My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A lot of people’s insides are about to start being on the outside.

Meet Jade Daniels, my new favourite outcast.

“Town reject, nice to meet you.”

Jade’s exterior is basically armour covered in spikes but beneath the surface there’s, well, more sharp, stabby things. But beneath that is someone I want to be friends with. She even reminded me a little of me, the weirdo who word vomits about their obsession to everyone in the vicinity, not that anyone asked.

Despite having an encyclopaedic knowledge of slasher films, Jade lives knowing that she can never be a final girl herself. She’s simply not pure enough. This doesn’t stop Jade from desperately wanting a slasher to turn her hometown red, though.

Real final girls only want the horror to be over. They don’t stay up late praying to Craven and Carpenter to send one of their savage angels down, just for a weekend maybe. Just for one night. Just for one dance, please? One last dance?

Finally, she sees the signs that her dream may, in fact, be coming true. Although her current slasher theory may very well be right, Jade has a reputation in this town, so for the longest time she might as well be Cassandra. After all, who’s going to take the “weird horror chick” seriously?

It’s been four weeks since I finished this book and I’m still thinking about Jade on a daily basis. I want to tell you all of the things I loved about her but I loved everything about Jade, from her resilience to her ‘stay away from me’ vibe to her enthusiasm about all things horror. Jade is over the top in the best possible way.

She’s gonna be there front-row, shoving popcorn in, maybe wearing a clear poncho and goggles against all the blood.

It took me about a chapter to get used to the writing style but, even as I was adjusting, I felt a great big hook pulling me along for the ride. I looked forward to Jade’s Slasher 101 essays, which made me want to sit down and have an extended discussion with her (and her creator).

To put it in conclusion, sir, final girls are the vessel we keep all our hope in. Bad guys don’t just die by themselves, I mean. Sometimes they need help in the form of a furie running at them, her mouth open in scream, her eyes white hot, her heart forever pure.

With one of the most bingeworthy list of movies ever included in a single novel, I’m convinced a movie night with the author needs to be on my bucket list.

“Want to go to a horror movie with me?”

This is my first Stephen Graham Jones read but this is only the beginning for me. I can’t wait to catch up on everything I’ve missed.

Content warnings include alcoholism, attempted suicide, self harm, and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that’s one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she’s composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.

Jade’s topic? The unifying theory of slasher films. In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopaedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she’s convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.

As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town’s history, the tragic deaths that occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.

As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.

Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake #5: The Mask of Jason Voorhees – Eric Morse

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Jason went to hell and then Berkeley Books commissioned a series of young adult novels set in the Friday the 13th universe. Only Jason wasn’t in the books. Weird, right? His mask was there, though, and it had some supernatural powers to possess whoever thought it was smart to try it on. Cue the bloodbath.

So far, we’ve celebrated Mother’s Day, gone fishing, attended a carnival and gone on a road trip. Now, in this final book in the series, we’re making a documentary or we’re determined to stop Jason once and for all. It depends on which character you are.

So, who are the potential blood donors in this showdown?

The Heroes

  • Micki Foster. Micki hunts down cursed antiquities for her Uncle Lewis so she’s dealt with supernatural stuff for years. She is “attuned to the energies around her”. Her spidey sense may save her. Micki’s goal is to stop all the Jason drama by “finding the mask and locking it up in the vault back at Curious Goods.” Sort of like what the Warrens did with Annabelle.
  • Steven Freeman. Steven is Micki’s cousin. He used to be known as Ryan Dallion. He helped Jason’s niece, Jessica, send him to hell. He’s survived Jason already so he’s either got the skillset to finish the job another time or his luck will run out.
  • Rashid. He’s an expert in antiquities and was looking after Curious Goods for Micki. Now he’s in Crystal Lake. He has visions and appears to know magic.

They’re the heroes. They’re golden, right?

Law Enforcement

  • Sheriff Lloyd Landis
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • John Cort, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Buck Mathers, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Ed Marlin, Sheriff’s deputy
  • David Justin, Sheriff’s deputy. He’s the new guy so he’s got even less chance of surviving than his colleagues.
  • Kelly Campbell, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Pat Colby, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Highway Patrol Officer Marshack
  • Highway Patrol Officer Perkins
  • State Trooper Jackson
  • State Trooper Scott Christopher
  • State Trooper Dan Culligan
  • State Trooper Peter Bennerson

There’s so many of them! Just knowing these men and women are law enforcement personnel in a slasher is your biggest clue. Most of these people are going to be toast, especially those who are introduced after 80%. That doesn’t stop them from bringing confidence to the game, though.

