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.

The House of Little Bones by Beverley Lee

If there’s one horror trope I always make a beeline for, it’s got to be the “Haunted House” one. What initially caught my eye with Beverley’s book was just how frightening the cover art is! I mean, look at it! Dead eyes staring out at the reader, with a sinister knowing….*shivers*.

Good covers really are important, I do judge a book by them, more so within the horror genre for some reason, I just can’t help myself! The House of Little Bones doesn’t have a good cover, it has a GREAT cover. Kudos to the artist/designers for sure!

“David Lansdown, esteemed British horror writer and supernatural sceptic, is used to basking in the glow of the press…

Until a hastily snapped photo hits the headlines and makes his affair with his publisher’s son public. When David finds himself at Bone Hollow, a house with a glass wall overlooking a wild and desolate moor, his only concern is writing his next best seller to bury his misdeeds in the past.

But something stirs beneath the earth…”

Haunted house stories are out there in their tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions! I don’t know! Anyway, there is a load of them! So what makes The House of Little Bones stand out?

Well, from the outset I could tell that Beverley created David, her main character, with careful thought and consideration. He has authenticity, his mannerisms, thought processes, his back story. As other characters were introduced and the story unfolded, I realised that every character in the story felt of high importance in their own right.

I’ve noticed over the years that I enjoy reading about characters who are authors, and how they’re attempting to write their book within the story I’m reading.

The House of Little Bones, became a tempting story very early on, the feelings of mystery and unexplained goings-on were pretty full-on in terms of spook-factor. There’s more to everyone in this story than initially meets the eye, this, in itself hooked me in very quickly.

After 20/30 pages, I felt a bit on edge and had to put the light on. (Only because it was getting dark, not at all because my mind was playing tricks on me, you understand!)

The House of Little Bones is the most perfect story for this time of year. It’s well written, not overly complicated and very creepy. I particularly enjoyed the way Beverley connected the historical aspects of the story in small bursts throughout and then used a chapter at the end to tie everything together.

The relationships between the characters were convincing, the setting on the moor oozed bleak desolation and chilling atmosphere. The build up and the finale had me holding my breath, I was appreciative of the historical round-up to help settle my heart!

The House of Little Bones is designed to pull on the heartstrings, engross and enchant. It’s a beautifully measured Halloween recipe that delivered everything I love about horror fiction.

I look forward to reading more from Beverley Lee, I’ll be recommending her writing based on reading just this one book.

Thank you Beverley for sending me an e-arc, it was a pleasure to read.

Beverley Lee is a writer of dark fiction (dark fantasy/horror/supernatural suspense). Her first book The Making of Gabriel Davenport picked up three 5 star seals when recently reviewed by Readers’ Favorite. It also won the June Go Indie Now! Excellence in Literature Award for her poetic style, outstanding plot, and complex characters.

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

One of my favourite historical fiction books ever is The Witchfinders Sister, Beth Underdown’s STUNNING debut. When she announced on Twitter that proofs were being printed for her new novel, I was dizzy with excitement, I kid you not.

I’ve been lurking on Beths socials for a number of years, liking, commenting and generally making my presence known. So thank you Beth for putting up with my harping on about how keyed up I was (see what I did there 😉) to read your second novel, The Key in the Lock.

To my utter astonishment, (and maybe to shut me up!!) Beth kindly sent me a beautiful dedicated proof, so I instantly cast aside my TBR plan for the month, and dived straight in.

‘I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace’.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the great house, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

I’d imagine it’s very nerve-racking for authors when sending their second book out into the ‘bloggers wild’, as it were. Particularly when a debut has had such excellent reviews and feedback. A hard act to follow, perhaps? Take it from me Beth, you’ve nothing to be worried about, The Key in the Lock is brilliant.

What struck me the most about this story was how much effort had gone into the research. It is meticulously written down to the very last minute detail. So much thought is put into Beths novels, this is something I noticed when reading The Witchfinders Sister, this one has that very same precision.

From the creative descriptions to the most authentic characters, from the intricacies of plot detail, to the slow burning reveals, The Key in the Lock is top quality historical fiction.

I absolutely adored the secretive, atmospheric story-line. I often find if plots are gentle in motion, if the writing style isn’t quite ‘up to it’, I become a little bored when revelations take their time to unfold. But not here, I found it so immersive, the gothic feels, dark tension, cleverly haunting reveals, and characters so vivid in my mind, it made for some breathtaking reading.

I can count on one hand authors whose books are an auto-buy for me. Beth has been one of those authors since reading her debut in 2017. She sits comfortably alongside Sarah Waters where I don’t even have to read the synopsis, I already know I’m going to love it, it’s a given.

Thank you so much Beth for sending me a signed copy, it’s a treasure on my forever historical fiction shelf.

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Key in the Lock is released in January 2022 from Viking books

Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

An immortelle is a long-lasting flower arrangement placed on graves in cemeteries. They were originally made from natural dried flowers or could be made from artificial materials such as china and painted plaster of paris or beads strung on wire arrangements. Unless made of a highly durable material (e.g. china), they would often be enclosed in a glass container (known as globes) to protect them from the weather.

[Source :Wikipedia]

Elinor’s daughter, Rowena, is found poisoned and dead in an animal trough, Elinor is certain the local priest is to blame. Influenced by her late grandmother’s interest in supernatural magic, Elinor crafts an Immortelle for Rowena’s grave in an attempt to capture her daughters spirit.

I’m not telling you anything else about the story. I read very little about it before starting (other than to find out what an ‘Immortelle’ is) and I think this is the best way to read.

Witchcraft, the natural world, mother/daughter relationships, (a firm favourite of mine) gothic tones, alchemy, love, hope, grief, the supernatural, spirituality, revenge, good/evil, it’s all in here. For a 95 page novella, it’s full to the brim of everything I look for in gentle, quiet horror.

We weren’t quite in September when I started, but on reading the first three chapters, I knew I’d made the right choice to kick off my “Spooky Season” reads.

My favourite time of year by far, Autumn is THE time for enjoying books that chill, thrill and creep into my mind. Horror doesn’t have to be all blood and guts and carnage. Horror can be subtle, hidden in the shadows, full of atmosphere and tension, characters created with careful consideration so the story instantly comes to life, an easy invitation to become entranced. Catherine’s novella has all this, and so much more.

Her story telling is mesmerising. It feels as though it’s made of the most sublime ingredients. She has a way with words, a way with pace and timing. Immortelle ticked every box. It is an astonishingly beautiful story. I had many moments with it where I had to stop and think and appreciate.

If you enjoy calm, wistful horror with touches of darkness, I highly recommend Catherine’s writing.

‘I press on, guided by the rhythmic lap of the sea, her breath a sizzle as it caresses the shore and a gasp as she sucks a mouthful back. The slow rhythm steadies my breathing, and the distant beam from the lighthouse, which seems to flash in time with the waves, illuminates the scene in a sweeping arc’.