Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: horror

Undertow and Shadows

undertowAKA: Finally, an update.

Firstly, Undertow is now officially launched and available for purchase on Amazon. My piece ‘Breath’, a historical ghost story, is one of twenty stories with links to the Gold Coast. I really like the cover art and am looking forward to getting my own copy so that I can read the other stories in the anthology.

Secondly, I have actually been doing some writing. Will wonders never, etc etc. It’s a short play of approximately 20-25 minutes, called ‘Shadows’. Comprising of three monologues about three women with three secrets, it was written to exploit the enclosed theatre spaces involved in The Container Festival at Monash University. Hopefully it’ll be produced there later this year under the direction of Ephiny Gale.

Review: Fright Knight – Connie Laux

Fright Knight book coverAlthough it is part of a horror series for young readers, Fright Night has more of a feel of fantasy to it, with its cast containing both an enchanted knight and a wizard. Magic is very present in this novel and, although the foes that its protagonist, Mike, has to face might seem spooky to its readers, there is more a focus on action than on frights.

Young readers will love the setting for Fright Knight, with Mike and his sister, Carly, living with their father in a museum of spooky objects. They will possibly identify well with the squabbling between the two siblings, but also enjoy them working together against their magical opponents.

The writing here feels a little stilted, with a few too many short sentences and paragraphs for the words to flow smoothly, and it is not one of the more interesting or original tales in the Fear Street stable. It’s a quick read, though, and a young audience should enjoy the surprise villain, if not the fairly derivative plot.

Review: The Bugman Lives! – Carol Gorman

The Bugman Lives book coverThere are some fun characters in The Bugman Lives!. The competitive and snarky semi-friendship between Janet and Carl is very enjoyable, and the addition of Willow part-way through the book adds another type of friendship. There’s also a strong sense of setting, with Gorman doing a great job of conveying the feel of summer.

The Bugman himself is a little less convincing. As a villain, he’s not particularly scary, and his motivation isn’t very well described. In addition, it’s not very clear what is going on in the epilogue. It almost feels as though the story could have used another couple of chapters and, given that it’s one of the shorter Ghosts of Fear Street books, I’m sure the extra length would have been okay.

While there is definitely an audience for The Bugman Lives! I don’t think it is one of the better books in the Ghosts of Fear Street series. Nevertheless, it’s a quick and easy read for young readers who like the idea of an army of bugs!

Review: Revenge of the Shadow People – Jahnna N. Malcolm

Revenge of the Shadow People book coverRevenge of the Shadow People is a fun story with an interesting premise – shadows that are really monsters! Young readers will enjoy the building tension as the shadows begin to stalk Vinny, becoming more and more threatening as the book progresses. Vinny and his best friend, Sharon, come up with a plan to keep the shadows away, but it is unsuccessful, with a result that will surprise readers.

Along with its enjoyable plot and premise, Revenge of the Shadow People boasts a cast of characters that is a lot more three-dimensional than the usual Fear Street fare. Sharon is particularly larger than life, and Vinny’s parents are well drawn, with their focus on Vinny’s toddler brother and obvious worry about Vinny once the shadow begins to take over his world.

This is definitely one of the better Ghosts of Fear Street books and the sinister shadows should be enjoyed greatly by young readers interested in a little monster horror.

Review: Night of the Werecat – Katherine Lance

Night of the Werecat coverNight of the Werecat is a quick, easy read that conforms perfectly to the chapter story rule of having a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. It’s amazing that Wendy, its protagonist, survived so many shocks to the system!

The writing here is of an appropriate level for the age group most likely to read the series and young cat lovers in particular will love the premise. Wendy is a little over the top when it comes to her cat obsession, but no more so than many primary school-aged children are with their own interests. (We won’t go into my horse obsession here…) The plot is a fun twist on the standard “cursed object” storyline and readers should enjoy the idea of werecats replacing werewolves. I do, however, question whether Wendy and her best friend are appropriately depicted as eleven and twelve-year-olds. They read as being several years younger, which would fit in nicely with the age group of the book’s audience.

A light read for children who enjoy paranormal elements without much true horror.

Review: The Caldecott Chronicles – R.G. Bullet

The Caldecott Chronicles book coverOne hundred years after the death of the Earl of Rothshire, his great great granddaughter released his account of the strange goings on that occurred on his property in 1896. in a series of letters to his son, he recounts the story of his battles with the undead that have taken over his estate and the surrounding area.

The Caldecott Chronicles is a fun novella that combines two of my favourite things: the Victorian era and zombies. They actually fit together surprisingly well, due in part to the fantastic voice of R.G Bullet’s protagonist, Radclyffe. As well as being full of wonderfully dry humour, Radclyffe’s letters are written in a style that feels surprisingly authentic, given the subject matter of the book.

