The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

I’m looking forward to this one. Their aren’t a lot of reviews, and what I have read about Banks is not great. That said, I loved Good House by Due, so I am looking forward to her story. It’s very short (9hrs, or <6hrs on fast forward), so I am sure I will finish it even if it is a bad.

Picture courtesy of my Mother.

Table of Contents

  1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks. ★★★☆☆
  2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆
  3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★

A discussion on diversity in books is included at the end.

1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆

Banks died of Cancer in 2011. She was a writer of a range of genres beyond dark fantasy and horror. Many of her works are YA or urban fantasy which isn’t my usual preference. I hope I enjoy this story. Even if I don’t, I suspect it is more to do with my own preferences, and I’m glad of the opportunity to experience her work.

This story wasn’t as bad as many reviewers made it out to be. In fact, I thought it was interesting and well written. The urban fantasy side of Banks was recognizable, but overall I thought it was a more on the paranormal side. I think my biggest issue with this story is the take away, the main moral of it all. The concept of our ancestors paving the way for us and even being integral to our own continued success and well being is a endearing thought. In many ways, we should respect what our family has done to help us achieve a better life. This basic concept makes its a good fit for this collection.

The issue stems from the Christianity centered themes that define this story. It is very much a Christian story. It was so extreme, it reminded me of reading the Left Behind books when I was still a christian. Christianity isn’t inherently a turn off. I enjoy Maya Angelou’s works even though her life is built around Christianity. The issue is with the concepts this book pushes. It is about the stories idea of morality and ethics. Essentially, every religion offers a form of goodness that our narrator sees in the form of light. It didn’t have to be just Churches, other religious individuals shared this trait. This may seem like an honorable note, but really it has a horrid implication.

It is as if without religion, there is no goodness to be had in a person. A person must focus all their attention on some god or institution if they have any hope to evade the darkness that seeks them. This story is fiction, and I admire it for how it is told. Nevertheless, the ideas within it are not new, nor are they fictional. Plenty of people believe this. It isn’t just ostracizing to a-religous person; it’s fundamentally insulting to what it means to be human.

The story has other issue. It tries to assign evil to taboo words or curses. Basically, they try and assign arbitrary harm to things religious people don’t like to try and turn a fundamentally amoral issue good and evil. I don’t know if Banks was just translating an important piece of African american history or if she was modern day C.S. Lewis. She wrote urban fantasy on vampires which makes me think it’s just this story, but who knows. This is a good work of fiction in my opinion. It’s where fiction overlaps with society that I have a problem with it. 3.5/5 stars, rounding down.

2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆

Massey is a horror thriller writer who lives near Atlanta, Georgia. Wikipedia says his work often involves contemporary African-American life with elements of horror and the supernatural. This sounds more interesting to me than the first story.

This story is only an hour (sped up), and I’m half way through it. It’s okay. I actually enjoyed Bank’s writing more. It may be because hers was more fantasy or paranormal even from the start, but I think her style was more appealing to me too. I’ll save my overall thoughts post completion.

I didn’t hate this, but I don’t think I am a fan of Massey’s writing. It feels kind of amateur. I’m not sure if I’m knowledgeable enough to make that judgement, but it’s the impression I get nonetheless. The story was okay. It reminded me a lot of Fledgling by Octavia Butler. It was published a year after it, so I don’t know how much influence it might have had in it. Although, part of me wondered if they were set in the same world. General plot points may be spoiled moving forward in this paragraph. It’s the same concept: vampires feed on humans, but they are also a separate species. With the help of Vampires, humans can live longer like in Fledgling. There are vampires who don’t like humans just like the other. There is one subtle difference in how humans are tied to vampires in this story versus that.

Overall, I appreciated the similarity. It wasn’t enough to save the story. It was fine. I liked it, but if I had to choose again, I’d go for something better. 3/5 stars.

3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★☆

Due is the only author I’ve read, and most reviews suggests this story is the best among them. She is an author and lecturer of black horror and afrofuturism. I really enjoyed the Good House and look forward to this one.

I don’t have a lot to say about this story which is odd because it’s also my favorite. The story was good. I enjoyed it. I wish the other stories were as well written as this one. Due is great at creating an dark tone and atmosphere coupled with characters that feel real. I enjoyed the family dynamic of this story; I felt it gave this story more layers of ancestor allegories than the other two which were much more heavy handed. The ancestors in this story aren’t even strictly the family that are the center of the story. That said, the bond this family has is still its own form type of ancestry.

My biggest problem with this story was that the plot didn’t resonate with me as much as I liked. It was well written and immersive. It was even interesting; I suppose I just came in expecting it to pack a bigger punch emotionally. 4/5 Stars.

Concluding thoughts

I didn’t this book. In fact, my expectations were circumvented in each case. I think the biggest surprise was the Banks’ story and my enjoyment of her writing. Then there was Massey who I thought I would like more. Then it ends on a good note, if not a great one with a story that is at least well crafted in prose and characters if not as much in plot. I will definitely be giving Due more of my time. As far as Banks, I will give her books another look over, but I still am not sure if they’re my cup of tea. The average rating was 3.5/5 stars (rounding down).