“You don’t know when you’ll have some hockey masked super killer running around the woods slaughtering people. A few AK-47s would seem to be standard issue.”

Cunningham County Coroner’s Office Staff

  • County Coroner Robert “Doctor Bob” Carey. He’s the one doing the autopsies.
  • Phil Raman. He’s Doctor Bob’s assistant. If he wasn’t so busy getting turned on when he touches Jason’s mask he might just make it but because this makes him inherently creepy, he’s definitely going to need to die.
  • Guadalupe (Lupe) Sanchez. Lupe is the receptionist. She knows Phil likes her but laughs at his advances. Clever girl.

If this was a Halloween book, then Michael Myers would almost certainly miraculously come to in the morgue and proceed to add to the body count. But this is Friday the 13th. We’ll see…

The Documentary Makers

  • Carol Martinez. The director of the documentary, Carol is rude to waitresses, her fellow documentary makers and pretty much everyone else. She’s also vegetarian.
  • Shawn Carlyle. He works behind the scenes on sound and lighting.
  • Jerry. Calls himself Jamal. He’s the cameraman and a pothead. He also gives Phil Raman a run for his money in being the most detestable character in the book. He’s a white guy with dreadlocks who seems to think there’s no problem speaking as though he’s from Jamaica. He’s not Jamaican. He’s Californian and he’s so irritating.

They’re coming to town just to dig up info on Jason. There’s no way they’re going to make it back to California.

The Mediums

  • Morgana
  • Julius

Okay, so they’re here at the behest of Carol, the rude documentary maker. Hopefully they’re the real deal and will be smart enough to get out of town when they realise what’s really going on at Camp Crystal Lake.

Camp Crystal Lake Campers

  • Bessie Nague. Bessie has allergies. She’s camping with her sister, Lilleth.
  • Lilleth Nague. She’s the webmaster of the Official BLOOD CAMP Fan Club website and Vice President of the Jason Voorhees Appreciation Society.

They thought it was a good idea to go camping at Camp Crystal Lake. We might as well dig their graves now. Lilleth’s Jason obsession may be the thing that saves them or she might be too starstruck by seeing him for her survival instinct to kick in.

The Townspeople

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  • Betty Loomis. She’s a waitress who knew Jason and Pamela Voorhees personally. Betty was married to Ralph. Yes, that one!
  • Mary. She’s a waitress who works with Betty.
  • Will Peters. He’s Steven’s partner at the Army/Navy store and will be running the store while Steven is running about doing Jason type stuff. Will has served in the military so he may have the necessary skills to survive.
  • Shane Wilco Jr. Shane is the bartender from Smokey’s Pub.

The townspeople have already survived Jason how many times? They know the legend and they obviously know what it takes to survive at this point. Let’s hope they keep their heads.

If you’re like me and you come to the slasher armed with some bloodlust and a raincoat to protect your clothes from the blood spatter, you’ll be waiting a while in this book. There are no new deaths for the first 40%. Never fear, though. Once the stabbing and hacking begin, they don’t let up. Most characters you only get to know by name before they meet their maker. The body count is high and I can’t even give you an accurate final number.

There are the recently deceased whose names we know: Phil Raman, Lupe, Deputy Marlin, Kelly Campbell, Will Peters, David Justin, John Cort, Shane Wilco Jr., Bessie Nague, Lilleth Nague, Jerry/Jamal, Officer Marshack, Julius, Phil Raman, Lewis, Rashid, Shawn Carlyle, Peter Bennerson, Dan Culligan, Perkins, Roy Turner, Carol Martinez, Pat Colby, Scott Christopher and Lloyd Landis.

Then there are the five people in the crowd outside of the coffee shop, an old man, an unnamed biker, a foolish biker and an unnamed policeman. The Sheriff estimates about fifty deaths in the Main Street, which include two deputies that were named and Shane Wilco Jr.

Phil kills people before and after he becomes attached to the mask. Jason kills a bunch of people. Three people die by cop.

It’s safe to say that both Camp Crystal Lake and the town are painted red. Bonus points for visiting the Voorhees’ home.

My main frustration in this book was Jerry/Jamal thinking it was okay to speak the way he did. The biggest turnoff was the use of the word ”retard”. I don’t care about the context; this is never okay.

This was a bit of fun but it really needs some proofreading. There’s a typo here, a missing word there, your/you’re violations and many other red pen opportunities. At one point the carnival murders happened two months ago; on the same day, later in the chapter, they happened three months ago.

