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.

Famished by Anna Vaught ~ A Recipe Blogpost Review

‘In this dark and toothsome collection, Anna Vaught enters a strange world of apocryphal feasts and disturbing banquets.’

INGREDIENTS

  • 25g of dried madness
  • 300ml of warmed passion, diced erratically
  • A generous cupful of foul thoughts (check the back of your pantry)
  • 400g of delicious words
  • 1 or 2 tsps of mixed emotions
  • 50g of old musty dictionary pages (‘W,T or F pages are probably most suitable)
  • For the glaze: A wash of quiet darkness

METHOD

Preparation is recommended on an empty stomach.

Mix the wet ingredients together in a bowl. Do this in a careful manner, creating a revolting soup-like consistency that can easily travel through ones veins.

Next, gently combine the dry ingredients together into an old urn or suchlike. There’s bound to be one lurking on the mantelpiece somewhere. Stir with a gnarled and boney finger until it resembles an odd, dusty, cement-like mixture.

Mix both wet and dry ingredients together and divide into 17 unequal portions. You are now ready to create your worst food nightmares.

‘…the tripe blinked at her and writhed in its nasty pool of white sauce…’

HOW DOES IT TASTE?

Comparable to a Cindy Lauper album, Famished has got to be the most magical, colourful, intelligent, bonkers, grotesque mix of stories I’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure to read. For reasons unknown, it just reminded me of how fascinated I am by Cindy Lauper in that you can’t help but find it entertaining, albeit very weirdly so.

Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, reviewer and editor. She is also a secondary English teacher, and that shows spectacularly throughout the entire book. I spent a great deal of time looking up so many words in the dictionary, I felt like I was back in school. (Would I get an A* Ms Vaught, if you’re reading this?!)

Famished was a learning curve, a strange experience, a delight.

‘Will you gently suck, or will you shovel up with the liquorice, drunk on the acid-carbonate reaction with your own saliva?’

Famished was also heartfelt, relatable and revolting. Did it whet my appetite? It certainly did. But it didn’t make me hungry. Did it ruin my dinner? No! Funnily enough, it took me back to dinner times at home with my parents in the 80’s. Tinned mandarin segments with condensed milk for pudding was supposed to be a treat!

I must have quite a strong stomach because out of all the darn right disgusting things in this book, there was only one thing that really turned me over.

These four words – ‘…sea-foam milky tea…’ 🤢

I’ve only really started reading short story collections in the last couple of years, so I’ve got quite a list to get through. Many classics and a few contemporary, but I don’t think I’ll come across anything quite like Famished again.

Although…and I’m saying this with great relish; there’s hints of SHIRLEY JACKSON in Vaughts writing. YES, that’s what I said. I’ve compared a modern author to JACKSON, the QUEEN OF MACABRE.

Famished is staying on my forever shelf, and Ms Vaughts’ vulgar little tales are living beside Shirley Jackson. They can be like ‘two sisters, secreted in the deeper recesses of darkness…’

Famished is going on my Best of 2020 Goodreads shelf

Bunny by Mona Awad

‘We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.’

I’m a bit all over the place with this book. I’d call it a ‘yo-yo read’. It’s sickly sweet, ugly pretty, cutely foul and oddly addictive. I was up and down throughout, with awkward ‘do I even like this’ moments. On numerous occasions I was indeed loving it in all its twisted hilarity.

Samantha Heather Mackey is an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at Warren University. In fact, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort – a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other ‘Bunny’.

But then the Bunnies issue her with an invitation and Samantha finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door, across the threshold, and down their rabbit hole.

Bunny was an unusual choice for me as it’s got Young Adult/Fantasy genre written all over it – not my usual choice. But this book feels like it not only blends genres, but bends them too. Into very uncomfortable positions.

⤴️You can treat yourself to this Bunny Zone sign for your wall/garden/bedroom/dustbin area by clicking on the sign!

It’s as funny as hell in places and has a fair few horrific scenes. On Goodreads someone described it as ‘one of the most demented books I’ve ever read’. I dig a bit of weirdness in my books, so my FOMO got the better of me!

I’m a member of The Ladies of Horror Fiction Group on Goodreads and there was a choice of books for September to vote for. Bunny won, so I thought, oh why not, let’s do it! I’m glad I did, but I’m still not sure I even liked it much!

I’m in the UK and the story is American, so I found certain things that I didn’t connect with. The education system in the USA is something I know nothing about. Also certain pop culture went over my head, so perhaps things were a bit lost on me.

The quirky characters were cracking, the humour was dark and dry, it was shockingly funny on countless occasions. It was written in such a way that is felt ‘chatty’ and flowed from page to brain* very easily.

*whilst mashing it up repeatedly.

The Sunday Independent quotes it as ‘Mean Girls with added menace’ and I completely agree.

At three quarters through I felt it was just playing with me. My feelings went from ‘this is weird’ to this is ‘REALLY effing weird’. Then ‘it’s so hilarious but still weird.’ Then ‘uh-oh, I’m getting a bit bored of the repetitive bits in the middle here.’ And the final part was just ‘whaaat??? – I’m not sure I even ‘get it!’

Talk about rollercoaster! It’s like nothing I’ve read before ever. But I think I liked it.

Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it? I would, yes. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Maybe it would sit better with an American reader, and certainly would be more appreciated by someone twenty years younger than myself.

Apparently the rights are sold to AMC for a possible TV-film adaptation. I think it would be better on screen, I’d watch it, but only because I’ve read it.

It comes across as a weird, fantastical teen/YA story, with elements of horror that is cleverly put together. I enjoyed the characters and their strange behaviours, the writing was extremely good but overall I’d say it is an above average ‘Bunny Tail’ deserving of 3/5 bunnies.

I’ll leave you with a couple of lines which made me pull a right dodgy face;

‘A pause so pregnant it delivers, consumes its own spawn, then grows big with child again.’

‘She looks at us all in her probing, intensely gynaecological way.’

Urgh! That’s just ‘orrible!!

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark

49083140._SY475__1

I’m reviewing this book in a way I feel is fitting to my reading experience. It’ll be to the point, crass in places and slightly scatterbrained!
Let’s keep it simple, for those of you that aren’t aware of my reading tastes, let me explain.
I LOVE reading weird, dodgy, questionable stuff. I go from demure gorgeous historical fiction to books only suitable for strong stomached wrong’uns.
Eliza Clark’s debut is all kinds of wrong. And so what?! I bloody loved it!

‘I wake up a full twenty-four hours later on my sofa. A bag of chips completely defrosted in my lap.’

📸 A forthright debut novel with hints of Trainspotting, American Psycho & CJ Skuses’ Sweetpea
📸 A dark, voyeuristic peek into the art world, relationships, drugs, gender & sexuality

‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie from Tesco, shall I compare thee to a heavily discounted piece of meat on the reduced shelf at the end of the day? Thou art cheaper and, hopefully, fresher.’

📸 A narcissistic female protagonist who’s vulnerabilities surface throughout the story
📸 A diverse cast of characters that brings strong relationship dynamics from all angles

‘…why they don’t do condoms like cup sizes – A, B, C – rather than letting people guess what size they are based on…’

📸Riddled with a dark and dirty humour, I choked on my own spit a fair few times

‘I’m glad she’s still quantifying how much she wants to do stuff by how many dicks she’d suck to do it.’

📸 As a 40-something reader, the Urban Dictionary was my best friend
📸 Not recommended for the more sensitive reader. Don’t touch it with a barge pole if you’re easily offended.
📸📸📸📸/5
%d bloggers like this: