The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood


The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood edited by Kayleigh Dobbs, Stephen Kozeniewski, and Wile E. Young
Publisher: French Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary, Horror
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For all of human history ghosts were real and they were everywhere. Then, one day, after a horrible cataclysm, they all disappeared.

That was the story of THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE.

But there are more tales to be told from that world. And a thrilling lineup, ranging from horror legends to relative newcomers, have joined forces to bring you:

– a roadside attraction featuring a real, dead serial killer

– a pair of twisted sisters whose sibling rivalry only begins with suicide

– a hitman hired to facilitate a ghostly sexual liaison

And more!

The first unhaunted house was just the beginning. Come, stake your claim in…

THE PERFECTLY FINE NEIGHBORHOOD

If you love paranormal horror, I have quite the treat for you!

One of the biggest strengths of this anthology had to do with the wide variety of approaches the contributors took to the theme. A few of them were a little too gory for my tastes, but I still found their stories to be well written and memorable. Horror fans who love the bloody side of the genre may have completely different responses to them, of course, and I thought it was wonderful that so many different writing styles and horror subgenres were included to suit all sorts of readers. I wish I had space in this review to cover every tale, but I will have to limit myself to only speaking about three of them for the sake of brevity.

In “Jurisdiction,” Eddie and his fellow officers tried to figure out who or what had been killing ghosts. I thought the premise of this tale was a clever one, and I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the conclusion. Eddie’s interest in this case overshadowed everything else in his life, including his relationship with his partner. This was an interesting way to realistically showcase some of the protagonist’s flaws while also keeping the pacing strong and steady until the final scene. I was left yearning for more and would love to read a sequel if Mr. Vincent ever decides to write one.

Thomas decided to kill his wife in “The Perfectly Fine Family” so that she could join him in his peaceful afterlife. Honestly, that was not a decision I would expect a ghost to make, so I was immediately sucked into his story as he planned out the ideal way to ensure he and Marie would be together forever. There was a surprising streak of humor in the storyline as well that suited the characters perfectly. Horror and humor should be mixed together more often in my opinion!

While I generally shy away from stories about serial killers, “Addict to Slaughter” had such a creative spin to the topic that I soon became insatiably curious to find out more about John Miller and his terrible compulsion to kill others. The twist showed up early and will probably be something most horror fans figure out early on. Knowing there is more to his life that meets the eye was all I needed to remain interested.

The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood was deliciously scary.

The End by Kayleigh Dobbs


The End by Kayleigh Dobbs
Publisher: Black Shuck Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Horror
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A series of micro-collections featuring a selection of peculiar tales from the best in horror and speculative fiction.

Why choose between horror and humor if you can have both at once?

Four witches who used directions as pseudonyms were interrupted by East’s younger sister while trying to summon a demon in “Just Like Baking.” I loved the playful tone of this story and how the sibling relationship affected such a serious and dangerous spell. The horror elements were a nice touch, too, given the powerful forces these characters were dealing with and how cautious they needed to be in order to get what they wanted from their demon.

As much as I enjoyed reading this, there was one thing holding me back from giving it a higher rating. It involved the way mental illness was discussed in this book and how characters who struggled with it were written about. For example, there were times when I was uncomfortable with how Jen’s mood swings were described in “Catch Fire” or how Billy’s paranoia in “The Claim They Stake” was used to drive him and other characters to do all sorts of awful things they never would have otherwise done. I know so many people who have either previously dealt with mental illness or are currently struggling with it that I’d be hesitant to mention this book to them without including caveats about the way this topic was handled and how negative stereotypes about people who have mental illnesses were sometimes reinforced. With that being said, I still thought Ms. Dobbs was a great storyteller and would like to read more from her in the future if she’s willing to accept this feedback in the warm and friendly tone in which I hope she will receive it.

“Dead” showed what happened when a stubborn woman named Emily decided to remodel her basement but kept running into frustrating and confusing obstacles as she pulled up more and more of the floor. I adored the plot twists in this tale, especially once the main character suffered a life-threatening wound while working. Emily wasn’t always an easy character to like due to her refusal to listen to others, but she sure was an entertaining one as the consequences of her choices began to change her life forever. I know this is a little vague, but the details of her terrible injury and what happened afterwards are best left up to other readers to explore for themselves.

The End was a memorable mixture of horror and humor.