One frustration I had with the first four books was the absence of Jason. He actually shows up in this one! Hooray!

We also finally get an explanation for the whole supernatural mask thing.

If you want to read this book for yourself, you can download the PDF here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It has been four years since Jason Voorhees was dragged down to Hell. Since then the evil of Jason has arisen four times in the form of his possessed hockey mask. Four souls have worn that mask and have viciously killed dozens of innocent people who have mistakenly ventured into the woods around Camp Crystal Lake. Now the mask has chosen its latest and final wearer and the seeds of Jason’s resurrection have been planted. But, there is opposition. Reunited, Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion must not only face a superhuman killing machine, but also the horrifying truth at the heart of the curse of Camp Crystal Lake.

Dark Screams Volume Nine – Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar (editors)

I love horror but for some reason I don’t usually have a lot of luck where horror anthologies are concerned. Thankfully this was one of the better ones I’ve read.

My favourite story was by Kelley Armstrong. As has been the case with this series, one story takes up about half of the book; this time it’s Lee Thomas’ Torn.

Invitation to the Game by Kelley Armstrong – 😱😱😱😱

When you’re offered a promotion at this company you receive an invitation to the Game. Only no one knows what the Game entails until it’s their turn to play.

“It’s an honour, right? We have to remember that.”

Summer of ‘77 by Stewart O’Nan – 😱😱😱😱

There’s more than fun in the sun at the lake this summer. This peek into the world of a predator could make you second guess helping anyone again.

I didn’t really need the mask; it was more for them.

The Dead Years by Taylor Grant – 😱😱😱

Emma’s been gone for years. Now he’s found Emma’s doppelgänger. But Margot’s definitely not Emma.

“Today’s monstrosity is tomorrow’s masterpiece.”

The Blackout by Jonathan Moore – 😱😱😱

A body goes missing from the morgue during a storm.

“Before the lights went out, everything in there was fine.”

Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld by Peter Straub – 😱😱😱

Clyde’s reflection has gone missing. Again.

The image before him in the mirror’s rectangular surface depicted an unusually ordered bathroom empty of humanity, especially as represented by himself.

Torn by Lee Thomas – 😱😱😱😱

The search for a missing child is only the beginning of this story.

How do you go on when something like that happens to your child?

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kelley Armstrong, Stewart O’Nan, Taylor Grant, Jonathan Moore, Peter Straub, and Lee Thomas weave six hair-raising yarns proving that appearances can be deceiving – and deadly – in this horror anthology assembled by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

INVITATION TO THE GAME by Kelley Armstrong
Vivienne dreams of moving up in the company, and now she’s got her chance. All the company asks in return is that she prove her absolute devotion by playing a simple, silly little game.

SUMMER OF ’77 by Stewart O’Nan
Suntanned and bleached blond, the boys and girls of summer never expect anything to interrupt their carefree days. They never see me coming until it’s too late.

THE DEAD YEARS by Taylor Grant
Emma was the great love of his life, even after she vanished. So when she reappears at a cocktail party fifteen years later, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her from slipping away again.

THE BLACKOUT by Jonathan Moore
When a body goes missing from the morgue, Detective Nakahara is called in to investigate. Despite the storm, it should be a simple case. After all, a dead body can’t just walk out on its own … right?

VARIATIONS ON A THEME FROM SEINFELD by Peter Straub
At six years old, Clyde noticed that his reflection decided not to show up in the mirror. Whenever it happens, he just needs to go through the mirror and fetch him. The trick is making it back.

TORN by Lee Thomas
Luther’s Bend is the kind of place where bad things just aren’t supposed to happen, but even the sleepiest towns have secrets … and the full moon can bring retribution for all manners of sins.

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. 

Dark Screams Volume Seven – Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar (editors)

I was disillusioned by some horror anthologies last year but October is calling to me, so here I am again. I’m not sure what it is about horror short stories but I don’t find them scary and would rarely even classify their content as horror. While all of these stories are okay, I didn’t find any scares amongst them.

My favourite was James Renner’s A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye).

Lizardman by Robert McCammon – 🎃🎃🎃

The lizardman has been searching for Old Pope for a long time. Tonight he will find him.

Oh, yeah, the swamp had teeth. Eat you up, bury you under. That was how it was.

A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye) by James Renner – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

You’ll never see Winnie-the-Pooh the same again.

“Sometimes the bad things take up the most room in your heart. Don’t they?”

Furtherest by Kaaron Warren – 🎃🎃🎃

Those boys died in the dunes but there’s more to the story.

