First of all, I felt like I was reading this book for such an incredibly long time. I normally adore horror anthologies, and this one wasn’t horrible, but for some reason, it just dragged on and on. I think the problem was that I’m used to reading horror anthologies with some sort of a “theme”, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any sort of running design with this selection. The editor himself even introduces a few stories by implying that they don’t quite fit, though I did appreciate that he took the time to explain why he chose them, regardless. Speaking of Eric J. Guignard, I found his voice as an editor to be absolutely delightful; truthfully, there were a few stories that just couldn’t have lived up to his hype for them in his forewords.
As far as reviewing this book, I originally thought I would just give a basic rundown of the entire anthology, maybe while throwing in a star rating for each individual story. By the time I reached somewhere around the halfway mark, I realized that would be incredibly unfair, as I was bored to tears by some stories, while others made me immediately look up more works by that author to add to my TBR. Hence, I’ll give a short rundown of each story, as well as a star rating. I apologize in advance for this fucking wall of text I’ll be subjecting you poor followers to, but I’ll minimize as much as I can.
I’ve Finally Found You by Garrett Quinn – 2/5
Dude goes back to his childhood apartment with a childhood friend to find proof of a haunted CB radio he was given after his mother passed away. This story was a little odd, but never genuinely spooky. It felt a little… pointless?
Cartagena Hotel by Jackson Kuhl – 3/5
Two little girls embark upon a mission to explore the ruins of a hotel, in which they suspect lives some sort of serpentine beast responsible for missing persons. The ending was predictable, but enjoyable, and I would certainly give Kuhl’s writing a chance in the future.
The Night Truck by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime – 5/5
An old woman reminisces on her mother and grandmother’s superstitions regarding dark houses near Halloween when a rattling old pickup truck comes meandering down her street, looking for victims in a power outage. I was reading this story late at night, in a quiet house, and this story gave me legitimate chills. It may be due to my inability to outgrow a childhood fear of the dark and the nasty things it hides, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale.
Il Mostro by Connor de Bruler – 2/5
Two American men go for a backpacking trip in Europe, and find themselves out after dark in a quiet Tuscan village, where they are warned of “Il Mostro”, or “the monster”. Let me preface this by saying that, while reading this story, I had no idea that it was inspired by true events; had the author or editor offered even a smidgen of this information in the foreword or afterword, my entire viewpoint on it would have been changed. The story felt bland, and the buildup for this “monster” ending very disappointingly; however, while compiling this review, a quick Google search taught me that “Il Mostro” refers to a series of murders that occurred in Florence in the mid-20th century, which this story delves into. With this knowledge, it certainly makes the plot more interesting, but I still had to stick with the 2/5 star rating.
Oldstone Gardens by Tom Johnstone – 2/5
An English gardening gang toils away whilst remembering their recently lost co-worker, and one man explains his ideas on what may have taken the man away into a garden of a home that appears and disappears at will. This story just had a fairly boring plot, and I probably wouldn’t rush to pick up any more of Johnstone’s writing, frankly.
The Plumber by Bentley Little – 4/5
When a young couple hires a new plumber, they’re shocked to find that he is on a mission to reroute their entire lives for the sake of their… drains? This story was one hundred percent typical Bentley Little: humorous, vulgar, and weird as fuck. I love this guy’s writing (his name in the author list was 90% of why I requested this eGalley) and I always know he’s going to make me raise a brow, laugh, and shake my head a little before it’s all said and done. This one was no exception.
The Creek Keepers’ Lodge by Kathryn E. McGee – 1/5
A middle-aged man stuck in his college dream days goes to a wedding back home, to find that things are falling apart around him, and some strange forces are at work in the beloved frat house. First of all, can any one character possibly “check his phone” more times than this asshole? I almost counted how many times he checked his phone, or checked his instagram notifications, or checked his texts… It became absolutely eyeroll-inducing and made me want to skip to the next story before I was even halfway through this one. I don’t think McGee’s writing is for me at all. I’m sorry to admit that I don’t have anything good to say about this story.