Death Tango by Lachi

Death Tango by Lachi
Publisher: RIZE Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Poppy

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

In a Utopian twenty-third-century New York City, where corporations have replaced governments, AI dictates culture, and citizens are free to people-watch any other citizen they choose through an app, this horror-laden Sci-Fi Thriller follows four mis-matched coeds as they attempt to solve the murder of an eccentric parascientist. Only someone or something able to navigate outside the highest levels of croud-sourced surveillance could get away with murder in this town. If the team can’t work quickly to solve the case, New York City will be devoured by a dark plague the eccentric had been working on prior to his death, a plague which, overtime, appears to be developing sentience.

My mind is officially blown! Death Tango was a un-put-downable read. Let me explain…

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, but once I opened it and dove in (and you really do dive in–the author plops you right into the world with little explanation, which I actually appreciated) I was hooked. Yes, it took me a little while to sort through the world-building, which the author does effortlessly. She doesn’t do some dull, in your face infodump. Nope, she she shows you the world, as if it was just a normal thing and leads you through the nuances and differences from our own. So well done.

Honestly, her writing ability is what made this book stand out for me. It’s smooth and clean, vivid and clear and checks all the boxes. It truly, clearly shows the world, the plot, the characters. It played out like a movie in my mind while I read. It’s been awhile since I’ve read such a well-written novel, and I want to make sure to give a round of applause to the author, Lachi. So well done.

The story itself is intriguing, and I could see something like it happening as we all dive deeper into the idea of living virtually. It was alternately intriguing and awfully sad. I’m not sure I like her ideas of what society could become, but I completely understand how she got there. Her future is absolutely possible.

I got very deeply attached to her realistically written, three dimensional characters. The complexity of plot took some time to sink into, but that’s a good thing. I was challenged throughout to think, and to feel and to consider and ultimately to not only try to solve her “whodunnit” but just to soak in the environment and to be intrigued and horrified by the dark, horrific world she’s created that’s covered up by what should feel more utopian. I’ve always thought that human beings with their faults and flaws, with their basic humanity, would never be able to create a utopia, and in this book I’m proven correct.

There is good and evil here. Lachi doesn’t shy away from the dark, but she also shares moments of light. And the characters become friends which, for me at least, means I’ll happily read every last word about them.

Looking for a superbly written book with a complex but believable plot peppered with characters you’ll come to love? Don’t mind a little darkness and horror? Then pick this one up. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. I sure wasn’t.

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Deadweight by Paul Forster


Deadweight by Paul Forster
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Horror
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It was hailed as the answer to the obesity epidemic; a pill that allows you to eat anything you like and still lose weight. Millions were attracted by the promise of a leaner, fitter body, but there was a fatal and unforeseen flaw in this new panacea. A tiny microbe, lurking within, slowly infects the users. In turn they pass the infection to others with a sneeze, a cough or a simple kiss, and before long tens of millions are infected and turned into mindless, shambling wrecks, with the sole purpose of existing to eat. The virus is rampant, reaching into every corner of the globe. Governments collapse and shut down, unable to contain the outbreak, while the army works hard against the unending assault in a desperate bid to stop the dead from total victory. But there are even greater dangers to be faced. A few unfortunate souls suffer with the hunger of the dead but the mind of the living. They are neither dead nor alive, but something in between; something far more dangerous to the surviving humans. And amidst this carnage of the end of the world, in the south east of England, a small group of survivors are fighting on, against all the odds, as they try to stay one step in front of the dead, trying to avoid being the next item on the menu. The question is, in a world now claimed by the dead, what will they have to do to survive?

When a new weight-loss pill comes onto the market no one thinks too much of it. Obesity is a global epidemic and millions of people are looking for a quick pill to make themselves thinner. And this pill becomes extremely popular as it proves to work perfectly in everyone – millions all over the world are quickly losing weight no matter what they eat. But no one knows that the microbe that’s being used in this
pill quickly becomes infectious through a cough, a sneeze, and soon the whole world becomes infected.

I found this to be a really well written and scarily believable book. I think some readers mightn’t like how a lot of the start of this book flips between the present – after the zombies are out there – and how the research and science behind the pills was discovered and let loose. I personally didn’t mind this jumping back and forth because I feel the author has done an amazing job in thinking through the background of the pill and making a really interesting, logical and believable plotline behind it. I felt this really set up the story as a whole and it was such a different spin on the whole “zombie apocalypse” thing that I really enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed how the past and present came together and then merged into the rest of the story. Readers who enjoy longer running series like Walking Dead and Last Of Us should find that this book really fills a gap that these series can leave behind. I found the main characters relatable and interestingly drawn and most importantly for me I found the plot to be gripping and interesting. There are a few sex scenes in this book and while there is some gore it’s kept to a fairly low level to my mind and neither overtakes the story. I would mainly declare this an intricately plotted zombie apocalypse style of book with a fair bit of action and a really good plotline.

