Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
Forged in partnership by Running Wild Press and The Pixel Project, a volunteer-led global nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women, Giving the Devil His Due is a charity SFF anthology that leads readers through worlds where victims find their power, and men who abuse meet their comeuppance.
Pitched as The Twilight Zone meets Promising Young Woman, Giving the Devil His Due features contributions from Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Henry, Dana Cameron, Errick Nunnally, Hillary Monahan, Jason Sanford, Kaaron Warren, Kelley Armstrong, Kenesha Williams, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lee Murray, Linda D. Addison, Nicholas Kaufmann, Nisi Shawl, Peter Tieryas, and Stephen Graham Jones. Each story is intended to help readers “think about the importance of justice for the victims of gender-based violence, how rare this justice is in our own world, and why we need to end violence against women once and for all”—and each, in its own unique, dark, delicious way, delivers. A few favorites:
“Hell on the Homefront Too” by Stephen Graham Jones paints a gruesome picture of breaking the death grip of violence when a battered wife finally gets rid of her abusive war-hero-turned-zombie husband, whose own vile cruelty rots him from the inside out.
Lee Murray’s “The Moon Goddess’s Granddaughter” is a whimsical exercise in the slow-building terror of entrapment when romance wilts, ensnares, and suffocates—stripping away the veneer of something once lovely to reveal the monster beneath—and how beauty will find a way to break free.
“Just Us League” by Angela Yuriko Smith gives new meaning to the phrase “cleaning up after someone else’s mess” when a female janitor comes across a card for the Just Us League, an unknown yet powerful organization that kindly wipes away a certain type of filth, in a tale of empowerment, atonement, and sisterhood.
Linda D. Addison’s “Finding Water to Catch Fire” delves into the fantastic in a story about breaking the chains of generational trauma and putting an end to the cyclical nature of abuse, as well as finally winning the battle for self-worth and seeing yourself clearly for the first time.
“Violence against women is one of the most brutal, widespread and entrenched human rights violations in the world and yet there remains a wall of silence around it in many cultures and families,” says The Pixel Project Founder and President, Regina Yau. “We believe that stories have the power to change the world by bringing this issue into the light and hope that the sixteen tales in this anthology will not only get people to think about the issue but also galvanize them to take action to stop violence against women and girls in their communities worldwide.”
A limited anthology, Giving the Devil His Due is available through October 31, 2023. A fundraiser at heart, 100% of the net proceeds from the sales of the anthology will go toward supporting The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women programs, campaigns, and resources.
Review for Suspense Magazine
Chilling suspense, a twisted whodunit, and a series of gruesome deaths written by a nurse-turned-author weave into an intricate web of secrets and murder in Alexandrea Weis’s atmospheric YA thriller, Have You Seen Me? [Vesuvian Books, August 17, 2021].
Relentlessly bullied during her years at Waverly Prep, alumna-turned-faculty Aubrey LaRoux is conflicted about returning to campus—an anxiety which deepens to dread when she arrives to find a missing person poster of student Lindsey Gillett. History is now not only Aubrey’s subject, but, worse, seems to be repeating itself: Two girls went missing from Waverly Prep in the 1990s and another—Lindsey’s sister—disappeared while Aubrey was in school. When a small group of Aubrey’s students convince her to investigate the unsolved cases, the secrets she learns of Waverly’s sordid history will put a target on their backs. Not everyone wants Aubrey meddling with the past—especially the ones willing to kill to hide it.
Dark academia meets teen slasher with just a sprinkling of superstition and folklore, Have You Seen Me? has all the hair-raising suspense of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer with the dark secrets of Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and the twisty crimes of Sager’s Home Before Dark. This is a slasher worth dying for.
Inspired in part by true events, Bram Stoker Award®-winning author Tom Deady’s new novel, The Clearing [Vesuvian Books, August 10, 2021] blends horrors of the past with today’s terrors—and a supernatural twist that will keep readers’ skin crawling cover to cover.
