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October 28, 2018

Halloween Reads: Horror & Paranormal Fantasy Edition

by MK French

It that time of year for all things scary, creepy, macabre, and other-worldly. Here's a list of books that range from supernatural thriller to fairytale fantasy to horror. If you prefer lighter fun in your Halloween reads, then check out Donna's list of paranormal cozy mysteries.

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Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Occupy Me
April 2017; Gollancz; 978-1473212978
audio, ebook, print (272 pages); thriller
Pearl is an angel working to make the world a better place as part of the Resistance. She does small acts of kindness, but when stressed will develop wings and display amounts of energy capable of changing reality. She is now out to save the world in a bigger way, by tracking down a killer with a briefcase containing a hole in the universe.

The story starts out with the second person point of view, a person getting hijacked by another entity. This is how we meet Pearl, and enter her point of view. Because it starts out in the middle of the action, there's no background into what the Resistance is, what HD is, why they have to act in small ways and not the large and overt ways that Pearl is capable of. We don't even find out that her supervisor of sorts Marquita is also her girlfriend until a quarter of the way through the novel. It's nice that Pearl is described as a "fifty-something woman of indeterminate not-European ancestry," though I would have liked it better if it didn't take a quarter of the book to find out anything about her. I understand that we're meant to pick up clues along the way and figure out the plot along with Pearl, but this feels almost too confusing.

There's a lot of action throughout the novel and Pearl is an approachable protagonist. I definitely mirror her confusion as she moves through the novel to try to find the briefcase and find out how it ties to the past she doesn't remember. I enjoy the visuals as she travels the world and meets various people throughout this novel. The language involved is beautiful and lyrical, but actual means of relating the story was difficult for me to really get into. About halfway through it was starting to make more sense for me, and once it clicked, the pacing also really picked up and catapulted forward. There is a lot of sci-fi and time travel elements throughout this, and the nature of the plot is why it was so convoluted initially.

This is definitely a story that would require multiple readings to fully understand the nuance in it, but I do think it's worth the effort.

Buy Occupy Me at Amazon

Aaru 2: Halls of Hel by David Meredith

Aaru Halls of Hel
July 2018; Bowker; 978-0991031160
ebook, print (386 pages); paranormal
Rose lives within Aaru, the virtual paradise where she can do anything she wants or learn everything with even a thought. But she finds no joy or purpose in this life of leisure, especially when she still worries about her sister Koren, out in the real world and the spokesmodel for Elysian Industries. Koren should have an idyllic life, but it's falling apart in small ways that are picked over by the public. She also worries about the Magic Man, who is still at large, and has nightmares of her friend's death.

This novel picks up where Aaru left off, so you absolutely have to read that one first. There are references to the events from the first one, so you could probably still figure things out as you go along, but it would be easier having read the first one. Koren is still caught up within the fast-talking staffers of Elysian Industries, and her mother's indifference to how she is being treated by the media and staff concerns me. Gypsie isn't there when Koren is brought to important meetings and she is all but forced to try on new VR gear, which includes a gelatinous suspension. Gypsie comes across as inherently selfish and concerned only about appearances and her own pleasure at the expense of others. Others who should be protective of her and trying to help her emotionally are too caught up in their own needs, leaving her alone emotionally.

The difficulties within Aaru come slowly, and we learn more about the Residents that aren't in the general population. We also see flashes of Koren in dire straits, which can be disturbing for some readers. There is an explanation for it eventually given, and it introduces an element of horror along with the body modification and torture. Once Hel shows up in the story, the intensity really picks up and then it is far more interesting to read than the early slice-of-life chapters. We do need some sense of normalcy prior to the plot kicking in, but it does drag out the beginning quite a bit. Then, just when it starts to get really interesting, it all crashes to a cliffhanger. That was possibly the most disappointing part of this novel.

Buy Aaru: Halls of Hel at Amazon

The 13: Tales of Illusory by Stephanie Ayers

The 13: Tales of Illusory
October 2017; OWS Ink; 978-1946382153
ebook, print (168 pages); anthology
This is the first book in "The Thirteen" series of horror short story collections. Some of the stories are very short, and the horror contained inside them aren't necessarily the bloody or gory situations that we associate with horror stories. "No Returns," for example, spans two pages, and the horror comes at the end when we associate the package on the doorstep with what had just transpired. There's no explanation for why it works the way it does, which probably ramps up the horror aspect to this: how can you fight against something like this? When blood is mentioned, like in "Season of Change," it's first as an adjective, a blood red color to leaves, but then the reader's imagination is set to going as the story continues. We're left to try picturing the cause and effect of the squish or slam. A story like this is only really as effective as the reader's imagination.

Some of the other tales here aren't really scary or horrible but do deal with the "illusory," in that the supernatural is involved. There are pixies and vampires, and the horror that can come with those stories are from the loss that it implies. "What The Sign Saw" is a longer story, so we get more insight into the characters' emotions and how they feel about the creepy situation. The ending is rather expected once you figure out what's going on. I like "The Thirteenth Year," which is very simply told and open-ended. Hanna's story can go on in any different direction from there, yet it still feels complete.

