When Things Get Dark – Ellen Datlow (editor)

This anthology features short stories from some of my favourite writers, including Seanan McGuire. It also introduced me to some writers whose work I hadn’t read before. All are paying tribute to Shirley Jackson.

Like any collection of short stories, there were some I absolutely loved. My favourites in this anthology were those by M. Rickert, Elizabeth Hand, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman and Kelly Link.

Although the other stories were well written, I often failed to connect with either the main character or the plot. Some I enjoyed, until I realised I’d run out of story before the thing I felt was missing showed up. I don’t expect to love every story in an anthology, though.

Usually when I review anthologies, I’ll include a short quote and a sentence to describe each story: what it’s about, its theme, or what I loved or didn’t love about it. I started doing that here but then abandoned the idea. There were some stories that I couldn’t explain in a sentence without spoiling them for you.

There were others that I couldn’t explain because, quite honestly, I need someone to explain them to me. Perhaps a reread will help me find the missing puzzle pieces. Maybe what I perceived as deliberate ambiguity was actually the literary equivalent of a joke’s punchline going over my head. I may read the review of someone smarter than myself and when they explain it, the lightbulb will finally turn on above my head.

So, instead of giving you an explanation and a quote, I’m only providing a quote here.

Funeral Birds by M. Rickert

The truth was she rarely went to the funerals. Delores was special.

For Sale By Owner by Elizabeth Hand

“That’s trespassing.”

“Only if we get caught,” I replied.

In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanan McGuire

She moved here for a haunting, and even if the house refuses to be haunted, she fully intends to be.

A Hundred Miles and a Mile by Carmen Maria Machado

It’s strange, the knowing-not-knowing. It twitches like something that won’t die.

Quiet Dead Things by Cassandra Khaw

“We’re going to die for what happened.”

Something Like Living Creatures by John Langan

“You saw something!” Samantha said.

“Did you?” Kayla said.

“Yes,” Jenna said.

Money of the Dead by Karen Heuler

On one side, life; on the other, death. It was almost, sometimes, as if they could see across the divide, or hear a furtive, melancholy whistle.

Hag by Benjamin Percy

“Without you, the island starves.”

Take Me, I Am Free by Joyce Carol Oates

“Just sit here. Don’t squirm. I’ll be watching from the front window.”

A Trip to Paris by Richard Kadrey

Why won’t you stay dead?

The Party by Paul Tremblay

“I do get into the spirit of my themes. Perhaps too much.”

Refinery Road by Stephen Graham Jones

It was just the three of them, same as it had always been. Same as it would always be.

The Door in the Fence by Jeffrey Ford

“Some people, when they get old, all they can think about is dying. Some, on the other hand, find freedom.”

Pear of Anguish by Gemma Files

The past is a trap and memory is a drug.

Memory is a door.

Special Meal by Josh Malerman

“Do you really not know what today is?” Dad asked. “It’s okay if you don’t.”

Sooner or Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home by Genevieve Valentine

Never be stuck on the road alone, that was the rule.

Tiptoe by Laird Barron

Trouble is, old, weathered pictures are ambiguous. You can’t always tell what’s hiding behind the patina. Nothing, or the worst thing imaginable.

Skinder’s Veil by Kelly Link

Skinder may show up. If he does, DO NOT LET HIM IN.

While I didn’t find any of the stories scary, there were some that were accompanied by a growing sense of dread. Others were unsettling. Then there were those that left behind confusion in their wake. But that’s the beauty of anthologies; there’s usually something for everyone. The times where a question mark appeared over my head? Those stories are probably someone else’s favourites.

Content warnings include child abuse, death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection of new and exclusive short stories inspired by, and in tribute to, Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson is a seminal writer of horror and mystery fiction, whose legacy resonates globally today. Chilling, human, poignant and strange, her stories have inspired a generation of writers and readers.

This anthology, edited by legendary horror editor Ellen Datlow, will bring together today’s leading horror writers to offer their own personal tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson.

Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, and Genevieve Valentine. 

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?

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.

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.

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.

