Whispers in the Dark accomplishes many rare qualities. These qualities work together to form a unique story filled with horror but focused on the things that matter most to the female protagonist: family, love, motherhood, and her internal demons.
There are many elements that I loved about this book. It breaks the rules of how we are taught to write. I believe the genre of horror attracts writers who are rebels, outsiders, those who live on edge, those who don’t give a fuck, and those who have no fear of pouring out words onto the page. Hightower switches PoV throughout the chapters and, get this...she does it successfully.
Rose McFarland is our main character. She is a hard ass, a mother, a lover, a fighter, and struggles between what’s in her heart, what’s in her mind, and the things from her past. There are certain chapters where we get first person point of view from Rose and this pulls the reader intimately into her life. There are other chapters written as third person PoV as well. Here’s the thing: it’s done in a way that paces the story for us and doesn’t cause confusion. Movies do it all the time and Hightower does it here without holding back and it works damn well.
Another win for me: a female horror writer writing a female protagonist who is intelligent, strong willed, but struggling with emotional ties from her past and present - count me in. The themes of family, darkness that lurks within kin, and inner demons are intertwined with the horror elements that horror fans love and come back for the most.
Hightower’s character development is phenomenal. As a writer myself, I learned a lot from how she developed her characters. Each one was succinct and each one brought something of value to the story. Every character had a purpose, whether it was to bring out qualities and actions of the main character or cause her conflict, they all served to contribute to the development of Rose.
Laurel Hightower knocked this one out of the park and it won’t be her last time.
Check out Whispers in the Dark here.
Follow Laurel Hightower on Twitter and Instagram.
Laurel recently became a moderator on the Ink Heist podcast here.
Check out my last book review on True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik.
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This is, by far, one of the most difficult books I have ever read, difficult emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Why? The elements surrounding this story like character development, conflict, setting, and theme, are delivered with a pacing of pure, dirty truth.
Kolesnik unfolds a terrifying reality from the unique perspective of the main character who, starting off as a young victim of cruel abuse, moves on to become a victimizer. Kolesnik doesn’t just tug at the reader’s emotions, she yanks on them, forcing the reader to become very aware of the real abuse that takes place all around us that the world often ignores. The reader is emotionally connected to the main character who is being demoralized by the people around her and by the one person who is supposed to protect her the most, her own mother.
Can you blame the reader for siding with the main character all throughout the book, even after she decides to harm others because that’s what she knows best?
It’s such an interesting point of view, one that keeps the reader wondering afterward, what would I do? How would I endure and survive such abuse? Kolesnik faces one of the scariest truths of our world and she faces it head on with her writing. She holds the reader's attention and makes us imagine, watch, and attempt to feel every detail.
In terms of writing elements (setting, plot, character development), the story is written in first person, almost like the main character’s journal. This made the story more intimate for me. I wanted to set the book down at times because it was such an emotional and mental rollercoaster which, in my eyes, is a writer’s greatest success.
The setting and plot are not necessarily developed to a point of exhaustion and in this story, they didn’t need to be. Being in first person POV made it possible for this book to unfold in diary form and made every aspect of it, especially the ending, eerie and disturbing.
If you’re up for the challenge, if you have ever experienced abuse or know someone who has, and if you want a very different perspective on it, then I challenge you to read True Crime.
I am proud to welcome yet another talented and raw female author into the horror community.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from True Crime:
“When she was calm, she liked to play games only she enjoyed.”
“Maybe when God created me, he disliked his creation and turned off the part connecting me to him, like an artist who didn’t want to sign a bad painting.”
“Her stillness became the twinkle in my eye.”
“Only crime was true.”
“One man alone in the world, born to a mother with a wolf’s heart hiding in a sheep’s skin.”
“I wondered if my presence were worse than death.”
“I wondered how the world made its villains and why it never apologized for making them.”
“What did it say about me that my one true guardian angel was the earth’s devil?”
