Tuesday, 21 December 2021

A Creepy Short Story Collection: 'A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters' edited by Rasta Musick ★★★★☆

A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters | Edited by Rasta Musick | Short Story Anthology Review

I recently discovered that I like spooky short stories and in keeping with a 'horror is not only for Halloween' theme, I picked up the A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters short story collection. The byline says it all - Ho ho uh-oh. A collection of darkly weird winter and Christmas tales - I was definitely in the right place.

A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters is probably the most eclectic and diverse collection of short stories that I've read. Tied together by the theme of Christmas or winter, that is pretty much all they have in common with tales spanning multiple centuries, locations and realms, from the realistic to the fantastic.

It is this that makes the anthology uniquely readable. With each story taking about 20 minutes to read, you can pick up this collection any time you have some time to kill, be it at the doctor's office, waiting in a queue or, if you're especially brave, alone in the dark at 3am.

A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters | Edited by Rasta Musick | Short Story Anthology ReviewI don't want to spoil the collection but three tales stood out for me. "Patient, Marley" by T. War Powers Tilden was a very cool Ray Bradbury-esque story with a great twist cat the end; "The Heart of Winter" by Archita Mittra was a very clever little Hansel & Gretal-type tale which again has an unexpected outcome; and the story I was most looking forward to, "Copper Snow" by Zoë Markham was a fantastically gruesome tale that might be best avoided by those with a fear of clowns.

(As a lover of all things clown however, I can confirm that the combination of comical clown shoes with a classic Harlequin suit was truly frightening!)

I enjoyed A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters and give it four out of five stars. Recommended to fans of diverse and spooky fiction.

★★★★☆

A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters, edited by Rasta Musick and published by Cinnabar Moth Publishing, is available to buy on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Friday, 17 December 2021

Short Story: "Planet Prytagor-U" by Jack Croxall

Are you in the mood for a short story that will put a smile on your face? I'm a great fan of author Jack Croxall, in fact I loved his novel Wye, and I jumped at the chance to host his brand new short story, "Planet Prytagor-U". Enjoy!


I sprint across the frozen ground. Sucking in a lungful of icy air, I chance a glance to the east. The Prytagorian sun is fast disappearing below the jagged horizon.

‘I see the cave!’ Henderson calls from behind me, ‘we’re nearly there!’

On we run, bursting through the cavemouth just as the sunlight fades. Henderson turns and drags the scorched segment of fuselage operating as our makeshift door across the opening. When darkness falls on Prytagor-U the temperature plummets to lethal lows almost instantly. We need all the protection from the night we can get.

‘We cut that too fine,’ Henderson gasps, as he switches on a lamp. ‘What were you doing in the wreckage for so long?’

I huddle against the warm cave wall before I answer. ‘I was looking for food, I found some more ration packs.’

Henderson doesn’t thank me for it. He walks over to our tired water purifier, the only reason we’re still alive. He removes the canister and reaches for a couple of mess tins. A few glugs of filtered water into each and he’s crossing the cave towards me.

‘There’s something wrong with the purifier. It’s kicking out less to drink every time I run it.’ He hands me a tin and I gulp down the water eagerly. Thanks to whatever geothermal processes are occurring behind the cave’s walls, the water is at least a little bit warm.

‘What the hell are we going to do?’ Henderson asks, as he squats against a flat portion of cave wall. ‘Soon we’ll have salvaged everything we can from the ship and then it’s only a matter of time until we’re out of food.’

I don’t respond but the planet seems to; the night winds begin to howl outside. Every night since we crash-landed there’s been a fierce gale, the likes of which would probably be called a once in a generation storm back on Earth.

‘And what kind of stupid name is Prytagor-U for a planet anyway?’ Henderson exclaims, no doubt angered by the rising winds.

‘It’s more of a designation than a name,’ I answer, glad to be off the subject of the ship and what remains of it. ‘Some Colonist Project scientist probably came up with it.’

‘Well I’m a scientist and I say we should have landed on a different planet in the Prytagorian System. Anything but this frozen hell.’

It’s a long time before either of us says anything more, the hopelessness of our situation weighing heavy in the air.

‘We need to talk about the crash,’ Henderson says, breaking the silence.

I shake my head. ‘There’s nothing to talk about.’

‘Yes,’ Henderson says, ‘there is. Thirty-five people are dead, not to mention all the embryos. We need to talk about it.’

‘We need to eat and then get some rest.’

‘What’s the last thing you remember?’ Henderson asks.

‘What?’

‘What’s the last thing you remember before the crash?’

‘I don’t know, being in orbit. Landing prep. My memory is fuzzy.’

