Halloween Carnival Volume 5 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

I’ve been dragging my feet on this anthology series for years now. I was so excited to sink my teeth into some Halloween scares but they consistently disappointed me so I gave up. Now it’s Halloween month again and with one volume to go, I decided to dive back in and hope for the best.

Devil’s Night by Richard Chizmar – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

The newspapers reported the story of what happened that night but that’s not the whole story.

Halloween may be a night for make-believe ghosts and goblins, but you’d better be sure to turn on all the lights and lock your doors on Devil’s Night. Because that’s when the real monsters lurk …

The Last Dare by Lisa Tuttle – 🎃🎃🎃

The tower house is still there, all these years later. Going inside was the last dare between childhood best friends.

“Tell us the story about the tower house”

The Halloween Bleed by Norman Prentiss – 🎃🎃🎃

An interview with a difference.

“What if Halloween … bleeds into other days? It doesn’t matter when the story is written, or when you read it. What matters is that it has an effect on you. It casts its spell.”

Swing by Kevin Quigley – 🎃🎃🎃

Death follows love. Every time.

Most thought she was dancing because she was free, but I knew the real Jessica. She danced because she was trapped.

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub – 🎃🎃🎃

Hat, a story from his childhood and all that jazz.

“Most people will tell you growing up means you stop believing in Halloween things – I’m telling you the reverse. You start to grow up when you understand that the stuff that scares you is part of the air you breathe.”

While the stories included in this anthology were okay, I didn’t get the Halloween horror vibe I was looking for. I didn’t find any of the stories scary at all. I’m glad I finally made it through to the end of this series and there were some decent stories along the way, but overall I remain disappointed.

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Richard Chizmar, Lisa Tuttle, Norman Prentiss, Kevin Quigley, and Peter Straub unmask monsters hiding in plain sight in an anthology of heart-pounding short fiction assembled by horror author and editor Brian James Freeman.

DEVIL’S NIGHT by Richard Chizmar
You’ve read about what happened that night. What you don’t know is the true extent of the damage. The papers got it wrong – and the truth is so much worse than you thought.

THE LAST DARE by Lisa Tuttle
Elaine hasn’t been back to her hometown in years. The house she lived in is gone. The tower house isn’t – nor are the stories of the fate that befalls whoever dares to go there.

THE HALLOWEEN BLEED by Norman Prentiss
People think there’s some sort of mystical power that allows enchantments and witchcraft to come to life on Halloween night. But real magic obeys no calendar – and true evil strikes whenever it’s least expected.

SWING by Kevin Quigley
In Hollywood, everyone lives forever. At least that’s what I used to think … before Jessica. But no one seems to live long when they’re around me.

PORK PIE HAT by Peter Straub
When it comes to jazz, there are players, and there are legends. “Hat” was a legend. His real name didn’t even matter. Still, he had his secrets – secrets best left buried in the past. 

Halloween Carnival Volume 4 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

Yes, I know Halloween is over but when you’re into horror every day can be Halloween! I did begin this volume in early October but because I didn’t love any of the stories it’s been a bit of a slog to finish it.

Mannequin Challenge by Kealan Patrick Burke – 🎃🎃🎃

Theo is mentally preparing himself to attend the office Halloween party. As an introvert I can definitely relate to his reticence, especially considering he’s an outsider and there’s going to be a mannequin challenge. I was surprised by Theo’s response to the mannequin challenge (we certainly differ in that respect). I wish there had been an explanation, however brief, of how the mannequin challenge worked the way it did.

Death stood by the photocopy machine, a drink raised to its bony mouth.

Across the Tracks by Ray Garton – 🎃🎃🎃

Kenny, Sam and JayJay are from the wrong side of the tracks. The good candy can be found across the tracks in the affluent part of town so that’s where they are trick-or-treating. Unfortunately a bully and his minions are also there, but encountering them isn’t the weirdest thing to happen that night. The descriptions of the bullying were quite graphic and the story ended abruptly. Although I don’t mind some ambiguity, the main event takes place off page and that’s the part I wanted to be able to see. I didn’t get any of the answers I was seeking.