There’s good reason for those itchy sensations prickling along your skin, too—the buzzing terror of The Green Mile meets the unsettling atmosphere of The Skeleton Key in The Clearing. Deady is a master of ambiance; readers will find themselves ensnared in a web of despair from the moment they first enter The Clearing’s bleak, stifling, sodden New England summer. Even in the sunshine, the atmosphere is soggy, humid and heartbreak weighing down the air as Hannah Green spends her summer break suffering the two worst teenage terrors: a broken family—her mother seeming to have not just abandoned home but disappeared into thin air—and debilitating boredom. That is, until her dog comes out of the woods carrying a sneaker that contains a partially decomposed foot.
Finally having something to lull them out of their summer stasis, Hannah and her best friend, Ashley, soon find themselves in the middle of a decades-old mystery. The girls make a shocking discovery about what has been happening in the woods behind Hannah’s house—and it’s gruesome at best. As they get closer to the truth, things take a dangerous turn, and the secrets they discover make the foot unearthed from an ominous forest clearing look almost benign compared to the nightmare they will soon experience.
But who does the shoe—and the foot—belong to? This is where Deadly looks to the past to inject a frightful dose of true crime terror by revisiting the 1972 murder of sixteen-year-old Jeannette DePalma, whose death was rumoured to have been at the hand of a local coven of witches in a ritual occult sacrifice. Herein is another of Deady’s special skills: blending ambiance and nostalgia so that the story pulses off the page like a spider’s egg sac, ready to bust. Beyond DePalma’s death, The Clearing spins in threads of the “Satanic Panic” of the eighties, ye olde summers of nineties-past, and a few carefully laced in pop culture references through the decades, ultimately weaving a timeline sticky enough to capture the attention of three generations of readers.
Even with its multi-generational appeal baked in, The Clearing is firmly rooted in YA. Deady’s characters not only ring true as authentic, realistic, and compelling present-day teenagers, but Hannah and Ashley’s friendship—replete with what they term a mental mind meld—is true #squadgoals. The girls are unique enough to contribute two perspectives, while strong enough as a duo to make their heroics not just believable, but a ray of light in an otherwise very dark story.
Readers biting their nails in anticipation of a final plot twist may find the ending teetering on the edge of flat, but don’t worry—Deady’s not done at THE END, and it’s not time for a happy ending yet. Wise readers would do well to stay out of the woods…and not skip the Epilogue.
Sisters of the Moon [Vesuvian Books, September 22, 2020] is the kind of supernatural gothic horror that women readers in the genre have been waiting for.
Sold to pay other’s taxes, three young women—Durra, a dark-skinned Moor; Emily, a slave, and Leida, a farmer’s daughter—are delivered to a mysterious convent on isolated Die Wächter Island. Helmed by Mother Amelia, the convent follows the Order of Saint Gertrude, the matron saint of cats and protector of women.
On their first night on the island, Durra and her companions are told the convent will become their haven, so long as they obey the rules. This is a welcome reprieve from the horrors they have experienced at the hands of men, however the girls are unconvinced they have truly found sanctuary. They are instructed not to leave the convent after dark, and to ignore the baleful howls of the animals calling from outside. The feeling of dread grows when the young women discover it’s not just their cell that is locked by an iron bar at bedtime—such measures have also been taken to barricade the nun’s pious sleeping quarters. When Durra dreams of being chased in the forest by wild dogs who morph into pretty women wearing gray habits, she knows the danger looming outside in the night is very real but is left with a series of clues that do not fit together.
“I have no fear of monsters—I have known many in my life.”
The nuns of St. Gertrude are all young, attractive, and vegetarian, a stark contrast to their convent, which is adorned with art depicting horrific scenes featuring large, snarling dogs embroiled in battle. Durra learns the stories depicted on the convent’s walls do not appear in the Bible, nor does she know the names of any of the saints she finds biographised in the convent’s library. The mystery of the convent darkens further when the girls are received in a chapel for prayer to find the figure of Christ beset with an altar bearing the skull of a wolf. When Durra, who can read, is granted access to the convent’s library, she learns the order of Saint Gertrude was disbanded, its sisters shamed, and the nuns consigned to the eerie “Keeper’s Island” and charged with the mandate to “keep watch over its dark secret.” The nuns, Durra learns, are not what they appear: They are powerful than she ever could have imagined—and, if she can survive what awaits her on the island, she is to become one of the Sisters of the Moon.