‘Liar,’ Henderson growls. Outside the winds surge and our fuselage-door starts to rattle against the cavemouth. ‘The only reason you can’t remember is because you refuse to let yourself.’

Hearing the truth aloud forces the memories to come rushing back. ‘I remember sitting at the controls,’ I say, somehow unable to stop myself from speaking. ‘I remember entering the planet’s atmosphere. But the ice storm, the alarms. Thruster three, it failed. I couldn’t stabilise the ship …’

I realise Henderson is kneeling beside me now, holding my hand. ‘Why couldn’t you stabilise the ship?’

‘Don’t make me say it.’

The wind outside is screaming bloody murder, but somehow Henderson’s voice cuts through. ‘Let it out, Clarissa.’

Despite my guilt, I do. ‘When I came out of cryosleep and we entered the Prytagorian System, my cryosickness, it didn’t go away like everyone else’s.’

‘And who did you tell?’

‘No one,’ I whimper, a tear running down my face, ‘not even the captain. Not even you.’

‘Why not?’

‘I’m the pilot, landing the ship was my one and only job. I didn’t want to admit I was sick and let the crew down. I – I’m so sorry, Charlie.’

Suddenly, the wind outside dies. ‘Where are we?’ Henderson asks, looking to the cavemouth and then back to me.

I stare at him blankly. ‘What?’

‘The crash killed everyone except for me and you. We can breathe this alien air without suits, and we don’t have a scratch on us. It doesn’t make any sense, so where are we?’

‘Prytagor-U,’ I answer.

‘Don’t hide behind anagrams, Clarissa. Where are we?’

I’ve never been good at word games but deep down I already know the answer. ‘Purgatory.’

The fuselage door falls and the cavemouth is open. But it’s not an ice planet’s hostile vista that greets me, it’s a leaf-green expanse bathed in golden sunlight. I see the tree swing I used to play on when I was a little girl.

‘We all forgive you,’ Henderson says softly. ‘Even without cryosickness there was nothing any pilot could have done in that storm with a failed thruster. It’s time to forgive yourself as well. It’s time to stop punishing yourself in this place and move on.’

My pain and guilt fading away, I stand.

Then I walk with Henderson into the light.


Trained as a scientist, Jack Croxall concluded a life in the lab wasn't for him. After discovering a passion for words and stories he's now a writer!

View Jack Croxall’s Amazon UK page or his Amazon US page Follow Jack Croxall on Twitter and Instagram

Photos: © Jason Croxall

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Sunday, 5 December 2021

Ben Housden's Superb Debut 'Thunderpaws and the Tower of London' (Nature's Claw # 1) ★★★★☆

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Book covers

I had a suspicion, from the very first minute I heard about Thunderpaws and the Tower of London, that we are onto something special. I genuinely believe this might be the next great British phenomenon, the children's series to travel around the world and set young minds alight. I'd love to see this series come to life on the big screen and think it would be perfect as an animated series.

Teufel (pronounced Two-Full and translated from the German 'Devil') is a very proud cat of a very nice vicar. He lives a nice, boring life in Devon until one day his world turns upside down. All of a sudden, Teufel is transported to the Tower of London where his vicar is now a chaplain and there are more ghosts than he can shake a catnip tree at. Oh, and there are big, fat ravens too.

In time, Teufel, or Thunderpaws to those who know his clumsy ways, will learn that the ravens of the Tower of London are not to be touched but not before he has a wild adventure that takes him to Battersea Park, St Dunstan-in-the-East and Big Ben, all the while saving London and the world from the biggest threat yet.

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Text doodles in print edition

There is a lot to love about Thunderpaws and the Tower of London. The print edition is absolutely exquisite with text doodles and beautiful colour illustrations by Japanese illustrator MonoKubo. If you're buying this book for Kindle, do ensure that you open it on the Kindle app from time to time to see those illustrations.

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Colour illustrations by MonoKubo

If, like me, your two major loves in life are cats and London, you're in for a real treat with Thunderpaws and the Tower of London. I really enjoyed the depiction of Thunderpaws as a snarky, teenage boy. I have a much-beloved 15-year-old boycat Seth, an old man now but very much master of his kingdom back in the day; he could be the white-and-black cousin of Thunderpaws, and author Ben Housden captured that big attitude perfectly. He's clearly been owned by a cat or two in his time.

Any good London-based tale will teach you a thing or two about our history and Thunderpaws and the Tower of London is jam-packed full of ghosts and historical figures, especially those who met their demise at the Tower. Speaking of ghosts, there is a whole host of ghost cats and wise mice, heroic rats and misunderstood polar bears.