Check out True Crime here.
Follow Samantha Kolesnik on Twitter and Instagram.
Listen to Samantha Kolesnik on the Ink Heist podcast here.
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No doubt that this book is 5 STARS! REMAINS combines two literary worlds, one of a horrific tragedy and loss and the other made of the supernatural. The main character cannot seem to escape either.
The story takes place post tragedy. With her world turned upside down and forever changed, the main character Lucy struggles to make sense of the murder of her young son. She is trapped in so many ways, both literally and metaphorically.
Andrew Cull doesn’t tell you Lucy is trapped, he makes you feel it throughout the entire story. He masters the writing of the senses, tapping into each one and making you feel on edge with vision, sound, and touch. His use of descriptive showing of each scene is quite chilling. His writing awakens the reader’s senses as if you were experiencing what Lucy is experiencing.
If you are afraid of the dark, the pitch black darkness, the mystery of what lives in dark corners, then this is the book for you.
Warning: it’s an extremely sad story, one that will break your heart while at the same time frighten you, and leave you with tears and chills.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from REMAINS:
“The sound of the kettle built to a scream, loud enough to drown out the single sob that escaped her clenched jaw.”
“The darkness that waited patiently in the doorway behind her edged a little closer.”
“Hour after hour the empty silence had worn her down.”
“I guess we only take pictures of the times we want to remember.”
Check out REMAINS here.
Follow Andrew Cull on Twitter and Instagram.
Check out my other review:
My Best Friend’s EXORCISM by Grady Hendrix
I also did a buddy read with Laurel Hightower and we created a video review of REMAINS. Check it out below:
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The Cabin at the End of the World has been the best book I’ve read this year. Why? It’s anxiety in written form and was one of the fastest paced books next to Lord of the Flies. I couldn’t put it down and when I had to I was bummed. I took breaks to feed my toddler and kind of shower. The suspense was that good.
Here’s all the things I loved about this book:
Here’s the one thing I was not a fan of:
I wasn’t a fan of the ending, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The ending did not ruin the journey for me or the experience. Tremblay took me for quite a ride and I cannot complain. As a writer myself, I can’t help but think about where I would’ve taken the story. I think all writers do that. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect how Tremblay ended it. I do. I am just very dark and would’ve loved for everything to come to a tragic demise.
That’s it. As always, I like to end my reviews with some favorite quotes.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Cabin at the End of the World:
“Right. Hell yeah, we’re gonna hit’em with logs.”
“Tears ring Andrew’s eyes as fear and the numbness of this irreality momentarily give way to absurdity.”
“Time is running out on the world, on us.”
“The most important gifts are often the ones we wish with all our hearts to refuse.”
“Do you have any idea how delicious it is to give yourself over to something else so completely?”
“Trust the process.”
CHECK OUT MY YOUTUBE VIDEO REVIEW BELOW
Would you ever make a deal with a demon? What if that demon could give you anything, help you to find out anything, and provide you with the answers you wanted to know, needed to know, would you then?
In Lou Yardley’s book, The Deal Maker, the premise is just that, all while achieving a balance between the dark and malformed workings of a demon and many opportunities for comedic dialogue. More and more I am digging horror comedy, especially when done right.
Let’s talk about structure of this story. I found the pacing to be just right and Yardley knows how to always keep the reader wanting more. Each chapter ending is truly only a beginning to what the hell is going to happen next.
This is no ordinary demon. I loved Yardley’s idea of creating a demon whose main purpose is to make deals with humans which revolve around the demon taking their body parts. He is described as being ugly and deformed because he mixes and matches different body parts from different humans - a hodgepodge of human parts if you will. Yardley is not afraid to dive deep into details about how he takes the body parts. It's gnarly, and that is awesome.