Readers looking for an interesting and freshly written zombie-style end of the world book should find this a really good read.

Operation: Norway by William Meikle


Operation: Norway by William Meikle
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Horror
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It’s supposed to be a simple sanitation job, a post war scientific base that needs cleansed of anything that might prove incriminating to British and Norwegian governments.

But when the S-Squad try to complete their mission they are pursued in the mountains and fjords by something out of legend.

They have woken a sleeping beast.

Now it’s angry, ready for a fight. And it’s bringing its friends along.

Captain Banks and his crew have been promised extended leave and their next few missions to be in warmer, easier climates. Only none of that was to be when Banks is called into the office of his Corporal and instead of their leave being approved, he is given a new and urgent mission. Promised it’s a quick in-and-out and just a look-see with potentially an explosive “sanitation” of the site, Banks is hoping for once their mission might be straightforward and relatively easy.

I really enjoy these S-Squad stories by William Meikle. With big beasties, a well-versed group of Army squaddies and a strong hint of paranormal (and very mild horror) these are the best kind of B-grade monster movies in a quick story that I could ever imagine. The stories are usually shortish (about 150 pages) but they are always high action with loads of explosions and shooting and quite a fast pace to them.

Readers looking for something strongly intellectual or high brow won’t find that here. These are fun, fast paced, action shoot ‘em up style of stories with monsters and beasties and a whole load of rambunctious fun.

This time our favourite squaddies are in Norway, and I was really pleased with the atmosphere the author created. With such a short page length I feel Meikle did a brilliant job keeping the tension high and slowly fed the reader enough hints and tips to both what had occurred in the past – and therefore what we could expect our squaddies to unearth – for me to be eager to continue reading. When the action begins it’s all the usual S-Squad fast paced romp and I feel readers who enjoy this series, and this style of writing will be as happy as I was.

Fun, frivolous and a romping good tale – this was a great story and excellent addition to the series. Recommended.

Dokkalfur and the Empty Shelf by Charles R Darner Jr


Dokkalfur and the Empty Shelf by Charles R Darner Jr
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Holiday, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary, Comedy, Horror, Inspirational
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

A house party, a careless fire and a flash of the mystical create a supernatural force prone to seek revenge. As the bodies pile up, Chloe understands one of her playthings maybe behind the bizarre accidents her parent’s friends are experiencing. As no one believes her, she attempts to intercedes but to no avail. With help from the North Pole, can Chloe save her family who is now targeted.

If you are looking for a future New York Best seller then give his writing style a try. This is my third Charles R Darner Jr book that I’ve read and I find his writing to be original, creative and versatile. I don’t think there is any genre he couldn’t write. I look forward to following his literature work.

I’m not supposed to say how a book will make another reader feel, but only comment how the book made me feel in my reviews. However, I can’t help thinking out loud that Dokkalfur and the Empty Shelf will leave the expected readers feeling unexpected.

I’ve honestly read this book twice now because I loved it that much. It starts off introducing and developing the main cast of characters rather quickly in an eye-opening plot. I’m not exaggerating when I say the first chapter is literally ‘hot’.

The rest of the story progresses with a steady momentum that elaborates into an engaging narrative that is full of plot twists. Surprising twists that make it impossible to put the book down. I will share that there were some horrifying moments.

Dokkalfur and the Empty Shelf really resonated with me. It takes the concept of the classic story of the Elf on the Shelf, which is a Christmas tradition for many families, and spins a completely different holiday story with a mind-boggling inspirational ending.

It’s impossible to describe without giving away spoilers. All I can say is that I will not ask anyone if they have been naughty or nice this Christmas season, and I already donated our Elf on the Shelf to a new loving family since my children are old and grown. I just hope our elf doesn’t come alive and haunt us for giving him away. I’m not a fan of fire or ice. That will make sense after you read this book. It’s quite comical. I did laugh out loud a few times throughout the story.

This is where I’m going to end this review. I suggest buying this book for family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts. The classic elf tradition is to put the elf on your shelf between November 24 through December 1st. After reading Dokkalfur and the Empty Shelf, I’ll never be able to look at an Elf on the Shelf and not have retrospection. I know I’m repenting for my naughty choices this year. This would be a great book to give to an adult with an elf as a joke gift. This story is destined to be listed on future Book Clubs to enjoy. I know I did.

The Wayfarer by Zachary Kekac


The Wayfarer by Zachary Kekac
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

“Burying sorrow is like burying water; it simply seeps into the soil and up into everything that grows from it.”

