2017 Horror Round-Up

By PJ Blakey-Novis

I read a lot of horror in 2017, way more than I used to, and so the following ten books are the ones which first came to mind. Of these, eight fall into the category of horror, with a mix of sub-genres. The remaining two were excellent reads of a different kind. They have all stood out, either because they were intensely gripping, shockingly disturbing, or at least had an element of originality.  So, in no particular order, my ten recommended reads are;

You Only Get One Shot by Kevin J. Kennedy & J.C. Michael

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I had been looking forward to reading this since listing it on my Halloween promotion in October, and I was not disappointed. You Only Get One Shot was a really enjoyable, original story. The authors had found a clever way of bringing a group of short stories together and adding a frightening connection between them all. A real pleasure to read.

 

 

 

 

 

Hades Gate by D.J. Doyle

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I was keen to read more from D.J. Doyle, after the fabulously disturbing Red, and Hades Gate did not disappoint. It was much less gruesome than Red, but carried an air of fear throughout. Hades Gate tells the story of a group of treasure hunters who find more than they bargained for in an underwater cave. Hades Gate is a short, action-packed, fear-filled ride that is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Hydrophobia: A Charity Anthology

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I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of Hydrophobia at the end of October. I then spent the next few evenings reading my way through the 29 short stories that authors had provided to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Essentially, it’s a horror anthology, but each story varies greatly in sub-genre. The continued theme throughout is water. Some, such as the wonderful Bunny and Clyde by Lisa Vasquez, were genuinely creepy. Others, such as Beyond the Ocean by Lisa Lane, were beautifully original. The Dust by William Stuart was another of my favourites. Out of 29 stories and poems, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of them. I have no hesitation in recommending Hydrophobia, as a fantastic book, and as a great way to discover new writers.

X: A Collection of Horror by C.M. Saunders

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A fabulous collection of short horror stories, spanning a range of sub-genres. Each story is uniquely fascinating; the author expertly builds up tension without the need for excessive gore. There was also a great introduction to the book, which reads as a conversation with the author, and really draws you in from the very start. This was the first of C.M. Saunder’s work that I have read, and will definitely be checking out more.

 

 

 

 

Red: An Extreme Horror by D.J. Doyle

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So, this book caught my eye a few months ago, when I was in the early stages of preparing for my Halloween promotion, largely due the use of the word ‘extreme’ in the description. It was the first story that I had read from the author, so I genuinely had no idea what to expect. Since reading it, which I did in one sitting on a cold evening, I have recommended it to several people. Now, in the case of Red, extreme means extreme! If you are remotely squeamish then this is not the book for you. It’s a short read, and I don’t want to give too much away, but Red is essentially a serial killer story. It’s a little different to most as the story is told from the killer’s perspective, and the author does a fantastic job of taking the reader into the killer’s mind, his background, and the reasoning he uses to justify his behaviour; he just wants to find his princess. If you’re fine with some gore, and want an unsettling yet pleasurable way to spend an evening, you can’t go wrong grabbing a copy of Red.

 

 

 

Triggered: An Extreme Horror by Justin Tense

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If torture and gore are what you look for in a horror story, then Triggered may be just your thing. It tells the story of a wealthy horror writer exacting revenge on the three police officers who abused him in his youth. The story is short, and straight to the point, with some very imaginatively gruesome scenes. Not for the weak of stomach, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

Pleasure Seekers by Mike Krutz

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Back in October, I ran a Halloween promotion to showcase a different horror story each day of the month, (You can find the list on my blog). Pleasure Seekers was one that stood out for me, and not just because of the bright, simplistic cover. It is a short story at 85 pages, but what an adventure it was to read! The story takes place over one night in a city, as the lives of a host of unusual characters intertwine. The story was well paced, and beautifully written. It was easy to envisage the scenes as each one unfolded. Pleasure Seekers managed to combine a fascinating set of individual tales and weave them into a story that I can honestly see becoming a cult classic.

 

 

 

Manchester Vice by Jack Strange

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I was lucky enough receive an Advance Readers Copy of Jack Strange’s fantastic Manchester Vice. It was a really enjoyable thriller, told from the point of view of Brad Sharpe, a journalist turned serial killer. The story was well-paced, with short chapters, and enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. At one point, I thought I had an upcoming twist figured out but I was wrong, which was a pleasant surprise. The ending was well thought out, and right up to the final chapter I did not know what to expect.