Let’s talk characters. The character development was good, however, there were a few times that I was confused as a reader on character backgrounds, current roles, etc. Now, as a writer myself, I would want other writers and readers to provide constructive feedback. This could’ve been worked through a little more. As a reader, getting confused can definitely be a distraction to the overall beauty of a story. I am not saying it’s easy because I know it isn’t.
Overall, The Deal Maker was a good read. Yardley had my own imagination working through the scenes as if it was happening right in front of me. My favorite scene in this book is the spider scene. It’s visual nature was so sickening, but in a good way. Do you want to know the details? Then check out the book!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Deal Maker:
He had no time to shit himself, he needed to search the house.
Making way for decay and the kind of sweetness and rot that can only come with dead things that should have been buried long ago.
Call me Jack. I’m a Jack of all trades, made of bits of all people.
The words tasted good on his tongue.
He needed to smell her panic and taste her horror. At the moment she was far too calm. Far too accepting. He needed to do something about that.
Now, ‘normal’ was hanging out with a demon who wanted bits of your body in return for small favours.
Hope was a cruel mistress.
Pain danced through his bones, twisting his muscles and squeezing on his internal organs.
Check out Lou Yardley’s website.
Here's my other horror book reviews:
Tribesmen by Adam Cesare
Spicy Constellation & Other Recipes by Chad Lutzke
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I had to go watch Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the theater. Why? Because I grew up reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series, books of short horror fiction for kids, read by kids, and written to terrorize kids. They did just that.
Those of you who got your hands on these when you were young know exactly the type of grotesque and sickening narratives that played out. The creatures in these stories just stayed in your brain on repeat while you lay in bed at night head deep under the bed covers trying to hold on to any sound of mommy and daddy’s voice out in the living room for comfort.
Well, I diverge. Let’s get into the review.
I loved it! Was it a film epic? No. I went to watch it because it was nostalgic for me. Those infamous illustrations in the books came to life in the movie and they came to life well (and took lives well too.)
The scenes had the touch of classic horror which I really love: the haunted house, fog rolling over the corn field, scarecrows, voices, ghosts, just the whole shabang. The creatures, originally rooted in folklore and urban legend in the book, kept their historical roots and came through as just that, urban legends that we all heard around a campfire that scared the shit out of us as kids.
I am about to make some comparisons but let me be clear, these comparisons only apply to certain areas of the movie. When I watched this, it gave me the same feeling as when I watch Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and Stranger Things. The quality of filming surpassed that of Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark, but not Stranger Things. In this film, the protagonists are a group of teenage kids fighting against some dark supernatural shit and was set in 1968. The dynamic between the group of friends is very much like Stranger Things and when Coming of Age and Horror converge, it's gold. There were plenty of comedic moments. Just enough to get you comfortable to then punch you in the gut with a good jump scare. There are tons of jump scares in this and I am a big fan of jump scares (because they make me jump.)
Although the books were a collection of short stories, the movie is not separated into different unrelated stories. The movie showcases some of the famous stories from the books but weaves them into one film by using the characters. Each character becomes a catalyst for the a particular story. There's also a great backstory to tie it all together, but I don't want to give that away.
On a scale from 1 to 10, I give it a 7. If you grew up reading these, I say go watch it in the theaters. You won't be disappointed. And if you are, well, then you're just a cinema snob :)
My two favorite quotes from the movie:
I got the goods so let's banana split.
Stories hurt. Stories heal.
Check out the official Scary Stories website.
Here’s one of the most famous covers.
Some photos from the movie:
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I was a light sleeper. I always had been. My anxiety made it worse. The story goes, every night, I would try to lie down for some sleep, battling my insomniac brain. When you suffer from insomnia it just means you were born to live in darkness. You were born to roam the desolate streets when everyone else is asleep. It’s great in theory but not so wonderful when living in a mediocre world where the majority of the population find their productivity during the daytime. Who even came up with those rules?
I would awake from anything. The slight creaking sound from a foot meeting the kitchen floor downstairs. The sound of leaves crunching under a shoe down the block. A cabinet shutting close in the bathroom or my parents starting the shower downstairs and water rustling through pipes inside the house.
