reads, Recent Reads

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.

reads, Recent Reads

The Old Dragon’s Head

Publisher’s Description

Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?


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

Review

I recently read The Old Dragon’s Head by UK author Justin Newland.

The Old Dragon’s Head follows protagonist Bolin, a worker on mending the Old Dragon’s Head, a part of the Great Wall associated with the head of Old Dragon who embodies the wall. But Bolin has an ability to see ghosts and prophecies, including the loss of his fiefdom’s Prince of Yan in battle.

To restore the balance of power in China, the Emperor’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with the aid of the true Old Dragon, Laolong. Eventually Bolin accepts the reality and responsibility of his supernatural gifts and becomes Dragon Master to help protect China’s Empire from the coming war.

Final Thoughts

The Old Dragon’s Head explores a fascinating era of Chinese history and the use of historical fantasy elements works well – the supernatural invading reality and threatening to drive Bolin into madness. Unfortunately, the writing style lacked immediacy and engagement, characters feeling two-dimensional. The world-building and historical knowledge was exceptionally well detailed though.

Conclusion

A recommended read for those who enjoy historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history and strong paranormal elements. A detailed historical read.

reads, Recent Reads

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!

reads, Recent Reads

Melmoth


Publisher’s Description

Oh friend, take my hand – I’ve been so lonely!

One winter night in Prague, Helen Franklin encounters her friend Karel, half-mad with fear.

He has come into possession of a mysterious old manuscript, filled with testimonies that speak to Helen from 17th-century England, wartime Czechoslovakia, the sweat-soaked streets of Manila and 1920’s Turkey. All of them tell of being followed by a tall, silent woman in black, bearing a terrible message.

Helen reads its contents with intrigue, but everything in her life is about to change.


Review

I recently read the supernatural dark fiction Melmoth by UK author Sarah Perry.

Melmoth introduces Helen, the protagonist, a translator working in Prague. Helen has a dark past, inflicting harsh self-punishment upon herself. It is the uncharacteristic behaviour of her friend Karel that begins Helen’s dark journey with the haunting spectre, Melmoth the Witness.

Helen’s closest companions in Prague are Thea and Karel, but Karel becomes obsessed with a document given to him about Melmoth. Karel spirals into madness, determined that Melmoth is following him and Helen takes the documents Karel has accumulated. The sudden disappearance of Karel coincides with Helen’s increased preoccupation with Melmoth. As Helen reads more of the history of Melmoth, a woman in black, unadmitted to heaven walks the earth alone with bloody feet finding those who would join her wandering. As Helen questions her sanity, Melmoth invades her life and Melmoth reaches a dark resolution.

Final Thoughts

Melmoth is a fascinating exploration of identity, redemption and guilt. While discovers more about the history of Melmoth, threads of self-doubt are woven throughout to the extent where Helen’s sanity is as questionable as Karel and others who have come into contact with Melmoth. The real and unreal become intricately tied, strengthening the dark psychological horror of Melmoth.

Conclusion

Melmoth is for readers who enjoy atmospheric dark fiction, supernatural and psychological horror. Strong folklore and traditions are well integrated into this dark, suspenseful tale. A highly recommended read!

reads, Recent Reads

The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners

Publisher’s Description

Welcome to The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories.

Slatter’s work has been described by the legendary Ramsey Campbell as “enviably original, and told in prose as stylish as it’s precise. Not just disturbing but often touching, her work enriches and revives the tale of terror.”

From the fierce changeling children of ‘Finnegan’s Field’ to shades of old gods in ‘Egyptian Revival’, from the Lovecraftian echoes of ‘Lavinia’s Wood’ to a new kind of Victorian sleuth in ‘Ripper’, and from the re-imagined fairy tale of ‘The Little Mermaid, in Passing’ to the tender terror of ‘Neither Time nor Tears’, the stories in this collection spring from dragons’ teeth scattered on the field of story.


Review

One of my favourite reads was The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories by Australian author Angela Slatter.

The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories is a fantastic and disturbing collection with a few favourites that I really enjoyed. The novella ‘Ripper’ is a Victorian crime viewed through a gothic and supernatural lens. ‘Finnegan’s Field’ is a chilling tale about changelings.

