Vices and Virtues: A Horror Anthology – Ashley Franz Holzmann

March 8, 2018

Vices and Virtues by Ashley Franz Holzmann

TITLE: Vices and Virtues: A Horror Anthology
EDITOR: Ashley Franz Holzmann
RELEASED: September 30th, 2017; As For Class
GENRE: Horror
SYNOPSIS: Discover some of the best up-and-coming horror writers today. These stories explore the best and worst aspects of human nature, each story based on vices or virtues from the cultures of human history. There is true horror throughout this anthology that will touch the center of your soul and leave it burning.


It’s time for another horror anthology review! I know that, when I wrote my last one, I said I was done with anthologies for a little while, but they always suck me back in, and this one had been calling out to me from my kindle for a while. It kicks off with a story from one of my favorite online horror authors of all time, but I also found some new writers to enjoy (as well as getting to read new work from some other old favorites).

→ The Girl Who Died by C. K. Walker ←
If you’ve read my reviews of C. K. Walker’s Cold, Thin Airbooks, you already know that I’m a big fan of her ideas. The anthology starts with her twist on a Patient Zero story, and was really enjoyable and unique. While I saw the ending coming, I was still totally pleased with the turns that it took.

→ I Loved You So Much by Christopher Bloodworth ←
This story is a tale of a child who finds an alien-like egg, which hatches into a “pet” of sorts for him. I thought this piece was nearly flawless and oddly adorable; even though the critter is grotesque and frightening for sure, I loved the psychopathic adoration the child held for it.

→ In the Throes by Rona Vaselaar ←
A first-person narrative of a girl who literally feels the pain of those around her, for better and for worse. This was actually an incredibly sad story in both theory and execution, and while I didn’t think it fit the “horror” spectrum very well, I did really enjoy it.

→ The Compliant by J. L. Spencer ←
A few teens get in a bit of gambling trouble and decide to fake a kidnapping in order to collect a ransom from one of the kids’ wealthy family. I’m not a fan of the “fake kidnapping” trope, but the ending did hold a twist on the plot that I don’t see much. That said, the characters were a little over-the-top unlikable – overall, I didn’t care for this one.

→ Constance by Adam Gray ←
This was the toughest story for me to review, because I still can’t decide if I liked it or not. It switches perspectives between two women; one, Constance, is an elderly woman who’s incredibly bizarre (to the point of being disgusting), and the other, Annie, is a young single mom who I wanted to like, but just… couldn’t. The writing is fantastically disturbing, and overall, I appreciated it, but the ending left a bit to be desired.

→ The Lonely Man by Kristopher J. Patten ←
This one tells the story of an astronaut who makes it to Mars, only to find that a former astronaut (presumed dead) has been living there in immortality for decades, and has some interesting explanations for why. I didn’t find the pacing particularly exciting, but as someone who has a mild phobia of outer space and other planets, I did enjoy the plot quite a bit.

→ Marina by Rafael Marmol ←
When a group of rich young men take a trip for “hunting season” at the Jersey Shore, the narrator falls for a beautiful woman who’s not at all what she seems. Unfortunately, this was my least favorite. The writing was okay – a little over-worked at points, with more build-up than necessary – but the personality of the narrating character was unbearable. He even starts the story by talking smack about the famous Jersey Shore crew, but his attitude is the epitome of what you’d see on the show: if he’s not talking about drinking and sex, he’s obsessively degrading and fat-shaming every woman he meets. I will admit that I loved the very ending of the story, but it wasn’t enough to redeem it from how incredibly hurtful most of the text was for me, as a female reader.

→ My Time is Very Valuable by J. D. Patrick ←
A college student starts taking mysterious pills that make him excel at everything he touches, but they come at a serious cost. This was another story where I felt like it over-stayed its welcome and the build-up was a little too much to justify the ending. I also felt like the twist gave itself away really early on, but if this story had been several pages shorter, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more.

→ Birthmarked by J. L. Spencer ←
A poor young girl, born with a terrible skin condition, is forced into hermitage by her mother, at all costs. This felt like a really short story, so there’s not much I can say, other than the fact that I tremendously enjoyed the writing as well as the ending. It felt very open, and while I strongly suspected that a certain sort of foul play was happening, I enjoyed that I was left to form my own conclusions.