I hadn’t got a good night’s sleep in a long time. I woke up about four times a night and sometimes I couldn’t fall back asleep for 45 minutes. I looked up some remedies for being born to live in darkness, remedies that could help with pretending mediocrity but I only found the Deep Sleep Earplugs. That would have to do plus they had a five star rating on Amazon so there’s always that.
The earplugs came in on a Friday and I couldn’t wait to test them out that evening. It was a normal Friday night for me. I curled up in bed and watched Nightmare on Elm Street, the first one. I took a sleep aid, a fitting thing to do given my current movie of choice. Deep down inside, I hoped that maybe I would meet this infamous Freddy. When I started to doze off, I grabbed my Deep Sleep Earplugs and shoved them as deep as they could go. All sounds muffled out. I don’t know when I fell asleep because I drifted away into such a deep sleep that I slept through the entire night without ever waking up.
I woke up and looked at the time. I slept in until 11, something I also hadn’t done in a long time. Usually my parents would have called me down for breakfast. That was strange. I stood up, took out my earplugs, and stretched. I held the earplugs in my hand and headed downstairs to show my parents my awesome new find on Amazon. I opened my bedroom door and stood at the top of the staircase. I stopped to listen. The house was silent. Had my parents left?
I walked down the stairs, still waking up from my long night’s rest. As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The couch had been gutted and white cotton covered the floor. The flat screen had been pushed off the entertainment center and thrown onto the floor.
Was I dreaming?
I walked into the kitchen and it was worse than the living room. The white kitchen tiles were smeared with streaks of blood. Every tile was covered. Someone had gone out of their way to smother each square. Footprints ran across the blood. They were small, dainty, and bare of shoes. Our kitchen knives were laid out on the center island, lined up neatly like a buffet. In the line up, there was one spot, the fourth from the right, that had a knife but it was missing. Through the kitchen, my parents’ bedroom door was open and I could see the bright sun rays that shone through their window shooting across their doorway. Someone had opened the curtains to their room. I walked toward the doorway and could still only see the brightly lit entrance from the natural sunlight from that Saturday morning.
I peered inside and just like the couches, my parents had been gutted. Blood was everywhere. The bed sheets were so soaked it looked like someone dipped them in a swimming pool of blood and put them back in the room. My dad was laid out on the floor at the end of the bed and my mother was on the bed.
I stared down at my hand and opened my fist, my Deep Sleep Earplugs lay in my palm. I had slept through the brutal murder of my parents and all I could think was, damn these earplugs are great and at least I finally got a good night’s sleep.
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Adam Cesare’s Tribesmen, a novella, is one I devoured in less than a day. The story revolves around six characters and each chapter switches between each character's perspective. Cesare’s story mechanics of alternating perspectives is beautifully written and he makes it simple for the reader to keep pace of the plot, leaving more time to enjoy the gore and terror that erupt at an increasingly fast rate page after page.
It’s not easy to develop and write six characters into a story where each one brings some type of value but Cesare pulls it off. Each character is unique in their appearance and disposition while offering just the right amount of ingredients to the story. The reader hates the right ones and loves the characters that need to be loved.
It starts out as a semi-normal situation for a film crew and all goes terribly wrong at an alarming pace. Chapter 5 begins the bone chilling visuals that will stay with you while you fall asleep at night. Chapter 12 is when shit gets real, and real fast.
As I read this book, I was reminded that there is a dark and conspiring voice in all of us. The one that urges us to think about the worst we can do. The voice that diverges us off a sane path. Most of us allow this voice to run through us and then we decide to do the right thing. But, what if we didn’t? What if we listened instead?
There was a point while reading, when I thought to myself: This is literally crazy.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Tribesmen:
“It was now a couple of years later and the girl from the theater was long gone, but the smack habit had stuck around.”