“So don’t go into the dunes, kids. You never know who’s lurking in there.”

West of Matamoros, North of Hell by Brian Hodge – 🎃🎃🎃

This is the photoshoot from hell.

“Everybody’s got a plan until the knives come out.”

The Expedition by Bill Schweigart – 🎃🎃🎃

Nazis vs. the wolf.

Had they known then of the chest and the doom that awaited them all, Bruner would have chosen prison.

Snow Shadows by Mick Garris – 🎃🎃🎃

A man and boy are haunted by the death of a woman.

“Did you love her?”

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you 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

Robert McCammon, James Renner, Kaaron Warren, Brian Hodge, Bill Schweigart, and Mick Garris reveal sinister secrets and unsavoury pasts in a haunting anthology of short stories collected by acclaimed horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

LIZARDMAN by Robert McCammon
The lizardman thinks he knows about all the mysterious dangers of the Florida swamps, but there are things lurking in the bayou that are older and deadlier than his wildest dreams.

A MONSTER COMES TO ASHDOWN FOREST (IN WHICH CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SAYS GOODBYE) by James Renner
Although every child dreams of visiting Hundred Acre Wood, only one has ever actually frolicked in that fabled forest – and survived.

FURTHEREST by Kaaron Warren
She’s been going to the beach since she was a child, daring the other kids to go out past the dunes where those boys died all those years ago. Now she realises that the farther out you go, the harder it is to come back.

WEST OF MATAMOROS, NORTH OF HELL by Brian Hodge
After the success of their latest album, Sebastián, Sofia, and Enrique head to Mexico for a shoot under the statue of Santa Muerte. But they have fans south of the border who’d kill to know where they get their inspiration.

THE EXPEDITION by Bill Schweigart
On a quest to bring glory to the Führer, Lieutenant Dietrich Drexler leads his team into the ruins of the Carpathian Mountains. But the wolf that’s stalking them is no ordinary predator.

SNOW SHADOWS by Mick Garris
A schoolteacher’s impulsive tryst with a colleague becomes a haunting lesson in tragedy and terror when he’s targeted for revenge by an unlikely, unhinged rival.

Tomb of Gods – Brian Moreland

Spoilers Ahead!

“We are standing at the threshold of one of life’s great mysteries”

Dr Harlan Riley hadn’t been the same since he was found “wandering the desert southeast of Cairo”. Scars covered his body and he alternated between speaking an unknown language and uttering cryptic warnings. It is five months months after his death, in March 1937, when a team of British archaeologists find Nebenteru’s tomb, whose secrets Harlan took to the grave.

I have witnessed miracles. Nightmares. Forgotten realms.

Leading the team is Dr Nathan Trummel. His own personal team is made up of assistant, Piper, blind psychic, Dyfan, and bodyguard, Aiden Gosswick. They are joined by mercenaries, Sergeant Dan Vickers and Corporal Teddy Quig, and a guard, Corporal Rex Sykes. 

An Egyptian guide, Bakari Neseem, an American photographer on assignment for National Geographic, Caleb Beckett, and a number of labourers, archaeologists and students round out the team. With this many volunteers signing up to enter the final resting place for an unknown number of explorers, it’s fairly certain the pharaoh’s tomb is likely to become many of theirs.

Late to the party is Imogen, an expert in Egyptian mythology and Harlan’s granddaughter. Raised by Harlan and his sidekick on expeditions when she was a child, she’s likely to be quite useful in navigating the potential pitfalls ahead.

“Damned are we who enter the abyss.”

Once the bloodbath got under way the story went in a direction I hadn’t expected. The world building was extensive and it often felt like I was walking alongside the team, or perhaps somewhere closer to the middle of the group so whatever was coming next would get them first. 

Peoples’ true natures rose to the surface and tensions were high as the explorers faced their demons, and I’m sure the characters’ blood pressures increased each time they noticed sentences that commenced with:

Twelve explorers

All nine explorers

The eight explorers

I couldn’t help seeing parallels between Imogen searching her grandfather’s diary for clues and Indiana Jones using Henry’s diary to find the Holy Grail.

I grew up sharing my Nan’s love of Egyptology and know she would have loved this book. The way the mythology was injected into the storyline made me appreciate how much time the author must have spent researching it and had me Googling some unfamiliar names to figure out if they originated from history or the author’s imagination. When the lines between reality and fiction get blurry I know an author has well and truly sucked me in.