If someone enjoys the creepy or macabre without excessive gore or torture, this is a collection that would appeal. With the length of most stories being so short, it's also an easy book to go through.

Buy The 13: Tales of Illusory at Amazon

The 13: Tales of the Macabre by Stephanie Ayers

The 13: Tales of the Macabre
October 2018; 978-1386998822
ebook, print (176 pages); anthology
This is the second book in "The Thirteen" series of short stories. There is the initial warning "Don't read alone" as well as the opening poem and forward written by fellow author JM Ames. I read an early review copy, which did have some typos: missing conversation quotes, it's instead of its, etc. Ignoring those errors, I focused more on the stories themselves.

In contrast to the first book of the series, this one has more overt blood and potential for gore. It isn't detailed excessively, so it's not the same as the gory horror novels available. The first story "Frequent Flyer Livery Service" is long, and inverts a number of tropes that you would expect about a mysterious Count living in an isolated castle trying to bring his wife back to life with infusions of blood. In contrast to this, "The Forgetting" is short and only creepy in the way that abandoned towns with odd stories can be, as there is no real connection made between the coincidences and the odd man that Cooper is. "Off To Never Neverland" is more odd than creepy to me; it could be because echoes of the Metallica song seem to be running through it, and that was never a song that really felt creepy or horror-inspiring to me. Perhaps someone more afraid of limbo, fate, and souls would be afraid of this one.

"Phoenix Reborn" is an interesting story and one that feels as though a longer work could be built around it. "A Cry In The Night" is another very short story that feels more like the prequel to a novel than a creepy tale. Some of the other stories in the second half of this collection are ones that make you think; they don't rely on horror or creepiness just for shock value, but feels more like a small slice of a larger story that would keep you up at night. "A Bloody Good Meal" is short, but that is more of the macabre atmosphere that the title of this collection promises.

All in all, this is a fun collection given the time of year we're in!

Buy The 13: Tales of the Macabre at Amazon

Moss and Clay by Rebekah Jonesy

Moss and Clay
May 2018; OWS Ink; 978-1946382290
ebook, print (262 pages); fairytale
Gillian was crafted out of moss, clay, and blood and given life by Queen Mab. She lives to serve the queen of the Fae, and her job is to track down rogue fae in the Americas and mete justice.

The book begins with Gillian's creation and training by her "father," a mortal man who had also donated blood to her creation. This is to give her a sense of humanity and to learn from his lifetime of memories that she inherited from his blood. She also inherited memories from Mab, but she needs training to unlock them. That also means we're introduced to the world of the fae as Gillian is, and the Troll King. He's more like an internet troll than the trolls of fairy tales, but still necessary in creating identification for Gillian so that she could begin her quest.

There are references to drugs or sex, but I would place this series as more of a young adult series. There is a lot of culture shock for Gillian, and the differences between UK English and American English is played up a lot. Then again, she also winds up on the Jersey Shore, too, so people familiar with the area and the tourists there will probably have a lot more laughs at Gillian's interactions with the characters. It's a fairly simple and straightforward story, possibly because a lot of time was spent on the backstory and setting up Gillian's background. Overall, this is a relatively lighthearted take on sirens. This would be good as a summer read, especially because of its location.

Buy Moss and Clay at Amazon

Clay and Blood by Rebekah Jonesy

Clay and Blood
October 2018; OWS Ink
ebook (144 pages); paranormal
Gillian Gilchrist has just completed her first mission for Queen Mab and the Goddess Danu, eliminating a rogue fae that was preying on humans. Her next mission involves tracking another rogue fae, this one who seems to move through the trees without a scent. This means she will have to follow the trail of blood it leaves behind.

This is book two of the Mab's Doll series, and it's entirely dependent on reading the first one to understand what's going on. It picks up right where the first one left off, so it really is best to read the first book before this one. Gillian remains very naive and immature, as she's only several months old despite the memories she holds from her parents. This is remarked upon a lot, so she is starting to work on her magical ability with her kelpie friend Pitch. Because of Gillian stumbling around, she finds the culprit by accident. This makes sense given her inexperience but is annoying at the same time. Is she going to stumble her way across New Jersey and happen to find fae everywhere she goes? I don't find that believable at all.

The culprit is disturbing and sad at the same time. The amount of metals and impurities in the ground has driven the dryad crazy, gradually killing her. She has an odd kind of logic to her actions when we find out what it is, which makes Gillian worry about her. She is very compassionate, and it's because of this that we have a different outcome than the first novel. It felt over too quickly, and almost anticlimactic. There are hints at the possibility of a third novel with the epilogue of the book, and I don't know what kind of fae it would be. Hopefully, it's a bigger bad than this one.

Buy Clay and Blood at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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  1. Awesome list!! I'm definitely going to have to snag a few of these!!

  2. I definitely had a lot of fun reading all of these. :)

  3. Thank you for taking time to read and review my books.