Since they had first encountered him in grammar school, Ed Mortimer had been a permanent part of their lives, a human animatronic Halloween yard decoration that could jump out of the dark at them at any time, all year long.

The Halloween Tree by Bev Vincent – 🎃🎃

Luke and his friends are going trick or treating tonight and for Luke this means he’ll need to face one of the scariest things in his life – the tree on the corner. Luke is convinced this particular tree is alive and scheming against him. Unfortunately I didn’t find this story scary at all.

In that moment it looked like a giant ogre, with arms upraised and outstretched, ready to wrap them up in a crushing embrace, impaling their bodies with spiny talons six feet long.

Pumpkin Eater by C.A. Suleiman – 🎃🎃🎃

Peter loves Halloween but his wife Marlene doesn’t. He chooses this night to fix his marital problems, once and for all. This was a predictable story.

She had no idea that he knew. No idea the price she would have to pay.

When the Leaves Fall by Paul Melniczek – 🎃🎃🎃

In Haverville there’s one farm that no one ever talks about. Signs surrounding the farm warn trespassers to stay away. One Halloween night, Chris and his best friend Kyle decide to find out what’s really going on at Graver’s Farm. Neither will ever be the same. This was the longest story in this collection. With the amount of build up I expected more answers than I found.

Nightfall was coming swiftly, carrying the seeds of slumber. And also the batwings of nightmare.

I’ve now read four of the five volumes in this series and this is my least favourite so far. I’m disappointed that I don’t have a favourite story in this volume. I’m also not keen to reread any of them.

Content warnings include assault, bullying, mention of suicide, sexual assault and slavery.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kealan Patrick Burke, Ray Garton, Bev Vincent, C. A. Suleiman, and Paul Melniczek treat readers to some spooky tricks with a hair-raising assemblage of tales gathered together by author, editor, and master of the macabre Brian James Freeman.

For some, office parties are the highlight of the season. For others, they can paralyze with dread. Theo is determined not to let his anxiety stop him from attending—though maybe he’s right to be afraid.

The candy’s always better on the other side of town, even if it means crossing paths with bullies. But a rich house with an unlocked door might just be too good to be true …

Every town has one: a house or a field or an old tree that just gives off a bad vibe. Of course, those feelings are just silly superstition, nothing to take seriously. Right?

PUMPKIN EATER by C. A. Suleiman
Peter loves Halloween – almost as much as he hates his wife. Luckily, his favourite holiday presents an opportunity to fix his problem. After all, putting his wife in her place should be as easy as pie.

WHEN THE LEAVES FALL by Paul Melniczek
Haverville always seemed like a typical town to me: a place where people work hard, and no one ever really leaves. Until the night I went to Graver’s Farm – and discovered what Haverwille was really hiding. 

Halloween Carnival Volume 2 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

Like most collections of stories, this one included both hits and misses for me. The first story was my favourite.

Mr. Dark’s Carnival by Glen Hirshberg – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Professor Roemer loves exploring the myths surrounding Mr. Dark’s Carnival with his freshman class each year. Everyone in eastern Montana knows the legend but while everyone claims to know a person who knows a person who has experienced the Carnival, no one has known the truth firsthand. Until now.

I really enjoyed the growing sense of dread as I read, where the anticipation of the scare was half the fun. Sometimes what remains unseen can be scarier, when you feel unbalanced as you wait for jump scare that may or may not be coming. I had some unanswered questions including the significance of “3-7-77” and the fate of Robert.

Stepping into that foyer was like stepping into a coffin. Worse, actually. It was like walking completely out of the world.

The Facts in the Case of My Sister by Lee Thomas – 🎃🎃🎃

Davey is three years older than Joyce, his sister, and as a child she enjoyed being his assistant as he tried out new magic tricks. Now he watches helplessly as she lays in a hospital bed. I found this story predictable and while Halloween was in the background it wasn’t the focus. The monsters in this story are of the human variety, which is scarier than if they’d been pretty much anything else.

“There are no monsters, Joyce. They’re just in your imagination.”