Where the Veil is Thin – Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott (editors)

So, here I am again, having read an entire anthology just because there’s a contribution from Seanan McGuire. I always think this is a brilliant idea when I first stumble across the book but my excitement generally turns to dread when I remember that short stories and I have a love-hate relationship. I love some and I hate some. Sometimes the love outweighs the hate but more times than I can count it’s the other way around.

Taking on faeries (“Yes, but we don’t like to use that word.”) are fourteen authors. Included in the mix are stories of love and betrayal, a unicorn named Kevin, changelings and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that knows when you’re cheating.

The Tooth Fairies: Quest for Tear Haven by Glenn Parris

Night always invited wayward blood thirst in one form or another.

Glamour by Grey Yuen

“The door! We saw the door. I swear it! It had a mouth and it screamed!”

See a Fine Lady by Seanan McGuire

“It’s always so much easier to do our shopping when someone can see us.”

Or Perhaps Up by C.S.E. Cooney

“Family does not pull family under. We pull each other out.”

Don’t Let Go by Alana Joli Abbott

“You shouldn’t have seen that.”

The Loophole by L. Penelope

“Seems like my last meal isn’t agreeing with me.”

The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud by Minsoo Kang

“Even as we speak, the fate of the man who has done me wrong is being sealed.”

Your Two Better Halves by Carlos Hernandez

“Your choices are your opportunities.”

Take Only Photos by Shanna Swendson

“What else that’s supposed to be imaginary is actually real?”

Old Twelvey Night by Gwendolyn N. Nix

It happened the same way every time.

The Seal-Woman’s Tale by Alethea Kontis

Ah, humans. My guilty pleasure, my fatal flaw. They were always just so … fun.

The Storyteller by David Bowles

“Would you like to hear a story?”

Summer Skin by Zin E. Rocklyn

It would be nice to be noticed.

Colt’s Tooth by Linda Robertson

“You’re not going anywhere ‘til I get those teeth!”

All of the anthologies that came before this one are now collectively pointing at me and sneering, ‘Have we taught you nothing about yourself?’ While this book already boasts multiple five star reviews, I wandered through it underwhelmed. I’d encourage you to read some of these five star reviews before deciding whether or not this is the book for you.

I loved Anna Dittmann’s cover illustration but unfortunately I didn’t come away with any favourite stories.

Content warnings include mention of assault, murder, self harm, sexual assault and torture.

Thank you to NetGalley and Outland Entertainment for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

These are not your daughter’s faerie stories …

Around the world, there are tales of creatures that live in mist or shadow, hidden from humans by only the slightest veil. In Where the Veil Is Thin, these creatures step into the light. Some are small and harmless. Some are bizarre mirrors of this world. Some have hidden motives, while others seek justice against humans who have wronged them.

In these pages, you will meet blood-sucking tooth fairies and gentle boo hags, souls who find new shapes after death and changelings seeking a way to fit into either world. You will cross the veil – but be careful that you remember the way back. 

Shattering Glass – Heather Graham (editor)

I have this Seanan McGuire problem; she’s my favourite author, so of course I need to read everything she’s ever written. This is both a blessing (she’s so prolific!) and curse (she’s so prolific!).

So many of her short stories make their way into anthologies, so I wind up committing to read anthology after anthology when all I wanted to do was read some Seanan. Oftentimes I find the majority of the other stories in these anthologies disappointing. Thankfully this wasn’t the case here.

This anthology, with a theme of female empowerment, contains both fiction and non-fiction. While there were a few contributions where I felt like I could almost hear the author thinking, ‘Okay, so I know the point I want to make but how do I get from here to there?’, overall I was surprised by how much I found to love. The contributions that either resonated with me the most or that I absolutely loved are marked with 💜.

On the Power of “Nasty Women” by Valerie Plame

Am I a “nasty woman”? Damn right I am, and proud of it. That means my voice and my actions are being heard, causing change, and displacing those who are so determined to try to push us back to a time when we had no power, no place, no voice.

The New Girl by Alexandra Sokoloff 💜

“Why doesn’t somebody do something about them?”

