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.

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.

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’.

The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman by Summer Strevens

‘When Mary Bateman was born, she was of so little importance that the date of her birth went unrecorded. When it came to her final moments on the gallows however, thousands of spectators witnessed her execution upon York’s ‘New Drop’ on the morning of Monday 20th March 1809, some of whom, packed shoulder to shoulder in the crowd, were convinced to the very end that the Yorkshire Witch would save herself from death at the last moment by employing her supernatural powers to vanish into thin air as the noose tightened. Needless to say, she didn’t.’

Mary Bateman was no witch! More a petty thief and fraudster with a sociopathic personality. She was intelligent and used her reading and writing abilities (a rare attribute for women of this era) for unsavoury financial gains.

This was an interesting account of crime in the early 1800’s, as rarely were women seen to be of criminal mind, often simply being deemed ‘mad’ and locked away in an asylum.

Mary was charming and manipulative and had an inventive imagination, often making up non-existent characters, used purely to back up her dodgy dealings, to improve her chances of getting more money out of her victims.

She was labelled a witch because of her wicked ways, having some knowledge of herbs and remedies and offered her own kind of ‘healthcare’ to many unfortunate women. Poisonings were her main go-to MO all in the name of lining her own pockets.

I enjoyed how Strevens’ put this book together, it read well as a nonfiction and had enough creativity to keep me reading. I particularly liked how the time period was described, this added to my reading experience in a positive way. The centre of the book has glossy photos which always gets bonus points from me in a nonfiction read!

As I was coming to the end, I really enjoyed how macabre this era was. I won’t give too much away, but the following picture shows how Mary ended up! As a museum exhibit, of all things, how shocking!

I’d recommend to British history enthusiasts, particularly folk who have lived in and around Leeds and York. A lot of settings would be familiar to folk who dwell in these parts!

The Yorkshire Witch gets 4 stars from me!

I’d like to say thank you to those lovely folk at Pen & Sword Publishers, in particular Rosie, who kindly sent me my copy in exchange for an honest review.

About the author

Born in London, Summer Strevens now lives and writes in Oxfordshire. Capitalising on a lifelong passion for historical research, as well as penning feature articles of regional historical interest, Summer’s published books include Haunted Yorkshire Dales, York Murder & Crime, The Birth of Chocolate City: Life in Georgian York, The A-Z of Curiosities of the Yorkshire Dales, Fashionably Fatal , Before They Were Fiction and The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman.

Witch Light by Susan Fletcher

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars5star

‘There is no devil. Only the devilish ways in a man’.

Back in February 2016, my partner took me to Scotland. Later that year in August and early September, Susan Fletcher took me back again.

Witch Light, or Corrag, as its alternatively known, tells the story of a wild young girl living in the Scottish Highlands in 1692.

Learning everything from her Mother, Corrag heals with plants and herbs, and leads a beautiful, simple life amongst nature and the elements.

But this simplicity gets Corrag labelled as a Witch and she’s thrown into a dark, dank cell to await her fate.

Charles Leslie, an Irish man of the cloth, hears of her incarceration and begins visiting her in her last days. He learns that she witnessed the brutal Massacre of Glencoe, and so, to him, she tells her story. One that could not only change her destiny, but perhaps everyone else’s too.

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If you’re after a story which is action-packed and fast-paced, this isn’t it. Witch Light is a beautiful, serene story full of incredible description. I found myself walking through the Highlands, feeling the snow tickle my face and freeze my ears. I saw the grand hinds, I heard the owl and smelt the peat-smoked aromas of the mountain villages.

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I’m not usually one for books with loads and loads of description. But the author was so brilliant at it, it made this book absolutely breathtaking.

When I go back to Scotland, which I undoubtedly will, this book will be carried with me in my thoughts as I look at the scenery with a new pair of eyes and far more appreciation of this beautiful world we live in.

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