→ Given Form by S. M. Piper ←
This was, by far, my favorite story in the collection: an artist is paid for an incredibly elite and expensive sculpting job with a mysterious piece of sea marble, pulled from the ocean floor. The writing was not only solid, it was also grotesque without being obvious, and really incredibly eerie. I loved the narrator’s self-assured nature, and the ending left me wanting so much more from this author.

→ Dammit, Janet by Ashley Franz Holzmann ←
It’s always interesting, in an anthology, to reach the editor’s contribution; in some cases, the editor is the finest author in the bunch, while in other cases, it feels like a case of “those who can’t do, teach”. Thankfully, the latter isn’t the case here: Ashley has a bizarre but incredibly captivating writing voice, though the plot itself isn’t as horrific as I expected it to be. While I wasn’t frightened, I was pleasantly surprised by how captivating I could find a tale of a woman leaving her family in pursuit of the finer things in life.

→ Heart Full of Love by L. Chan ←
I loved the idea behind this one, featuring a world in which people can swap out their organs for synthetic versions – it totally reminded me of Repo! The Genetic Opera (which happens to be my favorite musical of all time), but it also had major The Telltale Heart vibes. The writing was wonderful, the plot was sad but beautiful, and the psychological twist was totally haunting.

→ Sesshoseki by Kristopher J. Patten ←
This was another of my favorites: an American CIA agent goes to Japan to help the PSIA investigate her former partner’s apparent suicide, but it turns into a much more intricate plot involving a stone with unexplainable powers and the Aokigahara Forest. As someone who is not Japanese and has never visited, I obviously can’t speak for any of the story’s representation, but I thought it offered a really unique view into the world of law enforcement and the yakuza, as well as Aokigahara and how the people of the area view the forest. Most of all, it was just incredibly suspenseful and a really enjoyable story. (Content warnings for suicide and self-harm, by the way!)

→ The Sand Quarry by Manen Lyset ←
The memories of a little girl offer a view into a day her life changed forever, when she and her cousins visited a haunted sand quarry and ran into some unspeakable horrors. This was such a sad story, with child abuse and death, but it was definitely enjoyably written and kept my interest to the end.

→ Chaucer’s Horses by Christina Ferrari ←
I wasn’t a huge fan of this story about a writer who’s accused of plagiarism by the family of a supposedly dead Venetian man, and then goes to Venice to visit them and seek leniency. The author was such a tremendously unlikable character, and while the plot was interesting, her attitude regarding other characters and the situation in general made it hard to connect with her or the events happening to her. It was pretty neat to see the inclusion of alchemy as a topic, though, which is something I don’t see much (especially in horror!).

→ Biserka by Kristopher J. Patten ←
The final story was one that managed to be both sad and creepy, though it unfortunately overstayed its welcome, too. The main tale is of a sailor who finds a bizarre bio-luminescent presence in the lower decks of the ship, and as someone who is personally freaked out by weird sea creatures, I loved the idea of it – however, the sub-plot totally lost me when it spent a substantial period of time discussing Javor’s military past. While his former life was definitely sad, it felt very out of place, and its placement in the middle of the story effectively removed me from the actual horror aspects altogether.

All in all, I thought this anthology was a major mixed bag: there were stories I loved, stories I disliked entirely, and several in between. While I didn’t add star ratings to the individual stories, my average rating was about 3.3/5, and I feel comfortable rounding that down to a 3-star average. While that may not sound like a raving recommendation, I will state that, at the time I’m writing this review, this anthology is available for free on Kindle Unlimited or for $2.99 on the US Kindle store, and at that price, I definitely think it’s worth picking up and giving these authors a try.


More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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    1. That sounds like a really good book! Also great review. Often I really struggly to find something really scary. Last thing I did found was Uprooted by Naomi Novik I think, have you read that one?

      1. Thank you, Bella! I have a hard time finding anything that genuinely creeps me out, too. I haven’t read Uprooted yet, but I do own a copy, so I should pick it up soon!

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