Mischief Night by Holly Newstein – 🎃🎃🎃

When some kids decide to prank their assistant principal on Mischief Night it sets off an unexpected chain of events. This story read more as a cautionary tale and the story of Willard Cole is quite a sad one. It didn’t have the creepiness I’d hoped for and didn’t even really feel much like a Halloween story.

In Pennsylvania, the night before Halloween is known as Mischief Night. Kids play harmless but annoying pranks, like throwing toilet paper into trees, soaping windows, and egging cars. Occasionally lines are crossed, and what was annoying becomes malicious. Sometimes even deadly …

The Ghost Maker by Del James – 🎃🎃

A hitman reminisces about his introduction to a life of crime, does another job and gets invited to a Halloween party. After stressing out about his costume he is ready to attend the party and before anything Halloweeny actually happens the story ends.

All Saints’ Day is when the Saints in Heaven and the good Catholics of this world share the strongest bond. It’s also the one day I feel least comfortable doing what I do.

The Pumpkin Boy by Al Sarrantonio – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Creepy clowns. That’s all I have to say about that.

“Uncle Lollipop loves you!”

Themes of loss and grief play out in various ways in most of the stories.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, child abductions, death by suicide, domestic violence, murder and physical abuse.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Glen Hirshberg, Lee Thomas, Holly Newstein, Del James, and Al Sarrantonio bring the ghouls of the most haunted night of the year to life in a chilling collection of stories curated by master of horror Brian James Freeman.

MR. DARK’S CARNIVAL by Glen Hirshberg
Halloween is more than just a holiday in Clarkson, Montana; it’s a tradition passed down through generations. Only this year, the ghosts of the past may just be a little closer than usual.

When David was young, he believed in magic. In fact, he wanted to become a magician himself. But meddling in the forces of the mind has consequences beyond what an eleven-year-old can see.

MISCHIEF NIGHT by Holly Newstein
Cabbage Night, Goose Night, Devil’s Night – they’re all the same. Before the treats come the tricks. It’s all in good fun … until someone gets hurt.

When people need to disappear, I make them vanish. The catch? I’ve always got to be on guard – because that knock at the door may not just be a little monster looking for candy.

THE PUMPKIN BOY by Al Sarrantonio
When boys start going missing, Detective Len Schneider is determined to make it right. But his partner knows that there are worse things out there than a dead kid. 

Halloween Carnival Volume 3 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

Spoilers Ahead!

🎃 Horrificent Halloween Book! 🎃

N.B. Horrificent is totally a word (at least it is in my world and it’s my review so you’re in my world now whether you like it or not) and should be imagined as a unique blend of horrific and magnificent.

Halloween Carnival Volume 3 is the third of five volumes of short stories being released in time for Halloween. While I promise you I know how to count I didn’t feel like reading something the length of a novella when I started Volume 2 and then got sucked into these stories.

The Way Lost by Kelley Armstrong – 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

I absolutely loved this story. It was short but grabbed me from the first sentence – “Every Halloween, one child in Franklin lost his way and never came home.” Children in Franklin know not to go near the forest on Halloween night. Dale, however, can’t help himself. He watches at the edge of the forest, hoping to solve the mystery of how Franklin’s children lose their way, a mystery no one talks about. The creepy atmosphere in this story and the enticing dread had me wanting to sit by the edge of the forest to dare myself to uncover what was really happening to the children of this town. I need to read more by this author!

La Calavera by Kate Maruyama – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Trish works hard on her calavera for this year’s Día de los Muertos Festival at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She attended each year with her roommate of five years, Jasmine (pronounced Yasmeen). On the day of the Festival Trish receives a phone call at work from Hector, who is supposed to still be in jail. This is a tale of binge-watching, waffles, family, obsession and letting go. I worked out how this story was going to play out fairly early but I still really enjoyed it.