Radclyffe is portrayed very much as the lord of the manor, although his character grows and becomes less snobbish as the book progresses. Always very aware of his position in society, he is also taken to brief reminiscence about his military past. The epistolary style of the novella cleverly allows for Radclyffe to award the reader a glimpse of personal and family history without an overwhelming backstory.

The development of Saffy’s character is limited a little by The Caldecott Chronicles‘s strong focus on Radclyffe’s perspective, but the reader is nonethless shown a spirited and interesting girl who seems to thrive in the unusual conditions into which she is thrust. In age, nature and class, she is the perfect foil for Radclyffe and adds a good deal of life to what might otherwise be a narrative-heavy book.

The undead themselves are wonderfully described. Squeamish readers may shudder a little at Radclyffe’s accounts of shattered bones and splattering bodies, but I personally enjoyed the particularly gruesome detailing of the decay the creatures have undergone. What can I say – I grew up on horror!

Although this is the first of several ‘excerpts’ from Radclyffe’s letters, the story is left at an appropriate point and doesn’t leave the reader feeling disgruntled. They will want to read on, but this is due to the clever voice and fun universe, not to a frustrating cliff-hanger.

Overall, The Caldecott Chronicles is a quick read and an enjoyable one. Recommended for lovers of zombies in unexpected places.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: The Nightmare Within – Glen Krisch

The Nightmare Within book coverSince childhood, Maury Bennett has had the ability to pull nightmares out of a dreamer’s mind and into the real world, in corporeal form. Together with businessman Gage, he opens Lucidity, a museum dedicated to displaying these dreams for the public to view. However, their biggest drawcard, Mr. Freakshow, the nightmare of a traumatised young boy, proves to be a dangerous exhibit…

With The Nightmare Within, Glen Krish shows the world what good indie publishing is all about, offering a tightly written horror novel that holds its own against the works of big name authors such as King, Koontz and Herbert. Fast-paced from beginning to end, it skilfully juggles the stories of multiple characters whose lives eventually intertwine, and provides genuine moments of violence, repulsion and sadness. It is the sign of a well-characterised horror book when the reader is dismayed by the death of a member of the ensemble cast, and I experienced such an emotion twice while buried in The Nightmare Within‘s e-pages.

While the novel is written using the perspectives of many characters, those that dominate the book are Maury, Kevin and, to a lesser extent, Gage. The latter is a highly sympathetic character. Devoted to his comatose daughter, it would be difficult not to hope that he will receive the substitute that he desires. The other two, however, are particularly well-drawn and developed.

When he chose to focus on a young boy as one of his major characters, Krish took the risk that he might alienate readers by either rendering Kevin as being unrealistically mature for his age or too young to be interesting. Instead, however, he capably shows the movement of Kevin from a naïve innocent to a battle-hardened survivor due to the trauma he experiences. Kevin’s motivations are appropriate and his actions in keeping with those of a boy of his age, but the forced coming-of-age that is engendered by the novel’s events enables him to remain of interest to Krish’s adult audience.

Maury, on the other hand, is something of an antihero. While sympathetic, he is not likeable. The reader is quickly introduced to his bad deeds, and he is presented as a man who has difficulty with many human interactions. I didn’t much care for Maury as a person, but very much enjoyed him as a character. Life is rarely about the extremes of good and bad, or innocent and guilty, and it’s always good when novels follow suit.

The Nightmare Within is a strong addition to the horror genre, with a good mix of character development, action and destruction. In a way, it’s a pity that it is currently only available as an e-book. It would fit very nicely into my horror bookshelf – perhaps somewhere near the earlier writings of Dean Koontz.

Warning: There are brief references to animal cruelty in the beginning of the book.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Chasers – James Phelan

Chasers coverIn New York for a UN Youth Ambassadors camp, Jesse is on a subway with friends when an explosion and the subsequent fireball devastates their train and most of the people in it. They make their way above ground, only to find the city in ruins. The dead are everywhere, there is no sign of help and the other survivors have changed.

Wow, what a gripping novel Chasers is! It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustomed to Jesse’s first person voice but, once I got a little further into the book, it was extremely hard to stop reading. Now, having finished it, I’d be picking up the sequel right away if it weren’t for the fact that I have other books I’m committed to reading first.

In a lot of ways, the general storyline of Chasers is not particularly ground-breaking. It’s a fairly simple tale of post-apocalyptic survival (with added zombie-like creatures) and there isn’t a great deal that actually happens in the novel, but somehow James Phelan has managed to infuse his story with a power that goes beyond its surface appearance.