___

The Wayfarer stands on the rim of insanity. Forgetting everything. Everyone.

He doesn’t know when the forgetting began, but the Shadow does. A doppelganger wreathed in darkness; a figure only he can see; it claims to know both why he is losing his mind, and the way to restore it. Wary, desperate, with what seems no other way open to him, the Wayfarer submits himself to the Shadow, its warning compelling him forward:

Move on.

Or wither.

As the Shadow leads the Wayfarer through sentient forests, the graveyards of dragons, and realms between realms, so too does it lead the way into his forgotten past, restoring fragments of memory throughout the journey. Only the memories are distorted, nightmarish. In them he sees his friends, his family—dead. Impossible. His friends are alive, aiding him on his journey. His family is safe, awaiting his return.

Disillusioned by these perversions of past, the Wayfarer decides the only way to salvation is within himself. Aided by a psychoactive mixture, he descends into his subconscious, seeking the truth of his unravelling mind, the memory of his madness’ beginning.

You are not ready.

Though the Wayfarer can sense the truth lurking within the abyss of his subconscious, something in the Shadow’s words waylays him. Something in the Shadow’s words holds a truth of its own, warring with the truth within himself.

Frustrated, fearful, his mind fraying at its seams, the Wayfarer stands now on the rim of a choice: to trust the Shadow, to hope on a fool’s hope that its way was the way to remedy; or to forsake it, to do as he willed and seek resolution his own way, knowing with the wisdom of a man prone to folly that it may very well be the way to ruin.

I was instantly drawn to The Wayfarer and enjoyed it immensely! This story takes readers on a dark and twisted tale as the MC slowly loses himself to his own internal darkness, which is why he’s named ‘The Shadow’. This is definitely a darker read, which is clear from the blurb, but it’s interesting to see the swirling mix of what’s read and what’s real to the MC but only in his head, things realize are merely imagined, as truth as the story goes on.

I enjoyed this one, and know with High/Epic Fantasy it’s not always about the characters, which is fine, but I tend to prefer more character driven stories, and found that this one actually was more about prose and the flowing writing style, and less about the character’s own personal journey or struggles. I found the story overall to be beautifully written, hauntingly so, but wish it was even slightly more character focused, since it flowed smoothly and was well told, but lacked the depth and emotion that character focused stories are more apt to have.

I can see others enjoying this one, but it’s a bit harder to recommend due to its dark themes and unique style. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure Dark Fantasy/Fantasy Horror readers might know of similar stories and may even enjoy this one.

New Era by Tommy B. Smith


New Era by Tommy B. Smith
Publisher: Raven Tale Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Insomnia. Headaches. Fear.

It drove Marjorie down, cost her a career, and almost destroyed her marriage. When she and her husband Terry escaped to the quiet green countryside west of the Mississippi River, their new home, it seemed too good to last.

The snake-ridden adjoining property, bordered by a row of maple trees, hosts a deadly secret. There the blood of fiends and innocents stain the crumbling ruins of an old farmhouse, a decaying testament to a web of treachery and murder stretching back to distant times.

The horror in the ruins watches in wait. Marjorie fears the end, and the end is coming.

The past never dies.

It was nice to read about characters who are sensible and cautious in the horror genre. While they didn’t always make the same decisions I would, I understood why they made other choices and thought they were doing the best they could with the information they currently had. That’s not always something that happens in these sorts of tales, so it’s refreshing to find here.

The cast of characters was large enough that I had trouble keeping track of who everyone was and how they knew each other. It was even more of a problem for me in the 1982 storyline because it kept introducing new characters who were sometimes critical to the plot and in other cases played less prominent roles in future scenes. As much as I liked switching between this year and the 1918 plot that explained the origins of certain events, it was also confusing for me as a reader because of how many extra characters I then needed to keep track of.

One of the most memorable parts of this novella had to do with its thoughts on how curses work. This was even more true since part of the curse was placed upon a parcel of land instead of on an object or a person. I found myself wondering about all sorts of practical matters related to cursed land. For example, would an object lose its curse if it were removed from that area? Were the soil and plants themselves cursed, too? How long could someone spend on that land before terrible things began to happen to them? I can’t answer those questions in this review without sharing spoilers, but I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on how that all worked in this universe.

I did find myself wishing that the narrator had gone into more detail about the motivations of certain characters who committed some pretty violent acts. Yes, violence is to be expected in the horror genre, but I struggled to understand how those characters could switch so quickly from displaying fairly calm demeanors to attempting to kill those around them. With more development, these changes in behavior could have been truly terrifying in the best sense of that phrase for the horror fans reading it.

