Armageddon House – Michael Griffin

Welcome to a day in the life of Mark, Jenna, Greyson and Polly. Although, perhaps it’s night. It’s kind of hard to tell when you’re entirely cut off from the outside world.

Everything they could possibly need is provided for them. There’s more than enough food to last a lifetime and alcohol is plentiful. They can laze around the pool, exercise in the gym or explore countless rooms. It sounds like paradise but is it really a prison?

“We all forget things, more and more every day.”

Their memories of before are hazy (there was a before, wasn’t there?) and there’s no one to answer any of their questions about why they’re … wherever they are. They don’t know how long they’ve been [insert your best guess here] or how long this experiment test captivity refuge whatever it is will last.

With only a daily routine standing between them and their paranoia-fuelled tension, this utopia (if that indeed is what this is) could be coming to an end.

It wasn’t long before the cogs in my head began to whir. I was intrigued by this world that was appearing in my imagination and looked closely for new clues that could help me solve the puzzle.

“We should’ve been told.”

I have this (probably not normal) fascination with stories that drop characters into strange scenarios that they don’t understand – yet. Cube is one of my all time favourite movies, even though I am convinced I would have died there, as well as in the first room of Escape Room.

While I love watching characters piecing together the clues that will increase their probability of survival, I’m even more interested in the psychological fallout. Seeing how different people respond when they’re plonked in the same fishbowl, and wondering how I would react in similar circumstances, is something I can’t get enough of. The characters’ various coping mechanisms and the group dynamics sucked me into this story almost as much as the mystery of What The Hell?!

Fear is corrosive.

If you’re looking for a nice, neat story, with all of the answers waiting for you on the final page, wrapped up in a pretty bow, this is not the story for you. I suspected going into the bunker (if that’s what it is) that I was unlikely to have all of my questions answered and I was semi prepared for the frustration that comes with the unknown.

While my frustration level is higher than I expected, my need to know for sure has diminished greatly. If the author ever provides all of the answers to every question ever, do I want to know? Hell, yes! Did I have fun coming up with my own increasingly outlandish explanations, some of which I’m still pondering? Absolutely!

Mostly for my entertainment, but also for yours if you’re interested, I present to you just some of the many question marks that hovered over my head as I read …

Is there actually an outside world? Are there other people either inside or outside?

Are they underground at all? Are they even on Earth?

Are they billionaire preppers who purchased their survival in an apocalypse? Was there an apocalypse? Was it aliens?

Are they unknowingly participating in a social experiment that’s being broadcast across the world? Is one of the characters a mole?

Do the other three people exist or are they the hallucinations of one person who’s been isolated for too long?

Is this AI or virtual reality?

If any of them do find a way out, what kind of world will they be walking into?

I absolutely love Vince Haig’s cover design. Is that a face I see?

Two final thoughts:

  1. I doubt I’d ever get the TV to work in this place.
  2. The cleaning scene is still messing with my mind.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Utopia. Four people living together deep underground in a subterranean facility. All their needs provided for. Food, water, medicine. A swimming pool; a gym; a bar. Except none of them can recall exactly how they came to be there, or what they are supposed to do. Dystopia. Where are the others? There must have been others. It’s a huge facility, after all. It must be some sort of experiment. They’re test subjects. How long have they been there? When will they get out? How come there has been no outside contact? Utopia or dystopia. As the questions mount, so does the tension. Who will escape Armageddon House?

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.