I had two main niggles:

  • The way the explorers made their way through the various gates was repetitive at times.
  • I felt the epilogue was unnecessary and its contents frustrated me. The chapter prior to this provided a natural end to the story for me and I wish it had concluded there.

“Something’s coming.”

Content warnings include death by suicide, murder, self harm, suicidal ideation, torture and war crimes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Deep inside the tomb exists a hidden world of wonder and terror. 

In 1935, British archaeologists vanished inside an Egyptian cave. A year later, one man returned covered in mysterious scars. 

Egyptologist Imogen Riley desperately wants to know what happened to the ill-fated expedition led by her grandfather. On a quest for answers, she joins a team of archeologists and soldiers in Egypt. Inside a mountain tomb, they’ve found a technologically advanced relic and a maze of tunnels. Dr. Nathan Trummel believes this tomb leads to the most guarded secrets of the pharaohs. When the explorers venture deep into the caves, they discover a hidden world of wonder and terror.

Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake #4: Road Trip – Eric Morse

Spoilers Ahead!

It is a dark and stormy night and time for revenge of the nerd, Friday the 13th style. Teddy Bateman is Buzzy the Bee, Carville Hornets’ team mascot. He has a crush on Summer but has never had a girlfriend. This short, geeky senior is understandably angry about being the target of bullying.

He’s on the way back from a football game with the players, cheerleaders and coach that contribute to his misery. Good on him for being the one who finds the mask. It’s a pity the mask wearer usually winds up a corpse in this series. Jason himself is still a no show.

“You’re going to die”

The potential Voorhees victims in this book:

Carville Hornets (a school football team):
Coach Wardell – if you don’t play sports then you’re of no interest to Coach, unless he’s taking out his frustration on you.
Russ Johnson – linebacker star on the field and boyfriend of Belinda off the field.
Slick Chambers – top receiver and the fastest player. He’s a serial cheater and doesn’t say ‘no’ to drugs, so not even his “sexy eyebrows” will be enough to save this player.
Dave Myers – quarterback and captain of the team, who also does drugs. Dave has put a limit on the amount of times his ditzy but loyal girlfriend is allowed to tell him she loves him each day, so I’m not sure we‘re cheering him on to survive.
Billy Raymond – centre. He travelled back on the bus so, although we’re briefly introduced to him, he’s irrelevant to this story.
Tommy Bartlett – kicker. He took the bus as well. Therefore, he’s irrelevant too.

The Cheerleaders (there are ten but we’re only introduced to four):
Missy Lowe – cheerleading captain. Missy is tall and blonde. She’s enthusiastic, especially about her love for Dave (who she knits for) but we constantly reminded how dumb she is.
Summer Stone – has four older brothers and is a cynic. She’s tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. Her weakness is Slick, who has no doubt cheated on her a lot more times than she knows about.
Belinda Karras – a control freak, Belinda is short and pretty.
Arlene Kerdell – the top girl of the cheerleading pyramid, Arlene takes the bus, so we didn’t really need to learn her name.

The Locals:
The Trooper – for someone who plays a larger role in the story than I initially expected, I thought he had earned a name. I was wrong; he’s the Trooper the entire time. Although law enforcement don’t usually fare well in horror stories he does warn some randoms about the town’s history, so there’s a slim chance he’ll survive.
Tina – other than being the trooper’s wife, the only other piece of information I have about this woman is spoilery in nature. She’s unlikely to survive.
Cliff – an architect and the trooper’s best friend. His character is essentially only there to help tell Tina’s spoilery story so we may as well dig his grave now.

The Randoms:
Donny Borelli – as far as I can tell, Donny and his friend, Stu Bergman, served their purpose in this book as soon as they introduced the trooper, the cave and the vampire bats.
Mr Morrisey – bus driver. It appears they are smart enough not to take the Crystal Lake detour.

“You’re going where?

While I wasn’t invested in any character enough to hope they lived (or died) I did have to give most of the characters some credit. Other than Donny, Stu and the locals, no one actually planned on spending any time in Voorhees-land. The Carville Hornets are actually the only ones in this series so far that didn’t reserve their death day in advance.

“BEHIND YOU!”

With spelunking, strange hybrid vampire bats, cheating partners and too much time spent at the football game, this is definitely not my favourite slaughter fest of the series. The mask has once again added more magic to its repertoire, with a newly found ability to remotely operate a car, even before it’s attached to someone’s face. The introduction of the cave, especially minus a backstory, felt like a weird choice although it did provide a semi-legitimate reason for the inclusion of the vampire bats.