While a horror story on its surface, Sisters of the Moon is more than a simple tale of three young women sold to satisfy the debts of others who uncover a dark secret. It’s more than just a fresh take on the werewolf mythos or another banal story about the age-old battle between good and evil. Stunning in its imagery and richly detailed, Weis’s Sisters of the Moon blends history and religion into a tale of sisterhood and empowerment as delightfully slow-burning as it is sinister, smart, and not at all shy about probing the status quo of the treatment of women who challenge patriarchal systems—and who fight to defend what is right.
No Rules [She Writes Press, June 2, 2020] is a groovy romp through yesteryear that takes us on a radical through 1970s counterculture and the early days of the modern feminist movement.
Colourful, adventurous, and transformative, No Rules recounts one woman’s journey from her conservative, Catholic upbringing in Connecticut to a full-blown child of the Seventies. Dukett’s narrative is expressive and emotional, giving her reader a first-hand glance back in time and alongside her journey into 1970s counterculture. The ride is bumpy, full of lessons, colourful experiences, and even colourful characters. It’s also unflinchingly raw and unapologetic, making Duckett’s journey immersive and powerfully resonant as she passes on the lessons she learned surviving in an era that transformed society’s expectations for girls and women.
From the moment sixteen-year-old Dukett decides to get into a car with her ex-boyfriend Eddie and her sister Anne and head for California, No Rules is a thrill ride of a memoir. Her journey takes her first to Venice, California, then onto a series of adventures across the country—including living in a commune!—and into a world that is not just miles apart geographically but totally foreign to her upbringing. By the end of her journey, not only is Dukett a transformed woman, but a presence that feels more like a friend than a storyteller.
Though she takes us back in time to a decade long passed, Dukett’s fascinatingly fresh memories and lessons echo those that are still top of mind in today’s rapidly changing and redefining society. Some of her experiences may not be palatable to everyone, but without them Duckett’s bravery, conviction, and risk-taking would lose their potency. Her storytelling is exactly the kind of coming of age adventure that many young people dream of having, and chock full of precisely the important messages and reminders we need today—primarily to stay alive, to keep fighting, to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, and to never give up.
From books to film and TV, nostalgic horror has been all the rage of late, and Until Summer Comes Around [Flame Tree Press, May 2020] by Glenn Rolfe is comfortably at home in the genre. In fact, if Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Kristy Swanson flick), and Stranger Things had a fangy baby and put on paper, it might be this book—and that’s some high praise.
Set in the summer of 1986 in the Maine beach town of Old Orchard Beach during its annual tourist wave, Until Summer Comes Around is a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy discovers girl is a vampire and her bloodthirsty and slightly batshit (vampire pun!) older brother is sucking the town’s population dry. Unbeknownst to anyone, a refreshingly dysfunctional family of vampires have come to OOB alongside the flock of faceless summer tourists, and one of them is just a little, er, hungrier than the others. He’s also very not cool to see his younger sister getting cozy on the beach with a boy.
Okay, so maybe it’s not actually a tale as old as time, but there are enough classic summer-love elements—and on-point references to an 80s timeline—in Rolfe’s Until Summer Comes Around to give the novel the sort of swoony, surreal realism that makes a well-written flashback setting so immersive. The voices of the characters ring true, as do their emotions when what should be fun summer days devolve into a real-time nightmare sequence of disappearances, murders, and a whole lot of heartache for everyone involved. And, though the main protagonists in Summer are fifteen-year-old teenagers, Rolfe pulls no punches with the gore, balancing out all that sappy summertime passion with enough blood spatter, decaying corpses, and maggots—yes, maggots!—to successfully swerve right out of the possibility of Summer being anything less than a true horror story.
