I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Having watched, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie starring Will Smith, I decided to read the 1954 novel.

As many on Twitter have said, it is very different to the film, however, I still rate them both highly for being so different. It’s a refreshing change that a movie used a classic story arc, changed it, not beyond recognition but just enough to make it blockbuster-worthy. After all, Mathesons novel is only a mere 160 pages long, had it been copied to the letter, I think the film would of been only an hour long, 70/80 minutes max.

Mathesons main character, Robert Neville is the last living man on earth, but he’s not alone. Oh no, no, no, no no! There’s zombie-like vampires lurking as soon as night falls, and to say this book has fear factor would be an understatement. Rarely do I feel my heart banging in my chest when reading, it’s got to be pretty terrifying for me to have to take a breather like I did with this one.

After reading chapters 4 and 5 I got out the bath feeling quite shook up! Now that’s a sign of a good book eh?!

Apart from the overuse of the word ‘palsied’ to describe Neville’s bodily reactions, Matheson is an absolute master of tension-writing. Providing the reader can see beyond the era of the story-telling (it’s 1954, telling a futuristic (1979) sci-fi story, it’s bound to be “dated”, get over it, complainers, I’ve read what you’ve moaned about 🙄) it’s classic sci-fi/horror at its very best.

There’s nothing I like more in a book when I see a quote from another book!

“The strength of the Vampire is that no one will believe in him”. – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The descriptions are so strong, there’s a subtle beauty in this story that filters through all the fear and bleak darkness.

“Morning. A sun-bright hush broken only by the chorus of birds in the trees. No breeze to stir the vivid blossoms around the houses, the bushes, the dark-leaved hedges. A cloud of silent heat was suspended over everything on Cimarron Street”.

How gorgeous is that visual?! Seriously, Matheson pops these gems in throughout the entire book.

And then of course, there’s how relatable this book is, nearly 70 years on…

“Towards the end of the plague, yellow journalism has spread a cancerous dread of vampires to all corners of the nation. He could remember himself the rash of pseudo-scientific articles that veiled an out-and-out fright campaign to sell papers”.

Sounds familiar…

“There was something grotesquely amusing in that; the frenetic attempt to sell papers while the world died.”

Indeed…

I am still feeling blown away by I Am Legend, it’s been hanging around in my thoughts all morning, it’s not a book I will easily shake off.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

This isn’t a normal review because this isn’t a normal story. I’m saying nothing about the plot or characters. Nothing.

Just read it.

Starve Acre is a book that begs so many questions and creates so many thoughts from start to finish.

Here’s a ‘running commentary’ as it were, of my reading experience..

-oooh hello there beautifully poetic, darkly disturbing writing

-hang on, wait, what’s happening?

-soooo, what happened before then?

-crikey, what’s GOING to happen?

-OMG, WHY is it happening?

-wait, WHAT?! Erm, what on earth did he do?

-WHY did he do it?

-Jeez, why is she like this?

-And why the hell is he like that?

-No way!

-*Brain explodes* The End.

And all that in under 250 pages!! Unbelievable!

I started off putting post it notes marking notable paragraphs every ten, maybe 15 pages. But really Starve Acre is one big post it note of dark beauty. Every paragraph of every page is post-it note worthy, so I gave up.

Anyway, do yourself a favour, read Starve Acre. I’ve just ordered Hurleys’ other two books, The Loney and Devils Day, because it’s the law.

“What you go searching for and what you find aren’t always the same”.

Door and Other Twisted Tales by Catherine McCarthy

You know that feeling when you get off the Waltzer at the fair? Your head feels kind of floaty, there’s an excited giddiness, that buzz of adrenaline rushes from toes to fingertips and then back again. You’d like another go but best not, because you’re 47 not 10. Or is that just me?