Welcome to the Sisterhood by Ellen Kirschman 💜

“Edwin is a legacy,” he said. “Take what you need from him, leave the rest behind and move on.”

Birthright by James L’Etoile

Entitlement and privilege seemed to form a protective shield around the gathering of older white men.

Conversation with Cara Black and Hallie Ephron by Cara Black and Hallie Ephron

There was a story I wanted to tell, was passionate about – women and what they do to survive and what comes back to haunt them.

Thoughts and Prayers by Joe Clifford

That was also part of the problem – a preventable tragedy.

Lifetime Appointment by Josh Stallings

America was lost one degree at a time.

Look at the Water, How it Sparkles by Seanan McGuire 💜

“If I told you that you could make everything good for this family forever, if you’d just agree to take a little walk one day, what would you say?”

Interview with Anne Lamott by Jacqueline Winspear

I want people to know that we are all pretty much the same inside. We all know from loneliness and despair and the fear that we are frauds, and when I share my details of those very human experiences, it gives people a lift, that they are not uniquely screwed up and doomed.

Down, Girl by Rachel Howzell Hall

“You can stay with me if you’d like.”

A Little Off the Top by Angel Luis Colón

It was a strange game of chess but nobody else knew the rules.

Living Alone by Eric Beetner 💜

“I can handle myself.”

Signs by Jess Lourey 💜

Whenever things get really bad in my life – really bad – I receive a sign that lets me know I’m not alone.

The Elephant in the Room by Wendy Corsi Staub 💜

“No tengas miedo. Estará bien.”

Don’t be afraid. It’ll be okay …

A Test for Juniper Green by Danny Gardner

“I said, I’ll take care of it.”

No Body by Clea Simon

Better to have no body, then, if this is what it brought.

Suspended in Time by Kaira Rouda

We believe that we ARE the people, just like you are the people, who must stand up, all of us, and do our part. Because this is what democracy looks like.

Hysterical by Kelli Stanley

“I saw something. Something out there.”

Sneak Preview of Tiger Daughter by S.J. Rozan

She was ready to take on anyone.

Dangerous Deductions by Maria Alexander

And then something bad happens.

Conversation with Jacqueline Winspear and Rhys Bowen – Rhys Bowen and Jacqueline Winspear

It showed them they were capable of so much more than they believed.

Raven and the Cave Girl: An AKA Jayne Story by Dana Cameron

“You came here to kill me,” she said.

Nasty by Toni L.P. Kelner

Nobody made me take on the role of official black sheep in the family, but sometimes I wonder if things might have been different if I’d had a different name.

Mother Church by Joshua Corin 💜

“The spirit of a thing never wavers.”

My Favourite Nasty Woman by Charlaine Harris

not afraid to speak her mind and take action … and be prepared for the consequences. These are character traits I find admirable.

Women on Fire by Jacqueline Winspear

If the outcome affects us, then we’ve got skin in the game.

The War Never Ends by Kate Thornton 💜

But nightmares you have at night are a lot different from the ones you have during the day.

The Lesson by Allison A. Davis

“The stuff they took, you can’t replace, you can’t fix.”

Harpy by Catriona McPherson

Maybe someone sent me. To play you out.”

What Would Grace Hopper Do? Making Art in Interesting Times by Robin C. Stuart

Creation is where we find our solace and our power.

Wild Womb by Sandi Ault 💜

“Never mind,” she said. “I’m a dead woman anyway.”

An Insurrection by Bette Golden Lamb

“We were never free. Never free to choose. Our destiny was to reproduce. That was The Directive.”

Daddy’s Girls by Libby Fischer Hellmann

She expected to be believed.

Interview with Senator Barbara Boxer by Kelli Stanley

In short, I believe there is only one reason to run for public office: to make life better for people.

Learning to Fly by Alison Gaylin

There are some moments in life that are like doors cracking open. You stand there, peering at the sliver of light on the other side, and you make a choice. You open the door wide and risk burning your eyes. Or you close it gently and live in the calm, cool dark.

The Cycle by Travis Richardson

This blue synthetic case was the most consistent thing in her world.

The Gift by Heather Graham

But the really important things they gave us were free – those were the gifts that really mattered.