A series of unanswered questions relate directly to the bats, the most pressing of which is: What is their backstory and why are we not told about it?

It took quite a while for the hockey mask action to commence. This is a short book, yet it wasn’t until page 96 that someone put the mask on and the first kill by the person wearing the hockey mask didn’t happen until page 116! Even then, one of my biggest disappointments of the third book was repeated here: the hockey mask guy wasn’t even directly responsible for about half of the kills.

The Death Toll: a spider, bat and somewhere between 9 and 11 people.

The spider got squished by a car in the prologue and then I had to wait around for a while before I got to the first human kill.

Of those not killed by the person possessed by the hockey mask, three people were shot (Tina, Coach and Cliff), Slick was sucked dry by vampire bats and Teddy got roasted. The hockey mask guy was only directly responsible for four deaths (unnamed trooper, Missy, Belinda and Dave).

I think one of our two spelunkers (Donny and Stu) was dispatched via vampire bat and the other was never heard from again, but I may be wrong about these guys. It didn’t seem overly specific at the time.

Best Insult:

“You’re the world’s biggest fungus brain”

Kill of the Book: Missy, who was skewered with her own knitting needles, which were attached to the stinger on the mascot’s head.

There are some racist, sexist and homophobic comments and enough discrepancies between the text and cover image to tell me that the artist didn’t read the book. The uniforms on the cover are blue and white but in the book they’re orange and black. The kid in the hockey mask is supposed to have dark, curly hair and the blonde girl is supposed to have her hair in a whole pile of braids. The killer doesn’t wield a machete in the book, the van is supposed to be white and, as I’ve already said, the massacre takes place on a dark and stormy night.

If you are planning on reading this series you should probably read them in order. The second book follows on from the first and the events of the third book are mentioned in this one.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When the football team van swerves off the road and crashes after the big game, everyone blames Teddy, the class nerd and the team’s mascot. While his tormentors take shelter at Camp Crystal Lake, Teddy trades in his mascot suit for Jason’s hockey mask – and makes this a night his classmates will never forget.

The Roo – Alan Baxter

Spoilers Ahead!

You can blame a news article, Australian Town Terrorised By Muscular Kangaroo Attacking People and Eating Gardens, and Twitter for the existence of this book. Most of the people who egged the author on are now fictionally deceased, slaughtered by Skippy. Meanwhile, I’m waiting as patiently as humanly possible for The Asylum to film this story for me. I love The Asylum!

I was interested in reading this book mostly as a bit of a joke but also because I thought it would be pretty un-Australian of me not to, and strewth! It was a bloody good yarn! (Emphasis on the bloody!) That’s 4.5 blood soaked stars from me!

When this novella begins, Morgan Creek, a small outback town, has 400 people but won’t for much longer if Skippy, who’s gone to the dark side, has any say in the matter.

The roo’s mouth opened with a soft grunt. Its eyes glowed fiery orange. John startled, realised it wasn’t reflected streetlight, but the beast’s eyes had seemed to ignite with a kind of internal flame, bathing its face in a glow like a campfire. It grunted again, guttural.

I started making notes of all of the characters’ names and snippets of information about each of them, then quickly realised the futility of this. After all, so few were destined to survive to tell the tale.

With so many bone crunching, blood spattered, insides are now your outsides kills in this story it was difficult to choose a favourite. However I was quite partial to the visual that accompanied reading that someone’s “head burst like a ripe fruit.” While Morgan Creek remains drought affected at the end of the story its red dirt has certainly copped a drenching of the blood of its recently sliced and diced.

I was fairly certain this wasn’t the first time Skippy had gone dark and in my wanderings I found Waterborne, a Zombie Kangaroo Short Film. I hope this makes you chuckle too.

The Death Toll: 28 (26 of those can be directly attributed to the rampaging roo). This doesn’t include the people only mentioned as missing. If I didn’t witness the kill myself or stumble over the remains, I haven’t counted it.

[Because I made notes of who died as I read I’m including the list here but this is only for my benefit. Please don’t ruin it for yourself by opening this spoiler if you haven’t read the book yet! RIP: John, Jake, Kylie, Stu, Carl, Cindy, Brennan, Scott, Charlie, Michael, Matt, the two unnamed Hightower boys, Laurel, Laurel’s husband, SD, Shane, Amanda, Cassie, Rich, Mindi, three unnamed patrons at the bar, Sharon and Bill, who all died by roo. Also Gomzi, who was accidentally shot when SD died, and Pauline, who was also shot. On purpose.]