“Sweat dripped between his shoulder blades and his hands shook as he bounded through the jungle, ducking under branches and stopping in his tracks every so often to listen for voices in the distance.”
“Jacque took her by the filthy hand.”
“The wind brought with it the fresh smell of the sea, and a gentle howl.”
“His semi-flaccid bloodstained manhood flapped against his thigh as he marched around the base of the tree in circles.”
“As wrong as the feeling was - and it was wrong - he agreed with the voice.”
“There was no going back from dead.”
Check out other works by Adam Cesare by visiting his website.
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It all started one normal and dull day. It was hot outside, the kind of heat that makes you hate yourself and hate your life. The only thing you can do to feel better is sleep. I eventually did but before doing so I went downstairs to make my morning cup of Joe. My bare feet hit the kitchen floor tiles and the sticky residue of weeks gone unclean pressed into my skin. I grabbed a coffee mug, the type that is supposed to make you feel better about your shit life. Cursive typography to make you feel fuzzy inside. This one read: Dare to Dream.
I filled my cup with water and opened up the back of my Keurig. I was about to pour the water into the machine but stopped and noticed a tiny, almost microscopic, black object move along the surface of where the water enters. I leaned over to get a better look. It was an ant. I got a paper towel and wet it in the sink and then wiped up the ant, squishing it inside the paper towel, being sure to crush its dreams. I picked up the Keurig and about six ants scurried out from under it. There were no food crumbs nearby, nothing I could imagine they wanted. I wiped them up too.
If you’re a coffee addict than you know any amount of seconds or minutes that get in the way of making your coffee add to your increased irritation from not having fresh coffee magically at your bedside every morning upon waking up. I poured the water into the Keurig and as I poured I saw one of those little marching assholes get swooped up by my water wave and pulled down into the ocean of water that would become my fresh coffee.
Dare to Dream. Fucking A. I put a Keurig cup into the machine and pressed brew. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the little marching crapper would be sizzled by the heat inside and maybe it would vanish into a crisp. I was wrong. My coffee came out in a single straight stream. Steam danced around the top of my cup and the smell entered through all openings, my eyes, my nostrils, and my mouth, hitting that nerve that waited every morning for that coffee goodness.
I looked at my coffee and there it was. The dead little shit was spinning around in the center of my fresh brew. I used my index finger and thumb to quickly pinch it out. I missed the first two times then got it. My coffee definitely tasted different but as a coffee addict I didn’t care. My mind kept thinking about those ants scurrying out from under the coffee machine, all in different directions as fast as their tiny legs could carry them.
I went upstairs and it was already too hot. You might be thinking, why not iced coffee? There is a difference between coffee addicts and those who drink iced coffee, similar to die hard Tool fans and those who listen to A Perfect Circle, if you get my drift. Coffee addicts are also notorious for being able to sleep, any time of day, even after drinking coffee.
I laid down on my bed and looked at my black nightstand. I saw a movement. I lifted my upper body with my hands. There was a single line of ants. I looked across the nightstand, no food, no crumbs, nothing but my coffee cup. Why? What could they want? There’s nothing here.
I grabbed my coffee and stood up, moving it onto my desk across the room. I marched downstairs to get the Raid. I didn’t care if I sprayed it right next to my bed. I didn’t care if I sprayed those chemicals onto my pillow. I just wanted the ants to go away. I pointed and sprayed the nightstand. The sweet, candy like smell of the Raid hit my nose. Strong but sweet. I laid back down. I was sweating from the movement and frustration of dealing with these turds all morning. I laid back down and before I knew it I was out.
I awoke to a strange sensation. It felt like someone tickling my entire body with their long silky hair. My eyes stayed closed while I itched my left arm then my right thigh. The feather like sensation on my face wasn’t going away. I opened my eyes but could not see clearly. There was something crawling into the bottom part of my eye lid. I could feel it moving quickly inside my lid and against my eyeball, tickling it and causing my vision to blur. Was I dreaming? Daring to dream?