While Rolfe’s ability to convincingly pen a teenage summer romance of a decade bygone is sufficient enough to drape that familiar old feeling of shoulder-padded nostalgia atop your shoulders, it’s his take on classic vampire tropes that sets Summer apart. Despite the romantic element of the story, there’s no sun-sparkling teenage angst or smooth, Transylvanian seduction here (though there is the much more accurate, slightly bumbling approach to first love, because we’ve all been there). Likewise, there’s no garlic-fearing, crucifix-welding dependency on tried-and-tried vampire tropes, and the only references to coffins, black wardrobes, and poetic monologuing range from tongue-in-cheek to outright sardonic and are never to be taken seriously. Rolfe’s vampires are much more human, and much more…relatable…which only serves to up the ante in his coming-of-age-vampire-horror.
If you’re looking to go back in time to fall in love with a monster…Until Summer Comes Around is your next read.
Broth from the Cauldron [She Writes Press, May 12th 2020] offers a collection of good-for-the-soul stories told from one of today’s most inspirational spiritual leaders.
As deeply personal as it is powerful, Broth from the Cauldron is a memoir assembled of memories and moments shared by Shamanic teacher and Wiccan Priestess Cerridwen Fallingstar. Intended as a “journey through mystery and magic”, Fallingstar guides her reader through carefully curated moments of her own life as she uses her own trajectory through teachable moments of compassion and wisdom to inspire the same in others—and it works.
While Fallingstar grounds each story within her unique brand of spiritualism, her own journey is as unique as it is relatable, which is something magical in itself: it elevates the book from a collection of essays into something that feels so genuinely heartfelt and inviting that the experience of reading feels like having a warm conversation with a close friend. She writes of growing up in a less-than entirely pleasant childhood, to moments of personal enlightenment and empowerment, to experiences joy, sorrow, and everything in between. In all of these, Fallingstar’s indelible spirit persists as she explores life’s ups and downs with an open mind, an open heart, and a rather enviable amount of optimism.
Though some readers might take issue with some of Fallingstar’s stances, what is indisputable is the wisdom and compassion embedded within the stories she shares and the lessons they are meant to offer. Broth from the Cauldron, like Fallingstar herself, is not only accessible but—regardless of a reader’s faith, aptitudes, or personal moralities—is something very special, making it a book that will beg to be returned to whenever one needs a spiritual boost, a compassionate shoulder, or even a simply a lighthearted moment with a friend. Blessed be.
In The Boy in the Box [Flame Tree Press, April 2020] a group of childhood friends with a dark secret set out to make amends for the sins of their past only to discover that some dark deeds don’t stay buried.
Ten years ago, lifelong friends Jonathan, Gene, and the Braddick brothers—Michael and Conner—took a hunting trip deep in the Adirondack Mountains to a remote piece of land known as Coombs’ Gulch. What was meant as a weekend getaway to celebrate the last days of singledom for soon-to-be-wed Jonathan culminated in a night of drunken machismo wherein Gene accidentally shot and killed a young boy. Despite the men’s questions—What was the boy doing wandering alone in the woods at night? How did he get so deep into the forest? Did they all see the same thing?—they buried the boy’s body in a makeshift tomb and swore to take their secret to the grave.
In the end, that termination point is exactly where the four men in the woods that night will find themselves—but not until the strange force that inhabits Coombs’ Gulch is ready to bring them home. After Gene’s untimely suicide, the Braddick brothers and Jonathan decide to return to the woods and relocate the boy’s body, otherwise they risk their secret being brought to light in upcoming construction. The three remaining members of the ordeal are already haunted men; they don’t want their darkness exposed to the people they love most—their families.
Once back out in the woods, the sleeping terror of that long-ago night stirs again, but the accident that seemed so straightforward before doesn’t seem to make sense now and the guilt-ridden trio finds themselves ensnared in a supernatural trap that transcends time and place. Like all ancient gods, the being in Coombs’ Gulch requires a sacrifice, and Jonathan and his friends are just the beginning.
Reminiscent of Neville’s The Ritual (2011), Fitch’s journey into the dark unknowns of ancient forests builds at a measured pace, pushing you forward in slow-building horror that exhibits all the stamina of a hike out into the woods. For all its narrative pontifications and redundancies, Boy in the Box is nevertheless still surprisingly creepy—one of those books that might not be too intimidating in the daytime but will have you leaving a light on at night, just in case.
“Let me tell you something…there is nothing nice about Southern ladies.”
