Category Archives: Prose

The Grieving Stones, by Gary McMahon (2016)

GrievingStonesReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

The Grieving Stones starts out with a woman whose husband has died. She awakes in the night, feeling as if someone is in the house, then sees shapes in the dark to frighten her. She gets invited to a special retreat for her therapy group and the small group goes to a hotel named after a local stone circle, called the Grieving Stones.

The writing in this one is very good. As much as I don’t usually like to read about depressing circumstances, Alice elicited my sympathy and the events along the route to the primary location were interesting enough to keep me transfixed.

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Greylock, by Paula Cappa (2016)

GreenockReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

As far as Horror elements are concerned, this book is a slow boiler, but the payoff got more interesting as it went along. A composer wants to go record whale sounds to form the basis of his next symphony. His estranged wife doesn’t want him to go and his affair with another woman makes her threaten to expose his deepest secret, that he didn’t actually write the piece of music that he is most famed for. Discovering the origin of that music is an important plot point.

It’s a very atmospheric story that takes the reader into the inner sanctum of classical music and ballet. Alexie, the composer, struggles to compose and perform at the level of his father – a more famous composer – and always seems to fall a little short, until the composition he finds in an old trunk enchants his audience. Unfortunately, his wife knows that he didn’t write it and tries to use it as blackmail to keep him from leaving her.

Much of the story reads like a crime drama where we get to know the characters and their lives in the worlds of music and dance. Then the mystery of a murder becomes center focus, but by then some of the horror elements are starting to come in and there were some pretty scary moments over things that might seem commonplace, yet were out of place in context.

Strange things happen to the people closest to Alexie, especially those who know his secret or the woman he has begun seeing. He becomes a suspect in the murder case, yet seems mostly unconcerned about it. His focus is always on the music and his ambitions.

The writing was good in this and there were times when I wasn’t sure if Alexie might be guilty of the murder as well as a scary moment or two. It’s a basic deal with the devil sort of plot, only the real horror of it is that Alexie didn’t knowingly enter into any agreement. The music is behind everything. As someone who enjoys classical music, I found the use of music as almost a character in its own right very creative and interesting.

The references to Russian folklore and evil spirits was also fascinating, adding a cultural angle. There were a few surprise reveals in the latter half of the book that did catch me by surprise, though I did guess the twist at the end a little in advance. There was just a little too much gratuitous swearing that I didn’t feel was necessary and the sex scene was a little more graphic than is justified by the plot, but these things were easy to overlook in the overall enjoyment of the story.

I thought the falcon was a nice touch. It gave me one of those scary moments than earned the Horror category, although overall there wasn’t much time spent on scary scenes. From a Horror perspective the best part was the price required of Alexie and whether he would be able to escape the debt he never agreed to.

4 out of 5 stars for very effective writing.

The Horror of Holmwood, by Camila White (2016)

he Horror of HolmwoodReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

This is a fairly short Horror story about a writer who gets caught up in the legends of a local forest when a girl appears at the forest edge, begging for help. Driven by his attraction to the girl as much as his sense of humanity, he follows her into the forest to help rescue her friends.

The writing in this one is amateurish, but shows promise. The ideas are good and I think with more practice, the writer could develop into a very good storyteller. Things happen pretty fast in this story and in not very subtle ways, it soon becomes clear that trouble awaits the unfortunate protagonist.

The one thing I didn’t like about it is the overuse of clichéd symbols in ways that show an ignorance that was alright in Dennis Wheatley’s time, but should be outdated in our more enlightened times. A pentagram, for example, when the story is describing raising the devil from Hell. It’s so old black and white movie! Strange writing on the wall is just over used and graphic pictures of rape and human sacrifice  are outmoded and lack subtlety. The fear factor could have been upped more notches with fewer inappropriate visual clues and I personally find the use of Pagan symbols used in association with these atrocities offensive.

Despite my misgivings about this, the story did keep me mostly interested to find out what would happen in the end. The library sequence seemed slow and repetitive but mostly the plot moves along too quickly if anything. I would even say the ending was rushed. It could have been drawn out to bring out much more of the Horror factor, though I fully approve of the ending in itself. Too many stories become predictable and a deviation from the expected is a breath of fresh air.

