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The Twisted Ones

Publisher’s Description:

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.


Review:

I recently read horror novel The Twisted Ones by US author T. Kingfisher.

The Twisted Ones follows the protagonist Mouse who is given the unfavourable task to clean out her holder grandmother’s house after her death. It is no surprise to Mouse that no one liked her grandmother, especially not Mouse. The only person Mouse shared any similarity with was her step-grandfather Cochrane.

While cleaning out the house Mouse finds her grandmother’s hoarding was far beyond anything she had expected. The only room in the entire house that hasn’t been filled with junk is Cochrane’s room. What she does find is Cochrane’s journal which contains the madness of a man falling into dementia and the sane writings of a man who believed in folklore of white people he’d known about in Wales and the standing stones associated with something he calls the twisted ones.

Pretty soon Mouse encounters the terrifying reality of the things Cochrane had been describing. And even sooner, she is drawn into a world that cannot exist and the monsters called the twisted ones. Accompanied by the neighbour from the hippie commune, Mouse and her dog venture into the madness of Cochrane’s world and hope to escape it- knowing that he did not.

Final Thoughts:

The Twisted Ones is skilfully written, enjoyable and terrifying. An intriguing combination of folklore and horror with the right amount of gore, terror and mystery to create just the correct balance to make it fast paced and exciting. Kingfisher writes with a talent that makes it seem easy, the characters are all unique and secrets revealed with perfect timing.

Conclusion:

A fantastic read for anyone who enjoys horror, folk horror, dark fiction and a good character driven story. Highly recommended!

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Burnt Sugar

Publisher’s Description

Decades after the incident in the woods, Gretel has forged a good life in a small village, running a bakery and taking care of her brother and the stray, bedraggled women who find work as her apprentices. Business is good, and when it’s not, Gretel took more from the witch than a knack of making sweet treats and gingerbread, just as her brother returned home forever changed by the torture he experienced.

The book of magic hidden beneath the stairs has kept Gretel and her household comfortable for years, but it also calls to Gretel in the night, demanding she return to the woods and replace the witch they killed. For years, she’s been resisting, determined to keep Hansel and her apprentices safe.

Then Hansel’s drinking goes too far and Gretel realises her brother is dying. Finally, the seductive call of the book’s magic might be too strong to deny…


Review

I read Burnt Sugar (Never Afters, #1) by Australian author Kirstyn McDermott.

Burnt Sugar follows the well-known Grimm fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel in the decades after their abandonment in the forest, and stumbling on the witch’s cottage. The tale of Gretel’s servitude to the witch while Hansel rotted behind bars. That is where the familiar tale we know ends and a new reimagined one begins.

Gretel is now an older woman and her brother Hansel a town-thug and drunkard. After what they both endured in the Witch’s cottage, the siblings have gone down two very different paths in life. Gretel manages a bakery and is haunted by memories of burning the witch alive so she and her brother might escape. Stranger still is the book of witchcraft she stole from the cottage and the gems that frequently appear. In a town that is hard on the poor and wretched, Gretel adopts those she can and provides handouts for those she can’t – the memory of being a starving unwanted child one that is still fresh.

Final Thoughts

Burnt Sugar is an intriguing “what if” novella that offers a conclusion to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. There are some aspects which are unanswered – such as the hands that push at Gretel’s back – reminiscent of the witch’s own ending. Whether this is deliberately unexplained or not it is unclear. Regardless, this is a deeply emotional and thought provoking idea of what might have happened once two children expected lost to the forest, stumbled back to their village and how their lives would have altered from the experience.

Conclusion

A fascinating literary reimagining of the Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy a historical fantasy. A solid fairytale reimagining for those curious to know what might happened after Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch and the forest.

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Malice

Publisher’s Description

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss. You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily ever after. Utter nonsense. Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though a power like mine was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps together we could forge a new world. Nonsense again. Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.


Review

One of my recent reads was Malice (Malice Duology, #1) by US author Heather Walter.

Malice follows the protagonist Alyce, one of the Briar kingdom’s Graces- mortals born with weak Fae heritage with blood able to produce eilixrs. The other Graces have golden blood which bestows beauty, charm and wit. Alyce, or the ‘Dark Grace’ as she is known, is part-Vila, one of the Dark-Fae and her green blood reviled for bestowing curses not charms. Yet, like all the Graces, Alyce is unable to leave the Kingdom of Briar – bound to serve in Grace Household and earnings leveraged to the Briar crown.

In the Kingdom of Briar, Alyce is despised for being part-Vila, the Dark Fae who were too powerful for the Light Fae Etherians to destroy until they allied with the mortals. The alliance forged between the Etherians and the Queens of Briar resulted in the establishment of Briar.
In Briar, Alyce is considered a symbol of past hatred and fear. Only the heir to the Briar crown, princess Aurora finds companionship and understanding with Alyce. All heirs to the Briar throne bear the curse from a powerful a Vila to die before their twenty-first birthday if the curse isn’t broken by their true love. Despite this history, an unlikely relationship is forged between Alyce and Aurora. But Alyce has kept her secrets from Aurora when she allies with a mysterious prisoner from the destroyed Vila kingdom with promises to unlock Alyce‘s true power.