Commentary on diversity

I saw a great Booktube video by one vlogger Francina Simone discussing what diversity means in books and how we should approach it. She talks about people fixating on a book as being unique because its diverse. It ignores the story, what a vlog should really be about, and makes it about the boxes it checks. I found it informative. It is definitely something I want to think about when choosing and discussing books.

I chose this book because I wanted to find more black writers of horror. I like to think I am focusing on the stories. I want to find good books that I like. I may choose a book because it is a black author, but it isn’t for the sake of saying I did. What I hope to find are authors that I otherwise haven’t (and perhaps wouldn’t) heard of despite their being worthy of praise. I think Due is a perfect example of that. While I am unlikely to read any other books by Banks, I think her story is the perfect example of me having lower expectations for whatever reason and finding those to be wrong, at least in part.

The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson ★★★★☆

Image result for shirley jackson the lottery and other stories
Introductory thoughts 10/10/19 (Jump to Table Contents)

I am reading this for Totathon 2019 as a “book” that I read and then watch the adaption of. AKA the Scary Movie challenge. I originally planned to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also by Shirley Jackson. Then I got ahead in my schedule. I decided to allow myself to deviate from the plan (oh no!) and read Jackson’s first autobiography, Life Among Savages. It made me want more Jackson. It was so well written and charming, but it also felt like a commentary on society intentionally or not. That left me wanting more. Of course, the Lottery is a commentary on society, and I wanted more of that.

I’m also not that excited by We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the book or the movie. I also have the impression that it isn’t that scary. I am trying to remember why I had that idea because as I research it, everyone calls it creepy. In any case, I went with this collection instead.

This is composed of 26 stories (see table of contents). That is a lot of stories. At roughly ~300 pages, this isn’t very long nor are many of these stories. It makes it easier to read. Unfortunately, trying to blog about it is hard. The formatting to discuss each story takes time. Then the content begins to blend together if I don’t stop in between every story. Of course, I am not going to do that; this isn’t high school. I will rate each story, and discuss those that stick out.

Update 10/12/19

I love this collection. Sure, they don’t all do as well as others, but this is probably the most consistent collection of stories I have read all year. This is a collection of deliciously disturbing and unsettling stories based almost entirely in mundane human circumstances. At this point, I have read most the stories (some twice), but I have few left to read. Signature among them is the Lottery for which this book gets its name. I am glad it is last. I expect it to work fantastically as a closure to this collection. It fits perfectly in this collection, and I could see plenty of readers making the mistake of stopping with it were it first (probably even with it last).

I am amazed at Jackson’s talent. Fresh off of Life Among Savages, I am finally beginning to understand why she was such a significant writer of her time. Even the less impacting stories are satisfying to read.

Finished 10/13/19

This collection is easily one of my favorites of the year. I think a lot of these stories say a lot about Jackson’s take on society. Some of them are a little hit and miss, but many of them are very short. On average, this story gets 3.74/5 stars. I don’t think that score gives this collection justice, especially since so many of them are a lot longer than others. That’s why I decided to calculate the rating based on how long each story is. Essentially, each story is multiplied by the percent of the whole the story is. It brings the score up to 4.05/5 stars. I still feel like the story’s overall impact on me deserves more. I’ll give it an even 4.25/5 stars.

PS: I’ve got a physical copy in the mail. I’ll post an Instagram picture when it arrives!

Table of Contents

  1. The Intoxicated (Part I) 
  2. The Daemon Lover ★★★★
  3. Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★
  4. Trial by Combat ☆☆ (2.5)
  5. The Villager ☆☆☆
  6. My Life with R. H. Macy ☆☆
  7. The Witch (Part II)  ☆☆ (3.5)
  8. The Renegade
  9. After You, My Dear Alphonse ☆☆ (3.25)
  10. Charles ☆ (3.5)
  11. Afternoon in Linen ☆ (4.25)
  12. Flower Garden ☆ (4.25)
  13. Dorothy and My Grandmother And the Sailors ☆☆ (3.25)
  14. Colloquy (Part III) ☆ (4.25)
  15. Elizabeth
  16. A Fine Old Firm ☆☆ (2.5)
  17. The Dummy ☆  (3.75)
  18. Seven Type of Ambiguity ☆ (4.25)
  19. Come Dance with Me in Ireland ☆☆ (3.25)
  20. Of Course (Part IV) 
  21. Pillar of Salt ☆☆ (3.5)
  22. Men with Their Big Shoes ☆☆
  23. The Tooth ☆☆
  24. Got a Letter from Jimmy ☆☆ (3.5)
  25. The Lottery
  26. Epilogue (Part V)

1. The Intoxicated ★★★★☆

I listened to this story twice. Not out love per say but because I forgot what it was about. It is a good story; I just read a lot at once. I would actually say my opinion of it went down the second time around. Its a story about a drunk man talking to a 17 year old girl about her essay on how the world will end. Originally, it felt like a commentary on men who think they know better than women. That is definitely there, but it also feels like a commentary on today’s (yesterday’s ?) youth and their exaggeration of things. The sad thing is this could be written today about climate change and the still ever present sexism in society. 4/5 stars. (table of contents)

