Book Review: 'Christmas Australis: A Frighteningly Festive Collection of Spine Jingling Tales'

‘Christmas Australis’ is not your usual Christmas reading fare. Instead of fairy lights and tinsel, you’ll find shadows and dark corners, disreputable people, food that is not to be trusted and family secrets that are even darker than most. 

Introducing each story by means of a letter from The Epica adds another layer of mystery and darkness to the collection, while the distinctly Australian flavour of the stories adds a unique quality to the anthology that sets it apart from other Christmas collections.

This excellent anthology will certainly add a delicious dash of darkness to your Christmas reading.

Book Review: ‘The Grunch Who Stole Winter Solstice’ by Michael W. Huard

A dark fantasy short story set in a small island community, this can be read — like most fairy tales — as a as a story of heroism and commitment that enables one to face their fears for the greater good, but also on another level as a cautionary tale about the importance of following instructions and meeting one’s responsibilities.

The story is quite well written, although the language seemed a little stilted in places. This may well have been an intentional choice by the author in keeping with the old-fashioned narrative style of the fairy tale genre, but as Huard is an author that is new to this reader, it is hard to tell. It may simply be a matter of not yet being used to his writing style. 

The story is enjoyable and the challenges encountered by the characters certainly encourage the reader to engage in the action and hope for a positive outcome. The fact that not all characters survive is realistic in terms of both the fairy tale genre and real life. 

This book makes great December reading primarily for YA and older children, or for families to enjoy together. 

Book Review: ‘Kin: Horror in Moonshine Holler’ by J.B.Richards

This is a short story read that takes the reader from Texas to the wilds of West Virginia and an old family’s quest for revenge. 

While the tale has a few well-crafted macabre moments, it’s not really a full-on horror story as such- although it’s fair to say that at least one of the characters might beg to differ. It is a story of tragedy and of loyalty that binds a family against anyone who hurts one of their own. It’s a story that makes the reader hold their breath without realising it, and which highlights the often unforeseen consequences of one’s actions. 

The story is well written, interesting, and suspenseful. The characters are colourful and unique, and fit very well into the context and setting of the book.

Book Review: ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

The story of Le Cirque des Rêves is magical and fantastic, drawing the reader into a world of illusion, mystery, and wonder. It is a story full of contrasts: light and dark, reality and illusion, cold and heat,  truth and deceit, life and death. Richly imaginative and sensory, the story is absolutely captivating. Yet at its very heart is a secret so cold and dark that it doesn’t even seem to be compatible with such a wonderful tale.  

While the lines and boundaries are blurred, and morality is highly subjective, the reader is drawn strongly to certain characters: Celia and Marco, Poppet, Widget and Bailey, and becomes deeply invested in their stories. 

I loved the story concept, the settings and the characters. I very much enjoyed the clever Shakespearean references, some of which were very obvious while others were much more subtle and covert, possibly going undetected by readers less familiar with the works of the Bard. 

However, I was frustrated by two aspects of the book. Not only was the plot development very slow… and I do mean  s  l  o  w, I found the author’s regular forays into writing overtly in second person incredibly annoying and distracting, particularly in conjunction with present tense. Was this story set at a series of specific points in history,  as the dates at the beginning of chapters suggested, or was it happening right now? Either way, I’m perfectly certain I am not, nor was I ever, actually there. When I encountered this on the second page, it was so jarring that I almost put the book down for god, thinking the whole narrative might be like that. 

Never one to quit a book early, I kept going. The story was good enough for me to almost manage to forget while reading that the writing is in present tense, but the second person perspective interrupted the flow of the narrative and broke my concentration every single time.  I understand that the intent was to immerse the reader into the story, but it actually had the opposite effect on me, and it happened far too often for me to easily forgive. 

As a result, the book left me with mixed feelings and wondering if I was being petty because I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I know it’s very much a matter of personal taste, and I’m glad I persisted with it, but I can’t deny that I am disappointed. As a lover of fantasy, magical stories, and dark fiction, this should have been everything I wanted in a book, but it wasn’t. 

As the old saying goes, it’s a fine line between love and hate. I find myself standing on that very line, still unsure of which way to fall. 

Book Review: ‘Dark Little Wonders and Other Stories’ by Amy Cross

A collection of well-crafted and varied short stories, ‘Dark Little Wonders’ definitely lives up to its title.

The stories are all quite different, invariably dark, and full of twists and surprises. Taken one by one, each story challenges the reader to see life – and death – from a different perspective. In combination, this collection of dark fiction reminds the reader that one can be haunted by many more things than just ghosts. 

The writing is very good and the characters are realistic, each having burdens, flaws, and motivations to which the reader can easily relate. This adds punch to every twist sand makes the message of each story more powerful. 

‘Dark Little Wonders and Other Stories’ is an excellent read. 

Book Review: ‘Nowhere: A Shore Haven Short Story’ by Jennifer Reynolds

Find your copy here.

A zombie apocalypse story with some graphic macabre moments, ‘Nowhere’ is an emotionally involving story that pits the reader alongside the protagonist in a desperate bid to outrun the zombie epidemic. 

The tone of the story is urgent, drawing the reader into the panic and fear that Tera experiences as the story plays out. The author very effectively uses suspense and foreboding to create additional tension, while the macabre and often gruesome imagery repulses the reader’s senses. 

The story is quite well-developed and the writing is good, so this was an enjoyable short read. 

Book Review: ‘Creep’ by William Cook

Find your copy here.

This is an intensely suspenseful story that strikes dread into the heart of the reader right from the first moment of foreboding. As the tension and desperation of the story builds, so does the reader’s sense of hopelessness for the protagonist, whose innocence reinforces the positioning of readers against The Creep. 

The story is well-written and developed. The characterisation is effective and the detailed descriptions add depth and power to the the chilling effect of the story. 

While the story certainly has its macabre moments, the story is centred more on the psychology of fear and revulsion. The Creep is a very real and twisted monster in his own right, and the author subtly plays on the reader’s sensibilities to unsettle and repulse them.