The Devil’s Due by Michael McBride – 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

Building the initial dread into full blown panic and then hovering around desperation for the rest of the story, this one blew me away. Taking place in Pine Springs, Colorado, this town was founded in 1867 and has a long history of prosperity. Huddled in their ranch on the evening of 30 October, Thom and Tammy silently wait, hoping against hope that this isn’t their year. Their daughter and son are asleep upstairs, unaware of the danger that infiltrates their postcard perfect community this night every year. This year there’s a bloody handprint on the Martin’s door and soon the mayor and chief of police will be coming to collect Thom so he can do his duty. I’m going to be checking out this author’s other work for sure.

A Thousand Rooms of Darkness by Taylor Grant – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Anne has phasmophobia (fear of ghosts) and samhainophobia (fear of Halloween), and with good reason. Panic attacks and phobias have contributed to the breakdown of Anne’s previous relationships so she is understandably terrified of telling the new love of her life, Evan, of her crippling fears. But this year her haunting starts early. I enjoyed the buildup to Halloween and the increased fear Anne faces. I loved the initial twist but the final wrap up felt a tad rushed.

The Last Night of October by Greg Chapman – 🎃🎃🎃

Gerald sits in his wheelchair, oxygen mask affixed trying to deliver its breath to his emphysema affected lungs, watching the front door. He keeps watch every Halloween night until dawn, waiting for it to come. It comes every Halloween without fail. This Halloween Gerald can’t avoid it. This novella started with such promise but I found a key component of the story implausible. It jarred me out of the lovely flow I was in and I never got my momentum back.

While I had no problems with the crossroads and what the boys found there I didn’t believe that Martha could so easily convince Gerald to kill his friend. They were best friends and yes, I understand they were kids and terrified, but even if that was always going to be the outcome I would have expected a longer exchange between the three characters before the murder occurred.

My favourites in this collection were The Way Lost and The Devil’s Due. I think The Devil’s Due may have won in the photo finish but both stories had me taking note of who wrote them so I can explore their work further.

The overall theme that runs through these stories is that things are not always what they seem and while I’d expect this in Halloween tales, there’s bloodshed in each of them. While I’ve only read two of the five volumes so far I much preferred this one overall than Volume 1. I loved that even after working out that all of these stories had elements where things were not as they seemed, there were still some where I didn’t pick up on the twist until after it happened.

Content warnings include mental illness and suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Hydra for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kelley Armstrong, Kate Maruyama, Michael McBride, Taylor Grant, and Greg Chapman unleash the unsettled spirits of the past in five frightening stories collected by celebrated editor, author, and horror guru Brian James Freeman.

THE WAY LOST by Kelley Armstrong
The kids in Franklin don’t ask questions. Each Halloween, one of them disappears into the forest. Dale promised his mother he’d never go into the woods alone. But the kids in Franklin also lie.

LA CALAVERA by Kate Maruyama
The Día de los Muertos Festival at the Hollywood Cemetery used to be ours. Now, without Jasmine, it’s only right that I go one last time in her honour – before I let her go for good

THE DEVIL’S DUE by Michael McBride
Pine Springs, Colorado, has prospered for generations by honoring its traditions and its promises. Then one man refuses to do his civic duty – and the price he must pay is fatally steep.

Samhainophobia: an irrational fear of Halloween. Phasmophobia: an irrational fear of ghosts. For Anne, these terrors are more rational than she knows.

Every year, one little boy wearing a grotesque Frankenstein mask comes knocking at Gerald’s door. Gerald has always managed to avoid him … until this year. 

Halloween Carnival Volume 1 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

🎃 Heralding Halloween Book! 🎃

Halloween Carnival Volume 1 is the first of five volumes of short stories being released in time for Halloween. Brought together by Brian James Freeman of Cemetery Dance Publications fame, this book contains five stories inspired by Halloween.

Strange Candy by Robert McCammon – 🎃🎃🎃

When Chris Parker eats the unwrapped sparkly white candy shaped like a hand he and his wife found at the bottom of his daughter’s trick or treat loot bag, he finds he’s no longer sitting in his lounge room watching his annual Halloween late night horror movie.

With messages from the dead being the ultimate focus of this story, I mostly felt sad at the grief felt by the characters. Hope was given through the messages to loved ones and it was a nice story but it didn’t really come across as a much of a Halloween story to me. The candy could have been substituted for just about anything else and the story still would have worked.