2. The Daemon Lover ★★★★★

This was one of the longer stories, but I read it twice because I loved it. This is a story about a young woman who is preparing to get married. Today is her wedding day, and naturally, she is nervous and wants everything to go smoothly. That’s when she becomes unable to locate her husband to be. What follows, is a sad desperate attempt to find him and convince herself what she fears isn’t the case. This story was fantastic. It was human and so terrifyingly real. Jackson takes us on a journey that we can guess the end of, but it’s the path she takes to get us there that is so enthralling. I never savored the woman’s pain. I just appreciate the ability to experience such a real yet unsettling occurrence of a human being losing them-self in madness because reality is too much to take. 5/5 stars (table of contents)

3. Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★★

This is another story I read twice because I loved it. It’s about an OCD man who is obsessed with cleanliness. We meet him as he prepares for dinner with a woman who lives in his building. To his surprise, she seems to have invited a man she works with. She begins to take credit for his nice apartment, his fine cooking, and everything that he did, probably in part for her, to impress this other man. What does this man do in response? He rolls over and takes it in the most infuriating yet repeatable way possible. I’d like to think I am not as bad as him, but I understand the instinct at times to be agreeable, especially when it involves someone you want to like you. Even if it means losing your own self respect. 5/5 stars (table of contents)

8. The Renegade ★★★★★

This was another favorite story of mine. It’s a story about a dog who supposedly kills a bunch of chickens. There is no proof, at least not at first. All we have is an angry call from a neighbor complaining to the dog owner. Denial turns to apologies and attempts to repay the damages. Unfortunately, neighbor isn’t interested in payment. They want the dog put down.

The story of the dog quickly makes it way through town, and before long every person is playing sad and sympathetic. Although beneath the surface, there is air of sick satisfaction that people seem to be having with this idea of this dog being put down. The story make great use of the mob mentality of small town and how people like to relish in the pain of others. As if, the pain of others reflects somehow on the quality of their own life. It is disgusting, and I am here for it! 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

10. Charles ★★★★☆ (3.5)

This story was in Jackson’s Life Among Savages. It’s about a boy named Charles in Jackson’s son’s class who keeps getting into trouble. He’s “fresh” with the teacher; other times he does and says obscene things that too much to even say out loud. That is, until the end of the story when we learn the stories her son has been telling aren’t exactly true. I think it works better in this collection because there is less context, so the implications of the ending are broader. Is it all fabricated? Was Charles her son all alone? Or was it something more sinister and supernatural.

If you haven’t read the story, hopefully this is making senses because I am trying not to overtly spoil the story. Overall, the story reflects the imagination of children and how sometimes even an innocent mind can go to pretty dark places. I enjoyed it. 3.5/5 stars. (table of contents)

14. Colloquy ★★★★☆

This is one of the weirder stories. It’s about a woman who, for lack of a better word, is hysterical. She is going mad over the slightest of phrases. Things like “stock markets” or “inflation” are driving her insane with fear. It all felt too extreme to be real. I got the impression that the woman in the story was a caricature of what society expects women to be. It is as if they aren’t capable of discussing politics or dealing with worldly issues. Because it is so weird, I wonder if I’m reading into it, but I enjoyed it even if I’m wrong. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

16. Elizabeth ★★★★★

This is definitely one of my top stories of the collection. Which, I am glad because it’s also the longest. This is a story about a women who works in publishing with a man who doesn’t respect her nor does anyone else. Whats more, the man is incompetent and incapable of handling problems. I found myself quickly siding with the woman, Elizabeth. That eventually changed as she becomes as much a part of the problem of women being mistreated and dismissed. I don’t know if Jackson intended this character to be unlikable; her treatment of this young pretty assistant who was hired for her looks comes with a tinge of satisfaction. Although, that sharp stinging attitude is misplaced. It isn’t the assistants fault that Liz’s business partner is a imbecile. Sure, I want Elizabeth to get the respect she deserves, but that doesn’t give her the right to continue this cycle of abuse. There are so many levels to this story, and I love it. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

18. Seven Types of Ambiguity ★★★★☆ (4.25)

This is a story about a young boy who is an avid reader who helps an older man find several great books. The older man has lived a busy life that hasn’t allowed him the time to read. Now he is older; he can afford and has more time. The boy on the other hand, comes to this store to read what he can’t afford. I really liked this story because the man feels fake. Its as if he wants people to have this perception of him as a well read man. He has no real interest, nor is likely to read any of these large book hauls. He fails to appreciate the young boys passion and love for books.

In particular, there is one book the boy comes back to read over and over. After the boy has gone out of his way to help the man to become a better reader and find books he is likely to like, the man goes on to purchase the very book the boy has been reading during each of his visits to the book store. The reason I enjoyed this story so much is because I find the man very realistic. He is infuriating, and he represents whats wrong with so much of society. People are so self absorbed in perception that they don’t appreciate true passion. The man fails to realize the love the boy has for reading because if he did, he wouldn’t mindlessly purchase the book the boy has been avidly reading. I hate him, but I love the story. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

21. Of Course ★★★★☆

Of course! That is obligatory remark to any sort of obvious statement or situation. Even when you don’t recognize something as such, perhaps you will resort to it so people won’t think you daft or unusual. That’s the case of main character here. She is moving or has a new neighbor (I forget), and she goes to introduce herself. She tries to be friendly; she invites her son to go to the movies with her child. But of course, this family doesn’t go to movies. They don’t watch TV. They don’t read newspapers. What an absurd concept! But of course!