The Roo is not all splattery fun though. Real issues affecting Australians are also addressed, from the devastation that accompanies drought to domestic violence and death by suicide.

If you’re not a native Aussie you may find some of our slang incomprehensible. I had actually expected to find more slang than I did but for those of you who can’t tell the difference between ‘yeah nah’ and ‘nah yeah’, there’s a handy glossary at the end of the book.

Once Upon a Nitpick: A fair few typos have managed to sidestep the proofreading process, especially near the beginning. One character’s surname also changes between chapters 2 and 4.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bucketloads of swearing, death by suicide, domestic violence (particularly physical abuse) and racism (challenged).

There’s definitely room for a sequel. Hopefully coming soon to a Kindle near you …
🇦🇺 Drop Bears: Not So Cuddly After All
🇦🇺 Wombat and the Cubes of Doom
🇦🇺 Stone the Crows vs. The Flamin’ Galahs

P.S. Not directly related to this book but I found this by accident when I was thinking about other Aussie icons that could feature in a sequel (there definitely needs to be a sequel) … Someone has made a horror movie about drop bears and I cannot wait to see it!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Something is wrong in the small outback town of Morgan Creek.

A farmer goes missing after a blue in the pub. A teenage couple fail to show up for work. When Patrick and Sheila McDonough investigate, they discover the missing persons list is growing. Before they realise what’s happening, the residents of the remote town find themselves in a fight for their lives against a foe they would never have suspected.

And the dry red earth will run with blood.

We Are Monsters – Brian Kirk

Spoilers Ahead!

“It’s official. The Apocalypse has come to Sugar Hill.”

Alex, Eli and Angela work together in the forensics ward of Sugar Hill, which houses and treats the criminally insane. Angela is a social worker who is described by a friend as “Dr. Do Good by day and Little Miss Devil by night”. Alex Drexler is a psychiatrist whose views on treatment are diametrically opposed to those of his boss and mentor, Dr Eli Alpert, Sugar Hill’s Chief Medical Director. Eli’s approach is humanistic, with a focus on treating patients with dignity and respect. Meanwhile, Alex is in the process of trialling an experimental drug to cure schizophrenia.

Why did the mind have the capacity to create delusions? To hallucinate? To perceive the unreal? And why, so often, did such altered states appear to the perceiver as the actual reality? A world more real than this one.

When the funding for his trials is withdrawn, Alex winds up continuing his experiment. His latest subject is Sugar Hill’s newest patient, Crosby Nelson, the Apocalypse Killer. Because what could possibly go wrong when you use a mentally ill, traumatised serial killer as your guinea pig?!

More background information is provided about characters than I’m used to seeing in horror books. This took me out of the story initially although I could understand the relevance of this information later on. It’s not only the patients whose pasts haunt them and it’s not always obvious who should be a patient, especially when the workers’ own demons are revealed.

Either she is insane, or I am. Or nobody is. Or we all are. Either way, who am I to say?

The only character I really liked was Eli. I think I would have liked Crosby as well but I didn’t get much of a sense of who he was outside of his mental health and trauma histories. Fortunately it’s not necessary to love horror book characters. I enjoyed hoping Alex would get a taste of his own medicine and I couldn’t wait for a couple of other nasties to get their comeuppance.

At times it felt like a hallucinogen was wafting off the pages. I wasn’t always especially clear about what was really going on during the more trippy parts.

He was now unsure which reality had been a dream and which one was real.

If I’d encountered this sense of unease, not being able to easily discern reality, in another book I’d probably tell you it was a reason I didn’t like it. This book, though? It was like I was being given a glimpse into what life must be like all the time for some of the residents of Sugar Hill and it was scary to even contemplate living in their worlds.

While I’ve known a lot of people with various mental illnesses, my knowledge of schizophrenia and psychosis are limited to the DSM-5 and random articles and books I’ve read. Because of this I cannot comment on the accuracy of their depictions in this book but I didn’t come across anything that stood out to me as ‘there’s something wrong with this picture’ symptom wise.

Between the graphic violence (I almost DNF’ed this book when the dog died) and derogatory terms used for pretty much anyone you can think of, sometimes challenged but oftentimes not, this book isn’t going to be for everyone. If having anything uncomfortably close to your eyes makes you squeamish you may have trouble with some scenes.

Content warnings include addiction, alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, graphic death of a dog, homophobia, incest, mental health, mention of death by suicide, racism and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Some doctors are sicker than their patients. When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum’s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital’s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free.

Snowball – Gregory Bastianelli

Spoilers Ahead!