Love. Acceptance. Empathy. Respect. A strong work ethic. Patriotism.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, alcoholism, body shaming, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, drug use, foster care, gun violence, homophobia, miscarriage, racism and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nasty Woman Press for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Shattering Glass is the first in a series of remarkable anthologies published by Nasty Woman Press, a unique non-profit publisher founded to help fund other organisations threatened by the rise of autocracy and the ongoing war against civil and human rights in the United States. A scintillating mixture of top-flight fiction from bestselling authors in multiple genres, fascinating articles, and thought-provoking essays, conversations and interviews, Shattering Glass takes as its theme the empowerment of women, with all profits from the book donated to Planned Parenthood.

Nasty Woman Press is a 501(c)(4) non-profit publisher pledged to fight fascism, racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and bigotry while promoting human rights and civil rights in the United States and around the globe. 

As writers, readers, editors, artists, librarians, designers, publishing professionals and creative, principled human beings, we cherish the planet and our fragile environment, support science and education, and value health and social services. We believe in taking care of each other. We believe in a better, kinder world.

Contributors to Shattering Glass include legendary political figures and award-winning, critically acclaimed and bestselling authors. 

Thin Places – Kay Chronister

Short stories are usually a mixed bag for me but this book’s blurb sold me on my need to dive right in. I had planned on reading a story a day and that worked for a couple of days, then I couldn’t help myself. With a diverse cast including mothers, witches, demons and a preacher’s daughter, and themes of loss, suffering and resilience, this was unlike any other short story collection I’ve come across.

One of the things I love about short stories is that there’s usually something there for everyone. I’ve enjoyed finding out what stories resonated with other reviewers. My favourites are marked with 🖤.

Your Clothes a Sepulcher, Your Body a Grave

First love can be complicated …

I thought if I only loved you enough, I could make the story come untrue.

The Women Who Sing For Sklep

A composer seeks a new sound.

“You do not want to become one of us.”

The Warriors, the Mothers, the Drowned 🖤

A mother’s fierce love for her child and the lengths she will go to to protect her.

“Many others did this before you, better than you,” says the coyote. “And they never made it out alive.”

Too Lonely, Too Wild

She may not have inherited Grammy’s witching power, but she did inherit the family Bible.

No one goes halfway bewitched.

Roiling and Without Form

Molly has only ever known life at the Flamingo but can’t help wondering what’s beyond the marsh.

She sees everyone like this: dangerous or edible. Maybe even Molly. Maybe especially Molly.

Life Cycles

A son sets out to pay his father’s debt.

“Go anywhere you like. But not my nursery.”

The Fifth Gable

Marigold yearns for a child and hopes the women of the four-gabled house can help her.

“Whatever else you do, dear, remember to blame yourself.”

White Throat Holler 🖤

The Blanchard sisters and Esther Grace, a preacher’s daughter, hunt demons.

“You know your town isn’t like other towns,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It just isn’t.”

Russula’s Wake 🖤

Jane’s children are Paley’s, and they need nourishment.

With no other Paleys around, sometimes Jane could make herself forget that the Paley rules were rules for a reason, that they were supposed to protect the people who followed them.

The Lights We Carried Home 🖤

A film crew, a haunted child and a sister who needs to know the truth.

Before I went to school, I thought everyone lived in a kerosene haze and listened at night to the screams of the dead.

Thin Places

Miss Augusta has a new student: Lilianne, the new lighthouse-keeper’s daughter.

Thickening, thickening, filling the crack,

The sun comes out, the water goes back.

White stars in the night, red rain in the day

There’s grass on the shore, there’s fish in the bay.

At times I felt like I was plonked right in the middle of a story and had to scurry to catch up. Other times, the story finished and I wished for an entire novel so I could continue to explore. Sometimes I’d sit there at the end of a story, trying to figure out how I could explain what I’d just experienced to someone else. A couple of times I was certain I’d missed something crucial because I was hazy on the why or the how.