She tries so hard to be welcoming and friendly, but in doing so our main character just goes along with every pompous and absurd thing her new neighbor spits out. It is insanity. At some point, you just have to accept these people are assholes, but that is not an option. Social niceties must be obeyed in this weird yet entirely real scenario. Real life and the expectations society puts on us is truly unnerving. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

26. The Lottery ★★★★★

I’m not sure if this really deserves 5 stars. It isn’t my favorite, but it is a classic. I think part of it was the lack of a surprise made it have a slightly less jarring impact. It’s still interesting reading it knowing where it’s going because appreciate the subtle details you would likely overlook the first go around. That is, knowing the premise because I didn’t remember any hard details. It starts out very calm and slowly reveals the dark and twisted nature of the story. It’s unnerving and insane, but it’s presented as normal because it’s tradition. What I think many people may fail to see here though is that there are plenty of absurd traditions or beliefs that people abide by that could easily be seen as absurd to an outsider (e.g. think religious services or rituals). I love that I reread this the same summer-fall season as the release of Ari Aster’s new film Midsommar that shares a lot with this story in my opinion.

I definitely want to read this story again, and I’ll be watching the short film adaption of it for the Trick-or-Treatathon. It’s dated, but it’s short and I remember enjoying it (I think) in high school. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

The Lottery 1969 adaption
Trailer for Midsommar.

The Dark: New Ghost Stories Edited by Ellen Datlow ★★★☆☆

  1. The Trentino Kid by Jeffrey Ford ★★☆☆☆
  2. The Ghost of the Clock by Tanith Lee ★★★☆☆
  3. One Thing About the Night by Terry Dowling ★★★☆☆
  4. The Silence of the Falling Stars by Mike O’Driscoll ★★☆☆☆
  5. The Dead Ghost by Gahan Wilson ★★★☆☆
  6. Seven Sisters by Jack Cady ★★☆☆☆
  7. Subway by Joyce Carol Oates ★★
  8. Doctor Hood by Stephen Gallagher ★★☆☆☆
  9. An Amicable Divorce by Daniel Abraham ★★★☆☆
  10. Feeling Remains by Ramsey Campbell ★★★☆☆
  11. The Gallows Necklace by Sharyn McCrumb ★★☆☆☆
  12. Brownie, and Me by Charles L. Grant ★★
  13. Velocity by Kathe Koja ★★★★★
  14. Limbo by Lucius Shepard ★★★★★
  15. The Hortlak by Kelly Link ★★☆☆☆
  16. Dancing Men by Glen Hirshberg ★★★☆☆

I am reading this for the Trick-or-Treat-athon. You can read why I chose to read this in my Trick or Treat-athon Post.

Update: 10/2/19

I am not going to waste my time reviewing a bunch of mediocre stories. These are a variety of tales of mostly mundane life with hints of ghosts, at times, in only the tiniest of bits. I have read the first 3 stories, and I have a strong urge to drop this. These stories aren’t good. The goodreads reviews often put the first few among the better stories, so is it really worth continuing?

Fearful Symmetries had some lows, but in general, it was giving me what I wanted. Here, I just find these stories dull and uninteresting. If I read a story more than 3 stars, I’ll go more in depth. The fact that I gave 3 stars to some of these does speak to a small aspect of the story peaking my interest. It just wasn’t enough to save the entire story. It doesn’t help that the narrators are terrible. The female is slightly better than the monotone male, but it is still horrible to listen to (I’ve grown to like the female narrator more). There have been at least two instances where I noticed they start to say one thing and they correct themselves. It is quick but noticeable.

Update 10/3/19

I finally read a story I liked. I really want to believe there have to be more stories in here I can enjoy. I think a big problem her is the mindset of the writers. Many of these read like ghost hunting stories in the sense that the story is too much about the supernatural or the wishy washy rhetoric ghost hunters put towards ghosts. I don’t want to hear a bunch of bullshit about the philosophy of ghosts. I want interesting stories with ghosts. Maybe I would have been better suited to read Haunted Legends, also edited by Ellen Datlow. The title suggests it is composed of stories more in line with my taste (i.e. stories about ghosts haunting you, frightening you, etc.).

End of day update

I am roughly 2/3rds through this book, so I am going to push through. There are only 3 stories left, each are basically a novella in length (especially Limbo). Hopefully they stand out like a couple of my most recent listens.

Finished 10/4/19

Success! I managed to finish a book that I had considered DNFing pretty much since the first story. However, I forced myself to read to at least halfway because I was sure that I couldn’t possibly dislike every story in the collection just as I wouldn’t expect to love every story. That proved true with Subway by Joyce Carol Oates, and I am glad. Granted, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this book as a great collection, but there are a few that you might consider reading if you can get your hand on the collection (e.g. maybe a library copy, or borrow my copy 😉). In all, there were 5 stories that peaked my interest, and you can read about these below! 3/5 stars on average.