Final Thoughts

Malice was an exciting read, a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale that was both satisfying as an epic fantasy in its own right, an queer romance, and a fairytale retelling. It was the combination of these aspects which made Malice something more than a genderbent version of a fairytale – it made it a reworking of a classic into an epic fantasy in its own right. Expertly done.

Conclusion

A highly recommended retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. A unique epic fantasy that will satisfy readers of fairytale retellings, dark fantasy, queer romance and truly excellent worldbuilding. A great read!

Writing

Announcing the 2022 Aurealis Awards Judging Panels

I’m thrilled to be part of the judging panel for the 2022 Best Collection/Anthology. Enjoyed judging in the 2021 Best Horror Novel/Novella. Can’t wait to join the amazing Aurealis Awards teams again this year and see what great Australian speculative fiction is submitted!

Read the full post from the Aurealis Awards Committee below!!!


We are very pleased to welcome our 2022 Aurealis Awards judging panels. We had a massive response to our call out this year, and are delighted to …

Announcing the 2022 Judging Panels
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You’ve Lost A Lot Of Blood

Publisher’s Description

“Each precious thing I show you in this book is a holy relic from the night we both perished-the night when I combed you from my hair and watered the moon with your blood.

You’ve lost a lot of blood . . .”


Review

I recently read Eric LaRocca’s second independently published novella You’ve Lost A Lot of Blood.

You’ve Lost a lot of Blood is a fictionalised presentation of the writings from Martyr Black and recorded conversations with his partner Ambrose Thorne. Martyr Black was accused by authorities of the serial murders of gay men whom he’d lured into relationships before killing them.

The story-within-a story is a novella supposed written by Martyr Black, focuses on Tamsen and her younger brother Presley, when Tamsen takes a job debugging a famous virtual reality game. Inevitably, things go terribly awry and the darker truth behind the mysterious game designer and the game becomes clear.

The final passages of You’ve Lost a lot Blood conclude of the linear storyline of Martyr Black’s infamous life and the plagiarism of various works from his victims throughout the years of his killing spree.

Final Thoughts

I was immersed in the beautiful and striking prose immediately. You’ve Lost A Lot of Blood has been described as being like an art installation and it’s certainly the feeling I had. The snippets of conversations between Martyr and Ambrose, the poems and novella, combine with a memoir-like passages by Black are all presented as a fictionalised volume itself. It’s an intriguing read, brilliantly written and a clever design.

Conclusion

You’ve Lost a lot of Blood is highly recommended for its literary skill, the unique presentation of writing ‘voices’ to reflect the different fictionalised authors is expertly done. Horror readers won’t be disappointed either with some truly distributing dark fiction aspects. An absolute must read!

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Night of the Mannequins

Publisher’s Description

We thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead.

One last laugh for the summer as it winds down. One last prank just to scare a friend. Bringing a mannequin into a theater is just some harmless fun, right? Until it wakes up. Until it starts killing.

Luckily, Sawyer has a plan. He’ll be a hero. He’ll save everyone to the best of his ability. He’ll do whatever he needs to so he can save the day. That’s the thing about heroes—sometimes you have to become a monster first.


Review

I recently read horror novella Night of the Mannequins by US author Stephen Graham Jones.

Night of the Mannequins follows a group of school friends in a final summer. In what begins as a ‘coming-of-age’ story quickly turns for a darker and more disturbing route as a mannequin adopted by the group for the summer takes on a life of its own.

Soon, the bodies begin to drop and exactly where reality ends and madness takes over becomes blurred. Equally blurred are the lines between hero and monster.

Final Thoughts

Night of the Mannequins was another brilliantly twisted tale from Stephen Graham Jones- now firmly cemented as my favourite horror writer. Disclaimer: I’m terrified of mannequins. The lure for me was Graham Jones’s skilful writing. This was a delightfully dark novella where nothing is as it seems and becoming a monster was one of them.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! For horror readers of the psychological, thriller, bizarre and supernatural. A great read.

Long Fiction, Writing

Bluebells Release!!

My debut horror novella Bluebells was published on July 9th 2022 by Black Hare Press.


1917, Australia.

In the aftermath of an alternate ending to the First World War, mass frontline casualties and a mysterious pandemic have decimated governments and the environment across much of Europe and the world, Australia included.

Anna Baylon lives with her parents, scraping a meagre living in the drought-ridden, abandoned, and mostly isolated town of Berrima near Sydney, waiting for news of her older brother, Peter, who enlisted years before.

The arrival of a handsome, mysterious stranger, Nicolas de Laon, her brother’s lover, turns her world upside down.

Anna’s strength is tested when she follows Nicolas—a vampire—from the safety of her home, determined to learn Peter’s fate.

But Nicolas’s darkness isn’t confined to his vampiric hereditary. And when Anna learns the darker truth, can she forgive him?

A steamy dystopian thriller from Leanbh Pearson.

More details on how you can purchase ebook, paperback and hardcover copies of Bluebells here.