The ending was well done. I was especially interested in seeing how the main characters would react once they’d discovered enough clues to realistically have some idea of just how much danger they were in. Their sensible reactions only made me more curious to see if they’d prevail in the final scene. I will be keeping an eye out for any sequels that might revisit this world.

New Era was a delightfully scary story.

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell


Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell
Publisher: TCK Publishing.com
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Horror
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Deliver us from evil…

Drowning in a meaningless existence flipping burgers, Matthew Davis suddenly collapses from a powerful psychic connection he shares with his twin brother, Jake. The pain is violent and immediate, and Matt knows exactly what it means… hundreds of miles away, Jake has been viciously killed. But instead of severing their connection, the murder intensifies it and Matt begins to suffer the agony of Jake’s afterlife.

Hell bent on solving Jake’s murder in order to break the connection, Matt travels to his troubled hometown of Hatchett, Nebraska, where an old lover and savage new enemies expose the festering wounds that Jake left behind.

Matt tries atoning for Jake’s sins, but when a demon infests the connection between the two brothers, Matt must find a way to sever their bond before his world, and ours, become engulfed in the flames of hell.

Our Trespasses is an unpredictable mystery but is so much more. It is labelled as a legal thriller; however, it has the feel of a spiritual thriller. The supernatural elements are key to the plot and add much to make readers sit on the edge of their seats, so to speak.

The story takes place in a small town, and the author has done a great job with the setting. Little details set the mood. When strange, otherworldly things begin to happen, the thriller aspect of the book comes into play. The stakes are high, and things do not look good for the protagonist who is trying to solve his brother’s murder. If he does not do this in time, evil will be unleashed into the world.

Family and friendship are important here, as is the idea of forgiveness. This gives a depth and more meaning to this fast-paced tale.

Day Unto Night by TammyJo Eckhart


Day Unto Night by TammyJo Eckhart
Publisher: Liminal Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Erotic Romance, Horror, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Action/Adventure, Historical, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A Sumerian child named Ningai survives the murder of her entire family and cries out to her people’s gods, who answer her prayer in an unexpected way. Now, as the first of the Akhkharu, the living dead, Ningai embarks on a journey across the millennia to rebuild what she lost. The best of her offspring must maintain some shred of goodness to prove worthy to their Child-Mother while fighting the deadly impulses of their kind. Join their journeys across time in a series of interconnected stories from the earliest cities to a brutal future where humans are mere pawns in the hands of near gods. Like all of us, Ningai and the best of her children will stop at nothing to protect her family. Can they succeed before they lose what’s left of their humanity, or will all of humanity become enslaved to the Akhkharu forever?

Fear is an excellent teacher.

Anyone who is patient will eventually discover the many ways in which Akhkharu are nothing at all like humans. Some of these differences weren’t revealed until the last hundred pages or so. Seeing them gradually shared with the audience only made me more excited to learn more. I was never quite sure when the narrator would stop remembering more things to add to this list. Each one of them was important regardless of how often they showed up in the plot, so it was a great deal of fun to keep discovering them up until almost the end.
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This book included dozens of characters who were human, Akhkharu, or a god or goddess. Sometimes I struggled to keep track of who everyone was and how they were connected to other characters, especially for individuals who only showed up occasionally. As much as I enjoyed the breadth of it all, the gigantic cast was a little overwhelming for me at times. I did find myself wishing that the glossary in the beginning had included the names of everyone instead of only some characters.

With that being said, I adored seeing the wide variety of responses people had to meeting an Akhkharu for the first time or, even better, to becoming one themselves. These creatures tended to feed on folks who lived at the margins of society because it made it less likely that anyone would come looking for someone who had died or joined their ranks. This had fascinating repercussions for how Akhkharu society evolved over time and why Ningai struggled so much with the behavior of some of her followers.

There were pacing issues. Some sections seemed to move much more quickly than other sections. When combined with the multiple time jumps and large number of characters to keep track of, this made my reading experience feel disjointed at times. I never knew who I’d meet next or how quickly their tale would be wrapped up. The storyline itself was complex and well written. I would have gone with a much higher rating if there hadn’t been pacing problems and if it had been easier to keep track of everyone.

The horror elements of the storyline were well done. Blood-sucking creatures like the Akhkharu are frightening enough by themselves, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many other things the author thought of to make things even scarier. Some scenes relied on graphic descriptions of battles or surprise attacks, while others used mental or emotional fear to amplify smaller events into much bigger deals than they would have been if the characters had known in advance what was coming for them. This is something that I think would work best for readers who enjoy thrillers and many different types of horror.

Day Unto Night was well worth the read.