2. The Ghost of the Clock by Tanith lee ★★★☆☆

Read 10/2/19

I didn’t love this story, but I decided to discuss it because it resonated with me more than the others did. The story is kind of long and dragged out. It is about a woman who visits her wealthy aunt. The aunt does not like her niece. She does everything in her power to make her niece’s visit terrible. Specifically, she tells her a story about a haunted clock. The story is contrived and untrue, or rather, it is about a clock of which she does not own. However, in telling the story, it becomes true. I did not particularly love the story even though the concept is interesting. What stood out to me in this story was the dynamic between the aunt and her niece. Family drama is always a great device in story telling. I just wish the ghost story was more effective. 3.5/5 stars, rounding down.

7. Subway by Joyce Carol Oates ★★★★

Read 10/3/19

This is the first story I really enjoyed. It was short, but it was effective at being creepy and unsettling. This isn’t exactly a ghost story. It feels more like the making of a ghost story as we detail a young woman who is discussing her interactions with various people on the train. All the while, she remissness about relationships passed wondering who is the love of her life. While avoiding any specifics, the ending is dark and disturbing, but everything I’d like to see with a good ghost story. 4/5 stars.

12. Brownie, and Me by Charles L. Grant ★★★★

Read 10/3/19

This story was okay. It was a little basic. In what may be somewhat spoilery description, it was like a take on Sixth Sense in a very mild way. Essentially, a man sees a haunted friend who keeps showing up. Things play out differently than he expects. The story worked better than most of these, but it still felt sort of lackluster. 3.5/5 stars, rounding up

13. Velocity by Kathe Koja ★★★★★

Read 10/3/19

This was my favorite story. I actually stopped and re-listened to the it after it finished to make sure I completely understood what was going on. In the acknowledgments, the author mentions The Yellow Wallpaper and The Haunting of Hill House as their favorite ghost stories. Both of these are favorites of mine, and I think that contributes to the style working so well for me. There is no clear evidence of a ghost. Instead, we are reading the interview with an abstract artist who is disturbed from troubling events with his father before he committed suicide. The artist is angry and aggressive and convinced his father has been haunting him. It has some solid Haunting of Hill House and The Yellow Wallpaper vibes. Is it really haunted, or is this just a disturbed individual? I was thinking 4-4.5 stars, but the ties to my favorite stories pushes me to give it a full 5/5 stars rounding up.

14. Limbo by Lucius Shepard ★★★★★

Read 10/4/19

This might be my favorite story of the collection. Limbo is about a criminal on the run. He makes a stop at a lake in Michigan where he meets a woman that he becomes involved with sexually. He soon comes to find this lake is the home to certain spirits and a weird house of sorts that is basically a form of limbo–somewhere where spirits exist after death. The man tries to reconcile with this and his attachment to this woman all the while struggling with the need to continue moving to avoid being caught by whoever is after him. He is forced to make some difficult decisions as he becomes tangled between our world and the “next”.

This story was amazing. It had ghosts, surprises, and a dark view of an afterlife. Limbo isn’t exactly hell. Although, it certainly is a form of it. This was the longest story in the collection (basically a novella with a 3hr+ length), and the other uses this tune very effectively. He gets us invested in a morally ambiguous man before he takes us on a disturbing ride into the afterlife challenging our perception of life and death. I loved the world he built and the story he told. 5/5 stars.

Fearful Symmetries, by Ellen Datlow ★★★★☆

Start 8/9/2019

I hate posting so many partial reviews. I am going to post this once I am half way through it. This is another anthology of horror stories. Like The Devil and the Deep, this is edited by Ellen Daltow. It is 2014 winner of the Bram Stoker Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, so I am hopeful (again).

I don’t have much a guide on how to move forward. I am just going to go on a whim (and likely with the shortest ones first because they are the easiest).

Update 8/10/2019

It seems apparent that this anthology has a much clearer tone than Daltow’s Devil and the Deep. This is complemented by the narrator, Fleet Cooper. He knows exactly how to pace himself and just the right way to emphasize each situation. I really wish I would finish Devil and the Deep first, but this is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. I have yet to come across a story I didn’t love (3 so far).

Update 10/1/19

I took a bit of a break because I was getting a little burnt out, and I wanted to change it up. I am back, and I hope to finish this this week. My latest story was great and unnerving like several of these stories. This is, so far, a very effective collection.

Finished 10/2/19

I finally finished this collection. Honestly, I am ending it with a lower opinion than when I started. Don’t get me wrong. There are several stories in here you you need to read because they are amazing. There are others that are enjoyable, but I feel like I read most of my favorites early on. That left me with several stories that just weren’t as good. A lot of them are very effective. Most of them even do at least a little to ignite some fear or dread, but it is a bit of a roller coaster of very high high and some very low lows. The average score is 3.93/5 stars.