 

 

 

 

 

Noah Finn & The Art of Suicide by E. Rachael Hardcastle

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I was fortunate enough to receive an Advance Copy of Noah Finn and the Art of Suicide, knowing only that it dealt with delicate issues such as religion, death and the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001. As soon as I began reading, even by the end of the first chapter, I could see that this was something special. The story deals with Noah Finn, a janitor who had, up until September 11th, been trying to end his life. The story was complex enough to keep my interest, linking strings of incidents together as ‘The Universe’  played its role, with the help of Death, or Christopher Saint as he was called at this time. The connections between the characters were well thought out, and the writing was of an incredibly high standard. Overall, Noah Finn and the Art of Suicide was a thought-provoking, highly original, and sensitive story, with a splash of humour thrown in.

 

 

 

 

Holmes Volume 1 by Melvyn Small

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Firstly, a confession; I have never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories but, of course, I am familiar with the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. This reimagining of their adventures brings them into the modern day, in which Dr Watson is a psychiatrist and meets Holmes through this capacity. The book comprises of six short mysteries, all intertwined. The whole book was a pleasure to read; beautifully written, with clever storylines which kept me guessing throughout. The character of Sherlock was described perfectly, giving the reader a real sense of what kind of man he was. There were several laugh-out-loud moments, usually at points where Sherlock had to interact with a policeman by the name of Lestrade. Overall, it was hugely entertaining, and I look forward to reading Volume 2.

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Drunk Book Reviews: Cult of Kill Volume 1

by Renee Miller and Captain Morgan

So, Katrina had an idea, and we always play along. Welcome to the first edition of drunk book reviews. We plan to run a couple of these every month. They won’t be as long as this one, we hope, but you can’t make drunk people follow rules. And each review will be a podcast for now, because we sound bad enough, we don’t need you seeing the total shit show. Cool? Awesome.

In this installment, Renee drank a lot of rum really fast, and then she reviewed Cult of Kill, by Patrick Kill. Because you’ll be wondering, there are some images below that will make sense when you listen to the review. Enjoy.

 

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And, Sullivan…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books You MUST Read Before You Die

 

Pretty dramatic with the titles, aren’t we?

Most people keep a bucket list of things they’d like to do before they die. It might be a literal list, or just something we keep changing and adding to in our heads. Some of us don’t really care what we do, our bucket list is about what we want to read. So, a few of the Dolls thought maybe you’d like some help on your reading bucket list. Here you go. Five books we think you MUST read before you die and why we think so.

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The Price of Salt

By Patricia Highsmith

Recommended by: Katrina Monroe

 

 

From the cover:

A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.

Author Patricia Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Originally published in 1952 under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt was heralded as “the novel of a love society forbids.” Highsmith’s sensitive treatment of fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction. Erotic, eloquent, and suspenseful, this story offers an honest look at the necessity of being true to one’s nature. The book is also the basis of the acclaimed 2015 film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

I avoid the “Gay and Lesbian” section of the bookstore like the plague. It’s mostly a black hole of straight-woman aimed erotica and stereotyped love stories. It’s hard, but not impossible, to find GOOD gay fiction. Many of you probably saw the movie “Carol” with Cate Blanchett and Noomi Rapace. EXCELLENT film. It was a book first, though, called THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia Highsmith. Not only is it an accurate portrayal of lesbian relationships circa 1950, it transcends stereotypes of what a lesbian ought to look like, decades ahead of its time. It’s a quick read (I finished in an afternoon) and definitely a must for readers.

 

 

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A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving

Recommended by: Renee Miller

 

From the cover:

Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” — A Prayer for Owen Meany

I read this book when I was in high school. We had “free choice” of any book in the library and were told to choose wisely, as our final assignment would be based on the book we decided to read. I’d like to say I had a reason for choosing it, but I can’t. I just picked the first cover that appealed to me. With the armadillo on the cover, I thought it looked weird, and I only had a few minutes before the bell would ring and we’d have to leave the library, so Owen Meany it was.

From the first words, “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice,” I loved this book, and I know this sounds cliché or weird even, but it changed high school me forever.  A Prayer for Owen Meany is perhaps one of the most perfectly written stories I’ve ever read. From pace to characterization to plot to dialogue; everything in this book is spot on. It is about faith, but not just in God. It’s about faith in yourself and the people close to you. It’s about feeling like an outcast, even if you’re surrounded by friends and family. For high school me, it was about learning to accept the weird inside of me, and knowing everyone, from the kindest to the meanest, has a place in the grand scheme of things. I needed this book when I read it, although I didn’t realize this until much later, so it’s kind of cool (and a little unnerving) that I stumbled across it when I did.