Anyway, going through the many Doors of Catherine McCarthy’s magical, mystical, and at times, oddly dark and creative mind, gave me quite that kind of ride! It wasn’t a roller coaster, Catherine’s writing is far too gentle and quietly satisfying for that, the Waltzer is my best comparison. You don’t need to scream if you want to go faster because you need that steady pace to be prepared for the “hang on a minute, I did not see THAT coming” moments. And then, there’s the “wait, what?!, no Catherine, nooo!! you can’t possibly end it there!!” moments!

Oh the perils of short stories that suck you right in!!! *sigh*

Door is a collection of dark portal style stories, although set in different times, they have a great deal in common with each other.

From a freaked out shift worker with paranoia about what’s behind a metal door, to unwelcome ‘white ghosts’ in Botany Bay, Australia 1790. From creepy crypts in the Canaries, to a wartime bunker in Sheffield, Catherine has created a treasure trove of mind-bending micro-journeys that whet the appetite with a side order of subtle horror and discomfort. You WILL want to read more from this author. Take it from me.

As with any short story collections, I had my favourites, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single one. I will say a few words about the ones that really stood out to me though.

‘Door’ – the first story, had me reading with such intensity. John, the MC, had successfully landed a job. Doing what, I’m not entirely sure, some kind of secretive knob and dial twiddling for a living, in a strange industrial building. Make of that what you will. As a character, he was weird. The story, even weirder! The ending? You must of heard me when I shouted ‘WHAT?? Don’t do that Catherine!!!’ from my bathtub from where I was reading!

‘Mine’, – the story of young Anna who works as a trapper down the mines. The sheer darkness of the setting and the mystery surrounding the ‘special kind of coal’ certainly pulled me in. It was so full of atmosphere, I could almost smell it.

‘Plague’ – a small village in Southern France, 1347 to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia 18 years prior and then back again to Penne, Southern France. Certainly worlds apart. You’d think.

“When you see a door open, which you did not expect, do not be afraid of passing through – just be careful as to whom else chooses to step beyond its threshold at your side”.

‘Ash’ – Raoul, a Scientist receives a letter from a Priest inviting him to help investigate the underground crypts and caverns in Volcanic Lanzarote. All is not well and some unearthed discoveries give this story quite a macabre and dark tone.

‘Charity’ – a Christmas story, of sorts, set in Hove, UK. “Satan Claws is coming to town!”

Is someone struggling with their spelling there? One things for sure, Karma’s a bitch, whatever the season. *Snorts satisfyingly*

If there’s one thing that all these stories have in common, other that the doorways to get into them, it’s the absolute cracking first few paragraphs of each and every one. Catherine has the knack of getting my attention so quickly. She sets the scene, introduces her character(s) and I’m swiftly swooped away.

Overall, an interesting, mixed collection of mindful, yet, at times, disturbing stories that were entertaining, a bit bizarre, and had Catherine’s unique stamp all over them.

I recommend Catherine’s writing whenever I get the opportunity as although predominantly a horror writer, her stories are made up of various layers which would appeal to readers who are seeking short stories beyond that one genre.

Thank you, Catherine for my gifted copy of Door, I am very grateful for the opportunity to read and review your collection.

Catherine McCarthy grew up in the industrial valleys of South Wales where she went on to teach for almost three decades. She now lives in West Wales with her husband, who is also her illustrator and motivator. Catherine believes that story telling is probably the oldest and wisest art form known to man, though to make it a bit compelling, it needs to be crafted with a bit of magic.

Twitter – @serialsemantic

Instagram – catherine_mccarthy_author

Amazon.co.uk : catherine mccarthy

Diabolica Americana: A Dark States Horror Compendium by Keith Anthony Baird

If you’re looking for tricks and treats galore this Halloween, then look no further. The second horror compendium following last year’s Diabolica Britannica from Keith Anthony Baird doesn’t disappoint.

Diabolica Americana is a charity horror anthology featuring 22 authors, including a very humble foreword by Eric LaRocca, author of ‘Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke’.

I decided to read this collection of short stories in random order, based on titles that took my fancy when settling down for my October creepy reading time.