Table of Contents

  1. A Wish From a Bone” by Gemma Files ★★★★
  2. The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud ★★★★★
  3. The Witch Moth” by Bruce McAllister ★★★★
  4. Kaiju” by Gary McMahon ★★★★★
  5. Will The Real Psycho In This Story Please Stand Up?” by Pat Cadigan ★★★★
  6. In the Year of Omens” by Helen Marshall ★★★★
  7. The Four Darks” by Terry Dowling ★★★★
  8. The Spindly Man” by Stephen Graham Jones ★★★★★
  9. The Window” by Brian Evenson ★★★★★
  10. Mount Chary Galore” by Jeffrey Ford ★★★★★
  11. Ballad of an Echo Whisperer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan ★★★☆☆
  12. Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman ★★★★
  13. Power” by Michael Marshall Smith ★★☆☆☆
  14. Bridge of Sighs” by Kaaron Warren ☆☆☆
  15. the worms crawl in,” by Laird Barron ★★★★
  16. The Attic” by Catherine MacLeod ★★★★★
  17. Wendigo Nights” by Siobhan Carroll ★★★★
  18. Episode Three: On the Great Plains, In the Snow” by John Langan ☆☆☆
  19. Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone ★★★★
  20. Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix ☆☆☆

Story Reviews

01 – “A Wish From a Bone” by Gemma Files ★★★★

Read 8/15/2019

This was a solid story. Really, I think it benefited from an amazing narration. I had a hard time getting into the story at first, but as soon as things get weird, the narrator knows just how to translate that, even if the writing itself isn’t doing that. Attention is key, particularly at the start of the story.

This story uses one of my favorite horror monsters, demons. I love satanic and demonic stories, so this story had a leg up there. Here, we follow a television crew on an archaeology expedition as they investigate an old Sumerian ruin. Things quickly turn weird as it becomes clear The Seven seek to return–ancient demons, or fallen angels who seek to destroy everything.

This story feels like classic horror with death, mutilation, and possession. As they have to deal with being overtaken by these demons, what can they do to stop this? Will they make it out alive, and is their death the only way to stop the return of the seven? It definitely reminded me of a Cabin in the Woods, so far was we consider sacrifices. Overall, it was good and satisfying, but the ending was sort of lackluster 4.5/5 stars, rounding down

02 – “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud ★★★★★

Read 8/12/2019

LOVED this story. This is everything I want from a horror story. The Atlas of Hell gets its name from an apparent book that works as some sort of portal to hell through which you can retrieve desired items. We learn about it while following the owner of a book store. It begins with him being confronted by some big guy who acts as muscle for a mob like leader. It turns out our narrator has a dark history. What exactly, we don’t know. All we know is his services are required, much to his chagrin. There is no tiptoeing around it: this is real. Our narrator is all too familiar with the likes of this item they are in pursuit of. What unfolds as they go to retrieve it is a dark and deliciously disturbing tale.

The concept uses primal concepts of hell, demons, hate and sin. I love the atmosphere it creates. I am not a believer of such things, and there is something so intoxicating about the world in these types of stories. Part of me wonders if there is something wrong with me to enjoy it so much. In reality, this is just another escape. It is a distraction from the real horrors that we have to deal with. This type of story simplifies things. It narrows all our problems down to a black and white where evil stems from something else that is beyond our control. The reality is much more depressing. We have to live with the fact that the world is what we make it. Fantastic story 5/5 stars.

03 – “The Witch Moth” by Bruce McAllister ★★★★

Read 10/1/19

I think this was the last story I started to read before taking a break from this, and I am glad I did. I enjoyed this a lot more the second time I dug into it. I think the biggest flaw is there was a bit of confusion; I wasn’t sure if what was happening was what I thought had happened. This is a story about a couple brothers who live with their grandmother because something is wrong with their mother. It seems there are issues with mental illness here, but the idea is she is a witch who doesn’t know it. That results in her doing things she doesn’t know she’s doing. Couple that with her mental illness and you can get some pretty dark outcomes. It isn’t straight forward in this. The “witch moth” is somewhat confusing, but its role seems to come across. Despite the confusion, it is effective at evoking some fear. 4.25/5 stars

04 – “Kaiju” by Gary McMahon ★★★★★

Read 8/9/2019

This story is an example of what amazing storytelling can do. The term “Kaiju” refers to ancient Japanese creatures like Godzilla. In general, I wouldn’t consider myself a major fan of Godzilla type stories. Its a fine premise, but not one that I would go out of my way to experience. Nevertheless, I would consider this a near perfect story. From the start, the author sets a clear depressing and ominous tone. We don’t understand exactly what has happened, but we don’t need to. We understand the emotions these people are undergoing. The writer eventually makes his way to what is going on (in a way that Broken Record failed to do). All the way it was a disturbing experience. What’s amazing is we are experiencing the aftermath. We are learning the true horrors of the Kaiju by seeing its effect first hand. Will it return? Will we be safe? We really can’t know. Tragedy has struck and there is no telling if it might strike again. 5/5 stars.

05 – “Will The Real Psycho In This Story Please Stand Up?” by Pat Cadigan ★★★★

Read 10/1/19

This was a slow burn but thoroughly enjoyable. The story starts off like a retelling of Carrie. A boy in high school has to deal with constant bullying. The story isn’t very unnerving at the start. It feels like a constant series of misdirections. At one point I was ready to rate this as one of my least favorites. In fact, the build up was overdone. In the end, it pays off well enough. We find out who the real psycho is.

This will include spoils for the story. I liked how the psycho was the boy, an overly christian zealot who glorifies suffering. It reminds me of Christopher Hitchen’s take on Mother Teresa. I understand how people may struggle to really appreciate the unsettling nature of this fact, and Cadigan does a great job articulating how these biblical principles, when applied, are outright disturbing. I wish the story dug deeper into this idea. Regardless of the slow build, it pays off well enough in the end. 4/5 stars.