Whether they told of obsessive love, strange appetites or the bonds of family, each story felt delightfully off-centre. With such a limited word count I was often surprised by how easily I could visualise the world I was visiting and a lot of the descriptions, even of things that were uncomfortable, felt beautiful.

Thank you so much to Undertow Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kay Chronister’s remarkable debut collection of modern horror tales, Thin Places, echoes with the ghosts of Shirley Jackson and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, while forging its own unique gothic sensibility. Here there be monsters! And witches! 

These are tales of monstrous mothers and dark desires. Love, grief, death; and the exquisite pain and joy of life. With transcendent prose, Chronister chronicles the lives of powerful women and children; wicked witches and demons. These are the traumatic ghosts we all carry, and Chronister knows what it means to be human and humane. Powerful and hypnotic, these are tales you won’t forget, from a vibrant new voice. 

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. 

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream: An Anthology – Christopher Golden (editor)

I’ll be completely upfront with you; I only wanted this book for the Seanan McGuire story. Well, that and the cover image that reminded me of one of the guys from Mars Attacks! playing dress up. I’ve never read Christmas horror before so didn’t know what to expect.

I was hoping this book would contain a bunch of Christmas stories for people who prefer Halloween; serial killer Santas, blood soaked snowmen, Christmas trees that come to life and chase people through the house … What I found were some fun, creepy stories mixed in with a whole pile of stories that just so happened to take place on or around Christmas; Santa, Frosty and Rudolph not even peeking their heads around the corner of the page.

Absinthe & Angels by Kelley Armstrong – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s Christmas Eve and Ava’s childhood fear has just knocked on the front door. The concept was good but felt a bit disjointed for me.

“Give us food. Give us wine. Then our song shall be thine.”

Christmas in Barcelona by Scott Smith – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Murphy’s Law tags along for a Christmas vacation to Barcelona with a couple and their baby. This one started slowly and didn’t feel like it belonged in this collection for most of the story but then it well and truly made up for lost time.

You feel the same thought stirring – everything is going to be okay – but this time you have the wisdom to resist its lure.

Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow by Seanan McGuire – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Seanan has proven, once again, why she’s one of my all time favourite authors! A babysitter tells the story of Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden to Andy, Chloe and Diane. I want to tell you more but don’t want to spoil it!

“She looks for children who could be great, if only the snow that made them were melted down and given to someone else for safekeeping.”

Love Me by Thomas E. Sniegoski – ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

The Creeper gets more than he bargained for when he pulls his first job after being released from prison. I enjoyed the buildup but really wanted to know the history of what the Creeper finds in the apartment above the antique store.

”You came to steal from me, I know,” the woman called out.

Not Just For Christmas by Sarah Lotz – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’ve ever thought your pet being able to talk would be adorable you’ll change your mind after reading this one. Technology and the family pet don’t exactly mix. Oodles of swearing in this one.

“Do we really need any more surprises from you this year?”

Tenets by Josh Malerman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bringing a failed cult leader to your holiday party can really ruin the holiday spirit. I wasn’t sure where this one was going for a while but was getting into it when it abruptly ended. While I can imagine all sorts of things I wanted to see what really happened next.

The last thing she wanted to be thinking about at a holiday party reunion was cults and cult leaders and what all that means and how sad it was if you really broke it down.

Good Deeds by Jeff Strand – ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

A man does a good deed and is so proud of himself that he writes a song about how awesome he is. His song changes peoples’ lives, although not for the better. Morbid and sort of amusing (but the type you feel guilty for being amused about), this was one of the weirdest Christmas stories I’ve ever read. I expect the insensitivity of the main character and the subject matter will be offensive to some readers.

The world was a dark, ugly, selfish cesspool of misery, but I’d done my part to shine a ray of joy upon it. With only a credit card, I’d made the universe a better place.

It’s a Wonderful Knife by Christopher Golden – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A sleazy Hollywood producer gets more than he bargained for when he takes an actress on a tour of his collection of rare movie memorabilia. A timely story but not really a Christmas story; just one that happened to be set around Christmas.

“That’s half the fun for a collector. The macabre stuff always goes for top dollar.”