Pitched as “Steel Magnolias” meets Dracula, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is everything a reader like me—who grew up simultaneously reading The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps—has been waiting for. Thank you, Grady Hendrix, thank you.
Set in the 1990s, former-nurse-turned-disaffected-housewife Patricia Campbell is bored. Life as a stay-at-home mother to two children and a husband that works too much is unfulfilling, to say the least. If it weren’t for her book club and her troupe of mismatched girlfriends, Patricia might simply fade into the wallpaper of her well-cared-for home. Luckily—or, more aptly, unluckily—things are about to get a lot more interesting (and bloody) in Charleston’s quaint, and usually very safe, Old Village District.
Even though Patricia and the other ladies of her book club—wacky Kitty, uptight Grace, religious Slick, and somewhat ambiguous Maryellen—can’t get enough of the very-murdery true crime they read about, none are prepared when a handsome young stranger moves in with an elderly neighbour. Nor are they ready for the series of spiralling, odd events that begin when the seemingly mad old woman attacks Patricia—chomping off one of her earlobes in the process.
After an ominous warning about “the man in the ice cream suit” from her mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who suffers from dementia, and a series of odd occurrences that start to slip from strange to surreal, Patricia (slowly) begins to realise that her new neighbour isn’t at all what he seems. And, there’s danger afoot: children are missing, being preyed upon by some Big Bad that inhabits the woods outside Six Mile. Unfortunately, not only is no one listening to Patricia’s warnings as she begins to connect the pieces to something not only sinister but otherworldly; they think she’s caught up in her gory book club reads and maybe a bit loose in the head to boot, making the horror of this story not just atmospheric but personal. Which is worse: the monster Patricia sees in James Harris or the suspicions that lurk in her own head, eating her away from within? The only trouble, Patricia’s already invited the darkness in, and there’s no getting it out—not without a fuss and a good bit of scrubbing, anyway.
From cryptic warnings to the lurid romanticism associated with blood drinkers, plus ghosts, rats (dear gods, the rats!), and the special kind of nightmarish terror that waits for mothers in the dark when their children and families are threatened, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires does not disappoint, offering an entirely unique approach to established vampire lore in a tale as warm as it is chilling. A master of nostalgia, Hendrix slays in his latest—and so does a very unlikely group of heroines.
Terror has a healthy appetite in Bram Stoker Award winner Tim Waggoner’s The Forever House [March 2020, Flame Tree Press].
Move over Collins, Munsters, and Addams, there’s a new breed of nightmarish neighbours coming to town. In The Forever House, a sleepy cul-de-sac with a dark past gets a new lesson in residential horror when the Eldreds move in. The Eldreds aren’t the sort of folks that anybody would race to send the welcome wagon out to, either. It’s not simply because the family of five has just moved into the Raines’ old home, the house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac where a mother went insane and murdered her entire family a few years prior, it’s that everything about the Eldreds—from their car (which makes Vantablack pale by comparison) to their names, to the strange inability to actually get a good look at any one of them (especially the one with the robotic movements and glowing green eyes)—are so frightfully unusual.
Unfortunately, “unusual” would be a rather massive understatement in the Eldreds case, because not only are the five new neighbours decidedly odd, but they are also categorically other. The Eldreds are an ageless, inhuman species that feed on the negative emotions of humans, replenishing themselves on the delicacies of human terror, prejudices, and resentments. Now, the residents of the seemingly quiet cul-de-sac promise a feast of the sort of buffet of dysfunction only suburbia can offer. With heapings of narcissism, bigotry, abuse, and marital discord, the residents of Rockridge have enough skeletons in their closets to fill the metaphorical bellies of the Eldreds for years.
Which, of course, is exactly why the Eldreds chose them. When the residents find themselves lured—and trapped—inside the House of Blood, they’ll have to survive their worst fears and deepest, darkest secrets if they are to have any hope of getting out alive. Even then, it’s probably not going to happen.
Fast-paced, hair-raising, and with a twist ending with enough spin to make you rethink who the real monsters are, The Forever House is the sort of phantasmagorical terror that keeps you reading through gore, grit, and grime until the very end.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.