06 – “In the Year of Omens” by Helen Marshall ★★★☆☆

Read 10/2/19

This story is about a young girl who starts seeing omens that are followed by deaths of other people. The story was interesting, and the point of view was generally effective at conveying the darker tone. Other than that, not a lot stood out for me. 3.5/5 stars rounding down.

07 – “The Four Darks” by Terry Dowling ★★★★

Read Late 8/2019

I literally remember nothing about this story. I remember thinking how excellent the narrator was doing and wishing I cared more. I don’t know if I ought to give this another listen. I don’t know if this was the story’s fault or my own mindset going in. I think I ought to relisten, because a part of this process of reviews is to understand what makes a story good and by extension, what makes a story bad.

Reread 9/12/2019

I reread the story, and I am glad I did. This is a solid story. It isn’t my favorite, but it is hardly forgettable. The story follows a couple men, one a doctor at a mental institution (I think) and the other an old patient turned maintenance for the facility after his release. The doctor is introduced to a man who talks about darkness and evil. We come to learn that the doctor and patient seem to have something special about them. This leads them to realize the visitor was something evil that needed to be stopped. To be honest, I can see why I might have been confused. The story is a little convoluted, and the rules are not clear.

To me, it felt like a mashup of Stephen King works. We have this person who isn’t a person, instead they are an evil entity of some sort, like Pennywise/IT. Then we have our doctor and patient who seem to know things others don’t. They basically have a form of the Shine, the powers that Danny has in the Shining, hence the name, something that will be explored more in depth in the upcoming sequel film, Doctor Sleep. Then there is talk of evil and how it tends to gravitate to a certain place or in this case, certain people. This feels analogous to Derry and by extension Dallas as it is seen in 11/22/63.

I don’t know if these connections were intentional, but I find it an interesting variation. This wouldn’t be the first story (that I’ve read) in this anthology to use King for their story telling. In any case, it makes for an interesting story that feels ominous and creepy. Nevertheless, the story doesn’t offer anything particularly new, which makes it less effective than the other stories in this collection. 4/5 stars.

08 – “The Spindly Man” by Stephen Graham Jones ★★★★★

Read ~8/10/19

I think this was the only story I read twice because I loved it. Sure, Graham is cheating a bit by using my love of Stephen King, but who cares! This story is about a book club discussing the Stephen King story about the man in the black suit when a spindly man shows up uncannily similar to the man in black in the story. Not only do I love that I know this story (its a personal favorite of King’s), I love how dark Graham takes it.

Some might suggest King’s story is a hopeful one because a world with demons means theirs a world with angels. Of course, the skeptic knows that isn’t true. Any piece of your religion could be true and that is not proof of all of it being true. The fact that there are monsters does not necessitate the need for guardians, and that thought is so dark and terrifying. I absolutely love this story. It is by far my favorite because this story really gets to the heart of my thoughts on horror and being afraid.

There are a lot of people who don’t like horror, or when they experience it, they struggle with leftover fear. I don’t believe in the supernatural. but I am only human. Ever since Sixth Sense, I have had a fear of a little dead girl grabbing my foot from under my bed. Even before this, I remember having nightmares about the monster under the bed. To this day, I often get nervous when getting into bed. I experience similar feelings during other times but not as often. I enjoy the fear though. The fear proves I still have an imagination. What I refuse to do is let that control my life. In these moments, I force myself to act perfectly natural and reasonably. Not just because it isn’t justified, but because if these monsters exists, my running or jumping into bed won’t save me. If these monsters exists and want me, I have no chance. 5000/5 stars.

09 – “The Window” by Brian Evenson ★★★★★

Read 8/9/2019

I decided to read this story first for the sole reason that it was the shortest. That makes it easy to read without too much commitment while also giving me a feel for what is in store in this collection. I was not disappointed! This is another example of an author who sets a clear tone.

Like “Kaiju”, this is a retelling, but there is still fear. Fear that the narrator had in the moment that we can empathize with. Also, fear that would come after. This strange unreal experience may be a figment of his imagination. He doesn’t think so (I don’t think we are supposed to think that either), but is his survival really something to be happy about? He has now experienced something that most of us would prefer to think is fiction. He now lives in a world where his deepest fears might actually be real. For most people, the monsters go unnoticed, but as soon as we notice they are there, whose to say they won’t notice us too?

I was very happy with this story. My first reaction was to give it 4.5 stars, but I can’t do that without having something to criticize for which I have nothing. Maybe it wasn’t as horrific as I would have liked, but that is okay. It horror elements were there even if I wasn’t overcome with fright. 5/5 stars.

10 – “Mount Chary Galore” by Jeffrey Ford ★★★★★

Read 10/2/19

I was beginning to worry that I was getting burnt out on this collection with low review after low review. I am happy to say I loved this story. It does force me to ask what makes a good story? What role does plot play because this story stands out not for its plot which is lacking but for its overt weirdness. In what feels like a take on Hanzel and Gretel, a few kdis go to spy on an old lady. What happens is disturbing and weird in the best way possible. I absolutely loved it for its weirdness even if it left me somewhat confused. 4.75/5 stars.