Snowfather by Josh Rountree – 5/5
This story offers opposing sides’ POVs of two WWII soldiers facing down a supposed snow beast named Snowfather. I loved the parallel, yet opposing perspectives in this story. It made for such an enjoyable read to see how each soldier thought his enemy’s side was responsible for the beast, and the ending was open to interpretation without feeling like it left the reader hanging.
Five Pointed Spell by Jeffrey Ford – ?/5
A man moves to a rural area and finds out that timelines are nonlinear, and the bad events in your life now might just be punishment for your crimes later. I don’t even know how to rate this one. I loved every second of this story until the end, which left me so goddamn confused that I legitimately considered finding the author’s contact information just to ask him what the fuck did that mean? I just want some closure, so Mr. Ford, if you ever read this review, can you shoot me an email or something?
The Red-Eye to Boston by John M. Floyd – 5/5
An old man begs a young neo-nazi on his flight to retrieve precious lost goods from the creature living in the airline toilet. Yes, you read that right. As a decent human being who hates nazis, neo-nazis, and anyone else of that ilk, this ending was just as predictable as I hoped it would be, and I cheered all the way through. Take that, you little Aryan bastard.
Elsa and I by Raymond Little – 1/5
A story in which we revisit classic horror film sets and view drug addictions, up close and personal. Maybe I should reread this one, because frankly, I didn’t see how it was a horror story – spoiler alert: mentioning horror actors does not a horror tale create – and I also didn’t see the point.
Mother’s Mouth, Full of Dirt by Rebecca J. Allred – 5/5
When a child finds that her presumed dead mother has been sequestered away in the attic all these years, who can blame her for reaching out? A bit of the imagery in this tale made me cringe, which is a compliment in most cases, as far as my reviews go. I really enjoyed the twist, and the ending, while sad, was satisfying as hell.
D.U.I. by Darren O Godfrey – 3/5
A man goes for a drive with a six-pack, only to end up with some unexpected visitors, determined to show him the last moments of their final rides. I’ll admit that the plot of this story pissed me off in the beginning, as it felt vaguely glorifying of drunk driving, and that’s a notion that I don’t care to read about, fiction or not; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story offered an interesting, moralistic view to the whole scenario. That said, it didn’t feel like the driver had learned anything by the end, which I suppose is really asking too much of a horror story. All in all, this one was just average for me.
Predestination’s a Bitch by Sean Eads – 4/5
Our main character’s coworker can tell the future, through odd dreams and visions – for better or for worse. I found this one surprisingly humorous at points, though also rather sad in a sense; these characters are just fairly pitiful. The twist at the end felt incredibly predictable once the main character stopped answering his coworker’s calls, because any horror movie fan can tell you, missed voicemail messages are always bad news.
Casualty of Peace by David Tallerman – 5/5
In a town of women awaiting the end of a war, drawing a short straw means the return of a soldier, but they say war changes a man… If I could give this more stars, I would. I adored this story; easily my favorite in the entire anthology. The writing was so beautiful and poetic, and painted such a scene that I felt like I could see into Tallerman’s very imagination. This story felt less ‘horror’ and more ‘haunting’, but I loved it all the same and would eagerly read more of David Tallerman’s short stories.
The Starry Crown by Marc E Fitch – 4/5
In the deep south, slave songs have interesting roots, and racism never really dies. As someone who lives in the south, surrounded by inbred, racist assholes, I loved the plot of this, despite how hard it was to stomach at points, if only due to having been raised with the knowledge that events such as those in this story, have happened in real life. I genuinely enjoyed the writing behind this one, and would like to see Fitch featured in future Horror Library volumes.
Instant Messaging by Vitor Abdala – 1/5
Literally an IM chat between a girl and a ghost. What was the point of this story’s submission, and even more so, why was it chosen? It was literally a few pages and I just wanted to roll my eyes by the end.
The H Train by JG Faherty – 2/5
A man on the run from the law inadvertently ends up on the Hell train, and finds himself bargaining with the devil: drive the train of damned souls, and get your ticket to Heaven. The plot for this one was honestly really fun, but I don’t think the execution was quite there yet.