Mistletoe and Holly by James A. Moore – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

A mother of three young boys grieves the loss of her husband as Christmas draws near, but just because she misses him doesn’t necessarily mean she wants him back. This one was predictable but creepy.

It was the holidays. Best to be prepared for the emotional bloodshed.

Snake’s Tail by Sarah Langan – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s Christmas Eve and children are going missing in a little town on the bay. I still have no idea what this one had to do with Christmas other than the time of year it was set.

Yes, the clock chimes, and by the time it stops resonating, the child is gone. Disappeared from her bed.

The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel by Joe R. Lansdale – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Something awful happened in that room in the Christmas Hotel many years ago and now something wants justice.

The room was fine the rest of the year, no complaints, but come Christmas Eve, no one could make it through a night.

Farrow Street by Elizabeth Hand – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

After her holiday plans fall through, Melanie decides to book accommodation in London and spend some time alone. On Christmas day she ventures out, trying to find an open restaurant, and finds herself in Farrow Street. I don’t think she ever gets her meal. I kept waiting for something to happen and when the action is about to start the story ends.

She cast a final look behind her. A feather of candlelight touched the floor at the foot of the stairs and faded into darkness.

Doctor Velocity by Jonathan Maberry – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Destroyer talks to Doctor Velocity about his desperation and fear of having lost the spark that made his artwork come to life. Doctor Velocity has a Christmas present for him.

“Most often a person has survived because the monster did not want to destroy them all the way. To kill them would be to empty them of screams, of struggle, of fear and pain, and that’s what those monsters feed on.”

Yankee Swap by John M. McIlveen – ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

After avoiding her slimy boss at their work holiday party Kat finds herself in another nightmarish situation, and she’s not alone.

That he had chosen her to go first was a terrible omen that seemed to validate her fear of not leaving there alive.

Honor Thy Mother by Angela Slatter – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Agnes’ family are having Christmas at her home this year; she insisted. Her sons plan to talk her into moving out of her home and into an aged care facility. Agnes’ plan is better.

She likes her privacy, knows it’s integral to her safety; her husband used to joke that if she could have got away with it, she’d have put a plaque on the front fence that read, “Nothing ever happened here.”

Home by Tim Lebbon – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The man and Old Bob make their way through an apocalyptic landscape. Is the man leading Old Bob or is Old Bob leading the man? And where are they going? It’s not until near the end of the story that its connection with Christmas becomes clear.

Standing, stretching, the beauty and horror of what he saw struck home as it did every single morning.

Hiking Through by Michael Koryta – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

While planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail a seasoned hiker hears a campfire story about a witch. I really enjoyed this one; I always love a good campfire story.

We all laugh harder around a campfire, because we don’t want to acknowledge that some part of us is deeply concerned about what’s out there just beyond the reach of the firelight.

The Hangman’s Bride by Sarah Pinborough – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The longest story in the collection and one of the best, the characters came to life for me and I want to read more by this author. Without giving away too much, Alexander’s grandfather tells him a story of a chimney sweep whose name is not Tom, a hangman, Miss Darkly, Mr and Mrs West, and the hangman’s bride.

‘People will do terrible things for love.’

Once I got over the gap between my expectation and reality I was able to enjoy most of these stories and have been inspired to attempt to write my own Christmas horror story, with plenty of tinsel, snowmen and blood. Wasn’t it Toni Morrison who said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”?

Content warnings include suicide, family violence, murder, sexual harassment and kidnapping.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Anchor, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book. My average rating was 3.86 so I’ve rounded up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eighteen stories of Christmas horror from bestselling, acclaimed authors including Scott Smith, Seanan McGuire, Josh Malerman, Michael Koryta, Sarah Pinborough, and many more.

That there is darkness at the heart of the Yuletide season should not surprise. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is filled with scenes that are unsettling. Marley untying the bandage that holds his jaws together. The hideous children – Want and Ignorance – beneath the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The heavy ledgers Marley drags by his chains. In the finest versions of this story, the best parts are the terrifying parts. 
Bestselling author and editor Christopher Golden shares his love for Christmas horror stories with this anthology of all-new short fiction from some of the most talented and original writers of horror today.