11 – “Ballad of an Echo Whisperer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan ★★★☆☆

Read 10/1/19

This story was so-so. It was about a haunting or the idea of one. The main character starts to hear sounds that shouldn’t be. This story struggled to keep my interest, and it was lacking in the scares or dread. Not terrible, but not my favorite either. 3.25/5 stars.

12 – “Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman ★★★★

Read 10/2/19

This was another weird one. A young women gains a teaching job at what I think is a private school, but she struggles with insecurities about her ability to do the job. All of that is made worse when weird things begin to happen with the kids. I liked this story because I could relate to the main character feeling insecure and struggling to make the right decisions. 4.5/5 rounding down.

13 – “Power” by Michael Marshall Smith ★★★☆☆

Read 10/1/19

I really didn’t enjoy this story. The most horrific thing about this story is the toxic masculinity of the main character. It is about a man who has an inflated idea of his self worth, and in the end he gets whats coming to him. That’s pretty much it. It didn’t accomplish much of anything. 3/5 stars,.

14 – “Bridge of Sighs” by Kaaron Warren ★★☆☆☆

Read 10/2/19

Meh. This story was hardly the worst, but it relied on a premise that was weird in all the wrong ways. It is the story of a ghost hunter and photographer. The premise just feels dumb, and it didn’t work for me. 2/5 stars.

15 – “the worms crawl in,” by Laird Barron ★★★★

Read 10/1/19

This was an interesting story. It wasn’t the scariest, but it was one of the more intriguing tales. It is about a man who is killed but comes back. He is something. Some type of monster. I didn’t find the story that straightforward, but it reminded me of Beowulf. In particular, it reminded me of something I read in high school that told this story from Grendel’s Mother’s perspective. At the time, it made me question my Christianity and the meaning of sin when considering instinct. In any case, it makes for a nice twist on the story telling. The biggest flaw here was that it was confusing at times what exactly was happening or why. 3.75/5.

16 – “The Attic” by Catherine MacLeod ★★★★★

Read 8/10/2019

The biggest set back for this story was a bit of confusion that I had as I listened. The main set up seems clear: a women rides to no where as she escapes some dark past. The story flashes between where she was (and how she got there) to her current escape. Now that it’s finished, I see how it fits together. The author does a great job setting up clear tone of disturbing moments. We don’t know what is going on, but we certainly feel the fear felt by our narrator. She joined this rural town where the people are strange. It reminded me of Midsommar where a seemingly normal town has some seriously dark secrets.

There are still some questions left, but I don’t think it hurts the story for it. This is case of mystery befitting the situation. All that matters is we understand our main character and can feel the terror she seeks to escape. 4.5/5 stars rounding up.

17 – “Wendigo Nights” by Siobhan Carroll ★★★★

Read 10/2/19

I read this story twice because I forgot to write about it after. This was the last story I read of the anthology, and I liked it. We are reading about a team of people in Antarctica who find themselves under attack by their own team members. The story is told by a man who himself is just beginning to be overtaken by whatever this curse is. The story did a well enough job conveying the denial and fear of the man as well as the fear of those around him who understand whats going on even less than himself. Perhaps the most terrifying thing is that it forces you to attack those closest (emotionally) to you, and there is no real escaping the disease. Knowing is all it takes, and by reading this you are as damned as the characters in the story. I enjoy this sort type of story that tracks ones loss into madness. One might even say this is a fate worst than death. 4/5 stars.

18 – “Episode Three: On the Great Plains, In the Snow” by John Langan ★★☆☆☆

Read 10/2/19

This story was a mess. It felt more like a time travel story than a horror story. There are ghosts from different times on different plains. There are even dinosaurs. The idea is intriguing, but in the end it just doesn’t work. I can also think of better stories along the same line of thinking (e.g. Fish Night). I didn’t like it much, nor do I feel like it belongs in this collection. 2.5/5 stars, rounding down.

19 – “Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone  ★★★★

Read 8/13/2019

This was another great story, but coming off the “Atlas of Hell,” it’s hard not to see this story as not as satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend this story. A young girl is investigated by some government entity after her mother is found dead. The story then becomes a slow reveal of what took place. Everything about the tone of the story is on point. It is creepy and well executed. My problem revolved around the reveal. The way the story is structured seems to suggest it was going in one direction, but as we get further along it seems as if that isn’t the case. The problem was I am not sure what the author wanted us to think, and I found my self overthinking it, unable to really appreciate the quality of the story telling as it unfolded.

I did a reviewed what I could find about the story online (it is hard to find a lot of discussion on individual short stories). It appears this story reappeared in Datlow’s, The Monstrous. Aptly named, it is a horror anthology of monsters. The question arises, are the monsters the flies, or are the flies merely there when the true monster is.

I may return to this one more time, but for now, I’d give it 4/5 stars.

20 – “Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix ★★☆☆☆

Read 10/1/2019

This story did not work for me. I got the premise because I read review on goodreads, but I really didn’t get the connection between the main character and Shay Corsham. I could reread this to try and follow better, but it had its chance and didn’t work. 2/5 stars.