Later in my life, I found myself recalling certain passages at different times, and the words Irving writes hit their mark again. For example,

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

It is rare to find a novel that can affect you no matter where you are in life. It’s also rare to find an author who can inspire you to be a better writer (or even a better person). With this book, Irving creates a timeless story that is relevant to the reader at any stage in life, no matter what pile of shit you’re trying to find your way out of.

 

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Sleeping Beauty Trilogy

By Anne Rice

Recommended by: Lacy Grand

 

From Amazon:

“Something very special . . . at once so light and yet so haunting.” -The Advocate

In the traditional folktale of “Sleeping Beauty,” the spell cast upon the lovely young princess and everyone in her castle can only be broken by the kiss of a Prince. It is an ancient story, one that originally emerged from and still deeply disturbs the mind’s unconscious. Now Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquelaure, retells the Beauty story and probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire. Here the Prince awakens Beauty, not with a kiss, but with sexual initiation. His reward for ending the hundred years of enchantment is Beauty’s complete and total enslavement to him . . .

 

Most people are afraid of erotic novels. Perhaps they believe such books are poorly written, or they contain elements that are distasteful or uncomfortable (if they’re written properly they do), or maybe, if they’re honest with themselves, they’re afraid they might like what they read.

If you’re new to erotica, please, for the love of God and whatever else you hold dear, do NOT begin with 50 Shades. Begin with master storyteller, Anne Rice. I spent my teen years obsessed with everything written by Anne Rice. The Vampire Chronicles, Lives of the Mayfair Witches, and in later years, I continued this obsession, with her Life of Christ novels, and eventually, my reading led me to her exquisitely written Beauty series.

With these books Rice shows the reader that erotica is not just about sex. Yes, the sexual elements are distinct. They’re graphic and (sometimes) disturbing, but she also skillfully weaves plot and characterization so that you’re not just reading to “get off.” You’re actually invested in the story and its players.

Yes, this is what erotica should be. It’s what any well written book should be. Happy reading!

 

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Wyrd Sisters

By Terry Pratchet

Recommended by Steve Wetherell

 

From the cover:

Terry Pratchett’s fantasy classic Wyrd Sisters, a novel in the Discworld series, is the story of Granny Weatherwax, the most highly regarded non-leader a coven of non-social witches could ever have.

Generally, these loners don’t get involved in anything, mush less royal intrigue. but then there are those times they can’t help it. As Granny Weatherwax is about to discover, though, it’s a lot harder to stir up trouble in the castle than some theatrical types would have you think. Even when you’ve got a few unexpected spells up your sleeve.

Granny Weatherwax teams with two other witches — Nanny Ogg and Margat Garlick – as an unlikely alliance to save a prince and restore him to the throne of Lancre, in a tale that borrows — or is it parodies — some of William Shakespeare’s best-loved works.

 

Everyone knows that Douglas Adams is the undisputed don of zany, snarky British comedy. Everyone, however, is wrong. It’s Terry Pratchett, a man who took the swords and sorcery genre, filtered it through a wryly critical brain, and created one of the most magnetic and strangely logical fantasy worlds in literary history; the Discworld. When people ask me which Discworld novel to start with, I usually just laugh and throw books at them until they retreat, but perhaps the safest place to start is where I did with Wyrd Sisters. The Discworld is a depository parallel universe where the rules that govern our stories are very real forces, so when the plot of a familiar Shakespeare play begins to unravel, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve guessed the ending. However, the witches in this world are no-nonsense, iron-willed matriarchs, unwilling to see themselves re-written as meddling old hags (even if they are.) Narrative satisfaction runs headlong into sheer bloody-mindedness in this hilarious and wonderfully written novel.

 

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The Dice Man

by Luke Rhinehart

Recommended by: C.M. Saunders

From Amazon:

Classic novel of the 70s, back in print.

The cult classic that can still change your life…Let the dice decide! This is the philosophy that changes the life of bored psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart―and in some ways changes the world as well. Because once you hand over your life to the dice, anything can happen. Entertaining, humorous, scary, shocking, subversive, The Dice Man is one of the cult bestsellers of our time.