Ben Housden states that Thunderpaws and the Tower of London is suitable for readers aged 9 to 90. As a seeker of superior middle grade and young adult fiction, would I recommend this book specifically to readers aged 9 to 15? Absolutely. It's funny and silly, with enough cat farts and manipulative miaows to keep most readers entertained.

My only complaint was that much of the book was heavily plot-driven, which can make for slow reading. The story really ramps up towards the end though and we see Teufel's character begin to develop. As I often do at the end of series, I may well revise my rating up once I've read the sequel.

For being the most original book I've read this year, I give Thunderpaws and the Tower of London an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to everybody, especially fans of Rivers of London, A Street Cat Named Bob, A Darker Shade of Magic and The Infernal Devices.

★★★★☆

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Sunday, 28 November 2021

Blog Tour & Review: The Arcane by Andrew S French (The Arcane # 1) ★★★★☆

The Arcane by Andrew S French | Book Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover; 'they' being the type of people who clearly don't read books because I always judge books by their covers. Case in point, I knew I was going to read Andrew S. French's The Arcane the minute I saw that cover, James Helps's design is exquisite and perfect for this book. The good news? I really enjoyed the story too.

Sixteen-year-old child prodigy Alice is studying biology, physics and mathematics at Teesside University when her logical, carefully-curated world of science is turned upside-down. In the course of one particularly life-threatening evening, she learns that the twin-sister-she-never-knew-she-had kills monsters. Cue record scratch.

Part one of the Arcane duology, The Arcane is a young adult, urban fantasy set in the UK. If you're a fan of Supernatural, Buffy, Lucifer or Doctor Who, you'll feel very comfortable with an all-star cast that includes vampires, werewolves, angels, demons and an unexpected encounter with Medusa. There's even some timey-wimey, space travel stuff to add to the madness. I'm definitely not going to spoil more of the story because it was enjoyable letting it unfold. Suffice to say, discovering you have an identical twins raises questions.

The Arcane is a lot of fun. I really appreciated that each twin had a unique voice and personality. It was amusing seeing Alice desperately trying to frame everything she was seeing within logic and science, despite the increasing evidence that physics had left the building. I also loved the pop culture references and the song titles for chapter names.

The only problem I have with The Arcane was that unforgivable cliffhanger. I haven't scrambled that quickly for a sequel in years! The good news, dear reader, is that both The Arcane and sequel The Arcane Identity are out now to buy. I suggest you buy them together. For a wild rollercoaster ride of a book, paranormal shenanigans and making me crave more, I give The Arcane an excellent four out of five stars.

★★★★☆

 

The Arcane Blog Tour

I'm taking part in The Arcane blog tour. Definitely visit the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and other snippets.

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Sunday, 14 November 2021

Graphic Novel Review: 'Olive - Volume 1 - By the Light of a Blue Moon' by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel ★★★★★

Olive Graphic Novel Cover | Vero Cazot | Lucy Mazel

I think what I love most about graphic novels is the ability to pick you up and transport you to incredible, fascinating worlds at the flick of a pen. Comic books present a lurid, impossible view that can alter your consciousness in a matter of pages. I was reminded of this when I picked up writer Vero Cazot and illustrator Lucy Mazel's Olive - Volume 1 - By the Light of a Blue Moon, a tale about the incredibly rich inner world of a neurodivergent young woman that somehow receives a real life visitor.

The Story

Seventeen-year-old Olive has always received a lot of support at her school, with administration respecting her neurodivergency and allowing Olive to board alone. That all changes with the arrival of her room mate and the crisis it unearths in Olive's world. But that's okay. When things in the outer world get too overwhelming, Olive can escape to her own imaginary world complete with a laboratory, observatory and her favourite place of all, a dreamarium. It is all wonderful until one day Olive discovers a visitor.

The Art

The art in Olive is absolutely beautiful. Lucy Mazel captured Olive's inner world perfectly as well as illustrating the trauma of her outer world.

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Verdict

Like Oliver, writer Vero Cazot is not keen on oral communication and prefers to express herself through the written word. Together with Lucy Mazel, she has created a dreamy, magical illustration of the inner world of a neurodivergent person that I found especially relatable.

I give Olive a superb five out of five stars and will definitely be reading the other three graphic novels in the series.