Final Thoughts

The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories is a varied collection that is well-written, perfectly executed in the distrusting nature of psychological horror, supernatural horror and dark fiction.

Conclusion

Highly recommended for those readers who enjoy a literary style of dark fiction, the chilling nature of supernatural horror and the disturbing dread from psychological horror. A must-read!

reads, Recent Reads

No Good Deed

Publisher’s Description :

Isobel assumed her wedding would be the grandest day of her life, but when she wakes in a ghost-filled tomb still wearing her bridal veil, it’s clear events have taken an unexpected turn.

With the assistance of a vengeful spirit Isobel escapes her imprisonment, but her new husband Adolphus will not be pleased to discover his wife is alive. As Isobel comes to understand her husband’s darkest secret, the newlyweds begin a deadly dance that only one will survive.


My Review:

I read Dark fantasy novelette No Good Deed: A Sourdough Tale by Australian author Angela Slatter.

No Good Deed is set in the Sourdough universe following protagonist Isobel, a former student of St Dymphna where she learned many skills from blade-work to poisoning, and not a lady easily pushed around. After a marriage proposal from the son of a old family (unknowingly long since fallen on hard times but keeping up appearances), Isobel thinks her marriage well made. Until she wakes in her wedding dress locked within a crypt with the remains of Adolphus’s previous wives. Alive and determined to get her revenge, Isobel finds support from another vengeful wife, this one incoproreal, but more than pleased to get revenge on Adolphus with Isobel’s help.

So begins the cat-and-mouse game between the newlyweds where Isobel must kill Adolphus if she wishes to survive her marriage.

Final Thoughts:

No Good Deed is truly a tale of revenge and laced with dark humour. The gothic theme is lavishly applied but joined with a strong female protagonist to make No Good Deed very enjoyable and unique.

My Conclusion:

Highly recommended read for lovers of gothic fiction, horror, dark fantasy and grimdark. Beautifully written, darkly humorous and enjoyable to the end. A must-read!

Short Fiction, stories

Haunt Release


Delighted that Haunt (Five Hundred Fiction, #6) was released on 24th August, 2021. This supernatural anthology is published by Black Hare Press and features my flash fiction “The Haunted Ones”.

You can find out more about Haunt (Five Hundred Fiction, #6) and where to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

reads, Recent Reads

The Ghost Tree

Publisher’s Description

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.


Review

One of my very recent reads was The Ghost Tree by US horror and dark fantasy author Christina Henry.

The Ghost Tree follows the protagonist, fifteen year old Lauren after the brutal murder of her father and the subsequent lack of police investigation. As Lauren enters adolescence properly, the childhood friendship with Miranda – who has been using Lauren to make herself seem more adult and important – begins to crumble. The one thing still shared between Miranda and Lauren is the Ghost Tree in the woods, an ancient and lightning scarred tree in the woods just beyond the edge of the township of Smiths Hollow.

The sudden murder of two teenage girls in the woods coincides with Lauren’s vision of a monster responsible for the brutal murders. But the real darkness of Smiths Hollow is revealed by Lauren’s grandmother, who is part of a lineage of witches who have always inhabited Smiths Hollow and, after an act of betrayal by then township, laid a curse upon the town. For the continued prosperity of the Smiths Hollow, each year a girl from the town is sacrificed to the monster dwelling in the Ghost Tree, and soon after, the everyone in the town forgets -including the daughter they sacrificed. But now the curse is unravelling, and so the dark truth about Smiths Hollow begins to be remembered.

Final Thoughts

The Ghost Tree is a dark and disturbing tale, where past treachery and betrayal has laid the seeds for the bloody future of the town. In this well-written and highly suspenseful novel, gothic horror comes to a new landscape skilfully combining elements of dark fiction and horror.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! The Ghost Tree is a fabulous and disturbing tale for anyone who enjoys dark fiction, gothic horror and dark folklore. A must-read!

reads, Recent Reads

The Dark Chorus

Publisher’s Description

The Boy can see lost souls.

He has never questioned the fact that he can see them. He thinks of them as the Dark Chorus. When he sets out to restore the soul of his dead mother it becomes clear that his ability comes from within him. It is a force that he cannot ignore – the last shard of the shattered soul of an angel. To be restored to the kingdom of light, the shard must be cleansed of the evil that infects it – but this requires the corrupt souls of the living!

