, and his two best friends, Tommy and Regan. There’s a legend around town about Old Man Jack and the house he may or may not still be inhabiting. Our curious characters are eager to discover what lies inside the decrepit, possibly haunted house. 

I will say first and foremost that, personally, one of my favorite things of this story was the dialogue. Dale has a real way of creating characters and the relationship between them in short time, specifically, Seb and Tommy. I was immediately invested in them, and while they may not have been the deepest of personalities, I was nervous of what fate may be waiting for them in the coming night. 

“Even the forest seemed to have held its breath in anticipation of their arrival…”

Almost a quarter into the book, we are taken into different stories as it is old myth that Old Man Jack requires a few spooky tales before he’s willing to manifest himself. Each character brings an entirely different short story to the table to please Old Jack. While this was unexpected for me, I did not feel that the stories took me out of the main one. They are not related to the events going on, if anything they were a suspense builder to what was going to happen to our characters if legend proved itself true. I enjoyed some of these short stories more than others but overall, I feel each could stand by itself separately. So I had no quarrel with this. 

It was impressive how Dale manages to keep ‘Haunted House’ cliches to a minimum, as the classic story has been told countless times. 

Our three short stories lead back and forth to an engaging and adrenaline filled climax. Another thing I loved about this story was that the final chapter was my favorite. The twist was held out until the final words, even if I did have an idea of what it would be early on, I appreciate the ability to hold out on your twist until the very end. 

I would like to read a sequel to this story focused more into the myth of Jack and what horror he could bring this world. 

Overall, if your looking for a fairly quick read to get some thrills, characters you care about, short stories in the mix, and dark atmosphere, The House That Jack Built is an engaging tale that you should not pass up! ~ Garrett

4/5

[REVIEW] The Stranger – by Steve Stred

Is it me or is there something about the woods that just creeps you the hell out? The paranoia, The isolation, The bluntness and finality of knowing you’re either getting out or not? 

Steve Stred’s The Stranger takes all of your childhood fears of the forest and manifest them into a story that is dark, violent, and for me, cathartic. 

We follow our main character Malcolm and his family as they take their annual trip to their cabin. 

During the day the family is out on the lake, seeking out undiscovered treasures they’d yet to find on their previous trips. And when the sun goes down, things are immediately spooky and unsettling. The thing in the trees, The Stranger, has all of the creepy elements of being nightmare fuel. I specifically liked the night scenes and the scares that came with them. Each event becoming more threatening leading to ensuing chaos. 

This tale also dives into some of the relevant and pressing issues of our current society, weaving its way into the horrors of the forest as much as it does into your conscience. I respect Steve for tackling these issues and giving them life to breathe. The afterword also had some good personal statements on why Steve chose the topic he did. 

I want to go on record by saying that Steve has written some scenes in this story that had me checking over my shoulder before falling asleep. Making sure nothing was creeping in the corner in the room watching. There is a skin scene I’ll never forgot and some violent death scenes all together, I loved it all. 

Lastly, and a MINOR SPOILER, I really enjoyed the back story of The Stranger and the parallels of the beginning of times. This brought some light to the all encompassing darkness The Stranger was throughout the story. 

I really enjoyed this tale and look forward to more of Steve’s work in the future. ~ Garrett

5/5

[REVIEW] Kinfolk – by Matt Kurtz

Cover art for Grindhouse Press, by Neal Auch.

I just want to say there could possibly be a trigger scene in the first chapter for new readers to this story. Rape is a touchy subject and one of the darkest scenes in this book. Matt lets you know how dark this story could get straight out of the gate. So be prepared for some tough scenes. 

Imagine if you took Wrong Turn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and parts of From Dusk Till Dawn, threw them into a bloody blender and mixed the bones of each story. That is what Kinfolk is to me. And it was one hell of a ride. 

We meet outlaw brothers Eric and Ray, who are on an adrenaline fueled revenge mission until things take a turn for the worse and become a sight for survival. 

I enjoyed the brothers relationship. Neither is really a good person but you still find yourself rooting for them. They are believable, flawed, realistic characters. Not to mention pretty bad ass. That is where the From Dusk Till Dawn comes in. 

And then you have the Wrong Turn and Chainsaw Massacre parts of the story. This is a backwoods, hillbilly cannibal gore fest at it’s finest. I believe it’s really easy to get these stories feeling cheesy and B rated. However, Matt is such a talented writer that I never felt bored or out of place in the story. I could easily picture everything that was happening and felt like I was there with our flawed protagonist up to the violent, bloody end. As if fighting for my life and looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I loved everything about this book and am grateful to have been given the chance to read it. This could easily become a feature film due to Matt’s writing ability. I’m looking forward to reading more of Matt’s work, I hope you are too. ~ Garrett

5/5