 

When I was a mature student with a lot of free time on my hands, I read a book called The Dice Man. What grabbed me was the sub-head, ‘This book will change your life.’ In a nutshell, it tells the story of a psychiatrist (called Luke Rhinehart) who, feeling bored and unfulfilled with life, decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he rolls a dice, and lets fate decide which path he should take. As far as I remember, the rule of the ‘game’ is that you give yourself six options, one for each number on the dice. Five reasonably attractive things that you wouldn’t mind doing, and one thing that you don’t want to do.

On the surface, its a book about freedom, and fucking the system. I was so taken with the concept that I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and decided to live by the dice for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let it decide anything important. Just things like which places I should visit and in what order, and when I got there which cafe I should I stop at and which hostel should I stay in. It was a liberating experience, but slightly unnerving. I wasn’t in control of my life anymore. Something else was, some higher force. Call it what you want; fate, destiny, the cosmic joker, God, whatever.

Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonym of George Cockroft, who has written numerous other books and essays, including several other ‘Dice’ books. The original, first published in 1971, has attained cult status, and been published in over 60 countries. In 2012 he pranked his own death, but in reality is still going strong at the age of 83. Throw a dice for him. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might regret t. But that’s part of the fun.

And there you have it. Got any recommendations for us? We’d love to add to our bucket lists, so please share.

 

 

Deviant Book Review: Babes in Gangland

 

 

 

 

 

BABES IN GANGLAND

By Bix Skahill

Babes in Gangland

 

Review by Katrina Monroe

 

 

From the cover:

No Woman Could Change His Ways, Only His Diaper…

When Marrowburg’s most fearsome gangster, Kid Phoenix, gets gunned down behind Stripping Through History (a titty bar that combines nudity with feminist history), there is a silver lining: he gets a second chance at life.

Coming back as Baby Jaydon, whose perpetual five o’clock shadow and penchant for swearing aren’t going to win him any friends on the playground, he’s adopted by a well-to-do family and goes to live in the suburbs with no memory of his former life. But after a chance run-in with his ex-henchman, Ram Bountybar, Baby Jaydon begins to recall fragments of his former underworld life. He forsakes his quiet existence of building blocks and afternoon naps to find out who put five slugs in his back behind Stripping Through History.

With the help of Ram and Kid’s former moll, Ruby Redd, who’s now a nun, Baby Jaydon goes on a dangerous journey through Marrowburg’s twisted underworld to find out who killed him. Blood and formula flow as Baby Jaydon, Ram, and Ruby Redd encounter onion and chive-scented mobsters, rabid ocelots, and the world’s angriest travel agent.

 

The best thing about bizarro fiction is the anticipation of the unexpected. Picking up a story like BABES IN GANGLAND, you know you’re going to get something insane and you just hope your psyche is malleable enough to take it in.

The tone is set right away—noirish without boxing itself into the genre. Bad guys and cops. Dames with bodies men kill to get a closer look at. But surrounding it all is an air of what-the-fuck. Is there such a thing as subtle bizarro? If not, Skahill might be its founder. Details like a tanning salon/hospital and a feminist strip joint that features ladies attempting to teach their patrons while grinding on them come at the reader from left and right, jarring the story just enough to knock the reader around a bit before getting on with the plot.

“It’s always a fucking surprise when I see my fucking reflection.”

“The darkness is scary and Berry Bear protects me from that shit.”

I’ve only read one other novel with a baby point of view and it wasn’t pretty. The tool can typically go one of two ways: badly, or less badly. But Skahill pulls it off with hilarious results. Baby Jaydon is the epitome of what parents, over-tired and frustrated, imagine their infants to be beneath all the goo-gooing and glazed smiles—tyrants who wouldn’t banish the thought of putting a bullet between your eyes if you don’t hurry up with that binky.

After his mom’s—er—untimely death, Baby Jaydon and his loyal henchman, Ram Bountybar, set off to seek revenge on the sonofabitch who twitched him. At a little less than a hundred and twenty pages, this story moves quickly, with a straightforward style that pushes the reader to keep up, lest she get left in the dust. Move too fast, though, and you’ll miss little details that send the bizarre of the story over the top.

And some of these details hide within the characters themselves. Each has a quirk that makes him memorable—French onion B.O., progeria, an I (heart) snatch tattoo. With few words, Skahill gives the reader just enough that you’re certain you know these people, though you’re scared to wonder what unfortunate bender introduced you to them in the first place.

BABES IN GANGLAND is one of those books that, once the last page is turned, the reader hugs her knees to her chest and rocks, gently, murmuring until the white coats come to pick her up. Strange, monumentally screwed up, but a pleasure to read.