Chasers is more than the action-horror that it initially seems to be. Its strength lies in Phelan’s portrayal of the inner workings of his protagonist. The reader witnesses the changes that are wrought in Jesse by the situation he finds himself in – not so much through his own self analysis as through his interactions both with his companions and with the city around him. More than a tale of physical survival in a ravaged world, this is an exploration of the human mind and of the ways in which an individual, emotionally injured by a traumatising situation, constructs purpose and meaning in order to carry on.

Of course, Chasers is also a fast-paced novel, with plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the pages until the mind-blowing ending. The reader is no more informed as to the circumstances leading to the destruction of New York than Jesse is, giving the book a constant feel of urgency. Chasers raises a lot of questions, few of which are answered in this, the first book in a series. Luckily, Phelan’s world and characters are interesting enough that I am more than happy to read the subsequent books in order to get some more answers.

Jesse is a sympathetic protagonist, with an authentic teen voice. He is supported by the carefully diverse characters of Dave, Mini and Anna. While it is Anna who Jesse is most enamoured of, she is possibly the least-defined of his friends. Dave is complicated and sometimes confusing, but he makes perfect sense in the end. Of the three, Mini is the most likeable. Her quiet presence adds much-needed warmth to the (necessary) bleakness of the novel.

The one thing that I struggled with while reading Chasers was the absence of quotation marks throughout most of the book. There was a reason for their exclusion, but I’m unsure as to whether the stylistic choice was clever enough to warrant the confusion it sometimes allowed.

That said, I’m willing to forgive a lot from a novel that gave me such a perfect punch to the stomach in its closing pages. It’s the ending that makes Chasers as good as it is. Once you get there, you realise just how artfully constructed the entire work is – and want to go right back to the beginning to read it all over again.

Chasers is Phelan’s first YA novel. In a growing teen market, he is definitely an author to watch.

Review: Games – Robin Klein

Patricia Miggs is excited when the two most popular girls in her new school, Kirsty and Genevieve, invite her to spend the weekend in the country with them at Kirsty’s aunt’s house. But things go steadily downhill when it becomes obvious that neither girl really wants her to be there. When strange things begin to happen in the house, Patricia assumes they’re all part of an elaborate prank, with her as the intended victim. But are Kirsty and Genevieve behind the games – or are they the work of a tormented woman who died in the house many years ago?

When I was in year seven,Games was the book to read. The queue to borrow it out from the school library was so long that I’m amazed the school’s copy didn’t fall apart by the middle of the year. For many of us, it was our first introduction to the horror/thriller genre. The Goosebumps series didn’t begin until the following year (and we were all too old for it by then anyway) and the Point Thrillers didn’t take off at my school until a year or two later. And we were scared by Games. It was so popular because it got to us in a way that most books didn’t.

Re-reading Games again as an adult, I was surprised by the way that the old feeling of spooky tension came flooding back to me. I predicted the ending quite early in the book, but that didn’t relieve the feeling of uneasiness as I read on. These days, I’m almost completely immune to horror due to absolute over-exposure, but there was a residual memory there that sparked into something when teamed with Klein’s excellent storytelling ability.

One of Klein’s strengths was always her characters. They had flaws and back-stories and more levels than might at first be apparent. Games is no exception. Certainly, none of the three girls are very likeable, but Patricia, at least, becomes more so as the book progresses and she begins to come into herself.

Klein teams excellent descriptive language with realistic teen dialogue to create a novel that is both appealing and well-crafted. It was a pleasure to re-read Games as an adult; I found that my enjoyment hadn’t been tempered at all by the passage of the intervening years.

Review: The Lake, Richard Laymon

This is one of three books published after Richard Laymon’s death. The other two (The Glory Bus and, to a lesser extent, Amara) are worthy of being saved from his unpublished manuscript pile. In my opinion, The Lake is not.

This is a dreadful book. It’s disjointed, confusing, clichéd, uninteresting and just plain bad. It feels like the roughest of rough drafts, but one that was discarded for being too bad to bother editing. Possibly, had a ghost writer been brought in to whip the bare bones into shape, a decent novel could have been dug out of this mess. Possibly.

The fact that the action is largely set in the 80s, with flashbacks to the 1960s, points to the possibility that this was a manuscript that had been discarded a couple of decades before it was eventually published. It should have remained discarded.

I have read many Richard Laymon books. This is the only one I haven’t loved. It’s also the only one I downright disliked. Laymon’s legacy should never have been tainted with this book.

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