The Rage of Achilles or When Mockingbirds Sing by Kevin Lucia – 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

Father Ward sits meditating in the confessional on Halloween night, not expecting visitors. The story he hears that night will change him forever. Kevin Lucia’s story came with a great twist.

This was quite a sad story with themes of guilt, anger and revenge. I don’t want to give anything away but it was very well written and made me want to read more from this author.

Demon Air by John R. Little – 🎃🎃

When Halle Barry boards Diamond Air Flight 194 to Sydney on 30 October, she’s planning on finding out who she really is. When the clock strikes midnight, a series of events unfold midair that show her what she’s made of.

Demon Air read like two stories had been joined together. The first story was one of identity and I enjoyed this section. I would have liked Halle’s ancestry journey to have continued to Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. I was interested in finding out more about her history. Naturally that story wouldn’t have fit this collection.

Once Halloween began mid air, I felt the cohesiveness was lost and it tried to become a different story just to introduce the Halloween theme. Had the story been exclusively about what happened on Demon Air I would have enjoyed it more as sufficient time would have been spent setting up the scenario and playing the games on board. As it was it felt like only a few minutes of story time had occurred and then suddenly a whole day had passed. This section didn’t gel with me and the joining of the two stories felt flimsy, using Halle’s limited knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture to determine her course of action.

La Hacienda de los Muertos by Lisa Morton – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

After thirty years of acting in cowboy movies, Trick McGrew’s career died along with Blazer, his horse, six years ago. His agent has arranged a part for Trick in a Mexican horror movie. Taking place during Day of the Dead celebrations in 1958, Trick inadvertently becomes involved in the local legend of La Llorona.

This ghost story was an interesting take on a real legend and featured the Day of the Dead celebrations. I liked the growth of the main character throughout the story.

#MakeHalloweenScaryAgain by Mark Allan Gunnells – 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

Dustin Davis, an author from Greer working on his latest novel, wants his #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain to go viral. He is disappointed by peoples’ apathy toward Halloween, especially those in his neighbourhood and hopes if his hashtag garners enough attention it will help generate interest in his writing.

As Halloween draws nearer locals start getting murdered, with Dustin’s hashtag featuring at each crime scene. Questioned by Officer Workman and with local reporter Shawn Moore hoping to catch his big break from this story, Dustin’s hopes for fame turn into suspicion when the people of Greer suspect he is the murderer. The killer ups the ante when they let the locals know that the family inside one house that isn’t decorated for Halloween will be murdered on Halloween night. Chaos ensues.

I really enjoyed this story. There was a creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread built throughout the story as Halloween drew closer. I liked the snippets of how different locals were dealing with the murders in their town and the interactions between Dustin, Shawn and Officer Workman. I did pick who the killer was (yay me!) but I was still entertained throughout the story.

The Rage of Achilles or When Mockingbirds Sing and #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain were my favourites in this collection.

A common theme running through this collection was that at least one character experienced loss and grief. The stories weren’t scary at all which disappointed me. I had hoped for some real fear and the closest I came to it was some creepy fun in the final story. However, they were mostly well written and they all took place around Halloween. The final story was a fun introduction to the season of scares and I look forward to reading the other four volumes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Hydra for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

STRANGE CANDY by Robert McCammon
Chocolate bars and sour suckers are trick-or-treat staples, but beware the odd sweet at the bottom of your bag. You never know who it’s from – or what it might do to you.

Father Ward should have heeded the warnings about hearing confession on All Hallow’s Eve. Because a man is about to tell him a secret more haunting than any he has heard before.

DEMON AIR by John R. Little
Fear of flying is not uncommon. But on this transpacific airline, the real danger isn’t the flight itself. It’s whoever – or whatever – is up in the air with you.

Trick McGrew, former cowboy star of the silver screen, has never believed in tall tales. But down in Mexico, the land of La Llorona, he’s about to find out just how real urban legends can be.

Some people will go to any lengths to rack up retweets, likes, and follows on social media, no matter who they end up hurting … or even killing.