The Gaff by Dean H Wild – 3/5
Two insurance salespeople find themselves trapped in their office as ghosts from a bar fire seek revenge. I honestly didn’t really understand why Lou and Betsy specifically were being targeted for this fire, or for the insurance fraud which, from my understanding, was committed by totally separate individuals? I enjoyed the story, but it was hard to really dive into, when I just kept asking myself, “Okay, sure, but why these people and not the people responsible?” Meh.
Kalu Kumaraya (My Dark Prince) by Jayani C Senanayake – 5/5
A little girl is followed by Kalu Kumaraya, who is determined to make her love him back to life. First of all, I love hearing about myths and legends from other cultures; second of all, I really love when those myths and legends are totally new to me, such as this twist on a Sri Lankan classic. The imagery was great and I was fascinated from start to finish.
We Were Monsters by Lucas Pederson – 2/5
Four childhood friends destroy a creature guilty of murdering one of the boys’ aunts, only for her to come back for vengeance many years later. This wasn’t a particularly exciting notion, and the execution just left a lot to be desired. This wasn’t a terrible story, but I felt really apathetic about it.
The Night Crier by C Michael Cook – 4/5
A widower is woken night after night by a bird, but when he hunts the creature down, he finds something unexpected. This story was beautiful and sad, and had a surprising but intriguing ending that I just thoroughly enjoyed.
Waiting for Mrs. Hemley by Thomas P Balazs – 5/5
The zombie outbreak may have put a damper on things, but this psychotherapist knows at least one of his patients would never miss her therapy appointment – dead or alive. First, this was the only story in this anthology to make me laugh out loud, which was nice. Second, I just really enjoyed the narrator’s voice. He offered such a uniquely calm perspective on the entire scenario and I ate it right up. It’s also kind of fun to have found out that the author responsible for this one teaches classes at a college about half an hour from me!
The Ride by Jay Caselberg – 3/5
When your girlfriend goes missing while backpacking in Scotland, what’s a man to do but to go hunt her down? I love the ritual of Samhain, and there’s so much history behind the entire event, so it was fun to read a story revolving around it a bit, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t actually much of anything specifically about Samhain in this submission. While the writing itself was good, I just found that the events unfolding left a little to be desired.
Old Hag by Ahna Wayne Aposhian – 5/5
An alcoholic woman spends her evenings plagued by night terrors, and her days horrified by her worsening addiction and her husband’s slow progression out of their marriage. This story wasn’t scary, and didn’t feel like much of a horror story to me, despite the sometimes gruesome depictions of her night terrors. That said, I didn’t take off any points because it was so tragically, beautifully sad. Despite most of the story revolving around things that weren’t necessarily horrific in nature, I had to ask myself: is there anything genuinely more terrifying than losing not only our loved ones, but ourselves, too?
Hear the Eagle Scream by Edward M Erdelac – 2/5
Times are hard, but what’s an old man to do when the only hired help he can get is a stranger? Okay, first of all, can anyone tell me what the hell the symbolism behind the title is? As far as I could gather, it held no relation whatsoever to the events of the story. I even googled that shit, and nada. As far as the story itself goes, it was another story in this anthology that just felt meaningless. I’ll admit that the ending wasn’t what I expected, but I couldn’t get into it at all.
Better You Believe by Carole Johnstone – 4/5
A pack of mountain climbers find themselves in a terrifying situation when an Everest climb goes wrong in every way it possibly could. As someone who is far too fearfully respectful of Mother Nature’s mercilessness to ever even consider serious climbing, this story actually horrified me a little bit, in the most logical, sane, realistic way possible. It offered a very realistic-feeling view of the dark side of climbing. I did find myself lost a few times because Johnstone writes in the voice of someone who is very familiarized with climbing equipment and terminology, and has forgotten that the reader may not be familiarized (spoiler alert: I’m not). The ending felt like it was supposed to be some shocking twist, and maybe it’s because I’ve been in this scene for too damn long, but it felt terribly obvious to me from a mile away. Despite that obviousness, the writing was enjoyable, sad, and solid.
If you’ve made it this far, you can probably see now why it was so hard to write a comprehensive review, and why I ultimately had to break this thing down into individual pieces. The stories that I loved, I really loved, and the stories that I hated, I really hated, but just as often, the stories were just… meh. I don’t think I’ll be hurrying to pick up any other Horror Library volumes in the future if they’re anything like this one.
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