★★★★★

Buy

Amazon (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using this link at no extra cost to you)

Links

Vero Cazot - Instagram | Lucy Mazel - Instagram

I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

Text & Image Credits © Vero Cazot & Lucy Mazel

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Saturday, 6 November 2021

Graphic Novel Review: Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov (Illustrator), Juanchoi (Color Artist) ★★★★☆

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

I'm a proud zombie fan and lover of the dead. I feel it necessary to get that out the way because I was always going to like Ryan Parrott' and Evgeniy Bornyakov's Dead Day, the question was simply: how much. The thing about the genre is that you can make the rules up as you go along and that is done brilliantly in this latest graphic novel about the dead rising again. To be clear, Parrott states up from that this is not a zombie story.

The Story

The inspiration for Dead Day came from extremely painful events in Parrott's own life: the murder of his grandparents. In the aftermath, he asked himself what he would say to them if they could gone back for just one night. And what would that night look like? What if it happened the whole world over?

Dead Day is set in that world where the dead come back - every now and again - for just one night and loose ends are tied up. The only problem? Dead things are best left as they are.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

The Art and Letters

Dead Day is gorgeous and I was drawn in immediately by the cover and concept. Evgeniy Bornyakov (Descendent, You Are Obsolete) is the artist and Juancho! is responsible for the vibrant, lush colours. Letterers often go unmentioned but I really liked Charles Pritchett's letters and the manner in which he distinguished between narration and story.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

Stan Zone

Recommended if you like: The Walking Dead, The Purge

Verdict

I liked Dead Day a lot and will definitely be keeping an eye on what Parrott, Bornyakov, Juancho! and Pritchett do next. Will be great if they work together again.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

Buy

Amazon (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you)

I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

Image Credits © Evgeniy Bornyakov / Juancho!

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

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Sunday, 31 October 2021

Horror Film Review: Shepherd (2021) ★★★★☆

Tom Hughes is Eric Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

There is a weight that comes with grief; a drowning, suffocating heaviness that pulls you under moments before guilt begins its reign of carnage. But what of real culpability and true guilt? What of inescapable ghosts and demons? Writer and director Russell Owen tackles these themes in the disturbing and desolate Shepherd.

Eric Black (Tom Hughes) is sleepwalking through life, barely keeping it together following the loss of his pregnant wife. He is plagued by nightmares and living amongst the detritus of their life together. The traces of his wife are all around him - lipstick on a tea cup, an ultrasound in a drawer. Realising that his days of calling off work are numbered, Eric answers an advertisement for a shepherd on a desolate Western Isle.

With just his dog Baxter for company, Eric lands on an island with a barren, windswept landscape and a lighthouse with no working light. It is an omen that he doesn't see, an indication that no lives will be saved here, no souls shepherded.

Indeed, the partially-sighted Fisher (Kate Dickie), part seer, part ferryman, observes that something is haunting Eric and she hopes that he is able to confront it.

Kate Dickie is Fisher | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

The problem is that Eric's journey of self-ruin began a long time ago and soon life on the island, with the constant tolling of the fog bells and relentless wind, begin to play on the last remaining vestiges of his sanity.

The island plays such a great role in Shepherd that it should be credited as a character. While some cinematographers choose to juxtapose psychological horror with vistas of beautiful landscapes and natural beauty, Richard Stoddard chooses to match the despair and desolation of Eric's grief with barren, grey and monotone cinematography. It is effective and utterly claustrophobic, both within the shepherd's cottage and outside on the hills.

There is but one scene of starlight and beauty, notable for its fleeting appearance. This is no happy tale.

Greta Scacchi is Glenys Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

The cast of Shepherd is tiny. In addition to Hughes and Dickie, Eric's mother is played by an unrecognisable Greta Scacchi while his wife Rachel is played by Gaia Weiss.

Both Scacchi and Dickie provide structure and malice to Eric's rapidly unravelling experience. Scacchi is his sense of guilt and self-flagellation, an utterly cruel and unloving mother who will not let him go. Meanwhile, Dickie as Fisher reminds Eric of the debt he will have to settle, of the inevitability of his reckoning. Both Scacchi and Dickie give superb performances, buoyed by a menacing and well-written script.

While it's true that grief is familiar ground for writers of psychological horror, Shepherd manages to set itself apart with a truly gruesome climax and disturbing reveal. Shepherd opens with a quote from Dante's Inferno, referencing Hypsipyle as pregnant and alone, and the resulting guilt that Virgil must endure. This thread flows throughout the film as we come to realise that Eric is faced with his own version of Hell, with its shackles of grief and guilt, of the fate of his unborn child and the horror that awaits us all.

Tom Hughes is Eric Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review
Directed by horror veteran Russell Owen, Shepherd had its World Premiere at BFI London Film Festival and will be in UK / EIRE Cinemas from 12th November.

Trailer: Shepherd 2021, dir: Russell Owen

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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