I’d heard of ten of the authors who I’d mostly seen sharing their love of the horror genre on Twitter. The other twelve new-to-me authors were promptly followed by yours truly as the talent levels throughout this anthology is staggeringly good.

To put together a bunch of writers whose diverse creativity and ability to suck you in to their worlds is no mean feat. Not a single tale felt out of place, this congregation delivered a mixture of scares, intrigue, oddities and outright horror in 22 tasty doses.

From River Witches to Serial Killers, Folk Magic, Vampires and Creepy Crawlies, there’s something for everyone’s terror taste.

It’s tricky to pick specific stories to recommend because each and every one has its own original voice. However, I will give a special mention to the following authors as their tales stood out for me, personally.

I made a beeline for Sadie Hartmann’s offering ‘Sunnies’. Sadie is Mother Horror on all her socials and is an important voice in the horror community. I’ve been following her since year dot for her excellent bookish recommendations and horror content and wasn’t disappointed. Sunnies was dark, disturbing and expertly written. The conclusion gave me a unexpected horror shock, just what the doctor ordered!

‘Hexmeister’ by Sara Tantlinger, was an eerie story of witches and dark folk magic that crept right into my bones. I’ll definitely be sniffing out more from Sara!

Another one that charmed my inner darkness was ‘The Iron Coffin’ by Laurel Hightower. Anyone for a stiff drink? You might want to grab a dram of Bourbon for this one!

I could praise every individual story in this glorious compendium, but my review would be so long, and I wouldn’t want to keep you from popping a pre-order on right away for your own copy of course.

I will add just one more to my mentions though, Richard Chizmar’s ‘Mischief’. Halloween isn’t Halloween without a serial killer is it? Well Chizmar had me hooked from the word go, talk about atmospheric, and what fantastically written characters! I best watch my back as an Aquarian…

So what are you waiting for? (Other than release day, obviously, which is October 28th!) Get your pre-orders in, lovers of thrills and spook. It’s available in both kindle and paperback format. I am very tempted to buy a physical copy for my horror shelf, I’ll just go and see if I’ve got space for it, spooky season is a killer for me because oh, the sweet, dark temptation…

Get your pre-order in right HERE folks!

Thank you to Keith Anthony Baird for sending me an advance e-copy, it was an absolute pleasure to read. And bloody well done to each and every author whose fine skills are showcased in this must-have collection.

New Animal by Ella Baxter

New Animal piqued my interest as it had a mix of all the dark things I look for in a book. By the time I’d read the first few chapters, I knew that Ella Baxter has quite a way with words. 

Set in Australia and Tasmania, a setting that I very much enjoy, I was instantly transported into the life of Amelia and felt I could relate to her in ways that surprised me. 

She’s an intelligent woman who instead of dwelling on all the sadness and confusion her life throws at her, she decides to deal with her grief by leaving her job/home/family and crashes straight into the BDSM scene. 

Death in the family? Deal with it by going to a fetish club. Why not?! Who says there’s a right or wrong way to do these things. 

However, New Animal isn’t a story about the kinky sex life of a woman who’s going off the rails. It’s about coping and not coping. Sometimes it takes a trauma in life to set people off on a journey in order to get their head together.

I flew through this at quite a speed, the writing style had a grip on me more than the story itself. The descriptions were so vivid. 

There are definitely scenes in this book that would be triggering for some. It’s crass, violent, and at times, brutal. One scene made me cringe and that is a rarity for me! I love to push the boundaries though, give me all the reading-feels, even the uncomfortable ones! 

Overall, New Animal was a dark and very well written story. It won’t be for everyone, but Ella Baxter and her New Animal has given me something to think about. 

Recommended for people who can appreciate that human nature can be an off-kilter thing and for those who don’t mind feeling just a tiny bit disgusted by stuff humans do to each other. 

Out 17 February 2022

Ella Baxter is a writer and artist living in Melbourne, Australia.

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