How to know if a Christmas horror book is for me in three easy steps:

  1. It’s a Christmas horror book!

2. Include this quote in the first chapter –

The snowman’s head rose, tilted back as its face came into view. Beneath the coal-black eyes and long crooked carrot nose was a black mouth grinning with two rows of sharp teeth.

3. Actually, I don’t need any additional information. Bah humbug!

“What was your worst winter memory?”

This Christmas Eve, during one of the worst snowstorms in New Hampshire’s history, a group of motorists are faced with the nightmares of winters past. Stranded on the highway with the snow building up around their vehicles, these strangers will learn there’s something that connects them. The past is coming back to bite them, possibly literally. Everything got screwed up at Christmastime. Featuring (amongst other creepies) snowmen, Krampus, a snowglobe and a toy maker who wants to play a game, our unwitting players have the odds stacked against them.

Lining up to freeze to death (if something worse doesn’t get them first) …

This is Toby Hodge’s final Christmas with his son, Evan, and his grandkids before he and his wife, Nell, move to Florida. A snowplow driver who’s lplowing his final stretch of highway before retirement, Toby is the first person we meet. The first person introduced in a horror story tends to either be the first victim or the main character. I was veering toward ‘hero’ until I learned he was about to retire.

In his late 40’s, Mason Drake is a parole officer. He and his wife, Joy, have been together for over 20 years. They have teenage children, Duncan and Daria. They have been arguing today. Joy got a tad too friendly with a coworker during an office Christmas party. Their arguing and Joy’s indiscretion may not bode well for them.

A trucker, Tucker Jenks had planned on visiting his sister in Cranford, New Jersey on his way to drop off electronics in Manchester before the storm. Trucker’s friend in northern New Hampshire is letting him stay with him instead, if he can make it there. He smokes a joint but he also loved his Nana, so his chances of survival are fair.

Dean Hagen flew in from Alaska after his mother called to tell him his father was in the ICU after slipping on ice and cracking his hip so he gets brownie points for that. However, he’d “been on a consulting assignment for the past two months there, winnowing out the expendable employees at a manufacturing plant.” The Christmas misery he’s dealt to others may attract some bad karma.

Graham Sawyer picked up his best friend, Clark Brooks, at Boston’s Logan airport. Graham’s wife, Natalie, had wanted Clark to take the bus instead and Graham probably should have listened to her. She’s waiting at home for him with their three daughters. Clark is a divorce attorney from Emeryville, California. They have the potential to be this story’s heroes but not all heroes survive.

Kirk Britton and his girlfriend, Sonya Tackett, are college students with one semester left before graduation. They’re on their way to Sonya’s parents’ home for the holidays. Kirk has a surprise planned for Sonya on Christmas morning but given the horror lore surrounding people who have sex, they’re probably both toast.

Shelby Wallace wasn’t supposed to be driving her two children home from their father’s but he’s drunk. Again. So Shelby is driving Luke (8) and Macey (10) home to spend Christmas with her. Shelby is comfortable in her damsel in distress routine and Macey is kinda whingey so I wasn’t overly attached to their survival. However, I liked Luke; he’s determined and willing to do what he can to be brave in really scary situations.

Werner and Francine Volkmann have been around the country in their RV visiting relatives. They planned to see grandchildren in New Hampshire for Christmas but were behind schedule, so they’re joining the other potential popsicles on the highway.

Finally, Lewis Felker spent Christmas Eve freezing outside a department store ringing his Salvation Army bell, collecting donations. Sure, he stole some of the money to finance his alcoholism but in theory all of that alcohol in his bloodstream should keep him slightly warmer than everyone else. He’s also the one who seems to figure out how dire everyone’s situation is first so maybe he has a chance after all.

I had fun reading this book. I expected more bloodshed and less background information about all of the characters although, to be fair, the relevance of the details of their worst winter memories became apparent as the story unfolded. The reasoning behind why this was happening to this specific group of people seemed a bit flimsy to me but the images of those snowmen helped distract me from most of my lingering questions.

[No, this toothy guy doesn’t line up with the descriptions in the book but I loved him and wanted to share him with you.]

“Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”

The two main questions that are still nagging me:

  1. Why is a Christmas horror story being released in January?

2. What was inside the box in Tucker’s truck?

“Will Santa still come if we’re not home in time?”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and alcoholism.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm. The gathered survivors realise a tenuous connection among them means it may not be a coincidence that they all ended up on this highway.

An attempt to seek help leads a few of the travellers to a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell bent on playing deadly games with a group of people just trying to get home for the holidays.