My eyes widened. In my peripheral I could see black dots covering my arms and moving around aimlessly. Ants. Ants were all over my body and crawling into my eyes, ears, and mouth. I sat up and spit from my mouth over and over again. I tried to use my hands to wipe the ants off my arms but they were everywhere. They roamed in every crevice of my bed sheets and resided in every crease in my body. There were too many. I looked over at my bedside and could see the black and blue bottle of Raid. I reached over to try and grab it. Ants rushed over the surface of my skin. They crawled into my ears and brushed against the thin hair inside. I stuck my finger inside my ear and wiggled it, piles of ants crushed against my earwax.
I reached for the Raid again. Without thinking, I stood up and sprayed myself all over. The Raid hit my face, soaking it and dripped down my cheeks, the smell burned my eyes. It tasted sour. The black spots instantly stopped moving and just hung onto my skin. Ants covered my bed. I pointed the Raid and held the nozzle down, not letting it up. I stopped and saw a movement on the nightstand. A trail was coming from behind the nightstand and I was hesitant to move it and look behind it.
I pulled the nightstand away from the wall and peered down. More ants hit my feet. I jumped up and stomped around. I peered back at the wall and it wasn’t just one trail. There was a pile of ants stacked on top of each other. A large black hill of tiny, massive nonstop movement. I grabbed the Raid and sprayed my feet and the ant hill. There were so many that only the top layer lay dead from the spray and the ants on the bottom moved underneath the ant corpses on top. I looked around and spotted a lighter on my desk. I grabbed it and went back to the ant hill. I lit that bitch on fire. I stood and watched with bright eyes as we all went up in flames and took one last drink of my coffee.
Do you like stories about cult leaders? Check out the beta chapters of my novel, Freedom House.
As always, thank you for tuning in,
Last weekend, my family and I went camping. It was one of those perfect evenings for horror fanatics, an evening in the woods with only the stars providing light. Sounds of coyote, crickets, and the mysterious rustling of leaves nearby of what we could only imagine was roaming around us. So, what did we do? I busted out Chad Lutzke's book of short horror stories, Spicy Constellation & Other Recipes.
Twelve short stories to be exact. I first heard about this book on Twitter and read a description that dubbed it horror with some comedy. I am usually very apprehensive about anything horror comedy only because I revel in being terrified and when comedy is involved sometimes it overpowers the beauty of stomach turning disgust. Chad Lutzke proved me wrong indeed. He pulls the reader into each scene, scenes of grotesque, hard to read moments while sprinkling his comedic fairy dust at just the right moments only to stick you with more gut wrenching nastiness that will make you wince.
Each story is woven with the realistic experiences and personalities that all of us can relate to and they are all eerily on point. If you want to laugh out loud and then immediately feel like you may vomit, well then this is just for you.
Some of my favorites out of the twelve stories are:
1. The One Who Took: You might think twice about inviting a stranger over for a quiet evening of cards and drinks with friends.
2. What I Wouldn't Give: Demons, Metallica, and stinky chicken...
3. Spicy Constellation: I can fully relate to this college story, well almost fully.
4. A Weekend Tradition: A coming of age story, kind of.
Some of my favorite quotes:
"That's when shit went south." - The One Who Took
"And I wondered if a shower couldn't fix that, or if it was just a demon thing, stinking like old chicken." - What I Wouldn't Give
"Virgin digits on a prom-night bra clasp." - What I Wouldn't Give
"Gang of Three Seek Revenge on Titty Mag Tattletale..." - A Weekend Tradition
I'll be checking out another of his books called, Of Foster Homes and Flies.
Learn more about Chad Lutzke by visiting his website.
What are some of your favorite horror novels or short stories?
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I am Sterp. I write horror fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. As long as they make me lose sleep then I'm happy. Fun fact: I am also a Buddhist.