All things considered, this is a three star story. However, I think that if the writer were to revisit it in future and expand on some opportunities to raise tension, it could make it into the four to five star realm. The structure of a good plot is there, but needs further development.

Dead Shift, by John Llewellyn Probert (2015)

DeadshiftReview by Jaq D Hawkins. Based on free review copy.

I was told this novella was a Comedy Horror, but the first chapter was very atmospheric and very definitely on the Horror side of that coin. It started out with one of the most effective first lines I’ve ever read, Darkness changes everything,  and built up the scene in a very literary style without crossing the line into pretentiousness.

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Review: Prince of Nightmares, by John McNee (2016)

rince of NightmaresReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

What do you do when the nightmares begin to become real?

A suicide, a haunted hotel and a strange brew of enthusiastic ghost hunters set the stage for a very different sort of holiday encounter. Victor Teversham’s wife killed herself in the library suite of a hotel – a place that promises nightmares that feel real, and are assumed by much of its regular clientele to be genuine ghostly activity. Teversham, a conservative, ordinary person who can’t bring himself to speak to some of the odder characters who frequent the hotel, is looking for answers and is prepared to put up with some horrific experiences to find what he is looking for. His wife made a reservation at this freaky hotel for him just before she shot herself and he wants to know why.

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Review: High Moor 3: Blood Moon by Graeme Reynolds (2015)

High Moor 3: Blood MoonReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

I devoured the first two books of this series and watched for this third book with anticipation. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

The story launches into a high action flashback in the prologue, reminding us of the characters we got to know in the earlier books and the dynamics among them. Then, in the first chapter, we are drawn right into the tension of a situation that is the result of events that finished book two. The werewolf clan, exposed now, have a whole new set of problems.

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Review: The Immortal Body by William Holloway (2014)

The Immortal BodyReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

We start out with a healer at a revivalist meeting. The emphasis on religion in this story is strong and the world of faith healers and revivalist meetings is well depicted. Then something goes terribly wrong. The forces behind healing power will come into question through a series of inexplicable violent crimes.

For a Horror novel, much of this one reads a lot like a police procedural or Thriller novel, but there are some pretty gruesome murders. The motive seems to be unexplainable as well as the method. Something supernatural is involved and there are heavy Occult overtones as well as plenty of shootings and other violence, even Nazis.

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Review: The Haunting of Emily Stone by Amy Cross (2015)

The Haunting of Emily StoneReview by Jaq D Hawkins.

I found this rather good.

The story starts out in the prologue with a horrific murder that happened two-hundred years before. It’s rather gruesome so consider yourself warned. There are some more disturbing scenes later, but it isn’t constant gore, I promise!

The premise of the story is that a paranormal investigator gets a case that looks like it may be the real thing and becomes very excited about it, only to be disappointed when irrefutable evidence proves it to be an elaborate hoax. Only it wasn’t entirely faked. A little girl had a genuine experience and her mother tried to cash in on it, faking photographs and coaching the child to perform for the investigators and media.

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Review: Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (2011)

Bottled AbyssReview by Jaq D Hawkins

The original release of Bottled Abyss was nominated for the Bram Stoker award in 2012, and it’s easy to see why by the end of the first chapter. The 2015 re-release that I’ve read is described by the author as the “updated and preferred version.”

The prose is very descriptive and emotive. It actually gave me quite an emotional kick in the gut when the story started out with Herman and Janet reacting to the loss of their daughter, each in their own way. For Janet, that comes in the form of alcohol and suicidal tendencies. When Herman goes out to look for their missing border collie dog, the heartrending goes even deeper, then takes a sudden supernatural turn.

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Review: Exsanguinate Book One: World of Blood by Killion Slade (2013)

ExsanguinateReview by Eden Royce.

In addition to writing, I love gaming.  Mostly tabletop RPGs a la Dungeons and Dragons, but I’ll try just about any game once—board games, card games, online quests to rescue princesses in other castles. That Exsanguinate includes gaming and other geeky culture like writing code and such warms my heart.

Exsanguinate is a beautiful book, and I don’t say that often about horror novels. The cover is stunningly rendered and the inside of the book is no different.  Time and attention is paid to the inside fonts and images at the beginning of each chapter.

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