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The Dark Matter of Natasha

Publisher’s Description

Natasha stalks the quiet streets of dead-end Lunar Bay like doom in a denim jacket. She’s a grim reminder that some teenagers can never escape the ever-tightening noose of their lives. Burned out and benumbed by a traumatic past, dogged by scurrilous small-town gossip, she finds solace in drugs, sex and Slayer.

When a naïve transplant crosses her path, he’s drawn into shadow and doubt. With his girlfriend ghosting him, Natasha’s fresh introduction to her half-lit world is darkly appealing. Now faced with confusing quandaries—connection or convenience, relationship or exploitation—can he help any of the women in his life? Or is he just helping himself?

The untold tragedies of Natasha’s lonely life may be more than he can handle. And in a town whose history is littered with dead girls, there may be no happy ending for anyone.

A tar-black coming of age story, this gritty psychological thriller from Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Matthew R. Davis, eloquently chronicles the crushing gravity of small-town hopelessness, the double-edged catharsis of sex, drugs, and heavy metal, and the brutal weight of youth’s first lessons in accountability.

What horrors have Natasha’s flat eyes witnessed? And how far will she go in pursuit of the one tiny spark of hope that still flickers in her haunted heart?


*** I received a free ebook in exchange for an honest review ***

Review

I recently read The Dark Matter of Natasha by Matthew R. Davis, an Australian horror and dark fiction author.

The Dark Matter of Natasha follows a teenage protagonist as he navigates poverty and the isolation of a small town, always wanting something more in a place that can’t offer much. After a confusing sexual incident and subsequent rejection by his girlfriend Caitlin, there’s a real sense of abandonment and that the life he’d hoped for is slipping away from him. Then he meets Natasha and everything changes.

Natasha is alluring in many ways. She’s someone he doesn’t understand, someone who seems to accept him regardless of his naivety, insecurities and how different he is from her. But Natasha is a greatly flawed. She’s someone who’s seen the worst of the world and it’s betrayals. She’s hardened and jaded by life and expects nothing but more of the same from it. There’s a sense of hopelessness to her and a waiting out the clock despite her young age.

It’s hard to discuss how our protagonist changes over the course of the story without giving away major plot developments as spoilers. But after a series of catastrophic events occur, he’s changed in ways he can’t ever recover from. Although he and Caitlin remain together, their marriage is a cold one and bound by shared experience rather than any love remaining between them.

Final Thoughts

The Dark Matter of Natasha is a complex novella that is both a coming-of-age story and one of desire and trauma. In an exploration of the bleakest natures of human experience and how repeated trauma reduces human capacity to a shell of itself, a hardened and emotionally distant one fuelled only by memory. Despite the dark undertones to the story, there are such clearly defined characters.

Davis makes us witnesses to how despite her indifference to life, Natasha changes lives forever. But the trauma that seemed to only belong to Natasha at the beginning of the story is a creeping thing, almost a character in itself, to where by the end our protagonist and Caitlin exist but no longer seem to truly live in the world. Davis shows us the spreading tide of trauma and hopelessness from a small community that has indelible effects on those who survive it.

Conclusion

A powerfully written and intense dark fiction novella. Trigger warnings are necessary for psychological and sexual abuse and suicide themes. A recommended read.

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The Path of Thorns


Publisher’s Description

Asher Todd comes to live with the mysterious Morwood family as a governess to their children. Asher knows little about being a governess but she is skilled in botany and herbcraft, and perhaps more than that. And she has secrets of her own, dark and terrible – and Morwood is a house that eats secrets. With a monstrous revenge in mind, Asher plans to make it choke. However, she becomes fond of her charges, of the people of the Tarn, and she begins to wonder if she will be able to execute her plan – and who will suffer most if she does. But as the ghosts of her past become harder to control, Asher realises she has no choice.


*** I received an ARC in exchange for a voluntary review ***

Review

I recently read The Path of Thorns by Australian horror and dark fantasy author A.G. Slatter (aka Angela Slatter).

Asher Todd contrives to organise a position as a governess at Morwood grange to educate the three children. Hired by elder Mrs Leonora Morwood, despite her son Luther Morwood running the estate. Asher is haunted both literally and figuratively by her past and a terrible plan to seek revenge and destroy the Morwoods.

Enacting her plan becomes harder when Asher reveals her skills as a cunning woman, a witch and healer. Soon, the struggling people of the Morwood estate and local Tarn rely on Asher for their care. Caught between her loyalty to the Tarn and her desire for revenge against the Morwoods, Asher’s hand is prematurely forced unleashing a dark tide of magic, regret, desire, and rage.

Final Thoughts

The Path of Thorns skilfully blends fairytales and folklore to reimagine an equistitely detailed dark Victorian world. An beautiful and deadly world of witchcraft and ghosts, dark magic and desperate actions. A tale of unrequited affection with dark consequences, The Path of Thorns is rich with complex characters, a dark and twisted fairytale set in the dark fantasy Sourdough world.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for lovers of dark fantasy, horror, gothic horror and ghost stories. The Path of Thorns is a well-written and beautifully executed novel. A must read!