With the help from Makka, a psychotically violent young man full of hate, and Vee, an abused young woman full of pain, the Boy begins to kill. Psychiatrist Dr Eve Rhodes is seconded to assist the police investigation into the Boy’s apparently random ritualistic killings. As the investigation gathers pace, a pattern emerges. When Eve pulls at the thread from an article in an old psychology journal, what might otherwise have seemed to her a terrible psychotic delusion now feels all too real…

Will the Boy succeed in restoring the angel’s soul to the light? Can Eve stop him, or will she be lost to realm of the Dark Chorus?


Review

I recently read debut dark fiction novel, The Dark Chorus by UK Horror author Ashley Meggitt.

The protagonist of The Dark Chorus is thirteen year old Boy, an orphan with retained memories of an ancient Angel from Mesopotamian religion. After his mother’s death shortly after his birth, the Boy returns to the mental asylum where he was born and his mother died and through the repressed memories of the Angel, he captures his mother’s soul to eventually restore to a body. His first attempt is unsuccessful and he is apprehended by the police for a ritualistic murder. While awaiting charges, the Boy meets Makka, a violent teenager who instantly takes to protecting the Boy. In return, The Boy promises to help Makka kill his own father in revenge. And Makka becomes an accomplice to harvesting the souls from corrupted individuals to restore the Angel’s soul, that which lives within the boy.

After escaping detention with Makka, the Boy and Makka begin harvesting corrupted souls while Makka plans to avenge his mother’s death by killing his fascists father who he believes raped her. In their efforts, they meet Vee, a teenage girl caught in a paedophile ring linked to Makka’s father. The vengeful teenagers begin a spree of ritualistic murders, followed closely by a psychiatrist who discovers the history and ritual of the murders the Boy is committing are a rare brand of ancient Mesopotamian religion. Ultimately, it is the link between Vee and the padeophile ring and blackmailing those influential members of London society that offer protection to Makka, the Boy and Vee in the efforts to reunite the pieces of the Angel’s soul.

Final Thoughts

The Dark Chorus is the debut dark fiction novel from Ashley Meggitt and the unique combination of dark humour, ancient religion and ritual, mystery and psychology worked well with the paranormal themes. The prose is well-written, the combination of humour and historical aspects give a good depth to the characters and the story-arc. At times the writing does feel stilted and motives can seen out of character. But overall, The Dark Chorus is an interesting and well-delivered dark fiction novel.

Conclusion

The Dark Chorus is recommended to readers who enjoy dark fiction and paranormal themes, crime and psychological suspense, or the incorporation of ritual and history into a unique work. I look forward to more from this author.

*** “I received this book with a request for an honest review” ***

reads, Recent Reads

Bleak Precision

Publisher’s Description

Eight stories, an essay and artwork by two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author, Greg Chapman.
Table of contents:
Kakophony
Horror Fiction: A Bleak and Depressing Look at Truth
The Pest Controller’s Wife
Fascination
Scar Tissue
Unrequited
Mongrel
Hard Bargain
Feast of Feasts


Review

Bleak Precision, a collection of horror and dark fiction tales by Australian-based author and artist Greg Chapman.

There are many good stories in Bleak Precision but some of the highlights of Chapman’s work included “Kakophony”, a series of frantic conversations between an unidentified narrator and the ‘voices in her head’ and the chilling ending to silence the cacophony of screams and torment is all the more disturbing for its delivery; “Unrequieted”, a psychological exploration of the dark depths of lost love, and the disturbing lengths to replace an unrequited love with a memory; “Scar Tissue” was a skilful blend of shock horror and dark fiction that examined the need to belong, and to be normal but through the lens of a zombiesque theme; lastly, “Hard Bargain” a provoking tale of Asmael and the Mountain in Purgatory, where a deal is struck between an angel, demon and Asmael over the life deemed ‘wasteful’ by humanity.

Final Thoughts

Bleak Precision was a collection of diverse, well-written and dark tales that had the right balance between disturbing dark fiction and the shock of horror. I look forward to reading more.

Conclusion

A recommended must-read collection for those who love dark fiction, and thought-provoking horror.